The Khaleej Times reports (emphasis mine) something that is interesting not so much for what has happened as what has not -- at least yet:
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Thousands of Iraqis demonstrated in Baghdad on Friday praising the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group and denouncing Israel and the United States for attacks against Lebanon. Some protesters said they were ready to fight the Israelis. ...
In the Shiite holy city of Karbala, Sheik Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalai, representative of Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani said” we condemn the Zionist terrorist offensive against Lebanon that targeted the infrastructure of this country, while Hezbollah hasn’t targeted the infrastructure of the Zionists. They targeted military facilities.” In the southern holy city of Kufa, Sheik Asaad al-Nassiri, an aide to radical, anti-US cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, said “we condemn and denounce the crimes of the Zionist enemy committed against our Lebanese people.”
Demonstrations are such an atypical form of expression, especially for the forces of Muqtada al-Sadr, that one wonders whether this isn't a political rather than an operational statement done on orders from Iran. For example, compare Sadr's statement to that of the Vatican's (shown below). By Sadr's bloodcurdling standards, they are a model of diplomatic tact.
With Pope Benedict XVI on vacation in the Italian Alps, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, read a public statement on Vatican Radio. That statement was released promptly by the Vatican press office on July 14.
Cardinal Sodano said that the Holy Father was carefully following news of the latest developments in the Middle East, "which risk degenerating into a conflict with international repercussions."
"As in the past, the Holy See also condemns both the terrorist attacks on the one side and the military reprisals on the other," he continued." He argued that Israel's right to self-defense "does not exempt it from respecting the norms of international law, especially as regards the protection of civilian populations."
"In particular," the statement continued, "the Holy See deplores the attack on Lebanon, a free and sovereign nation."
Sadr is on his best behavior on this issue so far.
Meanwhile, it is denial all around. Nobody wants to say they are openly at war with Israel. Iran denies Hezbollah intends to move the captured Israeli soldiers to Iran. Hezbollah denies firing rockets on Haifa. According to the AP: "Hezbollah deputy leader Sheik Naim Kassem denied in an telephone interview with Al-Jazeera that his group fired any rockets at Haifa, adding this will happen if 'Beirut or its southern suburbs are attacked.'" Lebanon denies it has any control over Hezbollah. The Los Angeles Times concludes "Despite Hezbollah's Ties to Iran and Syria, It Also Acts Alone".
The Jerusalem Post reports that Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner is wary of escalation too.
Sen. John W. Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, issued a written statement Friday calling on the Bush administration to "think through very carefully how Israel's extraordinary reaction could affect our operations in Iraq and our joint diplomatic efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue.
"This is a very critical time for the US in the Middle East, and the Israeli actions will certainly have an impact beyond Lebanon and Gaza," Warner warned.
All around the system of nation states there are calls to stop on the brakes. But Hezbollah, as a proxy, is not constrained. According to ABC News, Hezbollah leader Nasrallah says, "You wanted an open war, and we are heading for an open war," he said. ... "To Haifa? Believe me, beyond and beyond Haifa." The Hezbollah leader was speaking as it exchanged fire with an Israeli warship in the harbor, which took a nonvital hit. He didn't even bother to mention how this was inconsistent with the earlier denial that Hezbollah struck Haifa.
Developments in the last few hours suggest that Iran and Syria are showing a marked reluctance to escalate events in Lebanon any further. Perhaps they see this as a winning strategy. Mao's famous guerilla war dictum makes the argument for bleeding your enemy to death, except this time practiced on an international scale. "When the enemy advances, we retreat; when the enemy halts, we harass; when the enemy tires, we attack; when the enemy retreats, we pursue." The destruction of Hezbollah's infrastructure and forces in Southern Lebanon may be viewed as an acceptable price for "luring the enemy deep". "In Casablanca, life is cheap". War has a dynamic of its own and anything can happen. But I think it's fair to speculate that Iran at least, has perceived its peril -- for now.
It is very difficult to predict what can happen next. The only safe guess to make is that Israel will continue to pursue Hezbollah and find ways to push their rocket assets out of range, a problem made more difficult by uncertainty over what rockets Hezbollah has exactly and whether they intend to use it. For the banishment of rocketry to persist, Israel must find a way, in conjunction with the Lebanese government (which includes Hezbollah, remember) to remove Hezbollah from Southern Lebanon as required by treaty. Despite the noises in support of peace made by the "International Community" it is unlikely that any multinational force can be deployed to accomplish what the Lebanese Army could not do. Barring a miracle then, Hezbollah will probably return to southern Lebanon the instant Israel retreats. Therefore the horns of Israel's dilemma are that it must remain in Lebanon to keep Hezbollah from firing rockets, which it cannot easily do; or it must do something else.
All the choices in the "something else" are unpalatable. One tempting tidbit is to enter into a "deal" with Hezbollah, probably with a shelf life of a few months, by exchanging thousands of prisoners for the Israelis in captivity. The other is to widen the war by marching on Damascus or attacking Iran. The latter courses would be fraught with danger, not to mention the diplomatic opprobium. By not reacting physically (perhaps due to a lack of capability), Syria and Iran have set up a zugzwang (a move in chess where the opponent is put at a disadvantage by being forced to move when there are no good moves). It's Israel's move still, and the question is, what will it do?