Recent events make it clear that a war on Israel’s northern border could break out at any time. Hizballah’s capabilities are far ahead of what they were in 2006, and while the IDF has worked assiduously to develop answers to its threats, nobody thinks that the inevitable war will be cheap, either for the IDF or for Israeli civilians who will be the target of Hizballah’s rockets.
In 2006, the Bush Administration saw the destruction of Hizballah — an Iranian proxy, destabilizing force in the Mideast and nexus of international terrorism — as in the interest of the US. So, at least for the first few weeks, it did not intervene to rein in Israel. After that, US officials either realized that the Olmert government was incompetent and the IDF unready, or they were influenced by Hizballah propaganda about civilian casualties in Lebanon, or both. At this point the war was brought to a close by the toothless UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which Hizballah has openly flouted ever since.
The US response to the next round, therefore, will be supremely important. If Israel suffers a large amount of damage and/or casualties in a war which is again forced to an inconclusive end, Israel’s deterrence posture will be severely weakened, not to mention her economy, morale, etc.
Hizballah knows this and we can expect that the propaganda techniques that were used in 2006, refined by Hamas in 2008-9 and deployed yet again in the Flotilla affair, will make their appearance again.
But a great deal depends on how the US perceives its interests. And given the powers in ascendancy in the Obama administration, it doesn’t look good. Dan Kurtzer is a former ambassador to Egypt and Israel, and a close adviser to the president on Middle East issues. Here is how he evaluates American interests:
Hezbollah is near the top of America’s list of most dangerous terrorist organizations. If the next Israeli-Hezbollah confrontation were to result in a sharp decline in Hezbollah’s military capabilities and was not accompanied by substantial civilian casualties or destruction of Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure, the result would be beneficial for U.S. interests.
However, such an outcome is slim [sic]. The more likely unfolding of an Israeli-Hezbollah war would hold almost no positive consequences for the United States, which is focused on three Middle East priorities: trying to slow or stop Iran’s nuclear program, withdrawing combat troops from Iraq, and helping Middle East peace talks succeed. Although the United States has essentially backed Israeli claims of Scud deliveries to Hezbollah, an Israeli attack, however efficient or successful, would arouse the Arab “street” and complicate the efforts of moderate Arab governments to support U.S. objectives in the region.
While Syria is unlikely to respond militarily to an Israeli attack against Hezbollah, it could resume its support for Iraqi insurgents to attack U.S. forces in Iraq. Syria would likely calculate that the United States would not retaliate against its support of Iraqi insurgents, but rather blame Israel for the increased danger to U.S. forces in the region.
The Middle East peace negotiations likely would enter another deep freeze. As in past military confrontations in Lebanon, Palestinians would find it impossible to keep negotiating as Arabs are fighting Israel in Lebanon.
Kurtzer’s arguments are almost entirely wrong.
- Hizballah, the “Foreign Legion of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard” is an integral part of Iran’s deterrent to action against its nuclear project, not just by Israel, but by the US as well. The removal of Hizballah from the equation would make it much easier to force Iran to give up its plan to deploy nuclear weapons.
- Hasn’t he learned yet that the “Arab street” is used by ‘moderate’ Arab governments to avoid supporting US objectives? And that radical Islamists will always oppose the US, regardless of what it does?
- Syria’s support for Iraqi insurgents has little to do with anything that Israel does and everything to do with the US policy of rewarding Syria in advance for actions that it then fails to take. ‘Engagement’ with Syria has been a huge failure. It’s particularly cynical to say that Syria would expect the US to blame Israel — all the US has to do to counter that is to put the blame where it belongs.
- The Middle East ‘peace’ negotiations? Please. This isn’t the place for another discussion of why the PA is not interested in or capable of agreeing to a peaceful two-state solution, but let me add that it would be a lot more likely that the Palestinians would make peace if they weren’t hoping that Israel can be worn down by multiple inconclusive wars.
But wrong or not, Kurtzer probably reflects the thinking of the administration.
Israel should make the point to the US that the primary American interest in the Middle East is to prevent the establishment of an Iranian hegemony, because of economic considerations (oil prices), the desire to see an independent Iraq, and the need to curb the radically anti-Western forces of Islamic fundamentalism. It really is a turning point for the West and the US must be made to realize that.
Israel should explain that the so-called ‘peace process’ will not go anywhere until the Arabs can no longer hope for a military victory. This means that the dealing with Hamas and Hizballah are higher priority than forcing negotiations that are in any case pointless.
It’s also important to convince the US that the IDF has the power — and the Israeli government the will — to finally end the threats from the Iranian proxies, if given the chance.
Of course, all of this assumes that administration policy really is guided by American interests. I honestly wonder about that.