Ambassador Peter Ford for VT …London
What if the US was opportunistically taking advantage of the Beirut explosion to create problems for Hizbollah and Iran?
In the immediate aftermath of the explosion Trump quoted ‘some of our great generals’ as thinking it was ‘a bomb of some kind’ and described it as ‘a terrible attack’. Now what could possibly prompt the Pentagon and Trump to want the world to think that it was a bomb, which could only mean that Israel had mounted an attack?
Well, how about a desire to create, as a minimum, confusion in a country which has defiantly failed to toe every US line, and more ambitiously, to put pressure on Hizbollah to react against Israel? That Pentagon sources later disavowed having any evidence of there being an attack proves nothing.
We need to connect the dots. In the same week that Trump made this odd Hizbollah-baiting claim he was appointing as special envoy for Iran the veteran arch-neocon, arch-Israel supporter Elliott Abrams. This is a man notorious for his involvement in regime change operations in Latin America and the Middle East and for his hatred of Iran. What could be more calculated to signal an intention to raise the temperature over Iran in the lead up to a November election where Trump’s chances of winning diminish by the day? And what better way to stoke a crisis than to manipulate Hizbollah into making an unwise move against Israel?
Hizbollah has for a long time vowed to retaliate against any Israeli attack on itself. While an Israeli attack on the port need not necessarily force Hizbollah to respond it would if the first triggering explosion was a Hizbollah arms store as some have speculated and not a stash of fireworks.
Social media speculation about an Israeli missile strike can only embarrass Hizbollah, either because its alleged arms store was an invitation to trouble or because it was failing to follow through on its vows of retaliation, undermining the credibility of its own deterrence.
A moment’s serious reflection, however, suffices to reassure us that this was in all probability no Israeli attack.
The rules of engagement between Hizbollah and Israel have held firm for fourteen years since a balance of deterrence was established after the 2006 conflict. Israel knows that any attack on Hizbollah will incur an at least proportionate response. For Israel to upend fourteen years of successful deterrence just to take out a single Hizbollah arms store or even more improbably just for the hell of seeing Beirut burn stretches credence.
What does seem to be going on here, however, is an orchestrated attempt to take cynical advantage of the disaster. We can see this in the use by Western media of talking points designed to highlight the corruption and incompetence of the Lebanese government as being the ultimate cause of not only the disaster but of all Lebanon’s woes, including the worst economic crisis in living memory and an uncertain response to the coronavirus epidemic.
The sub-text is that it is Hizbollah’s role in government which helps perpetuate the alleged corruption and incompetence, and that the Lebanese confessional system which permits Hizbollah to play this role must be reformed root and branch.
Any fair observer of the Lebanese scene, however, would acknowledge that despite the governing system’s undisputed failings the country has witnessed a near miraculous recovery from fifteen years of civil war and devastation of its infrastructure by Israel in 2006 on a much greater scale than today’s, success in avoiding being sucked into the vortex of the Syrian conflict next door stoked by Western powers, notwithstanding its absorption of over a million refugees, and relative internal stability without repression on anything like the scale seen in Western Arab allies.
Those weeping crocodile tears for Lebanon today are the same people who cheered on the recently implemented ‘Caesar Act’ which, in imposing fresh sanctions on Syria, provoked a stampede on Lebanese banks, sending the economic crisis in Lebanon over the edge.
The enemies of stability in the Levant have many weapons to call on. It will be unwise to allow them to direct through psy- ops the political and information aftershocks from the explosion.