May 07, 2007

“Better a Thousand Israeli Invasions…”

by Michael J. Totten

The Winograd report is a damning indictment of Israeli failure and incompetence during last year’s war against Hezbollah in Lebanon. I criticized the war myself from the very beginning when it became clear the Israeli Defense Forces still had no idea how to successfully deal with the Iranian-sponsored guerilla militia in the north. Now is a good time to return to this subject.

Efraim Inbar in Middle East Quarterly zeroes in on a major part of the problem.
From the first day of the campaign, [IDF Chief of Staff Dan] Halutz advocated attacking infrastructure beyond southern Lebanon to pressure the Lebanese government to counter Hezbollah.
Just about any person living in Lebanon, whether Lebanese or international and regardless of their view of Hezbollah, could have told the Israeli government that this wouldn’t work. If Dan Halutz truly believed bombing civilian infrastructure would rally Lebanese to his side, he does not have even a basic grasp of Lebanese politics.

Lebanese have rallied around Hezbollah before when they felt themselves threatened by a common enemy, not because Hezbollah is well-liked by the majority (it isn’t) but because Hezbollah is Lebanese and Israel isn’t.

The biggest reason, though, that most Lebanese won’t side with Israel against Hezbollah is because Lebanese fear civil war more than they fear anything else. They have good reasons, too. The 1975-1990 civil war wrecked far more destruction in Lebanon than any foreign invasion.

“Better a thousand Israeli invasions than another civil war,” is a refrain I heard more than once from Lebanese who detest the very existence of Hezbollah. Israeli military and defense officials would be well advised to tattoo that phrase on their foreheads before trying again to use force inside Lebanon to alter its politics. Israelis don’t have to like this feature of Lebanese political culture, but they do need to understand that it is a feature. (Call it a bug if it makes you feel better.)

If all the non-Hezbollah Lebanese suddenly became committed Zionist agents, the Lebanese government still would not and could not disarm Hezbollah. Partly this is because Hezbollah is stronger, better armed, and better trained than the Lebanese army. Partly this is because the Lebanese army was sabotaged and degraded during Syria’s 15-year occupation. Partly this is because some of the army’s officers are Syrian-appointed stooges who take their orders from Damascus. Partly this is because the Lebanese army is an army of conscripts, many of whom are more loyal to Hezbollah than they are to the state. The Lebanese army split into separate armed forces during the last civil war and will likely do so again if there is another one.

The main reason, though, even if none of the above things were true, is because Hezbollah is the private army of vastly more powerful Syria and Iran. A significant portion of Lebanon’s people find this perfectly acceptable and will continue to do so as long as Syria and Iran are willing and able to interfere in Lebanese politics. Hezbollah could be disarmed to the last man, but that by itself would not stop Syria and Iran from replenishing the weapons stocks within a mere couple of months.

Syria and Iran must be contained at the least before Hezbollah can be neutralized.

Don’t be fooled by your atlas. Lebanon isn’t a country any more than Iraq is a country. Both are geographic abstractions held together only by common currencies, common passports, and a map. They aren’t nation states like France and New Zealand. Both Lebanon and Iraq have more than one government and feature private armies controlled by third governments.

The government in Beirut is the most democratic of all Arab governments. It is also the weakest. It cannot be expected to effectively resist Syria and Iran any more than Kuwait could have freed itself from Saddam Hussein or Costa Rica could pacify and stabilize Colombia. These are not jobs for small and weak countries, especially not for weak countries divided against themselves.

Israel’s first fatal flaw last July was the assumption that Lebanon’s problems are local and can be solved in Lebanon. The Hezbollah problem is a regional one. Think globally, act locally will get Israel nowhere.

Israel’s second fatal flaw was the decision to fight an asymmetric war, which is hard, instead of a conventional war, which is easy.

Israel fought an asymmetric war with Hezbollah for years in South Lebanon and basically lost. This, after defeating three conventional Arab armies (Syria's, Jordan's, and Egypt's) in six days in 1967.

The United States has been fighting a grinding asymmetric insurgency in Iraq for several years now after easily defeating Iraq’s conventional army two times.

Western armies are good at conventional war. Western armies are bad at asymmetrical war. That means relatively weak states like Syria and Iran are well advised to fight asymmetric wars whenever possible. Western armies are well advised to fight conventional wars whenever possible.

Let’s go back to Efraim Inbar in Middle East Quarterly.
Fear of escalation clouded Olmert's strategic judgment. On the first day of the conflict, Mossad chief Maj. Gen. Meir Dagan recommended that the Israeli air force target Syrian sites. Instead, Olmert sought to placate. Israeli leaders repeatedly said that Israel had no intention of expanding its military activities to target Syria.
Therefore Syria has no incentive whatever to make peace with Israel or stop arming and funding Hezbollah. Weak Arab dictatorships have finally discovered an effective way to wage wars against Israel (and the United States). Asymmetric proxy wars work.

Israelis allowed themselves to be suckered into an asymmetric war by Syria and Iran. Instead of weakening Syria and strengthening Lebanon, they weakened Lebanon and strengthened Syria. They would be well advised not to do it again.

Israel, understandably, doesn’t want regime change in Syria. What comes after the Baath could be worse. Very well, then. Bomb the Assad regime until Assad cries uncle. However much the Israelis don’t want regime change in Syria, the Assad regime wants regime change even less. Assad will cry uncle because he has far more to lose. If his choice is to sever his relations with Hezbollah or die, he’ll sever his relations with Hezbollah. Otherwise, why on earth should he?

Assad is making noises about peace negotiations with Israel. But he doesn’t want peace with Israel. He already has peace with Israel if peace is defined by the lack of incoming bombs. What he wants is a peace “process” because he hopes it will take the heat off his government for murdering journalists and politicians in Lebanon. If Assad suddenly finds himself under attack, he might decide a peace treaty – a real one, not a peace “process” – is something worth having.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at May 7, 2007 01:49 AM

"Western armies are bad at asymmetrical war. "

The British army have a lot of experience from fighting the Malayan Communists, the IRA and EOKA. I would expect the Spanish army to have learned from the long war with ETA.

I think the US military are learning how to fight this kind of war. For instance, the barriers in Baghdad are based on the ones used successfully in Belfast.

Certainly in 2003, the US were terrified of the prospect of street fighting in Baghdad. Rumsfeld in particular wanted to do the whole job from the air. A lot has happened since then.

Posted by: Don Cox at May 7, 2007 02:34 AM

Western armies can fight and win assymetrical wars IF, and this is a big if, they have strong public support for these wars. Israel decisively won the second intifada because there was a strong Israeli will to do so.

In my opinion, it is now clear to the Israeli public that it is imperative to win the assymetrical war in South Lebanon. The result of the next war in Lebanon will be a renewed Israeli occupation of the south, only this time, the lessons from the checkpoint occupation of the West Bank will be learned.

Israel need not be in each village or town, but it should make moving between them very difficult. This will give HA few targets but will stop their ability to rearm.

Posted by: e at May 7, 2007 03:56 AM

The biggest challenge the U.S. has now is to win its own public's support for the assymetrical war in Iraq. In this regard, Israel is better off than the U.S. For the moment. (Looking for the silver lining here in Tel Aviv, which is plenty cloudy after Winograd 1.0).

Posted by: savtadotty at May 7, 2007 04:44 AM

If Dan Haluts was so simplistic as to not appreciate the nuances in Lebanon, then I am truly ashamed.

Posted by: Eliyahu at May 7, 2007 05:11 AM

What he wants is a peace “process” because he hopes it will take the heat off his government for murdering journalists and politicians in Lebanon.

And also to enable Syria to cement its political control and economic exploitation of Lebanon (the real prize, as Tony Badran so ably demonstrates), while enjoying the twin fringe benefits of continually destabilizing any possibility of genuine Lebanese independence and continuing to threaten Israel from the north.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at May 7, 2007 06:23 AM

The key is to not worry about the media's perception.

This is the downfall of the Jews in general -- "But what will everybody think?"

Who cares!

They already hate you. Fight like you mean it.

Posted by: Gliker at May 7, 2007 06:49 AM

Yes! The situation with the Palestinians and Lebanese is and has always been the same. They are incapable of fighting the civil war that would be needed for it to ever be possible for them to have responsible governments (as we understand it) and thus to come to workable peace terms with Israel. This basic truth will never change and as a consequence it will always be easy for someone who wants to prevent the establishment of peace to do so (by funding a Hezb/Hamas/Sadr ...).

Take note America - you're the same hole.

Posted by: Adam D. at May 7, 2007 10:04 AM


Western armies are good at conventional war. Western armies are bad at asymmetrical war. That means relatively weak states like Syria and Iran are well advised to fight asymmetric wars whenever possible. Western armies are well advised to fight conventional wars whenever possible.

Well said. It is also one of the most obvious fact to emerge from any familiarity with the relevant history. What I do not understand is why do we not act upon this knowledge? Why do we allow regimes that kill our soldiers as a tool of state policy to dictate the type of war we will fight? Why is the west being so foolish?

This is what I want to know. Why?

Posted by: JBP at May 7, 2007 10:38 AM

After Israel's blow out win in 1967; she's been dealing with it "diplomatically." And, that's much tougher.

I happen to think Olmert is a genius. But even if he wasn't; the "incompetent nature" of the Lebanese Summer WORKED. Better than NOT.

Becuase James Baker is up to his eyeballs in "halping" the Saud's gain real estate. Perhaps you didn't see it? But Assad didn't want to fight. And, Bush wanted Assad's head delivered to the White House. On a platter. Where, what surrounds Israel, would change to Saudi control. YIKES!

The WInograd "report" is an attempt by political parties (mainly the Likud), to try and regain the voters. Who left, in droves for Kadima. Even after Arik Sharon stroked.)

It's still not over. And, won't end, until Bush leaves the White House. Meanwhile? There are books out there. A good one is HOUSE OF BUSH / HOUSE OF SAUD. Which details back to Reagan's second term. Sure. Should be read. But by now? People have avoided looking at this stuff.

What Olmert did, was MOVE within 32 seconds of the Hizbullah kidnappings of two INJURED soldiers. There were to "deep" midnight forays into Southern Lebanon. To Hezbollah headquarters. Where there was a hospital. And, IF the soldiers were alive? They would have been there. Instead? The Israelis got the central computers of Nasrallah's organization.

As to WHY Israel held back from conventional war? Well, there weren't enough dead Jews. Actually, only 15 died in all those missile attacks. Plus, 15 arabs. Since the missiles weren't "tactical" in what they hit. And, they hit more cows than people.

Again, Winograd is just a political ploy. It might not even work? Because Olmert is one of Israel's BEST politicians. Arik Sharon knew that! And, that's why he was given Seat #2. And, not Shimon Peres. (Whose usual knives were thrust into Olmert's back. Leading me to see that Peres never changes.)

As to Lebanon? If the missiles had hit more "targets" rich in Jews? THEN Olmert would have proceeded to do more. (While, at the same time, you've got to realize Arik Sharon spent two years training the IDF to make the gaza pull out as painless as possible.) Sometimes, you just can't have things "both ways." I hope Olmert survives. It would change how people view Winograd in the short term. Instead of waiting for "history" to evolve.

Posted by: Carol Herman at May 7, 2007 11:32 AM

can you please consider getting this translated to Hebrew and pubished in either Mariv or Yedioth Ahronoth (YNet)?

This really needs to be published in the Hebrew version.

Posted by: crazyman in NYC at May 7, 2007 12:39 PM


Do you have any editorial contacts at Ynet? I don't.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 7, 2007 12:49 PM

Seems to me that if the Lebanese diaspora does not return to Lebanon (which is highly, highly unlikely) then Lebanon is going to fall in the end anyway, no matter what Israel does...I heard that 1/3 of the Christian Lebanese applied for visas after the summer war...I really don't see where you think Lebanon is headed, regardless of Israel's actions. The Christian community, once the majority, is now a fraction, and they have very little to no political power. In a few years there will be a civil war between the Sunnis (backed by SA) and Shia (backed by Iran & Syria)for control of Lebanon, that's my guess...

Posted by: Corinne at May 7, 2007 12:52 PM

Excellent peice Michael, keep up the good work!

Posted by: Blacksmith Jade at May 7, 2007 01:14 PM

Mike, this is an excellent piece, and mirrors my own thinking. I'm not sure that I'm 100% convinced that bombing Syria will produce the results you desire, but it's surely a better chance than strategies that repeatedly result in self-evident failure. If I was a national politician and felt forced to use a hawkish response, that's what mine would be.

Of course, be warned that the history of forcing tyrants to obey via air raids is pretty uneven as well - the case of Hussein, Saddamn can be read more than one way on this issue. But it's better than the alternatives that seem to come out.

Of course, Mike, putting forth the policy you put forth means recognizing, coming to terms with, and admitting the fundamental difference between a clandestine nihilist terrorist cell such as Al_Quieda, with no popular movement behind it, and organizations that use inhumane and/or terrorist methods but operate from a widespread base of local/foreign support.

One you can surgically remove, and the other will
grow back repeatedly until you solve the bigger problem, however you define it. It's absolutely correct that you won't solve Hizballah without dealing with/neutralizing Syria, but I'm not sure that the asymetrical war against Hizballah failed solely because of foreign support. That's only one dimension of the issue at hand.

Posted by: glasnost at May 7, 2007 01:54 PM

Launching an unprovoked airstrike against a country that's currently playing host to over 1,000,000 Iraqi refugees might be a rather bad P.R. move.

Posted by: alphie at May 7, 2007 03:21 PM

It wouldn't be unprovoked, it doesn't matter if they are playing host to refugees (seriously, wtf?) and anything Israel does is a bad P.R. move.

Posted by: mikek at May 7, 2007 04:55 PM

I very much nodded throughout the lecture. A good note to take on some of your analysis.

Posted by: Jester at May 7, 2007 05:10 PM

I sure wish Israel would bomb Syria, at least a little -- but don't believe they will.
And I'm not certain it's the right long term move.

Christians leaving Lebanonn is a BIG story. Please consider looking into it -- more willing to run than to fight.

Maybe Israel should be evacuated before Iran gets a nuke? Preemptive surrender seems better than accepting being a sitting duck target.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at May 7, 2007 06:35 PM

Great analysis! A lot of Lebanese (non-Hizballah) shares your view.

Posted by: ghassan khaled at May 7, 2007 06:44 PM

Wait Wait! I'm going crazy here.

In the Second Gulf War, we had 150,000 American troops invading Iraq. America's population is 300million. That was called a conventional war.

In the Second Lebanon War, we had 50,000 IDF troops in Lebanon. Israel's population is roughly 6million. You're trying to convince me that Israel's war with Hezbollah wasn't conventional?

Hundreds of villages were wiped out. Thousands of towns bombed/shelled. Every single city in Lebanon was also hit, and in one case invaded. 50,000 soldiers fully armed with the worlds most technically advanced weapons, using thousands of armored vehicle includig hundreds of Merkava tanks backed up by hundreds of fighter jets, helicopters and airdrones, warships, IDF shelling posts and missile batteries, and you still don't call that a conventional war?

I am going to repeat a point i have said many times before. If you are interested in finding out the truth so that you may destroy something like Hezbollah in the future, this is the lesson to learn from: It was not IDF faults which made them fail. The opposite was true. Idf morale had been an all-time high during this war and the whole public supported them throughout it. The IDF had been pretty much prepared, the story of them not being prepared is fiction so to at least save SOME image of the IDF's power (like when you play teken 3 with your brother, he kicks your ass and you either say you wasn't ready when he started or you're not 'trying my best'). The fact is that Hezbollah is the one that made improvements. Everyone knew that Hezbollah can fight Assymetric/Guerrila warfare, but they thought that could only be done against another force fighting the same way. Hezbollah has successfuly been able to learn and adopt a new strtegy of fighting guerilla warfare with a state fighting a conventional one. And as anyone here can see, they succeeded.

Whatever anyone here thinks happened in the SLW, Hezbollah came out on top. The pro's far outweigh the cons as far as HEZBOLLAH is concerned. Im not talking about Lebanon, Syria or Iran. Thats another weak point with alot of people. As sson as Hezbollah is talked about, they drift off to Syria and Iran and Lebanon and all that crap, then to Sarkozy and US and cartman from southpark. When you talk about Hezbollah, stick to it. No-one will ever discover their strategies etc if they drift off. It's like what happened in Germany, everyone was so scared of far-left (i.e. communism) that they always looked the wrong way, until the far-right (Nazism) hit them unexpectedly.

Hezbollah is on the Northern border, Iran is not. Hamas has been locked off from the rest of the world but still gets support from its people and still has an effect, a big one, on Israel. Why does anyone think Hezbollah to be any different when Hezbollah are Hamas's Tutors?

If i were Israel, i would know better than depending on brute force that has backfired. Give Hezbollah no reason to exist. If there are no prisoners and land for Hezbollah to whine about, Hezbollah would loose credibility among it's people, especially at this time when alot of lebanese want a settlement to the weapons outside the authority of the government.

It would be a win-win-win-loose situation. Hezbollah would win because their force has retained all occupied land and all prisoners. Lebanon would win because it is in no state of war with anyone and practices full sovereignty on all territory and has Hezbollah fighters integrated in the army to boost its army's strength. Israel would win because a 'foreign proxy army' has become a political party i.e. a force along its borders that can and does challenge Israel is no longer their. Syria/Iran would loose because their proxy army is gone. So why doesn't Israel do it? Easy. Because they didn't figure it out yet.

Posted by: YO YO at May 7, 2007 07:05 PM

If the Lebanese fear civil war more than a thousand Israeli invasions, then perhaps what they need is a civil war AND an Israeli invasion of Syria along with a heavy bombing of Iranian infrastructure.

Hezbollah is an abomination that needs to be wiped away, in Iran, Syria, and Lebanon--to leave not a single trace.

Posted by: Caroll Hermanos at May 7, 2007 07:13 PM

Yo Yo: Wait Wait! I'm going crazy here</i.


You're trying to convince me that Israel's war with Hezbollah wasn't conventional?

The IDF used a conventional army against an assymetric enemy. That's the point. It's a bad strategy if other options are available.

Hezbollah has successfuly been able to learn and adopt a new strtegy of fighting guerilla warfare with a state fighting a conventional one.

Exactly my point.

If there are no prisoners and land for Hezbollah to whine about, Hezbollah would loose credibility among it's people, especially at this time when alot of lebanese want a settlement to the weapons outside the authority of the government.

If this were to happen at the same time Hezbollah's support from Syria and Iran were cut off, I think it would be wise. So you can chill out now. And spare us the talk of "thousands" of villages bombed. There aren't thousands of villages in the Hezbollah regions to bomb.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 7, 2007 07:40 PM

Strategies that depend on the cooperation of your opponent tend to fail.

Why would Syria respond to an Israeli attack in a conventional manner?

Posted by: alphie at May 7, 2007 08:12 PM

Excellent post, Michael.

You pretty much nail everything right on. I am (and always have been) of the same mind as you on this one.

Posted by: Bad Vilbel at May 7, 2007 09:14 PM

alphie: Why would Syria respond to an Israeli attack in a conventional manner?

They wouldn't have any choice if the Syrian military and regime installations were targets. Syria can't win that kind of war.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 7, 2007 09:19 PM

I don't think you get it, Michael.

Last summer, Olmert reacted to the kidnappings of two soldiers within 32-seconds. Nothing "conventional" happened after that! While James Baker is back in control of a Bush White House. And, Olmert got direct calls. (After Sharon stroked, it seems Olmert was told, by State, that all calls from the prime minister to Bush, would be put on hold. Olmert had to go through "channels.")

Anyway, as soon as Lebanon went into play; the Saud's Realtor thought they'd get syria. And, the Jews would get screwed.

That's when the diplomatic-pants-dancing began. While not even 1/3rd of Israeli reserves even got called to fight.

I even remember reading one of your blogs (I think). Where you said you were in a bar. And, the bartender wished a department customer "luck" ... so that he'd get called up.

You were also there to see that on the Israeli side, the little piece of land that juts into Lebanon DID NOT GO TO NASRALLAH. Fought over? Yes. But the missiles aren't accurate. And, killing cows is a military victory, where?

While because of the things known by Olmert, internally. But not divulged. You're left with trying to figure things out. WIthout seeing the whole picture. Even the Winograd report does not involve itself with James Baker. As if the Americans aren't players. And, "assymetrical" is not what I call it!

The CIA has been in bed with the Saudi's since Jimmy Carter's day. And, in reading HOUSE OF BUSH /HOUSE OF SAUD, I'm reminded that Z'big'new, in Carter's White House, cooked up the scheme of pushing the russians to fight in Afghanistan where they lost tens of thousands of men. And, finally, got destroyed.

So that America well understands how to destroy enemies (and friends), without firing their own shots.

The Z-Bignew plan was adopted by Reagan, as soon as he got into office, in 1980. You'd be surprised what was sold to both the iranians and the iraqis. (Including the WMD's that were known to have gone to Saddam. Can't find them now, though.)

The other thing that comes out? Saddam was terrible at tactics; and had to get CIA visits to push him to take advantage of the TOWs he was given. While in Afgahnistan they took to selling off their "extra." What a business was going on! While journalists slumbered.

After WW1 it took about a decade for the real incompetence to get exposed. Here? I'm still waiting.

But Olmert had to react, and FAST. To James Baker's interet in syria. Which he thought was just an IDF turn to the right. Didn't happen.

Winning diplomatically is a whole other ball game.

What's assymetrical about the Green Helmet Man?

And, what were the ramifications? If the IDF had really gone in and done its job; given the way the press was going, as I said, with the Green Helmet Man winning photo contests.

Olmert was prepared for more action, once the missiles flew. But how could Israel claim the high ground if there were no dead Jews? Just an abundance of dead cows?

I'd even bet, with the french loose in Southern Lebanon things are less stressful in Northern Israel, now. Not more so! Especially because they are aware of the incompetence of the missiles AND the missile throwers. The same is true with the Kassams down south.

Doesn't mean Israel can't mobilize and fight back.

But I don't think anyone wants to deal with more territory! So, what's the sense behind a win that puts your troops a distance from their borders. Unless the stakes were higher.

The Winograd report? Up there with the Warren Commission; an 11-book-long government farce.

Olmert's bright. But not good looking. And, he did play a "weak" hand. Instead of building a more rotten government, with the Likudniks that joined his team at the last minute. And, those dudes are seething more than Assad. Let me tell ya. In Israeli politics your back is never safe.

What am I watching? To see how bold the seated ministers are. Given how Foad Ben-Eliezer never did get back into a powerful minister's chair, after he pulled Labor from Arik Sharon's first government. Like a missing testicle, he's not showing you what he lost.

Posted by: Carol Herman at May 7, 2007 10:04 PM


Are you saying Syria has been suppying Hezbollah with rockets but didn't keep some for themselves?

Like 50,000 or so?

What good are conventional weapons to Syria?

Posted by: alphie at May 7, 2007 10:18 PM

I guess somebody has to defend Olmert. Nobody's approval ratings are zero...

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 7, 2007 10:32 PM

a) Assad won't make peace with Israel period! Even if he's threatened he'd make a fake peace at best sign a watered down document with 'promises' to try or to 'open relations' with Israel and then keep stoking the propoganda machines 24/7... he might just actually occassionally house an "Embassador" in an office somwhere in Israel....
b) Western nations lose assymetric wars because the other side is willing to terrorize and slaughter where ever they see fit... while we actually care and get malled by the Western press for any civilian casualties... that's oversimplifying but true for the most part.

c) The bottom line is Israel can do nothing to stop Hezbollah, an invasion likely won't work and even if it did they'd rearm in a few months as you said....

Iran is powerful, smart and advanced and a hilly treatorous terrain to invade.
Syria knows we won't do anything lest the Muslim Brotherhood or Al Queda take the reigns instead.

So what you have is an escalating stakes semi hot war in the Middle East with Iran and potentially Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia eventually getting nucleur weapons. NOONE CAN REALLY STOP THE semi hot war and NOONE in the West is willing to really take on Syria and Iran.

There is basically not much Israel can do.

Posted by: Mike Nargizian at May 7, 2007 10:59 PM

MJT speaks blithely about Israel bombing Syria until Assad "cries uncle", but this is just a fantasy, a deus ex machina. The nexus between Syria and the Hizbollah attack is too tenuous, and the region too sensitive for the world to have accepted it. Israel's action would have been cast as a war of naked aggression, and the international powers would have put a stop to it immediately, long before Assad would need to "cry uncle", whatever "crying uncle" means in practical terms. Israel didn't have any good choices in the SLW, but this is a false choice.

Posted by: MarkC at May 8, 2007 04:42 AM

Israel could officially ask the UN if it could bomb the countries that support Lebanese militias' attacks on Israel.

If rejected, Israel could demand a UN assembly and/or security council statement to the effect that no member state is allowed to defend itself against an attack from another member state; or alternatively, that other member states are but Israel is not.

Posted by: Andrew Brehm at May 8, 2007 05:22 AM

There was this report ( a few weeks ago that Chirac ENCOURAGED Israel to hit Syria. If Israel would have had the support of France AND the US, there is no reason to think that the UN or any other body or alliance would have posed any problem for Israel to hit Syria.

Posted by: jonorose at May 8, 2007 05:56 AM

Interesting (and convincing) points. But one thing bugs me - what if, as a result of bombing Syria, Assad were killed or deposed? What if the muslim brotherhood / Islamic jihadists took control of all or part of Syria? As bad as Assad is, it could get worse.

Posted by: mertel at May 8, 2007 06:41 AM

Yaacov Ben Moshe on Breath of the Beast has addressed the foundational asymmetric cultural conflict of American History in a Pair of postings (part 1 part 2 on the way that the encounter between western civilization and the American Indian. His synthesis has been reviewed and approved by Michael Ledeen and David Yeagley and is definitly worth the long read entailed.

Posted by: Jerry Gould at May 8, 2007 08:05 AM

What if the muslim brotherhood / Islamic jihadists took control of all or part of Syria? As bad as Assad is, it could get worse.

As Iraq demonstrates - or Turkey - or Egypt - or Somalia - when you get popular government in the ME right now, you get Islamic government, in many or most places. People are going to have to swallow and deal with that. There's no way of knowing what would come after Assad. It might be Islamicly influenced without being jihadist. And if it was salafists, they're Sunni sectarian zealots. They hate Hizballah and have murdered Hizballahis in the past. Of course, they hate Israel as well, but the point is that there are a lot of assumptions built in to the idea that the new Syria would be more of a threat to Israel. Is the new Iraq, as of now, more of a threat to Israel than before?

Posted by: glasnost at May 8, 2007 08:07 AM

Plus, the Saudi Royals are related to Syrian Sunnis, I gather, and feel they have a legitimate and pressing interest in what happens there. Now that's not really 'good' for Israel, but it could signal some power to control what happens politically after Assad. The royals want Sunni fundamentalism, but not radical terrorism. They also want Lebanon left alone, per Michael.

And they've been investing in Israeli companies and real estate recently, which can be viewed from two diametrically opposed perspectives. (I just remind myself Meir Dagan is supposed to be a personal friend of either the Saudi king or one of the top princes, and that's too weird to be a bad thing in this very complicated context.)

Posted by: Pam at May 8, 2007 08:26 AM

Jonorose: Chirac ENCOURAGED Israel to hit Syria.

Two thirds of Lebanese would have enthusiastically approved.

This should not be dismissed as irrelevant. Someday you (Israelis) do want peace with these people, right? If you can get the majority in an Arabic-speaking country on your side for even a week you will be able to affect the internal politics in that country in your favor a lot more effectively than by bombing them.

The Syrian regime is detested by every Arab government in the world, not just by the government in Beirut.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 8, 2007 09:47 AM

Yes, Michael, but every Arab Regime detests every other to some degree. Two things unite them-xenophobia and hatred. They hate all things that are different, the degree of hatred being commensurate with the absolute measure of difference. That is why we can never depend on being able to split them and pit them against each other. They will always squabble but when we come over the horizon they unite against us.

Thanks to Mr. Gould for the links that have drawn my attention here- that pair of posts on my blog come to this conclusion-
"One of the two cultures, Islam or The West, must conquer the other and if the end of the conquest is to be humane, there must be a clear winner. Someone has to admit they have been conquered. At the end of the Indian wars there were many moments of despair, bitterness and regret which still haunt America. Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe gave voice to the Indian defeat in a speech that is both dignified and noble:
"Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before, I have it in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed; Looking Glass is dead, Too-hul-hul-sote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets; the little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are—perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever."

It took several generations and much bloodshed to force that speech out of an Indian. It took another one hundred and forty years for an intelligent and realistic spokesman like Yeagley to put into words the brutal truth that will allow him and his people to go forward as full citizens of the new world of which they are now a full part.If we cannot get the Arab world to make that same transition peacefully, we will have to reduce them by force the way we did with Chief Joseph."

Posted by: Yaacov Ben Moshe at May 8, 2007 10:19 AM

Jonorose: Chirac ENCOURAGED Israel to hit Syria.

arguably the best reason not to do it. Last summer's war was a cacophony of traps set and waiting to spring on the Israelis with her bitterest enemies egging her on the whole way. Olmert avoided most of them, and even won a few diplomatic battles of the sort that Israel is used to losing. It's actually the dawn of a new age, though obviously undermined by the ease with which Hezb has rearmed.


Posted by: adam D. at May 8, 2007 11:07 AM

Adam: arguably the best reason not to do it

I don't think so. Chirac's view of the Syrian regime is explicitly negative. Hariri was a close friend (really, genuinely), and the Syrians killed him.

The French view Lebanon as their little brother in the Levant. Their desire to protect it against its enemies is real. Chirac wanted to see Israel hit Syria for the same reasons I did.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 8, 2007 11:27 AM

...arguably the best reason not to do it.

I agree with that. Chirac was "very close" to Hariri. How sweet it would have been for him to entice the Israelis to hit Assad and avenge his friend and then be able to condemn them for it afterward- How typical of the duplicitous French Left.

Posted by: Yaacov Ben Moshe at May 8, 2007 11:31 AM

In my view Michael's analysis of the Israel-Lebanon situation is one of the most accurate ones I have seen in the past year.
The key to neutralizing Hezbollah - and consequently peace between Israel and Lebanon - lies in Iran and Syria (with Iran being more important then Syria). If Iranian support for Hezbollah would stop, it would be only a matter of time before Hezbollah ceases to exist. Most people in the south do not support Hezbollah so much because of their ideology of continuous war on Israel but for other, more pragmatic reasons, and because they don't trust the Lebanese government. With pragmatic reasons why people support Hezbollah I mean for example that Hezbollah provides free education for the children of impoverished families in the south. This is just one example. As for the other reason, many people see the central government as corrupt and not caring about the needs of the shiites in the south. To be frank, they probably have real reason to think so, too. In the eyes of many shiites Hezbollah is the only non-corrupt party that they can trust.

Instead of being pessimistic you can actually also draw some hope from this analysis. Apart from foreign powers (especially Iran) fanning the flames, there is no intrinsic reason in Lebanon itself why the Lebanese would like to continually wage war on Israel, and indeed, many people actually long for an end to the hostilities. Peace between Lebanon and Israel, and peace among the Lebanese themselves, is therefore actually possible if at least one of the following two conditions are met:
(1) Iranian support for Hezbollah is ended (this requires a political solution); and (2) popular support for Hezbollah fades because the Christian / Sunni / Druze Lebanese finally start to take seriously the complaints and real needs of their shiite compatriots, e.g. by allowing new elections (which will provide the shiites with more power) in return for disarmament of Hezbollah.

Posted by: Outsider at May 8, 2007 12:45 PM

MT Chirac wanted to see Israel hit Syria

If the French troops in Lebanon had done their UN sanctioned job like they really meant it, democrats in Beirut would have much better options available to them today, and the country's future would look much brighter. The opportunity was there for the French to change history in Lebanon for the better, if they really wanted to do that.

Posted by: adam D. at May 8, 2007 01:30 PM


UNIFIL's mandate is to "Assist the Government of Lebanon in ensuring the return of its effective authority in the area."

Nothing more, nothing less.

Posted by: alphie at May 8, 2007 01:44 PM

"Two thirds of Lebanese would have enthusiastically approved." MJT

Do you know how much I'm going to be laughing when the next elections come around? You're gonna sound so stupid you might as well get that mud ready to put your head in.

You're the one that seems too dumb to swallow Lebanese politics, not Halutz. Maybe you didn't really follow the last election in 2005, but to shed some light really quickly i'll give you an insight.

A great national revolution took place of a million people protesting in Beirut demanding their sovereignty. Totally amazing and spectacular. Syria leaves with nothing behind. To make sure they haven't left anything behind the new government that was placed elected Hezbollah as the national resistance and placed full responsibility on it to defend the lebanese borders in the south.

BUT. Before the elections took place this is exactly what started to happen. Jumblat started switching from "the pure weapons of Hezbollah will regain our Arab Palistinian lands fully, not only to the pre-1967 borders" - into - "Hezbollah is a syrian-iranian tool and agent working in Lebanon and seeking the destruction of Israel to cover the persians ambitions of domination".

So, when people started to notice the shift, they called for a national dialogue concerning everything. The people and politicians found that a new page and time has awakened in Lebanon, and concensus is the best place to start with this opportunity.

Do you know who the first organisation was to call for the national dialogue around "weapons outside the Lebanese System" i.e. Hezbollah, the palistinians, Amal and other smaller armed factions such as the SSNP. It was non other than Hezbollah. They're the ones who started the so-called national unity dialogue.

First though they dealth with the power-sharing system. Hezbollah told everyone that any electorate system would work for Hezbollah, but the current one did not work for other major sects such as the Christian one. The Christians of Michel Awn (who owes 70% of the christian vote in lebanon) only gained 1 seat in government as a result of the electorate system.

So, what did the March 14 alliance do (Michel Awn was part of that force back then)? They said told Hezbollah and the rest why don't we just put those small stuff behind us, all of us join in a coalition and we make a national-unity government based on our understandings (they were called the four-point understanding - dunno why dont ask).

Hezbollah put trust in them and agreed. After the elections finished, you see Samir GaeGae threatening to be given a seat in parliament or else, Michel Awn with 1 seat for the 6-700,000 people he represents, The Druze having 3 seats in Government and they don't make up a fraction of what Awns people are, while Jumblat starting to blame Syria for everything.

Awn saw this and didn't like it. He did not break away from the March 14 alliance because of his love for Hassan Nasrallah, it's because he knew these guys are up to something dodgy. So he broke away and joined Nasrallah's camp. When he was asked why he did it, he said that he doesn't want to be part of a group which victimises a nation for a crime that is under investigation before any results have been revealed, nor does he want to be on the side that is breaking the four-point agreement they had, and the side that has betrayed the alliance. He added that as long as Syrian forces remain outside Lebanese borders, Lebanon should normalise it's ties with the country because Syria is a necessary country that can determine Lebanon's economy and well-being significantly (the only way in and out of Lebanon by land is SYria since Israel is an enemy country).

So now you have a camp with Hezbollah who resisted the Israelis, Amal who resisted Palistinians and Israelis, FMP who resisted Syria and others who took wise stands in the civil war. Whereas the other side is full of the main culprits who started and fueled the civil war (phalangists, Lebanese Forces and SPP) as well as politicians who have been in the government for around 18 years now non-stop.

What was bad now became worse. That is not the point though. The point is that everyone got to realise that without Hezbollah, the currently ruling party could not have possibly gained as many seats as they did. If you just calculate it religion and sect-wise, you could work out the answer.

All Shiites are with Amal+Hezbollah, 70% + 80,000 christians are with Michel Awn and Slaymein Franjiyyeh, 5-7,000 Druze are with Amir Arslan, and i don't know how many sunnis are included but some sunni parties/leaders include the SSNP, a heck of alot of religious figures including Dr. Yakan and every single PM that has ever served Lebanon are on this side of the camp as well as the Alawiite sect which consists of some 10,000 people. This camp is the opposition.

On the other side you have lets say the whole sunni population of Lebanon are with this side, this is 16% of the population, around 10 shiites, All the Druze population minus 6,000 whom account to no more than 2% of the population, no alawiites and that's pretty much it. This camp is the ruling one.

Do your maths, come up with an answer and see what it tells you. Since now Lebanon is so divided, i'll make the job easier. Lebanons shiites and 75% of the Christians are on the oppositions side. 25% of Christians, the whole sunni and the whole Druze sects are with the ruling party.
Which one has a majority?
Shiites = 40% of Lebanon
sunnis = 16% of Lebanon
christians = 35% of Lebanon
Druze = 5% of Lebanon
4% others.
Lebanons population is roughly 4million, just for calculations sake.

Now... as i said. Lets just wait for the next elections. The government is scared to hold parliamentary elections because it is scared. It doesn't want the people to elect the President through a referendum at this time of sensitivity because it knows it will be beaten. The 14 march camp doesn't even have a candidate for the presidency yet, that how bad it is. Around 10 people from that camp want the presidency, if one announces it publicly, March 14 becomes March 1, if not 0.

Posted by: YO YO at May 8, 2007 02:44 PM

Yo yo, that sounded like an ad for 8 March. No offense, but Michael's comment is right on. Aoun is a laughingstock these days, and most of the Christians have left him since he now backs HA and Syria/Iran. The majority of Lebanese have their eyes open now, and they can see HA for what it is: Iran & Syria's puppet.

Posted by: Renée C. at May 8, 2007 07:02 PM

Btw, Michael, I agree that this article of yours belongs on Y'net, etc.

Posted by: Renée C. at May 8, 2007 07:04 PM

Assuming the world would have tolerated a prolonged Israeli attack on Syria, which I very much doubt, what makes you think he would cry uncle? The Israelis couldn't make Hizbollah cry uncle, in spite of the devastation wreaked on Lebanon, and Saddam Hussein held the reins even after the First Gulf War destroyed a large part of his army. One can assume that the Syrian internal security apparatus is up to par with Saddam Hussein's and would be able to keep a lid on internal dissent, and as a dictator he is obviously not subject to the will of the Syrian people. In this sense, how is the Syrian regime any different than Hizbollah?

More than likely Assad would emerge from an Israeli assault with his power intact, and now a hero in the eyes of the Arab world, stronger than before, while Israel's deterrent capability would be severely eroded. The Iranians and the Russians would put Syria's military capability back on its feet in no time, just as has happened with Hizbollah. The only way for Israel to ensure his defeat would be to invade Damascus, something obviously out of the question.

Like in chess, one needs to think through the different scenarios. As someone else quite rightly quoted, strategies which depend on the cooperation of your enemy tend to fail.

Posted by: MarkC at May 8, 2007 08:42 PM

MarkC: Assuming the world would have tolerated a prolonged Israeli attack on Syria, which I very much doubt, what makes you think he would cry uncle?

Because Israel could completely destroy his regime if he didn't. See Saddam's Iraq.

States are brittle and breakable. Guerilla armies are not. See today's Iraq.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 8, 2007 11:14 PM

Yeah and as Israel attacked Syria the result would be -

1) Swift UN Condemnation on a Resolution written over the weekend and swiftly approved on Monday morning... while they can't get a Resolution on Sudan for months.

2) EU newspapers crucifying Israel.
3) Fake/real news footages of Syria and fake bodycounts all showing all women and children.
4) Jihadis flooding into Syria to join the galant "jihad".
5) Al Queda and Muslim Brotherhood sharpening their claws 20 years after Hama to take over.
6) A potential Civil War long averted by the EU caving to Assad after he "promises" to make reonciliation and "peace" with Israel which is of course Israel's fault anyway, because they purposely "avoided" peace with Syria.
7) Assad survives the world and Europe won't tolerate another decentralized country with anarchy which would surely be the case in Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia, all fake splintered kingdoms/states held together under totalitarianism and Assad ends up with Israel forced to the table to give up some part of the Golan Heights as a good faith gesture to Syria and Assad "promises" to stop overtly at least arming Hezbollah, at least for the time being... then all the EU nauseating worthless "statesmen" can pretend how important they are with Coffee Annan because they got 2 minutes of "peace or quiet" in Lebanon and Syria.....

The problem is the way the world views the conflict and the way it will bend to the will of the bullies....

Any move any way you cut it you end up in the same place...

Sure, maybe it would have been slightly better for Lebanon, but the idea the results would have been much different altogether is a FANTASY.....


Posted by: Mike Nargizian at May 8, 2007 11:28 PM

Everything Mike Nargizian said.

MJT, you underestimate the staying power of Arab dictatorships. Nasser survived the destruction of his army in 1967, Saddam Hussein survived the first Gulf War, and Assad would surely survive an Israeli attack, unless you are proposing that Israel invade and conquer Damascus, which would be politically, if not militarily impossible. Assad presumably does have a breaking point, but the world would force Israel to desist long before it was reached.

In the case of Lebanon, the world was begrudgingly prepared to give Israel some scope, because the attack came from Lebanese territory. I don't believe the same would be true of Syria, which was a transit point for Iranian weapons, but not an active aggressor. Only the U.S. is powerful enough to start wars of choice like this, and remain within the pale of the civilized world, and it wasn't easy for them, either.

Posted by: MarkC at May 9, 2007 01:22 AM

However much the Israelis don’t want regime change in Syria, the Assad regime wants regime change even less.

Spot on, sir!

Posted by: rosignol at May 9, 2007 07:14 AM

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 05/09/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

Posted by: David M at May 9, 2007 09:36 AM

Mark C - Israel could take over Syria in 1 afternoon and have lunch in Damascus the next day... then the insurgency would start however... and since the Israelis don't enforce their rule like the Nazis did.... 1 rebellion and all the men in town are shot until someone tells who did it... or the entire town is leveled.

THE BOTTOM LINE IS - The current state will continue for many years to come... this is just the beginning.... the idea of "peace" or radical change is decades away... you'll just continue to get cold/hot times of war or quiet.... you're just maneuvering through a long arduous process....

Does anyone remember how long the Crusades lasted.... oh, which btw, now we know were mainly the European's fault... lol...

Posted by: Mike Nargizian at May 9, 2007 08:03 PM

yoyo has the naive notion that the Communists in Germany circa 1930 were "far left" and the Nazis were "far right." That is false. In fact, Nazis and Communists were cooperating in Germany before Hitler's rise to power as chancellor in January 1933. The French Communist Party supported Nazi territorial claims [Alsace, Danzig, Sudetenland, the Saar] in the name of self-determination. Germany was viewed by Communists as the victim of international capitalism, almost like Palestinian Arabs.

Posted by: Eliyahu at May 10, 2007 05:07 AM
Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Pajamas Media BlogRoll Member


"I'm flattered such an excellent writer links to my stuff"
Johann Hari
Author of God Save the Queen?

Andrew Sullivan
Author of Virtually Normal

"Brisk, bracing, sharp and thoughtful"
James Lileks
Author of The Gallery of Regrettable Food

"A hard-headed liberal who thinks and writes superbly"
Roger L. Simon
Author of Director's Cut

"Lively, vivid, and smart"
James Howard Kunstler
Author of The Geography of Nowhere

Contact Me

Send email to michaeltotten001 at gmail dot com

News Feeds


Link to Michael J. Totten with the logo button


Tip Jar


Terror and Liberalism
Paul Berman, The American Prospect

The Men Who Would Be Orwell
Ron Rosenbaum, The New York Observer

Looking the World in the Eye
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

In the Eigth Circle of Thieves
E.L. Doctorow, The Nation

Against Rationalization
Christopher Hitchens, The Nation

The Wall
Yossi Klein Halevi, The New Republic

Jihad Versus McWorld
Benjamin Barber, The Atlantic Monthly

The Sunshine Warrior
Bill Keller, The New York Times Magazine

Power and Weakness
Robert Kagan, Policy Review

The Coming Anarchy
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

England Your England
George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn