When I was a teenager I once heard somebody say that wars were a conspiracy by old people to get rid of young people. While I know this vision is simplistic lately I see that wars seem to be a conspiracy of combatants to get rid of civilians on the other side. The Iraqi war has been like that with the United States conducting air bombardments knowing that in many cases civilians and not terrorists will bear the brunt and with terrorists targeting civilians either directly or indirectly. And now the same is true in the Israel/Lebanon war.

First some background. Over the last two years I was in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Israel, something that very Jews have done. I am not a Middle East expert but my Spanish based foundation Safe Democracy brings together many Middle East thinkers and analysts from different sides to Madrid or to what we believe is constructive dialogue in our internet publication. Still as a non expert I would like to summarize my analysis of the war going on between Lebanon and Israel and comment on what I see as the three most likely outcomes of the conflict.

My view of this war is simple. Until a few weeks ago, Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President was very concerned because Europe and USA were focusing too much on Iran´s nuclear policy. While Europe and America were divided over Iraq they were united over preventing Iran, a country publicly committed to the destruction of Israel, become a nuclear power. But because Ahmadinejad is one of the smartest leaders in the Middle East he prepared an exit strategy that so far has worked extremely well for him. Basically Ahmadinejad instructed Hezbollah, his proxy army in Lebanon to attack Israel. He also provided them with enough rockets to create significant destruction in Israel. Israel reacted in the way that Ahmadinejad was hoping for, namely not only attacking South Lebanon but also attacking Beirut and blockading all of Lebanon. Attacking all of Lebanon was exactly what Ahmadinejad and the Syrians were hoping for and it was huge mistake on the part of the Israelis as it served both nations. Iran is now seen as less of a threat to the region than Israel and Syria, the traditional occupier of Lebanon, a country who´s leader most likely personally ordered the assassination of Hariri and who was falling out with Lebanon is now again seen as a friend by many Lebanese. Hezbollah was but a minority faction in Lebanon, a multi cultural, multi religious country. Before this war support for them was relatively weak. But just as the US government has made it very easy for Al Qaida to attract recruits after its invasion of Iraq, by attacking all of Lebanon, Israel is now making it very easy for Hezbollah to increase in popularity. Less than a year ago I met with Ohlmert together with a group of around 8 peace activists in Jerusalem. Frankly I was not impressed. Olhmert is probably the least prepared leader that Israel has had in a long time and he fell for the Ahmadinejad “ambush”. Now he is losing on both counts, on international support and in the battlefield.

So what is going to happen now? I see three scenarios. One is that Israel prevails in its main objective which is to bring an international force to the Lebanon/Israel border to guarantee that Hezbollah stops attacking Israel with rockets thrown from the south of Lebanon. Paradoxically the only way to get this force to come is for Israel to keep killing innocent civilians in Lebanon and creating tremendous economic damage so the democracies that supply the soldiers can justify the mission. So this is what Israel is doing now, escalating the conflict and forcing the UN to come in. Israel realizes that it would have a very hard time itself in policing south Lebanon and wants the world to do the job so in this way the world can witness that with Lebanon, as opposed to with Palestine, there really is no territorial dispute.

Now, a second scenario is that this war becomes a second Iraq, namely that nothing radical happens and it becomes a war of attrition in which a few soldiers and terrorists fight, not each other but each other’s civilian populations and it is mostly civilians who die. Iraq´s war is about human bombs and car bombs. Lebanon/Israel’s could be about rockets vs air strikes: a pretty horrid prospect.

Lastly the third possibility I see is that Israel, discouraged by the success of Hezbollah in killing civilians and disrupting life in Israel and with the blessing and help of the USA, decides to wage an air war with Iran, the real source of the Hezbollah attacks. But this war would create many more civilian casualties, this time in Iran. What may precipitate this option is that an air war is the only war that USA and Israel can win against Iran so they may choose to fight it together. The problem with this type of war is that as long as it is an air war leaders are generally able to protect themselves in expensive bunkers and it is mostly innocent civilians who die. And should this be the case and America and Israel decided to go for Ahmadinejad the through an invasion using a strategy similar to the one used to depose Saddam Hussein, the invading armies would find themselves fighting in a very hostile environment as Ahmadinejad truly is a popular leader in his country.

Lastly I wanted to say that other than the fact that I had to lie about being Jewish and having been to Israel I loved my visit to Beirut and I believe that Beirut and Jerusalem are paradoxically very similar cities, and Israel and Lebanon paradoxically very similar countries with diverse societies. It is a tragedy that citizens of these two countries cannot visit each other as most of them would like each other countries more than any other in the region.

Follow Martin Varsavsky on Twitter: twitter.com/martinvars

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Pablo Moreno Galbis on July 28, 2006  · 

Well, if we think about conspiracy theories involving Iran I have a better one.

First some background: the weapons of Hezbollah (the famous 15.000 rockets that Israel claims they have) were acquired well before Iran nuclear crisis. Second, just few months ago, Lebannon had a “rise” (a pacific one) against Syria.
Israel kidnapped civilians in the Gaza Strip, and Hamas kidnapped two soldiers. Then one of the hardest attacks in a long time started over the Gaza Strip, and Hezbollah decided to attack as a response of what they considered an attack against the arab people. Note that I do not justify that attack, I believe that they put all the lebannon civilians at risk.

But why did Israel hit back so hard? Well, another theory different to yours is that what they were/are expecting is an answer from Iran that will make things easier for the USA to start a war against that country. Bush is widely unpopular in the USA right now, and this is mainly because of the situation in Iraq, so the only way to trigger an attack against Iran is an action of war of Iran against Israel. As Israel considers that Iran is the big threat they are trying to cause them to attack back.

It is just a theory, but I do not think that it is less realistic than the one you expose about this conflict being a smoke wall for Iran.

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Killy_the_frog on July 28, 2006  · 

>>>>Beirut and I believe that Beirut and Jerusalem are paradoxically very similar cities< As it is two cities from the middle east not that far away from each other... I am not surprise. Lebanon was one of the few countries in middle east that could have been a model for the Islamic world. Development, Democracy, etc.. Now Lebanon is a ruin, the extremist gain support, and Hezbollah will recruit easily many fighters...

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martinvives on July 28, 2006  · 

Last days I`ve been talking about this with Mahmud. He is an Iraki geologist studying in Germany.

Besides all the terrible stories that he tells me, without changing its voice (his father was killed by a bomb car) this is what he tells me:

– Saddam Hussein killed over 6 million Iraquis.

– Iraqui like sometimes US but sometimes not. They feel like US wants to take all their resources. There is A LOT of water in Iraq. My friend is a geologist for Iraqi government, and has explored it himself.

– Behind Al-Qaida (and Hezbolá and so on) there is not only Iran. Also Syria and the United Arab Emirates giving A LOT of money to create conflict in all the regions where US opperates.

And so on. We are getting to a very dangerous situation. Where many troops are already deployed in Afganistan, Iraq, Ex-Yugoslavia, and so on. In this chaos many countries are taking advantage: Iran, Terrorist groups, North Korea… And US is starting to have too many fronts open.

Lets see when the clinton`s go back to the White House.

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hombrelobo on July 28, 2006  · 

Well, two things:
– Israel is a nuclear power with nuclear bombs (how many?) and has already said they will use them against Iran or anybody else.
– Iran wants to be a nuclear power, but has no nuclear bombs and it won’t be able to have them for at least 10 years even if it allowed to try to get them.

And one link:

You only see three scenarios (and I cannot believe that you wrote the 3rd one), and in all of them Israel is the one getting support from the rest of the world to stop “the others”. Why not including a forth one in which the international community stops Israel from attacking Lebanon and starts a program for the destruction of their nuclear bombs ?

But I am still amazed at why both sides (or better, all sides, since there are more than two involved) cannot negotiate a peace (or better, respect any of the already negotiated peaces processes). The killing of innocents on both sides is simply horrible and stupid.

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Nadim Saad on July 28, 2006  · 


I am Lebanese and although this probably doesn’t make me the most objective person to comment on this situation because of the emotions involved, I think your analysis is quite compelling.

However, I think that you present Ohlmert’s decision to go to war a bit simplistically. The US and Israel have tried to get rid of Hezbollah through diplomatic negotiations and using UN resolution 1559, and this unfortunately failed utterly. I know from very well informed sources that they also tried to use the influence of Syria and Iran on the movement but both nations have asked for favors in return that were unacceptable by any international standard. Although Bush and Ohlmert are certainly not the best leaders (I think we both agree on this!), they have a plethora of advisors and their view was (unfortunately!) that there was no other solution to get rid of Hezbollah and limit Shia fundamentalism in Lebanon that to go to war. They also had agreement from the international community and several Arab countries to do so (it is in Saudi Arabia and Egypt’s interest to limit Shia fundamentalism as well). However, I think that few expected Israel to do such carnage. This is backfiring and is creating additional problems in the region (and we really didn’t need them!). You might want to look at these horrible photos of what is happening in Lebanon (this is not for the faint hearted!): http://www.abouyounes.com/presentation.asp?enter=true

Now, to come back to why I really agree with you, this war has very unfortunate consequences. The US don’t seem to have learnt their lesson from Irak. They seem to be misjudging once more the secondary effect of their actions. This war is fuelling anti-israeli sentiment and is increasing Hezbollah’s popularity even with Sunni Muslims who have traditionally been opposed to the movement. This may give Hezbollah more influence and power than ever before when cease fire is finally reached. It is idealistic to think that Hezbollah could be eradicated by air strikes and even if Israel went for a wider ground incursion because they are not only a terrorist movement but they are also an integral part of the Lebanese society (as much as I don’t like this!). They have created jobs, hospitals, … in the South of Lebanon and many people are (or were!) completely dependent on the movement.

Also, the fact that Al Qaeda is now taking this conflict as an example of a wholly war could potentially be very harmful for Lebanon, which had until now been relatively good at eradicating such influence.

This is an endless debate because of its complexity, but it is great that people like you that are read by many can shed a bit more light on this conflict.

I would love to visit Israel and never had the opportunity. I managed to get a few Jewish friends to lie (as you did!) and come to visit me in Lebanon and they certainly agreed with your view that Israel is very similar. On another note, I lived for 4 years in Argentina and I was engaged to an Argentinean, and I think that Lebanese society and way of life is also somewhat similar to the Argentinean one. I wonder if you agree with that.

I would be delighted to meet you and continue this conversation.

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Umar Akram on July 28, 2006  · 

Im sorry to say that these scenarios are not an objective approach. The conflict lies between Israel and Pelstine and shall be resolved according to the UN Resolutions. There is a space for both of them to live peacefully if politicians dont cash out on for thier own Agenda.

Solve the core and then tackle rest of the minor differences..

I have lived in London, Copenhagen, Malta, Edinburgh, Pakistan and have friends from all side of the borders, enterprenuers, incubators, common people like me and you. No one wants war! no arrogant military and no hostile militias.

Solve the core issue first!

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Steve Ross on July 29, 2006  · 

If we put half as much time an effort into making peace as we do making war this world would be great place. After the 9/11 attacks on NY there was a television station interviewing young children on what they thought could be done to end violence everywhere. One little girl said, “why don’t we just tell them our names.” Our leaders could learn a lot from this little girl.

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Henrik Ahlen on July 29, 2006  · 

We should indeed listen more to our children, they are unpolluted with our war-mongering cuture and expose man’s basic instincts for peace and friendship.

The situation in the Middle East is very tragic, but what can we do about it? One obvious way is if we can increase communication between the peoples in all the areas in the region. Wireless internet and other technologies could help individuals come into contact with each other, increase understanding and making it more difficult to use violence.
I believe that communication via television, radio etc caused the Eastern Communist Europe to collapse, it was no longer possible to brainwash entire populations into thinking that communism was superior.

So let us start many grass-root efforts to spread wireless communication tools in the Middle East!

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ouriel on July 29, 2006  · 

hombrelobo> the reason a piece cannot be negotiated is because except jordan and egypt none of the arab countries of the region want to see Israel on the map. Iran’s president prefers a world without “zionism” and denies the shoah. Hamaz does not recognize Israel and swears destruction, same with Hezbollah and Syria.

Israel is surrounded by people that wants its total destruction. So who do you want Israel to do peace with?

> Martin: i think the situation is more complex than that. This operation has been prepared by Hezbollah for months now and is the result of a very very long process. Hezbollah provokes Israel for years since Israel unilaterraly backed from Lebanon. Fire of Katushas is nothing new to Israel. But the killing of 8 and kidnapping of 2 with one step to much.

Israel is not fighting to conquest more territory or to justify high military budget, but fights because of the nature of the threat to its existence. Israel is fully aware that Ahmadinejad is behind all of this and although casualties have been numerous on Isareli side, Hezbollah lost quite a lot and is weaknessed severly.

My bet is that Hezbollah will be totally destroyed (no choice on that one) by Israel and that Nasrallah will have to remain in Syria with some PR showcase role. Lebanon will be hopefully rebuilt under heavy international military surveillance and truelly democratic environment and Israel will have get rid of a terrible ennemy of Israel AND Lebanon (under the thankful eyes of hypocrite western democracies that are finally very happy to see Israel do the dirty job they wished they could do)

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Martin Varsavsky on August 1, 2006  · 


There’s certainly greater need for the internet in the Middle East, but from what I saw the internet is used in Israel and the Muslim World many times to promote more hatred or to simply corroborate each other’s prejudices.


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Martin Varsavsky on August 1, 2006  · 

Nadim, we are in agreement. What is happening is very sad and tragic. I was very, very impressed with Lebanon, the mere fact of arriving there on my sailboat from Spain and feeling that the country was an inch away from democracy. This was two summers ago and Beirut felt free. This was before the assasination of Hariri and other tragic turn of events. My host and friend there was Ziad Doueri, an amazing film director. It was fantastic to go around with him even on the tough parts of the trip, Damascus, the Palestinian refugee camps. Here´s a link to my pictures of that trip. Now, it makes me especially sad to see what is happening. I can´t understand how Israel cannot find a way to separate Hezbollah from the rest of the Lebanese instead of making it so easy for the rest of the Lebanese to like them. It´s the American mistake all over again. Get a minority terrorist group, try to exterminate them through military means and instead turn them into a group with whom the majority tends to agree.


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Martin Varsavsky on August 1, 2006  · 


I agree that it is urgent that the Palestinian´s get their country. URGENT. But this is for the Palestinians and Israelis to work out and I fail to understand how Hezbollah as a proxy Iranian organization is helping to solve this urgent problem.


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Martin Varsavsky on August 1, 2006  · 

Pablo Moreno,

I agree with you and that could be another theory, that Israel over reacted with a plan. Personally, while being Jewish and in favor of the existence of a State of Israel under the Oslo agreement lines, I am opposed to the Israeli regional policy since Sharon was elected.


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