Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Will the Cease-fire Hold?

[This is part 1 of a continuing essay]
Will the cease-fire hold? Can it lead to something resembling a political settlement – dare one say peace – between Israel and Lebanon? That depends to varying degrees on the actions and inactions of relevant parties to the recent war and its cease fire. In order of their importance (or ability to sink the cease fire), the parties at the national and international level are:
  1. Israel;
  2. Hezbollah ("the state within a state");
  3. Lebanon;
  4. UNIFIL;
  5. United States
  6. Iran;
  7. Syria;
  8. European countries;
  9. UN Security Council;
  10. Palestine;
  11. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other moderate Arab states.
Players at the sub-national level include the offices of the Israel prime, security and foreign ministers and the major Israel political parties, the White House and State Department in the United States, Hamas and the PLO militias among the Palestinians and, god only knows what, inside the opaque Iranian decision making process. Whew! It does not seem to me as complex as the very fluid situations in the Lebanese civil war, 1976 - 1989. What happened then on any Beirut street often depended on linkages among six or seven higher levels of conflict, plus what the local militia men had eaten in the morning. Still the list itself hints there are many opportunites to sink the cease-fire. So let’s look at how and why each of the parties could do that.

1. Israel hopes the implementation of the cease-fire will complete the job it failed to do: disarm Hezbollah, at least south of the Litani River. It also expects UNIFIL or some yet unauthorized UN force to assure the 1701 stipulated embargo on arms to Hezbollah. Fred Kaplan correctly notes that Israel broadly construes the right to defensive military measures that the cease-fire permits it. So if Israelis see little evidence in the near future that Hezbollah is being disarmed and the embargo being enforced, IDF will likely conduct an increasing number of commando and bombing raids to destroy Hezbollah armories and interdict arms shipments. These actions are highly likely to reignite a full-scale war.

The dissatisfaction of Israelis with the cease-fire and deepening political crisis tend to push government and army command toward a second round. That would, at least, postpone inquiries into the recent failures, stop splitting in the ruling coalition, and, probably, produce a better outcome for Israel. Most Israelis, however, will have problems trusting the current leaders for a second round. Moreover, US , if it wants, can assure some Israeli restraint on the frequency and focus of the ramp-up actions. That would stop the escalation short of full-scale war. Hezbollah could also take some edge off Israel through its release of the two captured Israel soldiers, a move that is now low cost for it.

2. Hezbollah and its leader Hasan Nasrallah are being celebrated throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds for having shattered the image of Israel military invincibility. Their perceived success makes it difficult for them to disarm, demobilize ideologically and assume the role of a banal political party in a convoluted Lebanese political order. Ideologically, Hezbollah is a pan-Islamic vanguard party and there little in a Lebanese national political identity to attract them. In addition, the leadership cohorts are Islamic fundamentalists in the sense of seeing themselves as exemplars of Islam and only secondarily as individuals for whom personal gains and losses matter. Finally their ability to meet the social and economic needs of their Shi'a constituency depends heavily, like their military clout, on Iran, and Iran has given no signal that it would like them to demobilize. On the contrary, it has vigorously asserted a Hezbollah right to remain armed.

These motives, however, do not mean that Nasrallah will seek to provoke Israel into another round. He knows the other Lebanese communities and even many Shiites susupect his intentions and would oppose this behavior. As Marc Lynch, who surveys Arab media discourse, reports, there is a sharp division between Lebanese and non-Lebanese on Hezbollah:
non-Lebanese commentators primarily writing about the war's impact on the Islamic movement, on Israel's power, or on the fortunes of various Arab governments; and Lebanese commentators writing about those things, but also about what is to become of Lebanon's politics. Arab and Muslim pundits applaud Hezbollah as a new champion against Israel, but Lebanese worry about its influence at home.
Nasrallah has a compromise with Lebanon's government under which his movement will neither disarm nor flaunt their arms. This "don't show, don't ask" agreement and a leading role in rebuilding Lebanon might suffice Hezbollah for a few years, unless Israel, the Lebanese army or UNIFIL presses too hard for disamament. However crunch time could also come, if the UN someday imposes sanctions on Iran for continuing to enrich uranium. Iran might then ask Hezbollah to heat up the Israel-Lebanon border, leaving Hezbollah again having to decide whether it was a national, pan-Arabist or pan-Islamist party.

[Right now a mutual wariness between Israel and Hezbollah seems to be the main reason why the cease-fire is holding. Going forward, the power and willingness of the Lebanese army and UNIFIL to police the situation in southern Lebanon will be nearly as crucial. These factors in turn depend on support from nations both outside and inside the region. The linkages will be examined tomorrow.]


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