Seeing Red Along the Blue Line

Five years after the end of the Israel-Hezbollah war, both sides are furiously preparing for another round.

On July 30, 2006, an Israeli warplane dropped its deadly munitions on an apartment building in the southern Lebanese town of Qana as part of its military operations against Hezbollah during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war. The aerial bombardment buried two large Lebanese families beneath the rubble -- killing 28 civilians, including 16 children. The attack carried grim echoes of the 1996 Israeli shelling of a U.N. compound in Qana, which killed 106 Lebanese civilians and wounded 116 more.

Israeli officials, just as they had after the 1996 attack, immediately expressed regret for the bombing and claimed once again that it was a tragic mistake. The ensuing international outrage prompted the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to suspend its military campaign in Lebanon for two days to allow for an investigation into the event.

The 2006 war ended inconclusively two weeks later with a U.N.-brokered cease-fire that provided for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon and the introduction of Lebanese army forces and additional U.N. peacekeepers in southern Lebanon. In the five years since the second Qana massacre and the war's conclusion, Lebanon and Israel have enjoyed a rare calm along their border. But both sides are aware that the possibility of renewed conflict remains high and have been furiously updating their weaponry and tactics in anticipation of another round.

Should another war happen, we believe that it will be even larger and bloodier than the 2006 conflict. Our judgment is based on extensive field research in Lebanon covering the military preparations of both sides and analyzing their own assessments of the likelihood and nature of a future war. Over the past five years, we interviewed and spoke with dozens of Hezbollah members, including political leaders, advisors, commanders, IT specialists, and foot soldiers.

Although Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah claimed that the 2006 war constituted a "divine victory," his organization suffered substantial -- but sustainable -- losses during the fighting, and the truce that ended the war cost the party its autonomy and entire military infrastructure in south Lebanon. In the five years since, Hezbollah has responded by swelling its ranks with dedicated cadres and reviving its multi-sectarian reservist units. It has also acquired long-range rockets fitted with guidance systems, which enable it to develop a target list of specific military and infrastructure sites in Israel. The organization is also believed to have received training on more advanced air-defense systems that could pose a threat to low-flying Israeli air assets, such as helicopters and drones.

With the support of Iran, Hezbollah has made further advances in its signals intelligence and communications capabilities, which play an increasingly vital role in its ability to wage war against Israel. Hezbollah is expected to use these upgraded capabilities to attempt to take the offensive in a future conflict, extending the fight into Israel through land and seaborne commando raids. The next war's battlefield will therefore likely be larger than the traditional theater of southern Lebanon and northern Israel.

Israel had planned to crush Hezbollah militarily and drive a wedge between the group and non-Shiite members of Lebanese society. But it was unable to achieve these goals in full and instead settled for more limited gains, including the destruction of what Israel claimed was all of Hezbollah's stock of long-range missiles. The IDF's poor performance on multiple levels -- leadership, coordination, logistics, and fighting capabilities -- undermined Israel's much-prized deterrent factor.

In response to its failures, the IDF has instituted greater logistical autonomy and sustainability in its combat units and has strengthened the ability of its ground forces, navy, and air force to carry out joint operations. It has trained its forces extensively in large-scale ground operations, emphasizing rapid maneuver techniques. The military created several urban-warfare centers shortly after the 2006 war -- the largest of which, the Urban Warfare Training Center, simulates a variety of Lebanese villages, towns, and refugee camps.

The Israeli military has also introduced a number of new technologies that it is expected to employ in any new conflict with Hezbollah. These include a multi-tiered missile defense shield to intercept and destroy both Hezbollah's short-range rockets and Iran's ballistic missiles. Also, all new tanks are now fitted with the Trophy defense system to protect against anti-armor projectiles. How these new systems will cope against Hezbollah's rocket barrages and anti-armor tactics remains to be seen.

Mutual deterrence has so far prevented another war, but there is no shortage of flashpoints that could reignite the conflict. The most recent dispute concerns the maritime border separating Israel from Lebanon -- with the discovery of two large natural gas fields off the countries' coasts, the placement of the border could have dramatic economic consequences. Hezbollah's leaders have warned Israel not to develop the gas fields and have vowed that the resistance would restore the sovereignty of Lebanon's waters in the face of what it alleges is Israeli theft.

The bloody uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime could also undermine the fragile calm along the Lebanon-Israel border. If the Assad regime believes that it faces imminent collapse, it could ignite a limited conflict with Israel in the Golan Heights as part of a diversionary war. Such a conflict, however, could quickly escalate and broaden to include Hezbollah, even against the party's will. Alternatively, if Assad's regime falls and the new leadership in Damascus decides to abandon its alliance with Iran and Hezbollah (not an inevitable scenario), Israel may attempt to seize on Hezbollah's weakened position by launching an attack intended to permanently neutralize the party.

As the Arab Spring convulses the Middle East, it is critically important that the international community does everything in its power to prevent a nascent conflict between Israel and Hezbollah from erupting. Given that an accidental trigger would be the most likely cause of the next war, diplomatic efforts should focus on ways to prevent misunderstandings from developing into conflict. In this context, the monthly tripartite meetings hosted by the UNIFIL peacekeeping force commander, which group Israeli and Lebanese military representatives in Naqoura, Lebanon, have proved to be an effective means of resolving issues linked to the United Nations-delineated Blue Line and a forum for advancing and addressing concerns voiced by either side, including the ongoing maritime dispute between Lebanon and Israel. There also exists an emergency communications facility between the Lebanese Army and the IDF, with the UNIFIL commander as a go-between to resolve any pressing problems that cannot wait for the next tripartite session.

Yet, as long as the underlying political issues between Lebanon, Syria, and Israel are not addressed, as long as Iran continues to enrich uranium and build an extensive military infrastructure in Lebanon, and as long as Hezbollah and Israel aggressively prepare for another war, the chances of another more deadly and destructive conflict breaking out remains all too high.



Fail, Britannia

How did the country that taught the world good governance become so corrupt?

The British are hardly the only ones who have long thought that Britain -- birthplace of modern finance, law enforcement, the most widely imitated democratic system in the world, and even the very notion of "fair play" -- is in a position to advise everyone else on corruption and governance. Indeed, the country ranks 20th out of 178 countries -- two spots ahead of the United States -- on Transparency International's 2010 Corruption Perception Index. Its stable governance and generally robust institutions and democratic traditions make it the envy of many other countries.

At least that was the case until this month, when a long-simmering phone-hacking controversy centered on Rupert Murdoch's News of the World tabloid erupted into a full-blown scandal, badly tarnishing not only a section of the British media but also Scotland Yard and, it appears, the British government. The whole affair has revealed that Britain is hardly immune to problems more often assumed to be the particular curse of developing countries rather than developed ones. The governments that have been on the receiving end of British lectures on corruption in international forums like the United Nations, the Commonwealth, and the G-20 are probably enjoying the spectacle.

But in fact, this is not the first time in recent memory that the fragility of Britain's institutional defenses against corruption has been exposed. In June, the organization I lead, Transparency International UK, published a report examining the level of corruption across 23 British sectors and institutions, including all those affected by the phone-hacking scandal. Our public opinion survey found a disturbing erosion of faith in institutions. Fifty-three percent of respondents believed that corruption had increased either a little or a lot in Britain in the last three years; only 2.5 percent believed it had decreased. Forty-eight percent of respondents did not think the government was effective in tackling corruption, and while nearly 93 percent wanted to report corruption, only 30 percent knew where to report it.

This public mistrust has been built on a steady drip of scandals in recent years. In 2006 and 2007, Scotland Yard undertook a major criminal investigation into claims that an 86-year-old law banning the sale of peerages and knighthoods had been broken by the Labour Party, which had allegedly nominated individuals for peerages in the House of Lords in exchange for donations and loans. No charges were ever brought, but the scandal reinforced public fears that the system of funding political parties was corrupt -- this in a country that, unlike many other major democracies, has been confident enough in the integrity of its politicians that it has never imposed a ceiling on donations to political parties.

In December 2006, the British government prematurely closed a major investigation by its Serious Fraud Office into allegations that bribes had been paid by BAE Systems to secure a huge British-Saudi defense contract in the 1980s. The government justified its action on the grounds that Britain's national security was threatened. Critics argued it was putting economic interests before the rule of law and undermining the OECD's Anti-Bribery Convention, which requires all parties to prosecute bribery of foreign public officials without being swayed by diplomatic or economic considerations. (It did not help matters that, at that time, Britain had failed to modernize its anti-bribery laws despite repeated OECD criticism.)

Then in 2009, Britain's Parliament, historically admired all over the world for its high standards and competence, found its reputation in tatters after a disturbingly large number of members of Parliament (MPs) were found to have padded their government expenses. One MP had quietly billed the public for repairing his tennis court; another was forced to resign after it emerged that he had used £1,645 ($2,700) in government funds to build a house for ducks on his property.

But Britain's problems aren't limited to corruption at home -- it is also guilty of exporting and facilitating it abroad. British authorities have only recently started prosecuting British companies for paying bribes to foreign public officials. And despite tightening defenses against money laundering, corrupt foreign dictators and officials are still able to find a safe haven for their illicit wealth in the banking centers of the City of London and Britain's overseas territories. It is estimated that £48 billion ($79 billion) is laundered through Britain each year. Some three-quarters of British banks sampled by the country's Financial Services Authority in 2010 and 2011 were found to have failed to manage their relationships with high-risk customers effectively, leaving them open to money laundering.

The phone-hacking scandal, in its sheer scope and reach across both the public and private sectors, has pushed corruption and ethics issues to the fore like no other recent incident. One important lesson is that major British institutions, both public and private, are increasingly vulnerable to corruption: This scandal alone has shone an unfriendly spotlight on the media, the police, politicians, and the regulatory system.

Yet several anti-corruption oversight structures are being hastily dismantled or severely cut back under current government austerity plans -- even as the scandal has shown us how ill-equipped the British government already is to respond to a corruption crisis of this breadth. The government has an official "overseas anti-corruption champion" (the secretary of state for justice), but no individual or institution with the remit to coordinate a meaningful response to malfeasance at home.

The scandal should also force a much-needed review of practices that have been taken for granted for many years, such as the willingness of politicians to accept corporate and media hospitality and revolving-door employment and all the conflicts of interest that come with such arrangements. Britain has grown shockingly complacent about corruption, allowing a culture of impunity to develop in which malfeasance is not seriously investigated and individuals have behaved unethically in the belief that they would not or should not be held to account. It is notable that with each high-profile resignation during the past few weeks, the individuals in question have denied any ethical shortcomings.

In 1994, following another political crisis in which some MPs were allegedly bribed to put down parliamentary questions on behalf of clients, then-Prime Minister John Major established a committee to advise the government on standards in public life. The committee's first report established seven principles of public life: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, and leadership. The British political establishment, police, and media would benefit from a crash course in these tenets. They need the courage to admit that many checks and balances have failed and that the country that prides itself on holding the rest of the world to account badly needs to get its own house in order.

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images