Weak links

Very interesting discussion of the war over at the Head Heeb, who considers Lebanon the weakest link in the conflict and worries about a possible return to civil war there -- which he rightly argues would destabilize the region so much as to jeopardize any chance of regional peace for years. Let's hope that won't happen, and for now I don't think it will. Now, obviously my views on these things are quite different from Jonathan's -- I have come to believe over the last few years that peace is not an Israeli foreign policy goal, only lack of aggression against it is (something that can and hopefully will change).


There are three probable possibilities now: 1) after another week of fighting Israel occupies a sliver of South Lebanon, but a ceasefire is negotiated and eventually a peacekeeping force replaces the Israeli army, and Hizbullah agrees to no longer fire rockets at northern Israel (unlikely); 2) Hizbullah's fierce resistance in the South (as seen recently) means Israel is not able to sustain the occupation of even a sliver of the South, but a fragile ceasefire is negotiated anyway (more probable); 3) Israel refuses to stop the war after it has been unable to carry out its objectives in three weeks and thus continues it (what a lot of Israeli editorialists worrying about the army's performance so far think it should do.)

The irony of outcome number 2, the one I think looks like the likeliest for now if pressure is brought to bear on Israel over the next week, is that while it will be a failure for stated Israeli and US goals it has the potential of forcing Israel into peace negotiations with various parties and finally solve the whole crisis. Yes, it would be seen as many in Israel as a failure, but maybe that is what is needed to push them to the negotiating table. It's unlikely, I know, and will have been very costly (especially for Lebanon), but I think it might be a small ray of hope out of this mess. And while Israel's pride may be damaged, it would still emerge mostly unscathed (in terms of human and other damage) and with its role in the region finally normalized and secured.

The other side of outcome number 2 would be that it is merely viewed as an Israeli defeat rather than an opportunity, and that it makes everyone just more bellicose. Then, the fragile ceasefire is sure to be broken sooner or later and lead to an even greater war. Which is why we need the regional superpower to act boldly and fairly, and then it will really be able to claim that we were seeing the pangs of birth of a new Middle East -- one chosen by the region's players rather than imposed from outside.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.