Rob L. Wagner

Target Lebanon: A ‘Jittery’ Israel Set To Lash Out

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It’s absolutely mind-boggling how clueless Israel and its Western allies are about the current climate in the Middle East.
With Egypt and Syria navigating uncharted territory — Egypt in the infancy of democracy and Syria deep in a civil war — Israeli leaders have plenty on their plate. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has indicated that the 1979 peace treaty with Israel might be ripe for tweaking. If that were not enough to give Israel the shakes, recent demonstrations by young Palestinians in Ramallah have called for the elimination of the 1993 Oslo Accords, the bilateral agreement between Israel and the PLO that led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority for self-government. The relatively small protests mark the first time in several years that Palestinians have taken to the streets to oppose the PA’s ties with Israel.

The central concerns among Egyptians are jobs and their country’s shattered economy. So it’s unlikely that Morsi would pursue an aggressive campaign to significantly tamper with the 1979 treaty. And it may be that demonstrating Palestinians are simply following Mursi’s hints to re-examine the Egypt/Israel peace treaty by challenging the Oslo Accords. The uprisings spreading across North Africa and the Levant have isolated Israel. And an isolated Israel is a dangerous Israel with its all too familiar tendency to lash out.

If Israel does indeed take an aggressive attitude toward its neighbors, Lebanon will be the designated fall guy. Now the Israeli army is contemplating attacks in Lebanon that not only will compound unwarranted violence in the country, but also promise to relive the devastation of the 2006 war. In an interview last week with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Israeli Army Brigadier-General Hertzi Halevy said, “The (Israeli army) is preparing seriously and professionally for another Lebanon war. The response will need to be sharper, harder, and in some ways, very violent. The next war will be with very heavy exchanges of fire on both sides, and so both need to make every effort to stop this happening.”

An unnamed senior army officer confirmed Halevy’s remarks, noting, “The next war will be different, and therefore we should stop it as quickly as possible, in order to make things easier for the home front. This means carrying out a very strong attack against Lebanon and the damage will be enormous.”

Let’s not fool ourselves that things will get better before they get worse in the region. The new democratic governments in Tunisia and Egypt are far too fragile to inspire much confidence this early in the game. And Libya is in class by itself as it struggles with a transitional parliament and elections amid tribal rivalries to establish self-rule.

The issue is how will Israel behave as these developments continue to unfold. The key to minimizing tensions is not to inflame Arab public opinion. Talk of war in Lebanon does nothing but give rise to Arab indignation. Israel consistently demonstrates it wants no peace with Palestinians. Any talk from Israel about settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ring hollow. But the US and most of Europe demonstrate willful, if not pathological, passivity to Israel’s urge to fight a proxy war in Lebanon instead of talking peace with the Palestinian Authority.

Israel may have the military might to gain short-term success in a confrontation, but it will always remain in a perpetual state of defensiveness. Given the US’ continuing failure to persuade Israel to engage in meaningful negotiations with the Palestinians, expectations among Arab leaders is low. Those expectations include a muted response and little else from the US if Israel should lash out against its neighbors with military force.

If the US seeks the answer that brings stability to the region, then it should recognize the perceived threat from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Islamists’ gains in Tunisia and Libya is vastly overstated as long Israel reins in its propensity to react militarily. The focus should remain on the source of Arab outrage: Israel’s unwillingness to establish a peaceful co-existence with the Palestinians and to pave the way for Palestinian statehood.

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