QandO on the likelihood of a wider war

McQ of QandO has posted an analysis of the current situation between Israel and Hezbollah that is so good that I wanted to comment on it at length. Lots of good links especially one to an article by Ralph Peters. Here’s opening of Peters’s article:

THE violence that scorched the Middle East this time didn’t result from a sly Iranian plot. It was the product of emotion, miscalculation, impulsiveness and folly. On all sides.

That corresponds pretty closely to my experience in life: screw-ups, mistakes, and plain, dumb luck are much more common than master plans with pinpoint control over every situation. I’ve read conflicting experts on the subject of the degree of operational control that Iran actually has over Hezbollah. Some take a “no sparrow falls” view: absolutely everything that Hezbollah does is part of an Iranian master plan. Others believe that Iran has little actual operational control over Hezbollah. Unfortunately, I’ve never read any analysis from anyone who didn’t have something to gain from their point-of-view being correct on this.

My own view corresponds more to the latter one. Iran’s support of Hezbollah is rather like political contributions: when a major contributor contributes to his favorite pol’s re-election campaign it may get him lunch with the pol but it won’t ensure that the pol will vote his way. It doesn’t convey operational control. I think it works the other way around: you’re more likely to contribute to a candidate that votes your way.

McQ comments about Hezbollah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers:

More likely than not it was a spur of the moment decision to piggy-back off the success Hamas had with it’s capture of an IDF soldier.

I’ve read reports to just that effect (was it yesterday?): it was an attack of opportunity. An Israeli vehicle wandered away; Hezbollah took note and took advantage of the situation. When the enemy has as good control over Lebanon’s southern border as Hezbollah does, the consequences of any mistake by the Israeli soldiers patrolling the border can be serious.

McQ continues:

Everyone is talking about negotiations. With whom?

Exactly. But that’s not the only problem: negotiate to what effect. Without an ability to enforce anything that Hezbollah might agree to, any agreement is not a mutally disagreeable compromise but a capitulation to Hezbollah.

McQ agrees:

Negotiations only work if both sides do so in good faith. Nothing in Hezbollah’s history points to that desire or intent. Their intent is clear – the utter destruction of Israel. With an enemy as implacable as that, only one option remains to Israel at the present – the utter destruction of Hezbollah.

I had this repeated to me often enough by my friends who were studying negotiating theory and now I’ll repeat it to you:  a lack of options is a position of strength.  I think that McQ’s advice is sound:

My advice to Israel is to concentrate on that, concentrate on the south of Lebanon and make it clear to Syria that if it is found to be supporting Hezbollah in any way, they’re next.

I further believe that the extent of our involvement—contra Bill Kristol—should be to ensure that Iran doesn’t take an active hand in the hostilities.

6 comments… add one
  • The problem with the political analogy is that Hezbollah was a creation of the Pasdaran from its inception when there were thousands of Iranian Revolutionary Guardsmen in the Bekaaa valley during Lebanon’s civil war. Iranian influence receded somewhat as Hezbollah’s military arm became more self-sufficient and after the civil war ended and Hezbollah adopted some aspects of a peacetime political movement, at least vis-a-vis other Lebanese groups.

    Sudden upgrades in military capabilities speak of outside assistance. The afghan mujahedin didn’t become better, more disciplined fighters against the soviets, they were given and trained in the use of Stinger missiles by the CIA.

  • I don’t doubt for a second that Iran is supplying Hezbollah, Mark. I just don’t believe that Iran’s material support is buying them operational control.

  • Well, I’m sure there’s a lot of give and take. The Soviets found that clients like North Vietnam, Cuba and the Afghan Communist regime could be very frustrating, as we did with Diem in Saigon. There’s probably some exasperation in Teheran when Hezbollah goes its own way instead of accepting Iranian advice.

    On the other hand, the patron delineates the parameters of the possible. Hezbollah cannot stand toe-to-toe with the IDF and lacks the capacity for taking out Israeli ships and precision targeting inside Israel ( using the term loosely) without professional military and intelligence assistance. Hezbollah does not have factories for missiles either. Sustaining semi-conventional operations is made possible by the Syrians and Iranians, even if they had been “backed into a corner” by Hezbollah’s independent local actions.

    Guerilla actions, Hezbollah can manage on its own very well, of course.

  • Yes, I agree with that completely.

  • I disagree with the premise here. There’s a well publicised timeline of meetings between Iranian leadership and Hezbollah during the days before the seizure of Israeli soldiers. This tempts a resonable person to conclude the attack from Lebanon to coincide with G-8 meeting and deflect attention from Iranian nuclear program. But Israel may have responded more sharply than Hezbollah and patrons calculated.

  • “But Israel may have responded more sharply than Hezbollah and patrons calculated.”
    This could be true, if I can figure out what response to what provocation did Israel responded more sharply than expected.
    If I understand correctly, after-action reports said Israel did not respond quickly enough to the Hamas abduction, so Israel made up for it during the Hezbollah abduction. It then seems to me the Israelis isolated Lebanon to keep the abducted solders from being pawns in another country. The solders didn’t have much worth to Hezbollah unless they could be sprinted away to some country that could hold them against Israel’s will, Lebanon doesn’t appear secure enough for such an operation. It looks to me that given time Israel will find what they are looking for, if they are in Lebanon.
    If a more secure country, like say Iran, could somehow gain control of the solders to negotiate their release, it would seem likely to me that nothing but all out war in the region would prevail.
    Possibly Israel would thank Iran for looking out for their solders, but I don’t think so. Of course what I am suggesting is that this is all some kind of chess match, it is possible but only the outcome of the game will say for sure. Anyway with Israel’s lock down on the country it doesn’t seem possible for the solders to go anywhere at the moment.
    Then when the missiles started flowing into Israel, did anyone think that the Israel’s response was more sharply than expected, to this? Possibly what was not expected was the amount of missiles Hezbollah would fire into Israel, but it seems to me that Israel would respond as it did, to a barrage of missiles coming into Israel and on a hunt for their captive solders.
    So while the escalation of the war is surprising to us on the outside, I don’t see that Israel responded more sharply than expected. Of course I don’t have the knowledge of the history of the region as others so my analysis is never very accurate.

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