Posts Tagged ‘Hizbollah’


An excellent intelligence assessment from Stratfor. 


I completely agree: If the world – and notably the Middle Eastern countries – wants to contain Iran, this is the way to go forward.




Rethinking American Options on Iran http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20100830_rethinking_american_options_iran

August 31, 2010 | 0856 GMT

By George Friedman

 Public discussion of potential attacks on Iran’s nuclear development sites is surging again. This has happened before. On several occasions, leaks about potential airstrikes have created an atmosphere of impending war. These leaks normally coincided with diplomatic initiatives and were designed to intimidate the Iranians and facilitate a settlement favorable to the United States and Israel. These initiatives have failed in the past. It is therefore reasonable to associate the current avalanche of reports with the imposition of sanctions and view it as an attempt to increase the pressure on Iran and either force a policy shift or take advantage of divisions within the regime.

My first instinct is to dismiss the war talk as simply another round of psychological warfare against Iran, this time originating with Israel. Most of the reports indicate that Israel is on the verge of attacking Iran. From a psychological-warfare standpoint, this sets up the good-cop/bad-cop routine. The Israelis play the mad dog barely restrained by the more sober Americans, who urge the Iranians through intermediaries to make concessions and head off a war. As I said, we have been here before several times, and this hasn’t worked.

The worst sin of intelligence is complacency, the belief that simply because something has happened (or has not happened) several times before it is not going to happen this time. But each episode must be considered carefully in its own light and preconceptions from previous episodes must be banished. Indeed, the previous episodes might well have been intended to lull the Iranians into complacency themselves. Paradoxically, the very existence of another round of war talk could be intended to convince the Iranians that war is distant while covert war preparations take place. An attack may be in the offing, but the public displays neither confirm nor deny that possibility.

The Evolving Iranian Assessment
STRATFOR has gone through three phases in its evaluation of the possibility of war. The first, which was in place until July 2009, held that while Iran was working toward a nuclear weapon, its progress could not be judged by its accumulation of enriched uranium. While that would give you an underground explosion, the creation of a weapon required sophisticated technologies for ruggedizing and miniaturizing the device, along with a very reliable delivery system. In our view, Iran might be nearing a testable device but it was far from a deliverable weapon <http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/nuclear_weapons_devices_and_deliverable_warheads?fn=1317026187> . Therefore, we dismissed war talk and argued that there was no meaningful pressure for an attack on Iran.

We modified this view somewhat in July 2009, after the Iranian elections and the demonstrations. While we dismissed the significance of the demonstrations, we noted close collaboration developing between Russia and Iran. That meant there could be no effective sanctions against Iran, so stalling for time in order for sanctions to work had no value. Therefore, the possibility of a strike increased.

But then Russian support stalled as well, and we turned back to our analysis, adding to it an evaluation of potential Iranian responses to any air attack. We noted three potential counters: activating Shiite militant groups (most notably Hezbollah), creating chaos in Iraq and blocking the Strait of Hormuz <http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20091004_iran_and_strait_hormuz_part_1_strategy_deterrence?fn=1717026185> , through which 45 percent of global oil exports travel. Of the three Iranian counters, the last was the real “nuclear option.” Interfering with the supply of oil from the Persian Gulf would raise oil prices stunningly and would certainly abort the tepid global economic recovery. Iran would have the option of plunging the world into a global recession or worse.

There has been debate over whether Iran would choose to do the latter or whether the U.S. Navy could rapidly clear mines <http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20091006_iran_and_strait_hormuz_part_3_psychology_naval_mines?fn=3417026171> . It is hard to imagine how an Iranian government could survive air attacks without countering them in some way. It is also a painful lesson of history that the confidence of any military force cannot be a guide to its performance. At the very least, there is a possibility that the Iranians could block the Strait of Hormuz, and that means the possibility of devastating global economic consequences. That is a massive risk for the United States to take, against an unknown probability of successful Iranian action. In our mind, it was not a risk that the United States could take, especially when added to the other Iranian counters. Therefore, we did not think the United States would strike.

Certainly, we did not believe that the Israelis would strike Iran alone. First, the Israelis are much less likely to succeed than the Americans would be, given the size of their force and their distance from Iran (not to mention the fact that they would have to traverse either Turkish, Iraqi or Saudi airspace). More important, Israel lacks the ability to mitigate any consequences. Any Israeli attack would have to be coordinated with the United States so that the United States could alert and deploy its counter-mine, anti-submarine and missile-suppression assets. For Israel to act without giving the United States time to mitigate the Hormuz option would put Israel in the position of triggering a global economic crisis. The political consequences of that would not be manageable by Israel. Therefore, we found an Israeli strike against Iran without U.S. involvement difficult to imagine.

The Current Evaluation
Our current view is that the accumulation of enough enriched uranium to build a weapon does not mean that the Iranians are anywhere close to having a weapon. Moreover, the risks inherent in an airstrike on its nuclear facilities outstrip the benefits (and even that assumes that the entire nuclear industry is destroyed in one fell swoop — an unsure outcome at best). It also assumes the absence of other necessary technologies. Assumptions of U.S. prowess against mines might be faulty, and so, too, could my assumption about weapon development. The calculus becomes murky, and one would expect all governments involved to be waffling.

There is, of course, a massive additional issue. Apart from the direct actions that Iran might make, there is the fact that the destruction of its nuclear capability would not solve the underlying strategic challenge that Iran poses. It has the largest military force in the Persian Gulf, absent the United States. The United States is in the process of withdrawing from Iraq, which would further diminish the ability of the United States to contain Iran. Therefore, a surgical strike on Iran’s nuclear capability combined with the continuing withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq would create a profound strategic crisis in the Persian Gulf.

The country most concerned about Iran is not Israel, but Saudi Arabia. The Saudis recall the result of the last strategic imbalance in the region, when Iraq, following its armistice with Iran, proceeded to invade Kuwait, opening the possibility that its next intention was to seize the northeastern oil fields of Saudi Arabia. In that case, the United States intervened. Given that the United States is now withdrawing from Iraq, intervention following withdrawal would be politically difficult unless the threat to the United States was clear. More important, the Iranians might not give the Saudis the present Saddam Hussein gave them by seizing Kuwait and then halting. They might continue. They certainly have the military capacity to try.

In a real sense, the Iranians would not have to execute such a military operation in order to gain the benefits. The simple imbalance of forces would compel the Saudis and others in the Persian Gulf to seek a political accommodation with the Iranians. Strategic domination of the Persian Gulf does not necessarily require military occupation — as the Americans have abundantly demonstrated over the past 40 years. It merely requires the ability to carry out those operations.

The Saudis, therefore, have been far quieter — and far more urgent — than the Israelis in asking the United States to do something about the Iranians. The Saudis certainly do not want the United States to leave Iraq. They want the Americans there as a blocking force protecting Saudi Arabia but not positioned on Saudi soil. They obviously are not happy about Iran’s nuclear efforts, but the Saudis see the conventional and nuclear threat as a single entity. The collapse of the Iran-Iraq balance of power has left the Arabian Peninsula in a precarious position.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia did an interesting thing a few weeks ago. He visited Lebanon personally and in the company of the president of Syria. The Syrian and Saudi regimes are not normally friendly, given different ideologies, Syria’s close relationship with Iran and their divergent interests in Lebanon. But there they were together, meeting with the Lebanese government and giving not very subtle warnings to Hezbollah <http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20100827_lebanon_syrias_plan_preempt_iran_and_hezbollah?fn=8617026155> . Saudi influence and money and the threat of Iran jeopardizing the Saudi regime by excessive adventurism seems to have created an anti-Hezbollah dynamic in Lebanon. Hezbollah is suddenly finding many of its supposed allies cooperating with some of its certain enemies. The threat of a Hezbollah response to an airstrike on Iran seems to be mitigated somewhat.

Eliminating Iranian Leverage In Hormuz
I said that there were three counters. One was Hezbollah, which is the least potent of the three from the American perspective. The other two are Iraq and Hormuz. If the Iraqis were able to form a government that boxed in pro-Iranian factions in a manner similar to how Hezbollah is being tentatively contained, then the second Iranian counter would be weakened. That would “just” leave the major issue — Hormuz.

The problem with Hormuz is that the United States cannot tolerate any risk there. The only way to control that risk is to destroy Iranian naval capability before airstrikes on nuclear targets take place. Since many of the Iranian mine layers would be small boats, this would mean an extensive air campaign and special operations forces raids against Iranian ports designed to destroy anything that could lay mines, along with any and all potential mine-storage facilities, anti-ship missile emplacements, submarines and aircraft. Put simply, any piece of infrastructure within a few miles of any port would need to be eliminated. The risk to Hormuz cannot be eliminated after the attack on nuclear sites. It must be eliminated before an attack on the nuclear sites. And the damage must be overwhelming.

There are two benefits to this strategy. First, the nuclear facilities aren’t going anywhere. It is the facilities that are producing the enriched uranium and other parts of the weapon that must be destroyed more than any uranium that has already been enriched. And the vast bulk of those facilities will remain where they are even if there is an attack on Iran’s maritime capabilities. Key personnel would undoubtedly escape, but considering that within minutes of the first American strike anywhere in Iran a mass evacuation of key scientists would be under way anyway, there is little appreciable difference between a first strike against nuclear sites and a first strike against maritime targets. (U.S. air assets are good, but even the United States cannot strike 100-plus targets simultaneously.)

Second, the counter-nuclear strategy wouldn’t deal with the more fundamental problem of Iran’s conventional military power. This opening gambit would necessarily attack Iran’s command-and-control, air-defense and offensive air capabilities as well as maritime capabilities. This would sequence with an attack on the nuclear capabilities and could be extended into a prolonged air campaign targeting Iran’s ground forces.

The United States is very good at gaining command of the air and attacking conventional military capabilities (see Yugoslavia in 1999). Its strategic air capability is massive and, unlike most of the U.S. military, underutilized. The United States also has substantial air forces deployed around Iran, along with special operations forces teams trained in penetration, evasion and targeting, and satellite surveillance. Far from the less-than-rewarding task of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, going after Iran would be the kind of war the United States excels at fighting. No conventional land invasion, no boots-on-the-ground occupation, just a very thorough bombing campaign. If regime change happens as a consequence, great, but that is not the primary goal. Defanging the Iranian state is.

It is also the only type of operation that could destroy the nuclear capabilities (and then some) while preventing an Iranian response. It would devastate Iran’s conventional military forces, eliminating the near-term threat to the Arabian Peninsula. Such an attack, properly executed, would be the worst-case scenario for Iran and, in my view, the only way an extended air campaign against nuclear facilities could be safely executed.

Just as Iran’s domination of the Persian Gulf rests on its ability to conduct military operations, not on its actually conducting the operations, the reverse is also true. It is the capacity and apparent will to conduct broadened military operations against Iran that can shape Iranian calculations and decision-making. So long as the only threat is to Iran’s nuclear facilities, its conventional forces remain intact and its counter options remain viable, Iran will not shift its strategy. Once its counter options are shut down and its conventional forces are put at risk, Iran must draw up another calculus.

In this scenario, Israel is a marginal player. The United States is the only significant actor, and it might not strike Iran simply over the nuclear issue. That’s not a major U.S. problem. But the continuing withdrawal from Iraq and Iran’s conventional forces are very much an American problem. Destroying Iran’s nuclear capability is merely an added benefit.

Given the Saudi intervention in Lebanese politics, this scenario now requires a radical change in Iraq, one in which a government would be quickly formed and Iranian influence quickly curtailed. Interestingly, we have heard recent comments by administration officials asserting that Iranian influence has, in fact, been dramatically reduced. At present, such a reduction is not obvious to us, but the first step of shifting perceptions tends to be propaganda. If such a reduction became real, then the two lesser Iranian counter moves would be blocked and the U.S. offensive option would become more viable.

Internal Tension in Tehran
At this point, we would expect to see the Iranians recalculating their position, with some of the clerical leadership using the shifting sands of Lebanon against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Indeed, there have been many indications of internal stress, not between the mythical democratic masses and the elite, but within the elite itself. This past weekend the Iranian speaker of the house attacked Ahmadinejad’s handling of special emissaries. For what purpose we don’t yet know, but the internal tension is growing.

The Iranians are not concerned about the sanctions. The destruction of their nuclear capacity would, from their point of view, be a pity. But the destruction of large amounts of their conventional forces would threaten not only their goals in the wider Islamic world but also their stability at home. That would be unacceptable and would require a shift in their general strategy.

From the Iranian point of view — and from ours — Washington’s intentions are opaque. But when we consider the Obama administration’s stated need to withdraw from Iraq, Saudi pressure on the United States not to withdraw while Iran remains a threat, Saudi moves against Hezbollah to split Syria from Iran and Israeli pressure on the United States to deal with nuclear weapons, the pieces for a new American strategy are emerging from the mist. Certainly the Iranians appear to be nervous. And the threat of a new strategy might just be enough to move the Iranians off dead center. If they don’t, logic would dictate the consideration of a broader treatment of the military problem posed by Iran.

Rethinking American Options on Iran  is republished with permission of STRATFOR.”

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Egypt intercepts shipment of 190 anti-aircraft missiles
By JPOST.COM STAFF
28/08/2010
Authorities uncover large weapons cache hidden in Sinai, reportedly destined for smuggling into Gaza; more ammunition and explosives seized in Rafah.
Egyptian authorities intercepted a shipment of at least 190 anti-aircraft missiles in Sinai probably destined for Gaza on Saturday, Palestinian news Agency Maan reported.

According to the report, the Egyptian police raided several storage areas in the area and discovered the secret cache hidden in a remote region in the center of the peninsula.

RELATED:
IAF targets smuggling tunnels in Gaza
Hamas reopens smuggling tunnels

In addition to the anti-aircraft missiles, rockets and other ammunition were seized, as well as a large supply of illegal drugs.

Reports also stated that authorities raided several locations in Rafah, where they found more stores of explosives and weapons.

Earlier on Saturday Kuwaiti newspaper Alrai reported that Syria’s military is on high alert for an Israeli attack on Hizbullah weapons depots located in the country.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a tough blockade of Gaza since Hamas seized power in June 2007, and the hundreds of tunnels in the Rafah area are the main entry point for many basic items, as well as weapons.

The Gaza-Egypt border sits at the northeastern tip of Sinai.

At the beginning of August, the Israeli Air Force struck a tunnel used to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip as a retaliation for a Kassam rocket fired into Israel which struck near Sderot.

Egypt intercepts shipment of 190 anti-aircraft missiles


Guest Post: 
Clash On Israel-Lebanon Border Holds Potential For Strategic Escalation

Submitted by Yossef Bodansky for www.oilprice.com


The August 3, 2010, armed clash along the Israeli-Lebanese border was a significant strategic incident.

On Thursday, July 29, 2010, Israel notified UNIFIL that a few Israeli soldiers would be crossing the security fence in order to cut a tree and remove a few shrubs in Israeli territory but near the Blue Line (the actual border between Israel and Lebanon). This foliage blocks the view of Israeli security cameras positioned deep inside Israel. Israel also notified UNIFIL that these soldiers would be escorted by a small patrol which would stay south of the security fence.

The Israeli notification was in accordance with UNSC resolution 1701. UNIFIL then informed the nearby positions of the Lebanese Armed Forces about the planned Israeli activities in order to ensure that there was no misunderstanding. The Lebanese Army notified the local HizbAllah force.

Significantly, the Lebanese Army unit deployed along the border with Israel is the 9th Division, whose commanders and troops are Shi’ites and recruited from the same manpower pool as the HizbAllah.

Around 10:30am on August 3, 2010, about 10 Israeli soldiers with saws crossed the gate in the security fence on foot. This detachment was covered by an Israeli patrol which included a few tanks, armored vehicles, and a command vehicle. As UNIFIL had been informed, the patrol stayed 200-300 meters south of the fence.

When the soldiers approached the tree, they were attacked by small arms automatic fire from both the Lebanese Army’s position just across the border and “civilians” (HizbAllah fighters) in the nearby village of Adissyeh.

Immediately, a few Israeli commanders ran from the command vehicle toward the fence to see what was happening. Snipers hiding in the bush adjacent to the Lebanese Army position fired on them, killing the Israeli battalion commander (a lieutenant-colonel) and critically wounding the company commander (a captain). The sniper fire came from a professional ambush that had been organized on the basis of the advance warning provided by UNIFIL.

Meanwhile, the shooting at the Israeli soldiers north of the fence intensified. Israeli forces opened small-arms and mortar fire on the sources of fire in the Lebanese Army position and in a couple of unfinished houses in Adissyeh. Two Israeli tanks and an armored personnel carrier moved forward toward the fence in order to evacuate the stranded soldiers. At this point a UNIFIL patrol arrived on the scene and the UN officers urged both sides to ceasefire. The firing stopped a few minutes later.

Escorted by the UN patrol, the two Israeli tanks and the armored personnel carrier continued to advance toward the gate in the fence in order to evacuate the soldiers. Suddenly an anti-tank missile was fired from either the Lebanese Army position or the bush immediately near it. The missile barely missed the UNIFIL vehicle and the tanks. The Israeli tanks opened fire on the missile launcher.

Major activity followed. Intense fire — small arms, heavy machineguns, mortars, and RPGs — was opened from both several Lebanese Army positions as well as HizbAllah positions in Adissyeh. Israel rushed additional tanks and artillery to the area and started bombarding all Lebanese positions. One or two Katyusha rockets were launched toward Israel, impacted in open space and caused no damage.

A pair of Israeli combat helicopters arrived on the scene. They attacked the main Lebanese Army position near Adissyeh, and subsequently the Lebanese Army battalion headquarters in the village of Al-Taybeh. The helicopters also attacked and destroyed several Lebanese Army armored vehicles which were parked near the headquarters. Three Lebanese soldiers and a journalist (from the pro-HizbAllah newspaper Al-Akhbar) who was with the troops in Al-Taybeh were killed. Another soldier was killed in the position near Adissyeh. A total of five to six soldiers were wounded. There is no reliable information about HizbAllah casualties.

The fire subsided after little over two and a half hours.

This was a very serious incident for two reasons:

1. The incident started as a pre-planned pre-meditated provocation against the Israeli patrol on the basis of information provided via UNIFIL. The mere invitation by the Army of the Al-Akhbar correspondent to cover the clash suggests that this was a pre-planned incident. The incident was conducted jointly by Lebanese Army forces and HizbAllah forces, proving that the close cooperation which HizbAllah leader Hassan Nasrallah had boasted about repeatedly is indeed working (at least with the Army’s Shi’ite units such as the 9th Division).

2. Earlier, on Monday, August 2, 2010, HizbAllah and Iranian media warned that the Israeli cabinet had considered “the prospects of an upcoming war on the Lebanese, Syrian and Gaza fronts in anticipation of tensions on the Lebanese domestic scene” because of the impending indictment of senior HizbAllah officials by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). The HizbAllah, Syria, and Iran are calling on all Lebanese to ignore the STL and instead rally and close ranks behind the “Resistance” in order to confront the Israeli threat. Under these circumstances, the incident on the Israeli-Lebanese border should be considered a made-to-order “proof” of the HizbAllah and Iranian warnings.

Indeed, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman denounced the fighting and urged the Army and all Lebanese to “stand up to Israel’s violation of Resolution 1701, whatever the price”. According to the Syrian Arab News Agency, Syrian Pres. Bashar al-Assad stated that the “Israeli attack proves once again that Israel is constantly working to destabilize security in Lebanon and the region. Syria stresses that it is standing by its sister Lebanon in the face of the criminal Israeli aggression and calls on the UN to condemn and stop this aggression.”

However, the main event in the aftermath of the clash is an anticipated major speech by Hassan Nasrallah. The speech was scheduled for 20:30 on August 3, 2010 (Lebanon time), but its exact time was being constantly changed. Senior HizbAllah officials predict that Nasrallah’s speech “will mark a turning point” for Lebanon and the entire Middle East. They explained that Nasrallah would “focus on the national and Islamic dimension of the July [2006] war” and its implications for the current situation in the entire region. Nasrallah’s speech, the Senior HizbAllah officials stress, “will mainly be devoted to talk about the meaning of victory against Israel” in both past wars and in the historic confrontation still to come.

Given the above, the August 2, 2010, rocket firing from southern Sinai of Aqaba, Eilat, and a base of the US-led Multinational Force & Observers Organization in Sinai might also be part of this kind of made-to-order “proof” of Israeli aggression. Significantly, the six 122mm GRAD rockets fired from Sinai were made in Iran or North Korea, strongly suggesting that the perpetrators were Iran-sponsored main group rather than a Palestinian fringe entity.

Source: http://oilprice.com/Geo-Politics/Middle-East/Clash-on-Israel-Lebanon-Border-Holds-Potential-for-Strategic-Escalation.html

by Yossef Bodansky for OilPrice.com who offer detailed analysis on Oil, alternative Energy, Commodities, Finance and Geopolitics. They also provide free Geopolitical intelligence to help investors gain a greater understanding of world events and the impact they have on certain regions and sectors. Visit: http://www.oilprice.com

View article…



The Israeli-Lebanese border is exceptionally calm and uniquely dangerous, both for the same reason: fear that a new round of hostilities would be far more violent and could spill over regionally.

Drums of War: Israel and the “Axis of Resistance”, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines developments since the indecisive 2006 confrontation. It focuses on the de facto deterrence regime that has helped keep the peace: all parties now know that a next conflict would not spare civilians and could escalate into broader regional warfare. However, the process this regime perpetuates mutually reinforcing military preparations; enhanced military cooperation among Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hizbollah; escalating Israeli threats – pulls in the opposite direction and could trigger the very outcome it has averted so far.

Drums of War: Israel and the “Axis of Resistance”

Beirut/Jerusalem/Damascus/Washington/Brussels

MENA Report Nº972 Aug 2010
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Of all the explanations why calm has prevailed in the Israeli-Lebanese arena since the end of the 2006 war, the principal one also should be cause for greatest concern: fear among the parties that the next confrontation would be far more devastating and broader in scope. None of the most directly relevant actors – Israel, Hizbollah, Syria and Iran – relishes this prospect, so all, for now, are intent on keeping their powder dry. But the political roots of the crisis remain unaddressed, the underlying dynamics are still explosive, and miscalculations cannot be ruled out. The only truly effective approach is one that would seek to resume – and conclude – meaningful Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese peace talks. There is no other answer to the Hizbollah dilemma and, for now, few better ways to affect Tehran’s calculations. Short of such an initiative, deeper political involvement by the international community is needed to enhance communications between the parties, defuse tensions and avoid costly missteps.
Four years after the last war, the situation in the Levant is paradoxical. It is exceptionally quiet and uniquely dangerous, both for the same reason. The build-up in military forces and threats of an all-out war that would spare neither civilians nor civilian infrastructure, together with the worrisome prospect of its regionalisation, are effectively deterring all sides. Today, none of the parties can soberly contemplate the prospect of a conflict that would be uncontrolled, unprecedented and unscripted.
Should hostilities break out, Israel will want to hit hard and fast to avoid duplicating the 2006 scenario. It will be less likely than in the past to distinguish between Hizbollah and a Lebanese government of which the Shiite movement is an integral part and more likely to take aim at Syria – both because it is the more vulnerable target and because it is Hizbollah’s principal supplier of military and logistical support. Meanwhile, as tensions have risen, the so-called “axis of resistance” – Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hizbollah – has been busy intensifying security ties. Involvement by one in the event of attack against another no longer can be dismissed as idle speculation.
Other restraining elements are at play. UN Security Council Resolution 1701 led to a thickening of the Lebanese and international armed presence in southern Lebanon after the 2006 war, which has constrained Hizbollah’s freedom of action while simultaneously putting the brakes on any potential Israeli military ambition. Even as both sides routinely criticise and violate the resolution – which concurrently called for the end of arms transfers to Lebanon’s non-governmental forces, disarmament of its armed groups and full respect for the country’s sovereignty – they continue to value the framework defined by it as an integral component of the status quo.
Hizbollah’s enhanced political status in Lebanon is an additional inhibiting factor, discouraging it from initiatives that could imperil those gains. Israel’s current government – its reputation notwithstanding – appears less inclined at this point to take the risk twice taken by its more centrist predecessor of initiating hostilities, seeking to prove it can maintain stability and worried about a more hostile international environment. Despite voicing alarm at Hizbollah’s military growth, it has displayed restraint. U.S. President Barack Obama, likewise, far from the one-time dream of a new Middle East harboured by his predecessor, has no appetite for a conflagration that would jeopardise his peace efforts and attempts to restore U.S. credibility in the region. All of which explains why the border area has witnessed fewer violent incidents than at any time in decades.
But that is only the better half of the story. Beneath the surface, tensions are mounting with no obvious safety valve. The deterrence regime has helped keep the peace, but the process it perpetuates – mutually reinforcing military preparations; Hizbollah’s growing and more sophisticated arsenal; escalating Israeli threats – pulls in the opposite direction and could trigger the very outcome it has averted so far. If Israel would not like a war, it does not like what it is seeing either.

It is not clear what would constitute a red line whose crossing by the Shiite movement would prompt Israeli military action, but that lack of clarity provides additional cause for anxiety. Unlike in the 1990s, when the Israel-Lebanon Monitoring Group, operating with U.S., French and Syrian participation, ensured some form of inter-party contacts and minimal adherence to agreed rules of the game, and when Washington and Damascus were involved in intensive dialogue, today there is no effective forum for communication and thus ample room for misunderstanding and misperception.

Meanwhile, an underground war of espionage and assassinations has been raging, for now a substitute for more open confrontation. The parties might not want a full-scale shooting war, but under these circumstances one or the other could provoke an unwanted one. Further contributing to a sense of paralysis has been lack of movement on any 1701-related file, from the seemingly easiest – Israel’s withdrawal from the northern (Lebanese) part of the village of Ghajar – to the most complex, including policing the Lebanese-Syrian border, resolving the status of Shebaa Farms, disarming Hizbollah and ending Israeli over-flights. Such paralysis feeds scepticism that anything can be achieved and, over time, could wear down the commitment of contributors to the UN peacekeeping force (UNIFIL).
The key to unlocking this situation is – without neglecting the central Israeli-Palestinian track – to resume meaningful negotiations between Israel on the one hand and Syria and Lebanon on the other. This is the only realistic way to shift underlying dynamics and, in particular, affect Syria’s calculations. Without that, Damascus will continue to transfer weapons to Hizbollah, the Shiite movement will successfully resist pressure to disarm and Israel will keep on violating Lebanon’s sovereignty.
There is scant reason for optimism on the peace front, however. That means little can be achieved, not that nothing can be done. The most urgent tasks are to restore momentum on 1701 by focusing on the most realistic goals and to establish consultative mechanisms to defuse tensions, clarify red lines and minimise risks of an accidental confrontation. Better channels of communication would help. At present, the U.S. is talking mainly to one side (Israel), keeping another at arm’s length (Syria), ignoring a third (Hizbollah) and confronting the fourth (Iran). The UN might not have that problem, but it has others. It has too many overlapping and uncoordinated missions and offices dealing with Lebanon and the peace process and thus lacks policy coherence. One option would be to empower its mission in Lebanon so that it can play a more effective political role.

Nobody should be under the illusion that solving Ghajar, beefing up the UN’s role or even finding new, creative means of communication between Israel, Syria and, indirectly, Hizbollah, would make a lasting or decisive difference. They undoubtedly would help. But Lebanon’s crises for the most part are derivative of broader regional tensions; until serious efforts are mounted to resolve the latter, the former will persist. In the meantime, the world should cross its fingers that fear of a catastrophic conflict will continue to be reason enough for the parties not to provoke one.

RECOMMENDATIONS
To the U.S. Government:
1. Intensify efforts, including at the presidential level, to re-launch Israeli-Syrian and, as a consequence, Israeli-Lebanese peace negotiations in parallel to Israeli-Palestinian talks, persuading Prime Minister Netanyahu to reiterate the commitment made by past Israeli leaders to a full withdrawal to the lines of 1967 assuming all other Israeli needs are met.
2. Initiate a high-level and sustained dialogue with Syria aimed at defining both a clear and credible pathway toward improved bilateral relations and a compelling regional role for Damascus in the aftermath of a peace agreement.
3. Press, in the context of resumed peace talks, Syria to halt weapons transfers to Hizbollah and Israel to cease actions in violation of Lebanese sovereignty.
To the UN Security Council:
4. Ask the Secretary-General to review the various missions and offices dealing with Lebanon and the Middle East peace process, with the aim of developing a more coherent and comprehensive policy and enhancing coordination among them.
To the UN Secretariat:
5. Consider, in the interim, consolidating implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701 in the office of the Special Coordinator (UNSCOL), with a view to more effective engagement with the various parties.
To the UN and the Governments of Israel and Lebanon:
6. Revive momentum toward implementation of Resolution 1701, focusing on the most immediately achievable goals, by:
a) pursuing discussions toward resolution of the status of Ghajar, under which Israel would withdraw from the northern (Lebanese) part, and UNIFIL would assume control, with a Lebanese army presence; and
b) using such discussions to initiate talks on conditions necessary for attaining a formal ceasefire.
To UNIFIL troop contributing countries, particularly those in Europe:
7. Reaffirm commitments to maintain the current level of troop contributions.
8. Pursue a policy of active patrolling, in order to prevent any overt Hizbollah presence in its area of responsibility, while conducting outreach efforts to the civilian population.
9. Investigate, publicly condemn and take appropriate action against flagrant violations of Resolution 1701, particularly attempts to resupply Hizbollah and Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty.


To the UN and the Governments of the U.S., France, Turkey, Israel, Syria and Lebanon:
10. Consider establishing a Contact Group or, alternatively, more informal consultative mechanisms, to discuss implementation of Resolution 1701 and address potential flashpoints, focusing on:
a) a commitment by relevant parties to refrain from provocative statements and actions;
b) an end to implicit or explicit threats to harm civilians or damage civilian infrastructure in any future war;
c) a halt to targeted assassinations; and
d) immediate intervention in the event of a violent incident so as to de-escalate the crisis.
To the Government of Lebanon and Hizbollah:
11. Make every effort to discourage and prevent hostile action by the civilian population against UN personnel and property.
To the Government of Lebanon:
12. Substantially increase the number of troops deployed in the South and provide them with enhanced training and equipment.

Beirut/Jerusalem/Damascus/Washington/Brussels, 2 August 2010





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