Thursday, 8 January 2009

Escalating conflicts

Fighting on multiple fronts is a tactic which has defeated innumerable forces over the years.

During the 20th Century opening a second front was for Britain a key requirement to changing the course of conflict from defence to attack in both the world wars. For Germany and the Central Powers negating this potentially devastating development proved beyond their capability and the loss of territorial integrity led to the ultimate demise of their war ambitions.

As the expansion of the scope and range of weaponry and warfare continued so the diplomatic arena has now become the target for this form of outflanking manoeuvre. Deftness at diplomacy is the ability to manipulate news analysis through propagation of sympathies and is vital to the successful management of a campaign.

So it is no surprise that Hamas has apparently drawn Hezbollah into the current Middle-eastern hostilities.

Whether or not this is a good idea for any of the parties involved really quite depends on the outcome of it, but it does provide us onlookers with an indication that the situation has reached a sufficiently critical period that allies can now be called upon.

The Lebanese extreme Islamist faction may have until this point felt that the advantages of intervention didn't outweigh the disadvantages of supporting the extreme Palestinian Islamist faction against their common enemy, but with the conduct of Israel percieved as having undermined international support for their position (with the latest deathtoll at 700:11) it is clear that they may now feel free to act provocatively.

But no life can be measured against another, so I still prefer to be wary of ploughing in and shouting condemnation of either side at the exclusion of the other and would like to look at each event as it occurs. Right and wrong are easy to forget in such circumstances, but the context has changed irrevocably: more people are going to die.

So rather than asking how we can freeze the conflict by calling for a new ceasefire (last night a 3-hour ceasefire was held) in the futile hope of reaching a longer term solution through negotiations designed to satisfy nobody on the ground and which will keep the vicious cycle spinning, we should be considering what measures we need to take to resolve the deeper questions.

The memory of Israel's botched 2006 war in Lebanon may be motivating their action today, and their claims that they are being successful in stopping attacks from the north make make them feel confident in their current plans. If so, then every missile launched by Hezbollah will have echoes far into the future.

Both sides are gambling on their ability to control sympathetic news reporting of events, but they both seem consciously oblivious to the consequences of escalation.

Update: Spokesmen from Israeli and Lebanese governments have both played down the impact of the explosions in the north. One wonders how many explosions are required for Israel to try to appear consistent, as it currently seems they only follow their own precedents when it suits them.

Expect the Lebanese militants to continue to agitate and worry about where the conflict will spread to next - will extremists in the West Bank take action? will
public commemorations in Muslim nations descend into rioting? Just don't expect a spontaneous outbreak of peaceful demonstrations. The Gazans would be well advised to organise a stoic show of solidarity and resistance, but could they pull it off without losing control of the crowd?

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