The Interlude

Israel has historically won its wars militarily but botched the postwar diplomacy that is required for enduring success. The recent conflict with Hezbollah is a rare exception. While Israel may not have lost, it certainly did not win. Hezbollah’s infrastructure was dealt a heavy blow, but any serious analysis must concede that Israel is worse off in the wake of the month long conflict. By any measure, Hezbollah remains not only intact but it is the dominant force within Lebanon. As for its Iran-inspired and funded ideology of Shiite revolution, it appears more viable to many eyes in the region than it has in decades. As Michael Slackman opined in The New York Times this weekend, “And Now, Islamism Trumps Arabism.” Where Arab movements failed to confront Israel, an Islamic movement has succeeded – to survive, at least. (It is worth noting how victory is defined in the curious ecosystem of Middle East politics. The myth of the 1967 War is such that any battle that lasts longer than Six Days can be spun as a victory in the Arab world.)

As for the cease-fire, the Olmert government was convinced of the prudence of halting the military effort because of assurances – by the French, primarily – that a robust, European-led UN force would be deployed in the South of Lebanon. A mere week after that resolution was passed – unanimously – it is unraveling. (Fred Kaplan of Slate does a good job going over the fine print and explaining why). Part of the French objection to committing the troops they promised is that the UN resolutions (1559 and 1701) are quite vague on the matter of who is supposed to disarm Hezbollah. I don’t think there is an expectation that this [U.N.] force is going to physically disarm Hezbollah,” Secretary of State Condi Rice told USA Today last week. “You have to have a plan, first of all, for the disarmament of a militia, and then the hope is that some people lay down their arms voluntarily.”

This hope can only be described as delusional, and willfully so (Condi ain’t no fool!). As Haaretz editorializes this morning: “The symbolic French force that landed late last week in Lebanon reflects the cynicism of President Jacques Chirac, and his hesitant neighbors. Their concern for Lebanon’s fate and for calm along the border evaporated when it was time to cash in their promises in the form of a substantive reinforcement for UNIFIL and the raising of resources for Lebanon’s reconstruction.

In short, we have entered the interlude. The clock ticks towards Round II. Within weeks, maybe months, large scale violence will erupt again. The immediate casus belli will be efforts by Israel to intercept weapons shipments to Hezbollah. While UN Security Council Resolution 1701 calls for an embargo on arms shipments to Hezbollah, no mechanism has been put in place to enforce this embargo. (We already have a taste of what is to come.) As the Lebanese novelist and journalist Elias Khoury put it, “You have a very ambiguous situation, which is part of the cycle of war in the Middle East. The victor is not completely victorious and the defeated is not completely defeated, which means that the end of the war that is finishing is the embryo of a new war. What we are witnessing now is a truce between two wars.”

One pressing question: Will the Olmert government even be in power when this inevitability occurs?

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One Comment on “The Interlude”


  1. […] I mentioned a few days back the curious way in which victory is defined in the Arab world when there are hostilities with Israel. Michael Young of the Beirut Daily Star expounds on this very well in an online column for Reason Magazine. […]


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