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2 War games, mind games or the real
deal? By Sami Moubayed
DAMASCUS - One year ago this Thursday, war
broke out between Israel and Hezbollah.
Ostensibly, the Israeli objective was to free two
soldiers captured by Hezbollah. After the fighting
began, Israel announced its true objective: to
eradicate Hezbollah and its secretary general,
The war lasted for 33
days and failed to realize any of Israel's
objectives, except destroy Lebanon, the already
troubled country whose capital was once known as
"Paris of the Middle East". It
shattered the myth of the
Israel Defense Forces (IDF) being an invincible
army and did wonders to Nasrallah's popularity in
the Arab world after he promised - and delivered -
to "bomb Haifa and beyond Haifa".
months later, the Israeli soldiers are still in
Hezbollah's captivity and Hezbollah is still alive
- and very active - in Lebanon. The only new
reality is the stationing of 15,000 United Nations
troops in south Lebanon, according to UN
Resolution 1701, to prevent the outbreak of
When the war ended
last August, many speculated that the ceasefire
was only temporary and that Israel would use it as
a grace period to rearm, reassess, and re-invade
Israel's military history shows
that the Jewish state does not tolerate failure,
and nor does the United States. That war, many
believed, was a proxy one being fought by Israel
on the behalf of the US. The Americans seemed more
interested in defeating Hezbollah than Israel was.
As far as the Israelis are concerned, a Hezbollah
that operates within Lebanese territory and does
not fire rockets at Israel is a Lebanese problem.
They can live with it. As far as the US is
concerned, the very existence of Hezbollah is an
obstacle for its new plans for the Middle East.
The US State Department wanted the summer
war because it had embraced and adopted the
pro-Western cabinet of Lebanese Prime Minister
Fouad al-Siniora. According to the US, this
government would help curb Iranian influence in
the region, prevent the spread of Shi'ification,
strengthen the position of Saudi Arabia, and
weaken Syria. For it to succeed in all of the
above, it had to get rid of Hezbollah.
White House wanted this war because it could not
tolerate a powerful entity like Hezbollah, which
is independent from US control, operating in the
Greater Middle East. President George W Bush
feared that the success story of Hezbollah and
Nasrallah - and their survival - would inspire
similar groups to rebel against the US in failed
states such as Somalia or, even worse, Iraq.
The situation in Iraq, after all, is
identical to the one in Lebanon when Hezbollah was
born in the 1980s. There are occupation, chaos,
frustration and civil war. There are an abundance
of arms, no strong central government, and plenty
of Iranian influence. The Mahdi Army, for example,
with its young leader Muqtada al-Sadr (who claims
to be inspired by the Nasrallah model), is very
capable of becoming another Hezbollah.
Pentagon wanted this war because it was planning
for a war with Iran before Bush's term expired in
2009. It wanted to test the pulse of Iranian power
through Hezbollah. After all, all of Hezbollah's
training, experience and arms come from Tehran.
By all accounts, the Pentagon was not
pleased at the results of Lebanon 2006.
The fact that the IDF, being the strongest
US-trained army in the region, could not make its
way through a tiny country like Lebanon spoke
volumes about how powerful Iran actually is. For
years the US has suffered from faulty intelligence
reports on Iran, attributed mainly to the absence
of a US embassy in Tehran. In the 1980s it
received reports on Iranian power from parties
that wanted to portray the Islamic Republic as a
They included, among others,
members of the Iranian opposition overseas, and
Saudi Arabia. The Americans were made to believe
that Iran could be invaded and defeated in a
breeze, explaining why they encouraged their ally
at the time, Saddam Hussein, to invade in 1980.
They told him the war would be quick and an easy
victory for the strong Iraqi Army. They were
wrong, and that war lasted for eight years and
failed to bring down the Islamic Republic.
History repeated itself in cruel ways in
2006. This time the US encouraged Israel to attack
Iran - by proxy - only to come out with the same
conviction Saddam learned - the hard way - about
the reality of Iranian power.
war ruined Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and
led to the downfall of his chief of staff, Dan
Halutz, and defense minister Amir Peretz, who were
blamed for improperly planning the Lebanon war.
This reality makes it difficult for anybody to
take Olmert's peace initiatives seriously. A
defeated man like him cannot relinquish the Golan
Heights to Syria, for example, nor can he make
peace with the Palestinians. The Israeli street
and domestic public opinion will not let him. He
needs to right the wrongs done to his image by the
Lebanon war of 2006.
Olmert seemed to have
different thoughts, however, when being
interviewed by the Saudi channel Al-Arabiyya (an
interview that could not have taken place without
the approval of Saudi authorities). He said:
"Bashar al-Assad, you know that I am ready for
direct talks with you. I am ready to sit with you
and talk about peace, not war." Olmert added, "I
will be happy if I could make peace with Syria. I
do not want to wage war against Syria."
takes war heroes to make peace in the Middle East.
Everybody in the region knows that, especially the
Israelis. Anwar al-Sadat could not go to Camp
David in 1978 before having waged war against
Israel in October 1973. Nor could Yitzhak Rabin go
to Oslo in 1993 before having proved his
credentials in every Arab-Israeli war since 1948.
Olmert is simply no Rabin or Menachem Begin. He
cannot talk peace before winning a war, otherwise
the Israeli public will accuse him of selling out
to the Arabs.
He needs a Round 2 with
Hezbollah. If it does not happen, then he must
create it. Hezbollah chief Nasrallah realizes this
threat and is very keen, at every juncture, to
express support for the UN troops stationed in
Lebanon to show the world that he is not
interested - at this stage - in going to war once
again with Israel because the last war was too
costly for Lebanon.
When a terrorist
attack targeted a Spanish contingent of UN troops
this summer, Hezbollah immediately denounced it
and distanced itself from any violence against the