Ron Ben-Yishai

Where's it all heading?

Without a crushing victory over Hizbullah, Israel's long-term viability will be at risk

After two-and-a-half weeks of fighting in the north, we don't know exactly what the government and the army are looking to achieve. We, too, don't know how they plan to achieve the goals they have set – if in fact any have been set.


We citizens need to know such things, not only because we are the ones who will pay the price, but also because that's the way democratic countries function. And especially because when goals are clear, it makes difficulties along the way bearable. Clear goals also moderate fluctuations in public opinion, as a result of reports coming from the front.


Both IDF and the political echelon are terribly naive: There is much more at stake in Lebanon than pushing Hizbullah north and dismantling and disarming the organization. This is a defining stage in the current battle in the Middle East, between radical, militant Islam and pragmatic forces, including Israel.


Who wins?


If Hizbullah comes out of this fight with the upper hand, Hamas, the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan and other jihadis in the region will look to Iran for leadership and will adopt Hizbullah's tactics. Normal life in Israel will not be possible, and in the long term Israel's existence will be at risk.


War in Lebanon (Photo: Reuters)


A draw will allow Hizbullah to regroup and return to battle after a short period. In practice, such an outcome would be a loss for Israel.


On the other hand, if Israel wins, the threat from the north will be emasculated for a long time. Palestinian extremists will be weakened and will seek agreement with Israel. Even Iran and Syria will be forced to re-evaluate the situation. Therefore, Israel has no choice but to win this battle.


What is victory?


But what, exactly, constitutes victory? On a strategic level, there is no argument between the political echelon and the IDF: First of all, the removal of armed Hizbullah forces from south Lebanon and a complete halt to Katyusha fire at Israel.


Second, Security Council Resolution 1559, which demands the disarming of all militias in Lebanon and requires the Lebanese army to deploy in the south of the country and to wrest control of the area from Hizbullah (either alone or aided by an international force).


Thus, Hizbullah will not be allowed to possess rockets anywhere in Lebanon. Implementing this resolution is the heart of the arrangement Israel seeks backing from the international community, is particularly crucial now.


In the name of security, Jerusalem demands the right to fire at armed infiltrators (who are not members of the Lebanese army or the international force), into the two-kilometer wide security zone north of the border.


The third point is the return of Israel's kidnapped soldiers in exchange for a "reasonable price": The freeing of Lebanese prisoners, Hizbullah fighters and bodies to the Lebanese government, as is customary at the end of all wars. These are the ingredients to affect the "change in situation" that Olmert and Peretz talk about.


Don't let up


The IDF must not let up before the details of a diplomatic arrangement are clear and acceptable to all sides, including Hizbullah and its patrons. Another goal must be to prevent an extraneous armed clash with Syria. Such a diplomatic arrangement would represent a victory for Israel.


But such an achievement will be attainable only if an answer is found for two fundamental problems. Let's say the Lebanese army and a multi-national force deploy in the south. Will they prevent Hizbullah and Palestinian terrorists from infiltrating the area in order to stage attacks near the Israeli border?


Worse: Who would dare try to take Hizbullah's rockets away after this latest round of fighting? Is there anyone to try and prevent Iran and Syria from re-arming the group with long-range weapons? After all, the Lebanese army is weak, and most of its soldiers are Shiite.


There is also no chance an international force – either NATO or the UN – will fight Hizbullah and take the chance of heavy losses. The government's and the IDF's answer to these questions is that Israeli military pressure, international diplomatic pressure and pressure from Lebanese civilians on Hizbullah will together bring the organization to a position where they (and their sponsors) will be forced to accept a diplomatic agreement that will turn the group from a military force into a political-social one.


But for this to happen, it must be preceded by a crushing military victory.


Military carrot and stick


"We can't make Nasrallah wave a white flag," says the IDF general staff. But Hizbullah can be weakened militarily, their leaders can be targeted, and we can nibble away at the group's logistical ability to the breaking point.


The IDF's goal is to create a situation in which Hizbullah officers reach the conclusion that they can no longer cause heavy casualties to Israeli forces, and that their ability to cause break the Israeli home front by firing rockets and missiles is withering.


The second operational goal for the army is to cause Hizbullah to lose legitimacy amongst the civilian population of Lebanon, including amongst Shiites.


How can these goals be realized?


The IDF currently believes that only a series of ground operations, together with a massive show of air and ground fire, can break Hizbullah's military and rocket ability.


Back to the mud


At this stage no one is talking about occupying south Lebanon, but rather neutralizing several centers of opposition and main launching points south of the Litany River, both via siege and pummeling them with firepower.


The cabinet has approved such an operation. But if it doesn't help, they will need to send in large ground forces to take control of a large portion of south Lebanon, and to hold them until a diplomatic agreement can be reached.


In order to prepare for such an eventuality, the cabinet has approved the call-up for three reserve divisions. The call-up was meant to advance the possibility that a large-scale action would bring Syria into the fight, creating a two-front war in the north.


The IDF wants to increase civilian pressure on Hizbullah by continuing to strike infrastructure targets in Lebanon, especially the ones that serve the Shiite population. The cabinet refused to approve this yesterday.


Senior IDF officers propose a diplomatic "carrot": That the Israeli government will announce clearly that it accepts in principle the arrangement offered by Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Seniora, including the demand that Israel transfer control of the Sheba Farms region to Lebanese control. Thus, Seniora will be able to speak to Hizbullah from a position of strength, and Lebanese public opinion will support him.


Olmert apparently wants to hold the cards for diplomatic negotiations.


Chief of Staff Dan Halutz promised the politicians outlining the strategy that it would bring about the desired results. But it will take several weeks, perhaps a month, during which Israeli civilians will suffer many more rocket attacks, and maybe even a last-minute strike at the Tel Aviv region out of frustration. Therefore, military pressure must continue until there is an appropriate diplomatic solution.


And what about the kidnapped soldiers? The government and the army are united in their opinion that the soldiers must be released as part of an overall agreement to end the fighting in Lebanon. Separate negotiations with Hizbullah via a third party could put domestic pressure on the Israeli government to compromise in such a way that would grant Hizbullah an achievement that would obscure its overall loss.


This, then, is the plan. At the moment, it must be checked out if and how it can be brought to fruition. There is only one thing worse than failing: Trying to solve by force that which can't be solved by force, and getting bogged down once again in the Lebanese mud.


פרסום ראשון: 07.30.06, 14:22
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