Sunday, April 17, 2011

Lebanon is More Important Than Iraq

Jennifer Rubin publishes a two-part interview with Michael Totten about his new book, The Road to Fatima Gate. What I wouldn't give to be a fly on the wall during that conversation! Part 1 of the interview is here and part 2 is here. Here are some highlights from Part 1:

But Totten also learned an important lesson when he left Beirut. “I went to Hezbollah-controlled parts of the country because what I was seeing in Beirut was not the entire story.” He is blunt: “I’ve never seen such bloodthirsty, warmongering propaganda in my life.” In fact, there was “no indication you were in Lebanon.” There were Hezbollah and Iranian flags, and vicious anti-Israeli propaganda and posters of the Ayatollah were omnipresent. “They were mobilized for total war.” In some respects the oppression and Islamic extremism are worse there than in Iran. “The difference,” he says, “is that in Iran Iranians hate the government. That’s obvious now.” But in the Hezbollah parts of Lebanon, he relates, “There is no opposition to Iran.” The result, and the predicament for the West, he says, is that in southern Lebanon, “Hezbollah rules with the consent of the governed.”


“Public opinion was 90 percent against the conduct of the [Second Lebanon] war,” Totten recalls. The stalemate and the political fallout from an unsuccessful war rocked Israel. Unless Israel was willing to fight a long ground war (akin to what Gen. David Petraeus would wage in Iraq), Totten thinks the air force should have hit another target – Syria or Iran. He says bluntly, “Assad in Syria is the kind of guy who can have an attitude adjustment rather easily. He told Joe Klein during the Iraq war, ‘Please send this message: I am not Saddam Hussein.’”

Totten continues, “Assad is incredibly vulnerable.” Two days of bombing Syria could well have been more effective than a month of bombing Hezbollah, he contends. Hezbollah can’t be supplied and can’t sustain itself “if Assad is no longer going to be the logistics hub” for the terror group.

And here are some highlights from Part 2.

By 2008 the Beirut spring (the “Cedar Revolution”) was a distant memory, and Hezbollah would make strides in its domination of Lebanon. Totten says simply, “In 2008 Hezbollah proved it could do what it wants by invading and occupying the capital city. After that, all it has to say is ‘boo.’ If it wants to collapse the government, it can. It can kill you, even if you are you a member of parliament.”


Now even the pretense of an independent Lebanon is gone. “Hezbollah,” Totten says “is the biggest threat the Israelis have in the world. Hamas is not even a bat boy in the league Hezbollah plays in.”

Hezbollah has a better-equipped fighting force than many countries. Totten says, “Hezbollah has rockets that can reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. You’ve been to Tel Aviv?” I nod. “Those glass skyscrapers would have missiles crashing through them” in a Hezbollah attack. And Totten emphasizes, “Hezbollah is the Mediterranean branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.”

Totten returns to the key point: An Iranian surrogate is on Israel’s border and “Israel failed to stop it.” But Totten doesn’t believe there was an easy military solution. He recalls, “The Israelis fought a counter-insurgency war against Hezbollah from 1982-2000, which shouldn’t be surprising since we’ve been fighting the Taliban for 10 years. Counter-insurgency is really hard.” So absent that sort of bloody effort, the options were few. The United Nations, Totten explains, “could have authorized force to block off the Lebanon and Syrian border. But that would have turned into a small Iraq.”

Totten suggests it’s folly to chase after Hezbollah. He says, “Hezbollah is a terrorist guerilla army. Iran has an address and governs people who hate it. Israel is more likely to succeed by going after Iran, but I’m not saying it should do it today. Israel is hoping the Iranians can overthrow their government.” If Israel did go after Iran militarily, “Israel would get hit really hard.” I ask if this is endangering the Zionist vision, which is to provide Jews with a haven. Totten says cautiously, “There is no getting around it; Jews are safer here than in Israel.” But he recalls, “In 1973 thousands of people were killed in a couple of days. Israel thought the Egyptian and Syrian armies might wipe out the whole country, so I wouldn’t say this current situation is worse than that.”


In the near term, Totten says, “Regime change [is Syria] is unlikely. Assad will fight as hard as Gaddafi.” Moreover, a military option could very well “start a regional war. What could we do non-militarily? There are not really many good options. But we should not describe him [Assad] as a reformer, we should not have an ambassador in Damascus and we should not engage him except to tell him what to do.”

The underlying problem in the region is not Hezbollah or Syria, certainly. Iran is the fundamental threat to Israel and the West more generally. The threat that it will acquire a nuclear weapons capability has receded from the headlines but has not diminished. As for military action, Totten says, “I think there is a will in Israel for it, but not in the U.S. in either party.” And once Iran acquires such weapons, our already minimal ability to deter Iranian aggression will diminish even further. “We’re not going to do anything, just like we didn’t risk a nuke confrontation with Soviet Union in 1956” in Hungary, Totten contends.

Read both parts.

I can't wait for my copy of the book (it's on the way!).

Labels: Jennifer Rubin, Michael Totten, The Road to Fatima Gate

posted by Carl in Jerusalem @ 4:18 PM

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