Last time around the U.S. encouraged this, what will Obama do?
Tuesday’s cross-border firefight between Israeli and Lebanese government forces might simply have been a misunderstanding. And the rockets fired from Gaza and the Israeli air strikes on the besieged territory over the past week could be viewed as periodic blip in business as usual on that front. By the same token, last Friday’s unprecedented joint visit to Beirut by the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Syria could be viewed simply as a move to stop the conflict between their Lebanese proxies turning nasty. And British Prime Minister David Cameron’s pleas to Turkey to keep open its communication channels with Israel’s leaders are quotidian diplomatic common sense. Viewed in a wider context, however, each of those events could be taken as signs of why many in the Middle East believe that despite the outward calm, the region may be on the brink of another catastrophic war.
A new report based on extensive conversations with regional decisionmakers released Monday by the International Crisis Group, the respected mediation organization of former diplomats, warns of the possibility of war. “The situation in the Levant is … exceptionally quiet and uniquely dangerous, both for the same reason,” the Crisis Group warns. “The buildup in military forces and threats of an all-out war that would spare neither civilians nor civilian infrastructure, together with the worrisome prospect of its regionalization, are effectively deterring all sides.” But while Hizballah and its regional backers, Syria and Iran, believe that the buildup in the Shi’ite militia’s arsenal and capabilities is deterring Israel from launching attacks on any of them, Israel views the acquisition by Hizballah of a missile arsenal capable of raining destruction on Israeli cities as an intolerable threat. “As Hizballah’s firepower grows,” the Crisis Group notes, “so too does Israel’s desire to tackle the problem before it is too late … What is holding the current architecture in place is also what could rapidly bring it down.”