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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Situation Revisited

I write this post with the utmost feelings of hopelessness and despair. These emotions are not due to a genetic predisposition to whining, but rather to an-almost-too-cold series of logical arguments that (1) there is no end in sight to Lebanon's current predicament and (2) that even when we arrive at the point where the current conflict is concluded, we will not have achieved anything of benefit to Lebanon.

Add to that, at this point, there is nothing that the Lebanese people or state can do without paying a huge cost, that none of us is willing or able to pay. Not that inaction is any better, for the longer that we fail to act, the weaker our position as a state and a budding democracy. I know many people would disagree with my logic, but I will try to explain anyway at the risk of repeating an earlier post.

Let us begin with an analysis of the regional, international, and local players on the Lebanese scene.

International Players

1- The United States: Finding itself confronted with the current situation - regardless of how - the US chose early on to give Israel the green light to continue its "military operation" in Lebanon. They cannot back down now because they have already taken their stance and any retreat from here will be considered a defeat to them, but more importantly a victory to Hizbulla.

2- The EU: While possibly not content with the way things are going, the EU has little sway on any of the players in the region. Their relations with Israel do not give them any leverage on the Israelies, and their relations with the Iranians are even worse. The EU has been relegated to calling for restraint and to other similar positions.

3- Russia, China and their likes: While not completely thrilled with the turnouts, these two do not have an explicit interest in strengthening the US in the region, and therefore are not committed to solving this crisis.

Regional Players

1- Israel: Possibly caught by surprise when HA captured/kidnapped their two soldiers, I believe their largely civilian cabinet had no choice but to "respond". They could not afford to have the policy of unilateral withdrawals be seen as complete stupidity and had to take action. They refused to stop the offensive at the right point (a few days into the fighing), when their point was made and when it was possible to achieve gains at the Lebanese front. Eventually, their offensive will stop with none or very little of their objectives achieved.

2- Syria: Arguably one of the winners in all of this. With eyes diverted off the international investigation, the regime can breathe a sigh of relief for a while, especially that Israel has been very clear that it has no intention of striking at the Syrians. Why would they? The regime has guaranteed peace and quiet on the Syrian front for decades now. Add to that, the position of their enemies from the March 14 movement in Lebanon has been weakened as they appear more and more irrelevant and helpless. I expect the Syrians to start trying to make up for all the political grounds that they lost in their withdrawal from Lebanon. I worry about more assassinations and pressure against the Lebanese government.

3- Iran: With their proxy in Lebanon on the line, the Iranians have been and will continue to support HA. They have both the financial and the logistic means to keep their support, and regardless of the results of the current military conflict, they always have the option of rearming HA, and reigniting the frontlines - even if they are pushed into Lebanese soil. Shia support for their proxies is unwavering, their strength and political clout in Lebanon undiminished. They must be the biggest winners in all of this. Not to mention their nuclear program which we are not hearing about much at this point.

Local Players
For simplicity I will just classify them as follows:

1- Government and March 14 movement: Largely irrelevant both locally and internationally. In the local scene they have been relegated to humanitarian effort, while internationally all they can do is complain to or complain at the international players whose strategy has been decided (as discussed above) and will not change anytime soon.

2- HA and allies: while HA has sustained damage to its infrastructure, and possibly in combat, it is damage that they seem capable of absorbing for a while to come. Because of the nature of their ideology and their tactics, they are also capable of inflicting damage on their "enemies". They have admitted to pursuing a war of attrition with Israel, one that they are capable of maintaining because of logistic and monetary support from Syria and Iran. Add to that, their nonchalance towards the losses incurred in Lebanon, and the unwavering Shia support for them, make them impermeable to pressure from inside Lebanon, unlike the Israelis who have to keep the war as short as possible lest their people begin to get tired of the situation...


Unfortunately, I can only arrive at the same conclusion that I and many Lebanese bloggers were warning about early on. We all wanted to be wrong I am sure, and I still do. But the more things drag on the more I am convinced of the following. The war against Hizbulla cannot be won using the means currently utilized. The losers now are the March 14 Lebanese, and the government, and to a lesser extent the Americans who have stranded their allies, leaving to look like idiots, and who will have to work extra hard to make up for their lost image as a supported of democracy in Lebanon... The winners are obvious, a bloodied HA, an emboldened Syria, and an Iran that is proving by the day, that it is a regional player that cannot and will not be ignored.
The faster that everyone comes to terms with this, the faster they can adapt their strategies, and until then I see the violence continuing, with everyone (but HA) looking for some achievement that allows them to save face. Until then, the violence will continue, and I can only hope that it does not spiral out of control.


fubar said...

“What is worrying about the Americans' analysis is that there is no mention of a contingency plan in the possibility of an Israeli failure to "roundly defeat" Hizbullah and push them off the border.”

The US and Israel are not prepared to lose on this issue. Even if the US has a contingency plan, they would never share it until it was clear they would have to use it. No good is ever served by projecting a defeatist attitude.

“However, if this government fails to deliver and consequently falls under the strain of internal pressures and external failures, then you can kiss our hopes of democracy and prosperity goodbye. I hope the Americans realize this.”

Yes, these are serious times for Lebanon. You are right. Much depends on the survival of the Lebanese govt. and on the successful completion of peace negotiations. I, for one, think the US govt. is well aware of this. However, I also think that much depends on the people of Lebanon, their support for their govt., and their insistence that an armed Hezbollah cannot and will not be tolerated in post-war Lebanon. The US can survive a failure of the Lebanese govt.; but I don’t think Lebanon can. I just hope the people of Lebanon realize this.

Much is being bet on the Lebanese people. As the saying goes – where there is a will there is a way. Others are attempting to lead the way, at great cost in lives and money. The only question is do the Lebanese people have the will?

Your most recent post (The situation revisited) would indicate the answer is no. I hope you are wrong and that you are only temporarily overwhelmed by the magnitude of the situation. No one can blame you for being so. But do not dwell long in that place of misery and despair. The longer you stay, the harder it is to find your way out.

Abu Kais said...

Good post. The Israeli cabinet does not want to "widen the conflict", preferring air strikes and bombing Lebanon into oblivion to confronting the Assad regime directly, which sleeps tight tonight. As I said on my blog when this war started, wimps and masochists are deciding Lebanon's fate.

Elon said...

Very clear, intelligent analysis of the situation.

I hope you are wrong about the prospects of Israel defeating Hizbullah. Because I think if Hizbullah is able to portray this conflict as a victory it will be a great boost to the radical fanatic anti-democratic forces in the region. And also because, since my government seems determined to defeat Hizbullah, if they can't do it, it means the prolonging of the suffering on both sides. But I am not optimistic - I doubt this objective can be achieved. I read somewhere recently (sorry for forgetting where) a very interesting comment about the morality of wars - wars, being so horrible, can only be justified if they can be won. I the goal of this war can be achieved, then it is probably justified. Otherwise it is just brutal offense that caused hundreds of deaths of innocent people.

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