By Martin Varsavsky

Martin Varsavsky analyzes the current war between Israel and Lebanon labeling it a distraction strategy on the part of Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In Varsavsky‘s opinion, Ahmadinejad used his influence with Hezbollah to create a war and divert attention away from his nuclear aims. Varsavsky identifies three possible outcomes for the current conflict: either Israel succeeds in drawing UN troops to police the IsraelLebanon border, Lebanon turns into a second Iraq, or Israel and the United States decide to wage war on Iran. No matter what the outcome, Varsavsky reminds us, those who will suffer the most in this conflict will be the civilians.

Martin Varsavsky is President of the Safe Democracy Foundation and founder of six successful businesses in the last fifteen years. He is the current Executive President of FON.

I AM SADDENED BY THE CURRENT WAR BETWEEN ISRAEL AND LEBANON. Over the last two years I had the good fortune to travel through Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Israel, a journey very few Jews have made.

I am not an expert on the Middle East, but my Spanish based foundation, Safe Democracy, brings together Middle East thinkers and analysts from all colors of the spectrum to open positive and constructive dialogue.

I would like to summarize now, in a short post, how I view the current war between Lebanon and Israel. I have friends in both countries. If I favor any group in this war it is the civilians, because the civilians are suffering greatly. They are being killed in air raids and missile attacks, displaced forcibly, and are sinking into poverty as their economy plummets. So much damage has been caused, and all of this in only a few days.

My view on the war is simple: Ahmadinejad was very concerned with the intense focus of Europe and the United States on Iran’s nuclear policy. Because Ahmadinejad is one of the most cunning leaders in the Middle East, he engineered a war between Israel and Lebanon in order to distract the international community away from his own aims. Basically, he instructed Hezbollah, his proxy army in Lebanon, to attack Israel, providing them with enough rockets to cause significant damage.

Israel reacted in the way that Ahmadinejad expected: instead of simply focusing on Hezbollah in the south, Israel attacked Beirut directly and began to blockade the country. This was a huge mistake on the part of the Israelis. Hezbollah is a minority faction in Lebanon, a multi cultural, multi religious country. Before the war support for them was relatively weak. But just as the US invasion of Iraq has made it very easy for Al Qaeda to attract new recruits, the Israeli attack on Lebanon is now increasing Hezbollah’s popularity tenfold.

Less than a year ago I met with Olmert together with a group of around 8 peace activists in Jerusalem, and frankly I was not impressed. Olmert is probably the least prepared leader that Israel has had in a long time and he fell completely for Ahmadinejad’s ambush. Now he is losing on both counts, on international support and in the battlefield.

Israel is fighting a two front war against both Hamas and Hezbollah, and the civilian population is beginning to grow concerned.

So what is going to happen now? I envision three scenarios.

The first is that Israel prevails in its main objective to bring an international force to the Lebanon-Israel border. This force would guarantee that Hezbollah no longer launches missile attacks against Northern Israel. Israel realizes that it would have a very hard time policing Southern Lebanon by itself, and wants the world to do the job instead. But the only way to oblige an international presence in Southern Lebanon is for Israel to continue killing innocent civilians and causing tremendous economic damage. It is a sad paradox.

The UN will only intervene to save lives, if enough people have already been killed. Israel must continue to escalate the conflict, until the UN provides soldiers to keep the peace.

A second scenario is that the war in Lebanon becomes a second Iraq, a war of attrition in which soldiers and terrorists fight not against each other, but against each other’s civilian populations. The war in Iraq is based upon human bombs and car bombs. The conflict between Lebanon and Israel is based upon rockets and air strikes.

The specter of a second Iraq in Lebanon is horrifying, but even more frightening is the third possible outcome.

A third possible scenario is that Israel, discouraged by the success of Hezbollah in killing Israeli civilians and disrupting the Israeli way of life, with the blessing and help of the United States, decides to wage an aerial war on Iran, the real source of its problems. The problem with this kind of war, however, is that it causes many civilian casualties while the leaders of the country remain safe and protected in expensive bunkers. And should this be the case, and America and Israel decide to invade Iran using a strategy similar to the one used to depose of Saddam Hussein, the invading armies would find themselves fighting in a very hostile environment.

Ahmadinejad is a very popular leader, and war with Iran would be catastrophic for the entire Middle East.

Other than the fact that I had to lie about being Jewish and having been to Israel, I loved my visit to Beirut.

Paradoxically, Beirut and Jerusalem are very similar cities, and Israel and Lebanon are very similar countries. It is absurd that the citizens of these two nations cannot visit each other because of war, and that these wars take place because of a common ignorance of similarities.

Israel and Lebanon have a whole lot more in common than say Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, or Israel and Egypt. Lebanon and Israel are the only two democracies in the region.

And they are at war.

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