Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Robust Enough

By Le Moineau
23 July 2006
Working Draft
Article 48

A version of this article has been plagiarized and spammed, claiming that it has been published in the Washington Post. It has not. Le Moineau kindly asks that the originators of this misuse desist, and properly reference and credit the article.

The US finally finds a way into Lebanon

The war on Lebanon of July 2006 presents a much-awaited opportunity for the United States to place a ‘robust enough’ force in southern Lebanon along the Tapline route connecting Saudi Arabia and Iraq's oilfields to the Mediterranean. In this way the US secures a vital route and prepares the ground for Syrian-Israeli talks.

US Goals in Lebanon
In Lebanon, the US is intent on securing the vital—and only—pipeline route that connects the Saudi and Iraqi oil fields to the Mediterranean, and onto the lucrative European market as part of a longstanding strategy to beat Russian energy sales to the EU.

On its way to the Mediterranean refineries of Zahrani south of Sidon, Tapline crosses through the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights and into the heartland of the Lebanese south. To ensure the safe passage of oil through Tapline, the US seeks to bring regional stability by coercing Israel and Syria to resolve the Golan dispute and solve the border and resource disputes between Lebanon, Israel, and Syria. The current war seems to be a step in that direction.

Parallel Pressure
Following several years of pressure on both Israel and Syria, including stripping Syria of its influence on the Lebanese government while simultaneously exposing the role of the Israel lobby in determining US foreign policy (See my 2005 paper ‘Parallel Pressure’), there remain three issues before the negotiations can resume on US terms.

First, the US needs a pretext to place troops in southern Lebanon—and eventually the Golan—to secure the route. Is-rael has adamantly resisted this option for years, sometimes even mobilizing its domestic partners in the US to oppose such moves (Baker 1991, Perle 1996)

Second, the US needs to stabilize the route by adjusting the power-balance by weakening Hizballah’s military capability so that the US-backed Lebanese army could control all of the country including the areas controlled currently by Hizballah.

Third, the US needs to ensure that its presence in the area is accepted—if not called for—by all the parties involved. From the Lebanon side, for years US funded NGOs have been active in the south, in what seems to be a prescient sense of positioning of US ‘public diplomacy’ with the local population.

Multinational logic
Today, I think the multinational force of about 10,000-20,000 will be dominated by NATO forces from the Mediterranean led by Turkish troops, with token contingents from Egypt, Jordan, Indonesia, and Malaysia (US-friendly Islamic states). Importantly, the core team would be composed of states that directly benefit from Tapline such as Turkey, France, Spain, and Italy. Greece and Germany will most probably decline because of their cozy energy security relationship with Russia which Tapline challenges.

The main base may be near the port of Sidon, or Tyre—which was just tried out by the French—and another logistical support base may be established near Tripoli (because of the IPC terminal, although that won’t be declared).

The actual US role today seems to be limited for various reasons, but it might change during the course of the resolution. The least would be the provision of logistical support to the troops and the Lebanese army from the Sixth Fleet posi-tioned right outside Lebanon’s territorial waters. I suspect there will be a token US force of about 500 ‘advisors’ in the initial stages.

From the Israeli side, preventing Hizballah rocket fire will be the primary role of the US-friendly force and will be tolerated only if it appears ‘robust enough’ (Rice 22 July 2006) to do so.

US Strategy
So what is the US strategy?

  • Encourage Israel to destroy Hizballah’s fighting capability.
  • Hope that the escalation in fighting will result in a serious and credible threat from Hizballah to Israel that Israel cannot solve on its own.
  • Make sure there are US partners both in Lebanon and Israel that support US presence on the border zone (Siniora and Peres).
  • Sell the idea of multinational troops that are more effective than UNIFIL troops as the only alternative to a continuous war.
  • Ensure that Syria is not alienated, and perhaps engaged, so that it can negotiate Golan with an exhausted, dependent Israel.

Infrastructural Silence
Why is the US silent on Lebanese infrastructure destruction?

  • It needs to give Israel space and time (3 weeks seems to be the pre-war agreement—SFGate 22 July 2006) to complete the task—at the risk of being complicit in the war crimes against Lebanon, more blatantly than in Kosovo (See my 1999 paper ‘The Key is Macedonia’).
  • It foresees that its presence in Lebanon will bring it the lion’s share of lucrative contracts to rebuild, following the same logic used in Panama, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
  • It might have been the price Israel (especially Peres’ economic outlook—See my 2002 paper ‘Peace Bombs’) demanded for Israel to accept the multinational force. The logic is that since Lebanon is going to become a US ‘affiliate’, in preparation for a peaceful agreement, the economic war is about to begin. ‘Setting back Lebanon 20 years’, the stated goal of the IDF before the attacks, fits the convoluted logic of giving Israel a ‘head start’.
  • Targeting civilian infrastructure brings unity to the Lebanese polity, something that serves the US intention of stabilizing the country in the aftermath, marked by W’s insis-tence that Sinioria’s (econocratic) democracy is not weakened.
  • Escalating the war and widening the target base increases Hizballah’s response against Israel, prompting its people to call for an end to the war.
  • Testing of new weaponry and their effectiveness.

The precedents for this approach of using a simmering conflict as a pretext to bring in the troops are several. Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, Panama’s invasion, and the establishment of bases in Macedonia during the Kosovo crisis are all examples of the US exploiting a local conflict to provide a pretext for the US to intervene militarily (See my 2000 paper ‘Patterns of Intervention’).

In this case, the strategic goal is the securing of the transportation and marketing routes of energy from Saudi Arabia to the European market. The conflict exploited is the Hizballah-Israel simmering confrontation, which arguably has been in the making the past six years. The pretext is the ending of the war by placing a ‘robust enough’ force between the warring parties. The outcome is US-dominated forces patrolling the final leg of the pipeline and the warring parties along the Syrian border.

The main obstacles to this agenda include the total fragmentation of Lebanon, the rise of the Likud in Israel, and the strengthening of Hizballah or its resistance to the attacks. So far, none of these scenarios seem to pose a serious threat.

  • Lebanon seems to be united, even more so than before. Nasrallah is already signaling that the integration of his party is not going to be a problem (interview on Aljazeera 20 July). This might change.
  • The Israeli public seems pleased with Olmert’s performance so far (various polls), barring a catastrophe. Likud cannot easily win a majority since the recent creation of the Kadima party and the Likud mass-defection to it. Netanyahu has been also supportive and not critical like in 1996. This might change. (See ‘Steamed Rice’ on this blog)
  • Once Hizballah’s military capability is reduced, what remains of it can be controlled through its main sponsors. Giving Golan back to Syria will appease it, and giving Iran more leverage in Iraq and the nuclear issue (which balances the Israeli option) may appease Iran.

So to win Hizballah, the US must engage both Syria and Iran, which is very likely in the near future since its goal is regional stability (to guarantee the ‘free flow of energy’). It seems the US has studied this plan carefully, and kept its cards close to its chest—it seems to have coordinated a large part with Israel, but only to use Israel as a military proxy. The plan seems to be a product of deep strategic planning reminiscent of James Baker’s style of engagement, where US strategic goals come first. I wouldn’t be surprised if he—or one of his protégés—reappears on the world stage very soon as part of solving this crisis.

Stay tuned.

Copyright © 2006 Le Moineau


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