The events of the last week, which build upon the Intifadah of the last six years (which are the result of…), have the real possibility of spilling over into a general Mid East war. Mitch Potter’s article in today’s Toronto Sun proposes that Hezbollah is attempting to fill the Arab leadership role that was most recently held by Yasser Arafat, and that sucking Israel into over-reacting in southern Lebanon, or worse, Beirut, would be just the thing they want. A regional analog of Osama bin Laden drawing the US into over-reacting and hence raising the power of his international jihadi movement, I suppose.
The real threat is, as always these days, Iran. Iran has backed Hezbollah for some time and recently also the Palestinian government, thanks to the West’s reaction to the election of Hamas earlier this year. The coordination of the attacks on Israeli soldiers in Gaza and in the north from Lebanon imply either coordination between Hezbollah and the Hamas military arm (via Iran?) or maybe simple opportunism on the part of Hezbollah. If it is the former, then there is an increased likelihood of a military defeat of Lebanon drawing in Syria and perhaps Iran.
The Israeli government, in cutting off Beirut, is trying to isolate the Lebanese government in order to force it to deal with the more active elements of Hezbollah, in the same way that they isolated Yasser Arafat in his compound. However, the government, which includes Hezbollah, has in the past not been able to handle Hezbollah in any effective manner, and it seems unlikely to me that they will have any more luck with a civilian population that will doubtlessly harden against Israeli demands. Anyone older than kindergarten age in Lebanon will remember at least some of the 18 years of Israeli presence.
As Potter points out, Hezbollah may well have under-estimated Israel’s determination this time around, but I can’t help but think that Israel is simplistically thinking that a military solution will last. Whatever the immediate result, in the long-term this may well mark the resurgence of Iran’s Shia-based extremism, which has for the past few years been quiet.