History will have to wait

Posted: Aug 11, 2006 12:01 AM
History will have to wait

What's going on behind the ever-shifting scenes in the Mideast? The only thing clear at this confused point is that it's awfully crowded back there.

At the United Nations, diplomats try to hammer out a cease-fire that would end this war without leading to another. It's been nearly two years now since U.N. Resolution 1559 was passed declaring that all militias in Lebanon, including Hezbollah's, would be disbanded. The current resolution in the works will also prove meaningless if it's not enforced.

Every time John Bolton appears before the cameras, some of us do feel more hopeful. Our man at Turtle Bay actually got the French to agree to some common objectives, like keeping Hezbollah away from Lebanon's border with Israel - instead of rewarding it for starting this whole conflagration.

According to this draft resolution, Hezbollah would even be disarmed. But, besides the Israelis, who's going to bell this tiger? Like its geography, the diplomacy of the Mideast is full of mirages.

If the past is any guide, and it isn't always, the eventual cease-fire (there will be one, won't there?) will reflect the lines on the ground. Once the rockets' red glare and the bombs bursting in air have revealed whose flag is still there, there may be a chance not for any real peace (that may be too much to hope for) but a cessation of hostilities - rather than the usual pause for re-supply and reinforcements.

A clearer view of what has happened these past few homicidal weeks will have to wait till a Michael Oren (author of "Six Days of War") or an Abraham Rabinovich (who wrote "The Yom Kippur War") writes a comprehensive review of this latest unpleasantness, which doesn't even have a name yet. (I nominate Hezbollah's War.)

Like the shifting lines of battle, history is subject to contention, too. One can already see the historical narrative of each side forming, never the twain to meet. But the world isn't waiting on the historians before reaching some judgments on its own:

In Israel, the inevitable review of political and military strategy has begun. Israel is full of armchair generals, not to mention the real ones in that country's previous wars. They've started to chime in, too. An official investigation, and its report, is sure to follow. Not to mention the courts-martial. (How could the advanced Israeli warship that was struck and disabled by a radar-guided missile not even have had its main sensor turned on?)

Israel's coalition government, which seems to have taken ages to apprehend the seriousness of the threat, will doubtless have to weather numerous questions once this long cruel war is over, not to mention motions of no-confidence.

A scapegoat is already emerging in Dan Halutz, the air force general who directed an air war that was going to destroy Hezbollah's ability to pepper the Jewish state with rockets and missiles. It didn't. Even if it did inflict severe damage on Hezbollah - and on Lebanon.

The Israeli romance with the Rumsfeld Doctrine of shock-and-awe is fading fast. An old, old lesson is being learned again: In the end, all that armor, artillery, and naval and air support can only support the infantry, which remains queen of battle. What will matter in the end is getting those muddy boots on contested ground.

Meanwhile, in Lebanon, no one dares criticize Hezbollah, at least not too loudly. For just where Hezbollah ends and the Lebanese "government" begins has never been clear. If there is any light between Hezbollah's position and Lebanon's, it tends to disappear when it's most needed - like now.

Hezbollah is Lebanon's government to a dangerous degree. It not only occupies southern Lebanon but enough seats in the Lebanese parliament to be represented in the Cabinet. Its informal network of charities and rocket launchers has been spread all over Lebanon, like a vast spider's web.

Hezbollah isn't just a state within a state (its capital is Tehran) but one with its own army and its own foreign policy. It is quite capable of dragging Lebanon into war at any time - as it has just done. Which is why the talk of the Lebanese army "replacing" Hezbollah in the south of the country invites skepticism. What would be the difference for all practical purposes? Only an international force, one capable of confronting Hezbollah, could keep the peace. Maybe.

This war is still a work - or a catastrophe - in progress. The historians, like the diplomats, may be able to confirm its results, but they cannot determine them. Like the rest of us, Clio, muse of history, must wait for dispatches from the front.