The Terrible Ifs Accumulate
The Washington Post writes:
Israel, with U.S. support, intends to resist calls for a cease-fire and continue a longer-term strategy of punishing Hezbollah, which is likely to include several weeks of precision bombing in Lebanon, according to senior Israeli and U.S. officials. For Israel, the goal is to eliminate Hezbollah as a security threat -- or altogether, the sources said. A senior Israeli official confirmed that Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah is a target, on the calculation that the Shiite movement would be far less dynamic without him.
For the United States, the broader goal is to strangle the axis of Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and Iran, which the Bush administration believes is pooling resources to change the strategic playing field in the Middle East, U.S. officials say. Whatever the outrage on the Arab streets, Washington believes it has strong behind-the-scenes support among key Arab leaders also nervous about the populist militants -- with a tacit agreement that the timing is right to strike. "What is out there is concern among conservative Arab allies that there is a hegemonic Persian threat [running] through Damascus, through the southern suburbs of Beirut and to the Palestinians in Hamas," said a senior U.S. official who requested anonymity because of sensitive diplomacy. "Regional leaders want to find a way to navigate unease on their streets and deal with the strategic threats to take down Hezbollah and Hamas, to come out of the crisis where they are not as ascendant." ...
"It seems like we will go to the end now," said Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon. "We will not go part way and be held hostage again. We'll have to go for the kill -- Hezbollah neutralization."
These goals are consistent with the military activity being reported, which resembles an air/sea campaign designed to degrade enemy assets in preparation for a large ground attack. Not just a raid, but an attack far larger in scope. The preparatory phase may take several days or even weeks, opening a window in which a negotiated peace is still possible. The crazy thing about recent days is that the historical analogue that comes most readily to mind is not a relatively modern conflict like the Cold War, Vietnam or World War 2 but the Great War. "Some damned fool thing in the Balkans". "The terrible ifs accumulate". "The lamps are going out all over Europe". The most dreadful thing about the current crisis is the sheer sense of inevitability about it; its terrible momentum, as if tinder long accumulated on the ground was irresistibly catching fire. Paul Sheehan, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, is almost out of hope.
When historians narrate the beginnings of the third global war, a war already under way with more than 200,000 killed, they may choose the moment on October 12, 2000, when a small fishing skiff sailed up to an American destroyer, the USS Cole, at anchor off Aden harbour in Yemen. ... War and murder have been carried out in the name of Allah in Thailand, Bali, Sumatra, the Philippines, Nigeria, Algeria, Somalia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Gaza, the West Bank, Egypt, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Pakistan, India, Bosnia, Albania, Kenya, Tanzania, France, the Netherlands, Britain, Spain, Denmark, Russia, the United States and Sudan, where mass murder and mass rape have been the tools of cultural war. ... Most disturbingly, jihad is being driven by three separate, distinct and often competing strands of Islam: Sunni, financed by the oil-powered Wahabist fundamentalists of Saudi Arabia, and dominated by the ideology of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden; Shiite, an extension of the theocracy of Iran, and highly active in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories; and Pakistani Muslim nationalism, the wellspring of jihad in Kashmir, support for the Taliban, and terrorist attacks in India and Britain, with its large Pakistani emigre community.
If Sheehan is right, then the Global War on Terror would have failed. A focused attack on extremism will have been supplanted by an uncontrolled clash between peoples, religions and cultures. But we are not there yet. There's still a chance, and the rulers of the Middle East are hoping that this thing can be pulled back from the brink and the fires focused on Hezbollah, then possibly on a narrow coterie in Teheran. But if that way forward fails, a large part of the blame will historically fall on those who forced the West to fight the war against terrorists with politically correct half-measures. Who created the dinky rules which made it impossible to excise abominations like Hezbollah and Hamas. Or even to question them. And perhaps made it even necessary to fund them. Their good intentions or fecklessness have made the terrible alternative that stares us in the face likely. Let us only hope that they have not made it inevitable.