Teach-in on the Crisis in the Middle East


Two Middle East experts, speaking at a teach-in at Saint Mary's College, said that the U.S. war in Iraq and the recent Israeli bombing of Lebanon have radicalized the local populations and altered the balance of power in the region.

Saint Mary"s politics Professor Hisham Ahmed, who specializes in Islamic movements, and Barry Preisler, an expert on Lebanon who teaches at Sonoma State University, spoke at a campus teach-in on Sept. 6 titled "From Mesopotamia to the Holy Land: Lebanon - Israel's Vietnam? Iraq – The New Vietnam?

The recent conflicts have created "yet another quagmire for a region long associated with trouble, bloodshed and uncertainty," Ahmed said. Televised scenes of devastation in Iraq and Lebanon broadcast throughout the Arab world will lead to more radicalization and strengthen groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, he said.

Preisler said the theory of "political realism" relied on for decades by the United States and Israel to deter attacks through the threat of superior military might was undermined by their inability to swiftly crush insurgencies in Iraq and Lebanon.

Israeli politicians realized that their deterrent had begun to fail when Hezbollah fighters killed and captured Israeli soldiers in southern Lebanon on July 12, said Preisler. He said that despite Israel's subsequent "overwhelming overkill" use of military force, it was not able to definitively defeat Hezbollah and instead engendered more hatred among the Lebanese.

As was the case with the United States in Vietnam, Preisler said the political realists in Israel found that "you cannot use force and find yourself unable to win."

"The war was like committing suicide for the Israelis," agreed Ahmed. "They wanted to send a strong message of strength and credibility to Israeli citizens…and a message of strength and deterrence to Iran." Instead, he said, the current government in Israel has lost political support at home and abroad.

"This war, strategically speaking, has been the greatest gift that could have been given to Hezbollah," said Ahmed. "As for the U.S. war in Iraq, he said: "Iran was given the greatest gift of all by the destruction of the Saddam (Hussein) government."

--Debra Holtz
Office of College Communications