Henry Kissinger has published an editorial suggesting that the war we’ve just seen represents a shift in the challenges facing the West. He comments that Hizbullah is similar to Sadr’s forces in Iraq (not to mention what Hamas was before the last Palestinian election), essentially a state within a state and yet more powerful than the forces of the government of the state. As such, these groups can operate against nations as armies with a strong support system but outside the confines of normative international relations. Thus in Lebanon, the war against Hizbullah could not be dealt with by the UN with mediation between Hizbullah and Israel but rather between Lebanon and Israel. This, of course, took place while the weepy Saniora had no prior knowledge or input about the Hizbullah attacks and their potential outcomes.
Kissinger discusses the puppeteer behind these non-state states, Iran, and speaks of a significant global conflict which is here to some degree but its more significant battles – battles of two key civilizations – are still pending. He suggests that the US and European nations will have to work together to battle the forces of the opposing civilization and will have to do so by working together, much like they came together on the issue of resolving the Hizbullah-Israel war.
We are witnessing a carefully conceived assault, not isolated terrorist attacks, on the international system of respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity. The creation of organizations like Hezbollah and al-Qaida symbolizes that transnational loyalties are replacing national ones. The driving force behind this challenge is the jihadist conviction that it is the existing order that is illegitimate, not the Hezbollah and jihad method of fighting it. For the jihad’s adherents, the battlefield cannot be defined by frontiers based on principles of world order they reject; what we call terror is, to the jihadists, an act of war to undermine illegitimate regimes.
A ceasefire does not end this war; it inaugurates a new phase in it. This twin assault on the global order, by the combination of radical states with transnational non-state groups sometimes organized as militias, is a particular challenge in the Middle East, where frontiers denote few national traditions and are not yet a century old. But it could spread to wherever militant, radical Islamic groups exist. Leaders therefore are torn between following the principles of the existing international order on which their economy may depend, or yielding (if not joining) the transnational movement on which their political survival may depend.
The real goals of the Lebanese war were transnational and not Lebanese: to overcome the millennia-old split between Sunnis and Shia on the basis of hatred for Israel and America; to relieve diplomatic pressure on Iran’s nuclear program; to demonstrate that Israel would be held hostage if pressure became too acute; to establish Iran as a major factor in any negotiation; to scuttle the Palestinian peace process; to show that Syria – the second major sponsor of Hezbollah – remained in a position to pursue its ambitions in Lebanon.
The war in Lebanon has transformed the position of Israel dramatically. Heretofore the Palestinian issue has for all its intensity been about the traditional principles of the state system: the legitimacy of Israel; the creation of a Palestinian state; the drawing of borders between these entities; the security arrangement and rules for peaceful coexistence. From Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s “land for peace” formula, to Saudi Arabia’s offer of peace and mutual recognition, to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s concept of unilateral withdrawal from occupied territories, the so-called peace process was conceived as culminating in an internationally accepted peace between internationally recognized states.
Hezbollah and other rejectionist groups are determined to prevent precisely this evolution. Hezbollah, which took over southern Lebanon, and Hamas and various jihadist groups, which marginalized the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, disdain the schemes of moderate Arab and Israeli leaders. They reject the very existence of Israel, not any particular set of borders.
One of the consequences is that the traditional peace process is now in shambles. After being attacked with missiles from both Gaza and Lebanon launched by non-state jihadists, Israel will find it difficult to view unilateral withdrawal as a road to peace, nor will it be able under current conditions to find a partner to guarantee security. Finally, in the aftermath of Lebanon, the current Israeli government lacks the authority or public support to withdraw even the 80,000 settlers from the West Bank envisaged in the Sharon plan.
At the same time, an indefinite continuation of the status quo is not sustainable. Some new road map must emerge to underpin the comprehensive Mideast policy that must follow the Lebanon war. To deal with the crisis produced by the combination of non-state fanaticism and state power politics, a joint project among America, Europe, and the moderate Arab states is needed to work out a common approach. Only in this manner can a leadership accepting peaceful coexistence emerge in the occupied territories.
Everything returns to the challenge of Iran. It trains, finances, and equips Hezbollah, the state within a state in Lebanon. It finances and supports the Sadr militia, the state within a state in Iraq. It works on a nuclear weapons program, which would drive nuclear proliferation out of control and provide a safety net for the systematic destruction of at least the regional order. The challenge is now about world order more than about adjustments within an accepted framework.
Note that this article is coming out a couple of days after British PM Blair said pretty much the same thing while visiting Israel. He spoke about the leadership of the West recognizing that we are in a war of civilizations that has at its heart a war of differing ideologies but that this message has not yet filtered down to the broader populations of Western countries.
…There is one major strategic question that has changed in the whole of the international community. People everywhere now see this global movement of extremism, they see Iran putting itself at the head of it, and there is a huge strategic interest that includes America, Europe, Israel and any Arab and Muslim countries that want a modern future – there is a huge strategic interest in making sure that that extremism doesn’t succeed.
Did the Lebanon war sharpen this consciousness?
Yes, I think it did, and though obviously, for obvious reasons because many innocent people died – many innocent Israelis, many innocent Lebanese – and the destruction of so much in Lebanon is terrible, of course. And so while the conflict was going on, it was very difficult for people to think in terms of anything other than stopping the conflict. But I think that there emerged from that a clearer notion of how this came about and how Iran and to an extent Syria are pulling the strings and ensuring that there is such conflict. And so I think there has been that greater clarity.
… greater clarity in your mind. But what makes you think in the minds of other European leaders?
Because I think amongst the leaders in Europe I think it is clear. Amongst the people in Europe and Western opinion there is a big battle to be won. I mean, I’m being just honest about this. And I think there is a desire not to face the fact that we are fighting a global struggle. There are all sorts of issues to do with America and whether people want to be associated with America. And I think there is sometimes a naivete about organizations like Hezbollah and the activities of Iran. I’m just being frank. I think there is a battle, and it is important that we take our case out and win that battle.
…Western opinion always wants to believe that it’s our fault and these people want to have a sort of, you know, grievance culture that they visit upon us and say it’s our fault. And so we have a young British- born man of Pakistani origin sitting in front of a television screen saying I will go and kill innocent people because of the oppression of Muslims, when he has been brought up in a country that has given him complete religious freedom and full democratic rights and actually a very good job and standard of living. Now, that warped mind has grown out of a global movement based on a perversion of Islam which we have to confront, and we have to confront it globally.
And as I said recently in my L.A. speech, the first way to win a battle is to realize you’re in a battle. That’s part of the trouble: We don’t yet really understand this is a global movement and it requires a global strategy to beat it.
One other point – you can’t beat it simply by security or military means. This is an ideological battle. It’s got to be taken out to the enemy. And that’s why I say it’s important for us always to be the ones who have got a political strategy running alongside the military strategy. We should never, ever, whatever the technical difficulties, let the political strategy fall away.