There are so many things wrong with Israel’s current policy toward Lebanon and Hezbollah. It’s about as bad as it gets in terms of the miscalculation and foolhardy assumptions. But it can get worse and it just might if some Israeli ex-generals and the Likud hardline opposition have their way. Those generals fought and lost the last Lebanon war started by Ariel Sharon in 1982. In 2000, Ehud Barak unilaterally withdrew the IDF from southern Lebanon after the country’s misadventure there ended in abject failure. Now, they want to do it again. As Robert Rosenberg writes:
There is talk — but still only talk — of Israel launching a massive ground operation into Lebanon, to once and for all, as the proponents say, to clear south Lebanon of Hizbollah militiamen and their rockets. Those in favor of such an operation tend to be ex-infantry and armored corps generals from the days of the original Lebanon war, wanting to refight that lost war, or Rightist politicians like Likud MK Yisrael Katz, whose rise in Likud politics began when he served as an aide to then-defense minister Ariel Sharon.
On Army Radio today, Katz eerily echoed Menachem Begin, and apparently unwittingly so, when he said that Israel has to get over the ‘Lebanon trauma … and go into Lebanon in full force to get the job done.’ Begin, in his day, proudly explained that Operation Peace for Galilee, more popularly known as the Lebanon War, would ‘once and for all erase the trauma of the Yom Kippur war.’
Katz, now in the opposition and far from the reigns of power, tried to sweeten his vision of a corps of Israeli soldiers riding tanks and APCs into the quagmire of Lebanon, by saying, ‘they won’t be going into to stay there, just to do the job and get out.’ Shades of Begin and Sharon’s promise of an incursion that would only go as far as 40 kilometers, the range of the Katyushas that were in the hands of the PLO at the time.
Cabinet secretary Yisrael Maimon, pressed by Israel Radio’s Ayala Hason did admit today that there are plans for a massive incursion into Lebanon, but those plans are ‘not on the agenda.’ Instead, the current ground operations, he said, would suffice. Those operations are by elite commando units, target spotting for the aircraft overhead or ambushing Hizbollah cells still operating in south Lebanon — or much further north.
The NY Times today notes that Israel has greatly increased its ground operations in southern Lebanon over the past day or so. Two IDF soldiers were killed in a ground engagement yesterday and another two were killed today. These were the first ground force deaths since the war began:
Israeli officials suggested that Israeli ground troops may take a more active role in combating the Hezbollah militia and more strong condemnations were heard of Israel’s massive use of force in Lebanon.
So why would Israel fall into a trap it has already snared itself in to its great cost? First, you must understand the paucity of strategic vision that Olmert and Peretz possess. While I’m no military strategist, even I understand that when you use force you must have clear and limited objectives. You must have benchmarks to tell you when you’ve achieved them. And once you do you must stop and turn to political negotiation to achieve the remainder of your goals. What Israel has done both in its Gaza and Lebanon invasions is to weigh down the operations with many overlapping and sometimes conflicting objectives. Free the prisoners. Destroy Hamas and Hezbollah. Force the “moderate forces” in Lebanon and Palestine to “take control” of the situation. Strike blows against so-called proxies like Iran and Syria. With so many objectives you practically guarantee you will realize none.
There is also an improvised, catch as catch can element to both operations as if the commanders are making it up on the fly. If Hezbollah does one thing, we respond with another. If we see an opportunity to engage Hezbollah ground forces we take it even though a ground engagement may not be part of our operational mission.
Second, Olmert fronting a relatively weak government coalition is always looking over his shoulder at his political right (his original home). And Netanyahu and the other rabble-rousing extremists smell blood in the water and are in a feeding frenzy for the head of Nasrallah. As Robert said above, they and the former generals are itching to refight the last war they lost. Since the nation mistakenly perceives itself “winning” the Lebanon war the siren call of “finishing them off” beckons ever so seductively. And the best way to do this supposedly would be through a ground assault.
The concept of a ground assault is a fatal vision for Israel. It would be oh so easy to get sucked into a protracted ground war and ongoing occupation of southern Lebanon. Israel is not like Hezbollah or Hamas. It does not have endless stocks of recruits to expend in the process of pursuing its military objectives. A guerrilla insurgency is the worst type of war for Israel to fight as we are seeing ourselves in Iraq because it slowly bleeds your side dry with each new death or wounded victim.
Aron Trauring believes Israel will invade with ground troops. I doubted him. But now I’m not so sure. One thing we both agree on is that such an operation would only compound the blunder of Israel’s initial strategy of invading Lebanon and turning much of it to cinders. I pray that there are enough cooler heads in the IDF officer corps and military intelligence to persuade Halutz, Peretz and Olmert that this is not in Israel’s best interest. But somehow I doubt there are.