The most interesting item I came across tonight on the Middle East crisis came by way of an email from former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and former Asst. Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Chas Freeman.
Freeman provides a fascinating look at the “game behind the game” — and rather than committing the error that so many analysts do of mirror-imaging decision-making, he starts with a lucid articulation of the view of things from Israeli shoes — and then from Arab shoes.
(This note is printed with permission from Ambassador Freeman).
Chas Freeman writes:
The assumption in Israel and here is that Iran and Syria put Hezbollah up to its provocative gesture of solidarity with the beleaguered Palestians in Gaza. The assumption in the Arab world is that the U.S. put Israel up to what it is doing in Gaza and Lebanon. Both assertions remain politically convenient assertions that are almost certainly wrong. There is no evidence for either.
The relationship between Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran is analogous to that between Israel and the United States. Syria is the quartermaster and Iran the external financier and munitions supplier to Hezbollah; we play all three roles in support of Israel.
There is no reason to believe that Hezbollah, which is an authentic expression of Lebanese Sh’ia nationalism birthed by the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon in 1982, is any less unilateralist or prone to consult its patrons before it does things it sees as in its interest than Israel, which is an authentic expression of Jewish nationalism birthed by European racism, is in relation to us.
Remember the assertions that Vietnamese expansionism was controlled and directed by the Chinese? similar stuff. Chinese backing for the Viet Minh and the Hanoi regime did not equate to Chinese control or direction of North Vietnam, its armed forces, or its agents in South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Consider the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese war.
The irony now is that the most likely candidate to back Hezbollah in the long term is no longer Iran but the Arab Shiite tyranny of the majority we have installed in Baghdad. But that will not mean that the successors of Nouri Al-Maliki control Sheikh Nasrullah. Sometimes clients direct the policies of their patrons, not the other way around. This is a point exemplified by the dynamic of Israeli-American relations but far from unique to them.
This short statement is insightful and nuanced and reflects the thinking of someone with comprehensive undestanding of regional dynamics.
I agree with Freeman that there exist “authentic nationalisms” competing with each other for status and identity in virtually the same spot on the globe. Despite Israel’s remarkable show of force and incursion into Lebanon — a well-planned operation that was apparently waiting for any small crisis to launch it — these competing “nationalisms” won’t disappear.
Ultimately, a political bargain is going to have to be struck. At least in the not too old days when the Israel crisis was mostly defined by its interaction with Palestinians, a majority of Israelis and Palestinians preferred a “negotiated” final status arrangement.
Matters are messier now, but radical instabilities — and the kind of missteps that Hezbollah, the militant wing of Hamas, and Israel have made — could prompt some new global “adult supervision” in the region that could very well lead to a new, pragmatic grand bargain.
— Steve Clemons