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Friday, November 24, 2006

Brinkmanship: you blink you lose...

A recent post, "To hell in a handbasket..." by Raja from lebanesebloggers, macabrely argues that the scenario by which Syria strikes a deal with the west and many prominent heads from the March 14 movement roll, may be the best for Lebanon's future. Such a conclusion pre-assumes that the alternative is nothing short of "tectonic plates colliding", i.e. civil war.

That in turn assumes that the parties involved, or some parties involved, are willing to take the country down that road. Ok, so lets look at who the parties involved are, and why none of them stand to gain from a civil war in Lebanon. If one agrees with the analysis that noone will take the last step towards such a bloodbath then you will also agree that the party that blinks first in this standoff, loses. But I am jumping the gun, so lets see why no-one wants a war:

Internal Forces

March 14 Unarmed, recently succesful at kicking the Syrian army out, looking forward to a stable country that they can rule, massively outgunned and outtrained by HA, has nothing to gain and everything to lose from a war.

Hizb Despite having a militia and hence the capability to wage war on the internal front, such a tactic would detract from their image in the arab world as freedom fighters and all that jazz and put them on the Shia side of a Sunni-Shia civil war. Moreover, this will take away precious resources that they would prefer to allocate to their "struggle" with their sworn enemy. It would embarass their lifelines in Iran and especially Syria and as I mentioned, isolate them in the arab world... On the other hand their "totalitarian" style ideology which seems incapable of adapting to or accepting the confessioanal nature of Lebanon, has put them in a situation where they cannot strategically gain without breaking March 14 completely. The question is how far can they go, and how clearly are they thinking...

Michel Aoun Ever the presidential wannabe, his entire polity is directed and governed by that dream. I do not see him gaining anything from a civil war.

Syria's Cronies It is completely pointless to analyze them individually, as they will simply follow Syrian orders.

External Forces

The US I cannot think of a reason whereby they would want to destabilize Lebanon, thereby increasing the chaos in the region especially with their pridicament in Iraq. Add to that I don't think they would want their ally Israel to have to deal with a volatile Lebanon where their northern border would be "uncontrolled"...

France The Chirac administration has proved to be an invaluable ally to the March 14 movement and whoever wins the election might be less enthusiastic towards supporting Lebanon, but in any case the fact that they have troops in teh South indicates that they would be genuinely interested in preserving a stable and safe environment there.

Syria Another Sunni-Shiite civil war on another of their borders, with them on the Shiite side and 70% of their population being Sunni, is nothing short of signing their own death sentence.
Moreover, in my opinion, their eggs are all in one basket. Killing the investigation and/or toppling the government and/or killing the March 14 leadership while trying to avoid a civil war that might be too much to handle and to check. In short desperate obstructionism... However the rationality of their decisions and the extent to which they are cornered might prove decisive in how crazy they might behave. Still history has shown them to be masters of brinkmanship without ever crossing the line. They realize that once the line is crossed, there is no turning back.

Iran The great unknown... also definitely the most influential player governing HA's decisions along with Syria. Notably however, they are the ideological parents of Hizb while Syria is onlt a strategic partner, a very crucial one though. That said, I wonder how connected are the timings of the G8 summit discussions on Iran and HA's cross border operation to capture the 2 israeli soldiers. Also, one has to wonder how cohesive the Iranian leadership is in its treatment of HA and how far they are willing to go in using HA as a pressure card against the west. Of course, I am sure they realize that by actually accepting a civil war in Lebanon, their card is burnt. So here again assuming a rational decision process implies that this player has stakes in avoiding the turmoils of internal war in Lebanon...

In Short

Under the very crucial assumption that all the internal and external players on the Lebanese arena are relatively rational and reasonable, the chances of any one of them pushing towards an escalation and a civil war is relatively small.

The only danger in my opinion is in the alliance of Syria, Iran and Hizbullah, not because they want a civil war but more because they might not see an alternative to it. In the case of the Syrian regime, desparation might (in the medium to long-range future) lead them to a point where they might decide to bring Lebanon down with them, or to think that a burning Lebanon might for some reason salvage their anomalous control of Syria. In the case of Hizbulla, the fact that they have been pushed away from the borders with Israel and are separated from their arch-enemies by thousands of international and Lebanese troops might challenge their very "raison d'etre". Moreover, the fact that they are armed to the teeth with nowhere to use these weapons and no enemy to channel them against might lead to them redefining the enemy internally. We are already seeing signs of that. Which brings me to Iran. They are the side I am worried about most, simply because they are in a situation they have never been before, and we have never seen them act under similar situations. What I am referring to is their new-found regional superpower status. With influences in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Bahrain, and perhaps even Kuwait, the Mullocracy has the power to both create and destroy which had been previously always checked by Saddam. To what extent are they willing to use Hizb in Lebanon, and would they push to a civil war? Their experience in Lebanese politics is more limited than other players and this lack of experience might cause decisions that are not hampered by previous pains...

5 comments:

fubar said...

Nicely logical. Of course, you are including a large helping of assuming all players are logical and rational.

Good luck with that. = (

R said...

Very true Fubar but only insomuch that I am assuming that they are after self preservation. And besides, the ground isn't fertile for civil war in Lebanon despite the tensions. It took over 8 years in the late sixties and seventies for things to "spill over" and back then the splits were even deeper in my opinion than they are now. So 8 years give or take a couple to topple the Syrian regime. Assuming some of the march 14 leadership survives...

e said...

R,
I totally agree with the analysis. I think Iran is squarely in the don't want civil war side because they need HA as a threat against Israel and don't want them busy fighting other people.
e

Lazarus said...

r,

you make good points. my only worry is that 1) there are some "loose" elements within each of the lebanese factions 2) a time will come when the lebanese leaders can't control these elements. after all, only a small amount of fighters is needed for a civil war to be born.

that said however, i don't think one will be created now. but that can change as updates come in from lebanon ...

R said...

Hey Lazarus,

There is truth to what you are saying but as long as the leaders are willing to hold those "loose" elements accountable for their actions in courts of law (and not protect them), we should be relatively ok. So ur right...

By the way, did you turn off the comments section on your blog for a reason ?