The Status Quo Ante

While Lebanon represents a significant defeat for the US and Israel, the Gaza retreat represents a calamitous setback. Not only did the touted benefits of Disengagement not materialize, but the military threat from Gaza increased exponentially.

Ted Belman,

Ted Belman
Ted Belman
At the beginning of the Lebanon War II, the US and Israel were in agreement. Neither wanted to return to the status quo ante. Both were looking for a new balance of forces, in which the Fouad Siniora government would be strengthened and Hizbullah and its mentors, Syria and Iran, run out of town.

Not only could they not avoid the status quo ante, but what they got was worse. Syria and Iran are openly rearming Hizbullah. The expanded UNIFIL 2 is more intent on stopping Israel's overflights than on stopping the rearming of Hizbullah. Furthermore, Hizbullah is now calling for a veto over any Lebanese actions that might be intended to limit their "resistance" and it is also threatening to bring down the Siniora government.

When Condoleezza Rice caved in on her demand at the Security Council that only one resolution be passed, which would create an expanded UNIFIL with a robust mandate, and accepted France's position on a two-resolution process, the jig was up. The promised second resolution, which was to articulate a robust mandate, was not and is not in any way in the cards, though it was held out at the time as a certainty.

While Lebanon represents a significant defeat for the US and Israel, the Gaza retreat represents a calamitous setback. Not only did the touted benefits of Disengagement not materialize, but the military threat from Gaza increased exponentially. This was due, in large part, to the Rafah Agreement that was forced on Israel by Secretary Rice. Hamas is now arming and training in order to be as potent a threat as Hizbullah is. Egypt has openly permitted the smuggling of weapons into Gaza and has threatened Israel in order to get her to refrain from bombing Rafah to destroy the tunnels. In fact, Egypt has taken the position that the Gaza-Egypt border is none of Israel's business.

The US is powerless to stop the smuggling of weapons into Gaza or Lebanon. It proposes to add to the problem, with Israel's agreement, by rearming Fatah, believing that Fatah is not part of the problem but part of the solution. In both cases, Gaza and Lebanon, the US is betting on the weak horse. It is doomed to fail in both places.

Even so, my biggest complaint is with Israel. Israel is not making mistakes so much as it is wedded to the wrong policies. In Lebanon, it decided to avoid a massive land invasion for fear of ending in another occupation. Avoiding occupation is its guiding principle, rather then victory. Had it fully invaded Lebanon and destroyed Hizbullah, it would have succeeded in not returning to the status quo ante. Now, it is continuing over-flights and reporting on the rearmament of Hizbullah, but is not doing anything about it. Here we go again.

Similarly, in Gaza, the storm clouds are gathering, but Israel is dithering. God forbid Israel should destroy Hamas and re-occupy Gaza. Amir Peretz keeps telling everyone that Israel has no intention of remaining in Gaza. He justifies the present activity on the basis of the need to stop the firing of Kassams into Israel. Why not on the need to totally rout Hamas and destroy their growing arsenal of weapons? I believe this is significant. The former is obviously an act of self-defense. The latter smacks of preemption - and you know how the Left feels about preemption.

If these problems weren't bad enough, Israel is now faced with an Iran that is not only proceeding to develop nuclear weapons, but has just tested missiles capable of carrying them all the way to Israel. Will Israel preempt? I hope so.

Israel is also faced with an Iraq more radicalized then ever. If the US fails in Iraq, then it will be a calamity for the US, but even more so for Israel. The status quo ante with Saddam Hussein in power is looking pretty good. In fact, if the US can recommend that Israel release convicted murderer Marwan Barghouti as a peace move, then why can't it release Hussein as a means to restore order? Surely this is better then letting Iran take over.

It is clear that the US and Israel must reevaluate their goals and their strategies. The big picture in the Middle East pits the "moderates" (Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Fatah) against the radicals (Iran, Hizbullah, Hamas, Al-Qaeda, Syria and the Shia in Iraq). The radicals are supported by Russia and France. So far, the "moderates" are losing.

James Baker is soon to release his recommendations for a new US policy. It is expected to include a negotiated deal between these groups. Is such a deal possible? Is it achievable? Can it be achieved without sacrificing Israel? Will Israel be stronger or weaker for it? All questions of great concern for the Jewish State.

Israel must also change its policies from containment and "disengagement" to preemption and occupation. The threats from Hizbullah, Hamas, Syria and Iran must be wiped out. The best way is for Israel to invade south Lebanon and force the population north of the Litani. In this way, the new occupation will be sustainable. It should only withdraw on the signing of a peace agreement, if at all. Similarly, Israel should invade Gaza. If Gaza won't be pacified, the population must be moved to Egypt.

Only then will there not be a return to the status quo ante. On the other hand, even the status quo ante of the Oslo Accords is looking pretty good now.