Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Beyond The Battle

A week ago the IDF told the Jerusalem Post that it needed one more week to finish crushing Hezbollah - or at least its ability to bombard northern Israeli cities. It's a week later, and the fighting rages on.

Ordinarily this would not a good sign. Whenever Israel is at war with its Muslim enemies, time is never on its side. Usually this is because the rest of the world, including the U.S., forces the IDF to stop and let their foes off the hook. Though always in the name of "peace," of course. But this time, though there have certainly been calls for "restraint" and "proportionality" on Israel's part, as well as demands for a cease-fire and the insertion of UN "peacekeepers," the appeasenik cacaphony has been comparatively muted.

This is because there appears to be a shockingly broad consensus, between ourselves, the EUnuchs, and even some Arab governments, that Iran and Syria, Hezbollah's superior and arms conduit respectively, are behind the war against Israel in Lebanon and are the principle threats in the region - even more so than the Jewish state. The consequences of bailing out Hezbollah with the usual "peace" dance are not difficult to forecast. The terrorist group would be allowed to regroup, recruit, re-arm with ever larger, more deadly weapons behind a shield of "multinational" troops, to resume the war at a future date of their choosing. Meanwhile Israel would have been forced into a disastrous defeat that would bring its very national survival into even greater peril, with Iranian nukes and their distribution through its terror networks bringing the region and the world ever closer to nuclear ignition.

Small wonder then why there have been so many calls on the center-right for Israel to be given a free hand to do whatever it takes to annihilate Hezbollah (Saul Singer, Charles Krauthammer, Major Mike, Daniel Pipes, Jonah Goldberg, Edward Alexander, Steve Huntley, Joshua Muravchik, Victor Davis Hanson, Clifford May, former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Paul Meringoff, the New York Sun, Newt Gingrich), and even a smattering from the other side of the aisle (Isaac Herzog, an evidently penitant Richard Cohen). The Iranians have to be dealt a setback, even this relatively small one. Up to now the mullahs have enjoyed all the momentum; it's imperative that that momentum be broken.

The Israelis appear to grasp these facts, as evinced by the vehement, indignant reaction of their UN ambassador, Dan Gillerman, to United Earth Poobah Kofi Annan's tiresome "Everybody stop fighting" litany late last week:

"The United Nations .. recognized the fact that Israel withdrew from the whole of Lebanon. This is something that the United Nations has declared time and time again. Israel was attacked by Lebanon in an act of war, and did what any democracy would do. And that is, try to retrieve its boys, its soldiers, and also stop the shelling of its towns and villages. Why do you only address the Israeli bombings in Lebanon and not the shelling of our cities? Why don't you talk about the fact that those ruthless, indiscriminate animals yesterday targeted the holiest city, one of the holiest places to Christianity? Nazareth!"

Gillerman told the reporters that Israel has no intention of leaving Hezbollah the ability to continue operating in the "cesspool" that the terrorists created....Before diplomacy can take effect, Gillerman said, the terrorists have to be neutralized - and that operation, he assured the reporters, "will take as long as it will take."

I should think this was a given. That it isn't speaks volumes about the entire planet's blatant disregard for Israeli sovereignty. Does any other country get told how and when and to what degree it can defend itself? Even while paying lip service to Israeli's status as an independent, UN-member nation, the "international community," in the person of King Kofi, still implicitly undermines it, burning incense and dancing like a nut around the golden calf of "peace" while taking a big steaming crap all over the forgotten concept of justice - something Ambassador Gillerman also didn't let pass without a response:

Dan Gillerman, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, complained that “the three key elements of this were not addressed — terror, Syria and Iran.”

“Without addressing terror,” he said, “there will be no cessation of hostilities.”

That, gentles, is a pregnant comment if ever their was one. It directly raises the question: Can this war, so far limited to Israel vs. Hezbollah-Lebanon, fully "address terror" unless Syria and Iran are directly engaged?

There have been quite a few prominent voices urging precisely that.

Max Boot:

The real problem is that Israel's response has been all too proportional. So far it has only gone after Hamas and Hezbollah. (Some collateral damage is inevitable because these groups hide among civilians.) Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is showing superhuman restraint by not, at the very least, "accidentally" bombing the Syrian and Iranian embassies in Beirut, which serve as Hezbollah liaison offices.

It's hard to know what accounts for this Israeli restraint, for which, of course, it gets no thanks. It may just be a matter of time before the gloves come off. Or Olmert may be afraid of upsetting the regional status quo. The American neocon agenda of regime change is not one that finds favor with most Israelis (ironic, considering how often the rest of the world has denounced neocons as Mossad agents). The Israeli attitude toward neighboring dictators is "better the devil you know." That may make sense with Jordan and Egypt, which have made peace with Israel, but not with Syria, which serves as a vital conduit between Tehran and Hamas and Hezbollah.

Iran may be too far away for much Israeli retaliation beyond a single strike on its nuclear weapons complex. (Now wouldn't be a bad time.) But Syria is weak and next door. To secure its borders, Israel needs to hit the Assad regime. Hard.

One could, in a sense, look at the situation in the Middle East as analogous to America's island-hopping campaign in the Pacific during World War II. Rather than frontally attacking each and every Japanese-held island stronghold, we took only strategic islands and left the rest to wither on the vine. In the same way, it can be argued that Israel is, as I opined about the initial Gaza "incursion," fighting "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time" by engaging terrorists in assymmetrical warfare that will inevitably administer the IDF a public relations beating as well as weaken Lebanon's nascent democracy, when it could bypass Hezbollah and sever its lifeline instead:

Israel’s military action is not only a local error, insofar as Lebanon lacks the capability of reigning in Hezbollah, but it is also an error that has large implications for the entire region. The spontaneous democratic Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, which drew a million people to the streets calling for their freedom from Syrian occupation, points to the success of America’s Forward Strategy of Freedom, the President’s vision for a free and democratic Middle East....Destabilizing the Lebanese government therefore threatens to undermine democratic aspirations for the region and to empower the enemies of Israel and the West. No one wants this Lebanese government destroyed more than Iran and Syria, who would like to revive their direct control and oppression. By taking action that could easily kill the hostage Lebanese government, Israel may hand Syria, Iraq, and Hezbollah a collective strategic victory that the three alone could never have achieved.

Furthermore, Israel’s attack on Lebanon seems to be reverting back to its old “Grapes of Wrath” strategy. [See if this doesn't sound awfully familiar] That operation — which took place in Lebanon in 1996 in response to Hezbollah shelling on the northern border — was ineffective, morally questionable, and strategically flawed.

First, Grapes of Wrath did nothing to address the real Hezbollah threat. Just the opposite. It resulted in a ceasefire that sanctioned and codified Hezbollah’s presence in the area, therein conferring a degree of legitimacy on that terror group.

Second, the operation, during which 118 Lebanese civilians were killed, was morally questionable because it played into Hezbollah’s tactic of using civilians as human shields. Israel had no intentions of killing those people in Qana, but that was the inevitable result of fighting a war on Hezbollah’s terms.

Third, it was flawed strategically because instead of delegitimizing Hezbollah in Lebanese politics and deepening fissures between Hezbollah and various Lebanese communities, it drove those communities in despair to seek protection where they could get it, namely Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran. Israel therein secured for Iran and Syria a major strategic gain. Israel now could once again be facilitating the repositioning of Syria and Iran as the protectors of, rather than aggressors against, Lebanese sovereignty.

Yer toes curling yet? Mr. Wurmser's case has an excruciating inescapability to it. So far Operation Just Rewards looks indistinguishable from Operation Grapes of Wrath. The only thing missing is Israel agreeing to a cease-fire; and as our own United Earth Councillor, John Bolton, asked with delightful bluntness last week, how can you have a meaningful cease-fire with a bunch of terrorists?

But even if the IDF presses ahead and destroys Hezbollah, what does that buy the Jews beyond some additional time? Who will rebuild Lebanon? Can its government ever be strong enough to exercise sufficient control over its territory to prevent a terrorist relapse? And isn't that timetable separate and distinct from the rapidly ticking Iranian nuclear clock, after whose ringing will come either the shucking of terrorist proxies by the mullahs in favor of direct nuclear blackmail, and/or the WMD-arming of said proxies - whether a rejuvinated Hezbollah or other terrorist options?

There's not much the Israelis can do about the former, but the latter is a different story, and Syria, again, is the key. Concludes Jack Kelly:

Hezbollah must be crushed, but it cannot be crushed as long as the present regime remains in power in Syria, because Hezbollah fighters can take refuge there, and be resupplied from there. Nor can a democratic Lebanon fully emerge until the baneful influence of Syria is reduced or eliminated altogether.

The road to peace in the Middle East runs through Damascus. That's the road Israel should take, even if it seems longer and more dangerous, because the other roads are dead ends.

Eliminate Syria and Iran can no longer project its influence beyond its borders. That would leave Tehran with far fewer options, not all for which they may yet be prepared.

Such an Israeli move, however, would appear to be, from an American strategic standpoint, a proxy substitute of our own for dealing directly with the source of all this unpleasantness: Iran. I have argued, moreover, that an Israeli attack on Syria would be a distraction from our inevitable confrontation with the mullahs and might provide them with a justification for moving against us directly that might overcome the current anti-Iranian skittishness of Arab regimes in Riyadh, Amman, and Cairo.

On the other hand, given the acidic rhetoric (even for the Iranians) directed at any move against Syria, and that Tehran is still working through proxies, that suggests that there isn't a whole lot Iran could do to save their opthamologist junior partner in crime. But then rescuing Bashar Assad wouldn't be the point. Syria is an important asset for the mullahgarchy, but it is ultimately expendable, just like Hezbollah. War Plan R is all that ultimately matters, and if Israel goes after Syria, their role in the rise of the glorious Shiite Caliphate will have been fulfilled.

That is the tragic conundrum Israel faces. They cannot do nothing, but the more direct their retaliatory actions, the more they play into the hands of their ultimate enemy. And so they whack away at Lebanon with tactical prowess but strategic futility, already effectively deterred by "the Islamic bomb".

Ultimately, the decision is not in our hands. Two disquieting facts make that soberingly clear.

***Two of the IDF soldiers abducted by Hezbollah were reportedly taken to the Iranian embassy in Beirut and from there shipped separately to Syria. Since getting back those men is so central to the Israelis' collective psyche, this development seems designed to make their escalation of the war beyond Lebanon irresistable.

And if that didn't do it, this apparently would:

[T]he redline for Israel is an Iran missile into Tel Aviv [Provides the context for this latest Hezbollah boasting]. Redline for Cairo and Tehran is airstrikes on Damascus. [emphasis added]
Egypt would get involved on the side of Syria and Iran? If so, that reinforces the notion that escalation of this sideshow conflict suits the mullahs' purposes better than it does Israel's or our own.

The button is there for Iran to push at its leisure. And, with all due respect to the IDF, there's not a blessed thing the Israelis can do about it. The United States is not quite so helpless, but time is rapidly slipping away.

So naturally some thinkers even on our side of the aisle have come up with the latest whiz-bang, can't miss foreign policy gambit: turn Syria and Iran against each other!

I'll need to rest up to tackle that one.