Friday, July 21, 2006

Time to stop

At the inception of the Lebanon crisis, American intelligence analyst George Friedman observed:

“From an international standpoint, the Israelis expect to be condemned. These international condemnations, however, are now having the opposite effect of what is intended. The Israeli view is that they will be condemned regardless of what they do. The differential between the condemnation of reprisal attacks and condemnation of a full invasion is not enough to deter more extreme action. If Israel is going to be attacked anyway, it might as well achieve its goals.”

Then a funning thing happened on the way to the front: international condemnation did not fall on Israel as it had in the past. Across the international community, Israel’s right to defend itself was affirmed and blame instead was heaped upon the Hezbollah for its instigation of the crisis. Sunni Arab leaders across the region attacked the needless provocations.

Even from the beating heart of the Axis of Evil, comment was muted. Iran, whose interests were being directly served by the Hezbollah action, only cautioned Israel not to attack Syria. Meanwhile, junior Axis partner Syria was quiet, as Syrian President Assad shared with Israel the desire to keep his regime in power and not see it replaced by Islamists were Israel to attack his country and topple his regime.

Iran’s ability to manipulate events on the ground in the Middle East through its proxy forces is impressive. In Iraq, it was an Iranian “agent of influence,” Ahmad Chalabi, whose manipulation of intelligence, Neocon fantasies and Dick Cheney’s oil lust helped instigate an American invasion that is well on the way to securing Iranian control over the largest remaining oil reserves in the world. In Lebanon, another Iranian agent, Hassan Nasrallah, led Hezbollah––itself a creation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps––to attack on Israel on the same day Iran was due to report back to European negotiators on its nuclear program.

In one fell swoop, Iran was off the front pages and its proxy forces had displaced Hamas and Fatah as the vanguard of the Palestinian struggle against Israel.

In Lebanon, the United States is once again playing patsy to Iranian manipulations. From the beginning of the current crisis, the United States gave Israel the green light to pursue its goal of inflicting maximum damage on Hezbollah. From the Right in the United States came cries of glee that someone was taking the fight to a real terrorist organization, while from the Far Right dreams that the launching of the Hezbollah missiles might have been the first shot in the Battle of Armageddon.

Even as the casualties mounted, President Bush proclaimed the righteousness of the Israeli cause and failed to utter even a word of sympathy to those dying on the ground. On the same day that he vetoed funding of embryonic stem cell research––taking a firm moral stance against the taking of potential life––he failed to offer a word of concern for the loss of actual life in the ongoing battle.

Israel must take note of the evolving situation and not fall prey to following for too long the encouragement of its American ally. Despite its self-proclaimed leadership in the Global War on Terror and of the Greatest Military Force in History, the Bush Administration never seems to have grasped the central lesson of asymmetric warfare, which has been born out in the GWOT, but that dates back to Vietnam, the American Revolution and Scipio Africanus’ pursuit of Hannibal: the dominant force loses if it fails to win, while the overmatched force wins as long as it continues to fight.

Israel’s challenge is not to destroy Hezbollah. Despite Israeli hubris, it cannot achieve that goal. Instead, Israel’s objective must be to achieve the optimal leverage for a ceasefire that includes international commitments to change the conditions on its border with Lebanon in as enforceable a manner as possible.

Over the past week, the international consensus reflected the need to achieve just such an outcome. However, the United States was pushing to delay an end to the fighting. Condi Rice postponed a trip to the region, while U.N. Ambassador John Bolton offered the specious rationale that in a fight with a terrorist organization there is no one to negotiate with, no “head of state.” The Bush Administration, supported vocally by Pat Robertson and his 700 Club minions, continued to cheer Israel along, singing in one voice an odd rendition of “Onward Hebrew Soldiers.”

But Israel is overplaying her hand. The longer the fight ensues, the stronger Hezbollah becomes simply by surviving the confrontation with the larger Israeli force. The longer the fight ensues, the more it will undermine the willingness of Arab states in the region to support the realignment of power within Lebanon that Israel truly seeks. And the longer the fight ensues, the more international public opinion will weigh the loss of human life and Lebanese sovereignty against the initial wave of support for Israel.

As the ground war begins, Israel should pause and reconsider. At this moment, Israel should perhaps give more heed to Iran’s 3,000 years of experience in navigating Middle East conflicts, and a little less to the hubris and encouragements of its far less experienced American ally.