Monday, September 18, 2006

Now Wouldn't That Be Ironic?

After a violent few weeks, the war between Israel and Hezbollah seems to be over. This may be an ONCGTC moment (only Nixon could go to China). As bloody as the conflict was, it may have set the stage for a period of tranquility. There was world wide opinion that Israel lost the war, but more likely they "lost" the war and won the political battle.

I heard one commentator say that toward the end of the war, Israel was left pursuing the "Mad Dog" strategy. The idea was that while Israel could not easily win the war, they could make life so difficult for the Lebanese that they would not tolerate anyone poking the dog again. A slight provocation might set the mad dog on another rampage.

For decades, Israel has evoked an image of invincibilty. It had defeated all its neighbors and left them disheartened and demoralized. This is not a state conducive to compromise or peace. While objectively no one can claim that Hezbollah beat Israel, by not losing the Middle East sees them as victors. Now that Hezbollah has the aura of a winner, they may be more willing and able to negotiate.

Even if the money came from Iran, it was amazing how quickly Hezbollah started to help rebuild Lebanon. They were already organizing as a political party before the war. Hezbollah would probably win any election in Lebanon at this point, but not if people thought they would kick the dog again. If Hezbollah wants to become a political power and run the government in Lebanon, that is good. I don't believe the Lebanese people will allow them to start a war with Israel again.

It was amazing (and terribly ironic, given President Bush's Iraqi policies) that Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, said that "Had we known that the kidnapping of the soldiers would have led to this, we would definitely not have done it." Although they may not like him, Nasrallah may have the stature as a winner to negotiate some real solutions. Now that he is a winner, he may no longer feel the need to prove his military power (and would hopefully realize if he starts trouble again the Israelis will be better prepared).

One commentator, shortly after the cease fire, stated that even with a cease fire Israel still planned to eventual assassinate Nasrallah. At this point that would be very bad. Israel should not forget that Menachem Begin, who was eventually an Israeli Prime Minister, started out with terrorist ties. Nasrallah may be someone Israel can make deals with. Israel should, and probably is, working on a deal to get their two kidnapped soldiers back. This is a chance for Israel to determine if Hezbollah can be encouraged to negotiate instead of fight. Hint, another win for Hezbollah might not be such a bad thing.

Israel should keep the mad dog snarl, but encourage and help Hezbollah to be a positive political force in Lebanon. The Lebanese people have struck blows for democracy on their own so their desire for freedom and what looks to be a desire by Hezbollah to govern might be the right mix to make Lebanon one of those beacons of democracy in the Middle East we've been hearing about.

Now wouldn't that be ironic.

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