Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Israel, Hezbollah, and Lebanon

It's a little hard to understand what's going on in Lebanon right now, but here's what I think.

Hezbollah wasn't expecting the magnitude of Israel's attack, and over the month of the war sustained significant losses.

Israel wasn't expecting the ferocity of Hezbollah's resistance, and over the month of the war realized it couldn't break Hezbollah without sustaining heavy losses.

Hezbollah was afraid that continued Israeli attacks would erode its position in Lebanon. Israel was afraid that Hezbollah would continue to fire rockets at Israel and inflict casualties on Israeli troops, further denting the IDF's reputation and enhancing that of Hezbollah. So both sides were looking for a way to stop the fighting, and that's why they accepted the latest UN resolution.

But the resolution calls for Hezbollah's disarmament and removal from southern Lebanon. If the motivated, capable IDF wasn't able to achieve such an outcome, it's hard to imagine any UN force, or the feckless Lebanese army, doing it instead.

In other words, Israel has accepted a resolution that it knows will leave Hezbollah armed and in place in southern Lebanon -- exactly the conditions Israel went to war to change.

I don't know exactly how to explain the situation, but I think Israel's thinking goes like this:

The optimistic view was nicely expressed by Michael Young, the opinion editor at The Daily Star, an English-language newspaper published in Beirut. Young writes, “For the next two or three years, Hezbollah will be like the Salvation Army, tied up in rebuilding. But the party cannot put Shiites through such trauma again for the foreseeable future, maybe a decade, which means its ability to attack Israel will be limited. The reason Hezbollah is so eager to rebuild is that they know the condition of Shiites today could turn the community against them if it’s not dealt with effectively.”

The great unknown is what the Lebanese population, Shiites included, makes of Hezbollah's role in the war. Hezbollah's declared aims were the return of Lebanese prisoners of war and of disputed territory called the Shebaa farms. Neither of these aims was achieved, at a cost of horrific destruction in Lebanon. Even if Hezbollah does a magnificent job of helping people rebuild, will they forgive Hezbollah for provoking the destruction in the first place?

If not, then maybe the combination of Hezbollah's weakened military condition and weakened political base will force it to make compromises with the Lebanese government that will weaken it further still. Maybe.

The pessimistic view would hold that, with massive Iranian aid, Hezbollah will quickly rebuild, rearm, and retrench, and then, at some point in the future, renew its attacks. The question is, what will Israel do then?

With a new casus belli, Israel will go to war again, this time with better tactics based on a new understanding of Hezbollah's military capabilities. At this point, Israel would claim that it had been mistaken to put its trust in the UN force, which had proven itself unable to fulfill its responsibilities in disarming Hezbollah and removing it from southern Lebanon. Israel would warn UN forces in the south to leave, and host countries, not having any political reason to explain casualties to voters, would comply. Israel would then use leaflets to warn the entire Lebanese population south of the Litani river that after a certain date anyone south of the Litani will be treated as an enemy fighter and killed. Israel would then bombard the south massively and indiscriminately, cut off and lay siege to whoever survived the bombardment, mop up what was left, and defacto annex a depopulated southern Lebanon. The destruction and displacement would be far worse than what just occurred.

Israel must already be concerned that its stalemate with Hezbollah will embolden its other enemies. It won't allow another draw, meaning Lebanon won't survive the next war.

I hope the optimists are right.


Anonymous said...

Interesting too that the IDF was not able to achieve its so publicly stated goals. One wonders what impact that may well have, both inside Israel, and out.

ZenPupDog said...

You saw this earlier in the 'war' I hope? I didn't see it picked up anywhere else but the New York Times. Basically - Hezbollah would coopt a neutral town, and shoot any non-Shiites who wanted to bolt:
“... One woman, who would not give her name because she had a government job and feared retribution, said Hezbollah fighters had killed a man who was trying to leave Bint Jbail. ...”
I'm not worried about a perceived draw. I'm not worried about Mel Gibson inspired hate parades like we saw in San Francisco. Some will always hate.
The math here was simple:
Hezbollah didn't care if their guerillas died along sides their human shields; And they didn't care how much of Northern Israel burned if they could kill Israelis. The public mostly ignored the innocents on the Israeli side.

If hostilities do restart - first thing on my list to do is to napalm the Beqaa Valley. Then bomb the homes of the Syrian Generals. Letting Syria know there is a price to pay would be a good start.

I wonder how many folks remember the 9000+ Lebanese massacred by Syria in 1989? - ZPD

PBI said...


I think that your next-to-closing paragraph is actually the most important.

While Olmert talked about destroying Hezbollah, Sheikh Nasralla's stated goal was only the survival of his organization, and he certainly achieved that. The implications of the cease fire for Israel's reputed invincibility, which has been central to the calculus of potential conflict in the Middle East for almost 40 years, are glaringly negative. Israel got sucked into - or let themselves get sucked into, depending on whom you ask - a situation that was untenable.

The result is that countries that would have, up until recently, kept their mouths shut and any intention to attack Israel under wraps, are already feeling a little more bold. Syria has even started making noise about liberating the Golan Heights, and Palestinians in the West Bank are more than likely feeling confident as well. Things are, in my opinion, going to get worse before they get better.

Sensen No Sen

Elizabeth Krecker said...

Great analysis, Barry. I hope the optimists are right, too, but I fear the ending lies someplace between the optimists and the nightmarish pessimists.