Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Another Wishful Thinker

Noah Pollak of National Review indulges in some wishful thinking about the results in Lebanon. As I am prone to such wishful thinking myself, I thought a look at another wishful thinker might be interesting.

Jerusalem—To most Israelis, supporters of Israel, and especially to the IDF soldiers I spoke to on the border over the past few days, the cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah that recently went into effect is viewed as a cruel indignity, a dangerous projection of Israeli weakness and equivocation, and a plucking of defeat from the jaws of victory. These were my thoughts as well. The IDF was inflicting heavy, lopsided — one might even say disproportionate — damage on Hezbollah men and materiel. Stopping the war seems inexplicable, other than as an expression of total Western cravenness and appeasement to Islamic radicalism.
That is how I see it too.
But people like John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, have a proven track record of sobriety in these matters. It’s difficult to believe that Bolton would have thrown United States support behind a patently unwise agreement, or that Israel would have agreed to a resolution thoroughly harmful to its own interests. So herewith, in what may rightfully be construed as an exercise in wishful thinking, is an alternative explanation for U.S. and Israeli acquiescence to the U.N. cease-fire resolution.
Mr. Pollak discusses the oil weapon which he thinks is the most potent arrow in the Arab quiver. He then goes on to say:
The heart of the strategic conundrum thus becomes this salient fact: If the U.S. is to strike Iran, Israel must be deterred from being provoked into the conflict and jeopardizing the abstention of other Arab states from interference in the clean execution of the mission and its aftermath. Because Iran, in conventional terms, is largely defenseless against an American bombing campaign, Iran’s first objective upon being attacked will be to draw Israel into the conflict. This is almost the exact same scenario as in the first Gulf War, and then it took intense diplomatic pressure to prevent Israel from retaliating against Iraq for its repeated missile attacks. It is almost unthinkable that Israel could be called upon again to summon such self-restraint.

The way Iran would drag Israel into the war and dramatically complicate the U.S. mission would be through Hezbollah, which until recently was firmly entrenched on Israel’s northern border, fully armed and spoiling for a fight. Thus, even given Israel’s curtailed and incomplete war against Hezbollah, the U.S.’s — and arguably, Israel’s — primary objective in the conflict has been accomplished: creating a state of affairs in which Iran cannot use Hezbollah to drag Israel into the U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, incite Arab opposition to the U.S., and threaten a global energy crisis. The partial war against Hezbollah has accomplished an important additional objective: what was previously a looming unknown — Hezbollah’s military capability on Israel’s northern border — has been engaged, partially destroyed, and is now a known quantity.
That is a definite advantage if your calculations are strategic.
But why stop Israel now? Wouldn’t all of the benefits to the American-Israeli strategic position be even further solidified by a more complete destruction of Hezbollah? Perhaps. But there are complications: One is the unrest the conflict is causing in Iraq. The U.S. doesn't need Muqtada al-Sadr to feel any more emboldened than he already does. Moreover, American pressure on Israel to stop the war is likely a concession to Europe and the U.N. in advance of needing (or believing to need) those alliances to be healthy in anticipation of the Iran confrontation. Also, the Cedar Revolution and the partial wresting of Syria out of Lebanon are two of the most tangible victories of the Bush administration’s Middle East democratization project. A continued Israeli assault on Lebanon that is seen by Lebanon’s ostensibly pro-Western Christians, Druze, and Sunnis as being needless American-approved destruction threatens the sympathies of the nascent Lebanese moderates. In particular, France retains some prestige in Lebanon and can be useful in preventing the reversal of U.S. accomplishments there. Pressuring Israel is a way to give the Europeans and the U.N. something they want now in return for something the U.S. wants later, which is a basic level of unity and fortitude in dealing with Iran.
Depending on France and the UN seems like a rather weak position. They have not been notably helpful in the past. In fact the UN has been shown to be objectively a collaborator with the Hizbollah.
Finally, one of the most surprising occurrences in the past month was the hostility expressed by the Sunni Arab world to Shia Hezbollah’s provocation. The importance of this should not be understated: Arab regimes like Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia actually publicly condemned other Arabs who were fighting against Israel. Why? Because the Sunni regimes are worried about the ascendance of a Shia alliance comprised of Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran that could manipulate the region with proxy terrorist armies (such as Hezbollah) operating under the safety of an Iranian nuclear umbrella.
Yes. In that respect new alliances have been formed for the next phase of the war.
Sober-minded observers are right to be wary of a new flight of fancy emanating from the United Nations, especially a U.N. led by the venal and treacherous Kofi Annan. The inclusion in the ceasefire deal of an open-ended, unrestricted weapons-inspections regime in Lebanon with pre-approved sanctions imposed on any country caught re-supplying Hezbollah would have been an important indication of seriousness. The failure to articulate such a premeditated penalty is a further indication to our enemies that the Western diplomatic community is devoted to toothless half-measures. The ceasefire has damaged Israeli morale, prevented a more thorough destruction of Hezbollah, and in the short term spared Syria and Iran from the humiliation of seeing their proxy military dismantled. But — and this again may be wishful thinking — it also may be tangible evidence that the Bush administration is taking Iran’s nuclear ambitions seriously.
I'm not so sure about the last. America has dithered and faltered in its support of the Iranian people and in confronting Iran's nuclear ambitions.

And finally there is still 22 August to worry about.

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