Friday, July 14, 2006

Israel at war 

[NOTE: I'll put links and commentary into this post as the day goes by, so it will remain on top until at least late Friday afternoon. Scroll down for new posts on different subjects.]

6:30 AM: Chester put up a new post last night with "six points" on the war in Israel. Go read it (and not only because he described my own war post as "extremely insightful").

7:25 AM: If you haven't read it, or read it lately, it is time to read Mark Steyn's essay "Facing Down Iran." It is a powerful reminder of the history of the confrontation from the West's perspective. Unfortunately, like most indictments of Iran, it is short on solutions. But it remains the most compelling argument for dealing with Iran very seriously.

8:35 AM: There is interesting news in Stratfor's morning "geopolitical diary" (for which I make my usual suggestion that you should subscribe now if you have the extra coin):

Two Katyusha rockets hit the Israeli port city of Haifa on Thursday [see Allison Kaplan Sommer's post on the impact of the Haifa attack on Israeli psychology - ed.], demonstrating the formidable reach of Hezbollah's rocket capabilities from southern Lebanon. Almost immediately afterward, Hezbollah issued an official denial of the attack. Following the denial, Stratfor received highly reliable information that the two missiles were not authorized by the core leadership, indicating major cracks in Hezbollah's chain of command.

Israel, of course, is in the midst of launching an aggressive military campaign against Lebanon. The objective: devastate Hezbollah capabilities to the point where Israel is no longer going to lose sleep over its northern border. Hezbollah knows by now that the Israelis are not messing around. Israel is currently preparing its reservists for a sustained assault into southern Lebanon -- an operation that will involve a great deal of collateral damage and ensure Hezbollah is shattered.

With the attack and denial, Hezbollah evidently wants to send out the message that it is in disarray. In other words, "please don't shoot -- let's talk." Israel, however, is well past the decision point. The plan to devastate Hezbollah is in full motion, and while the thought of dissent in Hezbollah's ranks would make an interesting discussion topic in diplomatic circles, the military reality of the situation has taken over. Israel will drive home the message to its Arab neighbors that its military capabilities should not be underestimated, and that Hezbollah will lose its spoiler status in the region.

Israel also intends to use this opportunity to further polarize the Arab world against Iran's militant extensions into the Levant region, thus effectively deterring an Arab military response. It comes as no surprise that the surrounding Arab capitals have largely kept quiet in the past 24 hours. Beyond making strong condemnations against Israeli aggression, Israel's Arab neighbors, including Lebanon, do not want to be held responsible for Hezbollah's unilateral actions. Israel has shown no restraint targeting key infrastructural targets in Lebanon. By hitting at the country's economic lifeline, Israel is reinforcing the idea that providing Hezbollah with popular support is an extremely costly endeavor, both physically and financially. Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are nowhere near interested in engaging Israel's military in defense of a militant group that acts as an agent on behalf of Iran and its Arab ally in the region, Syria.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak likely relayed this message to Syrian President Bashar al Assad when they spoke over the phone on Thursday. Simply put, al Assad has to make a choice between cooperating with his Arab brothers -- that is, intervening to stem the crisis -- or taking a serious blow from the Israelis. Al Assad knows he is in the hot seat. Typically, the Syrian strategy is to play dead, stay silent and count on international condemnation to stay Israel's hand. That is not an option this time around. Israel will not put ground forces in Lebanon, particularly in the Bekaa Valley, without first eliminating the Syrian air force; to do otherwise would be to leave Israel's right flank wholly vulnerable. If al Assad does nothing, Israel will have to assume that Syria is waiting for an opportune moment to strike, and will act accordingly.

The Hezbollah celebration over capturing two Israeli soldiers was evidently short-lived. Within a few days Hezbollah, while it will still exist in some form, will cease to function as a military organization capable of anything but tactical, reactionary operations. That will deny Iran its biggest, most powerful and most flexible international tool and cement Iranian impotence in the wider region.

The question is, can Iran suffer this loss of capability and face without taking a substantial and visible action to support Hezbollah? If it does not, what proxy will risk doing Tehran's bidding in the future? The "Iran crisis" is at hand, and it has almost nothing to do with the nuclear program. Interestingly, this is along the lines of something Ali Ansari predicted during the "roundtable" discussion on Iran at Princeton back in March. He argued then that the nuclear showdown was really a "proxy" for a host of unresolved issues with Iran, and he expected that the real confrontation would emerge in some other way, perhaps in Iraq. Well, the fire was lit by Hezbollah in northern Israel, but Iran may yet strike back through Shia militants in Iraq. The end of Hezbollah's military capability would be a wonderful accomplishment and I wish Israel well, but Iran will either exact a price or suffer an enormous geopolitical defeat in the process. This isn't even the end of the beginning.

10:25 AM: If you've already blown your productivity for the day, you might as well read this excellent comment thread at The Belmont Club. Wretchard participates at length, along with some of his smartest readers.

10:45 AM: As we've been predicting (scroll down), Iran seems to be turning up the heat on the United States. Iraq's Shia are on the march. It does not require too much imagination to think that these demonstrations are more in support of Iran than Lebanon:
Shi'ite clerics, meanwhile, denounced the Israeli attacks on Lebanon during Friday prayers, while hundreds of Iraqis demonstrated to show solidarity with the Lebanese as fears mounted that violence in the region could spiral out of control.

"We condemn and denounce the crimes of the Zionist enemy against our Lebanese people," Shi'ite Sheik Asaad al-Nassiri, an aide to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, said in his sermon at the Kufa mosque.

"This offensive is considered an oppressive act against the Lebanese people and is targeting the legitimate resistance that has been an example of bravery."

Several thousand Shi'ites also took to the streets in the Shi'ite slum of Sadr City in eastern Baghdad to protest the Israeli military action.

"No, no to Israel, no no to America," demonstrators chanted.

"Let everyone understand that we will not stand idle," read one of the banners carried by the demonstrators.

"Iraq and Lebanon are calling, enough silence Arabs," read another.

Hundreds also staged protests in the cities of Kut and Amarah, southeast of Baghdad, denouncing the Israelis.

11:00 AM: The Associated Press has obviously chosen sides with the lead paragraph in this story:
BEIRUT, Lebanon - Israel tightened its seal on Lebanon, blasting its air and road links to the outside world and bringing its offensive to the capital for the first time Friday to punish Hezbollah — and with it, the country — for the capture of two Israeli soldiers.

As Israel has made plain, they are trying to get their soldiers back. It is not about "punishment," in the sense that one punishes a wrongdoer, it is about coercion. Run up the white flag and return the soldiers, and Israel will cease fire (however much it hopes that Hezbollah will keep fighting its way to oblivion).

The whole story is astonishingly one-sided. Among other glaring omissions, it does not include the word "Iran."


By Blogger Chester, at Fri Jul 14, 07:21:00 AM:

Thanks for the link!

First thought of the day: The missile fired at Haifa was apparently a RAAD-1 of Iranian origin. IRGC spec ops guys are suppposed to be in Lebanon. Hezbollah initially denied that the Haifa attack was its own. Hmm. Maybe they all need to coordinate a bit more.  

By Blogger ScurvyOaks, at Fri Jul 14, 11:42:00 AM:

Any word on what how the Sunnis in Iraq are reacting? (A question to test your highly plausible theory that this situation is mostly about Iran.)  

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Fri Jul 14, 11:45:00 AM:

"We condemn and denounce the crimes of the Zionist enemy against our Lebanese people," Shi'ite Sheik Asaad al-Nassiri, an aide to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, said in his sermon at the Kufa mosque.

Their Lebanese people? Is that a Freudian slip, or what?

I was wondering how long it would be before Sadr and his ilk tried to make hay out of this situation. My hope now is that they push too far and are swatted severely for it. It's long past due.  

By Blogger Tom Paine, at Fri Jul 14, 12:44:00 PM:

An "aide" to Sadr?

"Hundreds" of demonstrators outside of Sadr city?

"Thousands" inside Sadr city?

If that's the best Iran can do, they're either not really dangerous or not really trying.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Jul 14, 12:52:00 PM:

We disagree with the conventional wisdom that Iran is masterminding the current crisis in Lebanon. In this post

Is Iran trying to start a war?,

we explain that local factors are behind the Hamas and Hezbollah kidnapping operations.

Iran is not benefiting from the current crisis; its strategic situation in fact is getting worse. And it has no need to bail out Hezbollah - Hezbollah has decades of experience dealing with the Israeli army and will survive this incursion, too. Iran would not benefit from escalation and will feel no need to do so.


By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Fri Jul 14, 01:57:00 PM:

"Their Lebanese people? Is that a Freudian slip, or what?"

The same word for "people" is also a word for "relatives." Although I haven't seen the Arabic, a more correct translation might read "our Lebanese brethren."  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Fri Jul 14, 02:19:00 PM:

Well crappity crap crap.

Is THAT all we have to do to get a link out of you? Describe one of your posts as "extremely insightful".

Sheesh. I guess I can stop writing "sex posts" just about now.

*running away*  

By Blogger Dusty, at Fri Jul 14, 03:20:00 PM:

RE your comments on the AP story (I'd use "fable" if it didn't distract so much), I was up way too late last night and caught a segement of ABC News Now where they dipped into their archives. They reran a couple of news reports from Lebanon, dated 6/6/82. FWIW, it ws mostly Roger Mudd, but also there was a young Charles Gibson. There were two others I can't recall.

I didn't expect a sudden breeze of fresh air and for it to be so strong. The difference from what we get in the way of "news reports" was as great as between night and day. It certainly seemed to me while watching that the news business has evolved considerably since even that time and that evolution has not been good.

Since the events now are so close to "deja vu all over again" (ht: Yogi Berra), it would be great to see a comparison between how it was reported then and how is being done now.  

By Blogger Dusty, at Fri Jul 14, 03:23:00 PM:

I think your 8:35AM Update is spot on.  

By Blogger Dan, at Fri Jul 14, 05:58:00 PM:

If Iran comes to the aid of their proxies it will probably be at the straits of hormuz in an effort to get diplomatic pressure on Israel.  

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Fri Jul 14, 06:07:00 PM:

What Tehran should do now  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Fri Jul 14, 08:42:00 PM:

Good post, Sirius. I didn't know you had a blog.

I agree with your prescription, but I don't see Ahmadinejad's government going that way. Part of the problem may be the "face" culture that so dominates that part of the world. Stepping into any situation that would permit Israel to "survive" may be too hideous for an unreconstructed Islamist like Ahmadinejad. I'm sure he's hoping the hidden imam will return and deal with all of this.  

By Anonymous jb, at Sat Jul 15, 07:54:00 AM:

The Israelis are using the soldier kidnapping as a pretext for nipping Hezbollah in the bud. They knew that, with Iranian help, Hez was on the verge of transforming from a force with primitive weapons and tactics (like the clowns in Gaza) to a force that could do real damage. The new long range rockets and the UAV that damaged the ship are hints of what was to come if the Israelis continued to try to keep Hez in the box. They had planned for this day and the Hez was just stupid enough to give them an excuse to pull the trigger on this massive, well-justified, and overdue operation to wipe Hez out. As has been pointed out multiple times elsewhere, now Israel has the good fortune of a sympathetic US president (remember Pres Bush's tour of Israel with Ariel Sharon as his guide?), and that may change drastically in a few years. The major European powers are more restrained in their condemnation also; in a year or 2 they may be too dhimmied to maintain this type of restraint. Also remember Golda Meir's description of Israel's secret weapon: There is no alternative.  

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