Rafael Calduch describes the three objectives of the recent Israeli intervention in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories: the military defeat of Hezbollah and Hamas, the neutralization of Syrian and Iranian influence in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, and the military and diplomatic promise of the international community to assure peace in the region. Beyond the absence of a definitive victory for either side, and Israel‘s parallel failure in its first two objectives, Calduch believes that two diverging scenarios are now possible for the region: either a definitive, regional peace agreement will be signed –like the Camp David accords following the Yom Kippur War– or the outbreak of violence will ruin all chances and hope for future regional agreements.
Rafael Calduch Cervera is a Professor of International Relations and the Director of the master’s program in International Relations and Communication at the Complutense University of Madrid. He completed his doctorate in Political Science and Sociology and presides over the consulting group “International Strategic Analysis“.
THE EXPERIENCE THAT THE WORLD HAS ACCUMULATED SINCE THE VIETNAM WAR has proven that asymmetrical wars fought against well implanted guerilla organizations, in ample territory, with plenty of popular support, are very difficult to win and are rarely politically profitable.
Israel should have assimilated this knowledge after its intervention in Lebanon in 1982 (Operation Peace in the Galilee), which was incapable of hindering, even after fifteen years of occupation, the south of Lebanon from becoming a fief for Hezbollah.
But the recent Israeli military operations are evidence that the political and military lessons learned after the tremendous failure 25 years ago have not been learned. And so the questions arise as to what were the strategic objectives of the Israeli government in triggering this war? To what point did it achieve its objectives and at what price?
AN INTERVENTION WITH THREE OBJECTIVES
The recent Israeli intervention in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories hoped to achieve three objectives: the military defeat of Hezbollah and Hamas; the neutralization of Syrian and Iranian influence in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories; and the military and diplomatic promise of the international community to assure peace in the region.
These objectives were strived for via systematic and selective destruction of Lebanese infrastructure, designed to minimize the risk to both Israel’s armed forces, and the political and electoral balance of the Israeli government.
TWO PARTIAL FAILURES AND ONE COMPLETE SUCCESS
Israel was able to achieve only one of these objectives entirely: the internationalization of the security border with Lebanon. Its other two objectives, however, were left incomplete.
From the military point of view, these partial failures were due to the fact that the intervention was neither gradual nor proportionate. From the get go, the intervention worked to generate high expectations among the Israeli population for a total victory; one so complete as to make the inevitable civilian and military victims politically acceptable. These expectations wound up costing the Israeli government dearly both nationally and internationally, much more than what could have been expected.
HEZBOLLAH DID NOT WIN EITHER
Yet, this reality does not permit the conclusion that Hezbollah won the war. On the contrary, the dismantlement of Hezbollah’s guerrilla bases in the south of Lebanon has been confirmed, and the deployment of Lebanese troops and a multinational peace keeping force in the south of Lebanon means that Hezbollah no longer controls the border with Israel.
A similar analysis could be made regarding Hamas’ guerilla groups in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank.
THE MARSHALL PLAN
As for minimizing the influence of Syria and Iran in Lebanon, Israel’s military intervention changed the balance of power by creating favorable conditions for the international community to capitalize on the process of Lebanese reconstruction. Through reconstruction and stability, the political and economic future of Lebanon will become tied to the occidental hegemony.
It’s the old strategy of the Marshall Plan that has been applied in the last couple years in Afghanistan, Iraq, and now in Lebanon. Syria and Iran are by themselves incapable of reconstructing Lebanon. And with the West now involved directly in Lebanon’s future, they will find it more and more difficult and costly to maintain their military and political support to radical groups like Hezbollah.
On the other side of things, the war has and will have strategic destabilizing effects that must be considered in order to reach a proper balance in the Middle East.
In the first place, the loss of human lives –Lebanese, Palestinian, and Israeli– will contribute to the mobilization of radical and violent Islamic groups, signifying the accentuation of an ongoing cycle of terrorism in the Middle East and the western world.
And the disrepute for Israel throughout the mass media and international public opinion will continue to undermine the diplomatic position of Ehud Olmert’s government, as well as augmenting pressure on the United States and the European Union to reach a definitive solution for peace in the Middle East.
TWO DIVERGENT SCENARIOS
The last and most important negative factor resulting from this war is the growing disregard and lack of legitimacy of international institutions and Law demonstrated by the flagrant and constant violations by both the Israelis and the guerrilla fighters of Hezbollah and Hamas. This loss of authority will reduce the possibilities and the hope for future regional agreements, and will promote the use of violence as a legitimate solution to problems in the region.
It is still too early to say whether or not Israel’s incomplete military victory will provoke an end to the peace process in the region, as it is to know whether Hamas and Hezbollah will have the capacity to recover politically and militarily after the blows that they received.
But it is possible, and even likely, that from this war –of neither winners nor losers– will emerge a definitive regional peace agreement, like the Camp David Accords (between Egypt and Israel) after the Yom Kippur War of 1973.
The evolution of the situation over the next couple of months will tell us for sure, which of the two scenarios, whether continuing war or agreements for peace, will take place in the Middle East.