On June 25, members of three militant Palestinian organizations, including the governing Hamas, attacked an Israeli military base, killing two soldiers and seizing a third. On July 12, militants from the Lebanese Hezbollah crossed into Israel, captured two soldiers, and killed three others. When Israeli troops pursued them into Lebanese territory, Hezbollah hit again, killing five more.
Israel reacted similarly in both instances. It rejected any negotiation or prisoner exchange and unleashed large-scale attacks designed to assert its military might, subdue the militant organizations, and erode their rocket-launching capacity. In one case it hoped to accelerate the collapse of Hamas’s government; in the other to force Hezbollah to disarm. At this writing, none of the abducted soldiers have been released. Hamas remains in power and Fatah, which Israelis hoped would replace it, remains in shambles.
The outlook is bleakest on the Lebanese front. Exceeding expectations—or fears—Hezbollah stood fast, firing a steady stream of rockets deep into Israel and forcing hundreds of thousands of Israelis to seek shelter or move south. A fragile truce is in place, but few in Israel consider it satisfactory; fewer still believe that its terms will be fully respected. Hezbollah has made clear that it will not disarm and no one can credibly contradict it. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who claimed that Hezbollah would be destroyed, defined victory in terms that ensured a loss. Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, whose stated goal was to withstand the onslaught, characterized success in a way that ruled out defeat. A war waged to reassert Israel’s power of deterrence and to spoil Hezbollah’s image has significantly eroded the former while unintentionally improving the latter.
The political toll in Israel is equally heavy. Bitter recriminations and accusations over the conduct of the Lebanese campaign, its purpose, and its outcome came unusually early, even before the last shot was fired. With rockets having been launched from two regions from which Israel had withdrawn, Prime Minister Olmert’s plan to unilaterally disengage from parts of the West Bank is, to put it mildly, moribund. He has no alternative program to offer. Until now, he has ruled out negotiations with Syria over a peace deal and excluded a dialogue with Hamas unless the movement undergoes an improbable ideological conversion. There is plenty of dissatisfaction in the West Bank and Gaza, but the gamble of Israel and Western nations that cutting off funds for the Palestinian civil service and supplies for the hungry population would lead them to rebel and would force Hamas to change its ways has so far failed. In Lebanon, the best Israel can do is stand aside and hope that Lebanese politicians and public opinion will damage Hezbollah in ways the Jewish state’s military arsenal could not. A war Israel fought without a clearly defined purpose has left the country without any tangible achievement. The summer has not been good for Israel.
It has not been much kinder to others. Hamas may still be standing, but its position is wobbly. The movement was not prepared for its electoral victory; it was even less prepared for what followed. Its government has been largely deprived of resources as Israel withholds the taxes that were supposed to be collected on the Palestinian Authority’s behalf, and as both the United States and the European Union insist that Hamas meet their three preconditions—recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence, and adherence to past agreements—before they will resume assistance.
Of late, international attention has shifted to Lebanon, but Palestinian suffering has not eased. After an Israeli soldier was captured on June 25, Israel’s forces killed scores of Palestinians, destroyed vital facilities in the Gaza Strip, jailed over thirty Hamas ministers and parliamentarians, and effectively closed the area to the outside world. Expressing frustration with international impotence and Israeli aggression, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and other Hamas leaders have warned vaguely that they might dissolve the Palestinian Authority. The president of the PA no longer presides, the government no longer governs, and anarchy is spreading: How, one wonders, would the Palestinian people know the difference?
Along with the Palestinian confrontation with Israel there has been a debilitating power struggle between Hamas and the secular nationalist Fatah. Except for a few bloody episodes, outright internecine conflict between Palestinian factions has traditionally been taboo; Yasser Arafat was often berated by foreigners for refusing to crack down on opponents, but for most Palestinians it was one of his proudest achievements. That line has been crossed. It is not yet all-out war, and following a recent national reconciliation agreement such a war may be avoided; but there has been a steady stream of politically motivated assassinations of Palestinians by Palestinians amid harsh accusations of betrayal. In opinion surveys asking Palestinians to choose between Hamas and Fatah, the response “none of the above” has increasing appeal.
The Lebanese people have paid the heaviest price. With the stated purpose of recovering its men as well as crippling the Islamist movement, and the unstated one of turning the Lebanese people against Hezbollah, Israel has damaged the country, killed over a thousand of its citizens, and provoked the displacement of a quarter of its population. Having scarcely recovered from its latest ordeal, Lebanon is a broken nation once more.
The Islamist movement may be pleased by the results of the war, but in the longer run its outlook appears less certain. For Hezbollah, holding Israel to a military draw—a huge victory by any measure—may well prove to have been the easier task. It had, after all, prepared itself for such a confrontation during the past six years. Managing the domestic battle that has ensued could present a tougher challenge. The war has created a humanitarian catastrophe of almost unimaginable proportions for Lebanon’s Shiite population, Hezbollah’s base of support. Hundreds of thousands of Shiites are without shelter or means of subsistence. Some of them remain dispersed throughout the country, dependent for their well-being on the generosity of rival sectarian groups. Hezbollah, which largely built its popularity on its ability to meet social needs and whose system for providing services has been severely damaged—far more, one suspects, than its military arsenal—is promising speedy help, and, with support from Iran, has started to provide it earlier and more effectively than the government. But it will face huge demands for reconstruction and much competition from others in meeting them. As the glamour of its claimed military victory fades, it may face more pressing demands from Lebanese and non-Lebanese that it give up its weapons.
At the same time, Arab public opinion is increasingly radicalized and governments allied with the US stand doubly discredited—exposed for their hostility toward Hezbollah in the early stages, shamed by the movement’s military prowess later on. As for the attitude of the US administration, it has been utterly incomprehensible. Banking on an implausibly swift Israeli victory, the US stood virtually alone against a cease-fire even as the number of civilian victims grew and even as the Lebanese government it ostensibly wished to support pleaded in vain for the violence to halt. That the US made protestations of sympathy for the Lebanese people while giving concrete support for Israel’s military operations only compounded popular fury. All this for a cause—the battle for “freedom”—that was further discredited on every day of further bloodshed, and whose purported beneficiaries—the Arab people—want nothing to do with. America’s standing in the region may well recover, but it is increasingly difficult to see how, or when.
It’s a desolate balance sheet. On all fronts, confrontations proceed with little logic or purpose and with no stable outcome in sight. Something has to give.
Hamas’s electoral victory in January 2006 was the equivalent of a political earthquake. It represents the most radical shift on the Palestinian scene since Yasser Arafat and his Fatah movement took over the Palestine Liberation Organization following the 1967 Arab–Israeli war. The transition is only partial, but that only adds to the complexity. Hamas controls the Palestinian Authority’s parliament and, therefore, its government. Fatah retains the presidency as well as control of the PLO. Because of personal loyalty or party membership, Fatah also controls the security forces and much of the civil service. Dual power has thus been introduced into a system accustomed to domination by a single faction, with neither Hamas nor Fatah prepared for the change. Hamas is governing as an opposition party; Fatah is resisting it like a ruling one. Neither has been able to shed habits of the past.
Unwilling to accept the outcome of the elections, Fatah officials alternatively blamed it on the electoral system they had themselves devised or on internal divisions for which they were responsible. Not wasting any time, they started looking for ways to reverse it. Within hours of the results, they were considering whether President Mahmoud Abbas could legally dissolve parliament and call for new elections (he can’t); they also considered whether he could declare a state of emergency and suspend parliament (he can, but only temporarily), or otherwise cut short Hamas’s time in office. Some in Fatah contemplated a military confrontation; if it had to occur, they reasoned, it was better that it happen before the Islamists consolidated their power.
Fatah officials early on rejected suggestions of a national unity government, fearing it would only strengthen Hamas, allowing Hamas to benefit from Fatah’s international legitimacy without paying the price Fatah had paid to achieve it. Publicly bemoaning the West’s policy toward Hamas, Fatah leaders privately supported that policy, encouraging the US and EU to maintain their three conditions for resuming donor aid. With US help, they hoped to establish a channel of communication between President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert in order to circumvent and marginalize Hamas. And they discreetly promoted subtle forms of insubordination by civil servants who, deprived of salaries, hardly needed encouragement. Hamas has won power but cannot exercise it. The Islamists do not have the funds to pay the civil servants—who did not intend to take orders from them in the first place.
Pressure on Hamas has emanated from other sources. Members of the Quartet—the US, EU, UN, and Russian Federation—halted their assistance until the new government meets its three conditions while Israel both withheld tax revenues it collects on the PA’s behalf and impeded movement within the occupied territories as well as trade with them. The goal seemed clear: squeeze the government, arouse popular dissatisfaction with its performance, find ways to strengthen President Abbas, and ensure that Hamas’s days in power would come to a rapid and unsuccessful end. Hardly pleased with the emergence of an Islamist government, let alone through democratic elections, Arab governments discreetly shared these objectives.
Throughout, President Abbas has appeared ill at ease. By temperament and principle, he recoils at confrontation. He is deputy head of Fatah, but he also is chairman of the PLO and president of the Palestinian Authority and takes his position as leader of all Palestinians seriously. He does not want his legacy to be that of a partisan politician who contributed to what, for Palestinians, would be a suicidal civil war. Years of disappointment with US and Israeli policies also have made him suspicious of any strategy that—like the one advocated by some around him—would depend on their complicity in order to succeed. And so he has continued to try to work with Hamas, resisting the entreaties of some of his advisers to challenge the Islamists head-on.
All the same, he is not about to surrender to the Islamists’ worldview, particularly their rejection of Israel’s right to exist, which he considers a threat to the national movement. The Palestinians’ sole option, he is convinced, is a negotiated settlement with Israel, and their most valuable asset their international legitimacy. Hamas, he fears, is jeopardizing both. Trying to counter it, Abbas has asserted his control over the presidency, the PLO, and the security forces. On several occasions he warned he might dismiss the government. Not particularly conciliatory when he reaches out to Hamas, not quite assertive enough when he confronts it, Abbas has come across as a political actor drifting between two distinct and contradictory roles. In neither case has he looked the part.
What is one to make of Hamas’s reactions? And how is one to interpret the military attack in Gaza that set off the current crisis? On the theory that power breeds pragmatism, many people expected the Islamists to adjust and, one way or another, indicate a willingness to compromise and negotiate with Israel on the basis of a two-state outcome. They are still waiting. Hamas and the new government made a flurry of statements, but the outside world was none the wiser. Instead of putting forward clear positions, they launched ambiguous trial balloons, offering one day what they hurriedly withdrew the next. The cease-fire, which Hamas had unilaterally observed for over a year, came to an end, both with the military attack that resulted in the soldier’s abduction and with the resumption of launches of Qassam rockets from Gaza into Israel. For those convinced that Hamas was simply masking its rejectionist convictions beneath hazy phraseology, there was plenty of evidence at hand.
The most common explanation for Hamas’s attitude cites both internal divisions and external influence. Under this view, Khaled Mashal, the leader of the organization’s Damascus-based politburo, in connivance with his Syrian hosts, systematically obstructed any pragmatic move initiated by the Islamist leadership within the occupied territories, particularly by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Mashal is alleged to have ordered the raid on June 25, in which the Israeli soldier was abducted, in order to scuttle negotiations between Haniyeh and Abbas over a proposal worked out by prominent Palestinian leaders in Israeli prisons—leaders from both Fatah and Hamas—that implicitly endorses a two-state solution. In a single stroke, Mashal is said to have all at once sabotaged the agreement, asserted supremacy within the organization, escalated the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, and served the interests of his Syrian and Iranian patrons.
The theory is elegant but it does not hold. If the goal was to deter Haniyeh from signing the agreement, it did not work. An agreement was reached hours after the armed attack of June 25, and it was publicly welcomed by Mashal and his exiled colleagues. In fact, the final version reflects substantive changes for which the Damascus-based leadership had argued: it accepts the legitimacy of international resolutions but only to the extent they do not “detract…from our people’s rights,” and it explicitly calls for the right of return of refugees to their “homes and properties from which they were expelled.” The document reflects a significant step forward for Hamas, but there is no mistaking it for a peace platform. It does not recognize Israel, and reaffirms the rights of resistance as well as return. The Quartet got something that it should acknowledge and respond to; it did not get what it was asking for. Perhaps most important, what is known of Hamas’s methods of decision-making casts serious doubt on whether Haniyeh could afford to discount Mashal’s views or Mashal could take the risk of single-handedly undercutting Haniyeh. The leadership is collective and although viewpoints undoubtedly differ, at times sharply, decisions are made by consensus.*
If one bothers to ask them, Hamas leaders—within the occupied territories or outside—offer a simpler explanation for the course of events. If they can’t concentrate on governing, they say, it is not because they don’t want to but because they cannot. Isolated, with their government starved of resources even before they assumed office, they faced escalating attacks by Israel, including Israeli artillery bombardments, air strikes, and targeted assassinations. They also had to deal with attacks on Israel by Palestinian militants—which, incidentally, they did nothing to prevent—who launched Qassam rockets from Gaza.
The leaders of the Islamist movement contemplated two options. They could show themselves unable to manage Palestinian affairs, gradually losing their constituents’ confidence and support. Or they could strike back, in the hope of either forcing Israel, Fatah, and foreign governments to give their government breathing space or, barring that, bringing down everything around them. Differences of opinion within the movement aside, it never was a close call: if they are to go down, Hamas’s leaders would rather go down fighting than failing.
Another aspect of Hamas’s behavior is relevant, though it has more to do with the psychology than with the politics of the Arab–Israeli conflict. The Islamists are determined to alter the rules of a game that, in the recent period at least, they see as having been fundamentally rigged. In their eyes, Israel is the occupier, holds prisoners, engages in large-scale military operations, and yet Palestinians are asked to behave, demonstrate their worthiness, and offer political compromise. The conflict, they argue, began in 1948, when Palestinians were uprooted and an alien entity came into being; today, it has been reduced to a mundane territorial dispute in which acts of resistance are condemned as unacceptable violations of the status quo and Israeli concessions as laudable gestures of statesmanship. Out of fear of greater Israeli military power, Palestinians are advised to hold their fire; to gain international support, they are asked to soothe and seduce the West. What, Hamas asks, has all that gotten them?
There is an urgency in Abbas’s voice, a sense of despair that one does not find among Hamas’s leaders. The contrast reflects not only the differing weight each gives to religious belief, but also differing assessments of the balance of power, of how to tilt it and how to attract international attention. Hamas’s message is that it is not afraid or in a hurry; that if it is prevented from governing or otherwise bears the brunt of attacks, it can hit back; that if Israeli attacks threaten to bring the PA down—an increasingly plausible possibility—Hamas can survive without it; and that it will gain notice through steadfastness rather than eagerness to please. Acceptance of the three conditions of the Quartet has no place in this worldview, nor indeed do any political concessions aimed solely at demonstrating good will. Instead, Hamas will try to govern, but at the same time insist on reestablishing a new balance of power and, as it sees it, restoring a sense of mutuality and dignity. In the 1980s and 1990s, Hezbollah, too, had built a network of rockets on Israel’s northern border and initiated military attacks with similar aims in mind, and Hamas had taken note. Small wonder that the two movements found themselves engaged in the same sort of activity—abducting Israeli soldiers—for the same self-professed purpose—a prisoner exchange—at roughly the same time.
Hezbollah is an oddity on the Arab scene. It is effective in action—even when those actions are repellent—and relatively sparing in words. It has shown skill in battle and competence at social work. The world may know it for its violent attacks and deadly rocket launches, but for most of Lebanon’s Shiites, its more down-to-earth and less glamorous social programs are the most convincing. It is both deeply pragmatic and deeply ideological, putting its considerable tactical suppleness at the service of unyielding beliefs. A Shiite movement in an overwhelmingly Sunni region, it has remained loyal to its sectarian base in Lebanon while appealing across sectarian lines throughout the Arab world. A Lebanese national movement intent on proving itself the only true defender of the country’s security, it also possesses a regional identity, with its strong alliance with Syria and an even more powerful bond, both logistical and ideological, with Iran. Hezbollah’s feat is that it has been able to take advantage of the religiously divided political system and the nation’s tragic civil war to implant an Islamist revolutionary idea in Lebanon.
Since Israel’s withdrawal from south Lebanon in May 2000, Hezbollah has had to intensify its involvement in Lebanese domestic politics, taking the unprecedented decision to join the government. But it has also steadfastly clung to its internationalist, Islamist creed, intent on expanding its influence on Palestinian affairs. Hezbollah often has been accused of doing Iran’s bidding. It does, but not in the ways typically assumed. Nasrallah is not subordinate to Tehran’s rulers; he is a true believer in their basic outlook, and, in advancing the cause of the Islamic revolution, he believes he is advancing his own. When Nasrallah speaks of resistance, he is evoking more than a practice. He is reflecting a state of mind. Hezbollah is resisting Israel, the US, and complicit Arab regimes, together with Western attempts to reorder the region. Asked shortly after Israel’s withdrawal in 2000 whether it was time for him to start looking for a different job, Nasrallah is said to have expressed surprise. His work, he asserted, was only just beginning.
Before and better than Hamas, Hezbollah has juggled the conflicting constraints of political participation and violent action. Most significantly perhaps, in a region whose leaders are given to bombast, it has tended to do what it says. One of the more jarring contrasts of the recent confrontation was between the matter-of-fact, almost clinical dissection of the war by Hassan Nasrallah, militant head of an Islamist organization, and the often grandiose, hyperbolic claims of Ehud Olmert, civilian leader of a democratic state.
If there are numerous plausible explanations for why Hezbollah launched its July attack, it is because of the numerous pressures and interests to which the movement responds. Hezbollah had called 2006 the year of retrieving the few remaining Lebanese prisoners held in Israeli jails—and for many months Nasrallah had publicly proclaimed the movement’s intention of seizing soldiers for the purpose of a prisoner exchange. For the Islamist leader, it was a matter of living up to his word. The near simultaneity with Hamas’s abduction of an Israeli soldier and Israel’s harsh response presented another advantage. For it allowed Hezbollah to reassert an Arab-Islamic identity transcending both its Lebanese and Shiite origins and, by initially insisting that any prisoner swap include Palestinian detainees, enabled Hezbollah to show that it alone in the Arab world would come to the Palestinians’ defense.
Another factor, and it is not to be belittled, was regional. Hezbollah was concerned about Western pressure on Syria and Iran, incriminating evidence in the Islamists’ eyes that there is a broadening US-led effort to reshape the Middle East. The timing of Hezbollah’s raid fit in well with the concerns of both Tehran and Damascus, whose interests Nasrallah carefully keeps in mind.
Hezbollah expected that its operation would result in yet another bloody—although manageable and contained—skirmish in a long history of such encounters. It was not a wholly unreasonable guess. Over the years, the two sides had intermittently tested one another, with Hezbollah attacks on the contested Shebaa Farms or Israeli incursions into Lebanese air and sea space as well as assassinations of Palestinian militants on Lebanese soil. The Islamists’ raid was more audacious and provocative than customary, occurring as it did on territory that was incontrovertibly Israeli. But in its objectives—a brief military confrontation and abduction followed by protracted third-party negotiations over yet another prisoner exchange—it did not fundamentally differ.
Still, Hezbollah should have known better. For Israel, this was not just another tit-for-tat. It was a tipping point. After its unilateral withdrawals, first from south Lebanon—seen by both Hezbollah and Palestinian groups as a victory for armed resistance—then from Gaza, Israel feared an erosion of its deterrent power. In their growing boldness, Palestinian attacks, from the intifada on, were read by Israelis as alarming symptoms of a larger threat. Further darkening the horizon were longer-term regional trends—the growth of an increasingly popular brand of Islamism, greater tolerance for public denial of Israel’s right to exist, as well as Iran’s belligerent attitude, its mounting influence, and its nuclear program.
Lebanon is where all these fears came together. For there, on Israel’s northern border, was something that Israel considered an inherently unsustainable reality: the presence of a well-trained, well-motivated, and well-equipped armed militia which had close ties to Iran and had built its reputation by standing up to the Jewish state. Whether or not, as some have suggested, Israel merely was waiting for a pretext to decisively attack Hezbollah, it was not going to let this provocation go by. Israel’s strategic strength may be as solid as ever, buttressed by the absence of an Arab conventional military threat, Saddam Hussein’s overthrow, a debilitated Palestinian national movement, and unprecedented international support. But its sense of unparalleled strength is mixed, however awkwardly, with a feeling of intrinsic vulnerability.
In its intensity and brutality, this was not the war Hezbollah had anticipated. But it is a war for which it had prepared. Notwithstanding repeated Israeli bombing raids, Hezbollah’s command and control remained intact. It continued to fire rockets; its television station stayed on the air; and Nasrallah, the target of obvious threats to his life, was able to publicly and almost instantaneously respond to developments. On the Lebanese scene, few people, Hezbollah’s enemies included, question that it has emerged at least in the short term as the victor.
Before long, Hezbollah could face trouble. The war may have temporarily united virtually all groups against Israel, but sectarian tensions simmer and they are intensifying. Many Sunnis and Christians blame Hezbollah for the catastrophe; not a few Shiites resent their fellow citizens for letting them down. Hezbollah has tried to escape the traditional Lebanese straitjacket of sectarian identity; it may now find it harder to maintain that distinctive position. Israeli targeting was disproportionate, but not indiscriminate. Whatever others may have felt, Shiites are certain this was a war waged against them. If the rest of the country does not acknowledge this, and give Shiites the compensation and credit they believe they deserve, they will make their grievances known. It would not take much—forcible attempts to disarm Hezbollah, a dispute over the shape and mandate of the Lebanese army, disagreement concerning control over reconstruction funds, or score-settling among different sides—to reignite the deadly fuse of internecine conflict.
Domestically, Hezbollah’s leaders feel they can handle political opponents who demonstrated impotence in the face of the Israeli onslaught and sectarian narrow-mindedness throughout their careers. But a reinvigorated central government capable of rebuilding the nation and a reinforced Lebanese army able to secure the country would be another matter. Greater international attention will mean more intense international involvement and that, too, could pose its share of problems, including demands that Hezbollah turn over its weapons.
Mindful of future potential pitfalls, Hezbollah is wasting no time in reaping the political dividends of its military success. Having accepted a UN Security Council resolution that theoretically imperiled its status (by calling for the deployment of Lebanese and international forces to the south, state monopoly over weapons, and an embargo on arms deliveries to nonstate organizations), it immediately drained it of meaning. It succeeded in getting the Lebanese government to both disclaim any intention to disarm the movement and ratify the legitimacy of the “resistance.” It is now hurrying to be the most visible—and effective—agent of reconstruction in the devastated south, dispensing cash to constituents whose needs are great and whose gratitude will be long-lasting. It plans on lodging its fighters in rebuilt houses, its weapons in newly located caches. Not coincidentally, reports suggest a surge of enrollment in the Islamist movement, from religious and nonreligious Shiites alike.
For Israel, the war has been a rude awakening. Various explanations are being offered for what is seen as a dramatic failure. Israeli commentators variously blame overreliance on air power; hesitancy to launch ground troops; insufficient intelligence; or the prime minister’s and defense minister’s lack of military experience. Some—fewer—question the very rationale of a war whose objectives, if they ever are to be met, will be achieved through diplomatic, not military, means. Not long ago, by withdrawing from Gaza, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon silenced international critics, earned his country exclusive credit, and contemplated further moves on the West Bank. Today, Israelis are finding it hard even to summon up that sense of promise. Unilateral disengagement—the idea around which Kadima was created and Olmert was elected—is a thing of the past. Stunned by the turn of events, Israelis are giving up the idea of a West Bank withdrawal; unable to see an alternative, they still cannot imagine where else to go.
This hardly bodes well. The very reason Israel waged this war—to reestablish its power of deterrence—has been one of its unquestionable casualties. Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran, and Syria all feel that their fortunes are rising. For much of the Arab world, the war damaged the myth of Israeli invincibility. At this point, the most serious peril for Israel is to cease being seen as a dominant force and start being perceived as an exhausted one. As Israel’s leaders balance the cost of renewed confrontation against the possibility of a quieter period of diplomacy, much weight will be given to this threat.
In these circumstances, the urge to prove their strength by striking back may well prevail. Occasions to do so are likely to present themselves. Syria or Iran may overplay their hand. Israel will test Hezbollah’s patience, and provocations by Hezbollah in south Lebanon cannot be excluded. Attempts to assassinate Nasrallah or Mashal are a virtual certainty. In any case, Israel will likely want to press the rewind button and wage the kind of battle it wished had been waged in the first place. For Israel, as well as Hamas and Hezbollah, the most costly blow is the one to which they will be seen as having surrendered. The conflict is no longer about achieving a specific objective—releasing a soldier, say, or capturing defined territory. It is about something more intangible, and so more serious: establishing one’s power of deterrence, defining the rules of the game, showing who is boss. Such confrontations may subside, and they may even pause. They will not end.
—August 24, 2006
September 21, 2006