Saturday, August 19, 2006

No winners in this Middle East war

No winners in this Middle East war
By Ghassan Rubeiz --- The Arab American News ---- August 12, 2006

The Middle East is grimmer than ever. U.N. ceasefire fire Resolution 1701 has not addressed the basic issues, namely, relations between the U.S. and Israel on one side, and Syria and Iran on the other. The Hizbullah-Israel five-week battle has no clear winners; there are only losers.

A look at Israel’s war results is sobering. Israel has turned back the clock for Lebanon thirty years. It has destroyed much of Lebanon and emboldened Hizbullah. But Israel has also set back the clock to 1948, when the state was established and its existence was in question.
Partial military success for a state like Israel is failure. Arabs had indulged in scoring war failures in the past, but sadly, they can “afford” it. But Israel can not afford to lose a single major war. Israeli ideologues wonder if they can continue to secure their state with sheer military asymmetry. In the wake of this 33 day battle, some visionary Israelis ask if there is lasting security in total reliance on partnership with the West and severe alienation within the region.

The implications of two limited successive military Israeli failures in Lebanon, (the first was a sudden retreat in the year 2000 from south Lebanon) generates much worry for Israeli leaders and ideologues. For generals, there is alarm that future Arab guerilla-orchestrated wars might not only threaten the security of Israel, but undermine its very existence.

Israelis are aware that Palestinians, Iraqis and other Arabs are watching and learning from the Lebanese border crisis. Angry Arab young men are starting to believe that Israel is not invincible. The implications of this Arab attitudinal shift on the stability of the region are enormous.

As a close partner of Israel, the U.S. pauses to assess the mess of this war. The five-week battle has cost the U.S. what was left of its credibility in the Middle East. The U.S. is seen by Arabs as the major conductor and enabler of this war. The U.S. democracy campaign is an investment in error and hypocrisy. The U.S. condemns Iran and Syria for arming Hizbullah but ignores its mirror-like complicity in arming Israel. The war in Iraq is already a quagmire for the U.S. Iran will exploit the political currency it has gained in recent weeks to spoil U.S. regional politics. Iran is in a position to further harden politics in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan and the Gulf states.

So far, the Lebanese people are the major victims of this war. Their state is weaker than ever. They have to rebuild again after 15 years of post civil war rebuilding. Before this summer’s conflict, their national debt was 170% of the gross national product: about 40 billion U.S. dollars.
Lebanon’s current political conditions resemble early civil war realities. In the late seventies the Lebanese militias were stronger than the Lebanese army. Israel and individual Arab states supported different militias. Syria occupied Lebanon in 1976 to protect it and with time the protection turned into domination. On the surface, the Lebanese look united today in facing Israel’s merciless attack, but they remain saddled with divisive sectarian politics. The war may soon bring to the front the Shi'a claim for leadership in Lebanese politics.

Hizbullah faces a big burden. While it has enhanced its standing as a challenger of Israel, it has indirectly weakened the authority of the Lebanese state. With one million displaced, one thousand buried, several thousands in hospitals, Hizbullah must be aware of its burden in giving Israel the pretext to launch a preplanned ruthless war. Hizbullah’s leaders are very mindful that the majority of the Lebanese victims are Shi'a, the community Hizbullah strongly represents.

The entire region is a loser in this crisis. Today, the Arab regimes are shaking as they observe Hizbullah’s performance on the battle field. Having lost several wars with Israel, Arab states are embarrassed to explain their past military failures to their people. Sadly, the defense forces of twenty two Arab nations have been largely used to repress domestic opposition. For being too friendly with the U.S. and Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are the most negatively affected.

Should the cease-fire break, Syria would find itself on the hot front line with Israel and the U.S. Syria has cornered itself in a close alliance with Iran, because it lacks friends in the international community and it wants the Golan Heights back from Israel.

How about Iran? As an enabler of Hizbullah’s heroism, Iran feels vindicated in its proxy war with Israel and in its challenge to U.S. hegemony. But Iran’s support of Hizbullah has weakened its defense of its nuclear program. U.N. Security Council sanctions may be applied on Iran at the end of this month. Iran has opened itself to increased international pressure and to possible future U.S. air assaults on its nuclear facilities.

Iranian society may not wish to finance a costly humanitarian recovery in Lebanon. Iran’s symbiosis with Hizbullah may not be maintained for ever, without involving it in a serious military confrontation. Do the Iranians want a new direct battle front after their unfinished recovery from a long and devastating war with Iraq?

In conclusion, the two major forces in this crisis are the United States and Iran. Of the two, the U.S. bears the greatest responsibility for changing the course of foreign policy and the style of its confrontational diplomacy. Such a U.S. change should encourage Iran to offer breakthrough compromises on Hizbullah, Iraq, Palestine, Syria and on its own nuclear ambitions. The ceasefire in Lebanon will hold for a while, but this regional war is not very likely to terminate by a narrow and ambiguous U.N. resolution. The war causes are not yet addressed. Winners on all sides will only emerge with a regional peace between Israel and the Arab States and within a new era of intercultural understanding.

Source: Ghassan Rubeiz is an Arab American commentator.

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