RAMALLAH, August 19 (JMCC) - Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak
is staying in close contact with Washington, visiting often and hosting US diplomats in Israel
. Their most recent meeting was in late July, says Abdel Moneim Said, and it was followed by an interesting paper on the possibilities for war in the region.
A few days before that meeting, Daniel Kurtzer, who served as US ambassador to Cairo and then to Tel Aviv and who is currently a professor of Middle Eastern policy studies at Princeton University, came out with a short contingency planning paper for the Council on Foreign Relations in New York entitled, A Third Lebanon War. The paper takes the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 as the first Lebanon war and the war in the summer of 2006 as the second. It foresees a possible eruption of a third Israeli war against Lebanon sometime between 12 and 18 months from now as the result of three interrelated factors. The first is Hizbullah's growing political clout in Lebanon since the second Lebanon war. Secondly, Hizbullah's arsenal is now more powerful quantitatively and qualitatively than it was at that time, having since steadily rearmed with Iranian and Syrian help, in spite of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 calling for the disarmament of all militias in Lebanon and the implementation of the Lebanese cabinet decision of 26 July 2006 stating that there shall be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese state. Thirdly, Israel sees Hizbullah as a forward military arm for Iran that could either deliver a first strike or a retaliatory strike in the event of an Israeli attack against Iranian nuclear facilities.Read
Kurtzer sees several indicators of looming danger. One is the increase in Hizbullah's anti-Israeli rhetoric, as exemplified by Hassan Nasrallah's fiery speech of 4 June when he warned that attacks against Lebanon would be met with strikes against strategic targets in Israel. In Israel, meanwhile, there has been a similar increase in official statements and public commentary about Hizbullah and Iran. Particular play has been given to weapons shipments to Lebanon and military training camps, prompting intensive debate in the Israeli media over whether Israel should be intercepting ships it suspects of carrying weapons to Lebanon. A third factor is heightened levels of Israeli military and civil defence preparedness. Kurtzer notes that the IDF exercise Firestone 12 was predicated on scenario involving extensive Hizbullah assaults against Israel using long- range missiles and advanced air-defence systems.
What strikes one most about this contingency paper is that it advises the US administration to do all in its power to forestall such a war. Kurtzer suggests measures ranging from diplomatic intervention and pressuring the involved parties inclusive of Israel and Syria to possibly negotiating with Hizbullah itself. He can also envision the option of the US sanctioning a limited Israeli strike against Hizbullah's missile supply lines and training camps, even if these are located inside Syria. He argues that although such strikes might risk engaging Syria, they would be restricted to purely military targets and remove the justification for a wider Israeli offensive. This alternative fails to take into account, first, current US-Israeli military coordination with respect to Iran and, second, the possibility that Hizbullah might decide to play along, go on the offensive and effectively abort US-Israeli plans for Iran.
the opinion piece at al-Ahram Weekly