July 14, 2006


Hezbollah may have overplayed its hand (MITCH POTTER, 7/14/06, Toronto Star)

There are multiple reasons why Hezbollah chose precisely this moment to throw an already turbulent Middle East into cartwheels of even greater turmoil.

But for most observers, none stands larger than the militant Shiite Muslim movement's overarching quest to elevate itself as the pre-eminent defender of the pan-Arab realm.

Whatever secondary reasons may come into play — and there is no question that for Hezbollah's sponsors in Syria and Iran the new crisis presents a convenient diversion from the critical issues confronting them — Arab-Muslim pride is paramount.

Actually, Sunni Arabs have played this all quite wisely, criticizing Hezbollah and Iran as long as the Israelis are fighting the Shi'a for them.

Saudi Arabia blames Hizbollah in Lebanon crisis (Reuters, Jul 13, 2006)
Behind the Crisis, A Push Toward War (David Ignatius, July 14, 2006, Washington Post)

After Hezbollah guerrillas captured Israeli soldiers Wednesday, a furious Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz warned that the Israeli army would "turn back the clock in Lebanon by 20 years." Unfortunately, that statement was truer than he may have intended.

By pounding the Beirut airport and other civilian targets yesterday, the Israelis have taken a step back in time -- to tactics that have been tried repeatedly in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories without much success. Many Lebanese will be angry at Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah for provoking the crisis, but that won't translate into new control on the militia's actions. Instead, the outcome is likely to be similar to what has happened in Gaza over the past several weeks: Israeli attacks to free a captured soldier further weakened the Palestinian Authority without much damaging the terrorists.

Watching the events of the past few days, you can't help but feel that this is the rerun of an old movie -- one in which the guerrillas and kidnappers end up as the winners. [...]

Israeli and American doctrine is premised on the idea that military force will deter adversaries. But as more force has been used in recent years, the deterrent value has inevitably gone down. That's the inner spring of this crisis: The Iranians (and their clients in Hezbollah and Hamas) watch the American military mired in Iraq and see weakness. They are emboldened rather than intimidated. The same is true for the Israelis in Gaza. Rather than reinforcing the image of strength, the use of force (short of outright, pulverizing invasion and occupation) has encouraged contempt.

Israel’s Invasion, Syria’s War (MICHAEL YOUNG, 7/14/06, NY Times)
Iran, of course, has long bankrolled Hezbollah, and the Israeli government said yesterday it feared the two kidnapped soldiers were being taken to Tehran. But Syria is the nexus of regional instability, giving shelter to several of the most intransigent Palestinian militants, transferring arms to Hezbollah, and undermining Lebanon’s frail sovereignty.

Israel can brutalize Lebanon all it wants, but unless something is done to stop Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, from exporting instability to buttress his despotic regime, little will change.

Get Tough with Syria (Jeffrey Azarva, July 14, 2006, Weekly Standard)
On June 25, Hamas terrorists tunneled into Israel and kidnapped 19-year-old Gilad Shalit, who was manning a border post. While executed from Gaza, the operation was planned in Damascus. In response to the Syrian connection, Israeli warplane buzzed Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's summer palace.

Assad was unfazed. On July 3, he criticized "Israeli aggression" and rebuffed U.S. appeals to shut down Palestinian terror offices in Syria. A week later, Khalid Mashaal, head of Hamas' exiled leadership in Damascus, accused Israel of "violating international law."

That terrorists operate openly in Damascus is no surprise. According to the 2005 State Department Country Reports on Terrorism, the Syrian government hosts Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and other terrorist groups. Damascus serves as the main "transshipment point" in Hezbollah's supply chain.

Assad may act with impunity because he perceives U.S. strategy to be scattershot.

Israel has failed to learn the primary lesson of 9-11. When radicals strike you use the pretext to retaliate against regimes, thereby raising the costs of terrorism and creating an unalloyed benefit from your reaction.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 14, 2006 8:21 AM

I really don't get why the Israelis are not going after Syria. There's no point going after Lebanon, they couldn't stop Hizbollah if they wanted to. Going after Syria has the added benefit of potentially drawing the US and Iraq into a shooting war with Iran.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 14, 2006 9:01 AM

They're trapped in their own cycle.

Posted by: oj at July 14, 2006 9:21 AM

But OJ.... How can you support Israel when they are bombing your beloved Shia??

Posted by: tps at July 14, 2006 9:39 AM

tps: Terrorists are terrorists.

Posted by: Bartman at July 14, 2006 9:44 AM

Israel isn't done, Oren. And I agree with other commenters that the Shia are not exactly a benign force.

Posted by: too true at July 14, 2006 11:08 AM

Hezbollah has real assets right now, and I think the Israeli incursion is designed to trap them in the south and then destroy them. They are unlikely to eliminate Hezbollah, but could destroy enough of their infrastructure to neutralize them.

However, unless their backers are struck, I don't see how this can be decisive. More could be achieve with a tank column on the way to Damascus. Maybe that might come. Perhaps Israel intends to provoke Syria or Iran into coming to the aide of their proxies or risk losing face, and using that as the excuse to strike at them. It's too early to tell.

This could end very well or very, very bad. All war is a gamble. I feel sorry for the ordinary Lebanese who have no control over what Hezbollah does and now has to suffer for it.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at July 14, 2006 11:59 AM

Hezbollah's strength isn't military--it's electoral. The Syrian Ba'athists are the opposite which is why you strike them instead.

Posted by: oj at July 14, 2006 12:42 PM


I don't. They're making foolish mistakes because they think it makes them look tough.

Posted by: oj at July 14, 2006 12:50 PM

Israel will first eliminate the 10 thousand rockets that Hezbollah has stockpiled. Once that is done look for Damascus to be hit and most especially look for air strikes by Israel &/or the USA on the nuclear sites in Iran. Those rockets are Irans deterrent against Israel using force against the crazy Mullahs.

Posted by: morry at July 14, 2006 1:39 PM

As I said the other day, we should have done Syria on our way out of Iraq, in the summer of 2003.

Posted by: b at July 14, 2006 2:20 PM

The one thing which would change the equation is a 'combined' US/Israeli effort. Perhaps that is what the mullahs/nutjobs want to provoke. But it is also what they should fear, because if events come to that, Syria and Iran will be very different places. And then the most influential Muslim nation will suddenly be Turkey (again). It is doubtful any of the current players wants that.

Gaza is a trifle to what could happen in the north. Hezbollah must be killed, and the easiest way to do it is to strike Damascus.

It's time to bring Ahmadinejad into the big leagues, and throw him nothing but beanballs.

Posted by: ratbert at July 14, 2006 3:11 PM

Syria will. Iran won't.

Posted by: oj at July 14, 2006 3:43 PM

If Israel asserts the right to attack Hezbollah wherever they may congregate, just as America does vis a vis the Taliban/Al Qaeda, shouldn't this force some contradictions?

If Lebanon can't, and the world doesn't want Israel to, won't there be some impetus here to get a multinational (French-led?) force to police Southern Lebanon to keep the region free from Israeli incursion and Lebanese terror planning?

Posted by: Matt Cohen at July 14, 2006 4:04 PM

Sure it will - given a more open society, with free and fair elections, Iran will prosper and the weight of fear that has pervaded the nation since the mid 1970s will be lifted. The psychological damage to the people can begin to heal.

Remember, if Iran were a healthy nation, there would have been plenty of challenges to the mullahs by now. But it isn't healthy - it's probably a lot like East Germany.

Posted by: ratbert at July 14, 2006 4:06 PM

There's not much weight--even Ahmedinejad has been afraid to crack down on the freedoms the Reformists extended. It's nothing like East Germany, more like Mexico was. The reforms it needs will be significant but aren't sweeping. And the next election -- elections there being quite fair once the candidates are selected unfreely -- will return Reformers to power.

Posted by: oj at July 14, 2006 4:14 PM

Who's going to put their troops between Israel and Hezbollah?

Posted by: oj at July 14, 2006 4:15 PM

Isn't Kofi Annan trying to make himself relevant again?

Posted by: Matt Cohen at July 14, 2006 4:32 PM

Mexico has never had a President as crazy as Ahmadinejad. Mexico has lived with a lot of corruption, and a lot of stagnation, but they have never exported revolution and have never used proxy armies to fight hundreds of miles from their border. And they have never murdered political opponents all around the globe. Iran has done that, and more.

Your infatuation with the mullahs is fascinating. You don't seem to realize that with the mullahocracy, there are inevitably monsters in the shadows who enforce their whims. Is there a clear difference between Al-Sadr in Baghdad and Khameini in Tehran? Other than their vastly different IQs?

If the clerics killed Mahmoud tomorrow, then we could talk. But the situation won't wait for 2009, when he could be voted out of office.

Posted by: ratbert at July 14, 2006 4:44 PM

No. Al-Sadr would prefer an Iranian style regime. The difference is between Sistani and Khomeini. Khomeinism is un-Shi'ite so won't endure.

Posted by: oj at July 14, 2006 4:51 PM

Then as a 'friend' of the Shia, you should endorse the destruction of the mullahocracy.

I doubt if there are 74 years to wait for its lack of endurance.

Posted by: ratbert at July 15, 2006 12:53 AM


Yes, the Reform that will perfect the system is for the Guardians to relinquish the final say over candidates and laws. It's an easy enough reform and imminent.

Posted by: oj at July 15, 2006 9:10 AM

Far more likely is that the "Guardians" drop the pretense of elections altogether. Your position is anti-historical.

Khameini is more like Mugabe than Franco. And the various levels of Revolutionary Guards, private armies, secret police, and internal enforcers are almost exact reminders of the Stasi (or the different directorates of the KGB).

Your position regarding 'Palestine' seems to be that Hamas is now a political animal, and that if it refuses to act as such, then it is to be eradicated in a general war. Just so. With respect to the mullahocracy, if they continue in their illegitimacy, do they merit the same fate?

Posted by: ratbert at July 15, 2006 9:40 AM

Sure, it doesn't matter how the Guardians are removed, whether voluntarily or with a military assist. It's inevitable regardless.

Posted by: oj at July 15, 2006 10:40 AM