Dangerous Escalation in the Middle East

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Hezbollah’s entry into the already tense situation between the Palestinians and Israel is a major escalation of an already bad situation.
While I think that Israel has responded disproportionately in its incursion into Gaza, I think that the firing of rockets from inside Lebanon into Israel changes Israel’s moral position to a degree. Israel has withdrawn from Lebanon — and Lebanon should do everything it is able to do to secure its borders and to preempt this kind of attack on Israel.
The “politics of occupation and resistance” simply do not apply at this point to Hezbollah, and Israel should do what needs to be done to secure itself there. I would argue that it makes little tactical sense to create a full frontal assault against the people and territory of Lebanon — and were I in Olmert’s shoes I would have worked to try and coordinate with the Lebanese government and military to contain this incident. Israel seems not to have done that and seems to have proceeded unilaterally when collaboration should have been attempted.
But the regional picture is bleak, and sane strategists, advisors, and political leaders need to know that they are on the brink potentially of a full scale war. No one wins in such a case.
What Israel needs to try and stomach — and then outmaneuver — is that the Hezbollah elements who abducted two soldiers wanted exactly the reaction from Israel that they got. They wanted “massive retaliation”. Why? Because it galvanizes the public — the innocent public — that sustains the punishment and helps terrorist thugs appear to be legitimate in the eyes of that country’s citizens.
Israel is smarter than this. It has long preferred surgical strikes, covert activities and even assassinations coordinated by the Mossad, and responses proportionate to the incident triggered by terrorists.
One has to wonder whether Israel’s reaction — so dramatically different than in the past — is designed to REMOVE from the table certain options America might prefer to have with the Palestinians, with the broader Arab region, and even — eventually — with Iran.
Israel’s actions may be less directed towards recovering their soldiers than they are designed to dramatically alter America’s options in the Middle East. Some inside the Bush administration are already grumbling privately about the character of Israel’s responses to its recent security breaches.
The word “disproportionate” is not only coming from Arab Gulf nations and the Europeans, it is also a word being whispered in the halls of the Old Executive Office Building and the White House — as long as Elliott Abrams is not in listening distance.
More later.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

6 comments on “Dangerous Escalation in the Middle East

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  2. Gray says:

    “the only chance for long term peace”
    Hmm, what I wanted to say is ‘the only long term chance for peace’. Lost in translation, sry.

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  3. Gray says:

    “Lebanon should do everything it is able to do to secure its borders and to preempt this kind of attack on Israel.”
    Emphasis should be on “everything it is able to do”. Most pundits acknoledge that the official Lebanese army isn’t strong enough to cope with the Hezbollah forces, not to speak of that the Lebanese are afraid of starting yet another civil war. South Lebanon is Hezbollah country, there is nothing the government can do to prevent the terrorists from firing rockets. Israel knows this darn well, but yet it choses to retaliate against all of the country, destabilizing democracy as a collateral effect. In doing so, it throws away the only chance for long term peace at it’s northern border. The only reason behind this seems to be a shortsighted propagandistic success for the Olmert administration. So far, this works into the hands of the fanatics, who are calculating that this strategic blunder will strengthen anti-Israeli sentiments and broaden their base. All of this isn’t in US interests, but Bush doesn’t seem to grasp the consequences. ‘Situation’ normal, all f***ed up…
    🙁

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  4. Steve Clemons says:

    Carroll — Thank you for that compliment! And yes, you did predict this… More later, steve

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  5. Carroll says:

    Steve… you are the master of understatement..I think you have been to Miss Manner’s School of Diplomacy..LOL
    “One has to wonder whether Israel’s reaction — so dramatically different than in the past — is designed to REMOVE from the table certain options America might prefer to have with the Palestinians, with the broader Arab region, and even — eventually — with Iran.”
    If I wern’t so lazy I would go hunt up the prediction that I made on this site some time ago that this is exactly what Israel was going to do.

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  6. ron says:

    In what way would they be limiting US options? What diplomatic choices would the US likely take that Olmert wants to avoid? The US generally backs Israel unconditionally.

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