Thursday, August 03, 2006

Getting Inside Their Heads (Part 1)

Three weeks into the Israeli war on Lebanon a number of issues that need to be urgently addressed have become clear. It is interesting to study the type of criticism being discreetly voiced within Israel itself. Thus far army, and intelligence have been criticised for specific failures while the broader questions are not being tackled. If previous experience is anything to go by I expect that these questions have been shelved and that there will be a commission of enquiry that will focus inter alia upon the following:

  • The decision making process at the military level.
  • The decision making process at the civilian level.
  • The conceptual frameworks used during those processes.
  • The failure on the "home front."
  • The losses and benefits to the Israeli economy.

In short the Israelis are going to have do a cost benefit analysis.

The Casus Belli

Israel launched their attack upon Lebanon claiming that it was necessary in order to:

  1. Bring home two soldiers who had been captured.
  2. Prevent further cross-border operations by Hizbullah.
  3. The weakening of Hizbullah politically.

None of these goals are achievable. The return of the captured soldiers will most likely take place via the medium of protracted and indirect negotiations and that their release will be secured once Israel releases a lenghty list of prisoners as the 'quid pro quo.'

The second goal is also now unachievable. Even were the Hizb's military power to be reduced the movement is not only not going to disappear it has been greatly strenghtened. The "Cedar Revolution" was a revolution of the prosperous (and pro-western) minority and the idea that it had laid the foundations for a "new order" that could be imposed from outside was never more than wishful thinking. Durable rearrangements of the Lebanese political landscape come from below and violent attempts to impose them from outside not only invariably fail but equally invariably hurt those who make them. I am reminded of the first line of "Tristam Shandy."

The question to be addressed therefore is the extent to which Israeli and American policies are the result of deficient conceptual frameworks and a Lindblomian incrementalist approach that has caused an inexperienced civilian and military leadership to select actions from existing military contingency plans without considering alternative alternative political and diplomatic strategies. The massive use of misdirected military force sprang not only from this conceptual failure but also from a gross self overestimation. The Greeks had a word for this, "hubris."

The Israeli Conceptualisation of Lebanon

Let us start therefore with the Isaeli conceptualisation of Lebanon. In general the Israeli concpetualisation of Lebanon is that is a "troublesome neighbour" not in and of itself but because of externalities. These "external factors." have forced Israel to defend herself by launching two previous massive invasions of Lebanon:

  1. The "Litanis Operation" in 1978.
  2. Operation Peace for Galilee in 1982.

No state in the Middle East is uncomplicated or homogenous those of us familiar with Lebanon are well aware of the catchphrases and I need hardly repeat all of them to this audience —, the four most common will suffice:

  1. "The improbable nation."
  2. "The precarious republic."
  3. "The three Lebanons."
  4. "The dangerous swamp."

The last of these is particularly revealing. While it is true that Lebanon's structure means that much basic information is either entirely lacking or concealed from outsiders, likening Lebanon to a dangerous swamp is no excuse for ignorance, even a quagmire can be explored, mapped and marked.

Israel paid dearly in the past for its mistakes in Lebanon and yet, incredibly, there remains within Israel some quasi-Biblical notion that the "land of the cedars" has all of the characteristics of an ally as opposed to those of just a neighbour. Can there be any doubt that this springs more from strategic opportunism than a genuine desire for peace? Like most of you I well remember being told in the years prior to the signings of peace treaties with both Egypt and Jordan that there was already a second signatory - "the land of the cedars" and that it was necessary only to find the first. This line is peddled once again by Israeli ministers and spokesmen eager to claim that they have Lebanese interests at heart and are acting only to help Lebanon "disgorge a cancer." Those who make these claims are being not only disingenuous but are ignoring certain realities:

  • The first of these is that because of its internal structure Lebanon was always going to be the last country to formally make peace with Israel.
  • The second is that far from contributing to Lebanese stability Israeli agression has invariably disturbed the country's delicate internal balances, and never in a way consonant with Israeli interests.
  • The third is that their history of agression has assuredly never endeared Israel to their northern neighbours.

One can only conclude that Israel's policy makers remain enmired in old misconceptions that hark back to their hopes of creating a Zionist-Maronite alliance that would collaborate against Arab nationalists and fundamentalist Muslims. This hope dates from Mandatory times and its persistence can be seen in the Jumayil episode of the
1970-1980s and the abortive draft peace treaty. It is based upon a crude conception of a Lebanon that is divided only confessionally and ignores its criss-cross class structure, regional interestss, family interests, and kaleidoscopic ad-hoc alliances. A conception of Lebanon based upon a census that was taken seventy four years ago (and was never repeated for internal political reasons), which igored both national and inter-regional economic indicators, and which ignored moreover Lebanon's parliamentary arrangements was always profoundly flawed and was always going to lead to seriously mistaken and countrerproductive policies.

Lebanon is one of the most intricate and dynamic societies in the Middle East and is changing all the time. Lebanese politicians, not least Hassan Nasrallah are consumate practioners of the "art of the possible" and are adept at creating intricate political arrangements that are complex compromises reflecting changed realities that stall full solutions. Lebanon is changing all the time, ingenious diplomacy is an economic necessity for its elites, a fact reflected in its internal political dynamic - let us consider the three most famous examples:

The 1943 National Pact

The pact was based upon the (already outdated) 1932 census. It is no accident that the pact was never committed to paper those who negotiated it realised that flexibility at the margins was required if its confessional distribution of power were to be effective as indeed it was for more than three decades.

Ta'if 1989

Ta'if formally ended the 1975 civil war and instituted parity between the totality of Christian denominations on the one hand and the totality of Muslim denominations on the other. In other words it divided power amongst 27 diffrent groupings. It represented a structural functionalist partial correction that symbolically disposed of the Maronite ascendancy. I say "partial" because it was a political compromise reluctantly entered into as the "least bad" option available for all concerned. It was not and was never meant to be a precise adaptation to the changing sociological and economic balance of power all it did, and all it was meant to do, was to abandon an untenable ascendancy without abandoning sectarianism qua sectarianism.

"Cedar Revolution" 2005

Rafiq al-Hariri's assassination and ensuing disturbances given the soubriquet of the "Cedar Revolution," supposedly forced the Syrian army and its security services out permanently out of Lebanon. One has to wonder how such a level of self-deception came to exist both in Israel and its western sponsors. It is significant that the very term "Cedar Revolution" appears to have originated in Washington and spread from there to Lebanon itself. Nobody could ever have supposed that this was a durable state of affairs. Since the 1920s Syrians have harboured a profound resentment that the colonial power carved a separate Lebanon from Syria as part of its policy of divide et impera and Syria maintains significant economic interests in its "sundered province."

While Syria has (in all probablility) long since abandoned any formal claim to Lebanon the idea that it would abandon its interests there was always an illusion. Perhaps those who harboured this thought were of the impression that Syria was a charitable organisation? No government, least of all the Syrian government is a chariatable organisation. The composition of Lebanese society is such that Syria has never lacked for support there and it remains a powerful presence whom none dare fully confront. Mehlis' unprofessional botching of the Hariri assasination investigation served only to compound the difficulties of those Lebanese who would like to sharply reduce (and who dream of eliminating) Syrian influence within Lebanon. Instead of wearing one pair of kid gloves they are now required to don two in all matters Damascene. An entirely probable outcome of the current debacle is that Syria will be invited to make some sort of military and/or political reappearance on the Lebanese stage - and not just as a spear carrier. This is unlikely to be welcomed in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem but if you insist on proving the Syrian president's statement that a Syrian withdawal would lead to Lebanon being attacked what can you expect. Syria is not a charity and it may well be that at the very least Israel is going to have to disgorge Shab`a and quickly too.

Hizbullah - An Integral Part Of Lebanon's System

The role and status of the Shia are the crucial and unsolved problem of the Lebanese political system the current agressive operation against them and their fellow Lebanese leads me to doubt that even the slightest contextual analysis was done by either the Israeli military or by their putative civilian masters. A competent analysis would have included at least the following:

  • Natural increase has tipped Lebanon's demographic balance in favor of the Shia who now constitute at least 40% of the population. This cancellation of the Maronite supremacy eliminated the ideological raison d'être of the initial Republic of Lebanon
  • Rural to urban migration both from the South and the Beq 'aa created a poverty belt South of Beirut of which Dahia is a prime example. Within this poverty belt the following can be observed:
    • Large scale urbanisation.
    • Greater educational opportunity.
    • Occupational shift.
  • The same processes can be seen in Tyre which has grown by an order of magnitude over the past thirty years.
  • Thus not only has the demographic balance shifted in favour of the Shia but the nature of the Shi'a community itself is also shifting and the community is advancing economically.

The result of this is that while the new urbanised Shia community cannot yet match the power of the Maronite and the Sunni communities they will do so fairly soon and their further political ascendancy is inevitable.

(Part 2 'The Party of God' will be posted tomorrow. This posting is the only posting that will be made tonight)


Update: Fixed unbelievably silly typo giving wrong date for "Cedar Revolution" from 2004 and 2005. My sincere thanks to reader Sophia for pointing out the error.

Update: Fixed very silly typo in heading to "Casus Belli"

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