Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Update on Middle East madness

Lots of stuff whizzing and banging around the blogosphere about Israel and the Middle East. Following up on my two earlier postings on Middle East lunacy and deep background, here are an additional two cents.

The narrow problem for Israel is dismantling or pushing out Hizbollah. Israel has obviously failed to do this, and Lebanese army control of the border is a questionable substitute. Israel has done a lot of damage to Hizbollah, however, so score a tactical victory here for Israel, even if it's still a strategic stalemate. But the Israel-Hizbollah conflict cannot be separated from the larger regional issue.

That issue is Iran's rising push for control of the region. The components of a counterstrategy are: dismantling or pushing out Hizbollah, isolating Iran's ally Syria, containing Iran and stopping its nuclear program, and preventing Lebanon from becoming this decade's Afghanistan or Sudan -- another ugly Jihadi-land paid for by a wealthy, reactionary sponsor swimming in oil money (Saudi Arabia in those cases, Iran now). Otherwise, Lebanon will become Tehran's western suburbs.

Of course, we can't duck Iran's major goal of getting nuclear weapons. This issue has conveniently and not accidentally vanished from people's attention during the Lebanese commotion. Iran's first use for such weapons will not be to attack Israel, but to intimidate and weaken existing Muslim governments in the region, push the US protective umbrella away from them, and get a hold of their oil revenues. If there are significant Shiite minorities present (like in Saudi Arabia's oil-rich eastern province), it's that much easier. In a world of abundant oil but heavy political control over a semi-monopolistic market and artificially elevated prices, that's the name of the game. (See here and here.) Iran will probably start with the oil-rich Shiites of Iraq, then move on to the Arabian Shiites. Coming from the reverse direction, Saddam tried to do just this in 1990 to Kuwait -- seize its oil fields and acquire a new stream of oil revenue. Saddam's attempt was justified on the fading appeal of pan-Arabism. Iran's will be based on some kind of Shiite caliphate claim.

Hey, maybe Ahmadinejad really is the Hidden Imam :^)

Strategypage gets it too: Israel has defeated (although not destroyed) Hizbollah, the diplomatic deal will probably self-destruct, but Hizbollah has won a real victory -- not over Israel, but by scaring Sunnis and Muslim governments, impressing them with the violent potential of a Shiite minority backed by Iran.

In my posting on Middle East lunacy, I suggested that Israel should offer to pay part of Lebanon's reconstruction costs. My suggestion has since been upstaged by Iran's generous offer of some of its $70/barrel oil money (see how oil $ twists the Middle East?), and it's unlikely to be accepted. But it should be out there anyway.

A friend wanted to know if I was suggesting reparations -- no, I wasn't. I was suggesting enlightened self-interest, a way for Israel to constructively stick its nose into the Lebanese tent and take advantage of the Sunni and Muslim elite fright of Iran and the Shiites.

And how about reparations for Israel?

And finally, not all is lost in Hollywood's narcissistic playpen: see the new L.A. Times ad about the Middle East from some serious star wattage.

LATER: Gadi Taub at TNR notes another aspect of Hamas and Hizbollah terrorism: they both operate from areas effectively not under the control of a sovereign government, and they both want Israel tied down as an occupier in Gaza and south Lebanon. Unilateral withdrawal has been a disaster for their strategy:

It's just that their use of the word "occupation" has a particular meaning. They're not referring to the West Bank or Gaza--they mean the whole of Palestine. Ending what we call the occupation is essential to Israel's long-term existence--the only way the Jewish state can survive in the face of new demographic realities and avoid unsustainable moral costs. Ending what they call the occupation means ending the state of Israel. Therefore, keeping Israel tied down in Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon is strategically rational if your goal is Israel's destruction.

He concludes, as I do, that it is in Israel's interest to stabilize and strengthen Lebanese sovereignty. (The case of Gaza and Hamas differs somewhat, but the same logic holds: sovereignty is the enemy of terrorism.) Read the whole thing here (requires subscription).

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