Friday, July 21, 2006

Conflicting but intentional signals

July 19 2006

ISRAEL is sending conflicting signals about its intentions in Palestine and Hizbollah, but it should not be confusing at all to anyone. Military sources talking about ending the offensive in Lebanon by end of this week as well as reports preparations for a long drawn-out conflict are all deliberately placed with a view to allowing Israel to achieve its objective of demolishing organised resistance to its designs.
The ambiguity about whether US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would travel to the region win order to help find a solution to the crises in Palestine and Lebanon also also seems to be deliberate.
One thing is clear: Israel does not have any plans to reoccupy the Gaza Strip or to set up a military presence in Lebanese territory. On both counts, Israel would be the loser. For many years, successive Israeli government had found it difficult to continue to occupy the Gaza Strip and had wanted to get rid of the territory from its control because of the high cost — in all aspects — of the coastal strip. Having withdrawn from Gaza last year, the Israeli army does not want to do anything with controlling the territory from within.
Similarly, Israel would not want to return to the status quo that prevailed before its withdrawal from south Lebanon in 1999 in the face of fierce and effective resistance from Hizbollah.
Given these realities, Israel's objective is to apply as much pressure as possible with a view to cornering Hizbollah, both politically and militarily, and forcing it to release the two captive Israeli soldiers. The same applies to the Palestinian Hamas group.
However, neither Hizbollah nor Hamas is willing to allow that to happen because they are aware that the outcome of the present conflicts would determine the course of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is particularly so in the case of Lebanon. A perceived triumph for Hizbollah — Israel agreeing to negotiate a prisoner exchange — would boost Hamas and other Palestinian groups waging armed resistance in Palestine, and this would mean a hardening of positions in any future scenario.
On the other hand, Hizbollah succumbing to Israeli and Western pressure would weaken Palestinian resistance, and that is what the Jewish state is aiming for at this point in time.
Against the backdrop of the declared and perceived objectives of the Israeli offensives in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, the civilians are paying a high price in both areas.
The international community — as represented by world governments —  is more preoccupied, quite understandably so from an external vantage point, with getting their people out of harm's way in Lebanon than giving prioritty to saving the civilians caught in the crossfire.
All justifications and explanations apart, it is as if the world has given a free hand for Israel to deal with the situation the way it finds fit, and its way is through gunbarrels and missile launchers.
Hizbollah and Hamas — plus of course Syria and Iran — are blamed for provoking the Israelis into military action. That might indeed be a just argument, but that is only a side view. Something had to happen in order to break the stalemate in the Middle East after Hamas came to power through the Palestinian ballot box early this year, and that is what has happened. The free world, which has little option to do what it should be doing in the face of the protective umbrella over Israel, could not be blamed for taking a ringside seat and watching the developments that have followed and are still to come. But the Arab World cannot do that. The Arabs have to take decisive action in order to ensure that the outcome of the ongoing crises would be tailored to suit Israeli interests and would instead lead to a collective international awakening to the reality that enough is enough in the Middle East. The crises may be resolved with short-term agreements — such as a stabilisation force in Lebanon — but that should not be an end in itself. Serious and determined action should be undertaken that would do away with any reason for similar crises to reoccur. The way to that goal is only through a just and fair Arab-Israeli peace agreement. The Arabs, with help from friendly countries, should work towards pressuring the world not only to take first steps on the long way but also to ensure that the international community remains with them all along. The present crises offers an opportunity to do so.