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July 14, 2006
Hezbollah Gamble Coming Up Short

Anthony Shadid analyzes the Hezbollah attack on Israel and its capture of two IDF soldiers, and concludes that it just shot itself in the foot. Their unilateral decision to engage Israel militarily has probably done as much damage to Hezbollah in Lebanese politics as the assassination of Rafik Hariri did to the Syrian occupation:

The radical Shiite movement Hezbollah and its leader, Hasan Nasrallah, hold an effective veto in Lebanese politics, and the group's military prowess has heartened its supporters at home and abroad in the Arab world. But that same force of arms has begun to endanger Hezbollah's long-term standing in a country where critics accuse it of dragging Lebanon into an unwinnable conflict the government neither chose nor wants to fight.

"To a certain Arab audience and Arab elite, Nasrallah is a champion, but the price is high," said Walid Jumblatt, a member of parliament and leader of Lebanon's Druze community. "We are paying a high price." ...

"To declare war and to make military action must be a decision made by the state and not by a party," said Nabil de Freige, a parliament member. He belongs to the bloc headed by Saad Hariri, whose father, Rafiq, a former prime minister and wealthy businessman, was assassinated in 2005, setting off a sequence of events that forced the Syrian withdrawal. "It's a very simple equation: You have to be a state."

After a cabinet meeting Thursday, the government said it had a right and duty to extend its control over all Lebanese territory. Interior Minister Ahmed Fatfat said the statement marked a step toward the government reasserting itself.

Other government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, went further, calling it a first move in possibly sending the Lebanese army to the border, a U.N.-endorsed proposal that Hezbollah has rejected.

The fury of the Israeli response has apparently stunned everyone involved, including Hezbollah. They expected that they could initiate a prisoner exchange in the manner allowed by Ehud Olmert's predecessors: kidnapping and negotiation. They did not count on Israel calling them out on their coordination with Hamas' attempt to do the same in Gaza, nor did they expect Israel to treat this as a two-front war rather than two unrelated events. This forced Hezbollah to stumble badly, firing off their rockets and missiles at northern Israel -- which was the only military card they have to play. Now that the missiles have fired, Israel has escalated the war by bombing known Hezbollah assets in Beirut itself, as well as their lines of communication at Lebanese airports.

As long as Israel keeps its sights on Hezbollah and refrains from attacking general Lebanese infrastructure, Hezbollah will find itself on the outside of Lebanese politics very shortly. The threat to send Lebanon's army into the south would mean the forcible disarmament of Hezbollah, and the terrorists know it. Hezbollah has lost the ability to resupply itself, and with their attacks on Israel continuing, will find themselves running low on materiel with which to hold off the Lebanese regular army.

Nasrallah and his patrons in Teheran have made a spectacular blunder in their analysis of the Israeli position. They took the Gaza disengagement as a sign of weakness and lack of resolve. Hamas has especially trumpeted that position ever since Israel withdrew. However, the Gaza disengagement allowed Israel to get the handful of their citizens out of harm's way and stripped the Palestinians of their claim to occupied status in that area. It allowed Israel to treat any attack from Gaza as an act of war and, with the settlers gone, to trigger an overwhelming response.

Israel's disengagement didn't presage surrender: it was a preparation for all-out war. Islamists severly misunderstood the move, and now they're paying the price.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 14, 2006 8:03 AM

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