Thursday, August 10, 2006

Israel's demand for cease fire won't work

Israel's demands for ceasefire won't work

By Ghassan Rubeiz -- The Arab American News ---


For accepting a ceasefire agreement, Israel demands cooperation with the Lebanese army to liquidate Hizbullah. Israel's demand is impossible to satisfy. In integrating an indigenous and popular militia, the Lebanese army is unable to work side-by-side with an enemy state in a condition of intense hostility. Israel is dictating to Lebanon how best to protect its borders. The Lebanese army is ready to assume its responsibility on the border, with a deployment of 15,000 soldiers and with the help of a beefed-up UNIFIL force. Politicians are busy trying to find a compromise to produce a workable U.N. Resolution that would satisfy all sides.
Meanwhile, with a threat to conduct a massive invasion, Israel is pre-empting a U.N. draft resolution that may require its withdrawal behind Lebanese borders. The Jewish state is widening a ground offensive in the South. It is trying to create political facts by gaining territory for political negotiation, and to set up a framework for problem solving on its own terms. In addition, Israel shows that its grand military operation that started on July 12 might have been planned much earlier.
Was Hizbullah's July 12 border attack a grave miscalculation? Has Hizbullah handed Israel a pretext to execute an extensive military scheme in order to enforce U.N. Resolution 1559? Resolution 1559 calls for Lebanese militias to disband. The second prognostic question is whether Israel is committing a great miscalculation of its own, by seeing current geopolitical realities through an outdated 1967 political lens?
If Israel reaches the Litani River in its anticipated invasion, it would not be easy for it to withdraw, even if it had intended to make its presence short. It is likely to meet stiff resistance and face an extended war of attrition. An extended occupation would be very costly for Israel, for Lebanon and for the region.
Israel can not expect history to perfectly repeat itself; the region has changed. In 1967, President Nasser overestimated his ability to withstand hegemonic forces in the region. His defiant rhetoric and poor coordination with neighboring Arab countries that had sentiments to fight Israel, handed the Jewish state a monumental prize. In June 1967, an Arab Israeli war gave Israel a phenomenal territorial victory over combined Arab forces, albeit with indirect support of the U.S. Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in Palestine, the Golan in Syria and the Egyptian Sinai peninsula. Of the 1967 war spoils, Israel has managed to retain Palestinian Occupied Territories and the Syrian Golan, and it has succeeded in neutralizing Egypt by returning the Sinai.
Israel maintained its vast occupation of Arab land over the last forty years by its ability to sustain a policy of deterrence through military power superiority (deterrent asymmetry). There are explanations to Israel's political miracle of "doing injustice and looking just."
The pathetic international diplomacy of Arabs and their uniform autocracy, go a long way to explain Israel's success in looking good, peaceful and democratic to the rest of the industrialized world.
But there are other factors behind the Israeli miracle of keeping the skeletons of its occupation hidden. The suffering of the 1967 occupation (of refugees and displaced people) was not publicized worldwide on TV screens. Grassroots resistance was tame. Iran was silenced by the Shah's pro West regime. The U.S. was still regarded as a neutral power broker. There was no serious international terrorism. Arab cold war (client-state) politics was divisive. And most importantly, political Islam had not developed.
Today, the Arab world is boiling; political Islam is on the rise, and Iran is a regional superpower. The U.S. is saddled with Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan, Somalia and North Korea.
In this environment of changed political conditions, Israel's attempt at reoccupying South Lebanon is widening its load of political trouble. In re-settling Lebanon, Israel is strengthening Hizbullah, even if it temporarily weakens the militia's military arm. By going to the Litani River borders to "facilitate" the hypothetical deployment of the Lebanese army and the multi national force, the opposite is likely to happen. Hizbullah's "mission" of resistance would be strengthened and its image as a national force of border protection would be totally legitimized.
Israel's invasion and occupation of Lebanon is not only causing a humanitarian tragedy; it is setting the clock back thirty years and fanning the flames of civil tension. In the past, forced international solutions divided the Lebanese into communities of compliance and of rejection. Lebanon does not want a new civil war. Think of the U.S. invasion of Iraq to see the parallel.
As stated earlier, Israel's alternative proposal to the U.N. resolution requires cooperation of its forces with the Lebanese army. The 15000 Lebanese soldiers that would deploy in Israel's shadow in South Lebanon cannot function as a national united force. This would naturally humiliate the Shi'a community, the largest backer of Hizbullah and the largest Lebanese community. The Lebanese state might collapse and the entire country would become an open military frontier, if Israel's occupation turns into a framework for peace making.
Israel's orchestration of peace on the border would mobilize Syria. An Israeli-occupied Lebanon would easily bring Syria directly to the conflict. Would Israel then attack Damascus and other Syrian cities such as Homs or Hama? How would a Syrian-Israeli war affect the new regime in Syria?
Syria and Iran have a defense treaty. Iran comes next on the "axis of resistance." Thus the war of "security" that Israel is generating by reoccupying Lebanon widens. Iran would become involved as Israel directs peace efforts in South Lebanon. If Iran is attacked for aiding Hizbullah and Syria, a new level of international tension would be reached. With Iranian influence on Iraq's stability, Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other Gulf Shi'a communities, are the U.S. and Israel able to calculate the cost of increased regional instability?
The circle of instability widens further in the region as a result of a possible Israeli reoccupation of Lebanon. In Egypt and Jordan, there is growing popular anger against the regimes for forging a fragile peace with the State of Israel and for being too dependent on U.S. policies. Saudi Arabia, being the closest U.S. ally, must be alarmed about a possible popular revolt. It is not known if a new Israeli occupation of Arab land would stimulate grassroots Arab anger to a regime-tipping point. The "New Middle East" that President Bush is planning for the region may turn out to be not Washington-oriented. It may be a domestic regime-change, where the force is from the street, not from abroad; where the culture of change is indigenous, not foreign; and where the end game is unpredictable and highly risky.
Lastly, occupation-induced anger provides new recruits for radical resistance movements, of which Hamas and Hizbullah are prototypes. This popular anger also fuels mobilization of international terrorism and allows Al- Qaeda types of terror groups to mix with or influence legitimate national resistance.
Hizbullah can not be eradicated by force. What was true in 1967, 1977, 1987 and 1997 is not true today. Much has happened in a decade. The U.S. and Israel must review their concept of security, reconfigure their war strategies, revive dormant peace plans, re-assess the dynamics of globalization, review the value of soft diplomacy and reconsider the role of economic empowerment and cultural sensitivity in democracy building. g
The author is an Arab American commentator.
August 12, 2006

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