Sunday, August 27, 2006

# Posted 1:32 PM by Taylor Owen  

PESKY MOVING GOALPOSTS: Michael J. Totten, guest blogging for Sullivan, points to what has always been relatively intuitive but was once considered heretical.

Those inside and outside Israel who believed disarming Hezbollah by force was possible in a short time frame were supremely delusional. It’s not 1967 anymore, when Israel could defeat three Arab armies in six days. Hezbollah is a guerrilla army, as well as a terrorist army, and asymmetrical warfare is hard. Look at how much longer it is taking the US to put down a Baathist insurgency in Iraq compared with the Baathist army in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was in power.
He also quotes from a recent Jerusalem Post piece, stating again what many uttered to much outcry at the beginning of the invasion:

Israel has essentially given up hope of Hizbullah being disarmed, and instead is now concentrating on ensuring that an arms embargo called for in UN Security Council resolution 1701 be implemented, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

Furthermore, senior Israeli officials have made it clear in recent days during talks with foreign governments that Israel realizes a Hizbullah presence south of the Litani River is unavoidable, if for no other reason than because the organization is so well rooted there that the only way to get rid of Hizbullah would be to evacuate the entire region.

Given this, the strategic question then becomes, even if they knew perfectly well that they wouldn’t be able to disarm Hezbollah, was the damage done to Hezbollah’s operational capabilities worth the effort and consequences? Given the huge upswing in support for Hezbollah, the marginalization of the Lebanese state and the increased regional bellicosity of Iran and Syria, I think the answer is a pretty clear no. Either way, Israelis will decide, and the fate of Olmert is the most likely litmus test.

(12) opinions -- Add your opinion

Given the huge upswing in support for Hezbollah, the marginalization of the Lebanese state

I generally agree, but one question is whether Hezbollah will face any backlash now that the war is over. It's pretty much a given that Lebanese would favor Hezbollah over Israel when Israel was actively attacking. However, there are probably also some Lebanese who, while still blaming Israel, are also pretty upset at Hezbollah for their provocations.

It's not completely clear that the Lebanese state has been marginalized (any more than it was, as it already was prevented from establishing control in Hezbollah areas). Some commentators on the ground suggest that a lot of resentment towards Hezbollah was generated as well. However, right now it doesn't look all that likely that that resentment will lead to the Lebanese army patrolling the border instead of Hezbollah. (If it did, then Israel would have achieved one of their objectives.)
"The increased regional bellicosity of Iran and Syria."

Do you mean that Iran and Syria have gained in prestige? Or have become more aggressive?

Because the word "bellicosity" suggests that they were once less bellicose, i.e. hostile to the US and Israel.

But that clearly is not the case.
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Hey David, I am not sure why saying that their bellicosity has increased negates a previous level of bellicosity? Perhaps though you are right that it would be clearer to say that their bellicosity has both increased as well as become more confident or brazen.
Given the huge upswing in support for Hezbollah, the marginalization of the Lebanese state and the increased regional bellicosity of Iran and Syria, I think the answer is a pretty clear no.

But then, some people would naturally say "no."

So here are several questions:
1. Has there really been a "huge upswing in support for Hezbullah"? (Hint: Don't always believe what you read, or view, in the media. Another hint: Don't always believe what Hezbullah would like you to believe. And another hint: Don't always believe what is said by people fearing retribution from Hezbullah lest they say the wrong things.) Of course, your contention just might be correct; but how did you arrive at it?
2. Regarding "the marginalization of the Lebanese state," this assumes that the "Lebanese state" wasn't already marginalized before hostilities erupted. In fact, "Lebanon" was, in reality, before hostilities broke out, a political fiction, this because its independent (read, anti-Syrian) political leaders and media personalities were systematically assassinated and/or threatened by pro-Syrian elements; and because Hezbullah was the major military force in the country---actually, the only military force in Lebanon worthy of the name. As such, Hezbullah, backed by Iran and supported by Syria, was de facto, in control of Lebanon's foreign policy, and according to at least one observer was in the process of carrying out a coup d'etat. It goes without saying that those who believe that Syria ever intended to relinquish its control of Lebanon might want to think again. They also might want to ask why Michel Aoun pulled his stunt, allying himself and his party, to the dismay of many of his erstwhile supporters, to Hezbullah's star. In fact, given the deployment of the Lebanese army in the south and east of the country, along with Siniora's relatively impressive declarations of late, one might even conclude that the Lebanese state has been strengthened as a result of the war (I don't happen to believe it myself, since I'm skeptical about the reasons, and intentions, underlying such words and actions, as well as the short- and long-term effectiveness of those decisions---but one could certainly make the argument.)
3. Regarding "the increased regional bellicosity of Iran and Syria," this, as his been hinted at by a previous commenter, is arrant nonsense. As though Iran hadn't threatened Israel with destruction before the war began? As though Iran hadn't been engaged in a nuclear weapons program before the war began? As though Syria hadn't allied itself with Iran before the war began? As though Hezbullah, armed to the teeth and trained by Syria and Iran, hadn't declared its aim to destroy Israel before the war began? As though Syria hadn't warned Israel about Syrian missiles before the war began?

Now, I understand why certain people must go out of their way to insist that Israel should not have fought this war. Things are, admittedly, a bit tricky, because there was a causus belli (the last of several over the years, actually), justifying an Israeli response. Needless to say, one can (and does) readily use the "proportionality" argument to criticize the Israeli decision, replete with endless photos of destroyed towns, bombed out buildings (with lots of teddy bears among the rubble), a damaged ambulance or two, rueful, if interminable, mentions of all the innocents that were killed.... But I would agree that the more sophisticated approach to criticizing Israel's actions would be to deny their effectiveness, to insist that nothing was gained, to declare that not only was the war fought for nothing, but it made Israel's situation worse (with not so faint echoes of America's endeavors in Iraq).

One might, however, consider asking the following:
Did Israel, with all the mistakes that were made and damage sustained, accomplish anything at all? Was it preferable, from an Israeli point of view, that this war broke out sooner than later? (And those who insist that there is no reason to assume that war would to have had to break out at all, either sooner or later, might want to ask themselves why, over the past six years, Hezbullah, with Iranian money and know-how, and Syrian assistance, built what they built in south Lebanon, dug what they dug, amassed what they amassed---all this aside from declaring its intention to destroy Israel.) In other words, has Israel learned any lessons (in all realms)? Can corrective action be implemented? Can Israeli failures, of which there were not a few, strengthen Israel's response the next time hostilities break out (as they must)? Was Hezbullah at all weakened? Was Nasrallah exposed for what he really stands for? Were Syria and Iran? Did Hezbullah (and Iran and Syria) lose, in any way, the element of surprise they were counting on using at the appropriate moment? Did the response by Israel surprise Hezbullah enough to make that organization reconsider its goals? And if so, will it be able to carry them out? Did the practically across-the-board unity shown by Israelis, in the face of the wake-up call that this war represented for Israel, enhance the Israeli body politic? Did the ability to fight and, in many cases, defeat a well-trained enemy under extremely difficult conditions improve the morale of the Israel soldiery? Moreover, has the response by other Arab governments to this war, or the level of reporting by the media, or the support shown for Hezbullah among those living in the west helped to clarify certain issues, at least for certain people? Has the role of the UN in enabling this conflict generated any further understanding of that organization? Have any more (interesting) contradictions been forced into the open?

Note that the issue is not one of "Who won?", the answer to which is not clear, even if there is a strong tendency to believe that because Israel didn't win clearly and conclusively, that she therefore lost; and that because Hezbullah---while causing much havoc and fighting with surprising ferocity---wasn't destroyed, therefore won. Further, it is not clear because much information is not available---as neither Hezbullah nor its enablers will tell you directly to what extent that organization was bruised and bloodied. And is not clear because so much depends on how one defines victory.

Now, all of this may, in fact, not matter in the long run, because Iran's threats to obliterate the Zionist Entity may ultimately succeed---so that claims about the uselessness of this war from an Israeli point of view, may yet prove correct.

But I don't believe this is what you had in mind.
Those inside and outside Israel who believed disarming Hezbollah by force was possible in a short time frame were supremely delusional.

Isn't the best argument for this that Israel had already spent fifteen years in total control of southern Lebanon, and failed to eliminate Hizbullah during that time. To imagine they could root them out in a matter of weeks, after Hizbullah had had six years to dig themselves into secure positions, was unreasonable.
One might want to chew on this.
Or this.
Or, for good measure, this.
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