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Olmert's Folly

Ehud Olmert

If Ariel Sharon were running Israel - and what a shame for the free world that he isn't - one could argue that Israel's present strategy of patience and restraint in Lebanon is required so that a wider conflict can be avoided. Instead, in Sharon's absence the question arises as to whether Olmert and his untested cabinet even understand the stakes involved. When Israel's reaction to Hezbollah's attacks began, there was wide hope that something definitive, something final could be achieved here against the terrorist enemy. Israel was poised to exterminate the fanatical terrorist group Hezbollah and humiliate and chasten its puppet masters in Damascus and Tehran.

Now it is becoming clearer that this is not to be. Last Wednesday, Israel announced that its goals in Lebanon were exceedingly modest: "it intends to damage Hezbollah and establish a "security zone" stretching 1.2 miles into Lebanon from the Israeli border, maintained by an international force. Free of guerrillas, such a zone would prevent Hezbollah from carrying out cross-border raids like the one that triggered the current offensive." Israel seeks to replace UNIFIL, a group of blue helmets unwilling to confront Hezbollah, with a European force that will no doubt be equally unwilling to fight Hezbollah's depredations. Instead of protecting Israel, UNIFIL has proven to be a net detriment. UNIFIL is in semi-collaboration with Hezbollah and is rebuilding the roads the IDF destroyed in order to limit Hezbollah movements. UNIFIL simply gets in the way of things without deterring anyone, and serves up propaganda coups for Hezbollah when UN observer posts are accidentally hit. There is absolutely no reason to think a European force would be categorically better at keeping Hezbollah away from Israel. This proposed security zone is very thin, and will be porous for native Hezbollah fighters that look more like civilians than troops. And of course a 1.2 mile barrier does absolutely nothing to stop rocket attacks that have been landing as far away as Haifa.

This is worse for Israel than the status quo ante - Olmert's strategy amounts to defeat for Israel. As in 2000, when Israel last occupied Lebanon, the failure to destroy Hezbollah - leaving their leadership and forces intact, and leaving them as a still-viable party in Lebanon's parliament - amounted to a huge victory for Hezbollah. Now once again Hezbollah can say they went toe-to-toe with the IDF and weren't beaten, which is tantamount to utter victory for Hezbollah, resulting in a huge boost for their prestige, morale and recruitment. It will increase Hezbollah's thirst for more of the same.

Attracted to Hezbollah's success, al-Qaeda now wants to get into the act, as Ayman al-Zawahiri tells us: "We cannot just watch these shells as they burn our brothers in Gaza and Lebanon and stand by idly, humiliated . . . all the world is a battlefield open in front of us. . . the war with Israel does not depend on cease-fires . . it is a jihad (holy war) for the sake of God and will last until (our) religion prevails ... from Spain to Iraq . . . we will attack everywhere."

Some in the Israeli government do understand the gravity of what needs to be done. Justice Minister Haim Ramon reportedly said -

"We received yesterday at the Rome conference permission from the world . . . to continue the operation, this war, until Hezbollah won't be located in Lebanon and until it is disarmed."

The minister, who is said to be close to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, added that the Israeli air force should bomb villages -- even at the expense of flattening them completely -- before ground forces move in. "These places are not villages. They are military bases in which Hezbollah people are hiding and from which they are operating."

Europe, deeply concerned for Hezbollah's fate, naturally denies any such 'green light' was given.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said that the IDF has done "enormous" damage to Hezbollah and that it would "not return to what it was." It is hard to see how this will be true, given that Hezbollah will simply be able to operate freely as before, uncontested, once Israel has its thin security border along southern Lebanon. Once the runways in Beirut are repaired, and once the threat of air strikes over land routes are gone, Tehran-via-Damascus will begin to generously replenish Hezbollah. Hezbollah has lost much hardware and many fighters, but these can be replaced given enough time.

And time is exactly what Olmert is promising them.

Update: We've heard all this before -
When Israel withdrew from Lebanon in May 2000, pundits and diplomats bent over backwards to argue that, having achieved its military goals, Hezbollah would finally abandon its revolutionary garb as an Iranian-backed militia. It would transform itself into a Lebanese political party, finally becoming a legitimate part of Lebanon’s political life. Its proximity to power would inevitably enhance the group’s pragmatism, ultimately turning Hezbollah into a reliable interlocutor.

A similar argument in favor of engagement with Hamas was made earlier this year, when Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections. Both Israel and the West should engage Hamas, the argument went, in order to strengthen the “moderate” and “pragmatic” elements within the organization . . .

Also, Walid Jumblatt theorizes that Hezbollah is testing Iran's weaponry and Israel's military responsiveness in anticipation of a direct conflict with Iran itself.

Posted by Ken McCracken · 28 July 2006 05:26 AM


walid jumblatt would say that. he's waist deep in neo con shill money. He's like scrooge mcduck

Posted by: lester at July 29, 2006 01:04 PM

The present(albeit ongoing) conflict in the ME should be seen as an opportunity for the US to broaden our own war on terrorism. We should express our undying support for Israel and her cause. Every flare-up in the Arab-Israeli conflict is started by some supposedly small aggressive act on the part of Israel's enemies. Israel's responses are overwhelmingly more pronounced but they are always aimed at militants or military targets. Israel has never intentionally targeted civilian targets unlike their enemies who only target civilians. Bush said you either stand with us or you stand against us. No country is a better ally in the war on terror than Israel. Obviously, they can't get involved in Iraq or Afghan, but if the situation changed to warrant their involvement, it's a safe bet which side they'd come down on.

Posted by: dex at July 29, 2006 07:05 PM

Ken, you got this one exactly right.

Posted by: d_Brit at August 3, 2006 11:03 PM