Since Hizbullah rearranged Lebanon in May, the following has happened:
Syria and Israel have engaged in peace negotiations, under Turkish rather than American auspices, and on terms which are not humiliating to the Syrians and Arabs – so far at least. Bashaar al-Assad has also been well received in Paris, signalling a definite end to the period of European ostracism.
Hamas has negotiated a ceasefire with Israel and – so far – the Israelis are respecting it more than they ever respected ceasefires with the Palestinian Authority.
On July 16th, Israel did what it vowed in July 2006 it would not do: it received its prisoners (or their remains) as part of a prisoner-swap deal with Hizbullah. The Lebanese resistance has now succeeded in having all Lebanese prisoners returned home. Contrast the unanswered pleadings of Mahmoud Abbas, whose US-backed administration has failed to have any of the 11,500 Palestinian prisoners released. More prisoners, in fact, are being taken on the West Bank every night. Contrast the supine regimes in Jordan and Egypt, which have made peace with apartheid Israel while Jordanian and Egyptian prisoners in Israeli prisons are still unaccounted for. The lesson is clear: resistance pays. Obedience to US-Israeli hegemony only results in more weakness.
Israel’s war aims in 2006 were to defang the resistance and remove its deterrent power. In the event, the deterrent power that was removed was Israel’s. Far from surging in hours, 1982-style, through the south and the Bekaa, Israel bled for five weeks in the border villages. By all accounts Hizbullah is better armed now than in 2006, and its deterrent power increased.
After the war, Israel and its Western allies aimed to isolate Hizbullah politically in Lebanon, or at least to push it back from the border. There are UNIFIL troops in the south, but Hizbullah is still there on the ground, keeping a low profile, and actually protecting UNIFIL from al-Qa’ida-type attack. As for isolating the resistance on the Lebanese scene, Hizbullah has foiled the attempt to defang it by proxy, and masterfully, with its usual disciplne, clearing out the militias backed by the US and its clients and then immediately handing positions over to the national army. If it had been stupid, Hizbullah could have taken the government. It didn’t, but it did ensure the capabilities of the resistance. Syria and Qatar worked to encourage the compromise, marginalising the Saudi role. Sinyura and Jumblatt are doing a lot of public word-eating. The resistance has outmanouvered the empire politically as well as militarily.
And now a great, if questionable, surprise: the US is reported to be planning to open an interests section in Tehran, which would be the first official diplomatic contact since the revolution that removed the Shah. It looks like a great day in the axis of evil.
I think it’s still too early to say the direct extension of the war to Iran is impossible. The recent friendliness may be a PR exercise aimed to portray America as the flexible partner. America may intend to take control of European-managed talks with Iran merely so as to obstruct compromise. Mujahideen-e-Khalq and an array of ethno-separatist and sectarian opposition militias are still conducting covert operations against Tehran with American funding and direction, often out of bases in American-occupied Iraq.
But it does look as if the tide has turned against war. America and Israel have been at war with themselves for years over Iran. The publication of the National Intelligence Estimate in November 2007, which concluded that Tehran had halted its nuclear weapons research in 2003, is significant. The agencies went public because they wanted to reign in the neoconservatives who have done so much to hasten the financial, military and moral demise of the American empire. Most of the military hierarchy agree. Observers not blinded by arrogance or ideology can see that Iran is strong, and that its response to attack will be considerable.
Iran isn’t as strong as the propaganda suggests – it’s not a rising nuclear-fascist giant, but a deeply troubled country, globally still weak and unsure of itself. But it’s far better organised and better educated, more stable and more free than any other Middle Eastern state, with the possible exception of Turkey, from Pakistan to Algeria. Including, in at least some ways, Israel.