Friday, July 21, 2006

Homework time

Nothing to blog this morning. Too much reading. There is an old line attributed to Twain: "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt." With that in mind it is better that I stick to my knitting and not go too far out with any conclusions.

As I survey all the opinions expressed about the Israel/Lebanon/Hezbollah conflict I still can't make sense of it. On the face of it we all know what happened. What we don't know is why it happened now. No right-minded person following contemporary history can deny that Israel would eventually be at war with its neighbors. It would be like denial of a pregnancy. We can
speculate about who the father is, but never about the fact that there is a baby.

Meantime, here is stuff I am reading that deserves links...

July, 2000. Six years ago. Following Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon after that war, Hizbollah is birthed from the Amal Movement, vying for leadership of Lebanon's Shiite community. Key players were/are the current Hezbollah personality cult leader, Hassan Nasrallah and Nabih Berri, head of Amal and Speaker of the Lebanese parliament at that time. Berri remains a player still in the Lebanese parliament. See CFR paper Lebanon’s Weak Government for more insights. Any notion about Leanon's wanting to tear out Hezbollah by the roots ignores this man's past and current positions.

The Looming Sunni-Shiite War ?, post at Kesher Talk yesterday, reporting some interesting information heard during a Hardball interview.

February, this year. Dr. Rodger Shanahan is a visiting research fellow at the Research Institute for Asia and the Pacific, University of Sydney. Talks about Hezbollah's Dilemmas.

The Lounsbury's vitriolic, profanity-laced take on things diplo. Unmatched in ballsy, brass-faced commentary grounded, I think, in years of pragmatic business dealings with the characters involved. Not the leadership directly, but the core constituency to whom they appeal.

Josh Landis cannot be skipped unread. Whatever he says (and I haven't read him yet) is important.

And finally, the piece I have printed out to read and reflect on later, is a Martin Kramer interview from Haaretz. This is via Anton Efendi whose prickly, sarcastic but almost always right analyses have been a refreshing breeze since he came tearing into the subject by blogging, starting about two years ago. A look at the comments tells you he doesn't mind hitting a few nerves. He's from Lebanon so it's not like he doesn't have a dog in this fight. I linked to him a few times before and have been impressed with his insights.
By using two column format I was able to fit the piece into seven and a half pages.

If I learn anything, I'll blog about it. Meantime, we all try to make sense of a crazy world.

As I skimmed over the Haaretz summary last night I made a couple of preliminary observations.

***Clearly Hezbollah has a pile of munitions at Israel's Northern border. Conventional wisdom seems to be that it is a proxy group doing the bidding of Iran and/or Syria. That strikes me as an exaggeration. If the rhetoric spewing from those sources, especially Tehran, is any indication of future plans, then early depletion of a strategically important cache of arms such as we are witnessing from Hezbollah Land is the military equivalent of a premature ejaculation. Nasrallah may be a child of the zealots but not a vassal or puppet. Ahmedinezhad may be cheering publicly but privately I expect he is trying to figure out how to put the poop back in the horse.

***For some reason Washington is dragging its feet. I think this reluctance to intervene or encourage anyone else to do so is not the result of any PR fears. The admistration may be obtuse but not entirely stupid. I think they are satisfied to see Hezbollah depleting it's weapons supply. In any larger conflict those weapons would be another ticking bomb threat to Israel. This is what stuck in my mind from the Kramer interview:

It was a strategic miscalculation. Hezbollah didn't internalize changes in the broader strategic climate. The top regional issue today is Iran's nuclear drive, not the fate of Hamas or the Palestinian issue. If Hezbollah had understood this fully, it would have laid very low until needed by Iran in a mega-crisis with the United States. At that point, its threats against Israel would have been added to the overall deterrent capabilities of Iran, and might have caused the United States to think twice.

Hezbollah apparently didn't understand this. If Iran was directly involved in the decision, it also shows an erosion of discipline in Iran's own decision-making process. Iran had nothing to gain from this little adventure, and a lot to lose. It may well be that President Ahmadinejad's rhetoric is beginning to cloud judgment in Tehran.
That's as far as I have come.

The Haaretz piece, incidentally, is more than a single interview with Kramer. Several other people are also referenced, including one unidentified former Mossad retiree who has a good grasp of the psycological warfare angle.
Management of the campaign demands a fundamental understanding of the adversary. One of the important tools in vanquishing the adversary is one which, it seems to me, has not been accorded the place it deserves. I refer to psychological warfare, the third oldest profession and one that is closely connected to the oldest. Hassan Nasrallah has raised it to the level of an art and forged in Israeli and world public opinion several cast-iron, unchallengeable insights.
Third oldest profession. I never heard it!

He follows with some very keen remarks.

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