Shameless self promotion

I'm back from a short vacation and wanted to provide you with some stuff to read, listen to and watch: First, The globalist has published my recent commentary on the war in Lebanon on its Executive Channel:
Focus > Global Security
The Mideast Crisis: And the Loser Is … Everyone
By Leon T. Hadar

What Hezbollah expected to gain by kidnapping two Israeli soldiers and igniting the latest round of Middle East violence may never be fully know. Nor may we understand what Israel expected to gain from its full-throttle response. But one thing is clear: Measuring who won and who lost will be a process of determining who lost most and who lost least.

Since the start of the current Middle East crisis, analysts have been trying to figure out who is responsible for this mess. Who had made the crucial decisions that triggered the fighting between the Israeli military and the Hezbollah guerrillas, which has resulted in death of many Israeli and Lebanese civilians and the destruction of villages and urban centers in both countries?

And why were these decisions made in the first place? Or to put it in more stark terms: Cui bono? Who benefits from what seems to be to anyone watching the horrifying images on television, an un-winnable war as well as a major humanitarian crisis?

Some observers have speculated that the Iranians and Syrians — who have been the main sources of financial and military assistance to the Hezbollah — encouraged the Lebanese-Shiite militia to kidnap two Israeli soldiers, a move that led to Israeli military retaliation and ignited the round of violence we are witnessing now.

Motive and opportunity
Underlying this theory is the two basic elements in any prosecutor's charges against an accused: motive and opportunity. The argument goes as follows: Iran's leaders were facing pressure from the United States and its allies — including a possible threat sanctions by the UN Security Council — to end the government's alleged nuclear military program.

Thus, Iran decided to use its proxy, Hezbollah, to deliver a blow to America's proxy, Israel, in hoped that an ensuing regional crisis would shift attention from the nuclear crisis.

Proxy war
Similarly, Syria's Bashar Assad — forced by the Americans and the French to withdraw from Lebanon and was being isolated diplomatically by Washington — was trying to strengthen his government's position in the Levant through Hezbollah's actions.

In the final analysis, the Ayatollahs in Tehran and the Baathists in Damascus could have benefited from the crisis since it would have demonstrated to the Americans that trying to isolate them would be costly — and that the Iranians and Syrians would have no choice but to engage them if order to contain further instability in the region.

Mirror imaging this speculation is the suggestion that both Israel and its patron the United States had hoped to use this crisis to destroy the Hezbollah as a viable military force. As a result, they would not only deal a blow to Hezbollah's patrons, Iran and Syria, but also strengthen the power of the democratically elected and pro-western government in Beirut.

Bush's green light
Analysts who advance this line of reasoning suggest that U.S. President George W. Bush had given a "green light" to Israel to launch its fierce military campaign, noting that the Americans rushed a delivery of precision-guided bombs to Israel to help it destroy Hezbollah targets in Lebanon.

And in any case, how can one explain the Israeli decision to respond to the kidnapping of its soldiers by using military force (instead of negotiating for their release, as it had done in the past) if not by concluding that the crucial move has a larger strategic objective favored by Washington and Jerusalem: Wiping out Hezbollah and weakening Iran and Syria?

We may never know ...
The above speculations are all, well, speculations. And, as the cliché goes, we may never know what really happened. After all, historians are still trying to figure out who was really responsible for the start of World War I, which ended up transforming the political map of Europe, just as they continue to debate crucial decisions made during World War II, the Vietnam War and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

It is quite possible that much of what has happened was the product of a bunch of leaders "muddling though," as each responded to the other's move without having a coherent long-term strategy.

Perhaps all that the Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, wanted was to exchange the kidnapped Israeli soldiers for Hezbollah members who are jailed in Israel. It is also possible that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expected that a limited air campaign would force the Hezbollah to release the Israeli soldiers.

Guessing games
Nasrallah may have calculated that Olmert — who, unlike his predecessor Ariel Sharon, had limited military experience — would hesitate to use military force against the guerillas. Or perhaps Olmert was concerned that that was Nasrallah's line of thinking and wanted to demonstrate to the Hezbollah leader that he was wrong.

But one thing is becoming clear: There will not be any major winners coming out of the latest bloody conflict in the Middle East. Notwithstanding the "narratives" each side will try to spin as a way of demonstrating that it "won," the real question will be, "Who lost more?"

No winners, only losers
From that perspective, there is little doubt that the tiny country of Lebanon will probably be regarded as the biggest loser. Lebanon had just gone through its celebrated Cedar Revolution, getting Syria to withdraw its military troops from the country. This was followed by open democratic parliamentary elections in May and June, 2005, and the gradual strengthening of its economy.

Now, almost literally overnight, the country has now been transformed into a basket case. Its two major economic sectors — tourism and commerce — have been completely destroyed. Lebanon's best case scenario: A long process of economic rebuilding and political reconciliation involving the disarming of Hezbollah.

Worst case scenario: The country collapses into another long and bloody civil war that helps Hezbollah establish gain more power.

Israel's prospects
Even if Israel succeeds in destroying the Hezbollah's military infrastructure in southern Lebanon, it will likely find itself in a more vulnerable position in the Middle East. Not only will it be confronting a more hostile Arabs world, but its failure to win the military confrontation with Hezbollah in a swift manner — remember, this is the nation that once defeated thee Arab armies in six days in 1967 — is bound to raise major questions about its ability to deter future challenges from the region's other nations and non-state groups.

U.S. leaders are also likely to begin questioning their long-held axiom that Israel is a "strategic asset" of the United States in the Middle East. Some would argue that it has proved to be more of a "burden" for U.S. interests this time.

Short-term gains, long-term losses
Hezbollah may have gained some short-term benefits from the crisis as Arabs and Muslims hail its success in standing up to mighty Israel. But the Lebanese-Shiite militias will be blamed by many Lebanese for the destruction of their country, a sentiment that could increase pressure on the Hezbollah to disarm.

A refusal by Hezbollah to do that could lead to a new Lebanese civil war in which the organization could find itself isolated and unable to count on outside aid. If anything, Hezbollah could prove to be the weakest link in a "Shiite crescent" led by Iran and backed by a Shiite-led Iraq.

From the U.S. perspective, the crisis marked the final collapse of President Bush's ambitious plan to remake and "democratize" the Middle East. Bush's policies have created the conditions for strengthening the influence of radical Arab-Sunni forces (Hamas in Palestine) and Arab-Shiite forces (in Iraq).

Threat of civil wars
Now both Iraq and Lebanon are facing the prospect of civil wars — and there is no end in sight to the Israelis-Palestinian conflict in the Holy Land. U.S. support for Israel during this war has helped to tarnish further its image among Arabs and Muslims.

And contrary to earlier expectations, it is not clear that Iran and Syria have strengthened their bargaining power vis-à-vis Washington as a result of this crisis. The attacks by Hezbollah on civilian centers in Israel will probably only fuel western concerns about Iran's nuclear military capability. ("If Hezbollah was able to inflict so much damage using primitive Katyusha rockets, imagine the damage a nuclear Iran could do.")

Reassessing strategic ties
It is not inconceivable that Washington and its allies will try now to "detach" Syria from Iran and co-opt it into the pro-western camp. But it is very unlikely that the United States will be willing to press Israel to return the occupied Golan Heights as part of an Israeli-Syrian peace accord (and there is no sign that Israel would make such a move on its own).

The only possible good news resulting from the crisis has to do with the bad news. The rising influence of the radical forces in the Middle East could create incentives for the more moderate elements in the Arab world and Israel to step up the efforts towards accommodation and help revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But don't hold you breath.

Then The Right Web which is affiliated with The International Relations Center has published my commentary:
Playing Cowboy—and Falling off the Horse
Leon Hadar | August 16, 2006

U.S. President George W. Bush has fancied himself playing Gary Cooper's role in High Noon. Yep, Sheriff W. and his loyal deputy Tony B. ride into Mideastville, where they confront a revenge-seeking killer by the name of Saddam and his Islamofascist gang, while cowardly lawmen Jacques C. and Gerhard S. hide in the Old Europe Café. W. vanquishes the enemy and spares the town from frontier justice brought on by a deadly group of outlaws. In the final scene, our cowboy rides into the sunset, leaving behind a once-dishonorable town that has now been transformed into the civilized and prosperous Greater Middle East.

But that screenplay is old, and now it seems that some unhappy “producers” in Washington, DC, are hoping to change the script. After all, it's now “The End of Cowboy Diplomacy,” as Time magazine reported in a recent cover story, suggesting that Sheriff W. has had to deal with a steady erosion in his ability to bend Mideastville to his will. No longer does defiance by the Bad Guys necessarily merit threats of punitive action from our hero. He now refrains from posting “Wanted, Dead or Alive” notices and from tossing about indelicate phrases like “Bring 'em on.” “Why can't we all get along?” George W.'s new character pleads.

But in the neighborhood of Israel, Palestine, and Lebanon, the sheriff is discovering that in the classic Western narrative, the cowboy who decides to pick a fight either has to kill or be killed. There is no place for wobbly stuff (diplomacy) in dishonorable frontier towns. When the new nemesis, Iran, sensed the cowboy's weakness—the unwillingness to meet outlaw Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at high noon—it was bound to attack more conveniently, by encouraging its hitmen (Hamas, Hezbollah) to target the other member of W.'s posse, Israel. The result—a shootout in the Levant Hell Saloon.

President Bush's attempt to apply Hollywood's Western genre of Good vs. Bad Guys to make sense of the complex and atavistic political animosities of the Levant area and its peripheries was a costly misjudgment, as was his decision to recruit as his adviser on the Middle East an aging raconteur of oriental fantasies, Bernard Lewis. In Lewis's Book of One Thousand and One Nights—in the first night the United States “liberates” Iraq and discovers weapons of mass destruction—the tale of making the Middle East “safe for democracy” would figure prominently. But the vision promoted by Lewis and other neoconservative fanatics was that of a Democratic Empire, a creature that could have been conceived only through an unnatural union between President Woodrow Wilson and Queen Victoria. (read the rest)

Also The Voice of America interviewd me on a news analysis on U.S. Mideast Policy Debated which inludes links to audio.
And finally you can watch me here in a C-SPAN broadcast of a Cato Institute forum devoted to my book, Sandsdtorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East.


Anonymous said…
Bush and Cheney probably egged on this fiasco - because they don't know any better and they believe their own propaganda.

Also - they and their friends are distant from combat. They don't know American soldiers, so you can imagine how little they know Israeli soldiers.

Leon - Read this:

In that interview - he answers many of the questions posed. He gave this interview to a friendly reporter who only asks a few tough questions. Nonetheless, you can see how underestimated he is the Western media (less so in Israel).

Here's how Nasrallah defines victory. This was on July 31 - Before the actual ground war began in earnest:
Here, what does victory mean, and what does defeat mean? When we say that you have achieved victory, then what do you mean? How do you understand that you were defeated? How does the world understand that you were defeated?


To succeed in defence is victory. How was victory achieved in 1996? The Israeli military operation did not achieve its objectives. This is it. Hezbollah remained and the resistance of Hezbollah remained. We were not the ones who began the war or the ones who launched a large-scale war. It is not from the first moment after we captured two soldiers that we began to shell Nahariya, Haifa, Tiberias, and Zefat and launched war. No. Even in advancing, the Israelis were much faster than us. We were patient in the hope that things would stop at this point because we do not want to take our country to war. However, they launched war and we went to war.

Victory here does not mean that I will enter and capture northern Palestine and liberate Nahariya, Haifa, and Tiberias. This is not one of our rhetoric or slogans. This is a process that concerns the Palestinians and the nation. This is another issue.

The victory we are talking about is that when the resistance survives. When its will is not broken then this is victory. When Lebanon is not humiliated and its dignity and honour are maintained, and when Lebanon stands fast alone in front of the fiercest military power and does not accept any humiliating conditions regarding a settlement of the issue, then this is victory. When we are not defeated militarily then this is victory. As long as there is a missile that is fired from Lebanon and targets the Zionists, as long as there is one fighter who fires his rifle, and as long as there is someone who plants a bomb against the Israelis, then this means that resistance is still there.

I tell you now--some people say that this is the eighth day [of the war] and others say it is the ninth day. Now, we believe that we have achieved part of victory. Our steadfastness until today is victory. This is Israel. Even at the dialogue table I used to say that we do not belittle Israel. Are we fighting militias, a party, an organization, or an army in a poor state? No. We know that we are fighting an army that defeated a group of Arab armies at one time. But we fought it and defeated it with Gods help, and we are fighting it now. Consequently, our survival and steadfastness until now means victory. Our absorbance of the strike is victory, and our continuation with the confrontation is victory. In addition to this, when the Israelis begin to make concessions [then this means victory].

In the first day, there were no negotiations. Now, the Israelis began to talk about negotiations. In the first day, they said that they want to destroy Hezbollah. A short while ago, I counted them to you and [words indistinct] politics. Now, even the Israeli officials do not use the language of destroying Hezbollah. There is not even the language of dismantling Hezbollah. Today, some sides talk about disarming Hezbollah, and other sides talk about weakening Hezbollahs missile force. Even the destruction of Hezbollahs military force is no longer a military target. The Israelis today know that through military force they cannot dismantle Hezbollahs military power or missile force. They have to deal with this through politics. This is an Israeli failure. Every Israeli failure is success to us. It is victory for us.
Anonymous said…
Here's some of what he says about the kidnapping of the soldiers - on that intervew:

...cut... However, there are two issues that stand no... (Nasrallah changes thought). I used to say there are four points, two of which can stand delaying, procrastination, and making reminders about them. No problem about that. The first issue was the continued occupation of the Shaba farms. In this respect we can take our time. This is a limited piece of land. We do not want to go to war because of the farms, not a war like the one taking place now. The second issue is that of the air and maritime violations, and even the land violations. We can put up with these. Yes, violations of our sovereignty are condemned, but we would not raise hell because of them.

However, there are two issues that can stand no postponement. The first is the prisoners issue, for this involves humanitarian suffering. The second is any attack on civilians.

I told them on more than one occasion that we are serious about the prisoners issue and that this can only solved through the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers. Of course, I used to make hints in that respect. Of course I would not be expected to tell them on the table I was going to kidnap Israeli soldiers in July. That could not be.

You told them that you would kidnap Israeli soldiers?

I used to tell them that the prisoners issue, which we must solve, can only be solved through the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers.


Clearly. Nobody told me: no, you are not allowed to kidnap Israeli soldiers. I was not waiting for such a thing. Even if they told me no you are not allowed [nothing would change]. I am not being defensive. I said that we would kidnap Israeli soldiers in meetings with some of the key political leaders in the country. I do not want to mention names. When the time comes for accountability I will mention names. They asked whether this would resolve the prisoners issue if this happens. My answer was that it was logical for such an act to solve the prisoners issue. I assure you that our assessment was not wrong. I am not being stubborn. In the entire world, tell me about any state, any army, or any war that was waged because some people kidnapped two soldiers, or even took hostages, not military soldiers. Tell me about a war that was waged against a state because of two soldiers. This has never happened in history. Nor has Israel done it anytime before. However, what is happening today is not a reaction to the kidnapping of two soldiers. I repeat that this is an international decision and an Arab cover. It is a decision that has to do with...[changes thought]. I stress to you that had we not captured two soldiers in July, which could have happened in August, September, or some other time, the Israelis would come to this battle and would create for it any pretext and any excuse. The issue of disarming and finishing the resistance could not be achieved domestically, regionally, nor at the negotiating table. The Americans were well aware that this issue cannot be addressed domestically. Therefore, the Lebanese were told to step back and to let Israel terminate and disarm Hezbollah. But a cover was needed. So they provided an international and an Arab cover. This is what the issue is about. Finally, I will tell you how any resistance in the world operates. If I want to kidnap or capture two Israeli soldiers, the political leadership would make the decision and hand it to me, but even my brothers [in the leadership] should not know that this would happen at such a time and such a place. If 60 to 70 people know such details, would a capt uring operation be successful? No, no such operation would be successful, let alone when informing a government of 24 ministers, three key leaders, political forces, and political blocs. On the table of dialogue, we hold discussions, and only one hour later the minutes of the sessions become available to [foreign] embassies. So do you expect me to tell the world I am going to capture [soldiers]?

--- cut ---

Do you still insist on the principle of [prisoner] swapping?

Certainly, this is an issue that we cannot tolerate. In fact, if the civilians who were martyred, the displaced who are suffering now the effects of displacement, and the steadfast people know that it is possible for me to extradite or return these two soldiers without closing this file they will accuse me of treason. I will also accuse myself of treason. This is completely out of question.

In the first day, I said that if the entire universe comes, it will not be able to take back the two Israeli soldiers except through indirect negotiation and exchange of prisoners.

And Ghassan [Bin-Jiddu] what is left for us to worry about? We were worried about the infrastructure, but they [the Israelis] destroyed it; we were worried about the people, they killed the people; we were worried about displacement t, they displaced the people; we were worried about the houses, they destroyed our houses and the people’s houses. And after this we tell them here are the two prisoners, pardon us, and then apologize to them. This is out of the question.

Regarding the exchange [of prisoners], who will you exchange the two Israeli soldiers with? Are you going to exchange them with Lebanese prisoners or Palestinian prisoners?

This is an open process, and I will leave it to negotiations.

You still believe that Samir al-Qintar will be in Lebanon?

God willing. In this exchange, Samir al-Qintar will be the first one. What is the use of this exchange if Samir al-Qintar is not included in the exchange and if all the Lebanese prisoners are not included in this exchange - of course, I am talking about an open process?

Your Eminence, lets put the other parties aside. You have a memorandum of understanding with General Awn. Has what is currently taking place shaken the pillars of the memorandum of understanding and your cooperation with the Free Patriotic Movement?

Nasrallah: No, not at all. First, the memorandum of understanding talked clearly about first releasing the prisoners and liberating the rest of the [occupied] Lebanese territories, and afterward discussing a strategy for national defence. This is what we began to discuss. Hezbollah has neither taken advantage of Lebanon to liberate Palestine, nor worked towards restoring the seven villages, which are Lebanese territories. It carried out an operation to capture [Israeli soldiers], because the governments policy statement stipulates the release of prisoners and the liberation of Lebanese territories. So, what we did is a national Lebanese action, even in the regional sense of the word. This [operation] was carried out within, not outside, the context of the memorandum of understanding signed between us and the Free Patriotic Movement.

I am following the statements made by Major General Awn and other leaders in the movement. I believe they took a wise, balanced, national, and honourable position. Many political forces - I do not want to name them - adopted a similar position. I hope that you do not ask me to name them. If I name this or that party, it would then mean that the others did not adopt a similar position. I mentioned the Free Patriotic Movement because you asked me about it. Furthermore, the effort made by the Free Patriotic Movement - since your question is about the Free Patriotic Movement - in various areas is a big effort. We receive information about the impact of these good efforts on the displaced people. I do not think that the pillars of this [memorandum of] understanding were shaken. Things will become clearer in the future.

Your Eminence, if you are certain of your military capabilities, what then do you fear? Do you fear the internal or the external...

Nasrallah: (interrupting):

Secondly, I want to assure you that we do not fear the internal front. They are trying to play on the sectarian divisions ...(CUT)

The rest of the interview is on tha link -
Anonymous said…
"Nasrallah may have calculated that Olmert — who, unlike his predecessor Ariel Sharon, had limited military experience — would hesitate to use military force against the guerillas"

Nasrallah admits as much in that interview - he admits that he was surprised that Israel replied with war rather than a more limited option.

You have to read the whole thing - it's a very revealing looking into the way he thinks, especially when he strays from his focus.


The best thing for Israel to do no is to chill out for a year or so and see what develops in Lebanon.

There will be a temptation to try to get some vengeance on Hezbollah now, but some fire control would serve Israel well.

The lost of 'deterence' capability by the IDF is probably overstated because all the Arab armies know that they are still no match for the IDF and that Hezbollah is unique and Lebanon is sui generis.

What will probably happen is that Hezbollah will start getting a high level of support from abroad - have proved themselves to a certain extent.

But Nasrallah is one tough adversary - that interview was given on 31 July and he was pretty much vindicated on his claims , which seemed outlandish at the time.
Collin said…
I think everybody should glance at this.
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