A lose-lose situation for Israel

Géopolitique du Proche-Orient

An ersatz peace has returned to Lebanon, but how long will it last? The odds on it enduring are not great.
On Israel's northern frontier, durable peace can occur only if Hezbollah is disarmed. But this is a job that the United Nations is leaving to Lebanon - and the weak and fractious Lebanese government is, more than ever, incapable of confronting the Shia militia.
Not only is Hezbollah basking in its "victory" over the Israeli army, its political clout is bound to grow. Hezbollah already has two cabinet ministers in Fouad Siniora's government and it will likely push for - and obtain - more representation.
The 15,000 soldiers that Lebanon is sending into southern Lebanon will be equally impotent: The Lebanese army is notoriously inefficient and its ill-equipped and ill-trained soldiers - about half of whom are Shiites - would soon be overwhelmed by the dedicated and disciplined militants of Hezbollah if there were ever a hint of a confrontation.
In any case, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah made it clear that his militia has no intention of surrendering its arms. And Lebanon President Emile Lahoud bluntly said that his government intends to contravene the UN Security Council resolution upon which the ceasefire was based: "It is disgraceful to demand the disarmament of the national resistance while the blood of martyrs is still warm. How can they ask us to disarm the only force in the Arab world who stood up to Israel?" he said last week.
Lebanese Defence Minister Elias Murr was even more adamant: The Lebanese army's mission, he said, will be "to protect the victory of the resistance [Hezbollah]."
No country, not even those who vaguely volunteered for Lebanon, is willing to tackle Hezbollah. France, which pushed for the ceasefire and was, with the United States, the main architect of the Security Council resolution, is reneging on its earlier commitment, and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is desperately pleading for troops from various countries that are also reluctant to put their soldiers in harm's way.
Israel is actually the only country that would be willing to endanger its soldiers against Hezbollah, for the simple reason that it's the only country that is directly threatened by Hezbollah.
After more than 1,000 deaths, this part of the Middle East is back to square one. There is not the slightest guarantee that Hezbollah, whose stated aim is the destruction of Israel, and which is under the patronage of Iran (whose president also wants Israel to be wiped off the map), will not resume its attacks on Israel. An international "peacekeeping" force, whose mandate is so far unclear, will likely monitor the situation and write reports, just like the smaller UNIFIL force did during the past six years, unable to intervene as Hezbollah was periodically launching rockets into Israel.
This disastrous war will take a heavy toll on Israel. Not only is Hezbollah still alive and kicking, but Israel couldn't even bring back the captured soldiers who were the reason for the war.
More importantly, now that the flaws and failures of the Israel Defence Forces have been exposed, Israel has lost its famed power of deterrence, which rested on its army's reputation as an invincible force.
This is a tragedy, not just for Israel, but also for the world, since one of the terrible lessons of this war is that it is nearly impossible for the regular army of a liberal democracy to combat a hardened and media-savvy guerrilla force that hides amid civilian populations.
Israel lost the public-relations war and the moral high ground with air strikes that killed many Lebanese civilians. However, if it had focused on ground attacks it would have sent many of its young conscripts to slaughter while also killing civilians. It was a lose-lose situation.

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