Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Who Fought Israel Last Month?

Keywords: John O'Sullivan; Israel; Hezbollah; David and Goliath; Syria; Iran; Sunni; Shia; Hamas; Lebanon; ceasefire resolution; Joschka Fischer; Gwynne Dyer, Nasrallah; Olmert, Netanyahu.

John O’Sullivan displayed a candor today that made me sit up in surprise, much as if I’d bitten into a hot chili pepper. I can’t ignore him after reading today’s Globe and Mail op ed page, though I can’t buy into his conclusions.

There’s no surprise in his claim that Israel was actually defeated in its latest war against . I guess most people would acknowledge that. Israel was supposedly Goliath and Hezbollah was David, and we all know how
that fight turned out too. But O’Sullivan boldly states that the war was really between Israel and Iran, for the latter country led a coalition of Syria, Hezbollah, , and Islamic Jihad. Iran used Hezbollah as its agent and Syria as its transit camp, and supplied
weapons, training, and even some volunteer soldiers to the war.

Is this true? It’s a flat-footed factual assertion that not everyone would accept, but O’Sullivan claims that it is implicitly recognized by Europe and even the Sunni Arabs. In fact, he claims that the countries even wanted Israel to win this struggle, though they wouldn’t quite say so. Well, the situation appears a little clearer if we accept that analysis. The European countries blamed Hezbollah’s (see photo) as the instigator of the war, even while Israeli jets were bombing the bejabbers out of southern . According to O’Sullivan, the Sunni states just hoped that Israel would weaken Iran and destroy Hezbollah on their behalf, so they hardly said a word the whole time.

Well, maybe. I never heard anyone attribute those sentiments to the Arab states before, but surely someone must have done so while I wasn’t paying attention. Anyhow, I can’t contradict O’Sullivan’s assertion.

His next shocking claim is that Israel used a “dovish” military strategy out of a desire to protect Lebanon. Indeed, they bombed buildings instead of shelling the country with artillery because they wanted to keep from killing Lebanese. Actually, they damaged the country’s infrastructure terribly, but they killed fewer Lebanese and fewer Israelis that way. O’Sullivan compares the situation to the famous aphorism during the Vietnamese War that the US “had to destroy villages in order to save them.” He doesn’t even dismiss this as an absurd notion, though he admits that it didn't work. Evidently the Israelis really did want to strengthen the democratic government of Lebanon. But of course it did not work, for the Lebanese hardly celebrated the good intentions behind these bombings. Instead, they wound up supporting Hezbollah even more fervently than before.

So, after receiving the support of the United States, Europe, and even other Middle Eastern governments throughout this war, Israel nevertheless failed. The US halted the bloodshed by supporting a UN Security Council calling for a ceasefire, earlier than it had expected. Everyone can see that Hezbollah is stronger and more popular now.

O’Sullivan quote the former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer, who
had explained Syria’s objectives in this war:

“First, to ease pressure on Hamas from within the Palestinian community to
recognize Israel; second, to undermine democratization in Lebanon, which
was marginalizing Syria; and third, to lift attention from the emerging
dispute over the Iranian nuclear program and demonstrate in the West the
‘tools’ at its disposal in the case of a conflict.”

All three of these objectives were achieved, says O’Sullivan, and the effects are now becoming apparent. For example, France is already backing away from the terms of the ceasefire, recognizing that Hezbollah will not be , nor will any embargo be enforced to prevent the flow of weapons from Syria and Iran to Hezbollah.

What will Israel’s response be? According to O’Sullivan, they must win the next war. This will happen soon because “dovish left-wing government of Ehud Olmert” will be replaced by a tougher one in which Benjamin Netanyahu will play a major role.

So O’Sullivan’s inference is that Israel must fight again, and that the Shia coalition will surely provide easy pretexts allowing Israel to launch its next war.

What a conclusion! Everything he said up to that point makes sense. I don’t know whether it is absolutely correct, but it’s plausible and, to my mind, it clarifies a lot that was obscure. But that does not prove that the Israelis need another round of fighting. What they need instead, is to resolve the grievances that have led to such battles, year after year, decade after decade.

It’s time for Israelis to learn instead, as another fine journalist, Gwynne Dyer, has proposed, that the simply won’t work. It has not worked yet and it’s not going to work. The only way forward is to resolve the conflict at the basic level.


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