Sunday, August 27, 2006

Games of States: Power Players in the Israel-Hezbollah War of Aggression

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"The war in Lebanon then is not a war by the Arab or Jewish people but a war waged by its local elites managing their foreign-controlled governments. Whether or not wars like this will continue to be waged depends on the actions of the governments of these state actors, and inevitably, on the local elites which control the state apparatus."

Dubbed as the “Operation Truthful Promise”, forces of the radical Lebanon-based Islamist party Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers and shelled bases in Northern Israeli border, prompting immediate large-scale offensives by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) against Hezbollah and Lebanese infrastructures. Hezbollah, determined to pressure Israel into invading Lebanon, launched a war that once again bathed the Arabian soil of innocent blood.

Israeli, holding the Lebanese government responsible for the Hezbollah attack, proceeded to launch an air and naval blockade to Lebanon, air strikes to strategic civilian infrastructures, and ground incursions into southern areas of the country. The Lebanese government, of course, condemned the act of war, and declared that they have nothing to do with the Hezbollah.

Despite condemnation by the international community, however, Israel continued assaults to Lebanese civilian population centers. As of mid-August, Lebanon already suffered massive civilian casualties – 954 deaths and 3,600 wounded, with one million displaced from their homes. 31 Lebanese soldiers had been killed in the conflict, with 100 wounded.

Even the Israel populace is not spared. Israel suffered 43 civilian deaths, plus more or less 1,350 civilians wounded and 500,000 displaced. The attack also exacted a heavy toll among the IDF, which before the recent war had been able to vanquish swiftly any Arabian enemy through an unconditional military victory. The Israel militia already had 118 soldiers dead with 400 wounded.

War of Governments

Israeli aggression and intransigence has cultural and religious roots, but the geopolitical origins of its violent tendencies seemed to have come from events from its recent history. It can be remembered that Israel itself resorted to terrorist actions when it was campaigning to establish a state in Palestine. The Zionist movement, as it had been called, even grew stronger when it pushed for the idea of a “Greater Israel”, a pure Jewish nation stretching from the Mediterranean to Jordan, after its defeat of Egypt in the six-day war of 1967.

This put Israel at odds with the entire Arab nation, with both groups occasionally starting military hostilities in the region. In fact, just two weeks before the Israel-Lebanon conflict, Israel is also involved in another military conflict in the south – this time against the Hamas in Palestine over the Gaza strip. Israel, up to now, is engaged in a perpetual conflict with its neighbors over its borders.

Hezbollah’s logic and strategy, on the other hand, is specific – to establish legitimacy in Arab politics by projecting itself as a direct enemy of Israel. To do this, it had to have governments that would support its political line. Fortunate for Hezbollah, two powerful enemies of Israel state had come to its aid – Syria and Iran.

Syria, while a secular and self-styled socialist state, used the radical Hezbollah to assert its control in Lebanon during recent times. Unfortunately for Syria, however, the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri triggered the Cedar revolution, prompting Syria to pull out its forces. With Hezbollah intact in Lebanon, the Syrian tactic may have been to use Hezbollah to weaken the Lebanese state and make it vulnerable again to its machinations. As it turned out, Hezbollah lured Israel into economically and politically incapacitating Lebanon.

Iran’s support on Hezbollah, on the other hand, is clearly a part of an ongoing ideological strategy of an Shiite Islamic revolution in the Arab region. Hezbollah itself, in fact, had been largely influenced by Islamic Revolution of Iran which overthrew Iran’s secular government and 1979. Established by a group of Shia Muslim clerics, Hezbollah hoped that Iran will be able to export its revolution to Lebanon during the Iran-Iraq war.

The Iranian revolutionary wave had been so intense recently that Israel sees the recent Hezbollah attack as an Iranian attempt to create a “Shiite Arc” extending from Iraq to the Lebanese shores in the Mediterranean. In fact, Iran is also reportedly funding the Mahdi army of anti-American, radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr – the armed group which rose up against the Americans in Iraq last 2004. Iran also promised to fund the government of Palestine headed by the radical and anti-semitic Hamas party.

More than a war of aggression, it seemed that the recent conflict is also a war of distraction. Iran, for example, seems to have re-channeled the rage of the international community from their nuclear programme to Israel’s aggression into Lebanon. The United States, also, gains from having the newscasts of its mismanagement of its Iraqi reconstruction effort sidestepped by reports on the Lebanese conflict.

The ongoing war now in Lebanon is a manifestation of the imperialist tendencies of the state actors involved. In fact, state actors in the Middle East, while constantly denouncing terrorism, continually sponsored terrorism as an imperialist tool, as in the case of Iran in Iraq and the United States in supporting Israel’s inter-state terrorism.

If the decision to wage war lies entirely into the hands of imperialist states in the Middle East, it can be concluded then that these conflicts are nothing but a direct consequences of internal power plays of elites within the governments at war.

War of Elites

The Israeli war policy is simple: to force the Lebanese political elite to take action against Hezbollah. Retired Israeli army Col. Gal Luft revealed the Israeli strategy when he said that “Israel is attempting to create a rift between the Lebanese population and Hezbollah supporters by exacting a heavy price from the elite in Beirut. The message is: If you want your air conditioning to work and if you want to be able to fly to Paris for shopping, you must pull your head out of the sand and take action toward shutting down Hezbollah-land.”

Meanwhile, it had been speculated that the aggressive move was in part because of the party dynamics in the Israeli parliament. Rightist elements in the parliament, most notable of which is Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud party, will never be satisfied with any solution short of a military one. According to geopolitics think-tank Stratfor, “If (Israeli Prime Minister Ehud) Olmert were to agree to any settlement that does not include dismantling Hezbollah’s capabilities or that relies on a third party to police that dismantling, Netanyahu would attack hard – and we suspect that enough of Olmert’s (Kadima-controlled) coalition would defect to force a political crisis in Israel.”

Hezbollah’s actions as well seemed to reflect internal elite politics in Lebanon, which had been dominated by Syria until the recent pullout of its forces from the country. For tactical purposes, Hezbollah had to align itself with Syria in order to maintain a position of power, with Syria keeping Hezbollah at check and containing its extremist tendencies that would compromise its business and political purposes in Lebanon. Consequently, the Syria-occupied Lebanon saw a flux of Hezbollah radicals turning into political and economic elites.

The Syrian pullout, however, left a power vacuum in Lebanon. Hezbollah, now unrestrained, seeks to become relevant again in the world picture, especially after it had been surpassed by the Palestine-based movement Hamas in forwarding the Islamist revolution. Hezbollah leaders had to make a choice between risking an extremist action (as they had done so before) or turn mainstream-moderate and lose its alternative radical brand which is their source of power and legitimacy in Lebanon. The Hezbollah elite inside the Lebanese government may also be the reason why the Lebanese government is reluctant to contain the Hezbollah party.

It seems, thus, that the current war of aggression is a result of elite dynamics rather than a popular demand. It is unfortunate that civilians, remaining oblivious to the causes of war but roused by national and partisan loyalties, still continue to support their leaders who would unhesitatingly put their lives on the line for their dream of Middle Eastern hegemony.

The war in Lebanon then is not a war by the Arab or Jewish people but a war waged by its local elites managing their foreign-controlled governments. Whether or not wars like this will continue to be waged depends on the actions of the governments of these state actors, and inevitably, on the local elites which control the state apparatus.

*Apologies to Tom Clancy. The title, I think, is the most apt one to describe the 2006 Israel-Lebanon military conflict. With reports and insights from Samantha Tornilla, SY Cebu.