07/28/2006 09:50 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Long View of Israel's War Looks Dark

Richard Armitage is the latest foreign policy establishment type to question the logic, or subsequent lack thereof, of Israel's war on Hezbollah and Lebanon (Zbigniew Brezezinski and Bill Clinton have already weighed in with unusually strident criticism of Israel's bombing campaign). Here is the salient part of Armitage's remarks:

"If I thought that this air campaign would work, and would eliminate Nasrallah and the leadership of Hezbollah, I think it would all be fine. But I fear that you can't do this from the sky, and that you're going to end up empowering Hezbollah, and perhaps introducing an element into the body politic in Lebanon that will take some great period of time to recover from."

The long term implications of Israel's war will further weaken prospects for stability in the region if Israel retreats from Lebanon without a decisive victory. And that appears likely, given that the IDF isn't likely to dig in for a long war and even if they do, they may not emerge victorious anyway. So why does Israel need to deal Hezbollah a quick death blow? The answer lies not in Lebanon, but in the Palestinian territories, where Hamas and Islamic Jihad are viewed as sisters to Hezbollah. Moderate, secular groups like Tanzim and Fatah are worried that a Hezbollah success could further marginalize them in the eyes of the Palestinian public. Check out what a Tanzim leader told Ha'aretz yesterday:

"Stopping the fighting now would be interpreted as an Israeli defeat, which would immediately affect events here, especially in the Gaza Strip. The extremist organizations, Islamic Jihad and Hamas, will feel as if the victory were theirs, as will the Palestinian public - which equates Hezbollah with Hamas. The moderate Palestinian camp will face collapse if Hezbollah has the upper hand when this war is over. What will Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas] be able to tell his people in the face of the achievements of [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah or Hamas?"

For too long, Bush and the neocons failed to distinguish between Tanzim, Fatah and Hamas, lumping secular Palestinian groups in with Hamas hardliners. Once their childish goal of spreading democracy in the Middle East came to the fore, they ignored Mahmoud Abbas' pleas for support. When Abbas needed to show the Palestinian public he could leverage his friendly US ties to stop an Israeli incursion into the territories, Bush was nowhere to help. Meanwhile, Israel jailed Marwan Barghouti, the only moderate figure with enough street credibility to challenge Hamas. Finally, at the eleventh hour, when Hamas appeared poised to sweep parliamentary elections, the administration threw its support behind the beleaguered Abbas. But it was too late -- Hamas swept into power. Now, with a Hezbollah military success, which would be anything other than total defeat, Hamas could consolidate its power for a generation. The short term implications of the war are horrific, but the long term scenario is looking even worse. As usual, Israel is radicalizing the Middle East. But the US hasn't always been so eager to assist them.