Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Hezbullshia and Isreality

Hezbollah’s incursion into Israel to attack and kidnap of Israeli troops was a cruel strategy to provoke a resumption of Israeli-Lebanese war at the expense of Lebanon’s moderate government and civilian population. I can only take the most cynical view of why Hezbollah -- an organization formed to liberate Southern Lebanon from Israeli occupation and victorious since 2000 — would engage in a new type of escalatory violence sure to provoke resumption of broad Israeli military action in Lebanon (regardless of whether reoccupation technically occurs). Hezbollah, like many extremist movements, must feel that it needs war with Israel to sustain its existence and no doubt was encouraged in its strategy by others seeking to inflame anti-Israeli (and anti-US?) views in the region. Certainly they have done a great disservice to Lebanon. I’m sure Hezbollah justifies itself in view of the usual Israeli injustices toward both Lebanon and Palestine, but objectively they are certainly not helping Lebanon here.

As for Israel, they reacted with their typical over-proportional response to attack or threat. Israel has long since become politically comfortable with the view that its security is best preserved by strength in both capability and response. No doubt this approach has greatly damaged its international and regional reputation but that is the Israeli strategic calculus and its arguably been successful in some ways. I agree with you that the smarter Israeli response would have limited itself to more clearly identified Hezbollah targets while seeking the diplomatic opportunity of Hezbollah’s aggression to seek to strengthen Lebanese government control over S. Lebanon. Pushing for international support and troops in S. Lebanon could have helped secure Israel’s northern border and increased Israel’s credibility in the international community. So I’m disappointed but not surprised by Israel’s response. And there may still be room for a diplomatic initiative because Israel’s escalation has, if nothing else, generated an international crisis that might not have happened if Israel had reacted in tempered ways (no counter attack, no ongoing waves of missiles).

Europeans and Arabs overdramatize Israel's response. Israel hasn’t nuked Lebanon or anything — we’re talking 300 killed on the Lebanon/Hezbollah side at this point. This isn’t Darfur or Srebrenica. 300 Iraqi civilians die each week at the hands of Shia or Sunni sectarian violence.

As for the US response, Bush has mimicked Olmert in being a politically weak state leader that took the politically easy way out of supporting a disproportionate Israeli response. Also remember that the Bush Administration itself is more comfortable with military action than diplomacy. I would have counseled support Israel’s attack on Hezbollah targets but privately urge restraint on attacking Lebanese government targets. And I would have tried to position the US as a mediator and protector of Lebanese government and civilians through an active diplomatic role. Again, it may not be too late for that approach but it is harder now.

Looking ahead, my fear (as my questions no doubt forecast) is that the Hez-Israeli clash will provide yet another political feeding ground for Shia extremism. I fear the future would hold a highly extremist Shia political movement spanning from Tehran to Baghdad to Damascus to Beirut that feeds sectarian violence and anti-US/Israeli sentiment. Not sure how Saudi Arabia, Jordan or others would respond to that either. I could see Hezbollah emerging as a region wide partner to al-Queda determined to get both Israel and the US out of the Middle East.

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