July 12, 2006

A Brewing Regional Security Crisis?

JPost:

The Lebanese government has called on the UN to call for a cease-fire after IDF troops entered its territory to rescue two soldiers captured by Hizbullah earlier Wednesday.

Israel rejected the cease-fire request, Channel 10 reported.

The European Union called for the immediate release of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers, and urged all sides to respect the Blue Line border between Israel and Lebanon.

The IDF put reservists on standby and has already ordered reservist brigades to set up along the northern border for continued operations there.

Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Dan Halutz was holding hourly consultations in the War Room in the Kirya.

A very high ranking military officer said that if the soldiers were not returned in good condition, Israel would turn Lebanon back 20 years by striking its vital infrastructure.

The temperature is getting very hot indeed among Israel and her neighbors. A humanitarian crisis looms in Gaza, and there is talk of turning the clock back 20 years on Lebanon's infrastructure by some in Israel's military. Olmert has talked very tough too ("act of war"), somewhat understandably, as he must be seen to be able to step up into Sharon's big shoes as credible guarantor of Israel's national security. Still, however, too robust action in Lebanon (and even Syria, as some in Israel appear to be calling for)--in conjunction with what is already underway in Gaza--neither is particularly helpful from a U.S. perspective. (None of this will get significant coverage in the major right-wing blogs, of course, as there are no 'protest babes' or such filling the streets of Beirut, and so analysis gets a tad more complex, you see, than 'hotties' waving flags and such, but major attacks on Lebanon's infrastructure are not helpful to U.S. policy objectives there). As for Gaza, the fact that some there are eating just one meal a day (the fruits of democracy!), has already given the lie to our cheap talk of democratic elections there proving a step forward for the Palestinians. To midwife democracy, you don't only need elections, but also sustainable civil society and governance structures, none of which are easily developed in the face of collective punishment techniques.

The irony in all of this too, of course, is that Israel's likely overly strong resort to punitive actions meant to serve as deterrent will actually likely backfire--as they will serve neither to deter (just the opposite probably) while also leading to less support for Israel internationally, if she is deemed to overeact. The better solution is for the US President or his Secretary of State to intervene to cool the temperature, and also give Ehud Olmert an out on pursuing a too robust escalation (Olmert for instance, could tell his public that the US Administration would not accept punitive strikes on any non-Hezbollah assets in Lebanon, to take just one example, to include all infrastructure assets such as power generators--thus relieving the pressure on him domestically) .

We have to keep things in perspective here: three soldiers taken hostage should not lead to talk of outright war between Israel and some of her neighbors, however emotionally difficult it is for Israel, not to mention deeply frustrating, to have to grapple so frequently with this repulsive tactic of kidnapping serving soldiers to see them then used crudely as bargaining chips. The US government needs to be front and center making the point that restraint is needed at this juncture, as a regional security crisis impacting Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Gaza is about the last thing needed now in the Middle East--a region already, shall we say, fraught with problems far and wide. At the same time, the US and EU should be taking more of a lead trying to gain the release of these soldiers, the better so Israelis don't feel it is them against the world and act overly irrationally. In short, this is a detiorating situation crying out for leadership from the White House--adult supervision at the highest levels of the US government. Let's see what gets mustered up by this Administration in the next 24-48 hours....so far, I've heard little more than a statement from Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Welch, and much more is needed, I'd think.

Posted by Gregory at July 12, 2006 12:22 PM

About Belgravia Dispatch

Gregory Djerejian, an international lawyer and business executive, comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.


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