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War defeats diplomacy

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Paul Rogers
17 July 2006

A week into the war, Israel's intransigence and the United States's indulgence make the prospects for peace minimal.

Israel's attacks on Lebanon continued over the night of 17-18 July with fifty sites being hit. Many of these were said to be Hizbollah facilities, even though the targets have included a lighthouse, a medical truck and a dairy factory. In any case, the main effect has been to cause disruption across much of the country as numerous bridges are hit and movement of refugees is made difficult if not impossible. The attacks continue through 18 July with equal ferocity, and no let up in sight.

The level of trauma and anxiety in Lebanon has increased greatly in the past week; 200 civilians have been killed (with several examples of internally-displaced people being caught out in the open by Israeli air raids) and thousands injured. The effect of this is to cause mass anxiety for many thousands more civilians now trying to move away from zones of conflict.

Paul Rogers is professor of peace studies at Bradford University, northern England. He has been writing a weekly column on global security on openDemocracy since October 2001

Among Paul Rogers's columns on Hizbollah, Iran and Israel:

"Hizbollah's warning flight" (5 May 2005)

"Iran in Israel's firing-range"
(8 December 2005)

"Iran: war by October?" (20 April 2006)

Israel, Lebanon, and beyond: the danger of escalation"
(17 July 2006)

Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) spokespersons claim that, as a result of IDF actions so far, a high proportion of Hezbollah's 12,000-plus rockets and missiles have been destroyed. There is little independent evidence to support this claim, and in any case such claims have been accompanied by the direct evidence of Hizbollah firing another fifty rockets into Israel in the past twenty-four hours. This in itself is hugely significant, given the massive level of Israeli military activity across the border; the Hizbollah attacks are having a great impact on a deeply insecure population across northern Israel.

The IDF is making a massive effort through the use of air power, artillery and naval gunfire support to stop Hizbollah's offensive actions, and has so far failed to do so. In a further indication of the militant group's capabilities under bombardment, one missile attack reached as far south as the town of Atlit, eight kilometres south of Haifa and fifty-five kilometres south of the Lebanese border – indicating either that Hizbollah can fire missiles from very close to the border or else has longer-range missiles that can be launched from deep inside Lebanon. Meanwhile, the IDF has began the process of calling up reservists, with three battalions being mobilised for deployment in the West Bank to release regular army troops to support IDF actions in the north.

The weakness of power

Tentative peace moves have been proposed, primarily from United Nations sources, but the government of Ehud Olmert is highly unlikely to call a halt to its extensive military actions. The level of vulnerability felt in Israel is palpable, even though the idea of such an incredibly strong military power even feeling vulnerable is difficult for outsiders to understand. One indication of this is an effect of the Hamas-instigated event that helped begin this specific cycle of violence.

On 25 June, a Hamas unit dressed in IDF uniforms infiltrated a well-defended IDF unit on the Israeli side of the border with Gaza through a 1,000-yard tunnel dug from deep inside the strip. Two Israeli soldiers were killed and one, Gilad Shalit, was kidnapped. This was the latest of a series of tunnelling episodes that, like the crude homemade Hamas rockets and the much more sophisticated Hizbollah missiles, have hugely damaged the validity of Israel's policy of establishing security through solidly-protected borders.

The reaction to the tunnelling episodes has been extraordinary. On one recent occasion, the IDF actually experimented with a 1,000-metre stretch of an underground steel barrier, over fourteen metres deep, on the Gaza/Egyptian border. Shuki Rynski, a retired colonel and former deputy commander of the IDF's Gaza division, has even advocated building a polymer-reinforced cement wall going twenty-two metres down, as a supplement to border protection on the surface (see Barbara Opall-Rome, "Israel Confronts Threat of Gaza Tunnels" Defense News, 10 July 2006 [subscription only]). This would cost around $500,000 per kilometre, a quarter of the cost of the wall being built round much of the West Bank; some observers have pointed out that in any case, Palestinian militias would simply dig deeper.

In addition to his weekly openDemocracy column, Paul Rogers writes an international security monthly briefing for the Oxford Research Group; for details, click here

A collection of Paul Rogers's Oxford Research Group briefings, Iraq and the War on Terror: Twelve Months of Insurgency, 2004-05 is published by IB Tauris
(October 2005)

Such plans, coupled with the extensive IDF raids into Lebanon that have widespread support within Israel, all point to a national mindset of protection that is currently unable to even comprehend that the entire process is ultimately self-defeating. Israel cannot achieve physical security without political security, and that cannot be achieved except by negotiating with its adversaries and recognising the predicament of the Palestinians. In the final analysis there is no alternative to a peace settlement encompassing the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

There is little chance of that even beginning to be recognised in the current insecure environment within Israel. It is made even less likely by the solid support from the Bush administration, due in no small measure to the political significance of Christian Zionism in the United States (see David Brog's new book, Standing with Israel: Why Christians Support the Jewish State, Front Line Books, 2006).

Almost a week into the war, a weak and disunited Europe concentrates on evacuating its citizens from Lebanon, and the United States displays a special sense of irony by chartering a cruise ship to do the same. At present, the prospects for peace are minimal.

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