Middle Israel: Lebanon II's political casualties

Hizbullah's role as an Iranian proxy out to hijack Lebanon is now universally realized.

amotz asa el 88 (photo credit: )
amotz asa el 88
(photo credit: )
Beyond the thousands who were physically hurt on both sides of the Israeli-Lebanese border, the past month's fighting has left three political casualties. The first is Syria. The Lebanese government's decision this week to deploy its army in the south confronts the Assad dynasty's thinly veiled violations of Lebanon's sovereignty and historic denial of Lebanon's right for independence. Yes, the deployment has yet to happen, and once it does chances are high it will be far from perfect. Moreover, the Lebanese resolution ignored the UN's - not to mention sheer logic's - demand that all militias be disarmed. And yet the international community's main demand of Lebanon, and Israel's supreme strategic aim there, have been accepted. What was presented as Hizbullah's nod of approval was but a fig leaf for a major Syrian setback, the second phase of what began with last year's Cedar Revolution, when non-Shi'ite Lebanon finally began disconnecting the umbilical cord Damascus had kept wrapped around Beirut's throat for decades. THE SECOND casualty is Islamism. The Islamist revolution, as The Hebrew University's Emmanuel Sivan demonstrated in The Crash Within Islam, began not with a Shi'ite desire to conquer the West, but with a largely Sunni quest to defend Muslims from the temptations of Western civilization. However, as Islamism conquered Iran on the one hand, and as Europe failed to digest its Muslim minorities on the other, the movement became torn between those out to conquer the world and those who sought accommodation with it. Back in the 1990s, after the downfall of Communism, Iran tried to export its revolution by looking north and east, to the newly independent, and historically Muslim, republics of Central Asia. That effort failed, at least initially, as American, Russian and Turkish influence gave rise to pragmatic, if authoritarian, regimes. It was against that backdrop that Islamist expansionism found an available niche in Lebanon, a country rich with Christian history and European flavor; and at the same time poorly guarded by Western powers and Arab regimes who could be counted on to be fooled by a Lebanese Islamism disguised as an anti-Israeli rather than a pro-Iranian effort. Now this ploy has been exposed. Though the extent of its military setback has yet to be gauged, Hizbullah's role as an Iranian proxy out to hijack Lebanon is now universally realized. Hizbullah may survive this military bout and may even retain some of its firepower, but its revolutionary ammunition has been spent. Paradoxically, this war should also lay to rest another revolution, one that is the very inversion of Islamism, a revolution that is led by Jewish secularists, looks West, and not only shuns its originators' expansion but in fact offers their voluntary shrinkage. It's called convergence. CONVERGENCE, as Ehud Olmert named his plan for a unilateral withdrawal from most of the West Bank and the relocation of at least 70,000 Israelis, has been presented by him as the natural continuation of disengagement, Ariel Sharon's withdrawal last year from Gaza. It isn't. For most of its supporters, disengagement was about the quest to drastically reduce the number of Palestinians under Israeli rule. This is certainly what it was for me, as I led this newspaper's controversial support of the idea, along with my colleagues Bret Stephens and Calev Ben-David. This is also what I explained at the time to Ehud Olmert, and this in fact is how Ariel Sharon himself put it to me, as I tried, in vain, to explain to Shimon Peres when he insisted that "disengagement is Oslo." For Middle Israelis disengagement was Oslo's antidote, the raising of a thick and tall partition between us and the neighbor Peres believed he had convinced never to fight us again. For Olmert, it turned out, disengagement was something else. For him it was an instrument for fashioning himself as a visionary, a statesman, the great liquidator of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This, apparently, is what he meant by saying that convergence would turn Israel into "a country that is fun to live in." Well, whatever he may have meant by "fun," Olmert would surely agree that seeing the West Bank spew, at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the kind of rocket attacks South Lebanon is now delivering to Haifa and the Galilee would be anything but fun. It would be a national disaster, and for him, personally, the end of his career. MUCH WAS SAID this week about the political autism Olmert displayed in telling a foreign correspondent that the war in Lebanon would boost his convergence plan. One had to wonder, despite his frantic retraction of the statement that evening, how Olmert could not intuitively appreciate, or at least notice, the disproportionate share of West Bank residents among the troops he had sent to fight in Lebanon. Yet the real problem in the relationship between Olmert's election-campaign plan and the real-life war is that he apparently fails to understand what the latter means for the former, which is that he can now forget about abandoning the West Bank unilaterally. We, the Middle Israelis who largely voted Kadima and at any rate constituted disengagement's social and political backbone, will not be there to back it, and without us it can't happen. The way we see it, two empirical tests we made, one in Lebanon and another in Gaza, have demonstrated that abandoning land to anyone but a responsible and formal recipient means its immediate takeover by fundamentalists and their immediate abuse of it as a launching pad for attacks on all of us. In Gaza this was still the lesser evil, because we had to reduce the number of Palestinians under our rule. In Lebanon the idea of a retreat made sense - but now all agree it should not have been done in a way that our enemies interpreted as a flight. Still, it was one thing to commit these mistakes back when there was no precedent with which to judge them. Now, leaving the West Bank on the heels of our current experience would be like diving naked into Arctic waters. Middle Israelis will simply not allow this to happen. They will be there to tell Olmert that the "fun" state he promised may have been good for an election slogan, and maybe its emergence is more imminent than current events suggest, but even so it won't be the result of a unilateral retreat from the West Bank. Middle Israelis will prefer to wait, no matter how long, for Palestinian interlocutors who both mean peace and enjoy their people's following. For now, we must realize that this war has dealt blows not only to Assad's regional fascism and to Ahmadinejad's militant fundamentalism, but also to Olmert's strategic opportunism.