Monday, July 24, 2006

Useful perspective

This is a longish piece that deserves the time to read it.

Changing the Rules in the Lebanese Arena

The current situation in Lebanon isn’t the result of Israeli actions. Israel was dragged into taking military action in the wake of a Hizbullah attack and the kidnapping of its soldiers last week; every military strategist, and even every neophyte commentator, has known for years that Israel has been ignoring the growing threat on its northern border, like a bear that has decided to hibernate for the winter on top of a barrel of explosives. Things that have been said in the past need to be repeated now: by unilaterally withdrawing from Lebanon in 2000, Israel traded the tactical threat to IDF soldiers for a strategic threat that developed over the years and today endangers almost the entire Israeli home front.

For the past six years, the advocates of the withdrawal have been praising the fact that, with the exception of a few encounters with Hizbullah, the border has been quiet. They interpret this as proof of the withdrawal’s effectiveness and justness, even if it was executed hastily and without an agreement that is binding upon the Lebanese and/or Syrian government. From the sidelines of the disengagement, they taunted those who cautioned them from the gates, saying they had mistaken the shadow of a mountain for a mountain. These advocates were not prepared to recognize the fact that this was simply the silence before the storm and a temporary situation that would deteriorate in the future. Indeed, they resemble the person who committed suicide by jumping off a skyscraper. As he fell past one of the building’s many windows, someone called out, “How are you?” and he replied, “Fine - for now.”

However, that was not Israel’s only problem in dealing with the Hizbullah. Over the years (and even before the withdrawal from Lebanon), the Hizbullah has succeeded in creating a situation in which it deters Israel more than Israel deters it. It is unprecedented for a terrorist organization to deter a state and not vice versa. This phenomenon was expressed on two levels simultaneously. First, Hizbullah used terror attacks to make it clear to Israel that any effective offensive move against it (for example, the 1992 assassination of the organization’s former leader, Abbas Moussawi or the 1993 Israeli Air Force (IAF) attack on the organization’s training camp in the Bekaa Valley, in which dozens of Hizbullah activists were killed) would be followed by an severe response from the organization against Israeli or Jewish targets abroad (such as the terror attacks in Buenos Aires in those same years).


Israel could end this chapter of exchanging fire by reaching a ceasefire agreement with the Hizbullah. There are many parties who would be happy to help mediate such an agreement. However, it would be a strategic mistake for Israel to agree to a ceasefire before it achieves its main goals:

  • Destroying the Hizbullah’s missile system or significantly reducing their capability to fire missiles.
  • Creating credible arrangements that will guarantee that the Hizbullah will not be able to rehabilitate its military infrastructure and perhaps even be disarmed by the Lebanese government.
  • Preventing or at least minimizing Iranian involvement in and Syrian support for Hizbullah.
  • Creating broad international consensus for labeling Hizbullah as a terrorist organization that is not legitimate and that targets Israeli civilians.


Israel is caught in a dilemma – it cannot swallow or vomit out the Hizbullah. In such a situation, it must focus on military operations against Hizbullah’s missile launchers and missile and weapons storehouses, with the aim of harming the organization’s activists with aerial, sea, artillery and ground operations. At the same time, Israel must halt the Hizbullah’s ability to recover both by taking military action and by putting diplomatic pressure on Lebanon, Syria and Iran. However, above all, Israel must strive to reach a ceasefire agreement from a position of strength that will enable it to achieve the goals listed above and, first and foremost, change the rules of the game between Israel and the Hizbullah and disarm the Hizbullah. The address to turn to reach such a ceasefire agreement is not the Hizbullah or even Iran, but Syria and Lebanon. Therefore, Israel must effectively pressure Syria by wisely using all of the means at its disposal – sticks as well as carrots - in the military, political, economic and diplomatic arenas.


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