Israel’s setback, as well as their inability to contain Palestinian resistance in Gaza, brought into question the assumption that Israel’s armed forces can complement U.S. military efforts in the region. Moreover, Israel’s defeat in Lebanon forced the Bush administration to look for diplomatic alternatives initiated by its Arab allies. Since the war of 2006, Turkey, Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Yemen have commenced negotiations to allow Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas some accommodation in the regional power structure. Yesterday’s pariahs were thus transformed into legitimate interlocutors.
Israel’s invasion of Lebanon was in itself a symptom of the U.S.’s inability to impose its own agenda. Israel intervened in Lebanon to correct by military means the political shortcomings of the U.S.’s handling of the “Cedar Revolution” a year earlier.
In April 2005, Syrian military forces and intelligence services retreated from Lebanon as a consequence of massive anti-Syrian demonstrations and international pressure sparked by the assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri. Coined “The Cedar Revolution” by Paula J Dobriansky, the American Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs, the expulsion of the Syrians was hailed by the U.S. as a great achievement in the global war on terror.
Moreover, the demonstrations in Beirut and their aftermath were perceived by Washington as a direct outcome of its invasion of Iraq, and as the beginning of a new American-led era in the region. This sentiment was echoed in the Lebanese political arena by several anti-Syrian political leaders, such as Walid Jumblatt, a Druze political leader who was among the organizers of the demonstrations. He told a reporter of the Washington Post that “this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq,” adding that the U.S. supervised elections in Iraq were “the start of a new Arab world.”
The retreat of Syrian forces from Lebanon, however, did not weaken Hezbollah’s position, nor did it secure a pro-western hegemony in Lebanon, let alone the rest of the region. Indeed, the belief within the Bush administration that a U.S.-friendly democratic domino effect would sweep through the region following the toppling of Saddam Hussein shows, as of yet, few signs of ever being vindicated.
The much-ballyhooed Cedar Revolution quickly ran out of steam, and with it the unrealized American goals for Lebanon. These include the disarming and dismantling of Hezbollah, the securing and stabilization of Prime Minister Seniora’s government, and incorporating a cooperative Lebanon in the push to pile more pressure onto an increasingly isolated Syria.
Unfortunately, the U.S.’s and Israel’s misadventures with unilateralism do not seem to have deterred other governments from trying their hands at it. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe reproduces American and Israeli tactics with the assistance of Israeli and American military advisors and hardware in the war against the FARC, going as far as performing a cross-border raid into neighbouring Ecuador, and refusing to negotiate for a peaceful settlement of this protracted conflict.
More to the point, accommodation in western Asia may be short lived. Israel’s hawks are growing increasingly nervous due to a witch’s brew of Iran’s continued sabre-rattling and rocket tests, a well dug-in Hezbollah, a democratically elected and assertive Hamas, and, finally, the American people’s current war-weariness and their pre-occupation with their November election.
In fact, Israel’s military and security establishment are not happy with the prisoner swap agreement with Hezbollah, nor with the cease-fire with Hamas.
In both cases, armed non-governmental entities that Israel categorizes as “terrorist organizations” achieved major concessions through military operations. Hezbollah and Hamas, in turn, perceive said concessions as military victories. Israel’s security services argue that Israel’s all-important power of deterrence has “suffered substantially” because of these concessions.
Although Israel is a key player in Washington’s geopolitical strategy, its recent military failures coupled with its hard-line internal security doctrine render it a possible military liability, and a risky partner, at a time when the U.S. is already overstretched militarily.
The prevailing Israeli security doctrine does not presume that a decisive military victory in the region will be necessary, but rather that the security of their state depends largely on its power of deterrence. The perceived need to reconstruct such a level of deterrence may lead to a new round of skirmishing or, more dangerously, a reprise of the strategic bombing of nuclear facilities and military installations. By stoking the embers of an already unstable and incendiary region, wars with Syria and/or Iran may break out, which could conceivably drag in not only the United States, but, in Iran’s case, Russia and China as well.
Western Asia must put aside its historical animosities or it risks its very future. A possible understanding initiated and sustained by local powers may lead toward enhanced regional, and therefore global, security.
Continued irresponsibility and brinkmanship amongst the region’s local powers, and meddling from the world’s powers, promises just the opposite. Only when the global anti-war movement is able to assert effective pressure for peace on the region in its entirety, and when those who actually live there are able to assert themselves, will future wars, at least in this region, be avoided.
This article was originally published at Alternatives.