Friday, August 11, 2006

An Unclear Green Light

(This marks my return from the utopian dreams below to murky reality)

This afternoon, Olmert and Peretz gave IDF the go ahead for expanding ground operations in southern Lebanon. According to army sources, it will take the IDF divisions involved one to two weeks to reach the Litani River and another six weeks to mop up Hezbollah fighters and strongpoints in the area. The military purpose of the operations is to push Hezbollah short range rockets back from firing points where they can hit Israel, or over 20 kilometers. Accordingly, IDF troops will move beyond the Litani at some points.

The green light comes as diplomats continued negotiations for a cease-fire resolution. The major hangup appears to be Lebanon's resistance to a beefed up United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNFIL), authorized to act coercively, i.e., shoot, under Chapter 7 of the UN charter. Currently, UNIFIL is authorized to monitor, under Chapter 6, and Israelis regard it as impotent. Lebanon President Siniora says Hezbollah's rejection of an enhanced UNIFIL is the reaon for his country's rejection of the amended draft that now, per his demand, explicitly calls for Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon. So the loudly announced start of the new campaign might stiffen Siniora or the campaign itself might erode Hezbollah's refusal. Thus the advocates of the campaign argued today it was needed to assure Israel gets political gains.

The army sources also said operations could stop if an acceptable-to-Israel cease-fire were approved. That is more dubious. If the campaign is well underway, when the Security Council finally approves a cease-fire resolution, it will be hard, as hisotry shows, for the troops to stop short of their goals. For example, at the end of the 1973 war, Israel units violated cease-fires in order to improve their offensive and defensive positions versus Egypt. Russian diplomats probably recalled such precedents -- the Soviet Union threatened to send "volunteers" to stop the 1973 violations -- and sought to buy time, by proposing a 72-hour cease-fire for "humanitarian purposes."

A pause imposed from the outside might be okay, in an Israeli perspective, even if it gave Hezbollah fighters time to reorganize. Like the US going AWOL two weeks ago, the campaign creates a new situation with an uncertain future. How many more lives will it cost Israel and Lebanon? Will Syria get involved? Will Hezbollah rockets strike Tel Aviv? If they do, what will be Israel's response? Making predictions on the Middle East is a very humbling experience. Without a cease-fire resolution today, Olmert and Peretz arguably had no choice than to give the go ahead. Israel's leaders and army have lost considerable credibility in the eyes of their own people and the world. Fresh polls of Israel public opinion show approval for Olmert down to 48%, for Peretz way down at 35% and for Halutz at 40%. A sizable minority of the population oppose broadening military operations and more doubt its success. Almost everyone faults the government's efforts to protect northern Israel and its residents.

Even more disconterting for the leaders could be signs that Israel risks the loss of neo-conservative and other Americans' affections. In a Haaretz opinion piece, two neo-cons argue unless Israel knocks out Hezbollah, Washington will not see it as a dependable strategic ally and a front line player against Iran. Anything less will embolden Iran, and the Bush administration will have nothing in return for the loss of political capital in the region due to its unnuanced support of Israel These changes will lead to less rather than more US involvement in the Middle East. Conventional wisdom holds that is not good for Israel. An Israeli failure will also disenchant many ordinary Americans. They like a winner or an underdog who proves it can win in the end.

Update:The U.S., France and Britain have announced agreement on a resolution for a cease-fire that will be submitted to the Security Council later today. The resolution works around the Lebanese objection to an earlier draft, by not basing the authority of the beefed up UNIFIL on Chapter 7. However, it satisfies Israel by mandating a 16,000 person force with powers to prevent any renewal of attacks on Israel by Hezbollah and to enforce an embargo of weapons to it. It also calls for the deployment of the Lebanese army in southern Lebanon and these forces and UNIFIL are deployed. The governments of Israel and Lebanon have received copies of the resolution, but UN sources said the vote at the Security Concil will not wait upon their responses.


Anonymous Montag said...

The purpose of the offensive may be to move Northern Israel out of the range of the rockets, but its effect will be to move Israeli targets (soldiers) closer to the Litani River. There they will be like the German soldiers at Stalingrad who briefly made it to the Volga River, only to see futility on the other side.

1:02 PM  
Blogger Atik Yomin said...

funny. i was thinking the same thing myself. recalling that the katyusha was designed for use against soldiers not cities.

2:48 PM  

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