Saturday, July 29, 2006

Israel's actions could have harmed its security, Part 2

This post will deal with some of the strategic security issues that have arisen as a result of Israel's action in the current crisis.

For Israel the big strategic issue is Iran. A few weeks ago I posted a blog arguing that Iran had instructed its vassal, Hezbollah, to provoke the Israelis for both domestic political reasons and to facilitate its nuclear weapons program. As I stated back then it was very apparent that it was just a matter of time before Israel and/or the United States would strike Iran's nuclear weapons programme. So it was in Iran's interest to provoke the inevitable at a time of their choosing. It would cost them some progress in their nuclear weapons programme but it would also facilitate the completion of it over the long term.

Israel's actions might have saved Iran the cost of such a strike. With the Israelis involved in a protracted conflict with Hezbollah the appetite amongst the Israeli people for further actions against Iran is likely to diminish. Israelis would probably not support anything but a token strike on Iran. One that would give the perception of dealing with Iran but not really do much damage to its nuclear ambitions. As well, with George Bush's approval ratings in the duldrums, largely as the result of the occupation of Iraq, his ability to launch military strikes against Iran are limited. In addition, the one state that kept Iran in check in the past, Iraq, is going through a civil war and is no threat to Iran. Therefore, there is great potential that Iran will be able to develop nuclear weapons with little or no interference for several years. I think many of us can agree that such a situation would not be good for the security of Israel.

For the Middle East in general the growing influence of Iran is also a threat to the security and stability of the moderate Arab states and if Iran managed to develop nuclear weapons their security and stability are even more threatened. That is the reason why Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have condemned Hezbollah. They know as Hezbollah goes so goes Iran. They know that a nuclear armed Iran is as much a threat to them as it is to Israel. In an indirect fashion Israel's actions have made the lives of the leaders of these countries much more interesting and dangerous.

Now why has this situation come to pass?

The answer is Israel's strategy towards its neighbours. It has chosen a strategy of belligerence against its neighbours. Part of that strategy is the acceptance of casualties amongst Israeli civilians and its military. They are "acceptable losses" to the Israeli government. Another part of that strategy is when Israel is attacked, Israel retaliates, hard. This has been their strategy for almost 40 years and its enemies have figured it out and are trying to use it against them.

Recall if you will Saddam Hussein and the first Gulf War. As the air war phase of that war began Saddam Hussein began raining Scud missiles down on Israeli cities. Why did he do that? Simple, he was trying to provoke an attack by Israel on Iraq. He knew that such an attack would shatter the fragile consensus, amongst the Arab governments, against him. That in turn would have made the job of kicking him out of Kuwait much more difficult and if he could not hang on to it he might have received some favourable terms for his withdrawel, saving himself and his army.

You might also recall that the only reason why Israel did not strike back at Iraq was because George Bush Sr. practically got down on his knees and begged Israel to hold its fire.

Now Saddam Hussein is not the coldest beer in the fridge. So if he was able to figure a way to use Israel's strategy towards its neighbours against them, others certainly would.

Hezbollah and Iran did and we have seen the results in the past three weeks. Hezbollah has been preparing for the current conflict for months if not years and when they and their Iranian overlords thought the time was right they did something to provoke Israel. And like a Pavlovian dog Israel did exactly what was expected of them and they have been paying the price ever since and they could pay an even greater price in the future.

Three weeks ago Israel's security was not seriously threatened. In the intervening three weeks it is not nearly as secure as it was before all of this started. That is the result of both tactical and strategic blunders in its response to the provocative actions of Hezbollah. By reacting in a wholly predictable fashion to those provocations they have played into the hands of their enemies and they could have actually reduced their security for the future.


Blogger Joe said...

Israel alrady has a number of nukes pointed at tehran, india, pakistan, nd saudi arabia.

If something happes to Israel in the form of big explosion, you can kiss those cities goodbye. And then Israel would just be rebuilt again.

July 31, 2006 10:37 PM  
Blogger leftdog said...

ottlib - interesting analysis. You are fully cognizant of the complexities of this whole mess. I am having a hard time with all those who are trying to play this as a black and white issue. Trying to reduce this down to 'good versus evil' simplicity is ridiculous.

August 01, 2006 9:41 PM  
Blogger ottlib said...


What you are describing in MAD.

It only works provided neither side achieves a first strike capability.

It creates a huge potential for a mistake that would kill millions.

It is not a very secure way to live and it is not a very pleasent way to live.

That big explosion you so off-handedly dismiss would still kill hundreds of thousands of Israelis, injure hundreds of thousands more, probably make a large swath of it uninhabitable and destroy the Israeli economy.

On the other side millions of people would be killed and considering the oil in the region any kind of nuclear exchange would cripple if not destroy the world economy.

I might also add that the competition for the remaining energy resources would be so fierce that a much wider and more destructive war would be a distinct possibility.

There would be no winners in a nuclear exchange in the Middle East Joe.

The best way to prevent such a catastrophy would be to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power and as I state in this blog that task has just become much more difficult.

August 02, 2006 1:22 PM  
Blogger Red Tory said...

Let’s be honest and admit that we are making a good deal of presumptions here. I don’t entirely disagree with your analysis, but we can only speculate as to the motives of the Iranian government and the extent to which they have control over Hezbollah. By the way, you have left Syria out of your equation and I think they are an important player in this little game of geopolitics, perhaps even more so than anyone else. If anything, they probably have deeper connections with Hezbollah than does Iran. They were very much humiliated at having to withdraw their forces from southern Lebanon under pressure from the international community when the Lebanese “Cedar Revolution” resulted in a democratically elected government. It could be argued that their continued presence in the country, however objectionable it may have been, might have actually reigned in Hezbollah. There we go with the unintended consequences again…

It’s difficult to know who is really pulling the strings here and what their objectives might be. I’m not sure if I buy into this line of reasoning that argues that the present conflict is a way of Iran to simply deflect attention away from their supposed nuclear weapons program. That seems to me to be an awfully convenient and rather simplistic explanation. The dynamic is a lot more complex than that I believe. The so-called “moderate” Arab states have condemned Hezbollah, not only because they fear the growing influence of Iran and the Shiites in the region but also because it serves no purpose for them. There’s little appetite for going to war and nothing to be gained. Moreover, actively fueling and legitimizing a radical Islamic movement poses a threat to their own stability and existence. For years the Arab League has turned its back on Palestine and kept it neutered and impotent while paying it little more than lip service for the same reasons.

My half penny...

August 02, 2006 5:41 PM  
Blogger ottlib said...

Absolutely RT. I do not have perfect information regarding what is going on in the Middle East. I only have what I have gleaned from the media and the think tanks and the rest is just me connecting some dots. My analysis could be way off but even though I do say so myself I do not believe so. It's not perfect and there are holes in it but I believe I make a valid argument.

There is a great deal of concern in the Middle East and in the Western Capitals about the increased influence of Iran in the Middle East.

Several factors are at play here. The destruction of the Hussein regime in Iraq, and the subsequent civil war, the rise in oil prices, and the missionary zeal of Iran's current leadership are the three key ones.

In particular the current president of Iran has stated publicly, several times, that Israel needs to be wiped off the map of the Middle East. Not even Khomeni (sp) used to say that out loud although he firmly believe it. So Iran is being lead by the hard-liner of hard-liners and he has the financial ability and lack of a threat to his West that would allow him to implement any plans he may have to increase his influence in Middle East.

The same holds true with regard to his nuclear ambitions.

With regard to Syria its influence has been weakened by the death of the Senior Assad. Junior just does not have the same stature and backbone as Senior did which is a contributing factor to the Syrian ouster from Lebanon. It is also a contributing factor to Syria's reduced influence with other Arab states. Junior just does not have the strength of personality as Senior.

As well, the Syrian desire to destroy Israel has diminished as the reality of just what that entails has sunk in.

As a result there are some suggestions that Hezbollah is gravitating towards Iran, for the purely practical reasons that Iran provides them with funding and weapons, the Syrians are no longer in Lebanon to stop them and Iran's president thinks more along the same lines as they do with regard to Israel.

August 03, 2006 4:09 PM  
Blogger SouthernOntarioan said...

I think you may be correct that Iran is provoking Israel, but I don't know if Hezbollah realizes this..

In 2002 a similar situation resulted in a negotiated 'prisoner swap' without a full fledged war. I think Hezbollah may have believed that the second time around would be no different. Even Nasrallah said he was 'surprised' at the Israeli actions (whether you believe him is a different story)...

Seriously though, Syria had no part in 'reining in' Hezbollah. Hezbollah (to all my memory) has been shooting at Israel even when Syrian troops were there. The "Cedar Revolution" only prompted the redeployment of Syrian troops to other parts of Lebanon, not their withdrawl.

I think it may also have been a test of Olmert personally. Sharon was known as a hawk, but was Olmert? Now we know that he is. Funny thing is, that all the 'doves' in the Israeli Cabinet are fully onside in this conflict.

Maybe this is just my feeling, but Israel is tired of being missiled.. they are tired of fighting Hamas/Hezbollah.. they are tired of being at war. They have tried peaceful negotiations and that only resulted in more attacks on them or the temporary delay of attacks. What choice do they have left but 'give war a chance'?

I tend to believe that the Israeli people truly want peace, but don't believe that peace is possible as long as Hezbollah exists...

August 03, 2006 5:23 PM  

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