Friday, July 28, 2006

A Confusion of Objectives

Are Israeli leaders confused? Their various, changing statements of war objectives and the means to achieve them have by now confused most observers and some insiders. This Wednesday, an unnamed cabinet minister complained that there is no authoritative leadership for the war and security efforts. Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who has a half century of experience in managing Israel’s security, then told his cabinets point blank: “You have to decide. Either you cease fire and negotiate with Hizbullah for the captured soldiers, or you make an all out war with them.” Yet Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz have been tap dancing. While they have not been able to resist or even question the demands of their generals, they are halting in meeting them, perhaps sensing the conflict can spiral totally out of control. So Peretz talks about creating a narrow, free-fire, buffer zone on the Lebanese side of the border, while having the army prepare for an invasion of the entire area south of the Litani and perhaps further.

If they are confused, there are good reasons. First, Israel’s version of “shock and awe,’ an air campaign that was supposed to cripple Hizbullah, destroy its supply of rockets and reestablish Israel’s deterrence has not worked. The bombs mangled Lebanon’s infrastructure, destroyed its economy, created 500,000 refugees and so far killed 600 civilians, but it has not stopped Hizbullah rockets from hitting Israeli cities and killing Israeli civilians. It has not forced Lebanon, as IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz pompously promised, to “vomit out the cancer of Hizbullah.” So, to force most enemy rockets and fighters out of range of its northern border, Israel will have to commit ground troops to a wide war in southern. Israeli leaders are reluctant to do that. It proved costly in the past; ground engagements have proven costly in the present. A full scale invasion is also liable to draw Syria into the war – mainly to prevent Israel’s presence on a second border. So is the alternative to threaten this, and make nice about a proposal for an international peace keeping force in southern Lebanon, once Israeli air and artillery strikes have sufficiently weakened Hizbullah?

Second, Israel’s leaders did not expect the fighting to continue this long. The superpowers, when there were superpowers, usually responded to cross border fighting by demanding cease fires. Then some political process would ratify a small change from the initial situation. When the United States became the sole superpower, it continued to follow the script, since it had clients on both sides of the conflict. The Bush administration, however, has thrown out that script. It has put the war in a larger drama, more to its liking. Israel’s assault on Hizbullah can be the turning point for their efforts to transform the Middle East. What 150,000 American troops in Iraq failed to do, Israel’s capture of a Lebanese village and leveling of a high rise in Beirut will achieve: humble Iran, split Syria off, and voila! democracy flourishes Perhaps, the American and Israel plan to save Lebanon’s democracy is to turn Lebanon into a country of one man with one vote.

So George W. sets no time table and gives the green light to any invasion of Lebanon. Condi Rice tells the civilians on both sides to be proud they are dying for a New Middle East and blocks efforts by the rest of the international community to demand a cease-fire. These moves have put Israeli leaders in a quandary. For the last several years they have been pressing the US and Europe to get on Iran’s case, because it wants Israel to be destroyed. It is trying to build nuclear weapons and missiles that could do the job and it sponsors Hizbullah. Now the US is saying to Israel “If you want to fuck Iran, bash Hizbullah.” The wiser Israeli leaders, I think, want to say, “Hey that’s the wrong end of the dog,” but probably dare not.


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