Is Israel acting within its rights? Is it doing the right thing? What’s causing this mess and why right now? What’s the solution?
Those strike me as the interesting questions to ask, when thinking about the current Middle East crisis, and I’ll try to give my view on what the answers should look like.
First things first: is Israel acting within its rights? Clearly, the answer to that question is yes. Whenever missiles are raining down on your cities from foreign territory and the foreign government whose territory it is aren’t stopping it you are allowed to stop it yourself. It is every country’s obligation to protect its citizens from threats like these, and you’ll have to take the steps necessary to do so.
Secondly: is Israel doing the right thing? This may appear to be the same question as the first, but it isn’t. The thing to consider here is whether the current course of action is the optimal strategy to gain some security. It is a much more difficult question to answer, and its answer surely must depend upon the next couple of questions. To provide a short answer I would say that as a short term strategy — to get an end to the current rocket attacks, and kidnappings — it seems reasonable, but it won’t provide any long term stability. Achieving that will require a much bigger effort, not mainly military, and will need action from other countries to be successful. I’ll return to the issue when considering the final question.
Thirdly: what’s causing this mess and why right now? I’ll take the indirect route and say that what clearly isn’t causing this mess is occupation. In fact ending occupation of Lebanese territory (which Israel did some years back), and indeed withdrawing from the Gaza strip, has made Israel’s security situation worse, not better. This is contrary to what you would expect if you thought occupation and the lack of a Palestinian state was at the heart of the problem. It is also depressing to see for those of us who wants a two-state solution regarding the Palestinians and who applauded the brave decision by Ariel Sharon to pull out of Gaza. As you know (unless your only source of news is Swedish media) missile attacks from Gaza have gone up significantly since the withdrawal.
The second part of the question — why right now? — holds the key to the first part’s answer too. What one must realise is that the Hezbollah aren’t independent, but rather are both financed and strongly influenced by the Mullahs of Iran. This fact is key, and means that the current mess should be seen as something that’s very much orchestrated by Iran (with the support of Syria). And I would think that the timing is caused by two things: the attention of the Security Council that Iran’s nuclear programme was finally starting to get, and the shift in the balance of power between Iran and the Arab countries that was a result of the fall of Saddam Hussein. The first one is obvious and apparently very effective. Instead of considering how to prevent the Mullahs from acquiring a big red button that could cause great destruction if pressed, the Security Council is now instead mainly thinking about how to end the current violence. Mission accomplished. The second one is more speculative, and I can’t claim to be an expert on Middle Eastern power politics, but the tension between Iran and the Arab countries is well established and Saddam Hussein was the main man for Arab nationalism. He was also the main credible threat, with his own WMD ambitions, his history with the Iraq-Iran war, and his obvious madness (shared by the Iranian president — and mad men with crazy ideas should be taken seriously, as history would teach us). His removal created a power vacuum that Iran is trying to move in to, and their influence in the Palestinian territories and in southern Lebanon helps them greatly. Syria has become a key player, being an Arab country that now seems to be placing its bets on the Islamic Republic, letting Iran use Syria’s position in Lebanon.
It’s a complex situation, and given the participants not an easy one to get out of.
Finally: what’s the solution? A tough question, obviously. Given that the main actor’s aim, Iran’s, is to destroy the Jewish state, spread its Islamistic fascism, and then take the struggle westward, negotiations with the current regime is unlikely to lead anywhere in the long run. It is also obvious that this is an issue that require active action from the West in order to achieve a good solution, and a West which doesn’t go soft on Iran.
In the shorter run the best option would probably be to work for a blue helmet chapter seven force, with the mission to disarm Hezbollah. Whether it’s plausible to get such a resolution through the Security Council I don’t know (France, yet again, seem to take the wrong side, and it’s hard to know what Russia and China would do). This would also force the Lebanese government to fulfil its old obligation to do just that. For them to disagree would be too costly PR-wise if there were a UN resolution in place. Failing to get that, the Hezbollah need to be disarmed anyway, one way or another.
Negotiations should be used for this aim, to put severe pressure on Syria, giving them a chance to divert from their current course of action without being penalised for having taken it, but also letting them know that consequences will be harsh if they continue on their current path. It’s difficult to predict how they would choose, and the outcome would probably be highly dependent on the credibility of Western unity.
In the long run, however, it is the regime in Teheran that needs to be dealt with, and that is no easy task. Ultimately it must be a battle of ideology. The West need to start fighting Islamism as an idea, and not just its incarnations. It’s hard to envision regime change in Iran that is not instigated by the Iranians themselves, so it’s time to let them know we’re there and willing to support them. TV- and radio stations should hammer that message into Iran. I’ve touched upon this before a couple of times, and it’s indeed a tough task and it’s beyond me to offer a complete strategy. But this must be the long term focus, in order to secure peace in the Middle East.