Dr. Rice’s Pangs
Israel and its American sponsor expended a lot of effort on Security Council Resolution 1559 of September 2004. This is somewhat ironic given that neither has ever paid the least attention to the UN save when it suited their agenda. To what extent from an Israeli point of view is the optimism surrounding SCR1559 realistic?
- Both Israel and Syria have complied with the withdrawal called for by SCR1559.
- Democratic elections have been held.
- What remains is for the the: “disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias, and government control of all Lebanese territory.”
What both the Israeli and American government ignore is that the Lebanese government itself has repeatedly stated that there are no militias in Southern Lebanon. The Lebanese government has repeatedly stated that what SCR1559 refers to as “militias” are in fact resistance forces. The Lebanese government has stated it neither can nor will implement resolution 1559. Yes it is true that prior to Israel’s attack upon Lebanon that Lebanon’s Prime Minister Fouad Siniora would have liked to disband both the Hizbullah and AMAL’s fighting organisations but there was never a realistic prospect of this even under the then extant internal Lebanese political conditions. Such American and Israeli hopes were therefore highly premature and unrealisable. Israel’s unprovoked attacks upon the Lebanese army mean that they are now entirely unrealisable. It is also idle to hope that Siniora’s 7 point plan will be implemented. Does anybody here expect either Siniora or his government to survive?
A Bigger Better UNIFIL?
What of Israeli hopes of an international intervention force to “relieve” the IDF after it has “campaigned to the Litani”?
The irony is palpable. Israel has repeatedly, deliberately, mounted operations against, and killed, UNIFIL troops. Following each such operation Israeli diplomats have unleashed a barrage of “regrets” for the “error” – statements not even meant to deceive. What are the facts?
UNIFIL was instituted following the defeat of Israel’s forces in Operation Litanis and her withdrawal of her forces. Nobody, least of all anyone who ever served in UNIFIL has ever regarded it as “effective.” At best it prevented matters from getting worse. The idea that it could ever have prevented Hizbullah from arming and entrenching is so ludicrous as to require no discussion. How on earth were lightly armed troops without a mandate to open fire even when fired upon to do this? How on earth were lightly armed troops without a mandate to open fire even when fired upon supposed to go against the clearly expressed wishes of one Lebanese government after another? Israel never regarded UNIFIL as anything other than the least of evils to be brushed aside at will. To call for it or a successor force to be given teeth now shows a breathtaking lack of intellectual preparedness on the part of the Israeli government. True Secretary-General Annan is convinced that a better arrangement must be sought as are most Western governments but at present irrespective of the breathless coverage of events in New York what outsiders think is a moot point. What is important is whether the Lebanese will overthrow Siniora and institute an emergency national unity government.There is no evidence that Jerusalem has ever either considered the possibility of such an event or systematically considered whether it’s long term survival interests are helped or hindered by attacking UN troops. It is doubtful in the extreme that a new force:
- Would be capable of disarming Hizbullah activists (who are in any event part of the local population.)
- That it could control the Syrian border to prevent weaponry coming in.
- That it could control the Litani river to prevent weaponry coming in.
- That it could control any buffer zone in any meaningful way unless it was prepare to respond instantly with overwhelming lethal force to “accidental” attacks by the IDF and or by Lebanese fighters.
But UNIFIL (or its successor) is not the only evidence of a critical lack of strategic thought in Israel and America.
How Israel and its American protector have handled the complex Shab’a farms issue raises serious questions about the decay of long-term strategic thinking and planning in both countries. In both countries diplomatic and military officials have a tendency to dismiss the Shab’a farms issue as unimportant. After all they say dismissively “it’s just a a small strip of land in dispute on the slopes of Hermon lacking any strategic significance.” Tell that to the Syrians.
Any map drawn since the 1920s, prove that the Shab’a farms are Syrian territory. But it’s a bit more complicated than that, anyone who knows even the smallest amount about their history knows that the Shab’a farms were under de facto if not de jure Lebanese administration. Israel seized them during the 1967 war and has refused to even consider leaving. The fact that Israel withdrew from Lebanese territory but not from Shab’a even though this refusal to withdraw was endorsed by the UN at American insistence has greatly strengthened Hizbullah’s diplomatic hand and the political legitimacy of its military actions as follows:
- Hizbullah can truthfully say that Israel continues to be in occupation of Lebanese soil.
- The Lebanese government can truthfully say that Israel continues to be in occupation of Lebanese soil and that Hizbullah is legitimately resisting a foreign occupier.
Syria has handled the complexities of the Shab’a issue with considerable diplomatic and political skill, the same is true of neither Israel nor America. The Americans could have forced their Israeli client state to disgorge Shab’a but refused to do so for internal political reasons. The Americans blithely accepted the Israeli linkage of the Shab’a issue to the issue of the Golan heights which Israel point blank refuses to even consider giving up. This has had serious effects:
The Effect of The False Linkage of the Shab’a to the Golan
The wilful Israeli to defuse a relatively minor border issue, and America’s supine acceptance of this refusal, has greatly complicated the diplomatic task facing both countries. By promoting Shaba’s importance they have created a situation in which the Shab’a question is now a vital part of the peace equation. Moreover they have created a situation in which they will have to cut a deal sooner or later not only with Beirut but also with Damascus. They will have to deal with a Damascus that warned that Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon would lead to an Israeli attempt to destroy Lebanon and a government in Beirut that has been furnished with ample evidence that Damascus was speaking the truth.
What of the root cause? What of Palestine?
Hizbullah and Palestine
The Israeli complete refusal to even consider making honest progress towards the creating a Palestinian national state on the Palestinian “front” has not only not reduced Hizbullah’s legitimacy it has fuelled it. There is little, if any, coordination between Hamas and Hizbullah. Though both have from an American/Israeli analytical perspective alarmingly much in common:
- Both emerged under the impact of Israeli occupation.
- Both are radical Islamic nationalist movements.
- Both are grassroots movements inextricably bound up with the communities from which they sprang.
- Both have succeeded in supplanting those with whom the Israelis thought they could “do business.”
- Both engage in 4GW military activity.
These facts and Israel’s failure to abandon an orientalist analytical model have weakened Israel’s ability to recognise that resorting to purely military means serves only to strengthen both Hizbullah and Hamas.
The Failure of Orientalism
Hizbullah and Hamas are brought together in Orientalist discourse under the heading of “radical Islam.” However many Israeli analysts make a convenient but false distinction between the Palestinian and Lebanese issues issues. The reasoning goes something like this:
“Of course we can’t completely separate the two issues not least because Hizbullah emerged as a result of Israeli occupation and actively fought it but there’s a huge difference between them. One is Sunni and one is Shia, ultimately they will never agree and will fight each other.”
This is to engage in massive self-deception. What is the truth of the matter?
Hizbullah’s ideology comes from a world view in which the Shi’a act as a historical vanguard against all oppression and injustice, including that engaged in by Israel and its sponsor the United States. Israeli repression of the Palestinians is very far from being a mere pretext it is a prime source of Hizbullah’s motivation for action. Thus Hizbullah’s demand that Israel release Palestinian prisoners if it wants the soldiers captured by Hizbullah to be released is a very accurate reflection of Hizbullah’s ideological priorities. Orientalists tend to over-emphasise the theological-historical chasm between Sunni and Shii. Ultimately they are all Muslims as the appearance of Nasrallah posters not only in the Palestinian territories but throughout the Muslim world amply demonstrates. [As a side note the same failure is evident in American analysis of the wave of violence engulfing Iraq. The violence has a pronounced sectarian aspect true, but it stems from the different attitudes to how to handle the American occupier. God help any American in Iraq when the Ayatollahs tell their followers to conduct their own shrugging off of the hated foreign burden.]
Sheikh Nasrallah and the Hizbullah leadership do not have to emerge victorious. All they have to do is emerge undefeated from the current confrontation with America and her regional hegemon Israel and it’s “invincible” soldiers. His stature and that of Hizbullah are growing rapidly beyond his own community. Each and every day that the US loyally delays reining in condemnation and action by the UN on behalf of its satrap increases his and Hizbullah’s stature. No wonder the Israelis are determined to find and kill him. He has all the charisma of Abd al-Nasir coupled with his insouciance in the face of death and without al-Nasir’s somewhat dubious military record. He may well become not only the national Lebanese leader but a model for the Palestinians. Furthermore if present trends continue he may well constitute final conclusive proof that in many respects membership of the Umma does indeed supercede nationalism in the new Middle East. This isn’t to say that strong national loyalties will die – they won’t. But nationalist concerns are increasingly being subsumed into a determined effort to once and for all deny the West permission to determine who it is who sets the Middle Eastern political, cultural, and military agendas.
Conclusions: If At First You Don’t Succeed – Try Something Else
From an Israeli point of view two preliminary conclusions need to be drawn to ensure Israel’s survival:
- Purely military solutions to Israel’s very real dilemmas are rapidly becoming both obsolete and counter productive to the survival of the Jewish state.
- The days in which a bi- or even uni-polar analysis was useful are over. In the “old days” matters were relatively simple. Everything could be seen in the context of great powers managing their client states, and restraining them when necessary. Latter day reality is far more complex. The situation now consists of a number of regional players and, erratically within their orbit, small but very efficient and determined grass roots movements who possess a menacing array of “open source” and “low tech” weaponry particularly missiles.These groups must now be treated as though they were State actors – which indeed is what they were already well on their way to becoming.Some State actors who could hitherto be ignored can no longer sidelined because they possess medium-range missiles (with or without nuclear capabilities.)
The Failure of Militarism
Potentially the failure of militarism presents a huge opportunity for Israel to ensure its survival. Every time a purely military solution is tried it leads to a situation in which a new, more determined, and more capable enemy arises. Moreover it has led to a situation in which Israeli military capability has deteriorated shockingly. It’s very easy to be tough driving a tank through occupied Gaza it’s not so easy to engage in hand to hand fighting against a well-trained, determined, and entrenched foe. You’re only the toughest kid on the block if all the other kids think you’re the toughest guy on the block. If they think you’re vulnerable they’ll keep trying to hit you and sooner or later one them will successfully swing a camán across your kneecaps.
Israel has used military means time and time again to try to alter the political landscape in its favour. Every time there’s an “incident” or a “crisis” it has given in to a chorus of voices on the right to far-right augmented by the urgings of its general staff. Not one of those attempts has been successful. The militarist tendency to talk of “constant war,” “alliances in the war against terror,” and that Israel “stands behind” America in its struggle with an imaginary “axis of evil” has been shown to be no more than rhetoric and a poor basis for negotiating Israel’s security. The same is true of the doomsday talk so common on the extreme right since the September 11th attacks of a “third world war.”
No Israeli war since 1967 has yielded unequivocal victory for any of the participants, and the present confrontation is no exception. Perhaps the greatest loss is that those against whom Israel unleashes its might can point to Israeli (and American) state terrorism and say truthfully enough that the IDF is behaving like a sectarian militia. The arrogance and contempt for their foe, and their reliance upon technology reminds me of the French in Vietnam. The French continually complained that they were fighting an inferior enemy. That if their enemy would only stand and fight that the technically superior French colonial forces would carry the day. The Viet Cong duly obliged – at a place called Dien Bien Phu.
The implosion of Western military and political power has created a complex series of interlocking power relationships in the Middle East through to South Asia. The Americans are starting to realise that they have bitten off more than they can chew and are, one assumes, less than pleased with their local satrapy for dragging them into a further imbroglio. The mere fact that the US had to go cap in hand to the UN and the despised “cheese eating surrender monkeys” indicates the extent of the implosion of conventional military power. The “cheese eating surrender monkeys” as one American commentator put it promptly went on strike and demanded an increase in the the Brie ration. A demand that was immediately met.
Nobody, least of all the Israelis themselves knows how to get a workable ceasefire and to extract Israel from its Tuchmanian folly. Nobody, least of all the Israelis themselves believes that a triumphant Hizbullah will agree to disarm. Hizbullah might be persuaded to become part of the Lebanese army, (in effect to take it over most of it,) but as we saw earlier they were well on their way to doing that anyway. If they assume command now then the US had best get its “trainers” and “advisers” out of Lebanon in a hurry.
The US and Israel militarist strategy has failed on an even deeper level. Both in Lebanon and in Palestine they deliberately created a situation in which their preferred political partner could not prevent the political and military rise of forces determined to resist subjugation without provoking all-out civil war. The blame for this situation rests fairly and squarely with America and Israel and with them alone. From 1996 on every aspect of Israeli policy was to harass and weaken the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian populace initially were strongly in favour of the negotiation route Gaza has shown them that negotiating with a state ruthlessly determined upon your complete and total subjugation in a squalid, waterless, and impoverished bantustan is a losing strategy.
The same is true of Lebanon continued Israeli harassment of Lebanon particularly since the Syrian withdrawal thwarted every attempt to arrive at a settlement that would make the Lebanese government more autonomous. Israeli policy meant that Hizbullah has become a state within a state and that it sets the agenda. Is this a problem? Not for Lebanon. The Hizb have repeatedly shown that they understand that politics is the art of the possible and acted accordingly. They routinely engage in entirely normal “horse trading” with their political rivals not least the Phalange. In short it’s not the Hizb who are the problem.
The problem is that Israel has been permitted to continue to hide behind the US’ shield while it:
- Destroyed the Palestinian Authority.
- First boycotted and is now trying to eliminate Hamas.
- Snubbed Syria.
- Engaged in a series of murderous acts culminating in a premature invasion all the while declaring Platonic love for Lebanon.
The resulting crisis will need a lot of creative rethinking and will be far from easy. Not least because it will need changes in Israeli public opinion. Contrary to how they are portrayed in the West and in Israel the majority of Muslims do not want to “drive Israel into the sea” they recognise that any peace must come on Palestinian terms and that the Palestinians themselves do not want this. The Israelis are going to have start negotiating in good faith and to keep their agreements. They are going to have to abandon the idea that “Arabs only understand the mailed fist” they are going to have to make make a lot of concessions and to stop casting covetous eyes upon their neighbours water resources. The impetus for this can come only from their sponsor. The Israelis demanded a “clean break” – give it to them let them stand by their own efforts and by their own efforts alone or be prepared to watch haplessly as the entire region goes up in flames. The attempt to force a version of Western secular society upon a region whose very essence is religious has failed it is time to admit that fact. Religion, nationalism, ethnicity, and the ability to make sophisticated adjustments within the “art of the possible” are all here to stay. Only a cultural arrogance boosted by a temporary military superiority ever allowed Western colonialists and neo-colonialsts to believe that they ever went away.
If Israel is to survive it has to take a first vital step. The Israeli government must reverse the status quo by getting the Israeli armed forces firmly under civilian control.