Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Hizbollah's scorched earth mentality backfires yet again

I promised revisiting the Regensburg speech, but there are other pressing news items. For some weeks now I have been googling two articles whisked from Lebanon's The Daily Star newspaper. One I have already mentioned in an earlier post about a new phenomenon in Middle East politics, the Iranian-Syrian invention of National Islamism. It seeks to replace and incorporate Arab Nationalism with Islamism, a highly suspect and volatile potion indeed! The Palestinian and Lebanese subcontractors are Hamas and Hizbollah respectively. The idea is uniting Sunnis and Shiites, Arabs and Iranians under a "patriotic" Shiite-Islamic banner led by the axis Iran and Syria, with the primary goal of victory over Israel and its Western allies. This is not to be achieved by means of a negotiated settlement mind you, which is anathema to the National Islamists. The asset of Iran's nuclear capability looms large.

- The Syrian Al-Assad Ba'ath regime (sister-party to Saddam Hussein's) being predominantly secular, and Iran just about owning Syria, is in a position to dictate terms.
- The leadership in what are usually termed "the moderate Arab countries" is largely irrelevant to the doctrine: the policy as envisioned is grass-roots up.

The article underscores what stands out when you think about it: the moderate elites would be delighted to see Israel and its allies put the axis and its subcontractors in their place, but are unlikely to do anything themselves, occupied as they have been for decades with self-preservation.

The article closes with the ominous conclusion that even moderate success will set the Israeli-Palestine peace settlement back at least a generation. Against this backdrop a drama is presently playing out in the streets of Beirut. Since early December of last year Hizbollah with the assistance of Christian turncoat Michael Aoun has been camping out in the streets of Beirut in an effort to topple the Siniora government, which is seen by the protest movements as pro Western and thus "unpatriotic".

Hizbollah's scorched earth mentality has brought Lebanon into a war with Israel over the summer of 2006, at a material cost which, by the U.N. is estimated at $10 billion; through increasingly violent protest rallies and strikes it is now jeopardizing Prime Minister Siniora's attendance of the donor conference known as Paris III, where the sole agenda item is Lebanon's total public debt of about $41 billion, or 190 percent of Lebanon's GDP. It is slowly dawning on the country just what Hizbollah's state-within-a-state is costing, and that's just the material down-side.

- In another article it becomes apparent how disastrous the situation actually is: Hizbullah is not only having to deal with its devastating blunder of last summer and the protracted and futile encampment on Beirut's streets, they also have to deal with Syria's troubles with the international community over the Hariri murder tribunal.
- Added to that the fact that the Iranian pay-master is not amused that the investments haven't been paying off and over the loss of buffer territory at the Lebanon-Israeli border.
- Hizbollah's own Shiite community is also far from pleased: not only did it have to sustain the suffering due to the war, the reconstruction and "reimbursement" promised by Tehran is also not forthcoming.

Considering all this, it becomes apparent that what we are witnessing these days in Beirut may be the last desperate efforts to salvage an impossible situation, one of which the citizens of Lebanon have had enough.

The outside world may have another impression, but Israel has calculated that its policy of military restraint, in place since the Oslo peace process in 1993, is not paying off. Two particular reasons stand out in this respect: the lack of willingness or ability of ordinary Lebanese citizens to constrain Hizbollah's state-within-a-state at the southern border, and the fact that during the years of restraint Hizbollah has been piling up rockets on the Israeli border. The Palestinian organisation Hamas, at present in government, is a not only Iran's subcontractor, but is also Hizbollah's peer, and the two are emulating and incorporating successful elements of each other's strategies. It may well be that the next miscalculated kidnapping of an Israeli soldier by Hizbollah will not cost Lebanon $10 billion, but will result in total bankruptcy.

- The meeting in Damascus of Palestinian President Abbas with Hamas' supreme leader Khaled Meshaal this weekend for crucial discussions on whether Hamas will accept the terms of a coalition with Fatah, is yet another cross current in the National Islamist's proxi power play with the forces of democracy.
- The latest news from Tehran is that it said it was still cooperating with the IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, despite announcing a day earlier that it was barring 38 inspectors from working in the country.
- The aforementioned story is not carried by any other news outlet, but the Jerusalem Post carries a article about Iran just having taken delivery of a number of Russian Tor M-1 missiles (purchased before the recent U.N. sanctions were imposed) just as three days of military maneuvers went under way in Iran.

Nobody is at this stage advised to hold their breath till democracy breaks out in the Middle East.

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