Sunday, July 16, 2006

f-ed up

Israel does Iran’s bidding
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In college, I had a giant friend who told me that little guys were constantly picking fights with him: on the playground, in bars, everywhere. He was a really gentle guy, but it just drove him nuts. “They just want to prove themselves in a fight with me,” he would tell me. “It’s gotten to the point that I do not even like to go out.”


Is Israel the giant or the small guy? I would say a little of both. My allegory does not make any sense at all, and I probably should just delete it. What I really want to know is how could Israel allow itself to be lured into a war that will only serve to strengthen its enemies? It’s no secret anywhere that Iran is suspected of being behind Hezbollah’s kidnapping. It’s also no secret that Iran finances Hezbollah. There are even murals of Iranians “martyred” in battles fought with Hezbollah. Iran wants so many issues on the UN Security Council’s plate that no meaningful decisions can be reached. Now there is North Korea, Iran, and Israel to deal with. That’s quite a big serving.

Israel’s costly mistakes in Lebanon have been widely critiqued by many generally favorable to Israel. What makes them repeat those mistakes? Someone tell me.

Laura Zittrain Eisenberg argues that clear borders are essential for Israel (MERIA Volume 4, No. 3 - September 2000). In her section on Israel’s entry into Lebanon’s civil war she points out this crucial mistake:

Begin relished the irony in the Jewish State rescuing oppressed Christians, while the rest of the world stayed mute. But Beirut was not Berlin, and Begin's insistence on viewing the Maronite situation in European, post-Holocaust terms removed him further from Lebanese realities than any of his predecessors.


A larger quote here:

Do Good Fences Make Good Neighbors?: Israel and Lebanon after the Withdrawal
Who is on the other side?

(The Israeli Perspective)

In the early 1980s Israel made its most dangerous blunder in assessing the intentions and relative power of its Lebanese friends and foes. Up until the 1970s the Zionist/Israeli exaggeration of a friendly Christian community of allies in Lebanon caused minimum damage because Israel did not predicate policy upon that faulty precept. While the increasingly unrealistic perception of a Maronite partner perhaps precluded the Yishuv from pursuing a more realistic and productive Lebanon policy, it had not exposed it to any special political or military threat. The same held true for the first two decades of Israeli statehood. But once the Lebanese civil war began in 1975, Israel fell into the common trap of relying on religious shorthand, Christian vs. Muslim, to distinguish the nature and intentions of the key actors and began to pursue policy in Lebanon accordingly.

But in actuality, the conflict was one between Maronites trying to preserve their traditional political and economic privileges in Lebanon versus everyone else trying to seize a larger piece of the Lebanese pie for themselves. Israel's interests in Lebanon were not "Christian" at all, but rather dictated by standard strategic political thinking, which made any anti-PLO (and later anti-Hizballah) force a potential ally. (17) Differences within and among the Israeli cabinet, military and intelligence services concerning the desirability and capability of the Phalange as an ally are well-documented in the many accounts of the 1982 war. There was general agreement over the usefulness of forcing the PLO away from the northern border and even destroying the organization, if possible, but Prime Minister Menahem Begin used the Maronite angle both in formulating strategy and in appealing to Israeli public opinion. Deeply steeped in the historical lore of Maronite friendliness, few Israelis initially balked at the depiction of Lebanese Christians threatened with genocide and a natural harmony of Christian and Israeli interests in the face of mutual Muslim, Palestinian, and Syrian foes.

Begin relished the irony in the Jewish State rescuing oppressed Christians, while the rest of the world stayed mute. But Beirut was not Berlin, and Begin's insistence on viewing the Maronite situation in European, post-Holocaust terms removed him further from Lebanese realities than any of his predecessors.

Despite behind-the-scenes diplomatic activity, support for the SLA, and its own military operations in July 1993 (Operation Accountability) and April 1996 (Grapes of Wrath), Israel failed to suppress Hizballah. Fatalities ran at 20-30 IDF soldiers per year. Attempting to avoid roadside bombs, the IDF began to ferry its soldiers to security zone bases by helicopter, a plan that worked only until a collision between two helicopters in February 1997 claimed 73 lives. From that tragedy the "Four Mothers" group was born, a grassroots movement initiated by four mothers of sons serving in Lebanon, with the goal of compelling the government to withdraw all Israeli troops from Lebanon. (18) The organization introduced and legitimized the concept of unilateral withdrawal in national debate, its message driven home by the relentless procession of IDF body bags from Lebanon. Hizballah had succeeded in making the security zone untenable.



(The Lebanese Perspective)

Israel was so focused on the PLO and its Lebanese and Syrian allies that it neglected to evaluate properly the Lebanese Shi`a's politicization in the early 1970s, marked by the rise to leadership of Musa al-Sadr, and the formation of Shi'a organizations such as Amal and the Islamic fundamentalist Hizballah. Although some Shi'a supported the Palestinians and the PLO, others--angered at oppressive PLO domination and PLO cross-border attacks that invited Israeli retaliatory strikes against their villages--responded to Israel's anti-PLO invasion of 1982 with relief and support. But as hostilities dragged on 1982, Israeli forces settled into the south, building new roads, posting road signs in Hebrew, commandeering facilities, and establishing bases or detention camps. These steps caused Israel to change in many Shi'a eyes from liberator to occupier. Despite the fact that a majority of the FLM and SLA foot soldiers were Shia, Israel had neither recognized nor rewarded the Shi'a as potential allies, taking their continued acquiescence for granted.

By 1985 Amal, founded to champion Shia rights within Lebanon, was being outgunned by Hizballah, which proclaimed a pan-Islamic fundamentalism. Funded by Iran and encouraged by Syria, Hizballah sought to drive the Israelis back across the border. Frequent declarations by the organization also stated an intention to remove Israel from Palestine and Jerusalem, as well. It is ironic that the PLO, target of the 1982 invasion, became Israel's peace partner in 1993, while many of the previously friendly Shi'a of south Lebanon joined Israel's new Hizballah enemy.



Missed Opportunity?

Hindsight is always 20/20, but it does appear that Israel missed a critical opportunity for salvaging some benefit from the 1982 invasion in the year or two immediately afterward. Unlike the situation in 1978, the PLO was really gone this time, and although the alliance with the Phalange had already soured, relations were still good with the Christians and Shia of south Lebanon. Had Israel withdrawn at that time, and/or accurately recognized the sensibilities and needs of the south Lebanese people, it might have earned the trust of a population genuinely interested in seeing the border quiet and secure. In a reflective post-withdrawal interview, Israel's coordinator for activity in Lebanon, Uri Lubrani, similarly suggests that Israel could and should have redeployed to the international border in 1984. (19) By failing to identify and accommodate the south Lebanese actors who remained after the PLO's expulsion, Israel helped provoke the creation of Hizballah, an enemy equally or more punishing than the PLO had ever been.


Unfortunately for everyone, we are living in a time of inferior leaders.

3 comments:

diana said...

T:

The logic of what you are saying is that Iran should be allowed to provoke, provoke, provoke and provoke, and never face consequences.

Perhaps this wasn't the greatest of choices. I don't know. But Israel's options were to....what? Let Hizbollah wreck at will?

Also, there's a myth meme running around that Hizbollah is somehow unpopular among "the Lebanese people". Not so! General Sleiman (I think, a Christian) said that they
are allies in the war against "the enemy" Israel. They have 12 seats in the Parliament. They are psychopaths, like the rulers of Iran.

What is your recommendation?

ET said...

Diana, Well said. Hezbollah is not unpopular. They are seen as heroes for removing Israel from the country. In a sense, the Lebanese and the Israelis both make mistakes with the extremists among them. The Israelis saw the early west bank settlers as heroes and did not foresee the dangers they would bring to the country. The Lebanese see Hezbollah as heroes even though many, many Lebanese are idealogically opposed to their beliefs. Just as many, many Israelis are idealogically opposed to the beliefs of the settlers.

So what is my recommendation? Unfortunately, I don't have one. All I have are fears. Those fears mainly center on Iran's growing influence in the region; influence that is fed by attention and attack. It is no secret that Ahmadinejad is popular with Arabs because he is seen as someone with the guts to stand up to the west. This is fed by the west's attention. Without that attention, he would be no one. So even though Arabs and Iranians have no natural alliances, they are building them with the figure of cowboy AN. Iran is perhaps more feared by the governments of Islamic countries than by us.
So what can Israel do? Don't ask me. I don't know. Does that mean I should not comment? Perhaps it does.
I'll stick to day-to-day stuff from now on.

Diana said...

No, comment away. But I feel the need to defend an embattled democracy.

I heard that there were huge pro-Hizb. demos on the streets in teheran today.

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