The Accidental War
With Israeli reserves being called up, expect to see a ground offensive launched in the next couple of days. This war is escalating rapidly, and as all students of military history know, it's now easier to keep on going than to change direction and pull back. Just like the great powers mobilised at the opening of World War I, Israel is gaining momentum, and it can't just apply the brakes.
The Economist, nevertheless, calls for exactly that. And so it should, even though it's unlikely. It also argues that this conflict may in fact be a gross miscalculation by both Hizbollah - who didn't expect such a robust response - and by Ehud Olmert, keen to show the electorate and the international community that he's no softie. He's a man conspicuously living in the shadow of Ariel Sharon and other hard-man warrior politicians, and he's got a point to prove.
But the whole premise of the crisis rests on a Hobson's choice. Neither side actually can back down anyway:
If Hizbullah is beaten, it risks losing its position as the strongest power in the fractious Lebanese state, with damaging consequences in the region for its Iranian sponsor and Syrian ally. If Israel falters, many of its people think, the iron wall of military power that has enabled it to win grudging acceptance in the Middle East will have been seriously breached.
That being said, neither are involved in a conflict that it's possible to 'win' an any conventional sense:
However much punishment Mr Olmert inflicts on Hizbullah, he cannot force it to submit in a way that its leaders and followers will perceive as a humiliation. Israel's first invasion of Lebanon turned into its Vietnam. It is plainly unwilling to occupy the place again. But airpower alone will never destroy every last rocket and prevent Hizbullah's fighters from continuing to send them off. No other outside force looks capable of doing the job on Israel's behalf. At present, the only way to disarm Hizbullah is therefore in the context of an agreement Hizbullah itself can be made to accept.
It's amazing that even after decades of terrorism, Israel still assumes that conventional military power can flush out the Islamists. It can't. Even in the unlikely event that Hizbollah was 'wiped out', a new group would simply rise in its place. And hopes that it can be 'beaten' are also misguided:
Hizbullah cannot be uprooted. It is not going formally to surrender. Its past struggle against Israel has won it the fierce loyalty of many Lebanese Shias, and its present one will add to their number even if it comes off worse. Israel's security will not be enhanced by destroying the rest of Lebanon. By weakening the Lebanese state, and its fragile but well-intentioned government, Israel just weakens the already feeble constraints Lebanon tries to impose on Hizbullah's actions.
The only answer The Economist has is for America to promptly broker a settlement. But it doesn't even look like Condi's packed her handbag yet, and Bush is quite happy to let 'this shit' go on for an undetermined period.
Meanwhile, the chances of the rest of the region being sucked in when the invasion begins grow stronger. We don't hear very much from Iran and Syria in the Western media, but you can be sure they'll have something to say when the time is right.
Full article below.
Israel and Lebanon
The accidental war
A pointless war that no one may have wanted and no one can win. It should stop now
THE war that has just erupted apparently without warning between Israel and Lebanon looks miserably familiar. The wanton spilling of blood, the shattering of lives and homes, the flight of refugees: it has all happened in much the same way and just the same places before. In 1982 an Israeli government sent tanks into the heart of Beirut to crush the “state within a state” of Yasser Arafat and his Palestine Liberation Organisation. A quarter of a century later, Israel's air force is pulverising Lebanon in order to crush the state within a state established there by Hizbullah, Lebanon's Iranian-inspired “Party of God”. That earlier war looked at first like a brilliant victory for Israel. Arafat and his men had to be rescued by the Americans and escorted to exile in faraway Tunis. But Israel's joy did not last. The war killed thousands of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, along with hundreds of Israeli and Syrian soldiers. It brought years of misery to Lebanon—and, of course, no peace in the end to Israel. The likeliest outcome of this war is that the same futile cycle will repeat itself.
As in 1982, it started with a pinprick. Then, it was a Palestinian assassination attempt on an Israeli diplomat in London. This time it was the decision of Hizbullah's leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, to send his fighters on a cross-border raid into Israel on July 12th, where they killed several soldiers and captured two. This was, as Israel complains, an unprovoked attack on its sovereign territory. Israel says the timing—three days before the G8 summit in St Petersburg—was no coincidence, that Iran was using Hizbullah to deflect attention from its fishy nuclear programme. An equally plausible explanation is that the war is the product of a mistake.
In launching his raid Mr Nasrallah was in fact doing nothing new. In recent years, Hizbullah has mounted several similar raids into Israel. It got away with them, even when Israel was led by Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, tough prime ministers who had been war heroes too. Their reactions were astonishingly mild. The reason for this, as Mr Nasrallah constantly boasted, was his arsenal of around 12,000 Iranian and Syrian rockets and missiles. With these as a deterrent, Mr Nasrallah felt free to pursue an intermittent cross-border war against his much stronger neighbour, piling up prestige for resisting the Zionist “occupier”—even though, in point of fact, Israel withdrew from all of Lebanon's territory six years ago, and has a certificate from the United Nations to prove it.
This time, too, Mr Nasrallah may have expected the usual tokenistic response. If so, he miscalculated. Shortly before the Hizbullah raid carried away two Israeli soldiers, the Palestinian Hamas movement had mounted an equally daring raid into Israel from the Gaza Strip (another place from which Israel had completely withdrawn), killing two soldiers and nabbing another. Perhaps precisely because his non-military background required him to look strong, Israel's new prime minister, Ehud Olmert, decided that this double humiliation was more than he could survive or Israel could bear. So he has chosen to go to war (see article).
To much of the world, that looks like a crazily disproportionate response. And so it is, measured against the offence. But measure it against the threat that Israel feels from Hizbullah and it may not be. From that perspective, this war did not spring from nowhere, even if its timing is an accident. The conditions for it have been building, in slow motion, for years.
In the decades since Israel's invasion of 1982, Hizbullah has emerged as the strongest local military force in Lebanon. Since last year, when Lebanese public opinion and forceful diplomacy pushed out the Syrians, it has been the strongest force, period. It certainly cannot be disarmed, as Israel says piously it should be, by the official Lebanese army. And H