A Trick Question

The most obvious question to the American observer of the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah should be what course the United States should pursue to obtain a peaceful end to hostilities. In today’s reality, where most look to the US to make the first move in responding to international conflicts, temendous pressure is on the US to get involved. So we look for a solution from an American standpoint. Usually the answers are none too easy to come by, and in this conflict all the answers are unfortunately the wrong ones.

First, consider the option of helping the Lebanese government gain control of Hezbollah-dominated southern third of the country. Today Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora petitioned the international community to halt the destruction of Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure and citizens. Siniora also promised to “seek compensation from Israel for what he described as the “unimaginable losses” to the nation’s infrastructure.” Though Lebanon has made huge strides in developing itself as a stable nation over the past decade, its inability to mitigate the influence of Hezbollah in the south has presented a big obstacle in further stabilization. Formation of Lebanon as a stable nation would seem to complement the US agenda to create democracies in the Middle East to contribute stability to the region. But what would result if the US were to involved itself in Lebanon?

US aid to Lebanon in the form of money, diplomatic pressure, or military resources would almost certainly only occur if the interests of Lebanon and Israel were aligned, meaning that they would have to become allies in a sense. If that were achieved, the next step is to look at the consequences. Certainly Lebanon would be ostracized from the Arab community. More importantly, Hezbollah would be marginalized, but not without fighting desperately for survival. This would certainly be a violent event. Worse still, Iran, the real inspiration for Hezbollah, would undoubtedly become involved. Iran’s newfound belligerence and position of power in the region makes such involvement highly undesireable.

Clearly, that option is fraught with peril for the US. Little better is a second option for the US–maintaining a detached stance while offering verbal support for Israel. If this course is pursued, the result is further alienation from the international community, which undoubtedly will soon gather in a unanimous effort to obtain a cease fire. Rumblings about a non-proportional approach to the Israel-Hezbollah conflict by the US relative to its audacious deomcracy-planting experiment in Iraq are already being heard. Lou Dobbs on CNN asks “Where is our sense of perspective?” as he points out how much attention is focused on several hundred dead in Israel and Lebanon while thousands die yearly in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. The credibility if the US in the Middle East, already very marginalised, would be lessened further by non-action in this conflict.

And the last option, the more popular one internationally, would be to push Israel to accept a cease fire. Unfortunately, this too brings very undesireable consequences. Jospeph Puder of frontpagemag.com insists that “the one word the Bush Administration should refrain from using at this time is restraint. Half measures by Israel will only invite escalated aggression in the future.” A cease fire can only be held by a prisoner swap. To have responded so decisively to aggression only to accept a prisoner swap as Hezbollah and Hamas desire would be for Israel to admit to defeat. Israel for the sake of itself as a nation and for the sake of its people cannot afford to appear weak. Furthermore, there is little chance Israel would even consider a such a concession anyway. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Ohlmert himself said that “trading prisoners with a terrorist, bloody organization such as Hamas is a major mistake that will cause a lot of damage to the future of state of Israel.”

So then, if answers A, B, and C are wrong, is there an acceptable choice D? Or does D simply equate to the same bad results of all of the above?

Middle East Mess

In the struggle to understand the intensity with which Israel has felt obliged to wage war on Hamas and Hezbollah ostensibly in retaliation for abduction of Israeli troops (one by the former, two by the latter organization), one is likely to soon find him or herself overwhelmed by the complexity of the conflict. One of the first things that becomes apparent is the logic behind Hezbollah’s comeback to Israel’s claim that the abductions were unprovoked. Hezbollah contends that Israel continues to detain many Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners incommuncado, and the only way to obtain their release is to create a situation favorable to a prisoner exchange. And according to Amnesty International (which is admittedly pretty harsh in evaluating nations), Israeli held “some 1500” prisoners without charges in 2005. So it seems clear to Hezbollah and indeed to the Arab community that abducting a few Israeli soldiers to use as bargaining chips is very just. On the other side, Israel maintains that those detained are security risks, and considers the three hostages taken by Hamas and Hezbollah to be flagrant unprovoked acts.

One might very well wonder, though, if something deeper does not lie beneath the surface for both sides. Perhaps Israel on one hand is using this opportunity not only to recover the hostages but to go beyond and destroy the capabilities of Hamas and Hezbollah. In fact Israel does not hide that goal; this just seems to be the perfect occasion to pursue it. On the other side, it might be argued that a much more sinister operation is afoot that is directed from elsewhere than Southern Lebanon, the power center for Hezbollah. Though the most violence in centered on the Israel-Hezbollah conflict, the conflict actually began first with a sigle hostage being taken by Hamas, the Palestinian paramilitary/terrorist organization. Hamas is linked very closely to Hezbollah, and actually draws its power from Hezbollah in the form of among many other things training; in fact “Hezbollah operates dozens of terrorist operative groups in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip,” according to intelligence.org. So Hamas is a client of Hezbollah, and Hezbollah in turn is very closely related to, who else but Iran.

Just what is the relation between Hezbollah and Iran? In short, intelligence.org says, Hezbollah is “used by the Iranians as an operative leverage vis-a-vis Israel.” Its stated goal–the destruction of Israel and formation of a fundamentalist state in Lebanon “and beyond”–is very much in accord with Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad’s pledge to wipe Israel from the face of the earth. Hezbollah has in fact been cozy with Iran for some time. In an article from 2000, an Iranian news site reported on the meeting between then-Iranian president the Ayatollah Khamanei and Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah; in the meeting Nasrallah thanked the Iranian president for his “spiritual support for the Lebanese resistance, and stressed continuation of Islamic Jihad with the Zionists until the freedom of all jailed Lebanese.” This seems very relevant to the impetus for today’s violence, at least in that is shows the detainee issue to be an ongoing concern of Hezbollah.

But Iran provides Hezbollah with much much more than moral support. From Iran, Hezbollah “gets everything from diplomatic aid to weapons to an estimated $100 million a year,” according to Slate’s Emily Yoffe. Hezbollah puts this aid to use by providing social services to Lebanese (to the extent of rendering the legitimate Lebanese government irrelevant), broadcasting by satellite training materials for suicide bombers, and now prosecuting a war. To elaborate is not essential here, but it is worth noting in addition that Syria joins Iran in supporting Hezbollah.

What I have provided in the previous paragraphs is really a very rough sketch of the situation involving Israel, Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran, and Syria. But no more elaboration is necessary to see that what an insecure nation like Israel sees as it looks at its borders. It sees Hamas and Hezbollah determined on a daily basis to do harm to Israel. Again as was mentioned earlier, the two groups are dedicated to the eradication of the Israeli nation from the region. Israel has constantly engaged these groups outside of open hostilities–now it engages them on two fronts in open warfare. And Israel sees not only these paramilitary organizations; they see also the full support of Iran and Syria for the actions of these groups. These larger nations offer very substantial backing for war on Israel, particulary Iran, a nation with active apsirations for nuclear capability. This leaves tiny Israel with the Meditteranean Sea as its only friendly border in a region that would rather the Israeli nation disappeared into that very body of water.

Taking all that into account, it might be easier to see the Israeli point of view. At least a little easier. But it doesn’t make it any easier to stomach all the civilian casualties.