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Friday, April 20, 2018 05:04:51 PM
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Peace is elusive, as confusion and proxy wars loom large

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20th-Mar-2017       
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Martin Jay :
Will there really be a war between Israel and Hezbollah? It's a subject so boring for most Lebanese that they aren't even bothered to react even with the normal facial twitch (a common form of communication here in the Levant). People here are gripped by more pressing, weighty issues like electoral reforms, or one involving Myriam Klink - a singer with low intellect. She recently went a little too far with her latest pop video, which apart from being vulgar with its use of crass innuendo also featured a child. The video was promptly banned by the state which, when stirred, sometimes acts like it is not a failed state at all. Meanwhile, most academics and big thinkers in Lebanon do believe there will be war here with Israel. Various incidents from both sides are pointing in this direction and, according to one respected historian at the Lebanese University, it will happen in 2019. Jamal Wakim, a sort of polemicist, sympathetic to Hezbollah and its allies, spelled out the case during a web interview with a portal, while throwing in a few nuggets about who the politicians would be, who would go along with Israel's army taking huge swathes of the country, and so on. Several elements have shocked me about the whole matter though.
Chiefly, the fact that how this matter has absolutely no effect on the Lebanese people whatsoever. They are still buying real estate and are not stoking prices of handguns on the black market (a neat barometer that journalists observe as an indicator to stability). Also, how utterly ludicrous and foolhardy such a plan would be for Israel to go ahead with. Wakim argues that Hezbollah, since 2006, has grown too strong and now the threat to Israel has reached a threshold that has sparked a panic reaction from Tel Aviv. Of course, almost certainly, it is also to do with the election of Donald Trump, who clearly would like to study all options at hitting Iran, without actually hitting Iran. Proxy wars are the ideal compromise in the Middle East. It allows powerful people to kill each other while still retaining almost cordial relations and pretending they're not getting involved.
But Trump's obsession with Iran will cost the region heavily not least for the reason that he doesn't have a lucid understanding of history and tribalism. It's actually quite worrying, if he did understand the landscape better. Perhaps if he did, he might stop the Mosul campaign as someone surely is going to tell him at some point "er, actually Mr President, we don't have too many locals to give money to, to fight Iran or their proxies... we have killed them all in Iraq, Yemen and Syria". It's an irony of his loathing of Iran that, in fact, if his campaigns in these countries to destroy the "terrorists" works, he will be Iran's biggest supporter. But no one wins in such wars and certainly not here in Lebanon. The British could not contain Northern Ireland, or the Americans Vietnam and not Israel, two previous times in Lebanon. Guerrilla wars, like Kissinger once pointed out, give victories to militias who are simply not defeated; or defeat superpowers who don't entirely win the battle. But history also shows us that superpowers don't take defeat very well, and like a moth guided blithely by the heat of a flame, they are doomed to succumb to their own foibles.
The continent has cheated Turkey for 17 years with a disingenuous offer of EU membership, which wasn't worth the paper it was written on. EU membership, Turkey has shown, isn't worth much either except for access to labour markets - and this didn't look like it was ever going to happen. In the meantime, Erdogan doesn't even shake his keys at 2.5 million Syrian refugees, who if he wanted, could simply let enter the EU. The impact would be a political tsunami for both the EU and the political elites of Germany and France. He is currently hoping to improve trade links with Russia and secure an important extradition from the US. Perhaps, he is biding his time. Or may be, he wants either Russia or the US to call him and ask him the price for doing such a nefarious act. As Thomas More once noted in a A Man for all seasons, every man has his price.
(Martin Jay recently won the U.N.'s prestigious Elizabeth Neuffer Memorial Prize in New York in 2016, for his journalism work in the Middle East).

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