|Israel Resource Review
||7th January, 2007
The Palestinians and the Second Lebanese War
Dr. Hillel Frisch
Senior lecturer in Political Science, Bar-Ilan University and a senior research associate at the BESA Center.
(BESA) Perspectives Paper No. 24, January 4, 2007
The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies
"The Palestinians cannot be blamed for the Israeli government's erroneous
decision to initiate a cease fire as the campaign against the Qassams was
beginning to succeed."
"Egypt, a realist player par excellence, has turned a blind eye to
Hamas-Iranian cooperation on the assumption that bleeding Israel is more
important to Egyptian interests than the penetration of Iranian influence
into the Palestinian arena through Hamas, or even the implications of Hamas'
power on Egypt's domestic attempts to contain its local Islamists"
Many commentators have suggested that Israel's questionable military
performance in the second Lebanese war and the resulting increase in
Hizballah's power and prestige have impacted negatively on Israel's ability
to deal with the Palestinians. This article demonstrates the error in this
view and discusses the negligible effect of the war in Lebanon on Israel's
security policy regarding the Palestinians.
The recent war revealed that the tendency to see the conflict in broader
terms, such as a clash of civilizations, is very much exaggerated.
Essentially, Israel's adversaries act independently, resulting in bilateral
conflicts. This was exemplified by the Palestinian's quiescence while the
Hizballah waged war in Lebanon and vice versa. While it is difficult for
Israel to fight simultaneous low-intensity conflicts on two borders;
ultimately, the impact on Israeli capabilities is minor.
The War's Impact on the Palestinians
Recently, the Palestinians have been pushed to a lower rung on the world's
priority ladder. As the secondary aspect of Israel's security priorities,
the Palestinians are affected by regional conflicts that receive competing
headlines, especially when those conflicts do not involve the Palestinians.
The regional conflicts detracting from Palestinian status include Iran's
nuclear ambitions and its ramifications for regional nuclearization, Iraq,
Darfur and most recently, Somalia. Thus, the Palestinians face the bitter
reality of fighting Israel almost alone. Consider for example the
Iraqi-Jordanian-President Bush meeting on December 1, 2006, which hardly
touched on the issue of the Palestinians.
During the summer's fighting, the Palestinian's were not relegated to a
lower rung, but rather lost their position as a central issue in world
politics. The Israeli-Hizballah war might be for the Palestinians what the
first Lebanese war was for pan-Arabism. Just as the first Lebanese war
confirmed Fouad Ajami's pronouncement of the end of pan-Arabism as a
political project, the second Lebanese war might indicate the end of the
Palestinian state option.
Recall that Palestinians were at center stage during the first Lebanese war.
The Palestinians then claimed with great confidence that without resolution
of the Palestinian problem there could be no peace in the rest of the Middle
East. In the second Lebanese war, the Palestinians played no role. The truth
has come to light. Lebanon's stability has nothing to do with the
Palestinians. It emanates from the corollary weakness of the Lebanese state
center and the relative power of outside actors-Syria, Iran and Israel-in
exploiting these weaknesses to achieve their own state interests.
Palestinian Internal Relations
In addition to losing world attention, Palestinian state-building efforts
internally were affected by the war. Despite the lack of connection between
the Palestinian and Lebanese conflicts, there are emerging similarities in
their political situations. Both peoples have failed to produce a state
center after over eighty years of efforts. Their prospects are made even
dimmer by international and regional influences.
International alignment politics solidify the bifurcation of the Lebanese
center, with the March 14 forces aligned to the West and Hizballah, while
Nabih Biri's Amal and Michel Awn's forces aligned with Iran. Similarly, the
Palestinian arena is becoming increasingly split between the Abbas' security
forces alliance with the moderate Arab states, and the United States; versus
Hamas' alliance with Iran and Syria. Such divisions negatively impact the
Palestinians because they have tremendous geographic and political
ramifications of a Hamas-dominated Gaza and an Abbas/Fatah-dominated West
Palestinian Regional Relations
Relations between Hizballah and the Palestinians are problematic, largely
due to their source of funding. Hamas and Hizballah compete over the same
Iranian purse. Both realize that Iranian interests and their own do not
always coincide and that this gap is greater for the Hamas than it is for
Hamas' main problem in its relationship with Iran is linked to Egypt. For
the Palestinians, Egypt is the most important Arab state. Thus far, Egypt, a
realist player par excellence, has turned a blind eye to Hamas-Iranian
cooperation on the assumption that bleeding Israel is more important to
Egyptian interests than the penetration of Iranian influence into the
Palestinian arena through Hamas, or even the implications of Hamas' power on
Egypt's domestic attempts to contain its local Islamists, mainly the Muslim
Brotherhood. Hamas knows there are limits to this relationship, which they
can transgress at their peril. Egypt is the life-line to Iranian aid. Once
the Egyptian state feels too threatened by this relationship it could move
against Hamas with great force.
Since the establishment of the Hamas government, Jordan has been firmly
against Hamas in part because of the impact this relationship is likely to
have in strengthening what they perceive as the Shiite arc/heterodox
alliance in the Middle East.
Gulf States with Shiite populations-Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar-are weary of
Hamas after the Lebanese war. For them, the war is perceived to have
strengthened Shiite Hizballah. This skepticism is apparent since the
establishment of the Hamas government. An International Monetary Fund study
on aid and transfers to the PA in the past year reveals that all Arab state
finances have gone to President Abbas. Saudi Arabia, which is engaged in a
cold war with Iran in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, is a critical actor in
this regard. Consider the likely impact on Gulf-Hamas relations as a result
of the rise of the main Shiite party in the recent Bahrain elections.
An Israeli analyst presciently noted that the Gulf States are in a tacit
alliance with Israel as a means of "balancing" the Iraqi and Iranian threat.
This unspoken association is likely to be strengthened from the growing
Iranian nuclear threat, increasing domestic Sunni/Shiite polarization, and
the penetration of Iranian influence into the Palestinian arena at great
cost to the Palestinians.
Moral Encouragement for the Palestinians
Offsetting the war's negative impacts on the Palestinians is the positive
impact on their morale stemming from Hizballah's success in withstanding a
month-long Israeli assault. This small spiritual and moral triumph was
widely expressed in the Palestinian press, although less heady voices warned
of drawing parallels between the two different conflicts. Despite the
positive psychological effect, Hizballah's victory was offset by the
political ramifications of the war, principally by the increased
possibilities of future Lebanese and Palestinian civil wars.
The crucial difference between the conflicts is Hizballah's advantage of
enjoying logistical and military support from two states in a way the
Palestinians will only enjoy if an Islamist revolution succeeds in Egypt.
Israeli politicians talk of Gaza becoming Lebanon and Hamas militarily
becoming Hizballah. Analysts have exaggerated this threat. Iran's inability
to train and provide logistics to the Palestinians is of crucial importance
in this regard.
The truth is that Israel, through a combination of military means -
artillery shelling to reduce the accuracy of the Qassams, selective
penetration to reduce the number of launchings, and targeted killing against
those improving these crude missiles' capabilities - has significantly
curtailed the accuracy of Qassam launches. Before the cease fire, Israeli
penetration was becoming so effective that the IDF was able to make
preventive arrests - the beginning of replicating Israel's major
counterinsurgency success against the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria in
the wake of Operation Defensive Shield, which allowed preventive arrests on
a massive scale. The Palestinians cannot be blamed for the Israeli
government's erroneous decision to initiate a cease fire as the campaign
against the Qassams was beginning to succeed.
Palestinian terrorism is not a new phenomenon. Palestinian and Hizballah
violence certainly present challenges to Israeli security policy makers and
its security services, but the upshot is roughly the same. Just as terrorism
in the past could not prevent the Jewish Zionist enterprise from achieving
statehood and increasing the Jewish population ten-fold, it will not prevent
Israel from continuing to prosper. For Palestinians, this is the worse news
possible. Becoming a society perpetually on the verge of civil war-unable to
either effectively wage war or achieve peace-is a close second. The
ramifications of the second Lebanese war only made the situation worse for
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