May 21, 2007


How Israel Bungled the Second Lebanon War (Efraim Inbar, Summer 2007, Middle East Quarterly)

Unrealistic goals compounded poor preparation. Israeli political and military leaders erred in their belief that Israeli pressure on Hezbollah and the weak Lebanese government could generate a political process in which the Lebanese army could achieve a monopoly over the use of force in Lebanon.[41] From the earliest stages of the war, Israeli leaders insisted that they could encourage Lebanon to become a regular state and that the Israeli army could crush Hezbollah's Lebanese state-within-a-state. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert saw force as instrumental to implementing UNSCR 1559, which called for strengthening the central government in Lebanon by both removing foreign forces and disbanding militias.[42] He stated that the military operation constituted "an almost unique opportunity to change the rules in Lebanon."[43] Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni declared that the goal of the campaign was "to promote a process that will bring about a long-term and fundamental change in the political reality" and to create a regime in Lebanon that would be responsible for its entire territory.[44] She argued that the harder the IDF hit Hezbollah, the easier it would be for the Lebanese government and the world to implement UNSCR 1559.[45] Peretz's statement that Israel would not end its campaign until reality changed in Lebanon reflected the broad view of the Israeli political leadership.[46]

The military from at least the time of Yaalon's tenure as chief-of-staff accepted the same logic. Both Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizencott, chief of operations in the general staff, and Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former director of research at the IDF intelligence branch, believed that Israel's use of force could change the political equation in Lebanon.[47]

From the first day of the campaign, Halutz advocated attacking infrastructure beyond southern Lebanon to pressure the Lebanese government to counter Hezbollah.[48] This logic of transformation through force was reminiscent of the earlier attempt to transform Lebanese society through force. In 1982, Israeli officials sought not only to expel the Palestinian Liberation Organization but also to normalize relations with Beirut and its newly-empowered government.

In the contemporary Middle East, though, force seldom creates a new political environment.[49] For years after signing the Oslo accords, Israeli politicians turned a blind eye to Palestinian Authority actions rather than acknowledge that Yasir Arafat's administration did not live up to its agreements. In Lebanon, Israeli leaders might have adopted more modest goals. Rather than seek to change Lebanon's reality, they might have instead sought only to eviscerate Hezbollah's ability to harm Israel.

Fear of escalation clouded Olmert's strategic judgment. On the first day of the conflict, Mossad chief Maj. Gen. Meir Dagan recommended that the Israeli air force target Syrian sites.[50] Instead, Olmert sought to placate. Israeli leaders repeatedly said that Israel had no intention of expanding its military activities to target Syria.[51] Peretz even called for a renewal of peace negotiations with Syria.[52] Even when Hezbollah was launching Syrian missiles at Israeli cities, Israeli military officials announced that retaliating against Syria was not under consideration.[53] Rather than pressure Damascus to stop its resupply of missiles to Hezbollah, such statements, in effect, blessed the Syrian government's proxy warfare.

Such rhetoric contrasted sharply with past practice when the threat of escalation coerced Israel's adversaries into accepting its conditions. The Syrian government was susceptible to such pressure. After the February 14, 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, apparently at the Syrian leadership's behest, joint condemnation by Washington, Paris, and Riyadh reverberated through Damascus.

Israeli officials enjoyed similar sympathy after Hezbollah initiated the summer 2006 conflict. At the Group of Eight (G8) heads of states meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, on July 17, 2006, an open microphone caught U.S. president George W. Bush saying that they needed "Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit."[54]

But, the Israeli military's restraint cost it an opportunity to eliminate Syria's long-range missile capability. The risks of regional escalation were minimal. Iran was in no position to intervene directly. Tehran, rushing to complete its nuclear program, did not want to create a pretext for international action against it.

A successful campaign against Syria could have weakened Hezbollah and might even have strengthened the Lebanese government more than destroying Lebanese infrastructure did. An Israeli strike against Syrian targets would have signaled Israel's determination to deal with terrorist and proxy threats, enhancing Israeli deterrence. It would have also diminished both Iranian influence in the region and Tehran's ability to retaliate through Hezbollah in the event that its nuclear installations were attacked.

The simple reality is that the regime in Syria is an enemy, while a democratic Shi'a state in South Lebanon will be more concerned with its own problems than with Israel. The notion that you could create a coherent Lebanon by attacking Hezbollah was lunacy from Jump Street.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 21, 2007 4:55 PM

...while a democratic Shi'a state in South Lebanon will be more concerned with its own problems than with Israel.

That's a great analysis except that Hezbollah is not a democratic state in South Lebanon. It's an autocratic, Islamist militia.

Posted by: Brandon at May 21, 2007 6:13 PM

Yes, until you recognize their nationhood they have to fight for it. Washington was likewise unelected until the Brits conceded to reality.

Posted by: oj at May 21, 2007 6:46 PM

But what makes you think that an independent Shia state in South Lebanon would be a democracy? People who fight for independence are not always interested in democracy, as you well know. For all your cheering of the Shia, the Sunni are actually more democratic in how they choose their religious leaders, and a fat lot of good that's done them.

Sorry, by my count anti-American terrorists/"freedom fighters" who wave Korans have a .000 democracy batting average.

Posted by: PapayaSF at May 21, 2007 10:14 PM

Good title.

Posted by: jim hamlen at May 22, 2007 7:24 AM

Because Shi'a are democrats.

Posted by: oj at May 22, 2007 9:04 AM

So who was Nasrallah's opponent in the last Hezbollah election...?

Posted by: PapayaSF at May 22, 2007 4:39 PM

Siniora, but the Lebanese use a system of apartheid to prevent the Shi'a from claiming their rightful share of power. That's why the country will be divided.

Posted by: oj at May 22, 2007 7:02 PM