The Third Lebanon War – Council on Foreign Relations (July 2010); Drums of War: Israel and the “Axis of Resistance” – International Crisis Center (August 2010).

Written by admin on September 2nd, 2010

Lebanon traditionally has been the Middle East venue where the proxies of outside powers have wrought destruction; now there is apprehension that it may be the local from which a region-wide, Middle East conflagration will erupt. This concern prompted the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) to issue a “contingency planning memorandum” for the next Lebanon war. Authored by Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt and Israel as well as the first commissioner of the short-live Israeli Baseball League, it suggests that Washington pressure Israel not to attack Hezbollah. An Israeli-Hezbollah war, he concludes, “would hold almost no positive consequences for the United States.” Kurtzer doubts that the Obama Administration could resist pro-Israel pressure so he also advises that providing more advanced U.S. weaponry to Israel could induce Israeli restraint. He warns that Israel could strike swiftly and without warning, providing almost no time for U.S. sponsored “preventive diplomacy.”

The cause of Israeli-Hezbollah tension is the large quantity and enhanced quality of missiles that Hezbollah has acquired since the 2006 war. Secretary of Defense Gates described Hezbollah as possessing more missiles than most governments, which, if not misleading, Kurtzer says has “breached the limits of what Israel considers acceptable behavior.”

The International Crisis Center (ICC) concurs with Kurtzer’s prediction but forecasts a wider war embroiling Israel, Syria, Hezbollah, Lebanon, and perhaps Iran. It too recognizes that Hezbollah’s robust missile inventory underlies current tension but its in-depth analysis offers a more complex portrait of events. In contrast to Kurtzer, who views Hezbollah’s missiles only in terms of a threat to Israel, the ICC interprets the missile build-up as part of the dynamics of deterrence. Hezbollah, according to the ICC, can now retaliate to an Israeli strike by inflicting serious harm on a wide swath of Israeli civilians. The report finds that officials “from both Israel and Hizbollah privately share the conviction that the ability to inflict widespread damage represents their most effective means of deterrence.” But this stability is precariously fragile. The ICC quotes a Hezbollah official’s observation that “the new paradigm of ‘mutually assured destruction’ adds to the uncertainty. It could deter Israel from attacking, for fear of the fallout. Or it could prompt it to do so, out of concern that Hizbollah’s capability might rise even further.”

Whether the next war is sparked by premeditation or a miscalculation, Lebanese civilians and the country’s infrastructure will not be spared. It will likely include an Israeli attack on Syria to stop it from supplying weaponry to Hezbollah and perhaps to topple the regime. The fear of an unrestrained Israeli attack has caused so called “axis of resistance” – Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria, and Iran – to intensify their security ties, creating something echoing a mutual defense agreement. Not surprisingly, these moves only deepen Israel’s sense of peril. The ICC report is both sobering and chilling. It and Kurtzer offer some worthwhile recommendation to ameliorate the growing risk of war; unfortunately, past history suggests that such counsel may fall on deaf ears.

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