The Washington Times
Apparently, Israel didn’t get the memo about the inefficacy of military force as revealed by the difficulties of the United States in Iraq. With luck, the military campaign Israel is waging to expunge the threat of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon will serve as a counter-reminder: In dealing with a determined enemy which aspires to pose an existential threat to your country, power is a good thing to have, and the judicious application of military force is sometimes the only way — and at other times, simply the preferable way — to achieve your security objectives.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it would be terrific if the Lebanese government were strong enough to exert control over all of its territory, thereby depriving the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia of its base of operations. Or, for that matter, if Iran lost interest in supporting and financing proxy terrorist forces in pursuit of its broader regional aims (the ultimate objective of which, according to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, would seem to be the elimination of the state of Israel).
Also, it would be great if Iran decided to tell the truth about its nuclear weapons program and then give it up. And if Bashar Assad, the ruler of Syria, had a change of heart and accepted Israel’s right to exist (and since I’m asking, if he stopped foreign jihadists from traversing his border into Iraq). Likewise, if Hamas — those great Palestinian democrats — got the message about the “democratic peace,” according to which democratic governments everywhere else in the world manage to live in peace with other democratic governments.
In fact, I would be in favor of paying a very substantial price to achieve these goals, and, if anything, we ought to redouble our diplomatic efforts to see what might be possible. If the price of a Palestinian state that is willing to live in peace with Israel in perpetuity is a couple hundred billion dollars, it’s worth the money.
I am also not, in principle, opposed to a strategy of “kick the can down the road,” according to which you delay taking dispositive action to address your problem for as long as you can. If time is on your side, one way or another, then it’s a very good strategy on the merits. Even if a festering situation is bad and worsening, it can make sense to wait under certain conditions: if you are already overextended and need some time to regroup; if your diplomatic position may improve with more time and effort. Now, of course, there are times when kicking the can down the road may be very foolish — but not necessarily all times.
For the time being, however, none of the positive outcomes mentioned above seems the least bit likely under any circumstances. That fact poses an ongoing problem of some seriousness for American security policy. However, it poses a problem of existential seriousness for Israeli security policy.
The American problem and the Israeli problem are not the same. We are not going to acquiesce to the demand popular in the neighborhood for Israel to cease to exist. But, likewise, the problem of southern Lebanon is not something we would go to war to solve. To the Israeli government, however, the situation there is worth a fight and the Israelis have a plausible case.
The 12,000 or so rockets in the hands of Iranian-backed militia forces there are an issue any month of the year — and even more so given the bolder attacks of recent weeks. Meanwhile, Syrian forces having departed, the government of Lebanon is stronger and more independent: A southern Lebanon expunged of the influence of Hezbollah and under the control of Beirut would, under current political circumstances, likely amount to a major improvement.
The security problem Israel would face from the June 2006 status quo would become infinitely more complicated if Iran gets the bomb; perhaps better to try to settle matters before reaching that point. And to the extent that Iran, for whatever reason, feels emboldened and inclined to escalate conflict, a check on that sensibility through the application of counterforce might be helpful.
This is not our war. It’s Israel‘s. And the Israelis seem to be able to handle what they have set in motion. If they are successful, Hezbollah will be vastly diminished, the Lebanese government will have a chance to exert control over its territory without undue foreign influence, Syria will remain sidelined and Iran will have been checked. Those are good outcomes, from the U.S. point of view, but not worth a U.S. fight. They are historic outcomes from an Israeli point of view, and I can understand why Israel might want to fight.
Of course, Israel has never approached the problem of its security with the view that it could take action (such as occupying a country and attempting to install a liberal democratic government there) to transform its neighbors’ psychology of enmity. It has not viewed security policy in such terms. This is perhaps why it is able to remind us today that the capacity to bring force to bear still matters.