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Contentions

Getting Lebanon Wrong, Again

Word of this has been percolating for a while now:

In any future conflict with Hizbullah, Israel will likely cite the Shi’ite group’s increasing influence within the Lebanese cabinet as a legitimate reason to target Lebanon’s entire infrastructure, government sources have told The Jerusalem Post.

The head of the IDF’s northern command, Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, recently put the idea in starker terms:

What happened to the Dahiyah neighborhood [Hezbollah's headquarters] of Beirut in 2006 will happen to each village from which Israel is fired on. We will apply disproportionate force and inflict huge damage and destruction. In our mind, these are not civilian villages but army bases.

If Israel does this, it will be mostly fighting the war Hezbollah wants it to fight. Global condemnation of Israel will be absolute, and might finally translate into something worse than words. The fact that a discussion of turning Lebanon into rubble is even happening is a demonstration that Israeli leaders still haven’t learned the central lesson of the 2006 conflict: that it is all but impossible to defeat a large, sophisticated guerrilla force without confronting the regimes that fund and supply it. Michael Young, the brilliant opinion page editor of the Lebanon Daily Star, said it best:

And what about Syria in Israel’s plan? In their fervor to hold the Lebanese government responsible for whatever Hizbullah does, many Israelis never mention that the party in the past two years has been able to rearm thanks to weapons transiting through Syria. They never mention, in justifying their negotiations with Syria, that Hizbullah became a powerful military force during the years when Syria controlled Lebanon. They never mention that President Bashar Assad has time and again made it clear that he has no intention of breaking with Iran over Hizbullah (or anything else), and that such a step would be inexplicable anyway as it would deny Syria the military leverage the party provides it over Israel.

As Israel’s armed forces destroy Lebanon’s towns and villages, as well as quite possibly its electricity, road, and water infrastructure, what will they do against a regime in Damascus far more responsible for allowing Hizbullah to be what it is than the Lebanese state, which [Giora] Eiland implicitly points out is too weak to contain the party? If the answer is “nothing,” and Syria is to be left alone, then we get the message: For the umpteenth time Lebanese blood will serve as currency in Syrian-Israeli bargaining.

The greatest national-security travesty of the post-9/11 era is that the most realistic and necessary idea advanced in the Bush doctrine — holding terror-sponsoring regimes responsible for the violence and chaos they sponsor — has been its most systematically ignored idea. A few weeks ago, the U.S. military finally struck inside Syria, sending a warning to Bashar about the hospitality he provides to terrorists. Imagine if the U.S. had done so in 2003. Imagine if Israel had done so after Hezbollah’s attack in 2006. Israeli strategists insist that they refrain because they’re afraid of what they might face should Bashar’s weak regime come undone. But they should soberly ask themselves: is there any chance it would be worse than Hezbollah?


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