Crisis in Middle East


By Hans Blix

Maxims News
August 25, 2006

In the Middle East much is at stake and much seems to be played the wrong way. Moves calculated to achieve a specific aim receive unexpected responses and after bloody conflicts parties involved realize that all have lost. Vice-President Cheney seems to have thought that American forces in Iraq would be received with flowers and Pentagon chief Rumsfeld believed that a shock and awe invasion would suffice to bring Iraq under control. President Bush saw the occupation as a chance to make Iraq a model for democracy in the Middle East.

Are the calculations how to get Iran to stay away from enriching uranium based on equally good judgment?

Led by its five permanent great power members the U.N. Security Council has urged Iran to abstain from uranium enrichment and offered talks. Strangely, the five seem to think that Iran will be ready to stop current enrichment activities even before the talks in which ending the enrichment program would be the most important point.

Do they not make a monumental miscalculation if they think that Iran would be prepared to do away with its best card without having received precise knowledge of what it will receive in return, e.g., guarantees against bombardment of the kind Lebanon has experienced. Do they intend to escalate threats if Iran rejects an approach that seems humiliating? Or, are they prepared to bury prestige, sit down with Iran and talk about both sides of the deal?

In the case of the war in Lebanon it may be safe to assume that none of the interested parties had aimed at the result. It is harder to discern what they really sought to achieve. First, what did the Gaza Palestinians and the Hezbollah groups aim for, when they kidnapped Israeli soldiers?

Some have maintained that the aim was to provoke Israel and bring about a war for the destruction of Israel, in line with Hamas' political program and the speeches of the Iranian President. However, those who planned the kidnappings could hardly have calculated to cause such a brisk and steep escalation as the one which took place. As suggested by ex-president Carter it seems more probable that – as many times before – the kidnappings aimed at securing an exchange of prisoners. If so, the calculation was evidently wrong.

A relatively inexperienced Israeli government rejected any exchanges, chose to strike hard and to escalate. Perhaps in the end there will be an exchange of prisoners but Hisbolla could hardly have foreseen that it would need to pay for it by leaving their positions in South Lebanon.

What role has Iran played in Lebanon?

It seems unlikely that even militant leaders in Iran sought to initiate a war to destroy Israel. On the other hand, it seems probable, that they gave green light and backing to Hezbollah in Lebanon with the aim of showing the U.S. what Iran's Shia friends could do – not least in Iraq – if the U.S. were to use force against Iran to stop the enrichment program.

Was this a successful calculation? Hezbollah, to be sure, has shown strength and even their enemies in the Arab world are forced by their public opinion to support the movement when it stands up against Israel and the U.S. However, in the end Iran's Shia friends are forced to retreat from positions which they controlled and from which their rockets rained over Northern Israel. Hardly a victory for Iran.

Lastly: what was the Israeli government's aim when it responded to the kidnappings by rapidly escalating retribution, which caused death or injury to many soldiers and civilians and forced many more to leave their home. There is no doubt that both Israel and the U.S. wanted to turn an operation for the release of hostages and retribution into an action to destroy Hezbollah. Prime Minister Olmert felt this aim had strong support in Israeli public opinion and in the U.S. government, which was pleased to see Israel showing both Iran and its Hezbollah friends in Lebanon what they may be exposed to.

However, the cost in lives and suffering on the Israeli side increased and so did the awareness that Israel would not be able to destroy Hezbollah – only force it to move further away from the border to Israel.

Dare we hope that the end of the Lebanon war, which we may be seeing and in which no one of the interested parties has achieved what they seem to have aimed for, will in the future increase their readiness to enter into talks without first going through a phase of suffering, death and destruction? Iran's enrichment of uranium will be the first test.

More Information on the Security Council
More Information on Lebanon and Syria
More General Articles on Israel, Palestine and the Occupied Territories
More Information on Israel, Palestine and the Occupied Territories

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