July 25, 2006
The world is witnessing what could be a critical turning point in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Israel is now engaged in a war that could permanently undermine the efficacy of its much-vaunted military apparatus.
Ironically, there are several reasons for believing that Israel's destruction of southern Lebanon and southern Beirut will weaken its bargaining position relative to its adversaries, and will strengthen its adversaries' hands.
First, Israel has no clearly defined tactical or strategic objective, and so the Israeli offensive fails the first test of military logic: there is no way that Israel's actions can improve its position relative to Hamas or Hizballah, much less Syria or Iran.
The logic of power politics also implies that a no-win situation for Israel is a definite loss, because Israel is the stronger party and thus has the most to lose. In an asymmetric war, the stronger party always has the most to lose, in terms of reputation and in terms of its ability to project its will through the instruments of force.
The lack of any clearly defined objective is a major miscalculation by Israel and its American patron.
Second, Israel cannot eliminate Hizballah, since Hizballah is a grassroots organization that represents a plurality of Lebanese society. Neither can Hamas be eliminated for the same reason. By targeting Hizballah however, Israel is strengthening Hizballah's hand against its domestic rivals, such as the Maronite Christians, because any open Christian opposition makes them look like traitors and Israeli collaborators.
Consequently, while Hizballah will obviously pay a short-term tactical cost that is very high, in the long run, this conflict demonstrates that it is Hizballah, and not the Lebanese government, that has the most power in Lebanon.
The Shia represent an estimated 35-40 per cent of Lebanese society, while Lebanese Christians are thought to constitute no more than 25-30per cent of the entire population. Furthermore, the Shia community's fertility rate is thought to be far higher than that of the other religious components within Lebanon.
Thus, the current confessional division of power in Lebanon, which grants Christians a political position that goes far beyond their minority status, is ultimately unsustainable, which means that the Maronite Christians will lose even more power, and the Shia and Hizballah will inevitably gain more power.
Third, Israel's failure to achieve anything at all greatly enhances Syria's influence over Lebanon and its bargaining position relative to the U.S. and Israel itself. No solution in Lebanon can exclude Syria, and so now the U.S. and Israelis need Syria's approval, which certainly weakens both the U.S. and Israel.
And even Israel's accusations against Iran, although largely baseless, greatly enhance Iran's prestige in the region, and may bring about exactly what the Israelis are trying to prevent. While the Arab states look like traitors, Iran looks like a champion of the most celebrated of all Muslim causes.
Fourth, Bush's impotence is a clear demonstration that America has lost a great deal of global power over the last three years. If Bush cannot control Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizballah, or Israel, then what real power does the world's "hyper-power" possess? America's inability to influence any of the actors that are relevant to the current crisis is yet more evidence that America's foreign policy is a form of global suicide.
Fifth, the age of great power warfare has been replaced by a world in which great powers must live and compete with non-state actors who possess considerable military capabilities. William Lind calls this transformation "4th generation warfare."
Consequently, the age of Bismarckian warfare, or what William Lind refers to as "3rd generation warfare," is effectively over. "Bismarckian warfare" is a term that describes large-scale wars fought by large-scale armies, which require national systems of military conscription, a significant population base, and enormous military budgets.
Bismarckian warfare seems to have become ineffective in the Arab-Israeli context, because Israel no longer poses the threat that it once did to the Arab regimes, and the Arab regimes much prefer Israel to the rising non-state actors growing within their own borders.
William Lind has also argued that non-state actors such as Hamas and Hizballah can checkmate the Israelis as long as these Muslim parties never formally assume power. If Muslim parties were to assume the power of states, then they would immediately become targets for traditional Bismarckian warfare. However, as long as Muslim movements retain theirnon-state identity, they are strategically unconquerable.
Sixth, we must more carefully study the reasons why Bismarckian warfare is no longer effective.
The global diffusion of the news outlets is obviously important for understanding why Bismarckian warfare has become so ineffective. For instance, Hizballah has its own media network, and can draw upon the global satellite network to get its message out, and can also use the global media to take advantage of Israel's targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure.
Further, the competition between Arab and Muslim satellite channels is also important, because each station wants to demonstrate its sincerity by spreading news that is not only critical of Israel and the U.S., but ultimately undermines people's trust in the Arab regimes and thereby lends legitimacy to non-state actors.
And although the American media largely supports Israel, the information about the Americans stranded in Lebanon limits Israel's freedom of action, and makes Israel look like it cares nothing for the lives of American citizens.
At an even deeper level, the rate and density of global information transfer, and lack of any centralized control over the global distribution of information, is causing the fabric of space and time to contract, and so Israel's crimes can much more quickly create a global backlash.
Time and space, as we experience them, are contracting because the global diffusion of technical and scientific knowledge is permitting events in one part of the world to increasingly influence events in other parts of the world, and events that once took years or even decades to unfold can now occur within mere months or weeks.
As a consequence, the disenfranchised peoples of the world are developing the ability to affect the lives of the more privileged members of humanity, which means that anything that Israel does to the Palestinians or Lebanese will have effects upon Israel that are more direct and more negative than ever before, and that further, these effects will occur in an accelerated time scale.
Thus, as it becomes self evident that Israeli military power is no longer as effective as it once was, this will surely accelerate the flow of Jewish settlers out of Israel. Information regarding emigration of Jews out of Israel is a closely guarded secret, but using Israeli government statistics, we can infer that immigration to Israel has rapidly declined over the last several years, and that Israel may even be experiencing a net outflow of Jewish migrants. According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, the number of Jewish immigrants to Israel declined to 21,000 in 2004, which is a 15-year low. In 2005, the number of immigrants rose slightly to 23,000, which is still dramatically lower than the 60,000 that immigrated in 2000. Furthermore, Israel became a net exporter of its citizens in 2003, when9,000 more Israelis left the country than entered, and in the first two months of 2004, this figure rose to 13,000.
The global micro-diffusion of military technology is also critical, and so military innovation and its global diffusion will only strengthen grassroots rebellions and allow them to more effectively resist the instruments of Bismarckian control, as well as the depredations of the military hippopotami that are the ultimate guarantors of statism and statist regimes.
For all of these reasons, Israeli attempts to impose terms on Lebanon, or to redraw the political map of Lebanon, or even to impose a NATO force upon Southern Lebanon, are not militarily feasible nor politically achievable, and if attempted, will prove ultimately unsustainable.
As will soon be demonstrated by events on the ground, Israel will not be able to destroy or even disarm Hizballah. Neither will Hamas, Hizballah, Lebanon, or Syria permit Israel or America to dictate terms to them. Consequently, if Israel lingers too long in Southern Lebanon, its presence will be paid for at such a high cost, that it will be forced to withdraw in ignominy, as it has so many times in the past.
In the end however, Israel's loss of power will make it even more dangerous, because the more threatened the Israelis feel, the more likely they will launch destructive wars against the Palestinians and Israel's other adversaries.
Finally, the same can be said of the U.S., with respect to its loss of global power. Instead of becoming more careful with its use of force, the erosion of America's global dominance will likely make the U.S. government more aggressive, as it attempts to re-assert its former position relative to its adversaries and competitors.
And it is precisely because America and Israel are losing influence over global events, that an American attack upon Iran in 2007 becomes more likely.
God help us all.
Ashraf Isma'il is an academic whose interests range from international relations, international economics and international finance, to global history and mathematical models of geo-strategy.