July 15, 2006


Crisis seen as chance to reshape Mideast (Anne Barnard, July 15, 2006, Boston Globe)

[Ahmad Moussalli, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut,] said that Hezbollah's aggressive move was aimed at showing that Arabs can still deal military blows to Israel and indirectly to the United States by staging such a brazen raid, as well as help its state backers, Syria and Iran, flex their muscles at a time when both are on the ropes. Iran is threatened with international sanctions over its alleged nuclear arms program and Syria wants to regain its regional influence after its embarrassing ouster from Lebanon last year.

Israel, on the other hand, wants to win international support for its newly aggressive stance against Hamas and Hezbollah, and paint its enemies as part of a larger anti-Western coalition led by a nuclear-hungry Iran. An obstacle to the Israeli goal is that even though Hamas and Hezbollah are both shunned as terrorist groups by many countries, they have won power through democratic elections -- Hamas ruling the Palestinian Authority and Hezbollah fielding a bloc in the Lebanese parliament.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said Israel wants not just to stop Hamas and Hezbollah from firing rockets into Israel, but to force the total disarmament of Hezbollah -- a well-organized military group that operates as a state-within-a-state in southern Lebanon alongside the weak Lebanese government -- and to win strong international action against Iran and Syria.

Even more broadly, he said, Israel wants to build international consensus that armed groups should not be allowed to run in elections and to convince its allies that Hezbollah and Hamas have now made ``irrelevant" the decades-old assumption that Israel can unilaterally push for Middle East peace by giving up territory.

US, Arab, and Israeli analysts say that both Israel and its foes are taking big gambles that could end in disaster.

Israel risks repeating the mistakes of 1982, when it invaded Lebanon to drive out Palestinian militants and ended up bogged down in an 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon that spurred Hezbollah to popularity as a guerrilla group and eventually ended only because of widespread Israeli opposition.

Six years after the occupation ended, the Sh'ite Muslim militant group had lost considerable sway: It had been ordered to disarm under a United Nations resolution and had worn out its welcome among some sectors of Lebanon's complex mix of Sunnis, Shi'ites, and Christians.

Now, said Edward Walker, a former US ambassador to Israel and Egypt, Hezbollah is seeking through its attack Wednesday to provoke a new Israeli occupation in order to renew its popularity. By launching broad attacks on Lebanon's airport, bridges, and parts of Beirut, he said, Israel is playing into that strategy.

``They're the pawn in this thing, they were drawn into it," Walker, who now heads the Middle East Institute, a Washington think tank, said of Israel. ``They are being used by Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria to change the pieces on the chessboard."

He said Israel's military might was unlikely to root out Hezbollah entirely or to prod the weak Lebanese government to confront the group. ``Even when they occupied Lebanon they couldn't change the chessboard," he said. ``It's not something an occupying power can do, which we're finding out in Iraq."

Bush refuses to curb Israeli assault (Alec Russell in St Petersburg and Tim Butcher in Beirut, 15/07/200, Daily Telegraph)
Sheikh Nasrallah raised the stakes, threatening to attack Israel beyond the city of Haifa, 20 miles from the border, which was hit for the first time on Thursday. Also for the first time, Hizbollah rockets hit an Israeli naval vessel off Beirut. Four crew were reported missing although the military had said earlier that there was only light damage.

"Surprises will start from now," said the sheikh, who is admired by Arabs for Hizbollah's success in forcing Israel out of Lebanon in 2000. [...]

But the White House made clear that he would not call on Israel to end its offensive. Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, said the president "believes the Israelis have the right to protect themselves and that in doing that they should limit as much as possible so-called collateral damage, not only to facilities but also to human lives".

He said that Mr Bush had rejected Mr Siniora's appeal for him to tell the Israelis to rein in their assault. "The president is not going to make military decisions for Israel."

Occupations have been uniformly disastrous for Israel and they won't even try again this time, but sometimes you have to defend your friends even when they're acting foolish. But, as a genuine friend, we should push them to shift their focus to, and then help them to implement, regime change in Syria and a strike on Iran's nuclear program.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 15, 2006 10:54 AM

"Occupations have been uniformly disastrous for Israel" Who says there'll be occupations? Israel only needs to destroy the Hizbollah's infrastructures, kill as many of them as they could, then withdraw, and do it again if necessary. Our occupation of Iraq is an humanitarian move to protect the Iraqis from sectarian wars. We may not succeed, but we've tried. Israel does not and should not care if the Lebanese are killing themselves.

Posted by: ic at July 15, 2006 7:02 PM

They can't prevent Hamas and Hezbollah from holding power in democratic societies without occupying the countries.

Posted by: oj at July 15, 2006 9:37 PM