Sunday, July 20, 2008

Unsettled future

Now that Nasrullah has retrieved the murderer Kuntar, and now that the US is sending an envoy to meet with the Iranian representative in Geneva, the future for Israel looks unsettled.
As far as Hizbollah is concerned, the situation returns to the status quo ante, in other words Hizbollah prepares once again for an attack on Israel that will enable it to continue to bill itself as the "resistance" in Lebanon. In order to accomplish this they have fully rearmed, including 40% more short range rockets (estimates vary from 20-40,000) and medium and long range rockets above the level before the 2006 war. But, there are two factors that militate against an attack, first Hizbollah is now part of the political establishment in Lebanon as a result of the Doha agreement. But, while Hizbollah now has veto power over decisions of the Lebanese Govt. they also agreed not to start a war without the knowledge and agreement of the other parties in the Govt. Even though Pres. Sleiman and the whole Lebanese people publicly celebrated the return of Kuntar last week, it is not likely that any other group in Lebanon would agree to re-start hostilities with Israel, given the bashing they received after the cross-border raid by Hizbollah that precipitated the 2006 war. At the time, Hizbollah bombarded the whole of Israel south of the border as cover for their raid to capture Israeli soldiers. They did no expect that Israel would respond so violently and destroy much of Lebanon's infrastructure. Now they will be a little more careful and perhaps restrained by the other parties in Lebanon. Also, they know that the IDF learnt many lessons form the war in 2006, and next time hopefully would be even more effective.
As far as Iran is concerned, they want Hizbollah and Hamas, their proxy in Gaza, to continue attacking Israel. But, in the south there is a tentative truce that both sides seem to want to keep, at least until the negotiations over the release of Gilad Schalit come to a conclusion. Hamas is afraid that Israel will re-institute the blockade and/or mount a major attack after his release, so they are upping the ante, and asking for more Palestinian prisoners to be freed.
At the same time, Iran is continuing negotiations with the EU over its uranium enrichment program, which is illegal according to the IAEA and the UN. Their representative Saed Jallili met with Javier Solana and other EU members in Geneva. But, this time a new dimension was added by the participation of US Undersecretary of State William Burns. Why has the Bush administration now decided to meet with the Iranians, even though he is not going to "negotiate," when until now their policy has been firmly to avoid any direct contact? There are two possible reasons for this, either they have changed their policy in light of the pressure of public opinion in the US, engendered by the stated aim of Democratic candidate Barack Obama to initiate direct engotiations with Iran if he is elected. By starting such contacts now, the Bush Administration somewhat undercuts Obama's position.
Also, and perhaps the main reason, is that the Bush Administration is deliberately showing the world that they are in favor of negotiations rather than the military option with Iran. Since this past week a Bush Administration source let it be known that they were not giving Israel the green light to attack Iran, but neither were they giving Israel a red light, they were simply giving Israel an "open door" if it felt that it had no alternative but to attack Iran. So this statement, together with Burns attendance at the meeting, sends a signal to all concerned, including Israel, that the US will not attack Iran, but that Israel can if it needs to. This is different from the US policy towards Iran until now, that "all options are on the table," expliticly including the military one. Finally at the meeting in Geneva, Iran rejected the West's offer, but has been given another two weeks to reconsider. When they won't budge, what then? Another offer or an ultimatum?
One cannot predict how things will work out now, and it may be that the US move is a front for continued preparations for an attack (although the US is usually not that devious). But, given these developments, the future for Israel looks unsettled.


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