Former Ambassador Dennis Ross makes some guardedly optimistic observations
in an article to be published in The New Republic next Monday,
Hezbollah, until now, has branded itself as a protector of the Lebanese people, not the representatives of a foreign agenda.
That self-image is no longer tenable. Many Arab (and non-Arab) observers see an Iranian hand guiding Hezbollah. Isn’t it interesting, they ask, that Hezbollah’s attacks coincided with the deadline the European Union set for Iranians to respond to its proposed nuclear deal?
Those who view the Israeli offensive in Lebanon as counterproductive to U.S. foreign policy miss an emerging reality: Iran is waging a struggle to achieve regional dominance that threatens the United States and all its friends in the Middle East. The good news is that Hezbollah has unmasked Iran’s intentions, which even Arab leaders now appear to recognize. As such, with the right U.S. steps, the current crisis may be turned into an opportunity.
When Hezbollah was fighting Israeli “occupation,” it was untouchable. But the general Arab narrative has been that the violence, meaning terrorism, is driven by occupation: no occupation, no violence. Saudi Arabia has taken the lead in denying that Hezbollah’s act represented “resistance” -- hallowed in Arab psychology -- and declared it “reckless.” Then, over the weekend, at the Arab League, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal -- hardly a paragon of unscripted language -- called Hezbollah’s actions “unexpected, inappropriate, and irresponsible.” He told his counterparts, “These acts will pull the whole region back to years ago, and we cannot simply accept them.” The foreign minister’s remarks were then endorsed by Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and the Palestinian Authority. (The Palestinian Authority represented Mahmoud Abbas, not the Hamas-led cabinet.) In Lebanon, you could hear similar noises. Walid Jumblatt and other parliamentarians asked what gave a party (Hezbollah) the right to commit the country to war, with all its attendant costs.
It is not only Israel that may demand the Lebanese army assume positions along the border, something that the Lebanese government was required to do, according to U.N. Security Council Resolution 425. The Arab world may join in making this possible, determined to prevent Hezbollah from being able to repeat this scenario in six months’ time.
Israel will demand this as an outcome, since it will not accept the preexisting status quo vis-à-vis Hezbollah or Hamas. Israel is now trying to reestablish its deterrent. Withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza were interpreted as signs of weakness, and a new Israeli government is now acting to prove that, if you attack Israel, you pay a terrible price.
Reestablishing the Israeli deterrent is also necessary as part of the struggle with Iran and its proxies. They have provoked these twin conflicts, and they must not be seen as gaining from them. This is part of a larger struggle, and Islamists must begin to lose their swagger; they must be discredited and their more secular opponents must begin to gain.