Saturday, July 29, 2006

Alliance at stake?

Alliance at stake
or business as usual?
June 28 2006

ONE of the Israeli analyses of the ongoing offensive against Lebanon is that the US is disappointed that the Israeli armed forces did not live up to Washington's expectations that Hizbollah would be decimated in a matter of days.
This assumption, favoured by many so-called Israeli nationalists, has led to a warning to the Israeli leadership that they should not place Israeli interests at stake by seeking to realise the American objective.
The US hope, at the outset of the Israeli offensive, was that the structure of Hizbollah would be demolished and the group's leadership eliminated in a few days and this would have offered Washington a major victory in its drive to remove the Lebanese Shiites as a potential threat in the eventuality of a US-Iranian confrontation.
The so-called Israeli nationalists are suggesting that the US could help Israel win the conflict by landing American soldiers in north Lebanon and thus catching Hizbollah in a trap in central Lebanon, with the Israelis pushing the way from the south.
However, "this is not on the cards for the simple reason that America is willing to fight in Lebanon to the last Israeli soldier, just as Iran is ready to fight to the last Hizballah combatant," reads the "nationalist" analysis. The propagators of the theory warn that "Israel must beware of being hustled into taking imprudent steps by the proxy contest between the Washington and Tehran. Israel and its armed forces must pursue their own national agenda...."
Well, this posture is indeed befiting for the US, which invaded Iraq mainly upon Israeli insistence and has already lost more than 2,500 American soliders in the insurgency there.
US Secretary of State Condaleezza Rice, according to reports, left the Middle East this week after expressing her displeasure, in talks with Israeli leaders, that the Israeli military was doing badly in the assault against Hizbollah. It is believed that she had served an "ultimatum" to Israel to "finish off the job" before July 30, so that she could come back in the first week of August to continue efforts to build a "robust" multinational force to be deployed on the Lebanese-Israeli border authorised to use force to disarm Hizbollah.
However, it does not look as easy as that.
After two weeks of the brutal offensive, Israel does not have much to show (except of course the massive destruction of Lebanon's infrastructure and the untold suffering of the people of Lebanon). Some 80 Hizbollah fighters have been killed and dozens wounded and a few small arms and ammunition dumps were discovered and neutralised. So far the Israeli army could cripple only two multiple rocket launchers and one single barrel rocket launcher belonging to Hizbollah, which is believed to have a fighting force of at least 4,000.
It definitely promises to be a long, ardous and sustained campaign that Israel is facing in its push to demolish Hizbollah.
It is not as if the Israelis are not trying, but they face tactical difficulties in facing Hizbollah, which is fighting on two parallel tracks: Firing rockets at Israeli towns and using guerrilla war tactics and picking their own time to engage Israeli soliders combing southern Lebanon for underground bunkers and other concealed guerrilla bases.
It is clear that Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is determined to battle it out: He is retaining his option of firing rockets at Israeli towns and enlarge the range of the attacks whenever he fits fit until he scores a victory — an offer of compromise from Israel — or is eliminated.
This situation has caught Israel in a dilemma. It is largely aware that would not be able to meet the reported American deadline to bring the offensive to a successful conclusion, and also that if it does engage itself in an intensified effort then it would have to take much higher casualities than now. That would mean growing internal criticism that Israel was dumb enough to be trapped into waging an American war at the expense of Israeli lives (never mind that the US is waging an Israeli war in Iraq at the expense of American lives).
It is an interesting situation, and the region is watching closely to see whether Israel would live true to its "strategic alliance" with the US by risking high casualties or let the US do the job itself. Either way, it is a safe assumption that the shape of the US-Israeli alliance is placed at stake in the bargain. Then again, conventional wisdom based on the track record of the US-Israeli relationship also suggests that Washington might not get a chance to have its way with the Jewish state.