Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Cease Fire!

I haven't commented up until now on Israel's war against Hezbollah, but not for want of an opinion. Now that there is a CeasefireTM, here are a few thoughts.

Every conflict has both military and political objectives. The military goal - disarming Hezbollah - was practically impossible and, despite accusations that the war effort has failed, most Israelis must have understood this. The best case scenario was to destroy as many rockets and launchers as possible before a cease-fire was imposed by the United Nations. Although it appears little has been achieved despite loss of life numbering in the many hundreds, I think, at this time, it's impossible to know the long-term benefits of this conflict. There are many that believe the conflict will only fuel more terrorism; I don't believe this is true.

Lebanon's sectarian population has always been split, with Christians and Druze generally supporting Israel's efforts to remove militant forces (thousands of Christians actually fled to Israel in 2000 fearing a rise in militant Islam in the south, and possible retribution against Christians who supported Israel after 1982). Shiite Moslems have generally supported or condoned both the PLO and Hezbollah because they see these groups as armies in a larger conflict: Pan-Arabism (until 1982) and Global Jihad (after 1982). I don't believe this current conflict will increase support, and its likely that many Lebanese, of all stripes, will blame Hezbollah for their recklessness (even if they hold Israel responsible for the deaths.) The Arab street traditionally display public support for its leaders and their military exploits, even when privately they may be critical. It's quite possible that Hezbollah will now lose some of the political support they've enjoyed, and their seats in parliament. We'll know with the next election.

Although chemical and/or nuclear weapons weren't used this time, an enemy poised with thousands of rockets along an un-supervised border is unacceptable. Moreover, Hezbollah serves as a de facto army of Iran, which has spent many years and millions (billions?) of dollars arming the group as part of a coalition of forces to be used against Israel. With many of those rockets now used or destroyed, and Israeli (and soon International) forces now establishing a buffer zone between Israel and Lebanon, a front in a future war has been removed. In that context, this effort may prevent a massive three-pronged strike by Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. Israel's enemies must now consider that any attack on Israel risks involving the international community.

Additionally, some of the political goals, which were far more realistic, have been achieved - at least in writing. UN Security Council Resolution 1701, passed unanimously last week, clearly states that the war and resulting deaths are blamed on Hezbollah attacking Israel, as well as declaring that the unconditional release of Israel's soldiers is mandatory. Israel is also not obligated to remove any troops until an international force is in place, nor do they have to release any Lebanese prisoners; the Resolution simply says that the issue of the three Lebanese prisoners is to be "settled." No demands on Israel at all. The resolution also acknowledges the Shebaa Farms dispute but again makes no demands on Israel. And it's in Israel's best interests that the UN now focuses on Iran: the real instigator of so much of this violence. Over the next few months, expect both the US and Israel to continue their war of words against Iran. Israel will need to have the sympathy of both the General Assembly and the Security Council; defying a UN brokered cease-fire now could have unacceptable negative long-term consequences.

It's also worth noting the unprecedented initial condemnation of Hezbollah from a few Arab countries. Even now, Egypt is warning terrorist groups in Gaza and Lebanon to consider the cost-benefit ratio of entering into a conflict with Israel. If these groups cannot depend on the financial support of Arab states, moderate forces may finally be able to speak up. And some Lebanese politicians are publicly rebuking Syria's Bashar Assad who has been suggesting that anti-Syrian elements in Lebanon are "collaborating with Israel." These events, in themselves, indicate significant changes in the status quo.

Any parent or fan of Supernanny will tell you that altering a child's bedtime routine takes a little time. You can't expect much to happen on the first night. Maybe a little crying on the second night. Hopefully, on the third night - success! Israel cannot expect to overnight change the behaviour of those in the Arab world who support terrorism. But this conflict sent a message that the status quo has changed. Hezbollah believed Israel would accept a prisoner exchange because they had done so in the past. That expectation no longer holds true.

Of course, the likelihood is that the conflict is not going to end anytime soon. Hezbollah will find an excuse to launch rockets again, and Israel will exercise its right to responds to attacks. Hezbollah will also certainly refuse to hand over the kidnapped soldiers to the Red Cross or anyone else. Moreover, the international force itself may become the target of Hezbollah attacks (remember the Marine barracks bombing?) potentially igniting an even larger conflict. In the minds of many, it made more sense to let the IDF finish the job it started, but it was the politicians - who recognize that not all battles take place on the battlefield - and not the generals who made the final decision. In the grand scheme of things, that's how we all want it. For better or worse.


Anonymous said...

I am not a lawyer and I don't understand the legal implications of the text, but it seems to me that the clause refering to the "abducted Israeli soldiers" is not a condition of the cease fire. Instead, it reads as a suggestion.

If the soldiers are not released unconditionally, or worse, released in exchange for Lebanese prisoners, Israel will be back at square 0, inviting more terrorist attacks.

I think you're right and something will happen to break the cease fire. Either Hezbollah will explicitly do so, or the UN and Lebanese armies won't clear Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon.

Morey Altman said...

Yeah, it seems to be something like a "strong suggestion" that the prisoners be released but without a demand on any specific party to make that happen. Tzipi Livni just met with Koffi Annan to stress the importance of the matter. I would say it's most important to the future of the government. If they fail to get the prisoners returned, Kadima is toast.