thank you for that most interesting explanation of why Hizballah may indeed,
as Nicolas Noe suggested in Asia Times last month 'believe that the next war
can and should be the last one between
What you write, however, has the effect of further inflaming a suspicion
which has been growing steadily stronger in me over the past weeks -- that the
situation in the
And the likelihood of catastrophe is, I think, greatly increased by the fact that many people are living in a fool's paradise, and do not grasp quite how dangerous the situation
A key part of the background here I take to be the change in Israeli
attitudes described in the seminal 2008 Middle East Policy article 'Abandoning
the Iron Wall:
The fundamental change whose implications Lustick explores in this paper is
the effective abandonment over the last few years of the 'Iron Wall'
conception, which Jabotinsky set out in 1925, and which was the basis of
Israeli policy until recently. In
essence, this conception involved bludgeoning the Arabs into accepting that
What has now replaced this, Lustick argues, is an image of
According to Lustick, Israelis are 'coming to see the Middle East as a whole
the way they came to see
'an image of the Arab/Muslim world, and the Palestinians in particular, as irrational, brutal and violent, imbued with intractably anti-Semitic hatreds fortified by deeply anti-Western, Muslim-fundamentalist fanaticism.'
This is relevant to the point made -- very fairly -- by Fred and 'different
clue', that all kinds of other factors are involved in the increasing
propensity of Israelis to emigrate, besides the growing military capabilities
of Hizballah and
While that is clearly so, the evidence presented by Lustick suggests that apprehensions about the security situation are an increasingly important motivation in causing Israelis to think their future may lie elsewhere.
And this is, surely, not surprising. For
implicit in this view of
A further effect of this image of the 'Arab/Muslim world' as 'irrational, brutal and violent', obviously, is to make the increasing military capabilities of Hizballah and Iran look yet more threatening than they would otherwise seem. It may indeed be that, as 'different clue' suggests, if the Israelis decided 'to think very slowly and clearly' they could live with these.
But if one sees the possessors of these capabilities in the terms in which Lustick suggests that Israelis see the whole 'Arab/Muslim world', then the threat does indeed come to seem 'existential' -- and the collapse into the all-too-easy and catastrophic analogy with genocidal aspirations of Nazi Germans follows.
What further follows is that even a perfectly 'rational' Israeli strategist may be right in perceiving the threat from Hizballah rockets and possible Iranian nuclear weapons as 'existential' -- because if people believe it to be so, it becomes so.
In a kind of vicious circle, the maximalist definition of Israeli security requirements which results further diminishes the possibility of the kind of grudging acceptance of the presence of a Zionist 'settler state' from the 'Arab/Muslim world' which the 'Iron Wall' conception made the basis of Israeli strategy.
So the route down which
However, it seems to me that both their dramatic successes against Israel, and the fact that these do make it eminently possible to conceive of a strategy which will cause the settler state to self-destruct, may be inducing in Hizballah a combination alike of hubris and exaggerated -- or perhaps it would be better to say misdirected -- fear.
Ironically, this seems to me oddly similar to the combination of hubris and exaggerated and misdirected fear which, after their dramatic victory in 1967, blinded the Israeli leadership to the fact that any realistic prospect of making the 'Iron Wall' strategy work depended upon using the territorial gains it achieved as bargaining chips -- rather than trying to hold on to them.
You write of Hizballah's attitude to a war:
'They know it wouldn't be painless but I guess they are using a logic that the big hurt once is better than the continued hurt for centuries to come.'
But the fear of a 'continued hurt for centuries to come' surely is
grotesquely exaggerated. The
At the same time, there is a very real shift in opinion in the
Actually, Rachman's article is a good example of the kind of 'fool's paradise' in which so many are now living. Having noted a whole host of factors which make many of us believe that the time for the two-state solution has passed, Rachman goes on to assume that if the Israelis fell in with the rather small changes in settlement policy suggested by Obama, the road to a two-state solution might still be open.
Doing this blinds him, and many others, to the fact that a realistic perception that their society is facing a dead end is pushing some Israelis to take refugee in fantasy, while other -- perfectly realistic -- ones are driven to contemplate extreme solutions. The recent article in Haaretz by Ephraim Sneh, which we discussed here some weeks back, is I suspect a kind of coded 'thinking aloud' about the possibilities and difficulties of such solutions by a perfectly 'rational' Israeli strategist.
Unlike Rachman, and much opinion in the supposedly 'rational' West, Sneh was
facing up to the extreme intractability of the dilemmas which confront
It is fairly clear that Israeli military power is inadequate seriously to
set back the Iranian nuclear programme, and deeply unclear that the balance of
military power has shifted towards
Accordingly it is likely that the only war which makes sense for Israel is one in which it can enlist the massive military power of the United States, in an all-out war in which it would hope to do the maximum damage possible both to Hizballah and to Iran.
A possible further objective of such a war could be to create a situation
whereby the vision of a civilisational clash became self-validating -- with the
Among others, Colonel Sam Gardiner, in his recent report entitled 'The
Israeli Threat', has argued that an Israeli strike on
Very often, if one sees signs that an adversary may be preparing to set a trap for one, the sensible response is to take steps not to fall into it -- and if possible, by failing to act as the adversary, to cause the attempted entrapment to backfire.
On this basis it would seem sensible for the Iranians to attempt to devise contingency
plans aimed at responding to any Israeli attack, in ways which tilted the
balance against intervention in the
And by cheeking Obama over the settlements, Netanyahu may have made this much easier -- both because this may make the President incandescent at any attempt to pressure him by Israelis, and because there is clearly a growing number of people in the United States who think that Israel needs to be taught who is the tail and who the dog.
It may be the Iranians are not in a position to wrong-foot the Israelis in
the way Lysander suggests. But if they
were able to do so, the potential gains could be very great. For
Moreover, a restrained response could make it possible to turn the image of the Muslim world as 'irrational, brutal and violent' back on the Israelis. If one thinks through the implications, one can I think see the possibility of a truly massive propaganda coup.
What then of Hizballah?
The appropriate strategy at the outset of any conflict seems obvious enough
-- one of 'symetrical response', which at one of the same time establishes the
Israelis as aggressors, and ensures that they suffer damage commensurate with
-- and if possible tailored to -- that which they inflict. It has to be demonstrated that
So far, the picture you give of Hizballah's strategic thinking seems to make
excellent sense. However, I remain
puzzled by the calculations you suggest are behind the vision of this war as
the 'last one' between
What you say about the 'lessons of 1066' and the imperative 'don't join with the enemy where you haven't planned to' certainly seem to me to have been very much to the point in 2006, and to be very much to the point today.
However, you seem to me to be suggesting that Hizballah thinks that this
conflict is the likely to be a final and decisive one, precisely because they
can realistically plan for circumstances in which they can advance into
In their shoes, I would certainly have contingency plans for all kinds of situations. But I would still both think that the kind of immediate decisive victory you suggest is unlikely, that the dangers of attempting to achieve it are liable to be very great -- as well as believing that it is unnecessary.
For this there are several reasons:
1. You suggest Hizballah believes that a 'symetrical response' could trigger the kind of panic which would produce an immediate exodus, which in turn could lead to an immediate military collapse: rather than simply accelerating a more extended process of disintegration.
This may be so, but hopes that aerial bombardment could trigger a rapid panic have rather often not been vindicated. The RAF and USAF devastated German cities in the latter stages of the Second World War, without having significant effects on German morale.
2. You appear to suggest that, in response
to these anticipated signs of disintegration, Hizballah might advance into
3. The key to the strategic position
The conduct of Hizballah in 2006 encouraged the erosion of sympathy and
Any advance into
4. Last but hardly least, advancing
And I must admit to being puzzled by some of the reasons you give for being reasonably sanguine about the danger of these weapons being used if indeed the Israelis were confronted by the kind of rapid disintegration you suggest is possible.
You suggest that it is unlikely that the Israelis would be in a position to use nuclear weapons, because 'the Liebermans of Israel, those that use the nationalist agenda would be long gone.' But if the rapid disintegration you suggest Hizballah anticipates materializes, then how are 'those that use the nationalist agenda' going to have had time to get out?
Surely this is an argument for not attempting to secure a decisive victory now -- but leaving the implications of defeat to sink in, thus encouraging the disintegrative tendencies evident in Israeli society?
5. Moreover, another point made by Ian Lustick seems relevant. He suggests that rather than force against Arabs and Muslims being conceived of as 'a persuasive instrument in service of political or diplomatic aims', it is now increasingly treated by Israelis as 'a kind of rattonade'.
Apparently this is a term drawn from French practice in
And here, one also comes up against the question of whether the Israelis may be tempted to cope with their intractable demographic problems by attempting 'ethnic cleansing'.
In an earlier thread, you and I have disagreed on the possibility of the Israelis resorting to 'ethnic cleansing'. My view remains that -- in normal circumstances -- this remains extraordinarily unlikely. It is precisely however in the circumstances of a war which runs out of control that the unthinkable becomes thinking.
So, for example, the transition in Hitler's policy from 'ethnic cleansing' to 'genocide' in relation to the Jews of Europe comes in the early stages of the Russian campaign.
How much significance one should accord to the famous interview given back
in 2003 by the Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld is a moot
point. This is frequently misunderstood,
because people fail to grasp that that his key point is that by failing to
retreat to the 1967 borders,
But I think it does give one reason to fear how Israeli leaders might act,
in the context of a war running out control.
The question as to whether the world would allow the kind of 'ethnic
cleansing' to which van Creveld suggested
"Interviewer: Do you think that the world will allow that kind of ethnic cleansing?
"Creveld: That depends on who does it and how quickly it
happens. We possess several hundred atomic warheads and rockets and can launch
them at targets in all directions, perhaps even at
"Creveld: Let me quote General Moshe Dayan:
"Interviewer: This isn't your own position, is it?
"Creveld: Of course not. You asked me what might happen and I've
laid it out. The only question is whether it is already too late for the other
solution, which I support, and whether Israeli public opinion can still be
convinced. I think it's too late. With each passing day the expulsion of the
Palestinians grows more probable. The alternative would be the total
annihilation and disintegration of
And I think that although van Creveld may be blustering, one should be cautious about assuming that both an attempt at 'ethnic cleansing', and also the use of nuclear weapons, would be impossible in the course of a new Middle East war -- and in particular, one which Israel was losing catastrophically.
The conclusion to which I have come -- with deep regret -- is that the
And for this reason, the best strategy for Hizballah would be to try to make
'deterrence' work, while, obviously, being prepared for it failing. If it fails, however, they should, even if
the war goes their way, be extremely cautious about any ideas about advancing
Eschewing hopes of a final victory now would certainly involve accepting the possibility that this might not be the last and final conflict. But a successful defensive war could well create a situation whereby the winding up of the Zionist project could be achieved without a further war -- and also make it likely that, if such a further war materialised, it would be less apocalyptic than an all-out war in present circumstances might turn out to be.