Sunday, July 23, 2006

Lebanon overview

Come what may, one of the most likely and undesireable outcome from the current war in Lebanon is summed up nicely by Suzanne Buzzbee:

"In many ways, the biggest risk is that this sudden, violent little war will tip the balance toward extremists and away from moderates across the Middle East, including in Lebanon, where the government has been dramatically
weakened by the fighting."
Hizbollah entered the fray now for important domestic and regional reasons. If it was solidarity with the Palestinians it could have choosen to undertake such an operation on many occaisions in the past few years. Why now? Some say it was opportunism, they found a convenient target, an exposed and unprotected Israeli patrol. But the reason likely goes deeper than that. One of the most accurate depictions of what Hizbollah wants is written here

"Domestically, Hezbollah has succeeded in integrating itself into the Lebanese
political system, with its two government ministers and 14 MPs. But the party has also been keen to convince others of the importance of its resistance and of its unrivaled efficacy as a deterrent to the threat posed by Israel.

And Israel's current onslaught has unwittingly provided Hezbollah with the opportunity to demonstrate both -- that Israel remains Lebanon's gravest enemy, and that Hezbollah is the only force capable of confronting it. The Lebanese government's ineptitude in handling the crisis, coupled with the army's sitting-duck status, only underscores that point.

Hezbollah has succeeded in elevating its regional importance, positioning itself alongside Iran, Syria and Hamas -- the axis of terrorism in Israel's lexicon. In this
light, Hezbollah's face-off with Israel is not only a defensive war of survival (in response to the declared Israeli and U.S. objective of eliminating the organization), but also an attempt to shatter the myth of Israeli invincibility (which explains why Israel also views this conflict in existential terms).

Most of all, though, Hezbollah hopes to set a new precedent in the Arab world, as its leader Hasan Nasrallah revealed in his latest televised speech: He characterized his movement as a "spearhead of the [Islamic] umma" and declared the conflict as "surpassing Lebanon . . . it is the conflict of the umma," whose success or failure will reverberate in the entire region. In other words, Hezbollah is to serve as an inspiration, as an exemplar of bold action against Israel and, by extension, against Arab regimes that have allied themselves with the United States and Israel."
It seems the Israelis are following a script from American military strategy of the 1980's and 90's, which dictates that airpower alone is enough to tip the military balance on the ground. Haven't they seen the failures of such policies and how ground troops are necessary to make the differences they want. Their reliance on airpower is noted here:

"The overall aim, Israel says, is to weaken Hezbollah sufficiently so that the international community can help the Lebanese government to carry out United
Nations Security Council
Resolution 1559 and exercise its sovereignty all over Lebanon, expelling any foreign fighters and disarming Hezbollah."
Haven't they seen the outcome of American efforts to fight wars with airpower alone? Airpower is seductive to states that rely on armies and expensive weapons systems, but it will do little or nothing to stop a determined guerilla force with broad popular support on the ground.

The problem is that the Lebanese government would require many years to become strong enough to take over positions from even a weakened Hizbollah. It was not even able to organize a needs assessment survey in the Lebanese capitol of Beirut. How much less able will it be to take over the Shiite villages from a population that has long viewed Hizbollah as its savior.

If Hizbollah miscalculated, it may have miscalculated in one thing only, the response of Arab governments. Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia all initially condemned the Hizbollah raid. Nasrallah probably did not expect them to support him, but he also didn't expect them to condemn him. That is a step they took that they may come to regret. In his interview on al-Jazeera, Nasrallah said that Hizbollah won't forget the political cover moderate Arab governments have given to Israeli, and warned that the movement may or may not make them pay for their actions.


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