As I prepare for a two-week hiatus, I have to wonder how things will look by August 7th when Cutler’s Blog returns.
Israeli Ground troops in Lebanon: As I write, Israel appears to be preparing to send ground troops into Lebanon. Apparently, the idea is to create a 20-mile “buffer” between Hezbollah and the Israeli border, although I just saw John Bolton on Fox News saying that 20-miles isn’t nearly enough given the reach of Hezbollah rockets. Oh boy.
International/UN force in Lebanon: It looks like there will be an international force of some kind but it will come only after the US thinks Israel has “done all it can do” unilaterally. I see no reason to believe, however, that such an international force will actually have a different mandate than Israeli ground troops. The key point is that there are no major international players (apart from Syria and Iran; and possibly the Sadrist-backed government of Iraq!) who actually oppose the disarming, dismantling, and/or destruction of Hezbollah. The French and the Saudis, in particular, want this no less than the Israelis. There are only two reasons why the current offensive would turn from an Israeli action into a multinational force: either because Israel has completed its mission or, more likely, because the Israeli mission becomes politically unsustainable and requires the cover of multinational legitimacy.
Syria: I would not be stunned to return August 7th to a new regime in Syria. This could happen in one of two ways: either President Bashar Al-Asad does a “Qaddafi” and switches sides (“get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit” as our President says; very unlikely, but not impossible) or he is unseated in a US-backed coup. Let us be clear, the parties to that coup are totally in place and would essentially represent a return of the “old guard” that was marginalized in the transition from Hafez to Bashar. The key figure in this coup would be former Syrian Vice-President Abdel-Halim Khaddam. The coup option is in such plain view to all that this may, in fact, be sufficient to move Bashar.
Iran: I expect the Iranian regime will be in power when I return (not really a daring bet). But the Iranian regime will be on the front burner and in the hot seat for some time. A military option–by the US or Israel–remains a low probability, but I wouldn’t be so foolish as to rule it out as a possibility with the current folks running the show in Washington and Jerusalem. In the longer term, I continue to think that the long-term agenda–especially among Right Zionists in Washington, but also within Right Arabist circles–is regime change in Iran. But it will take some time before anyone in the US foreign policy establishment is ready to make a serious drive in that direction.
I look forward to comparing notes August 7th… Until then, hold onto your seats!