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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Did Lebanon II Have A Huge Impact On The Palestinians?

According to Hillel Frish and contrary to popular belief, it did NOT. See why:
The Palestinians and the Second Lebanese War
by Hillel Frisch

Introduction:

Many commentators have suggested that Israel's questionable military performance inthe second Lebanese war and the resulting increase in Hizballah's power and prestigehave impacted negatively on Israel's ability to deal with the Palestinians. This articledemonstrates the error in this view and discusses the negligible effect of the war inLebanon on Israel's security policy regarding the Palestinians.The recent war revealed that the tendency to see the conflict in broader terms, such asa clash of civilizations, is very much exaggerated. Essentially, Israel's adversaries actindependently, resulting in bilateral conflicts. This was exemplified by thePalestinian's quiescence while the Hizballah waged war in Lebanon and vice versa.While it is difficult for Israel to fight simultaneous low-intensity conflicts on twoborders; ultimately, the impact on Israeli capabilities is minor.

The recent war revealed that the tendency to see the conflict in broader terms, such asa clash of civilizations, is very much exaggerated. Essentially, Israel's adversaries actindependently, resulting in bilateral conflicts. This was exemplified by thePalestinian's quiescence while the Hizballah waged war in Lebanon and vice versa.While it is difficult for Israel to fight simultaneous low-intensity conflicts on twoborders; ultimately, the impact on Israeli capabilities is minor.
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The War's Impact on the Palestinians

Recently, the Palestinians have been pushed to a lower rung on the world's priorityladder. As the secondary aspect of Israel's security priorities, the Palestinians areaffected by regional conflicts that receive competing headlines, especially when thoseconflicts do not involve the Palestinians. The regional conflicts detracting fromPalestinian status include Iran's nuclear ambitions and its ramifications for regionalnuclearization, Iraq, Darfur and most recently, Somalia. Thus, the Palestinians facethe bitter reality of fighting Israel almost alone. Consider for example the Iraqi-Jordanian-President Bush meeting on December 1, 2006, which hardly touched on theissue of the Palestinians.

During the summer's fighting, the Palestinian's were not relegated to a lower rung, butrather lost their position as a central issue in world politics. The Israeli-Hizballah warmight be for the Palestinians what the first Lebanese war was for pan-Arabism. Just asthe first Lebanese war confirmed Fouad Ajami's pronouncement of the end of pan-Arabism as a political project, the second Lebanese war might indicate the end of thePalestinian state option

Recall that Palestinians were at center stage during the first Lebanese war. ThePalestinians then claimed with great confidence that without resolution of thePalestinian problem there could be no peace in the rest of the Middle East. In thesecond Lebanese war, the Palestinians played no role. The truth has come to light.Lebanon's stability has nothing to do with the Palestinians. It emanates from thecorollary weakness of the Lebanese state center and the relative power of outsideactors—Syria, Iran and Israel—in exploiting these weaknesses to achieve their ownstate interests

Palestinian Internal Relations

In addition to losing world attention, Palestinian state-building efforts internally wereaffected by the war. Despite the lack of connection between the Palestinian andLebanese conflicts, there are emerging similarities in their political situations. Bothpeoples have failed to produce a state center after over eighty years of efforts. Theirprospects are made even dimmer by international and regional influences.

International alignment politics solidify the bifurcation of the Lebanese center, withthe March 14 forces aligned to the West and Hizballah, while Nabih Biri's Amal andMichel Awn's forces aligned with Iran. Similarly, the Palestinian arena is becomingincreasingly split between the Abbas' security forces alliance with the moderate Arabstates, and the United States; versus Hamas' alliance with Iran and Syria. Suchdivisions negatively impact the Palestinians because they have tremendousgeographic and political ramifications of a Hamas-dominated Gaza and anAbbas/Fatah-dominated West Bank.

Palestinian Regional Relations

Relations between Hizballah and the Palestinians are problematic, largely due to theirsource of funding. Hamas and Hizballah compete over the same Iranian purse. Bothrealize that Iranian interests and their own do not always coincide and that this gap isgreater for the Hamas than it is for Hizballah

Hamas' main problem in its relationship with Iran is linked to Egypt. For thePalestinians, Egypt is the most important Arab state. Thus far, Egypt, a realist playerpar excellence, has turned a blind eye to Hamas-Iranian cooperation on theassumption that bleeding Israel is more important to Egyptian interests than thepenetration of Iranian influence into the Palestinian arena through Hamas, or even theimplications of Hamas' power on Egypt's domestic attempts to contain its localIslamists, mainly the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas knows there are limits to thisrelationship, which they can transgress at their peril. Egypt is the life-line to Iranianaid. Once the Egyptian state feels too threatened by this relationship it could moveagainst Hamas with great force

Since the establishment of the Hamas government, Jordan has been firmly againstHamas in part because of the impact this relationship is likely to have in strengtheningwhat they perceive as the Shiite arc/heterodox alliance in the Middle East.

Gulf States with Shiite populations—Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar—are weary ofHamas after the Lebanese war. For them, the war is perceived to have strengthened Shiite Hizballah. This skepticism is apparent since the establishment of the Hamasgovernment. An International Monetary Fund study on aid and transfers to the PA inthe past year reveals that all Arab state finances have gone to President Abbas. SaudiArabia, which is engaged in a cold war with Iran in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, isa critical actor in this regard. Consider the likely impact on Gulf-Hamas relations as aresult of the rise of the main Shiite party in the recent Bahrain elections.

An Israeli analyst presciently noted that the Gulf States are in a tacit alliance withIsrael as a means of "balancing" the Iraqi and Iranian threat. This unspokenassociation is likely to be strengthened from the growing Iranian nuclear threat,increasing domestic Sunni/Shiite polarization, and the penetration of Iranian influenceinto the Palestinian arena at great cost to the Palestinians

Moral Encouragement for the Palestinians

Offsetting the war's negative impacts on the Palestinians is the positive impact ontheir morale stemming from Hizballah's success in withstanding a month-long Israeliassault. This small spiritual and moral triumph was widely expressed in thePalestinian press, although less heady voices warned of drawing parallels between thetwo different conflicts. Despite the positive psychological effect, Hizballah's victorywas offset by the political ramifications of the war, principally by the increasedpossibilities of future Lebanese and Palestinian civil wars

The crucial difference between the conflicts is Hizballah's advantage of enjoyinglogistical and military support from two states in a way the Palestinians will onlyenjoy if an Islamist revolution succeeds in Egypt. Israeli politicians talk of Gazabecoming Lebanon and Hamas militarily becoming Hizballah. Analysts haveexaggerated this threat. Iran's inability to train and provide logistics to the Palestiniansis of crucial importance in this regard

Israeli Successes

The truth is that Israel, through a combination of military means - artillery shelling toreduce the accuracy of the Qassams, selective penetration to reduce the number oflaunchings, and targeted killing against those improving these crude missiles'capabilities - has significantly curtailed the accuracy of Qassam launches. Before thecease fire, Israeli penetration was becoming so effective that the IDF was able tomake preventive arrests – the beginning of replicating Israel's majorcounterinsurgency success against the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria in the wakeof Operation Defensive Shield, which allowed preventive arrests on a massive scale.The Palestinians cannot be blamed for the Israeli government's erroneous decision toinitiate a cease fire as the campaign against the Qassams was beginning to succeed.

Conclusion

Palestinian terrorism is not a new phenomenon. Palestinian and Hizballah violencecertainly present challenges to Israeli security policy makers and its security services,but the upshot is roughly the same. Just as terrorism in the past could not prevent theJewish Zionist enterprise from achieving statehood and increasing the Jewishpopulation ten-fold, it will not prevent Israel from continuing to prosper. For Palestinians, this is the worse news possible. Becoming a society perpetually on theverge of civil war—unable to either effectively wage war or achieve peace—is a closesecond. The ramifications of the second Lebanese war only made the situation worsefor the Palestinians

Dr. Hillel Frisch is a senior lecturer in Political Science at Bar-Ilan University and asenior research associate at the BESA Center.


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