A war without borders in the making
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
A day after killing four United Nations workers, Israel's cabinet has
simultaneously called up reservists and announced that there will be no "major
offensive" inside Lebanon. This in light of Hezbollah's tough resistance and
continued ability to fire rockets at Israel more than two weeks after the
latter declared its military objective of finishing off Hezbollah.
Since then, Israel has lost the sympathy of much of world opinion. The United
States finds itself completely isolated in its uncritical
support for Israel and its "clean break" policy aimed at dominating the region.
"A massive blow to Hezbollah has not yet happened," lamented an Israeli pundit,
and another one, Meron Benvenist, writing in the liberal paper Ha'aretz,
gloomily predicted that "the major losers in this conflict will be the people
Well, don't tell that to the Palestinians, whose leaders are warning of
Israel's unilateral "forgotten war" on them, or the Lebanese people, one-fourth
of whom have been turned into refugees, with the rest subjected to daily
bombardments and missile and artillery strikes.
War and realignment
The US and Israel have pinned their hopes on somehow telescoping this growingly
messy conflict to their rosy expectations of a "new Middle East". Accordingly,
the region would be cleansed of radical Islamists and turned into a bastion of
secular democracy. So goes the discursive subterfuge first penned by Israeli
Vice Premier Shimon Peres a decade ago, now adopted by US Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice, whose weak performance at the Rome conference was aptly
captured by a CNN headline, "Rice versus the world".
Of course, the Arab and Muslim reading of the underlying meaning of this
high-brow jargon is considerably different, ie, as a linguistic complement to
Israel's warmongering aiming to destroy the Palestinian government, annihilate
the defiant Hezbollah, weaken Syria and, perhaps, set the stage for a future
attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, with or without US cooperation.
Already, the Arab media are awash with pointed criticism of the US policy of
backing Israel's destruction of the fledging democracies in Lebanon and the
occupied territories. After all, Hezbollah is a part of Lebanon's coalition
government and, per an Israeli media report, only two months ago an Israeli
general stated that Hezbollah was moderating and integrating in Lebanon's
But that was then, and Peres is now quoted warning the Lebanese government, "It
is us or Hezbollah. This is a war for life and for peace."
Similarly Rice, on her trip to Jerusalem, stated, "I have no doubt that there
are those who wish to strangle a democratic and sovereign Lebanon in its crib."
The question is, of course, who is the true culprit if not Israel, which has
set Lebanon back at least 50 years, according to its prime minister.
Concerning the latter, there are already visible signs of US-Israeli
intelligence cooperation on Hezbollah targets, not to mention the United
States' replenishing Israel's arsenal, irrespective of the United States' own
laws forbidding Israel's use of US-purchased weaponry for offensive purposes.
Thus the million-dollar question: Will this conflict lead to a geostrategic
realignment? Certainly pro-Israel pundits, such as the New York Times' Thomas
Friedman, hope so. In his recent dispatch from Damascus, Friedman asks: "Can we
get the Syrians on board? Can we split Damascus from Tehran? My conversations
here suggest it would be very hard, but worth a shot."
Friedman at least shows consistency. A few years ago, this author met him
briefly in Tehran prior to the United States' invasion of Iraq, when he was
similarly trying to drive a wedge between Tehran and Baghdad, writing
disingenuously that "Tehran should really not be a part of the axis of evil".
But, of course, Tehran and Damascus know better than to be fooled by the
present US-Israel "divide, destroy and conquer" shenanigans superbly pushed by
the compliant US media. Little surprise, then, that both Syria and Iran find
themselves subjected to a great deal of disinformation.
In Syria's case, the Syrian news agency denied a report by Sky News, dated July
25, that Damascus was giving vital information about al-Qaeda to the US and had
expressed willingness to act as mediator between Tehran and Washington.
Iran, on the other hand, reacted strongly to a report in the New York Sun that
scores of its Revolutionary Guards had died fighting alongside Hezbollah,
stating in a press release that Iran had "no military presence whatsoever in
The US-Israel design on Syria conforms with what Stephen Walt, former dean of
the Kennedy School of Government, has written about "bandwagoning" as a form of
alliance, that is, "Bandwagoning involves unequal exchange: the vulnerable
state makes asymmetrical concessions to the dominant power and accepts a
But in light of the hegemonist intentions of Israel, its superior offensive
capabilities and proximity of its threats to Syria, it is highly unlikely that
Syria will relinquish its strategic alliance with Iran for the sake of
appeasing Israel, no matter how diligently the pundits in the US media try to
sell that to Damascus, still ruled by a Ba'athist ideology militating against
the notion of allowing Lebanon's metamorphosis into an Israeli satellite at the
end of this bloody conflict.
Rather, Syria's national interests dictate guarding itself against the current
maneuvers to weaken its regional alliances and to set it up in a long-term
US-Israeli grand design to remap the Middle East according to the whims and
interests of Israel.
In fact, the present conflict has exposed Israel's military weaknesses and
vulnerabilities. As an Israeli analyst has put it, "Israel does not have the
overwhelming strategic superiority that it thought it had." With Hezbollah
single-handedly delivering a major blow to Israel's military prestige
irrespective of the blows it has received so far, any Syrian or other Arab
willingness to succumb to the combined "carrot and stick" pressure politics of
the US and Israel and thus appear as betraying their own historic
self-understanding and ideology is, indeed, a remote possibility.
Meanwhile, in light of al-Qaeda's call on all Muslims to unite against Israel,
instead of the much-hoped-for realignment, the US and Israel should worry about
an alternative realignment materializing in the midst of the present conflict -
that is, a new Shi'ite-Sunni alliance cutting across intra-religious frictions
and discords as well as national boundaries for the sake of protecting the
abode of Islam against the might of "Israel unchained", the "new Mongols" per
an Iranian editorial, and unhinged from any restraining influence by the US
superpower (as was the case in, most notably, the Suez crisis).
Consequently, with the initial Israel-US goal of a swift crippling of Hezbollah
fast turning into a nightmare quagmire in Lebanon, thus causing a major
regional conflagration, the much-dreaded "wider war" seems all but inevitable -
it is the wider "war on terrorism" that will bring both al-Qaeda and, by
implication, the US back to the Lebanese theater of conflict.
Israel's invasion may, therefore, be cloaked in a new political jargon, but
increasingly the ominous prospect of a long war bespeaks a new strategic Middle
East where the United States may ultimately accept the legitimacy of Hezbollah.
In that case, the US would have to back down from its ferocious demonization of
Hezbollah as terrorist pure and simple and accept, however reluctantly, that
Hezbollah in many ways meets the description of a national-liberation movement.
Need for US-Iran dialogue
It is in the interests of both the US and Iran to set aside their substantial
misgivings about direct dialogue and to engage in constructive bilateral and
multilateral dialogue on how to bring the escalating violence in Lebanon to a
Iran is understandably incensed by the Israelis' turning of Shi'ite sections of
Lebanon into a "mass slaughterhouse", to quote a Tehran daily, and the US needs
to show sensitivity to Iran's growing concerns that the invasion of Lebanon
might be a pretext for a wider war.
For its part, Tehran's politicians may need to work overtime to exert influence
on Hezbollah to refrain from its threat to expand the target of rocket attacks
to Tel Aviv and the rest of Israel, and to release the Israeli soldiers as part
of a prisoner' exchange. A proactive, conflict-prevention role by Tehran can go
a long mile in confidence bridge-building with the international community
nowadays concerned about Iran's nuclear program.
As a result, the gravity of the crisis itself dictates a direct meeting between
Rice and her Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, who has been doing his
own shuttle diplomacy throughout the region.
The question is whether the US is prepared to eschew its hallucinations of an
Israeli-dominated "new Middle East" and adopt the parameters of political
Certainly, Iran faces a similar question, in view of Israel's determination to
prove to President Mahmud Ahmadinejad that it is not "fake" and its destructive
power speaks for itself.
One thing is certain, religious extremism on both sides of this conflict have a
lot to do with the crisis, and if there is any lesson to be drawn it is about
the value of political and religious moderation.
Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New
Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of
"Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism", Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume
XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote "Keeping
Iran's nuclear potential latent", Harvard International Review. He is author of
Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.