The Intellectual Wilderness There is nothing more useless than doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.

2008.04.28 10:43

Israel’s Recent and Uncharacteristic Aggressive Stances: A Possible Explanation

Filed under: Politics / Geopolitics — zxq9 @ 10:43

Aggressive stances don’t usually come out of Israel, despite what the press likes to say. Without committing to overtly offensive maneuvers in the region, though, Israel has had some strong things to say to neighbors and even allies lately, and has committed to some very serious military and social exercises. All of Israel’s maneuvers and exercises have been training-only, and all have been focused strictly on defense, but it is important to understand that anything Israel does is closely watched by its Arab neighbors and any sign of Israeli capacity is regarded as a threat, whether the capacity is defensive or offensive. The countries surrounding Israel do not have peaceful intentions for that Jewish state, regardless of the Israeli live-and-let-live national policy and military posture. The Arabs want the Jews dead, and any sign that Israel won’t die easily is therefore viewed as a threat. Israel is well aware of this perception and has used the recent civil defense exercises as an opportunity to evaluate its actual national survivability in the event of a massive air, missile or unconventional (NBC) attack on the country as well as deliver a silent message of collective strength to its neighbors.

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Why would Israel feel the need to make speeches about “non aggression” — which are always, no matter who is talking, regarded as speeches about actual aggression — and conduct massive military exercises to demonstrate their strength, organize for action and prepare for conflict? Further, why would Israel be more focused than usual on the Hezbollah threat in Lebanon? Why would Israel have recently bombed suspected nuclear sites in Syria? Why would Syria be posturing in such a way as to demonstrate their military weakness? Why would Hezbollah be all talk and no action even after the assassination of one of their prime leaders?

There is a pattern emerging in my view, but the meaning of it cannot be found here, strictly in the local region of Israel, Lebanon and Syria. The bigger picture here leads back — as almost all roads in current Middle Eastern intrigue seem to — to Iran.

Iran has has a rough time of things lately. They’ve overplayed their hand with the Americans; their militia groups got so smashed in Iraq that they became confused, frustrated and even reverted to the old factionalized fighting that split and weakened the Shiite community in Saddam’s Iraq; the Iranians lost enormous amounts of material and money supporting Hezbollah during and after the recent Israeli attacks into Lebanon; they’ve lost political clout by presenting themselves badly to the Russians; thei nuclear program pissed everyone off with no gain for them; etc. The list goes on and on. Irans’ sucking, and they’re showing it.

Iran has their military celebrations scheduled very soon, and during those everyone will be able to see the “Iranian military might”, which is really not that much to speak of in American, British or even Japanese military terms, but relative to the other potential opponents in the region is considerable. But the Iranian military, while it might look good in a parade and scare the weak Saudis, is built for domestic control, not offensive operations. The Iranians have plenty of self-policing to do and the military, not the police, do this sort of work inside Iran. The real offensive arm of Iran is Hezbollah, which though it often seems more like a drug cartel than a normal terrorist group, is supported and organized by the Iranians and acts internationally as Iran’s offensive military arm in everything but name.

How does this connect with Israel? First, in the most obvious sense, Hezbollah is hellbent on destroying everything Jewish in the world. That brings Hezbollah into direct conflict with Israel to begin with. But Hezbollah has been based in Lebanon for a long time and has focused almost exclusively on anti-Israeli campaigns. There are lots of groups that fit that description and while its a scary phenomenon when taken all together, individually there is no single group that makes any Western government tremble, and none of these groups can independently have any strategic impact. They simply spend too much time infighting and worrying about who follows what prophet’s cousin or whatever to really get a hold on things. They’re too disorganized.

But Iran is hoping to change that. Hezbollah is undergoing a massive expansion, an expansion most people aren’t seeing because they think Iran does not have the capacity for it due to its almost entirely distracting American involvement — and granted, America does have Iran surrounded on both sides. But Hezbollah is not Iran. Hezbollah runs itself, is funded in part from drug smuggling into Israel (what they would do without that money if they actually did destroy Israel and all its recreational-drug-enabling economic weight is an interesting question), but it is an independent organization which is not totally dependent on Iranian instruction. They can make their own decisions, develop their own situations, and act on their own. With that sort of independence and the organizational experience and skill Hezbollah has accumulated over the years it is entirely plausible that Hezbollah could be receiving material support from Iran with broad and ambiguous instructions to conduct a regional expansion into all Shiite communities in the Middle East and act on such guidance all on its own without wasting much Iranian brain-power or leadership bandwidth.

Whether Iran told them to or not, this is what Hezbollah is doing: expanding at an unprecedented level. There are new Hezbollah organizations springing up in Kuwait, Qatar, U.A.E., Iraq, even Saudi Arabia — which much be tricky going for them. They are hiring away highly experienced and like-minded Palestinians who do not ordinarily have anything in common with Iran or Hezbollah other than wanting to murder Jews. This is a new trend that has never been seen before.

Sure, Hezbollah has operatives working in Southeast Asia, Europe, etc. But these are Hezbollah operatives working out of Lebanon or Iran and conducting specific business in these areas, not new Hezbollah organizational structures headquartered in such far-flung nations acting under broad guidance from Hezbollah Central Command. An indication of this trend and of Hezbollah’s truly independent nature is the process of new Hezbollah regional cadres being moved to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon to be trained at Hezbollah’s main bases instead of Hezbollah cadres being moved to Iran for training. In the past, Hezbollah sent people from Lebanon to train in Iran and Iran sent Republican Guard units to Lebanon to train and support there. So now we see the shift that Hezbollah is running more and more of its own show, and basing operations in Lebanon, away from Iran, with an obvious eye to expand out all over the Middle East.

To what end are they conducting this expansion? Iran’s stature has fallen recently. As discussed above, they are in a tough situation with the U.S. and they know they have lost this round. They know they will not wind up getting absolute control of the Iraqi government. They will not be able to put up bases across the sand from Saudi oil fields. They will not be able or allowed to do a lot of things they want to do under the banner of Iran for Iran’s sake, so they are standing up regional Hezbollah brigades to make up for their lack of future overt military capacity and power projection.

This is where Israel comes in. Iran is Israel’s sworn mortal enemy. Anything good for Iran regionally is bad for Israel’s future prospects of existence. Israel does not want to see Hezbollah expand to the point of having regional headquarters and local battalions scattered from Southern Europe and North Africa to the Persian Gulf.

The situation is too confused right now to predict the actual effect of such an expansion, but it is certain this would be bad for Israel somewhere down the line. So Israel is looking to cut this movement off before it really gets started. Expect an attack by Israel against Hezbollah once the intended future big names of Hezbollah are collected in Lebanon. Hezbollah needs Lebanon as a base. If it is denied that, it has nowhere left to go. All its infrastructure, civil support, hospitals, drug lines, etc. are there. No country really wants to host Hezbollah, and Iran cannot host Hezbollah and maintain any separation between their own military and the Hezbollah force nor can they evade responsibility for Hezbollah’s actions if they become the primary host. Israel knows this and so before any other country becomes sufficiently infected with a firmly entrenched Hezbollah presence Israel is looking to attack, weaken and distract Hezbollah from its expansive plans now rather than fight them from all angles later.

Syria wants to stay out of it. Assad’s regime is weak and everyone knows that. Israel does not want to knock Assad down because while today’s Syria might be irritating, it does not pose a real threat to Israel. Israel could wipe Syria off the map with a conventional invasion force, and this power imbalance acts as a stabilizing influence on the situation between them. Assad wants to stay in power and he can’t do that if his country is destroyed, so he will not actually commit to an attack on Israel. Israel does not want to deal with managing an even more agitated and radicalized Syria after an invasion of the country, so to avoid muddying the waters the policy of both nations is live-and-let-live. That is why Syria conducted maneuvers recently near the Golan Heights: to make Assad appear resolute and powerful to his own people, and at the same time show Israel just how weak he is so the Israelis don’t make the mistake of accidentally or inadvertently knocking his regime over with a few military strikes inside Syria.

So what is the “emerging pattern”? Hezbollah is looking to expand all over the region in a serious way which will allow Iran to comfortably accede to an American-dominated Iraqi government while they develop their local state-within-a-state Shiite structures all over the region through Hezbollah. Israel is looking to prevent this potential expansion right now which will be a severe blow to Hezbollah right now, but also a critically damaging strike to everything that is future Iranian regional dreams of hegemony.

A Potential for Hezbollah Independence: What Does it Mean for Us?

Filed under: Politics / Geopolitics — zxq9 @ 10:40

There is a potential for Hezbollah to become an entity independent of national support. What does it mean for us? I will here try to (briefly) explore how Hezbollah could become an independent organization and further how that would effect the games currently being played in their name as well as the games being played through them by sponsors.

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Hezbollah has always filled the role of the extra-national, deniable and politically inexpensive force of choice for Islamic states who feel the need to make a violent statement against civilians without the tangle of being directly blamed for the death and dismemberment of kindergarten students or other such victims. This group emerged from the chaos of the Lebanese civil war, gained the massive sponsorship of Iran and somewhat of Syria and have since become the single most powerful indigenous political influence in Lebanon. This influence was largely paid for by Iranian money, material and direct training support. Hezbollah has outgrown its original narrow focus on Jew-killing and political mayhem over the last few years and has initiated moves which are far beyond that limited scope. Hezbollah has opened hospitals, civil offices, political arms, media outlets, illegal narcotic production and distribution systems, and even schools — where they appropriately teach/preach the mass destruction of all Americans, Europeans and Israelis as well as (it is hoped) literacy and mathematics. Hezbollah is Shiite and is accordingly a long-term threat to Sunni-dominated countries where they are currently setting up shop for an apparent massive future expansion at the request of Iran.

Though Hezbollah got off the ground through the deep and intense direct support of Iran and Syria, it has taken on a life of its own. Starting up a political arm and creating a physical civil presence that exists for any purpose other than terrorism operations tends to slowly force a terrorist force to moderate itself. Survival through only external support also threatens the long-term survival of any group and for the senior leadership in Hezbollah who have effectively created long-term careers out of being professional Hezbollah leaders the chance that it may someday be politically unpleasant for Iran or Syria to continue supporting Hezbollah is unacceptable. For this reason Hezbollah has developed its own revenue-producing arms which specialize in local taxation, sale of weapons and military expertise and the production and sale of illegal narcotics. Hezbollah has been blacklisted by just about every government that means anything and this also does not bode well for the long-term career plans of the senior leadership. For an example of how to overcome this they look south, to the PLO and even Hamas (as terror-oriented as they still remain) for examples on how to normalize. For this reason they have sponsored their own hospital, educational and political initiatives and are trying to slowly reshape their image.

This sort of a transformation begins to soften not only the image but also the realities of such an organization. The realities of political entanglement (starting within the Lebanese political process and extending internationally), the internal drive to increase controllable revenue (i.e. sales), limit dependence on uncontrollable revenue (i.e. donations), and otherwise improve the prospects for the long-term survival of the organization begin to change the aims of the group in fundamental ways. In other words, today’s Hezbollah is at least as much about Hezbollah’s own survival as it is about the “fight against Israel” or whatever else Iran asks it to do. This is an irreversible and unstoppable process. No group wants to be reliant entirely on the outside for support, and the transition from an old-version Hezbollah which was basically part-timers who fought for money and perceived grievances is significantly different from the Hezbollah of today which is staffed primarily by full-time careerist operatives and leaders with technical and operational expertise unique to the scope of each position formed. This formalization and careerist shift will slowly dictate a slow weaning of Iranian and Syrian support and an eventual split from Iranian control and ideology.

The end result would be a Hezbollah which attempts to gain civil control over Lebanon, will likely spin off and rename its extended surrogate Hezbollahs for use as its own extra-national and deniable terror group (in Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, etc.), an increase in narcotic export, an interest in developing legal alternatives to narcotics revenue, and an eventual request to be recognized as a political movement rather than a terror group. In short, it will try to copy the “success” of the PLO. In doing so, however, it will alienate many of its truly radical members. Hezbollah will cease to be the Hezbollah that we know and will eventually become a political entity far removed from its terrorist roots. The violent, radical elements are a fundamental feature of the failed culture of the modern Middle East and will remain, but they will no longer be welcomed by Hezbollah despite what will likely be continued and violent-sounding anti-Semitic rhetoric. If Hezbollah actually achieves political control in an area such as Lebanon, the last thing on their agenda would be a war with Israel.

In short, Hezbollah is on a path which will result in its slowly becoming more pro-Hezbollah than anti-Israel. Iran is going to eventually need to find another surrogate actor to carry out terrorist activities and will find its adopted prodigy child soon coming of age, gaining independence and maturing to the level of a sometime competitor with its own agenda in the surrogate-terror sponsorship game.

I haven’t given enough thought to how Israel will wind up feeling about such a transition, but my initial thought is that Israel would welcome any group which could place a stable government in Beirut, Islamic or not. Overall it would be a good thing for everybody if the lawlessness in Lebanon were to end and if the government were even somewhat democratic the ruling party (assumed to be Hezbollah) would be forced to moderate itself to prevent another civil war. Hezbollah would never be strong enough to firmly control Lebanon and all its diverse groups and would never survive in politics without aiming to secure loose control in the interest of stability versus strong control in the interest of domination. For these reasons I believe Israel would welcome Hezbollah’s evolution toward politics and away from terrorism. Iran would hate it, but they could not really do much about it. Lebanon would be lost as a safe-haven for terror groups and Israel’s northern border would be more secure. But currently Israel still seems to be ramping up for some sort of military action against Hezbollah and just because Hezbollah may someday become a self-moderated and independent political entity does not mean it is anything close to that today or will move in that direction for a while — particularly not while Iran is in a tight spot and accordingly willing to pay through the nose to ensure Hezbollah does its assigned job of menacing the world.

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