Israel and Hezbollah
But here goes.
There are a few indisputable facts we need to lay out here:
1. Hezbollah has been provoking Israel for months, firing rockets at civilian targets.
2. The government of Lebanon and the UN observers in southern Lebanon did little to stop it.
3. Israel has a right to defend its people from attack.
4. The Lebanese government's territorial rights are weakened by their unwillingness or inability to halt the attacks on Israel.
There are all sorts of qualifications one could apply to that list. Hezbollah sees itself as fighting an illegal occupation; the government of Lebanon is too weak to confront Hezbollah, and doing so is not within the UN force's means or mandate; Israel's right to defend itself does not mean it can do anything it wants; and any decision to violate international borders should be taken with care.
But those are some basic facts. And from them I draw some simple conclusions.
Israel was fully justified in going after Hezbollah in the name of self-defense. If rebel groups based in Canada were firing rockets into the United States, we'd go after them no matter what Canada said. And we'd be justified.
Hezbollah's aim -- the destruction of Israel -- is unrealistic. And their main tactic -- firing rockets at civilian targets -- is indefensible. Even less defensible is using civilians for cover. Hezbollah deserves international condemnation for its actions.
Israel, however, doesn't get a free pass.
We have to accept that, given Hezbollah's tactics, there will be civilian casualties from Israeli strikes. But blame for that is shared to some extent, based on the measures Israel takes to minimize such casualties. I think they've generally tried to lessen them, especially because they know what a PR disaster mounting civilian deaths can be. But Israel is responsible for ensuring that its rules of engagement properly balance the threat against the collateral damage.
Israel has a legitimate interest in going after selected infrastructure targets in South Lebanon, in an effort to disrupt Hezbollah communications, movement and supply. Bridges, transportation, power, communications, water supplies -- all these things are legitimate targets as long as they relate primarily to southern Lebanon. But Israel's air offensive has gone way beyond that. Infrastructure has been attacked throughout Lebanon, including the Beirut airport and a Lebanese Army base in northern Lebanon. These appear to be an effort to make the Lebanese feel the pain of allowing Hezbollah to exist. But besides being hard to defend, I think that strategy will backfire. Such bombings will harden anti-Israel resolve among the Lebanese, not lead them to suddenly eject Hezbollah.
I have no problem with Israel's ground incursions. They are more focused than the air campaign both geographically and militarily. I think that's the proper way for Israel to take on Hezbollah: isolate southern Lebanon strategically, then go in with ground forces and root out the guerrillas and their support structure.
So what's the long-term solution? Bush and Rice have the right approach here: a multinational force with teeth, to replace the lightly armed UN observers. Go in with overwhelming force, clear out the guerrillas, and then hand control over to the Lebanese Army backed by UN troops with the means and mandate to keep the guerrillas from returning. If Hezbollah fights back it becomes Hezbollah against the world, and that is something that Hezbollah's backers don't really want to see.
None of this addresses the root cause of the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict. But the current mess offers us an opportunity to draw a line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, to say "enough is enough" to attacks on civilians and unending conflict. If we can show that dirty tactics -- by either side -- will not be tolerated, perhaps we can nudge the region back toward uneasy peace and an emphasis on negotiations. At the very least we strengthen the hands of moderates in the region and weaken the hand of the militants.
After that the key will be to stay engaged, to reward talk as much as we punish violence.
Israel already knows that it cannot ever win by military means alone; that's why it has withdrawn from Gaza, and why it withdrew from Lebanon several years ago and has no intention of again establishing a permanent presence there.
The Palestinians are now split, but leaning toward negotiation rather than atrocity.
Hezbollah will be the hardest nut to crack, because it does not represent Palestine and draws its support from two states, Syria and Iran, that don't care much about world opinion. The key to neutralizing it is to confront it militarily, pressure its patrons to stop funding it and drive a wedge between it and the Arab/Sunni/Lebanese/Palestinian interests that surround it. Arab states should ideally take the lead in this, so that the pressure comes from brothers rather than Westerners. Syria might listen to Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and those four can then shut down the Iranian pipeline to Hezbollah.
A lot to digest. And the situation is more complex and explosive than I've outlined here. Still, by delineating the limits of conflict and provoking extensive world intervention, the Israel-Hezbollah fight might end up pointing the way out of the morass -- if we only seize the chance.
Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Hezbollah, Israel, politics, midtopia