Thursday, July 27, 2006

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The glimmer of good news from the Middle East

There's a great deal to be depressed about when contemplating the situaion in Lebanon, or the Middle East writ large -- go check out Marc Lynch's blog to read about the shift in Arab perceptions as a result of U.S. actions and inactions.

However, Niall Ferguson makes a point in the Los Angeles Times that is worth remembering -- contrary to the fears of a few weeks ago, the odds of a wider war appear to be slim:

Could today's quarrel between Israelis and Hezbollah over Lebanon produce World War III? That's what Republican Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, called it last week, echoing earlier fighting talk by Dan Gillerman, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations.

Such language can for now, at least safely be dismissed as hyperbole. This crisis is not going to trigger another world war. Indeed, I do not expect it to produce even another Middle East war worthy of comparison with those of June 1967 or October 1973. In 1967, Israel fought four of its Arab neighbors Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq. In 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. Such combinations are very hard to imagine today.

Nor does it seem likely that Syria and Iran will escalate their involvement in the crisis beyond continuing their support for Hezbollah. Neither is in a position to risk a full-scale military confrontation with Israel, given the risk that this might precipitate an American military reaction.

Crucially, Washington's consistent support for Israel is not matched by any great power support for Israel's neighbors. During the Cold War, by contrast, the risk was that a Middle East war could spill over into a superpower conflict.

Hat tip: Oxblog's Taylor Owen.

UPDATE: Hey, another glimmer of good news -- it's a trend, I tell you! [No, I'm afraid the AP just mistranslated a statement--ed.]

posted by Dan on 07.27.06 at 12:26 AM




Comments:

I would not count out a wider Arab/Israeli war yet. I do think that WWIII talk is crazy, but a wider Arab/Israeli war seems 50/50 to me.

The reason I am not so optimistic that this war will just stay between Lebanon and Israel is because, as the bombing of the UN base in Lebanon showed, anything can happen that can drag other players in. I don't trust Israel to be reasonable, nor do i trust Hizbullah. Both sides are wild cards that can do anything to make this bigger and wider.

I personally see this war as something of a 1967 moment that will leave the Middle East just boiling until the next war breaks out equally dramatically a few years later.

Even if Saudi, Jordan and Egypt manage to say out of this particular war, I am sure that there are enough people in each country just itching to kill the leaders, like what happened to Sadat. There is just too much passion going around to keep a lid on this totally. So, while the 90's were a generally peaceful time for the Middle East, Bush seems to have single handedly drenched the region in blood and set it up for a larger future of war.

posted by: Joe m. on 07.27.06 at 12:26 AM [permalink]



Is there a plan for the US/International communtiy to put Lebanon back together after Hez/Isr get done tearing it apart....again? Me thinks that should be important considering it was the one failed state that had almost been reborn.....the lone flicker of a success achieved by heroic wartime leadership...but alas if the fighting ends anytime soon ,I'm sure Leb. will lie in rubble for another 20 years. After all many Bush backers activly promote mayhem in the middle east....jesus will come again that way. (See the front page of todays WSJ)

posted by: centrist on 07.27.06 at 12:26 AM [permalink]



While the chances of a wider war seem very slim at the moment, that seems to me to be unrelated to the points made in Abu Aardvark.

You don't need to have states mobilizing armies against Israel in order for US interests in the region to be irreparably damaged. If anything, the last few years have shown the Arab world that asymmetric measures (including not only grand terrorism but also kidnapping, assassination and smaller acts of terrorism) are an effective way to hamstring US plans for the region. It remains to be seen whether those examples will be taken to heart by political actors in the region.

The point being, this current round of bungling will increase the costs and limit the scope of future US efforts in the region, which, given its strategic importance, is undeniably "a bad thing" for the US.

posted by: Adrian on 07.27.06 at 12:26 AM [permalink]



centerist,
I agree with you that there should be a plan to clean up Lebanon after the war, but I think Israel should be forced to pay for all the damages it has done (maybe, subtracting the costs of Hizbullah's damage).

One of the most dangerous things about Israel is that it never bears the costs of its endless wars. The USA pays for its weapons and gives them diplomatic cover, while the international community pays to clean up the mess. So how can you ever expect them to show restraint if they never face the costs of their actions? When people talk about democracies as being less likely to go to war, a main reason is that the people usually are not insulated (as dictators are) from the costs (like public debt, loss of funding for public services...), but Israel bears very few of its wars costs.

posted by: joe m. on 07.27.06 at 12:26 AM [permalink]



I'm wondering what shift Marc is talking about--from scanning through his previous posts, it sounds like from his viewpoint, nothing has changed.

posted by: Sam on 07.27.06 at 12:26 AM [permalink]



centrist : "Is there a plan for the US/International communtiy to put Lebanon back together after Hez/Isr get done tearing it apart....again? Me thinks that should be important considering it was the one failed state that had almost been reborn.....the lone flicker of a success achieved by heroic wartime leadership...but alas if the fighting ends anytime soon ,I'm sure Leb. will lie in rubble for another 20 years. After all many Bush backers activly promote mayhem in the middle east....jesus will come again that way. (See the front page of todays WSJ)"

Somebody pointed out that Lebanon's Cedar Revolution counted for jack-sh*t with the USA, once two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped, and Israel decided to hammer Lebanon in general.

posted by: Barry on 07.27.06 at 12:26 AM [permalink]



I just want to point out that Hizbullah captured those soldiers on Lebanese soil, contrary to lies we have been fed:
http://www.antiwar.com/frank/?articleid=9401

posted by: joe m. on 07.27.06 at 12:26 AM [permalink]



Joe M.

I am not the most pro-Israel guy, but I'd still be careful about accepting as gospel truth anything about where exactly those soldiers were. Indeed, they might not have known -- I think back to the beginning of the Kosovo campaign when our guys were captured in either Macedonia or Serbia (Kosovo) depending on who you listened to. Of course, we didn't start bombing Belgrade -- at least not right away -- once they were captured.

But inquiring minds want to know -- what's Selma Hayek's position on this, and will it cause an irreconsilable (sp?) split with our gracious host?

posted by: Mitchell Young on 07.27.06 at 12:26 AM [permalink]



Edward Luttwak already said that this probably wasn't going to become a larger war in the NY Times last week (July 18). Also it might be worthwhile to reread his article "Give War a Chance" which can be found here.

posted by: Pitman on 07.27.06 at 12:26 AM [permalink]



Sorry but the link to Luttwak's article doesn't work. It was in Foreign Affairs July/August 1999. You can get to it by Googling his name and it is usually on the first page of hits.

posted by: Pitman on 07.27.06 at 12:26 AM [permalink]



I would not count out a wider Arab/Israeli war yet. I do think that WWIII talk is crazy, but a wider Arab/Israeli war seems 50/50 to me.

With who?

Syria? 20+ year old soviet tanks may be dandy for oppressing civilians, but that's about all they're good for. Assad knows this.

Jordan doesn't want any part of this.

Egypt knows what happens when they go up against the IDF.

Libya has decided it wants to be on good terms with DC.

Saudi Arabia thinks the real threat is Iran.

Iraq has >100,000 US troops in-country.

Iran might join in, but they're 1) a long way away, 2) would have to go through Saudi Arabia (not likely), Iraq (100k US troops, not gonna happen), or Turkey (NATO, not gonna happen) to get to Israel.

Who's left? The emirates in the gulf? They're not going to declare war on Israel.

posted by: rosignol on 07.27.06 at 12:26 AM [permalink]



Rossi,
Your point is well taken, but their are many ways it could still happen around a closing of the Hormuz pinch point/strikes on US assets in Iraq provoking a escalation.

posted by: centrist on 07.27.06 at 12:26 AM [permalink]






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