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Monday, July 17, 2006

Looking past the fighting in Lebanon

In a good analysis in today's Jerusalem Post, editor David Horovitz argues that if the fighting stops now, Israel will not have accomplished a whole lot in Lebanon:
After five days of conflict, Nasrallah would like nothing more than for the fighting to stop now. He could come back into the open justifiably claiming to have surprised Israel in the initial murderous cross-border attack last Wednesday that saw two soldiers kidnapped and eight killed. He surprised Israel again by hitting a naval vessel with a missile he wasn't supposed to have, forcing a wholesale reassessment in the intelligence community of what more he may have up his sleeve.

He has forced northern Israel into bomb shelters by firing perhaps 10 percent of the Katyusha rockets he is known to have and few of his more potent missiles.

Israel, by contrast, has scored undetermined success in its declared aim of destroying Hizbullah's missile capability. It has to date achieved nothing - militarily or diplomatically - to guarantee that any damage sustained by Hizbullah cannot quickly be corrected through a renewal of the Iran-Syria supply line. And by targeting national Lebanese infrastructure, however justifiably or logically, Israel has also doubtless alienated another proportion of the Lebanese populace.
All of us, including Horovitz, know that the fighting is not over:

But it seems unlikely that the fighting will stop now - unlikely given the ongoing Israeli military activity and preparations, and the fierce rhetoric of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz. And it is unlikely given the "window of opportunity" that the international community, led by the United States, is leaving open for Israel.

As of Sunday, as Nasrallah himself acknowledged, Hizbullah is waging war on Israel alone. Israel has sought to limit the conflict, not to involve Syria or Iran. And the Arab world has not come to Nasrallah's aid. Cornered and isolated, Nasrallah is dangerous nonetheless - still with a potent missile capacity, still with the potential to inflict more surprises, still doubtless plotting to find a means to drag other players into the conflict.

The "successful" rocket attack on Haifa on Sunday morning - involving devastating rockets carrying dozens of kilos of explosives, rather than the 5-7 kg. of a "routine" Katyusha - underlined afresh that Israelis are not battling Hizbullah primarily to prevent Nasrallah from chortling about victory. They, quite literally in the Hebrew phrase, nilhamin al habayit - are fighting for their homes - in the knowledge that, if not disabled drastically now, Hizbullah will be back, stronger and more ruthless, before long.

What will happen when the fighting ends is less clear. There is no indication that the two Israeli soldiers whose kidnapping started all this will be returned. Although there is one report that I cited last night indicating where they are being held, if it is true, no one here has acknowledged it.

However, the more important question is what will happen in South Lebanon when the fighting ends, and on that front things do not look hopeful. Despite what seems to be widespread agreement here that Ehud Barak's withdrawal flight from Lebanon six years ago was a mistake, I doubt that most Israelis would support stationing troops there right now, if for no other reason than the need to deal with the 'Palestinians' on both the Judea and Samaria and the Gaza front. That leaves the Lebanese army or the United Nations.

I would not trust the United Nations, and I don't think most Israelis would either. In October 2000, UNIFIL troops under United Nations command were complicit in the abduction of three Israeli soldiers on the Lebanese border. More than 400 'Palestinian prisoners terrorists were eventually exchanged for those three soldiers' bodies and for drug-dealing philanderer Elhanan Tannenbaum:

Unfortunately, UNRWA is not alone in reinforcing the U.N.'s reputation as an organization incapable of fighting terror. On May 24, 2000, Israel unilaterally pulled back from southern Lebanon, a withdrawal the U.N. certified to be complete. Terror did not end, though. On October 7, 2000, Hezbollah guerillas crossed the border and kidnapped three Israeli soldiers (including one Israeli Arab), all of whom they subsequently killed. Observers from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon videotaped the scene of the kidnapping, including the getaway cars, and some guerillas.

Inexplicably, they then hid the videotape. Questioned by Israeli officials, Terje Roed- Larsen, the U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, chided Israel for "questioning the good faith of senior United Nations officials." When after eight months the U.N. finally admitted to possessing the tape, officials baulked at showing it to the Israeli government since that might "undermine U.N. neutrality." The fact that U.N. observers protected and defended guerillas who crossed a U.N.-certified border, using cars with U.N. license plates while under the cover of U.N. flags, was apparently of no consequence to UNIFIL. Pronouncements aside, U.N. moral equivalency in practice dictates that terrorists are equal to states. Fighting terror compromises U.N. neutrality.
That leaves the Lebanese army, and things aren't too promising on that front either:

While there is debate over the military's wherewithal, one thing seems clear: the chances of Beirut standing up to its thuggish stepbrothers are slim, at best. What's more, experts say, Lebanon's army - much as its government - may represent disparate and contradictory loyalties.

Lebanon - which has long been in the unenviable position of chafing under Syria's thumb - clearly sweats at the thought of confronting Hizbullah, which enjoys considerable backing from Syria and Iran. Any action on Lebanon's part against Hizbullah would be a direct result of the pressure that Israel continues to apply through its military operations - and would represent an enormous departure from politics as usual.

On Friday, four Israel Navy seamen were killed when the missile ship Hanit was hit by Hizbullah - which reportedly acted on information provided by the Lebanese army. With this in mind, can Lebanon's military be trusted to act as a protective force in the south?

According to Ephraim Inbar, senior researcher at Tel Aviv's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, the Lebanese army's role in Hizbullah's attack on the Hanit is not at all surprising.

"A large percentage of the [Lebanese] population is sympathetic to Hizbullah," he said. "The army is not a cohesive force, and there is no strong political will. It's more of a symbol of sovereignty than an actual tool."

Amid all the uncertainty, one thing is certain: the more Israel weakens Hezbullah before the shooting stops, the better the chance that someone other than Hezbullah will eventually control South Lebanon. And so, the war continues.


At 4:05 PM, Blogger Neurodoc said...

I have always thought that Israel made in brains what it lacked in brawn. They can bomb the terrorists back to the Stone Age but if they do not remove Hizbollah they won't have accomplished anything. We will soon find out whether the political echelon, ie Olmert, is worthy of the position of prime minister.

At 4:06 PM, Blogger Neurodoc said...

see additional analysis and thoughts at jewsavecfrontieres.blogspot.com



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