In what passes for analysis of the war involving Israel, Lebanon and Palestine in US and Israeli government circles, in the well-oiled PR machine that shills for them, and in much of the US media, we are told about a struggle against terrorism by a state under siege. The basic argument is that Israel is “responding to terrorist violence,” and that the only real question is, How soon will Israeli force, backed by American determination, prevail? But this scenario has little to do with reality in the Middle East.
There will be no “destruction” of Hezbollah, and no “uprooting” of its infrastructure or that of Hamas, whatever the results of Israel’s siege of Gaza and its merciless attacks against Lebanon. The rhetoric about “terrorism” has mesmerized those who parrot it, blinding them to the fact that Hezbollah and Hamas are deeply rooted popular movements that have developed as a response to occupation–of the West Bank and Gaza for nearly forty years, and of southern Lebanon from 1978 to 2000. Whatever one might say about the two movements’ callousness in targeting civilians (a subject on which Israel’s defenders are hardly in a position to preach), both have won impressive victories in elections and have provided social services and protection to their people.
The Lebanese government will not do Israel’s bidding in south Lebanon. The deep divisions in Lebanon over Hezbollah’s military presence before Israel’s blitz began are rapidly disappearing. Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Lebanese Speaker Nabih Berri, Saad Hariri (son of assassinated Prime Minister Rafik Hariri), Gen. Michel Aoun, President Émile Lahoud and other major leaders of the country of all sects and all political persuasions and Lebanese public opinion have been horrified at Israel’s ravaging of their country’s infrastructure and its defenseless civilian population, yet again. Few indeed will be the Lebanese voices to support the Israeli-US position as this savaging of Lebanon goes on–and just because it is largely absent from US television does not mean that it is invisible to the rest of the world.
Iran and Syria, Hezbollah’s principal allies, will not come out of this conflict weaker, even if it develops into a regional war involving either. The United States has been threatening both for several years, since 9/11 released the cowboy in George W. Bush. Their positions have been strengthened by the bulldozer-like obtuseness of US policy on Hamas and Hezbollah, never more so than since Israel fell into Hezbollah’s trap and overreacted to the capture of two of its soldiers and the wounding of several of its civilians in mid-July. A war with either of these countries, or a serious effort to overthrow either of their unsavory regimes, will in the end weaken either Israel or the United States or both, should they escalate this dangerous international crisis.
The pro-American Arab regimes that initially foolishly aligned themselves with the United States and Israel over the Lebanese crisis have shown their regret by backpedaling as fast as they can. Public opinion in their countries is massively against their position (Al Jazeera’s viewership is way up; that of the Saudi-run Al Arabiya is way down) and is making itself felt. Fortunately for the Bush Administration and Israel, none of these countries have a functioning democracy. The net result of this crisis, however it comes out, will be a further weakening of these regimes. They may temporarily increase their dependence on the United States. But they are weaker than they were before this crisis began, and their oppositions, whether in Cairo, Amman or Riyadh, are stronger.
Israel’s regional power decreases when it escalates the use of force against Palestinians and Lebanese. This has been the case for the last couple of decades–the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the first intifada of 1987-90 and Hezbollah’s defeat of Israel in south Lebanon in the years leading up to 2000 are all examples–and it will happen again. The United States has discovered the same thing (at least the majority of the population in the reality-based community, not in the never-never land of the crazies who run our Middle East policy), as the use of massive force in Iraq has produced a similarly massive weakening of the US position throughout the Middle East. The United States has experienced a decline in its power and influence in the region unparalleled in the post-World War II era.
Much depends on whether an Israeli, American or Israeli-American war with Syria and, much more serious, Iran can be avoided. If escalation of what is already a major war in Gaza and Lebanon can be prevented, the conflict’s regional effects will be mitigated. Much depends on how fast European public opinion, turning rapidly, expresses its revulsion at what is happening in Lebanon. Tales of the massive destruction and civilian casualties are being carried home by tens of thousands of French, British, Italian and German evacuees, many of them dual nationals, appearing on French and British TV talking about the atrocities they have seen. Much also depends on how adventurous Iran and Syria choose to be, how much punishment Hezbollah can take and still keep fighting, and how wise the Palestinians are in dealing with their difficult internal situation. And much depends on how far the man in the White House will go with his instincts. If he reins in his darker impulses and those of the Israeli general staff, which is running the show on that end of the alliance, the current slide into the abyss can yet be halted. If not, the Middle East and the United States are headed for catastrophe.