While intentional or not, Israel’s incursion into Lebanon (aimed at Hezbollah) is now a proxy war against Iran via Hezbollah and Hamas, a violent mirroring of the US-Iran maneuverings in the UN and in Iraq. The incursion also demonstrates how powerful the Iranian hand is with Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Sadr and others in Iraq and influence in Afghanistan, relative to the U.S. and Israel and even the other Middle Eastern states like Egypt or Saudi Arabia.
Israel’s endgame is not clear, as it cannot militarily defeat Hezbollah unless it shuts down Syria’s border with Lebanon (along with a conventional ground offensive), which would bring Syria into an open conflict with Israel, as well as, Israel incurring the wrath of the region and the world for widening the war.
Being a guerilla force, Hezbollah can take the blows of the IDF very resiliently. Even with infrastructure degraded and supplies gone, Hezbollah can afford to wait and rebuild slowly and even bring Israel into wider protracted war on Lebanese territory. Indeed, as long as the border between Syria and Lebanon remains open, Hezbollah will have a safe-haven for retreat as well an area to gather supplies.
A far worst case scenario is for the Lebanese government and the military to throw its weight behind Hezbollah. This is something it has not clearly done yet, but if the war widens and causalities mount, Israel may find itself in an open war against an Iranian-backed Lebanese-Syrian front on the north and Hamas in the east.
One possible end game is for Israel is to find, rescue and bring home the two IDF soldiers, granting Israel the ability to withdraw while saving face abroad and more importantly at home.
The better solution would be to use the Lebanese incursion as a platform to pressure Lebanon, the U.S. and others to finally act on fulfilling UN Resolution 1559, disarming Hezbollah.
To lay the ground work, Israel must make it explicitly clear that its offensive maneuvering is an attack on Hezbollah, not the Lebanese people, the government – which rules out the bombings in Beirut and other major Lebanese cities. It should attempt to clandestinely reach out to the fragile Lebanese government led by Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, pushing it to deploy its army against Hezbollah in the south in the name of “reasserting” control of the south.
While a realistic assessment of the current situation forbids such an optimistic assessment, there is some truth when Kyle Spector of Foreign Policy declares:
“But some Lebanese and other Arabs around the region (including the Saudis), while obviously not in favor of the Israeli assault, are seeing this crisis as a death knell for Hezbollah and quietly cheering it on”
This is not a guaranteed death kneels for Hezbollah as Spector calls it, but the dislike of Hezbollah in Lebanon and regionally is there – Israel needs to take advantage of it.
At the same time, US and its partners must work via to diplomatic channels – be it public, the UN or other channels – to get Syria and Iran to back-off. How is another question, but it must be done as alternative scenarios are dire.
Perhaps the second option is being carried out by US, Israel and its allies. Time will tell what paths history will take.
Some Suggested Readings
- NYT’s “Israel’s Invasion, Syria’s War” by Michael Young
- “Crisis in the Middle East: Local Bloggers Report” by The Truth Laid Bear
How Did We Get Here?
Israel is a tiny nation the size of New Jersey of 6 million people, which as “Fortress Israel” feels constantly threatened by far larger, greater Arab population that surrounds the tiny nation.
In this context, Hezbollah attack and kidnapping of two IDF soldiers was not just a bold and brazen raid but is seen as direct threat on Israel. In Israel, nearly all citizens do double duty in the Israeli military, so the kidnapping was not “just” of soldiers but also that of Israeli civilians.
The unfortunate issue is that:
- The kidnapping of the two IDF soldiers by Hezbollah was pure carelessness on the part of their respective IDF commanders. They should have had better force protection.
- While it is understandable that Israel sees the kidnapping of the two soldiers as leading toward an existential threat to Israel itself, in truth it is not. Israel had the option to act with more restraint and still not appear weak.
The Disarming of Hezbollah
During the G-8 Summit, Russian President Putin, and G-8 chair, declared “[It] is our impression that aside from seeking to return the abducted soldiers, Israel is pursuing wider goals.” While Putin did not elaborate, Israel is seeking to self-implement UN Resolution 1559, which declares for the disarmament of Hezbollah.
Jerusalem Post reports that Israeli officials are looking to Lebanon’s Government to go with Israel and assert control on Hezbollah-controlled South Lebanon:
The officials noted positively that Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora had said Saturday at a press conference that his government would reassert government authority over all Lebanese territory – an allusion to the possibility of deploying the Lebanese army in south Lebanon, which is effectively controlled by Hizbullah.
It is unclear whether Israel thinks it can disarm Hezbollah on its own, which is foolish considering Iran and Syria’s backing and the lack of active support from the Lebanese Government. Israel could be forcing world leaders to act to enforce UN Resolution 1559 and create momentum to disarm Hezbollah, but at the high risk of the conflict.
Iran is now clearly the key and dominant player in the Middle East. The current Israeli strikes against Hezbollah in Lebanon shows the limits of Israeli power and the weakness of the US position and inability to act to resolve this conflict.
Israel and the US are applying all their power and influence right now in the region with dismal results thus far. Hezbollah, Syria and Iran still have many resources and options, esp. with Iran still having many cards to play in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Syria and in Hezbollah and Hamas in Palestine.
Even with a ground invasion to hammer Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon, Israel cannot win this war in any military terms against Hezbbollah unless it eliminates all potential supporters – that is, the use of genocide. Hezbollah is, as John Robb calls it, a “Guerrilla Proto-State“, will simply revert back to a guerilla force under Israeli pressure, but a guerilla force backed Syria and Iran, with the potential to bring in the Lebanon government on its side. (Additionally, Iran wields wide influence in Iraq and, to a lesser extant, in Palestine via Hamas.)
Indeed, Hezbollah is a guerilla army and is suited to be resilient against possible ground invasion Israel maybe contemplating. As long as Syrian-Lebanese borders remain open, no amount of destruction on Lebanese infrastructure and Hezbollah supplies would stop Syrian support and supplies coming across the border in to Lebanon.
Thus far, Arabs have been either quiet or blaming Hezbollah/Iran for the current conflict, which appears particularly surprising when its Saudi Arabiaa:
“A distinction must be made between legitimate resistance and uncalculated adventures undertaken by elements inside (Lebanon) and those behind them without recourse to the legal authorities and consulting and coordinating with Arab nations,” a statement published on the official news agency SPA said.
“These elements should bear the responsibility for their irresponsible actions and they alone should end the crisis they have created.”
But how long can this possibly last?
A Way Out
For now, Israel still has the initiative but soon Israel will be on the defensive politically and weakened militarily:
- If Israel does not end this decisively or if the situation deteriorates with more civilian casualties Israel will been harshly condemned internationally, more so than now, bringing with it isolation and further restraint in its ability to militarily and politically maneuver.
- Secondly, Israel risks bring brought in to a long protracted war that could solidify the Lebanese behind Hezbollah (something not true now) and reassert and strengthen Syrian and Iranian hand in Lebanon and the region. Israel could become exhausted militarily, as Hezbollah and Hamas gain strength via Iran and Syria. This would be of tragic consequence to Israel.
While protesting against Israel, the Lebanon Government also has not come behind Hezbollah, but it can occur if the conflict draws out for too long. What would be the tipping point for the Lebanese military to join ranks with Hezbollah? Does anyone know?
For Israel, and indeed the world, there are only two outcomes that would bring some resolution:
- If Israel is able to find, release and return the kidnapped IDF soldiers, Israel would be able to withdraw and save face internationally and perhaps more importantly domestically.
- If Israel was able to bring the US, Lebanon and the UN together to decisively act on Hezbollah and Syria, with the end-point being a process of disbarment as per UN Resolution 1559. This would bring true independence for Lebanon, security for Israel and a major blow to Iran and Syria.
The situation on the found is still fluid but any day the events can radically swing in many directions. The World Waits.