Tuesday, July 18, 2006

July 1914

Israel’s Prime Minister addressed the Knesset today about the situation in Lebanon and beyond. The Washington Times reports:

Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert
“There are moments in the life of any nation where it stares reality in the face and says ‘enough,’ “ said Mr. Olmert in his first address to parliament since the fighting began. “So I say to everyone: ‘Enough.’ Israel will not be held hostage to a terrorist gang, nor a terrorist authority.”

The prime minister said he would operate with “all the force” against Hezbollah, an Islamist militant group based in Lebanon, and Hamas, which is holding an Israeli soldier captive in the Gaza Strip. He described the groups as “subcontractors” for an Iranian-Syrian “axis of evil” that exports state-sponsored terrorism.

In the last day or two some commentators, perhaps impatient with the measured pace of unfolding events, have expressed doubt that Israel is willing to go the distance in this war. In particular, they wondered if it would balk at a ground assault into Lebanon.

The Prime Minister’s speech indicates otherwise. “All the force” can only mean the dirty and dangerous task of hunting Hizbullah terrorists down and pulling them out of all their rabbit holes in South Lebanon.

The strategic logic for the ground assault requires major operations in the Bekaa Valley, Hizbullah’s stronghold and armory. In order to neutralize the Bekaa, the terrorists’ supply routes and logistical support from Syria must be interdicted. Wretchard and Chester agree that this may make an Israeli attack on Syrian territory necessary. Bashar Assad, if he is truly dedicated to sitting this one out, might pull all his assets back from the border and ignore what’s going on. But, since saving face is of utmost political importance in the Arab world, he might not.

Then we have this interesting tidbit from YNet (hat tip: Carl in Jerusalem):

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was sent to Damascus to urge Hizbullah to curb rocket attacks against Israel and to release two Israel Defense Forces soldiers captured a week ago in order to avoid further escalations, a London-based Arabic daily reported.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat reported that a European country warned Iran that Israel is ready for a confrontation with Syria, which recently signed a defense alliance with Iran.

The alliance stipulates that Iran would send arms and troops to back Syria should Damascus be attacked.

Iran was also warned that Israel is determined to crush Hizbullah’s infrastructure and liquidate its leadership.

The report, which was based on leaks by an Iranian presidential aide, said Iran is worried by criticism waged against Hizbullah by an array of Lebanese politicians like Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and Saad Hariri, son of slain former prime minister Rafik Hariri.

Interestingly enough, this seems to be a fight the Arabs want to keep inside the family: Carl reports that Al-Sharq left this story out of their English-language version.

Just to make the situation even more interesting, Spook86 points out that the infidel tourists currently being evacuated by sea from Lebanon may prove to be an irresistible target for Hizbullah’s artillery on the Lebanese coast. Especially the Americans — how could any dedicated mujahid forego the opportunity of blowing up a boatload of Americans?

One big question is whether there truly exists a chain of command running from Tehran through Damascus and the Bekaa to the Hizbullah units on the front lines. Iran and Syria are Hizbullah’s patrons, but do the terrorists really take orders from Damascus and Tehran?

Everything may go smoothly. The Israelis may destroy Hizbullah’s offensive capabilities, hold Syria at bay, and clear a buffer zone in South Lebanon. The UN could broker a cease-fire deal that saves face for everybody, and delegate a multinational force to keep the terrorists away from southern Lebanon. Then the West, with deep-pockets Uncle Sugar leading the way, can shower Lebanon with billions of dollars in development aid to rebuild all the infrastructure destroyed in the war.

It might go that way, but I’m not betting on it just yet.

It’s mid-July, 1914. The Archduke Franz Ferdinand has been buried. Gavrilo Princip is in custody. Austria is mobilizing. The Kaiser rages and seethes. The Serbs are defiant, and Russia seems dangerously oblivious. Everything is up in the air.

What will happen next?

15 comments:

Voyager said...

http://tinyurl.com/kpgw8

In this item in Der Spiegel the following paragraph was interesting:

Kidnapping und anschließende Verhandlungen zur Freilassung haben in Nahost Tradition; unter deutscher Vermittlung wurde in der Vergangenheit mehrfach der Austausch von Gefallenen und Gefangenen vermittelt. Der letzte Deal fand im Februar 2004 auf dem Kölner Flughafen statt - und schon damals hatte der israelische Premier Ariel Scharon mit heiserer Altmännerstimme gewarnt, bei der nächsten Entführung werde man "mit bisher unbekannten Mitteln reagieren".

Saying that kidnapping and prisoner trades was a common feature of the MIddle East, however the last one undertaken under German mediation was in Feb 2004 at Cologne Airport and even then Ariel Sharon had warned that next time Israel "would react in a very different fashion in future"

eatyourbeans said...

So that 2006 doesn't become 1914, Condi's time would be better spent visiting Moscow, Bejing and New Delhi than by rushing here and there around the middle-east. A Russia ,given the caspian sea territory which also has lots of energy resources, might be content to keep out. China and India might go for major partnerships in an international condominium administering the oil reserves of what was Iran. Nah, it isn't colonialism. By definition, only white people do that.

btw. I don't know if it's still in print, but the final 3 volumes of Les Thibaults (Roger Martin Dugard, 1937?) are the best account of that period between Ferdinand's assassination and the outbreak of war. Sometimes these 3 are packaged under the title 1914. It's fiction, but as you read on, you can feel the firm ground of everything the characters took for certain and normal slowly slipping out from under them. The process is ineluctable and horrifying, as public mood changes from disbelief to alarm to acceptance of that war. I think we're all approaching that tipping point.

Buffy said...

False historical analogy. The neighbors of the combatants don't want to get involved. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey--they don't want war.

If Syria and Iran are stupid enough to pull the trigger, most of the guns are aimed at them. The US is the 50 ton gorilla in the region--not Russia, not China, not Europe--the US. No matter who starts it, the US is gonna finish it, because that's who's there in the way of big muscle.

El Jefe Maximo said...

How funny you thought of the same analogy...when I first read Mr. Olmert's statement, I thought of poor old Kaiser Franz-Josef and his proclamation announcing war with Serbia.

I own to having a good deal sympathy for all the players in 1914, (including the Germans and Austrians), but I have none whatever for Syria, Iran and Hezbollah today. Poor Lebanon, though.

I suspect Iran would like to think it controls Hezbollah...and perhaps once it did, in terms of deciding what arms to provide, what training to give, and when to whip the pack on into doing something stupid. But now, like the July 1914 crisis: events are developing their own momentum.

Israel had to respond to the abduction of its soldiers, else invite further depredations. AFter Israel's response, Hezbollah's bosses had to fire rockets into Israel -- or be called sell-outs by their cadres. Iran has to back Hezbollah, because everybody knows that Hezbollah is Iran's tool. Syria has to supply Hezbollah, becuase it is in hock to iraq and the minority government of Boy Assad has to show its radical credentials.

The Israelis can't accept anything less than the dismantlement and the destruction of Hezbollah: because if it does there will be no end of rocket into Israel. Hezbollah isn't about to negotiate its own impotence or destruction, neither its membership nor the Iranians will let it. Syria thinks it cannot tolerate a truly independent Lebanon.

The Iranians are now in a "use it or lose it mode" -- they must rocket Israel today and use what Hezbollah assets they have, because Hezbollah possibly will not exist tomorrow.

Just as in July 1914, nobody will be able to stop, because everyone has taken a public or known position and the stoppers are too obviously the losers.

So, here we are. Nobody can stop, and nobody knows where it's going.

Scott said...

Prior world conflicts cannot be a
model for anything because today we
have a significant parts of Western
nations who do not identify with
their nation and we have a global
media that did not exist in either
1914 or 1939.

These factors render our superior
firepower somewhat irrelevant. Yes,
we can probably drive to Teheran in
30 days or less but that does not
mean we will meet in a railway car
with Iran's leaders to accept their
surrender. Just as we have found in
Iraq the taking is the easy part it
is what do you do with the animal
once you got it.

I'm coming to think that maybe our
best strategy is to ignite a Sunni
Shia civil war. Its already begun
in Iraq. Let it come to Lebanon and
Saudi Arabia too. We CAN seize and
hold the oil fields and terminals.

ScottSA said...

I don't think the 1914 analogy works here...there may have been a period of stasis, but once the dogs of war were let loose, they howled into existence with bared fangs and slathering jaws.

I don't even think the 1939 "winter war" is a good analogy, because it was merely a latterday Saxon shield wall writ large, in which both sides bellowed insults, beat their chests and otherwise worked themselves into a killing rage...but once again, once the tanks began to roll, it became unmistakably war.

This war seems more to resemble a global vortex, a sort of slow gyration characterized by surges and eddies slowly sucking more and more of civilization into its maelstrom. I can't help thinking of Einstein's famous words "I do not know how the Third World War will be fought, but I can tell you what the Fourth world war will be fought with – stone clubs."

In the meantime, who knows what missteps Iran will take. Its like a spoiled child with a gasoline bomb in a room full of mercenaries armed to the teeth. It lacks the subtlety to play the game its playing and I suspect it lacks the brains to learn. It may not even share the paradigm of rationality. What it has been doing is stumbling around the room snarling in every direction, and sooner or later its going to step on the wrong toes.

It may be that Scott is quite right: the west's superior firepower is at best somewhat neutered because of its social composition and its post-colonial self-flagellatory histrionics, and at worst it may find it has more at issue in its own cities than in the middle east. But if the west explodes into a bloodbath it'll take the world with it.

Baron Bodissey said...

Buffy,

My historical analogy is not false; you have merely misunderstood the analogy I intended.

This July is like July 1914 in that important world-shaking events are in the process of unfolding, and were begun by a small incident (Gavrilo Princip's gun = abduction of Cpl. Shalit).

The process is in exorable and beyond anyone's control. Events will unfold according to their own internal logic, which is too complex and chaotic to be predicted.

That's what I meant.

Da Bear said...

A very interesting analogy, 1914. Except that 1914 was a tragic misstep of Bismarckian imperialism and European colonialism, and doesn't include the religious fever and and crushing anti-Semitism of Islam. However the reference to the post-assassination faux summer peace is an elegant choice.

“The lights are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime” famously intoned British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey in the gathering dusk of August 4 1914. Today, the lights of a post Soviet world are flickering in breeze of overwhelming European Islamic immigration and radical Islam. Anti-Semitism, thirty-years ago a relic of Nazi ideology, has been revived as basis for Radical Islamic Jihad. And the US, saddled with a difficult occupation, has allowed" the dogs of war" to slip from its grasp.

Another post WWII, late 20th and early 21st century proxy war has begun. This time the Iranian puppet Hizbollah is stirring the pot in Lebanon against Israel and not so indirectly at the US. Three questions need to asked as this proxy war either flares up, withers away or explodes.

Is Iran (the mullahocracy) honestly ready to take on the US military? (Got nucs?)
No.
Is Israel over its Lebanese "Vietnam syndrome", and will it put two armored divisions inside Lebanon to wipe out Hizbollah?
Yes.
Can Syria resist attacking the Israeli right flank in ground war in Lebanon?
See question #1.

All the players are attuned to each other movements (shades of 1914!) and will nominally abide by rational thought processes . The joker in this deck is an Iranian/ Hizbollah terrorist attack on US soil. It would not take much for the US to turn significant portions of Iranian infrastructure into molten glass. Unfortunately the mullahs have the same disregard for US national outrage as did the Japanese before Pearl Harbor.

Da Bear

mts said...

I like Da Bear's pointing out the joker in the deck being Iran, but for different reasons.

For me, all of Iran's public statements have done nothing but put a noose around their government's neck, preventing reason and common sense from overriding the need to save face. They've been "woofing", and still woof, about how they're going to destroy Israel, about how they're now the big boy on the block, the foremost country ready, and now (nuke) able, to defend the Faith and be the flagship country in the war against the infidels. As Russia was the protector of the Slavs in 1914, and as such was the protector of Serbia.

Like 1914, they will severely, perhaps fatally (as in a coup) lose face if they don't back up their big mouths with action, whether they want to or not. Just like the Allies and Central Powers had to back up their intricate treaties of mutual protection, otherwise their word was worthless, and they as a government were sunk.

Saving face and maintaining respect has nothing to do with your feelings, it is the gold standard of your worth as a government. Once the Warsaw Pact saw that the USSR was not going to back up its "defense" of the local People's Republics ala 1956 and 1968, the whole darn thing fell, with the USSR itself going poof just a couple of years after the Berlin Wall fell. Once the jihadists saw that their terrorist acts in the 1990's were met, at most, with a few bombs and a shrug, they upped the ante until 9/11 when they got the news a bit too late that the new boss is not the same as the old boss, that this one will hit them back.

It's like being in a bar and having your idiot buddy say something stupid to someone's girlfriend. Now the big palooka has to defend her to keep her (or at least get those hugs and kisses later), and you have to try to your bud out before he gets stomped, but the palooka's buds see you come in to his aid, now you're all in the mix. Unless the bouncers come quickly enough to break it up and throw you out, so you all can save face and spare a beat down at the same time.

No impartial bouncer came to the Europeans in 1914 to break it up in a way that kept anyone from being the chump. Since we very much have a dog in this fight, we can't be the impartial bouncer. Being that the other countries strong enough to pull this off (China, Russia) are more than happy to see us tied up, it don't look too good.

To quote American Pie,

I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news
But she just smiled and turned away

Voyager said...

So that 2006 doesn't become 1914

A very tired analogy. Austria-Hungarey issued an Ultimatum to Serbia 6 WEEKS after the assassination. The nearest thing we have had to such an Ultimatum was that of Madeleine Albright issued at Rambouillet to Serbia in 1999 when NATO demanded much the same subjugation of Serbia as had Austria-Hungary in 1914.

Austria-Hungary could not act against Russia's protege Serbia without the backing of Von Moltke and the German General; Staff who had then to re-jig the Schlieffen Plan which caused them to be bogged down in France for 4 years.

It is exactly the wrong analogy to employ and lends credence to those who see the US as Germany and Israel as Austria-Hungary dragging big brother into conflict. Too many times people fish into the past to understand the present uprooting the events from the facts of the time - Gavrilo Princip was an agent of The Black Hand itself supported by Russia's Okhrana - and it was the Orthodox alliance between Serbs and Russians................that same alliance which NATO stamped on when bombing Belgrade and humiliating Yeltsin's Russia..............that motivates Putin to redress that insult.

Baron Bodissey said...

Voyager --

Like others, you're missing the point of the 1914 analogy. As I said in a comment above:

This July is like July 1914 in that important world-shaking events are in the process of unfolding, and were begun by a small incident (Gavrilo Princip's gun = abduction of Cpl. Shalit).

The process is in exorable and beyond anyone's control. Events will unfold according to their own internal logic, which is too complex and chaotic to be predicted.

eatyourbeans said...

Well, I think 1914 is right on the money, at least so far.

The one difference I can see is that the Balkans were a godforsaken shithole, no good to anybody. But this new dogforsaken shithole, the middle east, has oil. So interfering isn't a matter of self-respect or national sentimentalism, but a necessity.

This is why I do think that China and India need to be bribed with lots of oil to see that Iran as a nation deserves to disappear for good.

It shouldn't be that hard--nobody gives a damn for Islam, some just find their antics useful.

Scott said...

Yes, I can see Baron's point now. A
match has been lit and just as the
peoples of Europe in the summer of
1914 had no idea that a holocaust
was coming our world too could be
coming apart at the seams.

The difference is we can sense it
and that we are up against truly
evil people.

What is disturbing is that the very
things that might have been useful
to avoid 1914, i.e., diplomacy,
ceasefires, etc, are now being
advocated for an entirely different
set of circumstances.

It has been said that 'generals
fight the last war' but isn't it
more the case that it is the
intellectuals? How is diplomacy
relevant when one is dealing with
terrorist gangs? It may have been
that a Henry Kissinger could have
successfully conducted 'shuttle
diplomacy'between London and Berlin
because the 'Kaiser' was not evil
incarnate but what is there for a
diplomat to 'negotiate' with a gang
whose very existance is a war crime?

Voyager said...

This July is like July 1914 in that important world-shaking events are in the process of unfolding, and were begun by a small incident (Gavrilo Princip's gun = abduction of Cpl. Shalit).

I still think you overrate this and put it on far too grand a scale. You overrate Gavrilo Princip for one thing - he survived the war btw.

In Nov 2005 Hezbollah tried exactly this stunt of kidnapping Israeli border guards and they were killed by the IDF. This time they succeeded and brought down retaliation, but the calculation of Iran is that Israel cannot remove Hezbollah because it is too strong, and that Lebanon cannot either.

Nothing stood in the way of Russia and Germany mobilising and at the end they were destroyed.............I don't think Israel is counting on being destroyed but that is the calculation the Iranians are making.............it is worth sacrificing Lebanon and Hezbollah to destroy Israel.

Some victories are Pyrrhic............to pursue your July 1914 analogy - the monarchies of Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary, "Turkey", were destroyed and much more virulent regimes emerged.

I do not see anything major or earth-shattering in what is currently going on in the Middle East - it is another regional war, and far less threatening than 1973 when Brezhnev had troops ready to enter the fray and only President Nixon stopped him.

Baron Bodissey said...

Voyager --

Princip most assuredly did not survive the war. See here:

"He died of tuberculosis on April 28, 1918 at Theresienstadt [prison]. At the time of his death Princip weighed around 40 kilograms (88 pounds)."

You are, once again, setting up straw men to torch with your arguments. My assertion is that July 2006 is like July 1914 in that momentous events are unfolding, that they are impossible for anyone to control, and that they are too chaotic to predict.

As I say in the post, things may return to the status quo ante. But no one can say for sure. None of the principal players has sufficient information to predict the results of his decisions.