When I was a teenager I once heard somebody say that wars were a conspiracy by old people to get rid of young people. While I know this vision is simplistic lately I see that wars seem to be a conspiracy of combatants to get rid of civilians on the other side. The Iraqi war has been like that with the United States conducting air bombardments knowing that in many cases civilians and not terrorists will bear the brunt and with terrorists targeting civilians either directly or indirectly. And now the same is true in the Israel/Lebanon war.
First some background. Over the last two years I was in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Israel, something that very Jews have done. I am not a Middle East expert but my Spanish based foundation Safe Democracy brings together many Middle East thinkers and analysts from different sides to Madrid or to what we believe is constructive dialogue in our internet publication. Still as a non expert I would like to summarize my analysis of the war going on between Lebanon and Israel and comment on what I see as the three most likely outcomes of the conflict.
My view of this war is simple. Until a few weeks ago, Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President was very concerned because Europe and USA were focusing too much on Iran´s nuclear policy. While Europe and America were divided over Iraq they were united over preventing Iran, a country publicly committed to the destruction of Israel, become a nuclear power. But because Ahmadinejad is one of the smartest leaders in the Middle East he prepared an exit strategy that so far has worked extremely well for him. Basically Ahmadinejad instructed Hezbollah, his proxy army in Lebanon to attack Israel. He also provided them with enough rockets to create significant destruction in Israel. Israel reacted in the way that Ahmadinejad was hoping for, namely not only attacking South Lebanon but also attacking Beirut and blockading all of Lebanon. Attacking all of Lebanon was exactly what Ahmadinejad and the Syrians were hoping for and it was huge mistake on the part of the Israelis as it served both nations. Iran is now seen as less of a threat to the region than Israel and Syria, the traditional occupier of Lebanon, a country who´s leader most likely personally ordered the assassination of Hariri and who was falling out with Lebanon is now again seen as a friend by many Lebanese. Hezbollah was but a minority faction in Lebanon, a multi cultural, multi religious country. Before this war support for them was relatively weak. But just as the US government has made it very easy for Al Qaida to attract recruits after its invasion of Iraq, by attacking all of Lebanon, Israel is now making it very easy for Hezbollah to increase in popularity. Less than a year ago I met with Ohlmert together with a group of around 8 peace activists in Jerusalem. Frankly I was not impressed. Olhmert is probably the least prepared leader that Israel has had in a long time and he fell for the Ahmadinejad “ambush”. Now he is losing on both counts, on international support and in the battlefield.
So what is going to happen now? I see three scenarios. One is that Israel prevails in its main objective which is to bring an international force to the Lebanon/Israel border to guarantee that Hezbollah stops attacking Israel with rockets thrown from the south of Lebanon. Paradoxically the only way to get this force to come is for Israel to keep killing innocent civilians in Lebanon and creating tremendous economic damage so the democracies that supply the soldiers can justify the mission. So this is what Israel is doing now, escalating the conflict and forcing the UN to come in. Israel realizes that it would have a very hard time itself in policing south Lebanon and wants the world to do the job so in this way the world can witness that with Lebanon, as opposed to with Palestine, there really is no territorial dispute.
Now, a second scenario is that this war becomes a second Iraq, namely that nothing radical happens and it becomes a war of attrition in which a few soldiers and terrorists fight, not each other but each other’s civilian populations and it is mostly civilians who die. Iraq´s war is about human bombs and car bombs. Lebanon/Israel’s could be about rockets vs air strikes: a pretty horrid prospect.
Lastly the third possibility I see is that Israel, discouraged by the success of Hezbollah in killing civilians and disrupting life in Israel and with the blessing and help of the USA, decides to wage an air war with Iran, the real source of the Hezbollah attacks. But this war would create many more civilian casualties, this time in Iran. What may precipitate this option is that an air war is the only war that USA and Israel can win against Iran so they may choose to fight it together. The problem with this type of war is that as long as it is an air war leaders are generally able to protect themselves in expensive bunkers and it is mostly innocent civilians who die. And should this be the case and America and Israel decided to go for Ahmadinejad the through an invasion using a strategy similar to the one used to depose Saddam Hussein, the invading armies would find themselves fighting in a very hostile environment as Ahmadinejad truly is a popular leader in his country.
Lastly I wanted to say that other than the fact that I had to lie about being Jewish and having been to Israel I loved my visit to Beirut and I believe that Beirut and Jerusalem are paradoxically very similar cities, and Israel and Lebanon paradoxically very similar countries with diverse societies. It is a tragedy that citizens of these two countries cannot visit each other as most of them would like each other countries more than any other in the region.
Posted on July 28, 2006