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Is a Regional War on the Horizon? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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In its sickening penchant for inaccurate headlines, the Arab media has asserted that a big explosive crisis will soon take place and that the conflict in Iraq and Palestine will escalate into a far-reaching regional and international war that might break up certain organizations, alter borders and create new states.

Without a doubt, the current situation is very violent and serious. The probability of escalation is present at any moment. Yet, the conflict has its own telling logic and its own fragile equilibrium.

It is not true to claim that the crisis was not expected, given that its signs were visible to the naked eye. It is also not true to claim that its wagers were ambiguous; it is the region’s clearest conflict, with respect to its background and the strategies of its players. Irrespective of the disagreements on how to analyze the current situation, the truth remains that none of the players can risk surmounting the fragile equilibrium, which was drawn up by the balance of powers and the reality of the new strategic equation in the region, even if the current crises expresses the failure to consolidate this defective equation.

Let us start with the Lebanese player, or Hezbollah, which has entered the most violent confrontation with Israel, that has returned the atmosphere of the Israeli invasion in 1982 to Lebanon, with all its tragedies and misery.

Despite the bold strikes that have targeted Israel, and the pledges of Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah to use unexpected weapons to respond to the Israeli aggression, the party, which is known for its political acumen, realizes before anyone else the limits of its movement. This is why it is seeking to achieve internal political gains, amongst them securing its military role and renewing its popular support, but it will not take the risk of igniting the flames of strife, outside its control, which would remove its weapons and restrict it to its limited sectarian dimension.

As for Iran, it is believed not to be very far from the current crisis, even if it was benefiting from an escalation of the hostilities on the Lebanese-Israeli front, for several reasons related to its nuclear ambitions, which have reached crisis point. However, at the same time, Tehran is aware of the dangers of putting its main ally in the region at risk of Israeli attacks and increasing US and European pressure. Iran has demonstrated that behind President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s fiery statements, it manages its foreign policy in a logical and pragmatic manner in order to safeguard its vital interests.

Despite Iran insisting on becoming a nuclear power, in order to guarantee its security in a region with several nuclear states (Israel, Pakistan, India and China), it does not want to lose its gains in Iraq, which require maintaining a basic level of amiability with its stated enemy, the United States.

Syria also features in this equation. Whereas it might benefit from the conflict on the Lebanese-Israeli front for strategic reasons, related to its desire to regain some of its former regional importance, Damascus is well aware of the danger of widening the confrontation to Syrian territory, which the internal and regional situation would not tolerate.

As for Israel, which escalated the situation and acted outside the realm of customary small-scale operations, it has set several conditions (the release of the two kidnapped soldiers, the withdrawal of Hezbollah from the south and the confiscation of its weapons), it realizes the danger of the Lebanese quagmire, which it suffered from for many years and was obliged to unilaterally withdraw from in 2000. It also understands that the resistance movements in Palestine and Israel are relying on unconventional methods in their confrontation with Israel, such as suicide weapons and missiles.

The most important player, the United States, finds itself in a real crisis, as it sided unconditionally with the Israeli aggression, thereby losing any legitimacy to mediate in a conflict that was arrived at by the ill-advised US policies in the region.

With its main vital interests endangered, the US has emerged as the biggest loser in this conflict. Petrol prices have increased significantly since the beginning of Israeli military attacks on Lebanon, while Israel is no more secure than it was before. As for the administration plans to spread democracy in the region, they have been discredited after the democratically elected government in Palestine was not recognized, at a time when the current military operation will strengthen the presence and popularity of the radical forces across the Muslim world.

Even if the signs of a peaceful resolution to the crisis remain elusive, it is unlikely that the current military escalation will transgress the region’s current strategic equilibrium.