Monday, August 14, 2006

During the Ceasefire


I’ve intentionally kept from commenting on the hard- and soft-power aspects of the Israel-Hizb’ullah conflict because I’ve had difficulty navigating the one-sided responses of people I know who are either a) American or Israeli Jews, whose views range from “this is unfortunate but necessary” to “kill ‘em all, kill ‘em now,” and b) American Muslims and students of Arabic, who focus almost exclusively on IDF impacts on Lebanese civilians and infrastructure, and have their own memories of their families being ejected from Palestine in the 1940s.

Leaving these extremes to one side, I’ve got a few observations about the war, which apparently has entered a cease-fire phase.

The U.S. has the power to restrain Israel, but not to incite it; and the IDF would have gone into Lebanon and Gaza after its people no matter what the U.S. said, at least for the first few days after the kidnappings. In contrast, Iran has the power to incite Hizb’ullah (to get the West off its back about nukes) but apparently not the power to restrain it (from the strategic mistake of kidnapping two Israelis).

Warfare theorists fret that Iran is waging a proxy war against Israel and therefore the U.S.—but they forget that the U.S. is also waging a proxy war against Hizb’ullah and thus Iran and Syria, which have lost tremendous amounts of political capital (Iran) and treasure (Syria, through the Lebanon blockade). Using the IDF to pressure Tehran, for example, is a good move for the U.S. from a strictly realpolitik perspective—and the West has managed to keep up or even increase its pressure on Iran regarding its nuclear program in the interim.

Hizb’ullah, desperate to show off how much it had grown as a force, achieved what appears to be complete tactical surprise by using up-to-date weapons it received from Iran, particularly antiship and antitank missiles. However, these weapons caused minimal damage and their surprise can’t be repeated at a later time.

Many, many commentators claim that the Israel-Hizb’ullah war is a disaster for the U.S. image among Muslims; but how much worse could the U.S. image have gotten? Among Sunnis, not much at all, but Iraq’s Shi’ites are sympathetic with their co-religionists; in combination with increasing U.S. efforts to crack down on government-sponsored Shi’ite death squads, the American position with Iraqi Shi’ites may deteriorate over time.

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