From the Desk of Reuven Kaminer
July 20, 2006
On the Road to Defeat or Escalation?
Lebanon Burns but Bush and Rice Have All the Time in the World
According to the most conservative estimates a half million people have been driven from their homes in Lebanon; many hundreds have been killed and thousands wounded. Tens of thousands are stranded on the roads. The sufferings of an entire people are to continue. Israel must be allowed to complete its mission in Lebanon and a 'new set of rules' have to be in place, before Ms. Rice will tell her ally that this is enough, for now.
Graphic evidence of the Israeli role in continually expanding the humanitarian crisis comes from no less a source than Ha'aretz senior military analyst, Ze'ev Schiff. Schiff, the doyen of military analysts in the country can usually be relied on to back official IDF thinking. But this time he has openly expressed serious reservations regarding Israel's battle operations.
Schiff writes under a front page heading - Expelling Lebanese, A Strategic Mistake: "In summing up the seventh day of the war against Hezbollah, there is no avoiding the conclusion that things are getting complicated. The best evidence of this is the decision to drive hundreds of Shi'ites from villages in Southern Lebanon merely because Hezbollah hid missiles in them. This would be a strategic mistake and would mark the first time that Israel could justifiably be accused of disproportionate military response." (Ha'aretz, July 20, 2006).
The IDF has blatantly rejected Schiff's advice and is forcing the evacuation of hundreds of villages in South Lebanon in order to incite a mass exodus, which the IDF hopes might create political and logistic difficulties for the Hezbollah. Leaflets have been dropped with the simple message - leave your homes or die.
It is clear that the United States can stop the slaughter in Lebanon immediately by informing Israel that it can no longer provide political cover for these actions. But, let us honor Mrs. Rice by examining the reasons that she gives against an immediate cease fire. Not surprisingly, they are identical to the Israeli objectives.
Israel promises to keep on bombing Lebanon until it achieves its objectives. These are 1) the return of its captured soldiers; 2) absolute control of the Lebanese side of the Israeli-Lebanese border by the Lebanese army and the creation of a new international military force to be stationed on the border; 3) the dissolution of Hezbollah, or at the least its disarmament. Since Israel holds that these goals can be achieved by continually bombing Lebanon, it has requested and received from the United States permission to continue bombing, without any clear limitation.
And if the Bombs Are Not Enough?
Israel has permission to bomb indefinitely. But what if nothing significant happens - except the mounting toll of civilian deaths? Israel has demonstrated superior strength, but the prisoners are tucked away somewhere, the Lebanese army cannot get to its southern border for political reasons (no mandate) and for logistic reasons (local resistance). Just a very few Hezbollah fighters can make this move impossible. Hezbollah can, if it chooses, lower its profile and even go underground. It will continue to exist and constitute a constant threat. No one will be able to promise Israel the peace and calm it demands.
What will happen in the event that the fighting nears its end and Israel has no prisoners, no safe border, has not eliminated Hezbollah. What happens then? This question is especially pertinent since despite its might and military prowess it is still hard to see how Israel will achieve its stated objectives. We are in the tenth day of war and there is increasing evidence of "complications." In this case, Israel, with no tangible achievements to its credit, will either have to admit defeat or 'discover' a major obstacle on the path to victory. This obstacle can only be the intervention of Syria or Iran, which will reach, according to official Israeli intelligence sources, new and unprecedented proportions. If Israel has to choose between the admission of failure or escalation, it will, in all likelihood, opt for escalation - if it has the choice.
The bleak chances for the success of the latest stage in U.S. diplomacy, presaged by Rice yesterday evening, is due cause to fear that the United States is reaching new levels of recklessness. The latest reports on a new express shipment of "bunker-bombs" to Israeli is a further indication that the United States could conceivably back Israel on an additional adventure - an attack on Syria. This, of course, would take the region one step closer to war with Iran. The United States may be tempted to use the present juncture to eliminate the Iranian nuclear option. Even so, at this stage, it is still more likely that the United States will conclude that they have squeezed all the possible advantages that they can get out of the Israeli offensive. The U.S. administration enjoyed itself as Israel pulverized a close Iranian ally, but it is still wary of being drawn into direct intervention, that might well result from an Israeli-Syrian-Iranian showdown. Hopefully, Washington may begin to take notice of the growing international rage over the events in Lebanon and its sponsorship of the Israeli attack.
It is, therefore, still more than likely, Israel will have to cut its losses in Lebanon and comfort its citizens with the information that Israeli cooperation with the United States has reached an unprecedented level. After all, U.S. commitments, it will explain to its citizens, to help in the prisoner exchange, to get the Lebanese army to redeploy, and to declare the Hezbollah an international outlaw are almost as good as the real thing, or are they? -Reuven Kaminer