Better the devil you know

Israeli intelligence analysts do not have a vote in the Lebanese elections on Sunday and in Iran on Friday but if they had, don’t bet on them voting against Hizbollah or even against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

If there is one thing that military planners hate most, it is instability. In the end, this is the reason that in 1982, when PLO chieftain Yasir Arafat was in the rifle-sights of IDF snipers in Beirut, they were given the order to hold their fire.

Better the devil you know is a basic rule in long-term conflicts and enemies that can be clearly defined and targeted are a definite plus. In Lebanon for the last 35 years, instability has been the norm. The lack of a functioning government with jurisdiction over the entire country allowed the Palestinian organisations in the 1970s and 1980s to use it as their main launching ground for attacks against Israel. For the last couples of decades it has been Hizbollah openly flouting the central government to continue its guerrilla campaign against the Galilee.

An election victory for the Shiah movement may mean that a country bordering Israel has officially gone over to the Iranian camp, but at least, goes the reasoning in at least part of Israel’s intelligence community, Hassan Nasrallah will no longer be able to play his double game.

Historically, Israel has been more successful in facing sovereign states than terror movements operating from failed states. A Hizbollah-dominated government will find it much more difficult to avoid responsibility for attacks made from its territory.

As for Iran, Mr Ahmadinejad is not the real problem. He is a façade for the Supreme Spiritual Council, which holds the real reins of power. They are the ones who will make the final decisions regarding the nuclear programme and Tehran’s regional policy — and they do not need an election to replace Mr Ahmadinejad. For now, he is serving his purpose, to create a manageable level of tension and threat towards Israel and the West. But his bluster hides a more careful policy of containment. If they decide to move him, Israel will really start to get worried.

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010