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Friday, July 14, 2006

the agendas: Israel vs. Hezbollah or how the mouse trap caught the cat

Yesterday’s Kagan op ed, it appears, is only the first in a flood of wargasm rhetoric in the WAPO – with today’s op ed page hosting Krauthammer and a fellow at a conservative think tank in Jerusalem, Michael Oren, as well as David Ignatius (a man for whom LI has some residual personal respect – we interviewed him, years ago, and formed a favorable judgment about him in spite of his pro-war beliefs).

LI doesn’t fully understand the motives behind Israel’s decision to go full tilt, lately, into Gaza and now into Lebanon, in response to Hamas and Hezbollah. We suspect that Michael Oren’s op ed reflects the thinking of Israel’s government:

“By eliminating the terrorist leaderships in Gaza and southern Lebanon and deterring Syria and Iran from prodding their proxies to war, Israel can restore a reasonable level of security to its citizens. Such measures will also be implicitly welcomed by Israel's Jordanian and Egyptian neighbors, who are similarly threatened by these same terrorist groups. Only by establishing a new and more stable status quo along Israel's borders can Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proceed with his plan of redrawing those borders permanently, either unilaterally or in cooperation with a nonviolent Palestinian partner.”

This is magic thinking, however. Israel has never “eliminated” terrorist leadership anywhere (and let’s not be distracted by the word ‘terrorist’ into a long detour about who is really the terrorist – LI doesn’t really care). In fact, the restoration of a “reasonable level of security” for Israel’s citizens is a curious goal, given that the insecurity they suffer from stems from Israel’s attempt to impose – unilaterally – a plan for redrawing boundaries.

By discarding graduated response, Israel is putting the U.S. in a very awkward position. After all, Hezbollah and the Dawa party running Iraq are joined by a long history of common bonds. Ignatius and Oren and Robert Fiske and other Middle Eastern reporters have developed a shorthand for talking about the Middle East in which there are the main players and the proxies. Hezbollah, for instance, is a client of Iran, or operates as Syria’s proxy. But this is very misleading. Because one party in a situation is weaker economically and politically doesn’t mean that the flow of power is unilateral from the stronger to the weaker. Israel is weaker than the U.S. by far, and has built itself up with massive amounts of U.S. aid. But it is not just a U.S. proxy. Discard the so often invoked idea of the head and the tail – the image of the beast is just that – an image.

In LI’s uninformed opinion, Hezbollah, in the late nineties, was an instrument used by reactionary forces in Iran to work against the moderates in Teheran. And the relationship between Israel and Iran, which seems to be the latent cause of Israel’s new found aggressiveness, has been determined by elements quite different from opposition to Islamic ‘radicalism.’ Trita Parsi, in an article in the June, 2005 Iranian Studies journal, “Israel-Iranian Relations Assessed: Strategic Competition from the Power Cycle Perspective”, showed that Israel supported Khomenei in the most radical phase of the Iranian revolution, operating to supply Iran with arms in its war with Iraq and only shifting to an anti-Iranian posture after the first Gulf war. If Israel were simply responding to Hezbollah’s threats, this is a curious pattern of engagement and disengagement. Parsi, however, contents that Israel is playing for dominance in the region. It is not responding to threats so much as responding from an ideology that simply sees Israel as permanently threatened as long as it does not dominate in the Middle East. In a footnote to that article, there’s a very interesting comment from a high ranking Israeli military man:

“Interview with Israeli ministry of defense official, Tel Aviv, October 18, 2004. “There is definitely a tendency in Israel [to think the worst]. . .. Today, the prevailing culture or I would say the mindset of the intelligence industry is to attribute to the enemy almost infinite power and completely underestimate what our strength means to them.”

Parsi sums up the change in Israeli policy by looking at what Rabin and Peres were saying and doing in the 80s and then in the 90s:

“The two Israeli leaders that in the early 1990s initiated a very aggressive Iran
policy pursued a diametrically opposite policy only a few years earlier. In 1987, Yitzhak Rabin argued that Iran remained an ally geo-politically.40 Shimon Peres, who sought a “broader strategic relationship with Iran,” urged President Reagan to seek a dialogue with Tehran.

"This was at the center of the “Iran-Contra” affair, in which Israel pressured the
U.S. to improve relations with Iran and sell advanced American arms to the Khomeini
regime.42 The affair was initiated by Amiram Nir, a close aid to Shimon Peres, who floated the idea of selling arms to Iran in Washington in the mid- 1980s. The idea was rejected by the State Department and the Pentagon, but it found support in National Security Council operatives Oliver North and Michael Ledeen.43 (Ledeen, a personal acquaintance of Peres, was convinced by
the Israelis to pursue a U.S. opening to Iran.44 Today, he is one of the most vocal opponents of U.S.-Iran talks and advocates a policy of regime-change in Tehran on the grounds that Iran opposes Israel’s right to exist.) Israel’s key argument was that Iran would once again become an explicit ally of the two if moderate elements in Tehran were strengthened.

This stands in stark contrast to Israel’s policy after 1992, driven again by Peres and Rabin, in which Tel Aviv rejected the very concept of “Iranian moderates” and opposed any rapprochement between the Unites States and Iran.46 Indeed, one of the questions that arose from the Iran-Contra affair was Israel’s seemingly paradoxical role in strengthening a regime that opposed Israel’s existence and Iran’s collaboration with a state that it officially sought to destroy.”

Parellel with Israel’s underground alliance with Iran, Hezbollah seems to have been in contact with Al Qaeda in the 90s, in spite of the fact that Al Qaeda acted as an occasional Einsatzgruppe against Shiites in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the same period, organizing and participating in anti-Shi’a pograms that prefigure those going on in Iraq today. LI puts the “seems” in, since all information about Hezbollah and al Qaeda has to be finely sifted, as the amount of sheer propaganda written about Al qaeda in the last five years makes it hard to get any hard facts. Still, I trust Douglas Farah’s reporting on this issue, in spite of Farah’s biases. Unfortunately, the agenda-blind never explain seeming contradictions. How could Hezbollah cooperate with al qaeda, for instance, at the same time that al qaeda was the guest of a government that massacred Shiites in Mazar-e-Sharif in 1998, in the Shamali region around 1999, around Taloquan in 2000, and in Bamiyan in 2001 – regions of Afghanistan that were of great concern to Iran, supposedly Hezbollah’s patron, all during this time? Farah, as far as I know, never discusses these facts -- which is where his Maronite sympathies betray him. On the other hand, how could the U.S. be sponsoring an Iraqi government headed by the party with the close ties to Hezbollah, too?

The LA Times has the one dissenting analysis of Hezbollah’s actions in the past week – the rest of the press is towing the Bush line, as per usual.

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