Tuesday, July 18, 2006

What Is The Goal ?

The WSJ yesterday put out a nasty variant of the buck stops in Tehran view that I talked about yesterday. The Journal points out the missiles are hidden in many widely dispersed Hezbollah locations such that Israel will not be able to get at all of them for a long time. Israel will be forced to attack both Syria and Iran, in order to get them to place pressure on Hezbollah to stop the shelling. If this nightmare scenario came about, Israel would be fighting a four front war all alone. A horrible thought.

A more moderate Israeli vision of the war was put forth by Yossi Klein Halevi in the New Republic last Thursday: The goals of the war should be the destruction of the Hamas regime and the dismantling of the Hezbollah infrastructure in Southern Lebanon. Yesterday, Prime Minister Olmert said Israel will destroy the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza and South Lebanon. I assume infrastructure and regime are not one and the same. I must say, however, I have no idea what the Prime Minister means by ‘infrastructure’ in the context of Gaza. I also don’t understand how one can destroy the terrorist infrastructure without destroying the infrastructure of Gaza as a whole. To the best of my knowledge, no Israeli official has said openly the goal of the war is to topple the Hamas government. They might be thinking Hamas regime change, but so far they are not saying it. In this more minimalist program there is no talk of how Israel or the US must invade Iran and Syria, nor is there any goal of regime change in Damascus or Tehran. All that must be done is to X (eliminate, destroy, degrade) Hamas and Hezbollah. As we are learning, whatever the exact goal, it is easy to say, hard to do.

Klein has an interesting caveat at the end of his piece: "The ultimate threat, though, isn't Hezbollah or Hamas but Iran. According to a very senior military source with whom I've spoken, Israel is still hoping that an international effort will stop a nuclear Iran; if that fails, then Israel is hoping for an American attack. But if the Bush administration is too weakened to take on Iran, then, as a last resort, Israel will have to act unilaterally. And, added the source, Israel has the operational capability to do so.” Why MUST Israel take out the Iranian nuclear capability? Klein’s answer is this must be done to avoid the worst possible scenario, “The scenario of nuclear weapons in the hands of the patron state of Hezbollah and Hamas.” And how can Israel destroy the nuclear capability without retaliation from Iran? Apparently, the senior military source has not yet spoken on this issue.

Haaretz in the last week has argued for more pragmatic goals: Israel should strike at Hezbollah with all its strength, stop and see what happens. Israel should have mercy on the Palestinians and not use its full force in Gaza. It should deal with the rockets in Gaza as best it can, and withdraw. Hezbollah is Israel’s sworn enemy. The Palestinians, in the absence of a functioning state and final settlement, are Israel’s responsibility. In truth, we might end up with a cease fire and UN peacekeepers in Southern Lebanon before any goals are reached, in which case all these speculations sound a bit dumb. Everyone will declare victory and life can go on.

The most radical and speculative vision about the war is that it is the beginning of something even worse around the corner. On this view, the current war has no goals; it’s a skirmish in a battle that will last for years, and eventually lead to a catastrophic conflagration. Extreme Jewish right wing groups, Evangelical Christians and Radical Muslims all have this yearning for an Armageddon, a final apocalypse that will settle the question once and for all which religion is numero uno in heaven above and on earth below. I need not point out that EVERY attempt to use the New Testament Book of Revelation or the prophecies of Ezekiel in a practical way have been a total failure. Joachim of Fiore and Jacob Frank are two of the more famous examples.

A second possible cause why these extreme Armageddon speculations are so popular is that all the talk of proxies and puppets makes the war appear similar to the Spanish Civil War, with the Hamas and Hezbollah axis of evil playing the role of the Spanish fascists. We all know what came next. Newt Gingrich said Sunday what we are seeing is the beginning of World War 3. (I assume The War on Terrorism and the war in Iraq and Afghanistan was World War 2.5) I feel this talk of World Wars is premature and not very likely. It is always a mistake to force tomorrow’s events into some forced analogy with the past. The GDP of Iran is 561 billion. Iraq‘s GDP is 94 billion, Syria 72 billion. Add another 25 billion for the Palestinians and Hezbollah. The total GDP of the Shiite axis is around 750 billion, roughly equal to the value of 2 Exxon or 1 GE. How can any one compare these two bit countries with the WW2 axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan?

On my view, all this talk of Armageddon and WW3 is metaphysical speculation with a political angle. Everyone knows a liberal Democrat like Hilary Clinton or Al Gore couldn’t handle Armageddon. We would need someone very tough, competent and a long term strategic thinker; someone more like our current President. It is sad but true that war in general, and apocalyptic speculations in particular, favors the right far more than the left.

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