Friday, July 14, 2006

In For a Penny...

Oddly enough, the folks at The Volokh Conspiracy have had some of the most indispensable commentary on the Israel/Lebanon situation. It's not odd because the VC normally is poor (they're consistently top-notch), only that a blog focusing primarily on American law wouldn't be the first source I'd guess for information on a foreign conflict.

Anyway, Ilya Somin argues that at this stage, Israel has to go balls-out against Hezbollah in Lebanon.
According to most experts, the democratically elected Lebanese government lacks the firepower to take on the much better armed Hezbollah forces. However, if the Israelis can do enough damage to Hezobollah, the terrorist group might be sufficiently weakened to enable the government to disarm it and take control of the Lebanese-Israeli border in the aftermath of an Israeli attack. Although the anti-Hezbollah Lebanese probably have little love for the Israelis, the Christians and moderate Muslims who control the government are unlikely to use the border as a staging ground for rocket attacks into Israel, as Hezbollah has been doing. Indeed, many Lebanese factions, particularly various Christian and Druze groups, have cooperated with the Israelis in the past when it was in their interest to do so.

Hopefully, this scenario, or something like it is the Israeli objective. The worst outcome would be for the Israelis to stop after inflicting only minor damage on Hezbollah. This would subject Israel to international condemnation and increase Hezbollah's prestige for "standing up" to Israel, while producing few benefits for either Israelis or Lebanese. Obviously, a full-fledged campaign to crush Hezbollah would lead to greater casualties in the short run than a more "proportionate" retaliation. But it is likely to save numerous lives in the long run on both sides of the border. It could also help the Lebanese to consolidate their still-fragile democracy by eliminating the most serious domestic threat to it.

Saying Hezbollah is not a dominant force in Lebanese politics is somewhat redundant, as Lebanon is so fractured that the only thing all the groups share is that they are hated by all the others. Still, it does seem possible that the weakening of Hezbollah by Israeli forces could give the Lebanese government the edge it needs to put down the terrorists once and for all. And certainly, after the events of the last few days they need no more incentive to do it!

Meanwhile, David Bernstein provides a much needed clarification of what Israel is and is not hitting in Lebanese territory. Quoting from the Israeli paper Ha'aretz (a highly respected center-left publication):
The Israel Air Force focused its attacks in Lebanon on Thursday against long-range Iranian Fajr 3 and 4 missiles, and succeeded in hitting some that were hidden in camouflaged bunkers. The missiles have a range that can reach Haifa and possibly Hadera.... The most significant strategic target attacked thus far has been the Beirut airport. While the strikes against runways have shut down operations, none of the radar or control towers were hit. This allows the airport to continue to control international flights over its airspace. Similarly, the main ports have not been hit, and with the exception of Hezbollah's broadcasting station, no other targets in Beirut were attacked. The air force has concentrated its attacks against Hezbollah's military installations. The main Shi'ite neighborhoods in the capital, the power plant, and transformers also have not been targeted."

Good to know. Saying "airport" was always too vague, but it's good to know the facts. Also, it's the fact that Israel has these high-tech, top-of-the-line equipment that allows it to conduct strikes with such precision. Nobody's perfect, and I'm sure they've missed some targets and made some mistakes. But in general, it is nothing short of amazing that they could avoid hitting the main airport infrastructure while still putting the runways out of commission.

2 comments:

Andrew said...

David,

You claim that the Israeli objective is to weaken Hezbollah so Lebanon can put them down doesn't stand up to scrutiny once you consider what senior IDF officials are actually saying about their offensive goals:

"Israel has until now responded with restraint by bombarding bridges in central Lebanon and attacking Hezbollah positions along the border. But considering the nature of the military high command's current evaluation of the situation, it is clear that the IDF is interested in inflicting a much sharper blow on Lebanon.

Senior officers in the IDF say that the Lebanese government is responsible for the soldiers' abduction. According to the officers, if the kidnapped soldiers are not returned alive and well, the Lebanese civilian infrastructures will regress 20, or even 50 years.

Lebanon has invested considerable resources in the rehabilitation of its civilian infrastructures from the damage sustained during its civil war in the 1970s and the years of war with Israel throughout the 1980s and 1990s."

I don't understand how a strategy centered on decimating infastructure is actually going to weaken Hezbollah. First of all, its exactly that kind of action that created Hezbollah as a response to Israeli occupation. It's definitley not going to damage the ideological appeal of the movement. Secondly, the Lebanese government already has a hard enough time as it is providing infastructure to its people post-occupation (Indeed, a big reason Hezbollah enjoys as much support as it does is because, much like Hamas in Gaza, in Southern Lebanon it has proven much better at providing things like hopsitals and schools than the government has). If Israel sustains it's current aggressive strategy, its only going to weaken Lebanese control over Hezbollah and give more Shiites a reason to support them and eventually more electoral success for Hezbollah. You saw this with Hamas after the Israeli siege of Gaza in 2002, and its a similar situation in Lebanon.

The fundamental error is in Israel thinking it can quash a large non-state movement with military tactics that fall anywhere short of ruthless authoritarianism, which should not be an option.

Andrew said...

Here's the link to the analysis from Ha'aretz I cited above.

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/737744.html