Monday, July 24, 2006

Lebanon's Lesson

Israel's invasion of Lebanon is putting a lot of civilians at risk, and as I have noted, Amnesty International is pointing the finger at both Israel and Hezbollah for targeting civilians. That's the human rights consideration. But I also have a political opinion, and that is Israel's invasion is a mistake. The rationale for that has a lot to do with the situation in Egypt.

My gut feeling is Hezbollah launched the attack that killed Israeli soldiers and kidnapped two others with the complete understanding, the hope even, that Israel would respond with a significant military action. They saw that's what happened in Gaza the week before; they must have known it would happen to them. I think Israel did exactly what they wanted the country to do.

Hezbollah will not be destroyed militarily. It is not primarily a military movement. It came out of the 1982 Israeli invasion. It grew strength from that invasion. Movements of its type always do. Israel's military, like the Americans in Iraq, will sweep in and do a lot of damage, but in the end, Hezbollah will remain, perhaps militarily weaker for now, but stronger in the long term.

Just how much stronger will depend on what the invasion does to the new democratic government in Beirut. The best hope for destroying Hezbollah is widening and strengthening the position of the Beirut government. Since the Cedar Revolution, the government has been new and fragile and had to walk a very tight rope, but it had been maintaining its credibility and growing stronger.

I've talked a lot about the value of patience, and the difficulty of that in times of violence; but here is the classic case where patience was needed. There seems to be a consensus that Hezbollah was weakening after the Cedar Revolution. I believe that if the Cedar Revolution had the time -- and no doubt it would take five years at least -- Hezbollah would slowly die a quiet and final death through the spread of democracy and human rights. Five years is a long time in terms of having to put up with Hezbollah's abuses, but in the long scheme of history it is a short time. Hezbollah's actions against Israel were taken from a position of weakness. It needed the chaos and disorder of war to strengthen itself. My prediction, and I hope I'm wrong, is that the Cedar Revolution will be the greatest casualty of this war; if the government fails, Hezbollah wins and no matter what Israel does, the armed Islamists will come out of this stronger than ever.

What lessons hold for Egypt? If we can sit back and imagine a future for Egypt in which it has its own Cedar Revolution (and what would it be called? Suggestions are welcomed) and a new, but fragile democratic party attempts to maintain its influence over the many competiting bodies of opinion and interests in the country In such a situation, it's not unlikely that armed Islamist groups would take the opportunity to attack Israel, perhaps through Gaza. The groups might even feel compelled to act against Israel because of the threat to them that democratic legitimacy would bring to the government, which is a much more powerful weapon over the long term than any the Mubarak government currently wields. Israel would then behold the same question of response. If it chose military action, I would not like the consequences for Egyptian democracy.

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