Hezbollah’s brazen kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers last week fulfilled a promise made by their leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, after the successful withdrawal of Israel in 2000, to secure the release of all Lebanese prisoners held by Israel (there are three remaining). As with Hamas’ earlier successful capturing of an Israeli soldier for the women and children among 8000 Palestinians held, the short term strategy is based on successful prisoner exchanges in the past. But in both cases, Israel has found itself condemned for its overreaching response – the bombing of power stations and civilian infrastructure, coupled with scores of dead, some of who were retreating at Israel’s request. Part of this response is due to the unprecedented use by Hezbollah of longer range missiles against Haifa and Tiberias 30 miles away (Nasrallah claims Tel Aviv is next) and radar guided anti-ship weaponry (killing 4 on an Israeli ship off Beirut). At the G8 meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, world leaders were measured in their response (France’s Jacque Chirac called Israel’s response “disproportionate” and US President George Bush wanted to the UN to “get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit”), but behind the scenes they hustled to evacuate their thousands of stranded citizens. As for the Lebanese, if it weren’t for the civilian casualties, many of them would look away if only Hezbollah suffered. Additionally, there is a consensus that Hezbollah had no right to provoke new hostilities from Lebanese soil (a view shared by some in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt, who feel their interests will suffer). Ultimately, Hezbollah won’t succeed in weakening Israel (as it dreams of doing) and Israel won’t eliminate Hezbollah (as it states it will do). Most analysts agree that the conflict will likely end as past interactions between the two have – in a prisoner exchange. Though Israel denies this for now, it’s not clear they could stomach another land invasion (though they don’t rule it out). As for insisting the Lebanese government (itself recovering from the Hariri assassination and the subsequent expulsion of Syrian troops) is ultimately responsible, Israel concedes that they are no match for Hezbollah’s militia – just as the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is in no position to reign in Hamas. Still, the Israelis insist – somewhat ironically – on degrading whatever infrastructure would be required to counter Hezbollah, such as attacking Lebanese army positions. This mirrors earlier Israeli bombings of PA police stations after the increase in suicide bombers after 2000. With degraded infrastructure comes a greater unwillingness to comply, as well as more hatred (just as starving the Iraqis through sanctions didn’t help them overthrow Saddam Hussein). As for the greater region, Israel has since linked Syria and Iran, Hezbollah’s sponsors, to Hezbollah’s operations – not surprising, since there is wide agreement that such a linkage exists. “Had Hezbollah been taking decisions on its own, it wouldn’t have committed this stupidity,” said Saudi columnist Qenan al-Ghamdi, who adds that the group cannot stop the fight because it does not have the final say. “It has lost the support it had. Today, it’s facing a big catastrophe and it has dragged Lebanon into a bigger one.” In the end, a proxy war on Iran or Syria’s behalf will not be worth the loss of innocent life, especially since Israel gives – in terms of civilian casualties – far more than it gets.
Zahed Amanullah is associate editor of altmuslim.com. He is based in London, England.