Monday, July 17, 2006

The Nature of the War

It does matter how you see the nature of the war now underway in the Middle East.

I'm off vacation for a couple of days, and find myself in meetings in Washington and Baltimore.

The President is in flight back from St Petersburg - should be landing at Andrews Air Force Base more or less now.

Here, the war is seen very much as a war with Iran in the driving seat and Hezbollah as little more than an instrument in its designs. Whatever Israel does, it is seen as not only legitimate but also necessary, and ultimately in the long-term interest of the United States as well.

Whether information and intelligence backs up the assumption of Teheran in control of the escalation is unclear, but my impression is that what is available is ambigious at best. But it is clearly something that can't be excluded.

Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard is all over the TV channels here proclaiming that what we are seeing is an Israel-Islamist war driven by Iran and at the end of the day aimed at the United States and the entire West. His editorial in the issue out today is well written and well argued.

But I would argue that the situation is slightly more complex, and that we would easily go off on the wrong track if we see it just as a coming conflict with Iran.

The immediate deterioation started with the Hamas victory in the January Palestine election and the international reaction to it. It was then that the downward spiral of events really started, with Hezbollah and its backers now joining with their attack, and the Israelis eager to strike back with a vengeance.

Accordingly, it will be important to go back to the Palestine situation as soon as possible. The choice is really between escalating chaos and conflict in the Palestinian territories, fueling terrorism throughout large parts of the Muslim world, and a return to a serious effort at building some sort of stable Palestinian state.

Over time, only a stable state of Palestine and a stable state of Lebanon can give Israel security. There might not be immediate love, but the absence of war and some sort of peace would be immense achievements.

But if it is all seen as part of a big war, with hammering of Hamas and Hezbollah as the opening shots in something that will eventually reach Teheran, we will be in for something very different.

We should not forget that Hezbollah is a product of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. It was then it was created - and eventually it made life so difficult for the Israeli army there than it had to be pulled out.

There are lessons to be learnt from this, one might think.