July 19, 2006

Israel is at its wits' end

Israel is lashing out. That much is obvious but it is lashing out without much idea of what else to do. Throughout its history, Israel has always sought to attack other governments in order to force them to try to back off. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation, historically, it's the here and now that we have to deal with and Israel finds itself in the situation it has been in many times.

In 1967, Israel felt threatened and attacked across the Sinai. Although defeated, Egypt continued attacking across the Suez canal with artillery and raids after the ceasefire until the situation escalated to the point at which in 1970 Israel began its politically risky deep penetration raids that saw parts of Cairo come under near daily attack.

In 1982, the situation was such that Israel felt compelled to invade Southern Lebanon in order to provide security for its northern border. Since withdrawing, airstrikes have continued across the border whenever the number of missiles falling on northern Israel has risen to the point of infuriating the Israeli government.

In both cases, this action was successful insofar as in 1970 the Egyptian government came under enough pressure to call another ceasefire and, in 1982, the Lebanese government was under no alternative but to eject the PLO.

However, in both cases the governments had sufficient self–confidence that this could be done. Now, in 2006, I'm not sure that the Lebanese government has enough clout within its borders to feel that it can go and round up Hezbollah. Certainly, its priority is the safeguarding of its own people but it is clearly powerless being stuck between a rock and hard place by neighbouring Syria and Israel. But which country wants to stage someone else's war on its own territory?

And Israel feels isolated also on the diplomatic stage. The West is presently trying to stand on the fence, to be friends with the Arabs and the Israelis and is therefore publically, at least, keeping its own counsel on the matter while trying to arrange a ceasefire like all good friends should.

Israel, therefore, is unable to do anything other than flex its considerable military muscle which, at the end of the day, is just lashing out at the nearest available target. The down side of this is that it brings the other Arab countries into line behind Lebanon and makes a mess of the Lebanese nation. It also brings a certain amount of kudos to Hezbollah – who, by attacking Israel all the more now, are 'bigging it up' in the region. The present attacks are not really targeting Hezbollah fighters because, to do that, you need to put troops on the ground to aggressively search them out (as the US has been slow to realise in Afghanistan).

Israel is at its wits' end, then, because it really needs Lebanon to treat this as a criminal investigation using its own police force to round up and arrest the Hezbollah fighters (for a rather open and shut 'breach of the peace'). Because of Lebanon's delicate internal situation, it cannot. Israel cannot put troops on the ground because of what that would mean internationally. What else can it do, and its own domestic political arena wants to be seen to be doing something. And what happens when a pilot gets shot down and paraded on Lebanese television?

The problem is that, presently, no one wants to stop fighting. Hezbollah are under no immediate threat so will keep going on merrily. And while Israel is still under attack so they will likewise keep fighting.

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