July 28, 2006
In the early days of the Israeli massacre of the Lebanese people, Professor Martin Kramer, a research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and a former director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, described as a "world-renowned expert on Lebanon", explained everything to the readers of Ha’aretz:
"Hezbollah's hubris has created an opportunity for Israel.
Since Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon, Hezbollah has basked in the illusion that it defeated Israel - that it somehow discovered a path to victory that had eluded Arab governments and the Palestinian movement. It began to puff itself up, as the only force willing and able to stand up to Israel. Hezbollah lost its respect for Israeli power, and began to portray Israel as unable to sustain a protracted conflict.
Nasrallah allowed a personality cult to develop around himself, and Hezbollah marketed him as the only strategic genius in the Arab world. Increasingly, it would seem that the higher echelons in Hezbollah began to believe their own propaganda.
I doubt Hezbollah expected the Israeli reaction to be as swift, extensive and destructive as it has been. Hezbollah probably believed it would score a few points in Arab public opinion by a cross-border operation, and that it would make one more incremental change in the rules of the game.
It was a strategic miscalculation. Hezbollah didn't internalize changes in the broader strategic climate. The top regional issue today is Iran's nuclear drive, not the fate of Hamas or the Palestinian issue. If Hezbollah had understood this fully, it would have laid very low until needed by Iran in a mega-crisis with the United States. At that point, its threats against Israel would have been added to the overall deterrent capabilities of Iran, and might have caused the United States to think twice.
Hezbollah apparently didn't understand this. If Iran was directly involved in the decision, it also shows an erosion of discipline in Iran's own decision-making process. Iran had nothing to gain from this little adventure, and a lot to lose. It may well be that President Ahmadinejad's rhetoric is beginning to cloud judgment in Tehran.
In any case, it is in the interests of Israel and the United States to deal with the Hezbollah threat now, and not later in the midst of a far more dangerous crisis over Iran's nuclear plans. So a war now to degrade Hezbollah is a shared Israel-U.S. interest, which means that Israel can wage it without many constraints.
Hezbollah now finds itself spending all sorts of military assets that were supposed to serve a much more important purpose than freeing a few Lebanese prisoners or winning a few propaganda points. These are assets it probably won't be able to replenish, and their very use exposes them and makes them vulnerable.
In sum, Hezbollah overplayed its hand, and Israel is taking full advantage of its mistake."
This is interesting, as the 'facts on the ground’, the fact that Israel isn’t defeating Hezbollah and is in fact apparently unwilling to engage Hezbollah out of fear of the political repercussions of the Israeli casualties (and has cravenly decided instead to take the propaganda hit of killing more innocent civilians), disproves what this 'expert’ said in every way. It wasn’t Hezbollah which miscalculated and overplayed its hand. The same article quotes 'G.’, who retired from the Mossad a few years ago (my emphasis in red):
"The campaign against Hezbollah is over the reshaping of the strategic milieu in which we exist. This is not just a retaliatory raid aimed mainly at restoring the status quo ante and restoring our trampled honor, with minor improvements on this or that hill. We are talking about the substantive reshaping of the overall security doctrine in such a dramatic way that it might generate a tsunami and will have the effect of changing the whole Middle East as far as Iran and even beyond.
This campaign is almost the last chance for the sated and concerned West to deliver a truly powerful blow to the conception of terrorism as a strategic instrument and to one of the most murderous and most dangerous terrorist organizations we have known in the past 30 years. Effectively, the whole Islamic world on one side and the West on the other are sitting in the stands, watching the events and hoping it does not end with penalty shots or with a headbutt, but with a crushing victory, or at least with a small 1-0. That depends on us, on condition that we are able to restrain all thirst for revenge per se."
Rather than a victory for the neocons, this attempt at creating a 'new Middle East’ appears to be a manifestation of the fear that Israeli control over the United States is drawing to an end. The Israeli massacre of Lebanon is an attack of panic, as the neocon perception is that the window of opportunity for stopping the increasing strength of Islamist populism is closing.
You can see how stupid – as usual (is there another group which is as consistently wrong?) – Israeliamerican neocon intellectuals are driving this latest travesty. They came up with a few ideas:
the window of opportunity for Israel is closing as the neocons start to fall out of favor in the United States (Iraq will be their Vietnam);
Hezbollah is achieving disturbing success in its charity and educational work, and is building its military capabilities to the point that it could be a dangerous opponent;
Hezbollah has an overly high opinion of its ability to fight Israel, and that hubris could be used against it;
defeating Hezbollah would, once and for all, end the romantic idea that Islamist populism, fighting with the tools the Israeliamericans like to call 'terrorism’, represents some solution to the enslavement of Muslims in the Middle East.
It is clear that only the first and second of these ideas is true. The fourth, that the legitimate fight in the people of the Middle East could be permanently ended by defeating Hezbollah, is laughable, but appears to be the backbone of the apparent tacit agreement of the European and Middle Eastern governments to go along with the Israeliamerican plans. This miscalculation started with the European agreement to attempt to destroy Hamas by starving the Palestinian people, probably the most cynical – and stupidest – action by Europeans since the Second World War. The latest dirty deal is simply to sacrifice the entire country of Lebanon in another effort to defeat terrorism, an idea which is so stupid you can actually see European and Middle Eastern leaders falling for it.
As usual, a lot of bad things are happening as a result of reliance on really, really, really stupid ideas by a small group of Israeliamerican 'experts’, none of whom has a clue. What is actually happening? Hezbollah is holding its own, and has proved to be such a valiant opponent against the Israeli experimental ground forays into Lebanon that the Israeli politicians don’t dare authorize a greater land war. Instead, they are following the usual craven script of hoping that the air attack on civilians will weaken Hezbollah enough that the ground war will be politically possible (i. e., possible without a massive number of Israeli casualties). This tactic has never worked in the past, and is in fact, predictably, strengthening Hezbollah. People who never liked Hezbollah before are now supporting it, taking the logical position that Hezbollah, in clear contrast to the useless central Lebanese government, is actually doing something to defend Lebanon against its real enemy, Israel. Middle Eastern leaders who backed the Israeliamerican position – in the vain hopes that defeat of Hezbollah would help delegitimize their own Islamist populist enemies - are now realizing the extent of their mistake. People across the Middle East are drawing the obvious conclusion that their own governments were conspiring against them to defend their own illegitimate grasp on power, and Hezbollah stands out as a shining light of opposition to Israeliamerican enslavement of all the peoples of the Middle East. The cretins in Europe now see that the Israeliamerican plans have finally led to the squaring of the terrorist circle, with the normally extremely anti-Shi’ite al Qaeda publicly praising Hezbollah. Is it too much to hope that the ultimate result of this Israeliamerican miscalculation will be some sort of pan-Arab unity against the common enemy of both Sunnis and Shi’ites? [Addendum: I just saw this article by Jim Lobe: note to 'expert’ Michael Rubin: your 'cousins’ don’t drop bombs on you]