Nasrallah went on television today to declare his commitment to Siniora's seven-point plan and, in an expected yet still surprising reversal, express his support for deploying the Lebanese army along the border with Israel, which he described as "an honorable exit" that is a better alternative to foreign troops. But Nasrallah's reversal was drowned by the Israeli calls for all out war on Lebanon, with its military preparing for a full scale invasion of the country reminiscent of the 1982 invasion.
Nasrallah tried to intimidate and scare the Israelis, and he probably succeeded, to the extent that tens of thousands will now go after him. His defiance, I'm sure, was inspirational to many people with compounded hate for Israel and the United States-- hatred spurred on by the images of "precision-guided" killing of Lebanese women and children, who were rendered sub-human by this war.
Needless to say, I wasn't inspired when Nasrallah promised to turn "our dear south" into a "graveyard for invading Zionists". I do not wish for any part of Lebanon to be turned into a graveyard.
Focusing on what Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea called a "historic" decision by Hizbullah to cede control to the Lebanese army, it seems to have fallen on the deaf ears of Olmert and Bush. And it's not like Nasrallah didn't know that it would. Whatever compromise he made he knew would be meaningless in this war. That's why he didn't feel the need to discuss the disarmament of his militia, leaving it for another time-- perhaps when all Lebanese are caretakers or grave dwellers.
Fouad Siniora described his "creative" efforts as "fierce diplomatic battle." The battle pits Lebanon, the Arab league, and France against the United States and Israel. One side wants a timed Israeli withdrawal, followed by deployment of the Lebanese army and a beefed up version of UNIFIL under chapter 6 (source: Tarek Mitri, Acting foreign minister in an LBC interview). In return, Hizbullah would withdraw from the border area and its disarmament would be handled domestically at a later stage. Israel, backed by the US, refuses to withdraw its troops until a strong European force is on the ground.
Key sticking points include the timing of Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon and the mandate of a new international force for the south. The Lebanese favor expanding a U.N. peacekeeping operation to help the Lebanese army restore control over the south.
But Israel insists that a robust European-led multinational force with the authority to fight be sent to the region. It says that the 2,000-strong U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon is too weak to restrain Hezbollah.
Israel's insistence on a multinational force masks a determination to continue the war, and indeed the war cabinet has already given itself, possibly with US blessing, at least 30 more days to push further into Lebanon.
The US support for Israel masks another side of this conflict, which concerns Iran and Syria. The US wants to, once and for all, strip Iran and Syria of a powerful pressure card: Hizbullah, which has become a regional one stop shop for militants in the region, offering help and assistance to organizations such as Hamas, and it is said, some anti-US forces in Iraq. This intersection of US and Israeli interests means that, for the US, Israel cannot fail and should not stop its operations without dealing a considerable blow to Hizbullah, which Bush now blames for the region's woes. When Bush constantly puts destroying Hizbullah in the context of the war on terror-- reminding us constantly of terror's official sponsors, Iran and Syrian-- one should take that to mean that the US will not rest until Hizbullah ceases to be an Iranian and Syrian disturbance to the US global war on "terror".
That's where France and the US interests diverge. France does not want to place all its eggs in the US-Israeli basket, and does not want Lebanon becoming a surrogate battleground. France does, however, want to see Syrian and Iranian influence gone or reduced, but it will not gamble away Lebanon's viability as a state by giving Israel a greenlight to do whatever it wants. The Washington Post summed up the French position as follows:
France thinks that Prime Minister Fouad Siniora needs to have Lebanon's concerns taken into account to be able to persuade Hezbollah to cooperate and eventually disarm, French officials say. If Lebanon's proposals are not incorporated in some significant way, France fears the fragile Beirut government will break apart and throw Lebanon into political chaos, making a resolution far more difficult, the officials say.
This seemingly shared French and Arab League position is understandable, even if on some level, they both want to see an end to the Iranian and Syrian influence. For Israel in its wars doesn't just hit the so called enemy infrastructure, it also hits the host population regardless of whether they support the actions of that enemy or not. It's a pressure strategy that has backfired repeatedly in the past, and from which Israeli officials never draw lessons. Iraq and the Palestinian Authority are living examples of what can happen when the path of war is given precedence, and the floodgates of anger are flung open.
After my rather hopeful post yesterday, I couldn't get myself to return to a more pessimistic view. I am consoled by the uncertainty that is still in the air, although that uncertainty reminds me of that time when Israel drove me and my family out of Lebanon in 1982. Israel didn't stop its bombardment of Beirut until the Lebanese asked Arafat to leave their besieged city. I don't know if Israel thinks that Hizbullah can "leave". The only place for them to go is to that graveyard Nasrallah talked about, which they will share with Israeli soldiers, and hundreds if not thousands of Lebanese civilians.
Update (Thursday). Israel claims that it suspended a a 30-60 day operation to "significantly reduce" Hizbullah rocket fire to allow more time for a "diplomatic process." One wonders what they have been doing over the past 30 days.
During a recess, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who updated Olmert on the diplomatic developments, government sources said. She said the chances of the Security Council adopting a resolution calling for an end to the fighting were "not bad."
After speaking with Rice, Olmert called Peretz and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to his office, and the three agreed to give the diplomatic moves a chance before expanding the ground operation. Some ministers received the impression that Livni would not have supported the operation otherwise.
The cabinet authorized Olmert and Peretz to decide when to launch the operation. Government sources said that no "deadline" had been set, but the diplomatic effort would be given from "a few hours to a few days."
Olmert said that if diplomatic efforts do not achieve Israel's goals, "we must act resolutely, with a strong military force, even at the cost of human life. But if we can achieve our goals through diplomatic moves, it would be irresponsible not to do so."
Meanwhile, Israeli troops began a "limited" invasion of the country last night (LBC), bombed the old lighthouse in Manara in Beirut this morning, dropped leaflets over downtown Beirut, and bombed the Lebanese state radio in Amchit. The leaflets did not mention a "diplomatic process."
The Israel Defense Forces intend to expand their operations in Beirut...You must know that the expansion of Hezbollah terrorist operations will lead to a painful and strong response, and its painful results will not be confined to Hassan's gang and criminals.
Update 2. Olmert's choice:
The result of this whole mess is that an incursion deep into Lebanon will leave Israel with a choice between cholera and the plague, between sitting for a prolonged period in fortified positions in the killing fields around the Litani or abandoning the whole of Lebanon to the hands of the war coalition of Hezbollah-Syria-Iran. Olmert's problem was that, at this stage, after more than 100 dead and 3,000 missiles, the decision to refrain from a massive ground forces incursion was also not like the choice between a vacation in Tuscany or a trip to Provence. Its price tag included an agreement in principle to give up the Shaba Farms, which, even if they were formally handed over to Siniora, would be chalked up as a victory for Mr. Nasrallah. And if Olmert abides by his word "to do everything" to bring the abducted soldiers home, he will be forced to hand over Lebanese prisoners to Hezbollah.
Had he chosen this route, Peace Now, which has only now awakened from its summer slumber, would have cheered him on. But according to the latest Peace Index poll, the vast majority wants "victory" - no matter what the cost. Olmert from Kadima and Peretz from Labor have given them what they want.