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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Does Israel want a war in Lebanon?

Bret Stephens looks at the pros and cons for Israel of another war in Lebanon.
There is, I am very reliably told, "no appetite" in Israel for another war in Lebanon -- "none whatsoever." The prospect of a war offers Israel the unenviable choice of a militarily decisive blow against Hezbollah that would likely also be a diplomatic debacle, or else a diplomatically acceptable surgical option that would offer little by way of long-term military advantage. But Israel also runs serious risks to its deterrence if it allows relatively smaller provocations to go unanswered.

What happens, for instance, if Hezbollah blows up an Israeli diplomatic or cultural facility -- as it twice did in Buenos Aires in the 1990s and nearly did last year in Azerbaijan? In that event, Israel would be as hard-pressed to resist retaliating as it would be to limit the consequences of its retaliation.

One of the more easily imaginable consequences is that a war in Lebanon could very quickly involve Syrian and Iranian participation. So the next question is: How might that play out?

Here Israel could conceivably reap certain advantages, which in turn calls into question whether Israel might not want a wider war over Lebanon after all. Today, Jerusalem's two supreme strategic objectives -- preventing Tehran's nuclear bids from reaching fruition while also preventing any further deterioration in the relationship with Washington -- are very far from being in synch. But in a scenario in which Israeli cities are hit by Hezbollah's Scuds, Israel would have ample justification and cover to strike back at the ultimate source of those missiles -- not just Damascus, but Tehran. As Rahm Emanuel likes to say, a crisis can be a terrible thing to waste.

And that raises a final question: What does the Obama administration do? So far, it hasn't helped matters by giving the impression of a clear wedge between Israel and the U.S. Nor has the administration's assiduous courtship of Damascus done anything other than embolden Mr. Assad's taste for adventure. Is the president capable of learning from his Mideast failures so far? That one's worth $64,000.

In 1967, a series of seemingly minor events, tactical misjudgments, and particularly an Arab perception that the West would not honor its international commitments or come to Israel's defense triggered a war the consequences of which have defined the Middle East ever since. We are adrift in those same waters today.

For those of you who cannot access full Journal articles online, you can find the full article here.


At 7:42 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

There is little taste in Israel for another round in Lebanon but if Hezbollah miscalculates or more precisely, if Damascus misreads Israel, it could result in a Middle East war that will encompass far more than Lebanon. The Syrians are trying to strike a match to the powderkeg to see what happens. And its not at all clear whether they will heed American warnings not to continue trying to tempt fate.

At 7:36 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Look, Israel is the unruly stepchild right now. You've managed to make your motives suspect throughout the world with your little excursions into other countries. We will tolerate it no longer! You had better heed America's warnings or your little sandpile could be left to it's own devices for survival.


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