July 19, 2006
Diminishing Returns, UK comment on Israel-Lebanon madness & Leb PM interview
My colleagues more closely involved in this Guns of August reminiscent fiasco that is the current Leb-Israel violence - Tom and Raf Bey - are better placed to comment on immediate things, but I wished before turning attention to Arab media to highlight some further Times commentary worthy of notice:
First, Britain fears assault on Hezbollah will backfire rather captures my own sense of the irrationality of the extent (nota bene: extent, not fact) of the Israeli response. Air raids and the like, nor even likely an invasion and occupation (as the period 90-00 showed), will not break Hizbullah, above all not in a dynamic where "degrading infrastructure" on a country-wide level is simply going to generate (except in the surreal US media) less and less sympathetic imagery.
The Israeli action had “disrupted Hezbollah but there’s not much more they can do with an extensive campaign”, a British official said. “We are concerned that continued military operations by Israel will cause further damage to infrastructure and loss of civilian life which the damage to Hezbollah will not justify.”
But the need for Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, to appear tough at home might tempt him to continue even when the military value was slight, officials suggested.
Politics, domestic politics to shore up a weak position. Fairly rarely produces good policy.
Certainly, situations as described in Dead are left to rot in the rubble as airstrikes make rescue impossible are not going to produce a positive dynamic inside Leb Land, and I hazard the guess that contra Israel's real interests, Hizbullah stands a very decent chance of emerging politically strengthened if the Israeli forces continue in the same vein as present (which is not a given to be sure).
Finally, as an aside, I found it queer that The Times included this article in its round-up on the subject. A reminder, perhaps, of the bloody history?
ADDED: The interview with Fouad Siniora, the Lebanese Prime Minister, in The Financial Times by the redoubtable Roula Khalaf deserves attentoin in this context as well.
Lebanon’s embattled prime minister said on Wednesday Israel’s fierce military offensive would backfire, suggesting it could bolster support for the Hizbollah group rather than undermine it. ... Pointing out that the 1982 invasion led to the formation of Hizbollah, ..., he said: “The mentality of using force has proved it doesn’t yield results in Lebanon . . . If you carry on doing the same thing excessively you get the opposite effect.” .... Lebanese officials say attacking the country risks rallying more people to Hizbollah and weakening the animosity towards the party that had been growing during the past week, particularly among Sunni Muslims and Christians.Emphasis added.
Rather my line of thinking, the law of diminishing returns.
Most interesting, however, was this comment:
Mr Siniora, who has made clear that he believes Hizbollah’s action was “not right”, said if Israel sent in ground troops, the army would no longer stand on the sidelines.
Odd comment that.
”I’m disappointed with the reaction of world public opinion – it expresses sympathy with Lebanon but people are not asking the right questions,” he said. “The abduction of soldiers is not a right cause but no one talks about the Lebanese detainees in prison (in Israel) as if they were a bunch of sheep.”
Posted by The Lounsbury at July 19, 2006 07:47 PM
Filed Under: Levant
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Most commentators, experts, you name it, I have heard have said Hizb'Allah is the winner here in almost any outcome. I agree.
Posted by: Abu Sinan at July 20, 2006 06:41 AM
For good or ill, I go with the latter, I see it very difficult NOT to say that Hizbullah will end up stronger from this round, at least thus far.
Note I say Hizbullah, not the scores of people murdered and maimed, the millions or billions of property damaged, etc. Not Lebanon. Not necessarily the Shiite population of Lebanon. Not necessarily Syria or Iran. Hizbullah.
Posted by: matthew hogan at July 20, 2006 12:41 PM
From all indications (at least in the media, if not from any reliable public opinion surveys), Nasrallah seems to have topped the legendary Egyptian President Nasser in genuine popularity among Arabs and Muslims. This never changed for Nasser after his 1967 defeat, as people continued to worship him as a hero, and I don't think it would change for Nasrallah either, no matter what the outcome of the war is.
Posted by: Oryx at July 21, 2006 10:49 AM
I had lunch today with a Lebanese friend of mine who fled soon after the fighting started, but is now contemplating whether he should go back to help with humanitarian work. An Orthodox Christian, he is extremely displeased with Hezbollah and says that this the same holds true for the vast majority of Christians and Sunnis and even many of the Shias. Rather than a rally-around the-flag effect, "When a Christian neighborhood is bombed, the people there don't say 'Fuck Israel' but 'Fuck Hezbollah.'" He sees Hezbollah coming out of this seriously weakened, with the beneficiaries including traditionally important Shia families who have always opposed Hezbollah.
One of the more interesting things he told me was that as refugees streamed into relative safe northern (Christian) Lebanon from the (Shia-dominated) south of the country, some of them put Hezbollah flags in the ground, something very offensive to the local population ("If Christians put Phalangist flags in the south, they'd be massacred for it.") The army intervened, removing the flags to stave off trouble.
Posted by: dubaiwalla at July 21, 2006 04:38 PM
There are Lebanese (Christians and otherwise) who would watch the sun sits and then curse Hizbullah; and not only these days, but before this whole thing started, and going back all the way to 1982. There is really no love lost between certain sectarian communities in Lebanon, despite the thin veneer of the national state (and many times actually because of it).
The sectarian division and hatred in Lebanon is as green, old and wild as the cedar on the flag. The scores of the civil war have never been settled completely. That plus the ancient loyalties and prejudices will make many Lebanese blame whom they perceive as their sectarian nemesis for practically anything, regardless of the degree of guilt or blame.
On the other hand I've seen many examples of the opposite; Christians (not just politicians and intellectuals, but also ordinary people) calling TV stations and expressing support for the Hizb or criticizing those more obsessed with blaming Hizb than standing united in the face of a military attack from Israel.
As for the flags story; it's not inconceivable, though it sounds a bit too dumb to do; I probably just as dumb as it would be for Phalangists to hoist their flags in the middle of a Shi'i area. I don't know if they would be "massacred" for something like that though; more likely get a good beating).
Posted by: Oryx at July 21, 2006 06:33 PM