Monday, July 24, 2006


As I continue to think about the conflict in the Middle East I am trying to better appreciate the Iranian perspective. I suspect that last year's "leaked" US government statements about nuking Tehran probably caused this situation, especially after the US called Iran part of the axis of evil and made it clear that it was thinking about bombing or even invading the country... no country wants to end up like Iraq. Iran is trying to develop nuclear capabilities and is working on long-range missiles that could hit Europe, and the US is desperate to stop it. Even if another goal of Tehran is to occupy parts (perhaps all) of Iraq and vastly increase its domination over the Middle East, probably the immediate cause of its aggression against Israel is related to defending itself from the US.

Pinned down between Iranian missiles in the Gaza strip and southern Lebanon, Israel would make a heck of a hostage. Even if Israel prevails, the only way it can do so is to bomb Lebanese civilians with its US-funded military, which will increase hatred of the US in the Arab street. And Iran has set itself up as a Muslim protector and a major player, which will help it garner support when and if it is attacked by the US. Finally, as I reported in a previous post, Iran may be using this diversion to move along its nuclear program.

As to the Israeli perspective, Israel's immediate strategy is to disarm Hezbollah and make it impossible for Iran and Syria to send reinforcements. To that end, Israel bombed the Beirut airport and the Beirut-Damascus hiway. Hezbollah hid itself in the civilian population, which is why Israel is bombing civilian areas. As to its long range goals, Israel has made it clear that it wants a sovereign Lebanon that is free from Iranian and Syrian control.

Along with the rest of the world, I'm horrified by the widespread killing in both countries, but I think Israel has a strong case that its actions are a proportionate response and are justified:

- Israel tried all diplomatic methods to remove the military build-up on its border. Since 2000 when Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon and Hezbollah moved in, the UN has repeatedly demanded that Hezbollah leave the area and has called on the Lebanese government to remove them.
- Israel did not attack until it was attacked... many times over the last few years by Hezbollah in its hiding places across the Lebanese border. Throughout this conflict, Israel has been bombed continuously by Hezbollah.
- Before bombing civilian areas, Israel drops leaflets warning residents that the area will be bombed. Unlike Hezbollah, Israel is not bombing civilian areas because it wants to kill civilians; it is doing so because it is the only way to destroy Hezbollah's military capability and cut off reinforcements from Syria and Iran.
- It is vital to the security of Israel that it defeat Hezbollah. That's why the US is not asking for a ceasefire. There are two reasons why Israel can't hold back. One is that Hezbollah has an estimated 15,000 rockets in Lebanon aimed at Israel; as with the Cuban missile crisis, that situation can't be allowed to continue. The other is a deadly psychological consideration: if Israel doesn't win and win decidedly, it will look weak and its enemies will attack more ferociously.

Israel can and probably will beat Hezbollah, and the Lebanese might even kick out the foreign agitators who have been wrecking their country for decades. But lasting peace isn't possible until there is some sort of detente between the US and Iran. A US-Iranian peace accord might provide assurances that the US will not invade Iran, with Iranian concessions on its weapon build-up, or something like that.



tom s. said...

Can't agree.

"Along with the rest of the world, I'm horrified by the widespread killing in both countries,"

This suggests a parity of sorts, when in fact the casualty ratio is about 10:1.

Iran - I've yet to see anything convincing to suggest Iran is any kind of real driving force in prompting the current round of violence.

"Unlike Hezbollah, Israel is not bombing civilian areas because it wants to kill civilians; it is doing so because it is the only way to destroy Hezbollah's military capability and cut off reinforcements from Syria and Iran."

Hezbollah is not just a bunch of soldiers. It is a political movement that also provides social services. I don't think you can separate Hezbollah from civilians easily.

As for who wants to kill civilians -- in recent wars it seems like those who "don't want to" end up killing more than the terrorists who "want to". The civilians killed probably don't appreciate the difference.

Yappa said...

Hi Tom,

I appreciate your well-argued disagreement. (I have got some really angry comments that I didn't publish because they attacked me rather than my arguments, and misrepresented me to boot.)

There is loads of evidence that Hezbollah is, in the words of Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, "a tool in the hands of the Syrian regime and for Iram's regional ambitions", but on the other hand lots of people dispute it... which is why I haven't tried to argue the facts too much; they're all so muddy that I don't see any point.

You're right that Hezbollah is more than an armed militia - it runs hospitals and does lots of other good stuff in Lebanon, as well as having 14 MPs - but I don't see how that addresses the charge that their military wing is purposefully killing Israeli citizens. Also, don't forget that Canada, the US and UK categorize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization (and the EU lists its chief intelligence officer as a terrorist).

As to who is getting killed more, again I think that masks the real issue, which is (from my point of view) that Israel has to do what it's doing or face genocide. They tried hard to avoid it as they faced border attack after border attack from Hezbollah over the last five years... well anyway, I guess I was going to try to focus on my own analysis and not try to change minds.