I basically agree with everyone who says the Lebanon deal is a disappointment at best, disaster at worst. But part of me wonders. I wonder if you had said before all of this started–before any unrealistic expectations were set about destroying Hezbollah or getting back the kidnapped soldiers–that Israel, at very little cost to itself, would knock the hell out of Hezbollah and destroy all that it has built up on the border over the last six years and get a ceasefire agreement that is on paper favorable to it and creates a chance–a slim chance, but a chance–that someone else would take on the job of putting Hezbollah out-of-business or at least knocking it off balance, wouldn’t that sound appealing? And I wonder–again putting aside the raised expectations and the disarray in the Israeli military campaign as it was carried out–if you had said before it all started that it is inevitable that Israel is going to ultimately get a half-a-loaf political/diplomatic settlement, so it is only going to wage a half-a-loaf military campaign that minimizes the costs to itself, wouldn’t that kind of make sense? I wonder if you had said Israel were concerned about re-establishing its deterrence, if destroying parts of Lebanon at–again–such a low cost to itself that it was almost effortless, wouldn’t have this have seemed a good way to do it? I wonder if you had said a military confrontation with Iran is coming down the pike and Hezbollah is part of Iran’s deterrent threat, if seeing what Hezbollah has to throw at Israel in advance of that confrontation (nothing catastrophic evidently) wouldn’t have made a lot of sense? Finally, I wonder if you had stipulated that no confrontation with Hezbollah was going to be final, that a lot of what would happen would be jockeying for position in the next fight, if getting 1559 re-affirmed with the Lebanese government and the international community notionally committed to enforcing it wouldn’t have seemed a good way to increase the legitimacy of Israel’s next campaign against Hezbollah?
Every death of a soldier is a severe blow to Israel, which makes this skirmish a tragedy, but it is very difficult to call it a “disaster.”
- The fact of the matter is that Israel’s strategic situation is, at worst, unchanged and, more likely, marginally better. Plus, if you think of this as a probe rather than a war, then Israel gained some valuable information in the exchange about its weaknesses and Hezbollah’s strengths.
- The best possible effort by the Hez met a lackluster effort by the Israelis, and the best they (the Hez) could get out of the deal was a stalemate. That does not bode well for them, as the Israelis will definitely apply the lessons learned to the next conflict.
- Syria and Iran are exposed.
The notion floating about that the “myth of Israeli invincibility has been punctured” is nonsense. The myth was fractured when kids throwing stones stymied the Israelis in the 90s. Arabs throughout the region are well aware that Israel hasn’t had a quick, decisive victory in over 30 years and, arguably, nearly 40 years, as the 73 war was very nearly a true disaster.
Resist the contemporary urge to proclaim things by the extreme. Everything is not either a disaster or a smashing success. Most things fall in between, this is one of them.
“Israel, at very little cost to itself, would knock the hell out of Hezbollah and destroy all that it has built up on the border over the last six years”
It didn’t do that! Hezbollah is largely intact, from what I can tell.
“get a ceasefire agreement that is on paper favorable to it and creates a chance—a slim chance, but a chance—that someone else would take on the job of putting Hezbollah out-of-business or at least knocking it off balance, wouldn’t that sound appealing”
If you’d asked me whether Israel would fight a half-assed campaign that achieved nothing except incurring the odium of world opinion, that didn’t even get the 2 soldiers back, that destroyed the mystique of IDF invincibility, that raised questions about Israel’s stamina for the long war on terror and even about its will to exist, and that AT BEST restored the
(unacceptable) status quo ante, I’d have said you were crazy!…
You used that a few times in your piece, and I think you are missing some factors in your calculus:
1. Surge in support for Hezbollah
1.a. Increase in Iran’s power and influence
2. Destabilization of Lebanon and massive damage to its infrastructure (every shop owner rebuilding his business will reflect on those he believes are responsible).
3. Hundreds of innocent people on both sides of the conflict dead that would be walking around today if Israel hadn’t retaliated with such force.
4. A severe blow to a fledgling democratic institution
The reality is that Hezbollah is likely at this very minute re-arming itself in northern sections of Lebanon and they are more popular and powerful now than the day this war started.
I am leaning more towards disaster than disappointment.
Bush’s talk of a clear victory is part of the reason the GOP is in danger. We need realistic assessments of these situations, and the President doesn’t seem to think that we can handle it.