Strategic shift in the Middle East

THE unanimously adopted UNSC resolution 1701 will at best reduce the fighting in Lebanon. In the immediate context, it will wind down both the Israeli aggression and the retaliatory Hezbollah attacks.

By Nasim Zehra

Published: Mon 21 Aug 2006, 9:35 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 5:37 PM

Some fighting will continue since the text of the resolution virtually concedes Israeli right to occupy South Lebanon until the arrival of UNIFIL and Lebanese forces. That could take at least two weeks. Israel has also declared that it will not lift the sea, air and road blockade on Lebanon until an international force is in control.

Hezbollah, while agreeing to abide by the resolution, has reserved the right to self-defence incase attacked. There has been minimal change in the context that prompted Hezbollah’s antagonism against Israel and facilitated Israeli aggression against Lebanon.

Significantly, Israel has failed to achieve its strategic objective of enhancing its security by defeating and destroying Hezbollah, expanding its zone of political and military influence into Lebanon and breaking the Lebanese spirit. In fact, its problems have further multiplied. Hezbollah enjoys greater support within Lebanon and in the entire Arab world.

The Arab states previously openly critical of Hezbollah have been muted. The Palestinians next door, bearing the brunt of unbroken Israeli aggression, have been emboldened. All around, those suffering at the hands of Israel, and those who have been materially, ideologically and sociologically damaged by Washington’s blundering policies in the Middle East, feel encouraged by Hezbollah’s capacity to fight back.

Washington’s Middle East policy, claiming to promote democracy and reform, is in tatters. Washington’s own policies plus mistakes of its friends combine to politically weaken its allies and friends in the region.

Some are even retracing their steps on issues they believed they could comfortably support the US and Israel. For example, on the need to disarm and destroy Hezbollah. Similarly, even tacit support from some Arab states for Washington’s diplomatic war, backed by the threat of military force against Iran and Syria, will slip in direct proportion to Israel’s aggression. Bush administration’s Orwellian talk of promoting democracy and freedom in the Middle East cannot fly. Iraq and Lebanon are powerful reminders of the actual reality.

Despite the political and diplomatic support extended to Israel through resolution 1701, the Israelis have experienced a major military and psychological setback after the one month long encounter with the world’s most effective guerrilla force. Significantly, the Lebanese, Palestinian and broadly Arab spirit has acquired a new robustness in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, for the second time in the Middle East Washington’s policy has failed. In Lebanon, even though the United States was not directly engaged in causing death and destruction, but by virtue of its complete support of Israel it must share the responsibility of Israel’s aggression and its fall-out, both on the Lebanese and the Israeli civilians. Washington’s failure in Lebanon is a more ominous one.

A more formidable force has emerged to challenge Washington’s dangerously naive plans of constructing a ‘new’ Middle East, of completely supporting State aggression, of labelling struggle against occupation as terrorism, of seeking to banish states like Syria and Iran from any dialogue process by branding them terrorists or supporters of terrorists. Its ways of tackling terrorism are augmenting the forces of political extremism and swelling the ranks of those resorting to terrorism.

But even failures so stark are unlikely to move Washington into a wiser direction. For now, the Bush administration has its eyes on the November congressional polls. Already having lost sizeable support because of its Iraq fiasco, the administration will go into overdrive on its support of Israel. This will be compensation approach the republicans are opting for.

Significantly, in the post-UNSC resolution period, the US president has been propagating Israeli innocence and Hezbollah defeat. Helping to reinforce the Israeli narrative of the war, Bush’s own fantastic narration at the state department was, "Hezbollah attacked Israel. Hezbollah started the crisis, and Hezbollah suffered a defeat in this crisis."

It’s the Orwellian talk at its best. Desperate to counter the reality of Hezbollah’s military achievements, Bush argues that "Hezbollah, of course, has got a fantastic propaganda machine, and they’re claiming victories." The president chooses to overlook the reality that Hezbollah has preserved its fighting capability despite Israel’s continuous bombardment. Its ability to send rockets flying into Israel, to retaliate against Israeli bombardment of civilian areas, remained intact. It has also inflicted severe human and material losses on the Israeli military.

Banking on what Washington and Israel believe Resolution 1701 will achieve, Bush further questions, "But how can you claim victory when, at one time, you were a state within a state, safe within southern Lebanon, and now you’re going to be replaced by a Lebanese army and an international force?"

Similarly, Bush portrayed the Israeli war on Lebanon as part of a broader struggle between freedom and terrorism, with Israel on the side of freedom and Hezbollah promoting terrorism. Against this backdrop, there is minimal likelihood of an immediate end to Israeli aggression, much less of a sustainable peace in the Middle East, and indeed of global peace. This resolution will be another addition to the existing plethora of unimplemented UN resolutions on the Middle East.

Meanwhile, the festering wound of the stateless Palestinians has traumatised the entire region. It is a cause that has spawned off many sub-battles within the Arab/ Muslim world, provided moral succour for resort to violence and promoted anti-US sentiment in the Muslim world.

For nearly six decades, the reverberations of this gross injustice engineered by powerful states has haunted the region. No military, ideological or political force has been able to kill the spirit of the dispossessed Palestinians.

In fact the ranks of Palestinian resistance have swelled in direct proportion to the US blunders in the Muslim world, whether Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq or Lebanon. Washington’s gravest policy blunder has been its unquestioned support of Israel. US support alone is responsible for the paradox that Israel today finds itself in. With its extensive and aggressive military machine, this nuclear-armed State stands acutely isolated in its neighbourhood. Despite Israel’s brutal oppression of the Palestinians, the Palestinian spirit is intact. Their tenacious struggle lives on.

What then has its mentor State bestowed upon Israel? Mere survival, virtual isolation in its neighbourhood and an aggressive obsession with security. Was this the best a mentor could have passed down to its protégé? Admittedly, the circumstances of its creation and the initial years, when the Arab States attempted to undo the wrong of its creation, would have meant battle for its survival.

However, by the mid-seventies, active US engagement in the Middle East altered the balance of military power in Israel’s favor. The Arab States too began aligning with the US. An opportunity presented itself for the US to become the honest broker in promoting genuine peace on the basis of a two state solution. Instead, the objective of the US Middle East policy aimed to promote Israeli and US security, energy and ideological interests through bilateralism, militarism, and denial of Palestinian rights. This policy provided an enabling environment for Israel to pursue a security policy that is making it increasingly insecure. The US has not served its ally well, much less its own interests.

A string of missed opportunities thrown up for example after the passage of the UNSC resolutions 242 and 338, the PLO giving up the clause, the Abdullah Peace plan, the qualified acceptance of Israel by Hamas and the willingness of all Muslim states including Iran to recognise Israel, have all been rubbished by Washington. But the reverberations of continued injustice against the Palestinians have grown deadlier.

Nasim Zehra is a fellow of Harvard University Asia Center, Cambridge, Mass. and Adjunct professor at SAIS Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC

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