Friday, July 14, 2006

Lebanon

Well, I've haven't blogged for a while. Combination of work, not enough time, lack of anything to really blog about. Not sufficiently mad about anything...and then Israel attacked Lebanon. Blood boiled a bit.

So, a couple of people have asked me what I think is going on, and here's my views. Ultimately, the bottom line is that "might makes right". Those with a disproportionate amount of power are able to create the rules and can do whatever the want.

If you live under a rock, here's a little of what happened. Basically, on Wednesday Hezballah crossed into Israel and captured two soldiers. They were able to exploit Israel's attention being on the Gaza strip and I guess they caught the Israelis off guard. As you can imagine, it's pretty embarrassing for Israel to have this happen. Extremely embarrassing. They pride themselves on being a big, bad military force in the region, and to have a group of ragged guys break in, destroy a couple of armored vehicles, kill a few troops and the capture two more it's a pretty big deal. So they retaliated.

Now, why are they retaliating so much? The answer, in my mind, is political. Ehud Olmert is the new Prime Minister having succeeded Sharon after Sharon’s stroke/coma. Olmert served in the army for only a couple of years and has made his life as a politician, having previously been the mayor of Jerusalem. As a politician, his job is to make sure that his party wins elections. Since his party is a new party (Kadima being formed after Sharon left the Likud party last year) most Israelis don’t really know where they stand in regards to things like security. When Sharon started the party he did it as the most famous military leader in Israeli history. He had also been known as somewhat of a butcher for his hard tactics back when he served. He was able to reassure people because the one thing political opponents could never do was call him weak on security. Olmert does not have that luxury. So, whereas most people think Sharon would have handled things differently and not been as destructive, Olmert has to show the Israeli people that he’s a badass. So, when something happens in Gaza he destroys Gaza. When something happens in Lebanon, he destroys Lebanon.

Also, whereas Sharon was, irrespective of whether you liked him or not (and I personally hated the guy), a strategic genius militarily, Olmert has no background in this type of thing. So, he asks his army guys what to do and, of course, their response is to blow everything up. Imagine if a US president asked the head of the Pentagon how to wage a war in another country and didn’t have the luxury of having been in the armed services before…not hard to figure out what that looks like, is it?

Background on Hezballah: Hezballah formed in 1982 as a response in the South of Lebanon to Israel’s initial incursion into Lebanon. For the next 18 years Israel had a 20 mile “buffer zone” inside Lebanon where they used to hang out. Since the civil war had effectively destroyed Lebanon’s infrastructure, Hezballah took it upon themselves to fight the Israelis. Since they were backed by Syria and Iran they were able to operate freely inside Lebanon and pretty much do as they pleased. The also did something which was brilliant. Instead of being solely an Israeli attack machine, they built schools throughout the South as well as Hospitals. This ingratiated them with the people of the South because at that time there was no way for the official government to provide any type of services. So, Hezballah became a social movement in Lebanon as well. They have since won a small group of parliamentary seats in the most recent election and are now a formal, albeit ignored and disliked part, of the Lebanese government. I know it’s fashionable to say that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East (which is debatable, it’s more of a Democratic Theocracy if you ask me) but that’s neither here nor there. They're definitely better about minority representation than some of the others.

As for the Lebanese people’s perspective on the issue, most of us have despised Hezballah for years. They are held in the same regard as the Syrians. The only problem is, after you’ve finished a civil war that has gone on for almost 30 years, at what point does it make sense to send your armed forces to disarm one of the last militias? The Lebanese do not want to see more Lebanese killing other Lebanese. It’s a little bad for moral and there’s a very real chance that it will lead back to another civil war. So, they spend most of their time trying to marginalize Hezballah. Whenever Hezballah starts to feel as though they are being slightly forced aside, they attack Israel, causing Israel to attack Lebanon, reinforcing their support. Round and round it goes. You would think that Israel would figure out one thing, though…this method of attacks hasn’t worked in 60 years. They are no more secure because of it…so why keep doing it? Because it helps them feel strong.

It's ultimately political. It has nothing to do with leadership. It has to do with perception. Notice that military leaders of Israel: Begin, Barak, Rabin and Sharon are the ones who have tried the unimaginable. Begin signed a peace accord with Egypt. Rabin with Arafat and Jordan. Sharon pulled them out of Gaza and tried to pull out of the WB. Barak withdrew from Lebanon. These are all people who had the military background to convince the populace that they are capable of defending them. Unfortunately, Lebanon is once again being used as the political playing field of internal Israeli politics and the regional posturing of Syrian and Iranian contempt for Israel. Don't get me wrong, it's not the only reason. But Olmert got his opening to show he is willing to be a complete madman, and it can be reassuring to the Israelis to know that their leader will sometimes do these types of things in their defense. Does it make it right? No. Reminds me of Nixon during Vietnam - he wanted them to think he was capable of doing absolutely anything to score a victory.

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