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July 15, 2006

What's Hezbollah's Game?

The invaluable Anthony Shadid has an article on the effects Hezbollah's actions are having on the internal politics of Lebanon. A close read raises the possibility that Hezbollah's actions were a calculated attempt to force Israel to respond to them as if they were the state of Lebanon, rather than a party within Lebanon. As the thinking may go, this would rally the country to their side, and the illusion would rapidly transform into truth. Other factions in the government, of course, are noticing the power play, and have begun speaking out against Hezbollah's decision to subvert the integrity and autonomy of the state.

In part, this is the problem: It's just not clear what Hezbollah's actions represent. An attempt by Iran to flex its muscles? An independent grab for power inside Lebanon? A provocation by Syria? Some other combination? And without knowing Hezbollah's endgame, it's a bit hard for the international community, not to mention Israel, to know how to respond.

Update: Also, this interview with the one American group conducting diplomacy with Hezbollah is a must-read. According to them, much of this has been accidental (or at least unplanned), from the original kidnapping to the missile hitting Haifa. It's never clear how much to believe, but it may prove to be the case that we've been watching a tragicomedy of errors, though one whose season finale might be World War III.

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Sure, but it's also unclear what Israel's actions represent. Why the bombing of civilian targets? Is this a desperate attempt by Olmert to prove he's hawkish enough to be the PM? An attempt to topple the Palestinian and Lebanese governments? A deliberate escalation to a regional war? And how would war with Iran and Syria benefit Israel, either?

The problem is that while all these players have various motives, none of them seem to go about achieving them in anything resembling a halfway sane manner - not that America is one to talk three and a half years into one of the most pointless and self-defeating wars in recent memory. Countries, terrorists and guerillas rarely adopt the policies best suited to accomplish their intended goals, so determining what goals a given group has based on what they're doing is a dodgy game at best.

Posted by: Christmas | Jul 15, 2006 1:59:03 AM

I think the interview linked to at TAPPED is persuasive. The Hezbollah actions were ones of opportunity and accident.

With that in mind, as pointed out earlie on TAPPED, a disproporinate response is by design deproportinate. And that is how Israel responds, and I must confess, I think that is a justifiable reaction. I have heard on several news segments "Israel has traded for prisoners before." They can continue doing this, or they can, as seems to be the case here, say, "no." Israel has always operated on the idea that if you hurt us, we will hurt you so bad that you'll never do it again. I think that is justified. Of course, it doesn't deter future attacks completely, but I'm not sure what would.

I don't think that Israel can bomb its enemies to oblivion. Well, they could, but they won't for a variety of good reasons. The current Israeli leadership probably will not continue to obliterate Lebanon indefinitely (and, it should be noted, they could unleash a hell on earth in Lebanon if they wanted to, and I mean conventionally, not nuclear). Massive retaliation is the name of the game, not super-crazy war of the worlds retaliation. This strategy would make sense in a "don't fuck with us" system that actually provided results. This has worked in the past.

I'm not sure it will this time. Israel will either tone it down and do a prisoner exchange, or truly do something we can't even think about right now, as in, obliterate a lot of Lebanon and perhaps simply starve the Gaza strip. The two conflicts are different, but related. Israel might actually go gonzo, as in, make the suffering in Lebanon and Gaza so incredibly heinous that the rest of the world will be appalled and...do nothing. No one except the US will tell Israel what to do, and we don't have the leaders to do that right now. We're against terrorist, so telling Israel to negotiate with Hezbollah is a very big climb-down. We don't have a president willing to solve problems, so our impact is virtually zero. Shit, we don't even know what we think about foreign policy anyway.

In short, this might be the moment where Israel really does take the gloves off and defy the world, who won't/can't do anything, and simply crush its neighbors. Something it has been able to do for some time, but has never done. The result will be unimagineably bad for so many people. Yet, it makes a certain amount of sense. When you neighbors are sworn to your elimination, at one point or another, it seems reasonable to show that you can eliminate them. Or even do so. I'm not being apocalyptic, I don't think nukes will be involve, but Israel might actually bomb the everliving shit out of a few places to make a point.

This post (my post) makes me sick, as in, I can't believe this shit is happening, and good god the suffering that is going on in all of the countries involved. That said, I think my logic is sound. Massive, disproportionate retaliation only works if the enemy backs down. If they don't, it seems that massive, whole-scale destruction is the next step. (You can't escalate, and then decide to exchange prisoners, if you know what I mean). If the US had the moral authority to call an end to it, we would. But we don't. This time I am afraid the shit really could get out of hand. And by that, I mean Israel fighting all of the same enemies at once that it did in 1948. The cargnage would be incredible. But if people in Israel, like me, think along the lines of "if not now, then when?," this type of scenario is all too frighteningly real.

And by the way, I'm not advocating the "if not now, then when" philosophy. I'm merely saying that constant suicide bombs, hostile neighbors (democratically elected) , and an ineffective international diplomacy situation make Israel much more likely to be not only "disproportionate" but flat-out extreme. The US used to intervene and stop the madness. We can't now, because we are unwilling, and to be quite honest, unable. As a result, our inability to step in and say enough is enough might lead to a huge shitstorm in the Middle East.

Posted by: abjectfunk | Jul 15, 2006 4:08:21 AM

While there is the possibility that the attack on the IDF patrol was indeed an "accident of opportunity" rather than a planned aggression, Nasrallah hinted in his remarks on Thursday that in fact, it was a planned operation and designed to free the several hundred Lebanese languishing in Israeli prisons.

That said, I agree with you 100% that too much is being made in this instance of Hizballah's ties to Iran and Syria. In fact, I believe it much more likely that if this operation was indeed planned, that it was in response to growing pressure from the international community and internal Lebanese voices for Hizballah to comply with UN resolution 1559 and either fold itself into the Lebanese armed forces and abandon its positions along the southern border or disarm itself outright.

It seems unlikely that Nasrallah would risk as much as he is risking as far as his domestic position is concerned in order to do the bidding of a foreign power. One would think that if Nasrallah could be ordered about by the Iranians or especially the Syrians, that Hizballah intervention would have taken on a much different character - one much more likely to lead to a huge payoff in the end. As it is, Hizballah is getting the tar beat out of it and Nasrallah's popularity has taken a huge hit among the non-Shia population.

Seems a large price to pay for being a toady.

Posted by: Rick Moran | Jul 15, 2006 4:19:50 AM

And Bingo, ethnic cleansing.
Same shit, different pile .... mistake after mistake.
Real "Guns of August" fiasco.
What was the saying ?
"For evil to prevail, all that is required is that good men do nothing".
The dude who pays the bills still can have a huge effect.
The time to intimidate opposition is only when you're afraid : not when the opposition is running scared and will bite as a panic reflex.

Posted by: opit | Jul 15, 2006 4:24:11 AM

Massive, disproportionate retaliation only works if the enemy backs down.

I thought the enemy here was of the sort that doesn't mind blowing themselves up if it takes their enemies with them. And who uses things like clearly disproportionate responses to as propaganda fuel for their own apocalyptic dynamic.

Posted by: Thers | Jul 15, 2006 11:29:57 AM

Check this out. Ledeen, unhinged: "At that moment, we should want Hizbollah destroyed in both Lebanon and Syria, Assad under attack from his own people for playing this awful game, and Khamenei humiliated as the artefice of a failed operation. We should be openly calling for regime change in Damascus and Tehran, on the grounds that the civilized world cannot any longer tolerate tyrannical murderers calling the shots in the Middle East and elsewhere.

But we have not heard anything about "seizing the moment." We hear lawyer talk and diplotalk, surrender talk and appeasement talk, and there is no action whatsoever. Is this not the time to go after the terrorist training camps in Syria and Iran? What in the world are we waiting for?

And finally, if we dither through this one, the next one will be worse. Maybe much worse. It's not going away. Stability is a mirage. Chamberlain had a choice between dishonor and war. He chose war and got dishonor. You too, Mr. President. It's the way it works."

So if Bush doesn't start a war in the Middle East, he's Neville Chamberlain.

Posted by: david mizner | Jul 15, 2006 11:40:47 AM

Not everyone that backs away from war is Neville Chamberlain. There were very specific circumstances that led to the final dramatic failure of appeasement in the run up to WWII. Reframing every leaders circumstances, intent, and capabilities into the guise of Hitler is a poor reading of history and shows even poorer understanding of the present.

On that note.. lets take a pessimistic view for a moment, not necessarily one that I believe in, but...

Our 'lack of leadership' in this whole affair is obvioius. ..perhaps too obvious for real diplomacy to be at work there.

What if we were egging on the Israelis after this whole thing started? Down with the terrorists! ..and all that. What happens if Israel gets in over its head? ..perhaps Iran mobilizes troops to help out poor defensless Syria, and Israel cant handle it after that.

The hawks in Washington have called repeatedly for attacks on Iran. Stupid as that would be. Bush has repeatedlt stated that we are fervent allies of Israel. What do allies do but defend each other in the face of military defeat. (not like israel would help in our defense though, alas)

If we take the paranoid view, this could be the lead up to an American war with Iran, and one that Bush could politically defend. After all he would only be helping out an ally..

..ick.. its not a pretty picture. But its also no more a conspiracy theory then the oft repeated story that Roosevelt wanted to enter WWII and set us up to that end.

Posted by: david b | Jul 15, 2006 2:21:21 PM

If anyone is interested in what it's like here in Beirut while Israel is busy turning back Lebanon's clock twenty years, you can take a look at my blog.

The Israelis have just bombed Beirut's port, which was how Western nationals were supposed to get out of the country. They've also bombed the manara (lighthouse) neighborhood of Beirut, which is about a 10 minute walk from my place...

Posted by: sean | Jul 15, 2006 2:54:43 PM

thank you for the link to your blog, and chronicling what is happening. hope you will remain safe, and out of harm's way.

Posted by: jacqueline | Jul 15, 2006 3:06:29 PM

"much of this has been accidental (or at least unplanned), from the original kidnapping to the missile hitting Haifa . . . it may prove to be the case that we've been watching a tragicomedy of errors, though one whose season finale might be World War III."

Sarajavo. 1914.

Posted by: Billmon | Jul 15, 2006 3:21:44 PM

Sean--I find it unbelievable that the American government is charging money to evacuate Americans in harm's way in Beirut. Hope you are safe.

Posted by: Steve Mudge | Jul 15, 2006 5:01:56 PM

My read of it seemed more like they were evacuating to Cyprus. Then Americans would have to pay their way out from there. Not quite a pay for rescue scheme.. but also not quite what we would expect from our military either.

Posted by: david b | Jul 15, 2006 6:12:58 PM

Those filthy Shiite(Shit) Muslims are at it again. It is not America or Israel who is responsible for this violence but those Muslim infidels from Iran and Syria. Iran is buying time again as the West sits by and thinks diplomacy will work. Diplomacy does not work with terrorists. These Muslim terrorists are the new face of Nazism.

It is a case of deja vu - the rise of militant Islam, just like the rise of Hitler. All those crappy Oslo Peace Accords are toilet paper. Muslims don't want peace but war. Mad Madmoud of Iran is waiting for the 12th Iman to come and wipe out all the non-believers. Those heretic Persian have beens are gonna get the shock of their life when they find out their God is actually the adversary of the True God.

I feel sorry for the Lebanese Christians. The poor Christians of the Middle East just keep getting beaten. Also the poor Jews who were expelled from their previous lands. The Jews and Christians of the Middle East deserve justice. The Muslims are the Criminals and need to be locked up for good or even better give them capital punishment.

Look at the world. Most of today's current religious, racial and civil wars are perpetrated by the Muslims. The P.C. Police can't stand the truth. The Muslims are the problem. Where are these happy, democratic and peaceful Muslim countries? If Islam had the answers we would all be emigrating to the desert but the reverse is true. Most Muslims want to get out but don't have the intelligence to realise it is them and their Satanic religion that needs to go.

Hezbollah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood - do these boofheads want peace? Do their actions speak of trust and goodwill? Why do we entertain swine like these 3 unwise men? They only speak of violence so give them violence.

God bless Israel and the Christians of Lebanon.

Posted by: Nicholas Folkes | Jul 17, 2006 8:05:07 AM

Why should the U.S. pay for people (citizens or not) to be rescued from an area that has been plagued with warfare and conflict for the last 50 years? Let me guess...people living and/or visiting there were completely caught off guard that violence erupted in the mideast. It's like visiting the top of a smoking volcano and demanding rescue when it starts to erupt...for FREE!

Ironically, they are able to avoid a US tax bill while they reside out of country. Nice.

Damn right they should foot the bill for their own rescue. If they don't have to pay, then I would like to request a free flight to Las Vegas.

Posted by: Greg | Jul 18, 2006 3:52:30 PM

Uh, hello? And what is wrong with these folks signing a promissory note or anything else that says they'll make payment for services rendered, especially if it saves the old skin? I am not aware of any airline, cruise line, or rowboat service that would have pulled oars or flapped wings for free when they chose to exit if nothing had gone wrong; you know, at the end of their VOLUNTARY stay in Lebanon. Did they never plan to leave? So cry somewhere else, you weak-ass idiots. I'm not real sympathetic to people who go stand in crap, against common sense and urgings otherwise, only to complain when the smell gets too strong to bear.

On another note, how long will it take the rest of the world, like the liberal left, to realize how oxymoronic it is to associate "The Religion of Peace" with fascist islam? I don't care what altar, temple, or mosque you worship at, nothing and no one gives you the right to try, that's try, to force the rest of the world to bow to your sick, bassackward, views on religion. Unfortunately, extremists ready to die for their views cannot be reasoned with, as they have no reason.

Posted by: Dave | Jul 19, 2006 10:24:45 PM

Israel has given "Hell" to Palestinians for ages. Every Since 1948. Jews are behind many wars in east. They aren't good neighbors, and I wish they'd bring them to America & give them Texas. That would resolve immigration problems at the border.

They have a self-righteous idealogy which makes them feel, they're entitled to it all. This is known as "Zionism". If anyone has read the "Talmud" everybody is a "Dog" but them. Only time your not, is when your benefiting them far as power or money.

It has made them hated in the past. It is a large part of Israel that is Zionist. Zionism has became a part of American Judeo-Christianity. Its quite clear, Jews aren't for Jesus. Yet, the tunnel visioned far Right Christians have adopted this Judeo Religious Doctrine that Jews are Holy. They are not. They are "Terrorists" themselves. It strange how we label "Terrorist". All our own murderous acts, in Afghastan & Iraq of thousands of innocents we call, "Liberating". I suppose we can call "Death Liberating". I don't like Hypocrisy. I would like to see the sides have equality in military power, and then let the best man win. That would be a fair war. This flaunting of military superiority is obviously resented, and PLO's elect men like Hezbollah, who inspire them to stand up against being bullied off their land. War is evil. An unjust war is even more evil. A cease fire should have been called. Bush appointed Bolton (a Jew) played his role, in making the U.N. Impotent. Afterall, the USA is also guilty of war crimes, and Iraq itself is unjust war. Unfortunatey, Chertoff of homeland security is also a Jew. Americans politics is Zionist influenced, as their religion is.

I could bet this wasn't an accident, to sack Lebanon. Just follow the dots. Who gains. It takes attention off Iraq. It puts Americans back in "Fear" mode before next elections. This is the way the games played. Astara

Posted by: Ann | Jul 23, 2006 4:38:50 AM

Left wing fools like Ann are not able to grasp anything beyond a Democrat convention. Ann is a mis-informed racist. I would even call her a Nazi.

Israel has not been giving the Palestinians "hell" for ages. Don't forget the name, Palestine was given by the Romans to the Jews in Jesus time. The Arabs were pagans worshipping the devil and his many entities. Their new pagan religion is Islam and they are still worshipping Satan. Palestine is Israel. The pagan Arabs were too busy smoking hashish and fighting between eachother.

If the Jews were given Texas it would become even more successful and would probably attract more illegals including Muslims looking for work. The Muslims would still whinge and blame everybody else for their problems.

The Jews are entitled to live and exist in Israel. History, archaeology and the Bible support the argument for Jewish self determination in Israel.

Ann is right to say, "Jews aren't for Jesus" and nor are the Muslims but Christians and Jews share the Old Testament which gives both faiths alot of common ground. There isn't much common ground between Muslims and people of the Book. Would you believe Mohammed(The Prophetless Prophet) or the many writers of the Bible? Mohammed sat up in that dark cave for 17 years smoking copious amounts of hash. Mohammed was an illiterate sex freak. 16 wifes and 6 sex slaves. Maybe Ann was one of his sex slave's in a past life. When you scratch beneath the surface of Islam it is full of hate, racist, inequality, paganism, sexism, war, intolerance and stupidity. And Ann supports this Satanic religion, she must be sleeping with the Devil.

Ann really has alot of anger towards the Jews. Maybe it is jealousy? Maybe Ann is bumming out in a trailer park and wants change. Maybe Bush should have appointed Muslims instead of Jews and we would all be happy. Unfortunately Muslims do not understand democracy. To a Muslim - democracy means a fanatical / militant Mustafa is able to be voted in and cause havoc. Muslims do not understand democracy and if they did, where are these happy accepting Muslim democratic countries? Muslims elect terrorists into their own Parliaments. When you take away oil, Muslim countries only have sand and dates. Muslims do not understand the process of development only the process of hate and war.

Hezbollah attacked Israel first. I pray for Gilad Shalit and his safety. According to Ann this is a Jewish conspiracy. Shalit is actually living it up in a plush Tel Aviv hotel. Israel is surrounded by lunatics who are hell bend on destroying her. Israel only wants 1% of the land in the Middle East. Is this greedy? The pagan Muslims have the other 99% and they want the rest. How greedy these Muslims are, they are not willing to share land with the indigenous people of Palestine. Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Mad Madmoud of Iran and self righteous Ann believes Islam has the answers. Well Ann you are wearing the 'Dunce' cap. Pack your bags and move to sharia Saudi Arabia. I hear that they really know how to treat a lady. Also Ann leave your swimmers and license behind as you can't use them in Saudi. Islam doesn't have any justice just like Ann having no brain.

Palestine is Israel! Islam is from Devil!

Posted by: Nicholas Folkes | Jul 23, 2006 9:06:56 AM

Ann, I hope you don't hate these blessed United States and still live in them. If this is such a cesspool of ethical, moral, and spiritual disgust for you, why are you here? Why do the inhabitants of most countries around the world want, hell, not want, but scratch, fight, and sometimes die to get here? It's real, real simple baby. We do it better here than anyone anywhere else, and we're free to continue to do so. Just try to stop us. If you don't love it, leave it and find somewhere else you like better. In all seriousness, I wish you peace, within you and all around you, and good luck.

Posted by: Dave | Jul 24, 2006 8:21:38 PM

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