Monday, August 28, 2006

Analysis / Nasrallah's mistake

From today's Haaretz:

In a calm, almost polite voice, Hassan Nasrallah discussed the strategic error he made. In a rare interview to a female reporter from New TV, he said that had he known that the result of the two soldiers' abduction would be war, he would not have ordered the raid. Not only was the planning problematic, Nasrallah admitted, but also its execution. The plan was for a "clean" abduction, but an unexpected clash occurred at the site of the attack.

However, was there really a mistake in his assessment, or was this an effort to revise the past retroactively? The answer to this question is important because it deals with the link between the initiation of the war and the role of Iran and Syria in that decision. If Nasrallah indeed erred in his assessment, and was not at all interested in the outbreak of the war, then there is no basis for the claim that the raid was meant to distract the international community from applying pressure on Iran and Syria.

But Nasrallah is also contradicting himself. In some of his statements, he explains that the raid was meant to preempt a planned IDF offensive against the group in September, and that the abduction was meant to cause Israel to react at a time when it was not ready. But this also appears to contradict Nasrallah's standard stance that Hezbollah never initiates attacks against Israel but merely reacts.

Still, the overall reactions of Nasrallah and his aides suggest that the Israeli reaction did come as a major surprise.

Another question in the interview had to do with his assessment of "the next round." Nasrallah explained that the situation in Israel, the disputes in the army and especially the efforts to rebuild the north suggest that Israel has no intention of embarking on another round. He also said that any warnings from Israel about another round of fighting is meant to pressure the government of Lebanon to accept the conditions set by Israel.

Not by chance does Nasrallah forget that northern Israel and southern Lebanon were doing quite well when Israel "embarked on the first round" in response to Hezbollah's raid on July 12. But the facts in this case are not important. The Hezbollah leader is sending a message regarding his intentions, at least in the near future. While he says that he will assist the Lebanese Army and UNIFIL, and will not compete with the government forces, he suggests that the group's military wing is not going to be part of the Lebanese military structure.

A hint at his intentions can be found in his reference to the Shaba Farms. The government, he explained, believes that this territory is Lebanese. In other words, Hezbollah has the right to act in order to liberate them. The question remains how this liberation will come about, and "at this time there are no guarantees offered." In this way Nasrallah would like to preserve two prerogatives he retains for Hezbollah: the right to liberate Lebanese land and the right to defend the country.

Nasrallah still holds veto power over the decisions of the Lebanese government, but the bar for when it is possible to exercise this right has been raised much higher than before.

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