Monday, July 24, 2006

Israel Hesitates To Invade South Lebanon But Chances of Escalation Grow

As Israel hesitates to invade South Lebanon, the chances that the war in the Middle East could dramatically escalate may only be increasing.

Why is Israel hesitating? Perhaps because the Israeli army commanders now recognize that Hezbollah has booby-trapped all of South Lebanon, with many improvised explosive devices such as the American army has encountered in Iraq, and that any Israeli invasion beyond the immediate border would entail very high casualties.

But there may be another reason as well. While the rockets fired by Hezbollah so far have only reached a little beyond Haifa, and it might appear that an Israeli advance to the Litani river would choke off most of the Hezbollah rocket attacks on Northern Israel, certain hints from the Hezbollah commander, Hassan Nasrallah, indicate that actually Hezbollah may have the capacity to fire longer range missiles from further north and even hit Tel Aviv. One such missile was destroyed by the Israelis near Beirut last week.

Nasrallah and others have also hinted that long range missiles could be tipped with chemical weapons.

Any use of chemical weapons by Hezbollah, which certainly would have to occur with Iranian consent, would immediately open up the prospect that the present conflict would become much more destructive. There can be no doubt that Israel would respond to such an attack by taking off the gloves in no uncertain terms. It too, as is well known, has exotic weapons.

There are even scenarios where the United States would become involved on the side of the Israelis, certainly if Israel were assaulted by weapons of mass destruction. Then an attack on Iran by the U.S. and perhaps other Western powers would become a distinct possibility.

We already have a fleet in both the Eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf, as do the British and the French. This thing may be closer to a much wider war than anyone in the media has openly speculated.

One thing that is sure at this stage is that diplomacy seems to be going nowhere. As far as we know, the Americans and Israelis are not even talking to Iran at this point. Time magazine in its latest issue, just out, talks at great length about diplomatic openings, but this is, for the time being, as unrealistic as Time lauding the Steven Spielberg movie, "Munich," advocating that Israel adopt an appeasement policy toward Arab attacks. Time misunderstands the situation completely.

It also should be fairly obvious that talk bandied about of an international force in South Lebanon to keep Hezbollah from attacking Israel is nowhere near fruition. Right now, such a force would have to fight its way into South Lebanon, and it could well encounter the same resistance the Israeli army is finding. Not only is the United Nations not up to such an undertaking, but NATO has no stomach for it either.

In short, while I hate to be pessimistic, there are alarming elements in the present situation, much more alarming than the media has been very openly discussing. Only Harold Meyerson in the Washington Post and Thomas Friedman in the New York Times have raised incisively the chances of a much wider war.

There is one other factor in the situation that I think should be mentioned. It has been assumed that Iran does not have nuclear weapons now. But suppose Pakistan, or elements within Pakistan, or North Korea, were to provide some. This may seem to be a remote possibility, but, already, in Afghanistan, Pakistan is in fact fighting on the other side, and, as India found out long ago, Pakistan is not to be trusted. There is even reason to fear that Pervez Musharaff may not be in complete control of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal. And, as for North Korea, we know how dangerous Kim Jong Il is.

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