Friday, July 28, 2006

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The situation in Lebanon has calcified

When the war started in Lebanon, I said the situaion was fluid.

Not any more.

Neil MacFarquhar has a front-pager in the New York Times suggesting that the Arab Middle East has come to a consensus about the war in Lebanon -- and it's not a consensus the United States would like:

At the onset of the Lebanese crisis, Arab governments, starting with Saudi Arabia, slammed Hezbollah for recklessly provoking a war, providing what the United States and Israel took as a wink and a nod to continue the fight.

Now, with hundreds of Lebanese dead and Hezbollah holding out against the vaunted Israeli military for more than two weeks, the tide of public opinion across the Arab world is surging behind the organization, transforming the Shiite group’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, into a folk hero and forcing a change in official statements.

The Saudi royal family and King Abdullah II of Jordan, who were initially more worried about the rising power of Shiite Iran, Hezbollah’s main sponsor, are scrambling to distance themselves from Washington.

An outpouring of newspaper columns, cartoons, blogs and public poetry readings have showered praise on Hezbollah while attacking the United States and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for trumpeting American plans for a “new Middle East” that they say has led only to violence and repression.

Even Al Qaeda, run by violent Sunni Muslim extremists normally hostile to all Shiites, has gotten into the act, with its deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, releasing a taped message saying that through its fighting in Iraq, his organization was also trying to liberate Palestine.

This situation is no longer developing -- it's developed. And ironically, it's developed because Arab governments in the region are doing what the Bush administration wants them to do -- respond to popular opinions within their countries.

To be fair, I suspect if the IDF had managed to cause Hezbollah to disintegrate within the week of conflict, this wouldn't have happened -- and I think that was what the IDF expected to happen. However, I'm shocked, shocked to report that pre-war intelligence might have been flawed.

Now, Israel faces the worst of both worlds -- they've discovered that Hezbollah is a more potent, disciplined, and technologically savvy threat than they previously thought. At the same time, public opinion in Lebanon, the region and across the world has shifted against Jerusalem, making it next to impossible for them to adopt the military measures necessary to eradicate the threat [What measures are those?--ed. I'm not even sure -- I just now they would involve action on a greater scale than what the IDF is currently doing.]

UPDATE: There is one whopping caveat to the above that I forgot to mention -- it is possible that Hezbollah has suffered far greater losses than we know. There is an asymmetry in the reporting of the conflict -- reporters clearly have much greater access to the Israeli military than Hezbollah. While it's in both sides' interest to keep published reports of their losses to a minimum, it's institutionally tougher for Israel to do this.

As a result, the Israeli losses are known -- the Hezbollah losses are not completely known. [If Hezbollah crumbles in the next week, will this be your "quagmire" post?--ed. Pretty much, yes -- but I still don't think they will fall apart.]

posted by Dan on 07.28.06 at 07:57 AM


Now, Israel faces the worst of both worlds -- they've discivered that Hezbollah is a more potent, disciplined, and technologically savvy threat than they previously thought.

I'm not sure about that.

Historically, the advantage of guerilla movements was their use of noncombatant civilians to shield themselves from the full force of a regular military. They would attack at a time and place of their choosing, and when counterattacked, blend back into the civilian population. This is what keeps them from being annihilated.

What Hizbullah is doing now goes against decades of thinking as to the proper strategy of a guerrilla force- they are trying to hold ground against a regular military. For a guerilla movement, this is almost always suicide.

Yes, the Israelis are having to attack prepared defenses. Yes, this is difficult. Yes, the IDF is taking casualties. But I would be very surprised if Hizbullah was not taking more casualties than the IDF, and Israel has a lot more trained soldiers to draw on than Hizbullah does.

I'm pretty sure what Hizbullah is doing now is a major error.

The question is if Hizbullah has been cut off from resupply and reinforcement (such as those Iranian volunteers). If yes, the Israels should be able to break Hizbullah in a few weeks. If not, this thing could drag on indefinitely.

However, at the same time, public opinion in the region and across the world has shifted against Jerusalem.

What was new is the brief flicker of disapproval of Hizbullah, largely along sectarian lines.

What is happening now is not new.

posted by: rosignol on 07.28.06 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

No bombs in Haifa in two days.

Are we sure that Hezbollah isn't starting to be defeated?

posted by: Jim on 07.28.06 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

I'm not sure that the media has more access to IDF than to Hizbollah -- sure seems to me like their talking points were all over, while most everyone I knew was saying things like "What the devil are the Israelis up to? Have they gone nuts?"

posted by: Klug on 07.28.06 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

What if this war isn't so much about the threat posed by Hezbollah to Israel as letting Iran know how much power can be brought to bear on their allies. That is to say, for various geo-political reasons we cannot or dare not undertake the war we would like (one aimed at curtailing Iranian influence and eliminating a budding nuclear program) so we fight a proxy war as a sort of cautionary tale.

Lets the Iranians know that they cannot act with impunity even though they, nationally, enjoy relative security because of their control of a strategic location (the Straits of Hormuz) and all of the strategic oil assets that flow through that area.

posted by: DT on 07.28.06 at 07:57 AM [permalink]


One of the biggest myths ever perpetrated by the foreign affairs establishment in this country is the myth of the Arab Street. We were told confidently by the foreign affairs establishment that the Arab Street would explode if the US attacked Saddam. We were told confidently by the foreign affairs establishment that the Arab Street would explode if Israel moved against the Palestinians in Intidfada II. We were told confidently by the foreign affairs establishment that the Arab Street would explode if the US attacked Saddam in the first Gulf War. And now we are being told that the Arab Street is up in arms again.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, really shame on me. Fool me four times? Nope. Not going to happen. Before Drezner says we should be worried about Arab public opinion, he needs to tell us why it actually matters. Because it has never mattered before, even when we were confidently told by his follow establishmentarians that it really, really would matter this time.

If Drezner buys into this baloney that the Arab Street is worth paying attention to at all, then he has proven himself to be one of the sheeples of the foreign policy establishment - unthinkly buying into whatever the New York Times decides to print on its front page.

posted by: A.S. on 07.28.06 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

Myth of the Arab Street?

Which one?

In any case, unless one is terminally gullible (which does tend to describe the vast majority of Americans in re the Middle East of course), there is no such thing.

Popular anger is popular anger. Whether that leads to overthrow of governments or what not is a seperate issue, but certainly anyone with an iota of practical experience knows that it (i) limits scope of action for friendly governments [however theoretical], (ii) increases the stream of sympathisers passing into action for radical groups such as al-Qaeda, (iii) makes the cost of doing business/achieving goals higher - as anyone who's been near one of those absurd US fortresses that is a US embassy knows.

Why the anger matters is of course the absurd little fantasy of a liberal democratic fairy-tale transformation on the Middle East in the near term is dead as no pro-US party is going to win when the US - with some reason - regarded as utterly callous with respect to Arab lives, and incompetent as well (voir Iraq).

Of course risk levels for US interests also go up, imposing costs certainly in terms of private and public operations, and long-run stability of friendly entities is damaged.

While not all instant "Hollywood movie" impacts and responses that Americans and others seem to expect in simple-minded glee or fear, none of this is trivial.

The remainder of the commentary is barely deserving even of contempt for its simple mindedness. Letting the Iranians know.... that their guerilla army preps worked brilliantly. Stupidity, rather like the stupidity behind "fly paper" and other contemptibely ill-informed theories re Iraq.

posted by: The Lounsbury on 07.28.06 at 07:57 AM [permalink]


There's no reason on earth why Hizbullah can't claim victory and depart the field if things get to hot for them. The "fish-in-the-sea" strategy is always open, especially when the sea supports your cause. Their current military stance serves their political goals. When it no longer does, I'm pretty sure it'll be abandoned.

Also, about the Arab Street, I agree that too much has been made of it. However, it is worth noting that the actual problem surrounding anti-American Arab opinion is that it makes it easier for terrorists to operate (more access to funding, more safe havens) while making it more difficult for US agents to operate in the region. At least, that's my intuitive sense of things. Also, even if it doesn't "explode," enough potential instability will put "friendly" regimes (Egypt, S. Arabia) in the awkward position of having to pander to anti-American sentiment while retaining (and somehow excusing) structural ties to the US.

posted by: Adrian on 07.28.06 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

If Hezbollah crumbles in the next week, will this be your "quagmire" post?--ed. Pretty much, yes -- but I still don't think they will fall apart.

What does this refer to, exactly? Everyone who called Iraq a "quagmire" early on - they were right.

When a conventional war supported by bombings which inflict collateral damage on civilians causes a popular resistance front to "crumble", it'll be the first time.

posted by: DivGuy on 07.28.06 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

It may further be noted that the repressive measures required (which I see on the ground, even though you fine feathered commentators overseas rarely get a picture of) to keep popular anger at bay also burn up both political capital and energies that might otherwise be genuinely spent on controlling nihilistic radicals as al-Qaeda.

As such, even when popular anger doesn't result in overthrow of the regime (a rare event regardless), it eats up political capital.

posted by: The Lounsbury on 07.28.06 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

It is so easy to create extremists faster than you can kill them.
Not long after "The Bush Doctrine" was announced it became obivous the Heroic Wartime Leadership meant ignoring that axiom. Hey, at least I bought some defense contractint If you can't stop the insanity you might as well profit from it!!!

posted by: centrist on 07.28.06 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

A.S. - If Drezner buys into this baloney that the Arab Street is worth paying attention to at all, then he has proven himself to be one of the sheeples of the foreign policy establishment?

Whaaa? I hope you don't take yourself seriously. I don't remember anyone saying that the Arab street would "explode." And I'm not even sure what that means. However, I think if you look at the opinion of the US by Arabs now, it is much lower than it was pre-Iraq. I also remember talk of the ease in which new people will be recruited to terrorist organizations, which has certainly come to fruition.

How can this not matter?

So, A.S. please tell us you're kidding.

posted by: Ben on 07.28.06 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

Once there is a ceasefire, Hizbullah will recover quickly from its manpower losses. In the absence of either an Israeli occupation north of the Litani river in Lebanon or the stationing of an international force able and willing to seal the Lebanese border with Syria, it is likely that Hizbollah will also replenish its supply of rockets. If the launch positions are pushed north of the Litani, there are rockets that can still reach northern Israel from there or even from the Bekaa valley.

What remain to be clarified are Hizbullah's intentions. Was the current violence a miscalculation that Hizbullah wants to end so that it can return to being a state within a state in Lebanon? Or has the organization embarked on a protracted war with Israel, either to fulfill its ideology or as a way to relieve the international pressure on Iran (or both)?

If Hizbollah resumes rocket attacks after a new border incident six months or a year from now, Israel will have no choice but to assault Syria to break the cycle in which Hizbullah recovers and resupplies after each ceasefire. The results of a war with Syria could be disastrous for Israel, if Syria has a change of government, but the results would be even worse for the Assad regime, which would fall. The question is how the Assad regime perceives the consequences of resupplying Hizbullah with rockets after the ceasefire that will be agreed in a few weeks.

Israel tolerates Syrian support for Hizbullah and Hamas as long as the rockets supplied to both groups aren't used. If rocket attacks resume, however, Israel will probably have to take out the suppliers to the extent that it can.

This whole episode looks like a dress rehearsal for a wider Arab-Israeli war in 2007 that Iran could encourage, as the window for the US to delay Tehran's nuclear program narrows. Either in reaction to a US air strike, or to anticipate it, Tehran could invite its friends in Lebanon to resume rocket attacks on Israel. This is especially likely if Iran believes that the United States can only pay attention to one problem at a time.

posted by: David Billington on 07.28.06 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

The IDF and Israeli gov't probably knew what they were getting into and have not been "shocked" by events or casualties. They also don't give a rat's behind what you, I, the press, or any diplomat says. They will do as they think right and we should unleash them to sow as much destruction and mayhem upon our common enemies as they possibly can.

posted by: Useless Grant on 07.28.06 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

we should unleash them to sow as much destruction and mayhem upon our common enemies as they possibly can.

1) When did Lebanese people collectively become enemies of the US?

2) What exactly is constituted by "destruction and mayhem"? How closely affiliated to Hezbollah does a person need to be to be a valid target for this destruction and mayhem? How much suffering inflicted on people not affiliated with Hezbollah is acceptable in accomplishing this goal?

3) And what does the "destruction and mayhem" accomplish? Do you think that Hezbollah will be defeated by military might alone? What, in the history of popular insurgencies, makes you think that?

posted by: DivGuy on 07.28.06 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

Some blame the UN for the killing of their observers by the IDF in Lebanon. Remember when the Israelis tried shock and awe in Lebanon in 1996? Boutros Boutros-Ghali caught hell when he failed to suppress a report that criminalized the IDF shelling of the UN post in Qana, which killed 106 Lebanese civilians. This killing at Khiyam involved shelling for hours, in spite of many calls from UN personnel to the Israelis. I call it a war crime.

Many Israelis, like Bill O’Reilly, John Bolton and many in the Bush administration, loathe the UN. Now, the UN is clumsy and partly corrupt, like our Congress, and our Homeland Security Department, but I think that we’d be worse off without it. Those with the most to lose, if we descend to the war of all against all, are the rich Western countries.

Quoting Bob Koehler,, true friends of Israel object to insane policies. Hizbollah are killers, with increasing support in Lebanon, and they are well organized. Widespread destruction of Lebanese cities and towns, shelling of Lebanese army posts and Christian villages, this increases support for Hizbollah. The longer that the “birth pangs of the Middle East” continue, to quote idiotic Secretary Rice, the more danger to moderate Arab governments. Times have changed. Israel can smash the Arabs in days in a tank war. If it’s guerilla warfare, we’re in a new century. Air power is insufficient. “Don’t start a fight that you can’t control and win”. John F. Kennedy understood this in 1962. Bush, Olmert and Rice do not. They have made Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah into an Arab hero.

Some ridicule the "Arab street". If the killing in Lebanon continues for months, I expect some moderate pro-Western governments to fall. Their democratically elected successors will be virulently anti-Israel and anti-US. You might want to read the War of the End of the World by Llosa and Stephen King's The Stand.

posted by: maracucho on 07.28.06 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

Like A.S., I don't see anything of significance in the NYTimes piece about a supposed turn in Arab public opinion in favor of Hezbollah and against the US (it's hard to imagine that "Arab public opinion" about Israel has ever been even slightly positive and thus it could hardly change for the worse). While some Arab gov'ts had been critical of Hezbollah's reckless provocation, there is little to show that "Arab public opinion" ever reflected any such critical views.

In all events, it's become a cliche that, in the Middle East, it is better to be feared than loved. Presumably the IDF will, once again, prove that terrorist organizations like Hezbollah (to say nothing of Arab states) have much to fear if they engage in attacks on Israel that provoke an Israeli military response. Does anyone really doubt that that is the only reason why the Israeli-Syrian frontier has been quiet for so long, and also explains why the Syrians use groups like Hezbollah to carry out these attacks rather than engaging the IDF militarily themselves? As for Hamas and Hezbollah, they (unlike Syria) exist primarily to engage in reckless provocation on command from their Syrian-Iranian masters. Given that they exist to serve Syrian-Iranian interests, they are (almost by definition) indifferent to the suffering of non-combatant civilians in Lebanon, whom they knowlingly use as a shield (of course, Israeli non-combatants are their targets, and so never count).

Nothing much will change until the Arab gov'ts conclude that the cost to them of these attacks on Israel by Hezbollah/Hamas far outweigh any benefits to them of letting the mayhem continue. And the "benefits" here are the ability of those gov'ts to change the subject (from, for example, the Iranian drive to obtain nukes), and distract their own populations (again, to take Iran as an example, from the many obvious reasons why large segments of those populations are quite unhappy with their gov'ts).

Tow conclusions follow. First, that the Israelis cannot solve this problem by dealing only with Hezbollah and Hamas, nor will they ever eliminate Hezbollah or Hamas unless and until the Syrians and Iranians have a change of view. Second, until there is some realistic way to solve the Syrian-Iranian problem (and nothing realistic comes to mind, either for the Israelis or the US), the Israelis as a fact of life (and the US, as a limitation on US foreign policy and influence in the Middle East) are both stuck in this cycle of violence, without any realistic way to bring it to an end.

After all, with much US prodding, the Israelis tried, for years -- Oslo, Camp David, "land for peace," hinting even at a willingness to negotiate over the status of Jerusalem, etc. -- all of which came to nothing. For want of the necessary Syrian-Iranian partners with a reason also to end the murerous mayhem, the Israelis are left with the second-best option of taking unilateral steps to reduce the inevitable costs to them. As far as I can tell, that is what they are doing in taking steps to eliminate Hezbollah in southern Lebanaon, as well as in buidling the defensive wall and in unilaterally witdrawing from Gaza.

As for the US, the objective has to be to get the message accross to the Syrians and Iranians that there will be hell to pay for them (no need to give them any details on what that means) unless they cooperate in stopping these attacks on Isreal; and to convince the Arab gov'ts caught up in the role of pawns (Lebanon principally) to work with us (and, perhaps, sub rosa with the Isrealis) to rid their countries of the Syrian-Iranian proxies.

"Arab public opinion" doesn't figure much in any of that -- not for the Arab gov'ts, not for the Israelis and not for the US.

posted by: RHD on 07.28.06 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

The cliche derives from a certain Italian writer you are not likely familiar with either in translation or in the original. Machiavelli would be his name, and there is a portion in his advice little noticed by the simpletons who often quote, a bit about the Prince avoiding being hated.

This aside, statements like this merely betray a superficial knowledge and pure whanking on: It's hard to imagine that "Arab public opinion" about Israel has ever been even slightly positive and thus it could hardly change for the worse. Why the scare quotes around "public opinion" quite escapes me, other than perhaps the typical facile bigory that the dirty Wogs can't possibly have public opinion. Regardless, having worked on joint Israeli-Arab business investments back when such were still going, I can attest that indeed it is and was possible for opinion to change for the worse. Even Hamas supporters c. 2000 were willing to "do business" - not certainly love Israelis, but do business.

Difference, then, between fear and dislike, and fear and hatred, or even fear and absolute loathing, for example.

The snide if rather ignorant contention that things can not get worse merely reflects ignorance and but the most shallow acquiantance with the Middle East.

posted by: The Lounsbury on 07.28.06 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

The Jerusalem Post seems to have decent information on Hezbollah casualties. Here's a typical headline from today:

7 soldiers wounded in Bint Jbail battle
IDF kills 26 Hizbullah operatives, including senior Hizbullah official.*

Based on JPost's reporting, Israel is giving better than it's getting. On the other hand, (1) the criteria for victory are different for the two sides, (2) Hezbollah may be getting pounded, but there's no way to tell when they're pounded enough to let a third party (ie, the UN or Lebanon) mop up, and (3) who knows if JPost's figures are accurate.

Another interesting indicator: Ahmedinejad of Iran is talking with his usual heat, but he also called for an immediate cease-fire and Iran is apparently preventing Iranians from going to fight for Hezbollah. That doesn't seem to convey confidence in Hezbollah's performance.


posted by: George on 07.28.06 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

What would it mean for Hezbollah to "disintegrate" anyway? There's not going to be a formal surrender on the deck of the Missouri, so I assume this would have to mean that they drop their guns and run. But since they're not a state, and don't really control any territory, all this really means is that they lie low to be resupplied by their patrons and fight another day. Not really a useful result (from the Israeli perspective).

As for the Arab Street, while those who are saying that Arab opinion of Israel couldn't get any lower anyway have a certain point, I think the passion with which that opinion is held can get stronger, with negative longterm consequences for Israel and its American allies. Increased terrorist recruitment over time is the likely result.

Ignoring the moral/legal questions about the proportionality of Israel's response, it certainly seems to me that in a practical & political sense Israel blew it. They should have focused more narrowly on Hezbollah itself.

posted by: Marc on 07.28.06 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

In case you didn't notice, things are looking worse every day and they are getting closer to getting out of hand. Your view that "This situation is no longer developing -- it's developed." seems to be way off.
Last update - 02:01 01/08/2006

Assad calls on Syrian army to prepare for 'regional challenges'
By Haaretz Service and News Agencies

Syrian President Bashar Assad called on his army Monday to increase readiness to cope with "regional challenges."

The president's comments came during an annual address to the military but also as Israel and the militant group Hezbollah entered their 20th day of fighting in neighboring Lebanon.

Travelers from Syria have reported that some reservists have been called up for military duty - a sign that Syria is concerned the fighting in Lebanon could spill over. The Syrian government has not made any announcement about calling up reserves.

posted by: Joe m. on 07.28.06 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

Or, need I add more to be depressed about:,,-5983528,00.html

The Associated Press is carrying the story that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has demanded an immediate ceasefire in Israel's war on Lebanon, in the wake of the Qana massacre:

' `Islamic nations will not forgive the entities that hinder a cease-fire,'' al-Sistani said in a clear reference to the United States.

``It is not possible to stand helpless in front of this Israeli aggression on Lebanon,'' he added. ``If an immediate cease-fire in this Israeli aggression is not imposed, dire consequences will befall the region.''

posted by: Joe M. on 07.28.06 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

There's no reason on earth why Hizbullah can't claim victory and depart the field if things get to hot for them. The "fish-in-the-sea" strategy is always open, especially when the sea supports your cause. Their current military stance serves their political goals. When it no longer does, I'm pretty sure it'll be abandoned.

I don't think they can do that without causing serious damage to their political position.

Hizbullah's justification for keeping it's weapons was that it was necessary to defend Lebanon from Israel.

If Hizbullah cuts and runs, they will no longer be seen as brave defenders of Lebanon- they will be seen as people who started a war and ran, leaving everyone else in Lebanon holding the bag.

I'm pretty sure that doing that would not advance their political goals. Now, if the Israelis had stuck to Hizbullah's script and eventually agreed to a prisoner swap, Hizbullah's stature in Lebanese politics *would* have been enhanced... but what is going on now only benefits them politically in the short term. Once the Israelis decide Hizbullah has been punished enough, and the social imperative of 'unite against the outsider' has passed, there will be a reckoning.

The repurcussions of what Hizbullah has done will continue for some time after the IDF leaves.

posted by: rosignol on 07.28.06 at 07:57 AM [permalink]


posted by: norman mills on 07.28.06 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

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