Ricardo Israel Z. discusses the differences between past conflicts of a more political nature in the Middle East, and the current purely military one. In Israel Z.’s opinion, Israel‘s will be unable of achieving its objectives of neutralizing Hamas and Hezbollah. And while innocent civilians in Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine suffer, Iran and Syria will be the ones to benefit most from the conflict.
Ricardo Israel Z. is a lawyer and a political scientist. He has a PhD and a master’s in Political Science from the University of Essex and is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Chile. He is the Director of the International Center for Quality in Democracy and of the School of Juridical and Social Sciences at the Autónoma University of Chile. Israel Z. also presides over the Committee on Armed Forces and Society, which is a part of the World Association of Political Science.
IT IS NOT A REDUNDANCY. There are political wars and there are military wars. The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 to expel the PLO was a political war. The invasion of 2006 is not.
What began as a limited operation to recover a soldier kidnapped in Gaza by members of Hamas became a battle on two fronts when Hezbollah entered Israel from Southern Lebanon and kidnapped two more.
NEUTRALIZING HAMAS AND HEZBOLLAH
And so began another international conflict in the Middle East as it always begins: the first act of aggression reigniting the whole cycle of violence. The problem this time will be figuring out how it will end.
For the first time in Israel’s history neither the Prime Minister nor the Minister of Defense come from a military background. Both come from the world of politics and sociology. Regardless, Israel has changed its priorities in this war, dropping its political objectives for purely military ones: neutralizing the power of Hamas and Hezbollah.
Hezbollah’s ability to launch missiles into important cities in Northern Israel represents a serious failure of military intelligence on the part of the Israeli secret service, and the government must do everything that it can now to stop the attacks.
As is usual in such conflicts, each side views what is happening differently. Israel considers the attacks to be unprovoked acts of aggression, given that the Israeli army withdrew unilaterally from Lebanon in 2000, and from the Gaza Strip last year.
The Palestinian and Lebanese, on the other hand, feel that they are being made the objects of a collective punishment directed disproportionately at civilians.
In the meantime negotiations for a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank and other continuing peace talks remain buried. How, Israel asks, is it possible to negotiate (let alone interchange prisoners) with those who deny its very existence?
Yet, despite the growing use of military force, this conflict does not have the same characteristics as past wars. Israel’s military power is far superior to that of its neighbors and the majority of the Arab League have challenged the popular sentiment of anger in their streets and been quiet and in some cases even supportive of the Israeli response.
FEAR OF A SHIITE HEGEMONY
There is, by no means, a consensus within the Arab world on who is responsible for the current violence. In the countries allied with the United States and at peace with Israel, like Egypt and Jordan, there is a predominant fear of the fundamentalism of Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as a distrust of a Shiite majority ruling in a non-Arab country. Saudi Arabia, for example, acted in solidarity with the western world by publicly condemning Hezbollah for instigating the conflict.
Will Israel achieve its objectives? I do not believe that it will. With all of the destruction that is being caused, peace will become an even more distant goal, and the seeds will be sown for a whole new generation of fundamentalists to rise up and replace the old one.
Israel has already lost the diplomatic support that it gained in the international community following its pullout of Gaza. The new war will only result in more losses, both military and diplomatic.
THE TRIUMPH OF SYRIA AND IRAN
The real winners of this conflict are Syria and Iran. Although forced to withdraw from Lebanon, Syria now appears to be winning back its lost control of the country. The new war has shifted international attention away from demands for a change of regime in Damascus, and Syria has even been so bold as to state its desire to reclaim the Golan Heights (occupied by Israel).
The United Nations and the G-8 meanwhile have also been distracted from their international pressure on Iran. The nuclear program of Ahmadinejad’s government was going to be one of the key issues discussed during the G-8 summit, recently held in Saint Petersburg, but has now taken a backseat to the more pressing issue of resolving the war between Israel and Lebanon. In initiating the conflict, Iran demonstrated to the world that even without nuclear capabilities, it holds an enormous influence over peace in the Middle East.
Nor would it be probable for Israel to fight a direct war against Iran, the real threat in the Middle East. Israel must settle for fighting against Iran indirectly on Lebanese territory.
And as the conflict rages on, it is becoming clear that civilians on both sides will be the ones to suffer most.