Wednesday, July 26, 2006

What would count as success

From Haaretz:

By Avner Cohen

Both from a moral perspective and from the perspective of the decision-making process, this campaign is far from being the model for a just and moral war, or for a no-choice war. The massive use of air power that nightly churns up the Shi'ite slums of south Beirut seems a lot more like venting feelings of fury and vengeance against Hezbollah's supporters than real fighting against the organization's military infrastructure.

The use of air power against the civilian quarters in which Hezbollah leaders were living blatantly violates the requirements for proportion and discerning use of military might that a just war poses. Nor do such bombings contribute much to the military or even political eradication of Hezbollah. The organization's leaders hide and survive, whereas the hard-working residents of the Shi'ite quarters lose what little they had. Anyone with the slightest human sensitivity cannot but feel uncomfortable at the sight of the tremendous destruction this war is wreaking in Lebanon.

It is also clear the initial decision by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert - with the backing of the defense minister and the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff - to respond immediately and belligerently to Hezbollah's provocation was made impulsively, without a rigorous consideration of alternatives, military and diplomatic. That decision certainly did not reflect a situation of lack of choice.

It is not clear to what extent Olmert was even aware of the limitations of air power and the military difficulty of defeating Hezbollah, or to what degree the government understood that its immediate decisions would lead Israel into a war in every sense, whose political and military results are far from being certain. Olmert could have maintained the path of restraint taken by Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon and deal with Hezbollah in a manner that would not require going to war.

But these shadows cannot alter the realization that Olmert's instinctively belligerent decision to strike Hezbollah was correct, and first and foremost for reasons having to do with Iran's place in this battle. I do not mean only the significance of its tremendous involvement in Hezbollah's actions that led to the outbreak of war, but rather, and especially, what could have occured in the not-distant future had Iran continued to operate Hezbollah according to its own needs.

In all Western capitals there is consensus that the timing of the abduction of IDF soldiers was intended to serve Iranian strategic goals. The kidnapping took place exactly on the eve of the summit of industrialized nations in St. Petersburg, and right before the debate on the Iranian nuclear issue was supposed to be refered back to the Security Council. The abduction of the soldiers was meant to hijack the world order, which was inconvenient for Iran, create another focus for world attention and thereby give the Iranian nuclear program more time.

Still more troubling is the thought of what might have happened in the future were Hezbollah's military strength to remain as it was. As far as Iran and Hezbollah's leaders are concerned, the organization's missile power is an integral part of the Iranian deterrence system, one of whose main goals is to protect Iran's nuclear program.

Hezbollah's missile arsenal, designed to cover all of Israel, was supposed to lend credibility to the Iranian message of deterrence, according to which any military strike on its nuclear program, no matter by whom, will automatically elicit a painful response against Israel. Hezbollah's massive missile presence expressed the fact that Iran poses a tangible and direct strategic threat to Israel, that it can deal a substantial blow to Israel and perhaps even cause it lengthy economic paralysis - without even having to launch missiles from its own soil. Under certain conditions it might even be possible to equip Hezbollah's long-range missiles with unconventional warheads.

If at the end of the war Hezbollah can no longer serve as a switch that Iranians can flip as they please, it will be possible to view it as an Israeli strategic success. This is a minimal realistic goal and it must be achieved at any cost.

The writer is the author of the books "Israel and the Bomb" and "Israel's Last Taboo."

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