2006 July 26 Wednesday
Sovereignty Deficit Poses Threat To Israel

While many Jewish neoconservatives dream of overthrowing Arab governments that have firm grips on their people and borders Israel hasn't been attacked by such goverments in decades and the attackers who are Israel's biggest headaches operate in territories over which no government exercises firm sovereign control. Israel's strategic problem is how to cause fragmented territories to come under firm control of elites which can exercise sovereign power over their territories. It is not clear that most Israelis understand this. Gideon Lichfield, The Economist's Jerusalem correspondent, explains why Israelis are so supportive of their government's reaction to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

When I discuss such questions with Israelis, as we peel off the layers of reasoning and approach the core, what I most often meet is a kind of crude Pavlovian determinism. The Palestinians, the Lebanese, the Arabs in general—they understand only the language of force. Not showing force is a mistake. Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister, summed up the thinking well this week in his speech to the Knesset: "Our enemies misinterpreted our willingness to exercise restraint as a sign of weakness."

And since all of Lebanon, in Israel's eyes, is complicit in letting Hezbollah live unmolested, it won't do any harm for all the Lebanese to feel a little force too. Not too much, of course. Nothing gratuitous. But just enough, as a by-product of actions that might be justified (the two soldiers might be spirited away via the airport, after all), to make them think twice about allowing Hezbollah to flourish in the future. And the civilian casualties—well, that's what you get for letting bad, bearded men with guns live across the hallway.

It is, in fact, the way Israel has kept its enemies at bay since it was born: the notion that force will knock sense into them. Olmert again, in a press conference just before the Lebanon crisis, when asked why Israel had recently gone into Gaza with bombs and tanks after the kidnapping of a soldier there: "These are effective measures and it may take some more time, but I'm hopeful that at the end of the day, the dominant forces within the Palestinian community will impose the end and the cessation of these violent actions by Palestinians."

It worked in the old days, when the equation was simple: one country, one leadership, one army. Defeat the army, and that was that. But now things are messier.

Lebanon is rather like several countries pulled together; its government is a weak and fragile balance of groups, including Hezbollah. Israel's coalition is fractious too, but its groupings are political and fluid. Lebanon's are ethnic-religious and fixed—Hezbollah's supporters are Shia Muslims, the country's biggest religious group—so the balance doesn't just shift with the political winds.

Lebanon is more of a confederacy than a proper modern nation-state. Lebanese fought a bitter civil war from 1975 up to at least 1990. Those non-Shia Lebanese who are "complicit" in allowing Hezbollah to attack Israel tried to bring their civil war to a point where one group or alliance of groups came out on top. But they were too divided and ultimately failed. Syrian troops were required to put an end to the civil war. Now the Israelis want the Lebanese Christians, Druze, and Sunnis to take on the Shias of south Lebanon. Effectively that would restart the Lebanese civil war. Well, doing that would cost those other groups far more than what the Israelis are costing them now. So those groups are unlikely to decide to unite to take on the Shias.

Hezbollah can attack Israel from south Lebanon because the non-Shia Lebanese do not want to take on the Shias. Many non-Shias and more secular Shias do not like what Hezbollah is doing by taking on Israel. But while the non-Shias are unhappy with the situation news accounts do not report on Sunnis or Druze or Christians ready to take up arms against Hezbollah.

The stark physical contrast reflects a deep and growing divide in Lebanese society between the less affluent, more religious Shiite south and the more urban center, largely of Sunni Muslims, Druse and Christians, which has built and benefited from a long-awaited economic boom.

“The country is going in two totally different directions,” said Ghassan Salhab, a Lebanese filmmaker and a middle-class secular Shiite. “One is, ‘We have an enemy and we need to fight it,’ ” he said, referring to Hezbollah’s supporters. “The other is, ‘We want to live and build and go with the world, wherever it goes.’ ”

The secular types do not want to take on the religious people in a war which will mainly benefit Israel. While Hezbollah is costing them in trade and safety a civil war would cost them more. So Hezbollah is free to do what it wants. The Lebanese Army would not get tasked with taking on Hezbollah unless a very large multinational force showed up to help them do it. Even then the Lebanese would have to worry about how long that force would stay, how hard that force would be willing to fight, and what would happen after that force left.

An international force that would take on Hezbollah in order to secure Israel's northern border seems unlikely.

President Jacques Chirac said on Wednesday France could play a major role in an international force for Lebanon under certain circumstances, but insisted the force should not try to disarm Hizbollah guerrillas.

However Chirac added that he did not favor a role for NATO.

Germany also said it was opposed to deploying NATO's reaction force as peacekeepers.

"If such an international stabilization force comes about ... Germany would rule out using the NATO Response Force," government spokesman Thomas Steg told reporters, referring to the force due to be fully operational in October.

"It is clearly unsuitable for this purpose."

Why would any nation want to pay the huge price? US experience in Iraq, Israel's previous experience in Lebanon, and even Israel's current experience in Lebanon all suggest that putting down a Hezbollah insurgency would require a large force and be extremely costly in lives and money. Governments mostly do not see a net benefit from taking on such a job.

Rather than expect the Lebanese non-Shias to take on the Shias why not split up Lebanon? If South Lebanon was split off into a separate country then Hezbollah would rule the new government and Hezbollan soldiers would be the soldiers for that government. Then Hezbollah's actions against Israel would be those of a state actor and Hezbollah would bear all responsibility for what happened.

The Gaza Strip has less of a sovereign government than Lebanon. A New York Times piece examines how the Palestians in Gaza are split into rival factions that fight each other when they are not fighting the Israelis.

Giora Eiland, a former director of Israel’s national security council and a retired major general who led an investigation into the June 25 raid, agreed. “Recently there was the illusion that Hamas, while not a perfect partner, was at least a group that could implement decisions,” he said. “But it has become apparent that the political leadership of Hamas is much less influential than Khaled Meshal and leaders of the military wing.” Mr. Meshal is the chairman of Hamas’s political bureau and lives in exile in Damascus, Syria.

The Qassam Brigades is the Palestinians’ largest and best organized militant group but it is not the only militia operating in the area under Palestinian control. At least six other armed groups field soldiers to fight Israel or, when there are no Israelis to fight — as was the case for nine months after Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza last year — to fight among themselves.

I flash on Monty Python's Life Of Brian:

REG: Right. You're in. Listen. The only people we hate more than the Romans are the fucking Judean People's Front.
P.F.J.: Yeah...
JUDITH: Splitters.
P.F.J.: Splitters...
FRANCIS: And the Judean Popular People's Front.
P.F.J.: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Splitters. Splitters...
LORETTA: And the People's Front of Judea.
P.F.J.: Yeah. Splitters. Splitters...
REG: What?
LORETTA: The People's Front of Judea. Splitters.
REG: We're the People's Front of Judea!
LORETTA: Oh. I thought we were the Popular Front.
REG: People's Front! C-huh.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 July 26 10:21 PM  MidEast Arabs Versus Israelis

Stephen said at July 27, 2006 4:50 AM:

Seems to me that the last thing Israel wants is a stable neighbour. Such a neighbour would be able to field a modern army and I'm sure if given the choice Israel would much prefer to be fighting guys who can't organise much of anything above the unit level.

Bob Badour said at July 27, 2006 6:57 AM:


If the southern shia were a sovereign area, Israel would have full justification for total blockade and mass destruction as a response to missile attacks. Thus, they would have the opportunity to defeat the group who attacks them. With the southern shia as an influential group in a sovereign Lebanon, Israel cannot defeat their enemy without harming millions of innocents.

The best thing the northern lebanese can do is unconditional surrender to Israel and let Israel partition the place into enemies and non-enemies.

The Superfluous Man said at July 27, 2006 1:40 PM:

Even in the short-term, it seems that only ridding Lebanon of its Shia or having Syria reoccupy the land will stem the attacks of Hezbollah and future substitutes.

The 'divide and conquer' idea here is interesting. But what is the probable outcome? Annhilation of the Shia? The rise of a rational dictator (Assad or another)? The Shia retreating into peace after defeat? Anarchy (ala Somalia)?

Stephen said at July 27, 2006 8:37 PM:

Bob, no country has 'full justification for total blockade and mass distruction' in the circumstances we're faced with here. South Lebanon was occupied by Israel for 20yrs, that occupation created Hezbulla. In fact, Israel was simultaneously arming their own Lebanese militia - they were called the Southern Lebanon Army and it actually had Shia in it.

The SLA stands accused of having done some quite nasty things in southern Lebanon until pushed back into Israel by, guess who, Hezbollah... In fact, after the SLA defeat, Israel provided the survivors with sanctuary and an income. Hezbollah (including not a few Lebanese civilians) would dearly love to get their hands on some of them.

PS: Far be it from me to point out that even though Hezbollah and SLA had equivalent roles in Lebanon, the SLA seems to have avoided being called a terrorist group and Israel seems to have avoided suffering massive US sanctions for funding and arming the SLA.

Randall Parker said at July 27, 2006 9:24 PM:


The stable neighbors Syria, Jordan, and Egypt all prevent people from launching mortars and missiles into Israel. The unstable neighbors do not.

The elites in charge of the stable neighbors know they can't beat Israel in a conventional war and prefer not to attack Israel. The last time a stable neighbor attacked Israel was in 1973.


If the Shia had their own country they probably would get a rational dictator. Now they do not get to choose the President or Prime Minister of Lebanon. But the President and Prime Minister can't tell them what to do. SO they are ungoverned and unaccountable.

Robert Hume said at July 28, 2006 7:51 AM:

The Lebanon crisis is a side effect of the Israeli-Palestinian problem. The IP problem could be solved fairly quickly by Israel vacating the settlements in the 1967 conquered territories. They would not have to cease occupying the territories. The Third Geneva Convention, which Israel signed in 1949, prohibits settling citizens in conquered territory, but allows occupation of conquered territory.

Once the settlers were out, the Palestinians would agree to most anything to get the occupation out; we were almost there in 2000. The chief obstacle was relatively small but powerful Jewish factions in the US and Israel who want to hold on to the settlements for religious reasons.

The Islamists feed on the non-settlement of the IP problem.

Unfortunately, eventually our war with the Islamists will become a cause in itself and settling the IP problem will not suffice to lead to Islamist losing support of the masses. I don't think it has quite reached that point, but a few more Iraq and Lebanon fiascos and we will be there.

The US should insist that Israel vacate all settlements, just as they vacated Gaza. That is the necessary and sufficient step to peace and democracy in the Middle East.

Bob Badour said at July 28, 2006 3:24 PM:

Robert, your appeasement fantasies will not end the Palestinian drive to erase Israel. History has shown that they view any concession as an advance toward the ultimate goal of erasing Israel and that they will find satisfaction in nothing less than erasing Israel.

Only defeat (or victory) will end their goal to erase Israel. Which would you prefer?

Bob Badour said at July 28, 2006 3:33 PM:
Bob, no country has 'full justification for total blockade and mass distruction' in the circumstances we're faced with here.

Stephen, according to your expressed values, no country has the right to sovereignty and no right to use military force to end war waged against its own civilian citizens. Israel has full justification for total blockade and mass destruction of those who attack it. What exactly is the difference between Hezbollah's missiles and the V1/V2 bombs used during the blitz?

In fact, Israel has full justification for total blockade and mass destruction against any polity in its entirety that is unwilling to prevent attacks on Israel from anywhere within its border. As such, Israel has shown tremendous restraint--perhaps foolhardy restraint--by not waging total war against all of Lebanon.

Frankly, I think Lebanon's unconditional surrender to Israel would go a long way toward ending the current humanitarian crisis as well as toward establishing conditions favourable to peace (or at least to a stable detente.)

Randall Parker said at July 28, 2006 4:39 PM:

Robert Hume,

I think the Palestinians won't stop fighting as long as Israel exists. Israel's unfairness in the territories doesn't help. But Israel pulled out of Gaza and that did not help. You think a closing of the settlements in the West Bank will help? I do not think so. I'd like to see the settlements shut down. But I'm not optimistic about the consequences.

Robert Hume said at July 28, 2006 5:33 PM:


I disagree, I think that if Israel pulled out of the settlements but left her Army in occupation that peace would follow quickly. But it would take a long time to justify that argument.

My point is that the settlements are illegal and hence if Israel wants to be a light to the world she should pull the settlers out of them. The Army can remain, just as the US Army remained in Germany while we did not settle there.

And just as Israel has no plans to settle in Lebanon. Do you think Israel would be better off if she dispatched settlers to Lebanon. Of course you don't.

Israel is in the settlements for religious reasons. The only other possible reason not pull out of the settlements is that it might encourage the Palestinians. But Israel would be fully within her rights to use every military capability it wanted to on the territories for as long as it wanted.

And I'll say again in shorthand. If the Palestinians think that they could stop being bombed and resume a normal life, they would leap at the chance of a peace treaty. Remember that there was total peace for about 10 years after 1967. Why did the trouble start? Because the Palestinians looked at the settlements and listened to proclamations from the Israeli right and decided (correctly, I believe) that they would never get their land back without resorting to violence.

The Lebanon excursion is serving the useful purpose, from the Israeli Rights point of view, of taking the spotlight off of the settlements. They are expanding as we speak.

Fight hard or get out said at July 29, 2006 9:54 AM:

"Israel wants to be a light to the world she should pull the settlers out of them"

All polls show that 99% of Israelis would settle to be a nation that doesn't have random rockets falling on its schools and hospitals.

Perhaps you want Israel to be a light unto the world. Should Israel die if they cannot be what you want them to be?

FightHardOrGetOut said at July 29, 2006 10:03 AM:


"I think that if Israel pulled out of the settlements but left her Army in occupation that peace would follow quickly"

Tried and failed spectacularly: Lebanon 1982-2000.

As far as I know Israel never had any settlements there. It had Army patrolled security zone.
No peace, not even close.

Barak totally withdrew in 2000, hoping, foolishly as it turned out, that peace will break out.
Result: a worst attack on Israel in 30 years.

It is good to have at least a glancing knowledge of main facts.

Randall Parker said at July 29, 2006 12:05 PM:

Robert Hume,

I think the Arab body politic basically rejects Israel's right to exist. If they can find a way to strike at Israel they will. Israel can be more fair to the Arabs. But if Israel does that (and I think being more fair is a good and moral thing to do) I do not expect the Arabs to reciprocate.

I think the main advantage of Israel's evacuating the West Bank settlements is that it would bring much more clarity to the situation. What the Arabs did after that would be based solely on their views on whether Israel should be allowed to exist in peace.

FightHardOrGetOut said at July 29, 2006 8:38 PM:

"the main advantage of Israel's evacuating the West Bank settlements is that it would bring much more clarity to the situation."

You wish.
Evacuating Lebanon did no such thing as far as Arabs and Euro-dhimmis are concerned. Trust the Arab to always invent something. In case of Lebanon the issue of Sherba (sp?) Farms was invented immediately. Sherba belonged to Syria, UN says it belongs to Syria, Syria used to say it belongs to Syria. Hezba says it belongs to them and so they will send rockets into Israel because of that. If Israel will release Sherba to Lebanon there will be another complication that will cause rockets drop on Israel.

If not Sherba, there are Hezba terrorists in Israel jails that must be released. If terrorists are released there are millions of Palis with fake claims to the Israel land and real estate. Millions and millions of Joo-hating Arabs must be resettled in Israel as far as Hezba is concerned.

If Israel will cave on this issue, problem will resolve itself, there will no longer be Israel.

I'm not optimistic. Israel would not or could not fight hard as she needs to keep the Arab sufficiently scared.
In such environment the Arab will prevail eventually.

US would not or could not fight hard to prevail in Iraq either. But we are somewhat isolated from Arab invasion. We will go down as result of Mexican invasion.

Randall Parker said at July 29, 2006 8:57 PM:


I'm not arguing that Israeli withdrawal will improve Arab attitudes toward Israel and Jews. I do argue that once Israel is not taking land from Palestinians on the West Bank that people who think the fight is about the on-going land takings will be able to see whether that is really the case. I think the results will be very enlightening for a substantial portion of Westerners.

We could certainly prevail in Iraq if we were willing to fight the way ancient empires fought - or even the way the Brits fought in the 1920s (convoy got attacked? go kill the nearby village). But of course our populaces in the West oppose that style of brutal conquest. You can tell them they ought to support more brutal methods. But they are not going to agree to do so.

BTW, you are referring to Shebaa Farms and that Wikipedia link does a good job of explaining that dispute.

FightHardOrGetOut said at July 30, 2006 6:02 PM:


Thanks for clarifying your argument.

In rational world, it would have a great merit. In the real Kafkaskian world we are living in it fails for two reasons, one is important (1) and another is overwhelming (2).

1. "the results will be very enlightening for a substantial portion of Westerners."
Were they enlightening as far as Gaza and Lebanon? Just today a black dude, name escapes, a permanent on Fox News Sunday panel replied to someone who stated that Israel withdrew from Lebanon 6 years ago: How Many Years Israel Occupied Lebanon?

I assume the guy is not anti-semite or anti-zionist, at least not explicitly.
All his prof life he worked with and for Joos. Very likely he had jewish mentors, friends and teachers. He lives in the most jewish city in USA.
He has access to all info in the world. The fact that total Leb withdrawal caused increase in terrorism on Leb-Israel border had virtually zero impact on that dude.

What do you expect from semi-ignorant, sometimes mildly anti-semitic, most often indifferent Westerners who are not paying attention and under constant vicious anti-Israel and pro-Arab, pro-Muslim media propaganda?

I don't quite know why western media is so anti-Israel and pro-Muslim, pro-Terrorists. I don't understand why Israel is so incompetent, shockingly so, in PR. But even with the best propaganda machine, Israel at best could expect a close game in propaganda war. As it is, Israel concedes defeat before a game starts.

2. As events in Gaza and Lebanon has shown, withdrawal from West Bank is, if not suicide by drinking poison, at minimum making poisonous drink and tasting it.
Events developed exactly as opponents of withdrawal predicted and proponents have totally lost face.
I predict 80-90% of Israelis are against withdrawal now, there will not be one for the next 3-10 years.
Especially if this war, as is likely, will end up as a propaganda victory for Hezba and a black eye for Israel and by extension for the USA.

Ironically, I do see a significant silver lining in this Israel "loss". IDF, Mossad and goverment will be purged, ala Barak goverment, from incompetent generals and wishfull thinking politicos. When time comes to hit Iran in 2-3 years, IDF and Mossad will be in much better shape.
Also, the public will be brought closer to reality from idiotic media induced notion of how to fight a war without killing anyone.

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