Stratfor: Israel, Lebanon and the Geopolitics of Maturity

Macdonald Stainsby mstainsby at
Mon May 29 03:42:04 MDT 2000

What do comrades think of this?....Macdonald

Israel, Lebanon and the Geopolitics of Maturity


Israel's abrupt withdrawal from Lebanon is not merely a major event
in Israeli history, but a turning point. The Israelis have
withdrawn from occupied territory in the past. But this time the
Israeli military withdrew because of exhaustion and the realization
that there may be non-military solutions to its problems. For a
country that - since its founding - regarded the military solution
to be the surest and most secure, this represents more than a
change of policy. It is a change in a nation's psychology.


Israel has withdrawn from occupied territory before, either because
of foreign pressure, treaty or military necessity. Israeli forces
withdrew from their over-extended lines in the Beirut area after
Operation Peace for Galilee. But last week's withdrawal was
different. Like all dominant powers, Israel has encountered the
limits of its military power and is searching for more subtle
stratagems. For a country that has from its founding regarded the
military solution as the safest and most secure course, this
represents a fundamental change not only of policy, but also of
national psychology.

Since its founding, Israel has lived in a perpetual state of
national emergency.  The country has wrestled with a deep-seated -
and very real - fear of sudden, simultaneous attack by all of its
neighbors, overwhelming Jerusalem's military and annihilating the
nation. The threat was real. In 1973, Egypt and Syria coordinated a
surprise attack that, even if it never truly threatened Israel's
existence, did in fact justify Israel's worst fears:

1. All front-line states - Syria, Jordan and Egypt - would fully
commit themselves to a coordinated attack.

2. Other Arab states and even Iran would forward deploy their
forces into the front-line states.

3. All of these armies would acquire state-of-the-art weaponry and
fully integrated command.

4. Israel's foreign political support, particularly from the United
States, would evaporate -  taking with it re-supply of weapons.

5. Israeli intelligence would be unable to clearly understand Arab
intentions and planning, leaving the country blind.

Would you like to see full text and accompanying articles?

This was Israel's nightmare. For a people to whom something truly
unimaginable had just happened, believing in nightmares was not
irrational. All nations have their nightmares. Following Pearl
Harbor the United States was transfixed by the possibility of an
attack at a completely unanticipated time and place. American
nuclear planning revolved around the dread of a nuclear Pearl
Harbor. This also meant that planning for contingencies that
actually occurred - Korea and Vietnam - was haphazard and

Israel's nightmare scenario has not come to pass. Indeed, for
nearly half of Israel's existence, the scenario has been
impractical. Israel has been stronger than it liked to admit, even
to itself. And its enemies have been comparatively weaker and
suspicious of one another. For nearly a quarter century, Israel has
had a peace treaty with Egypt. It is far from a warm relationship,
but between the treaty and a Sinai buffer zone, the nightmare is
impossible. Obviously, reversal is possible, but it would be
presaged by the deployment of Egyptian forces into the Sinai and
the withdrawal of the American buffer force. There would be a

But the nightmare has shaped strategies and responses. First,
Jerusalem placed an emphasis on military responses. Second, Israeli
forces needed buffer zones for room to maneuver; they could not do
so properly within the 1948 borders because they would leave
population centers exposed. Third, Israeli forces focused on a pre-
emptive strategy designed to disrupt the enemy and keep him off

This was the strategy that led Israel into Lebanon. Israel had
created effective buffers in the Sinai, the West Bank and the
Golan. The only point at which Israel proper had a frontier without
a buffer was in the north, its border with Lebanon. Two perceived
threats existed. First there was the fear that Syria, defeated in
the Golan in 1973, might flank around Mt. Hermon and strike from
the north; the ability of the Syrians to carry out such a complex
maneuver was doubtful.

The second threat was more serious. Following the expulsion of the
Palestine Liberation Organization and Yasser Arafat's Al Fatah from
Jordan in 1970, they transferred operations to Lebanon. Indeed,
southern Lebanon became known as Fatahland. Fatah and other
Palestinian factions could not actually threaten the fundamental
security of northern Israel, but they could and did launch sporadic

Israel's response derived from its general strategy: when
confronted by a threat, define it in military terms and define a
military response. The military response must involve creating a
buffer zone. It should also include pre-emptive attacks against
threats to the security of the buffer zone. The Israeli entry into
Lebanon in the 1970s derived, therefore, from Israel's essential
strategic principle. That principle continued to govern operations
in Lebanon until the withdrawal.
For more on Israel, see:

For more on Lebanon, see:

But the intervention was much more complex than that. Lebanon had
been torn apart. The arrival of the Palestinians had changed
Lebanon from the Christian enclave that the French had created into
an unstable and fragmented society. The Syrians, who had long
regarded Lebanon as a part of Syria carved off by French
imperialism, had always wanted to retake it. When chaos broke out
in Lebanon, it was not only the Israelis that intervened. The
Syrians intervened as well - against the Palestinians and on behalf
of a Maronite Christian faction that had a longstanding
relationship with the Assad family. Israel's own intervention,
while formally condemned by the Syrians, was actually not
unwelcome. It weakened the Palestinians and strengthened the

As early as the 1970s, Israel's nightmare scenario and the
political reality of the region diverged. On one hand, Israel
sought a military solution. On the other hand, the reality was that
military opponents were unofficial allies. Israel wound up with a
schizophrenic policy. The Israel decision to annihilate the
Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Lebanon in 1982 derived
from its core strategy. It failed because the core strategy was
superb in managing the national nightmare but had nothing to do
with reality.

With the passage of time, the problem only deepened. The Golan
Heights and Sinai were generally uninhabited; Lebanon, like the
West Bank, was very much inhabited. Creating a buffer zone in the
latter meant grappling with the complex problems of administering
and controlling a hostile population. In Lebanon, Israel tried to
solve the problem by creating a buffer state of Christian Lebanese
and an allied militia, the South Lebanese Army. But as the Israelis
pushed further north they found that they had to rely on
themselves. The buffer zone had to be managed and protected against
attacks. Israeli forces became bogged down in constant, low-
intensity conflict.

Some have argued that the operation in Lebanon was successful
because if the Israelis had not been defending the buffer against
threats, they would have been defending northern Israel. The
counterargument was that operations exacted a large toll in Israeli
lives. Contemporary threats like Hezbollah would be destroyed more
easily without the buffer zone. Finally, and most importantly, the
argument went, the essential problem with Hezbollah was political
and not military. Hezbollah's interests were in Lebanon and not in
Israel. By removing Israel from the equation, domestic Lebanese
forces, plus the Syrians, would be forced to deal with Hezbollah.

In the end, this line of reasoning prevailed. The view of Hezbollah
as a minor irritant to be managed by Lebanon's domestic politics
and by the Syrians, rather than as an apocalyptic threat represents
a massive shift in Israeli psychology.

What Prime Minister Ehud Barak is doing is de-escalating the
psychological terror posed by Hezbollah. Rather than seeing the
militants as part of the nightmare scenario, Barak has assigned
them a much more minor place, as an irritating group with minimal
power. The withdrawal means that Israel can now deal with threats
outside the context of the nightmare scenario. Israel has done a
cost-benefit analysis on occupying part of Lebanon and has decided
that it just wasn't worth it - even if some attacks on Israel
proper might now take place.

This is an earthshaking event in Israel's history. The emergence of
a class of enemies representing tolerable threats, which might be
dealt with in venues other than the battlefield, redefines Israel's
fundamental vision of its security. There are now large parts of
its environment not linked to the nightmare scenario. Similarly,
Syria is not going to attack Israel from Lebanon for the time
being. It just isn't worth the trouble.

The garrison state of a generation ago has yielded to a technically
advanced, capitalist society in which dreams of glory on the
battlefield have given way to dreams of IPOs. The best and
brightest used to go into the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) or the
defense research establishment. They now go into computers and the
Internet. Indeed, the expertise accumulated in the Israeli defense
research community is pouring into the commercial markets.

The nightmare scenario is not impossible. It is, however, distant.
Like many democratic societies, Israel's tolerance for extended
military engagement without a clear exit strategy is limited. The
most astounding fact, though, is that there is near consensus; the
military itself concluded that occupation was not worth the effort.
The Israeli military has arrived at a different appreciation of the
country's strategic reality.

Israel is becoming a normal country in the sense that, while it has
enemies, these enemies can be managed without extreme measures.
Israel is coming to rely more on political arrangements than
military solutions, reaching subtle understandings with formal
enemies who share interests. In short, it is changing its view of
the world. To be sure, there will be political costs, particularly
when this new vision is extended to the West Bank, as it ultimately
will be.

Macdonald Stainsby
Check out  the Tao ten point program:

"The only truly humanitarian war would be one against
underdevelopment, hunger and disease."
- Fidel Castro

More information about the Marxism mailing list