As recently as 2000, Israel withdrew its forces from southern Lebanon after a disastrous occupation lasting 18 years. Not having learned its lesson well enough, it wishes to repeat the failure in 2006. The NY Times reports that Israel will reoccupy the same region until an international peacekeeping force takes control of the area:
Almost two weeks into its military assault on Hezbollah, Israel said Tuesday that it would occupy a strip inside southern Lebanon with ground troops until an international force could take its place.
The announcement raised the prospect of a more protracted Israeli involvement in Lebanon than the political and military leadership previously signaled or publicly sought. Officials have talked about limited raids into Lebanon, but now they seem ready to commit ground forces for at least weeks, if not months.
They said the zone would be much smaller than the strip of southern Lebanon roughly 15 miles deep that Israel occupied for nearly two decades before withdrawing in 2000…
Israel’s defense minister, Amir Peretz, said Israel’s plan for a buffer zone inside Lebanon was being worked out and did not provide details. “We will have to build a new security strip, a security strip that will be a cover for our forces until international forces arrive,” he said.
“We are shaping it, but you can’t draw a single line that will become a permanent line along the entire zone,” Mr. Peretz said on Israeli radio. “Unless there is a multinational force that will enter and take control, a multinational force with the ability to act, we will continue to fire against anyone who enters the designated strip.”
Israeli officials, mindful of the Israeli public’s reluctance to repeat its long occupation of southern Lebanon, say they do not plan a major ground invasion, and do not intend to hold large areas of territory for extended periods.
Does anyone remember how U.S. involvement in Vietnam kept increasing incrementally from a few hundred military “advisors” in 1963 to 500,000 troops and 55,000 dead by 1972-3? Does anyone remember the lies Ariel Sharon told Begin and the Israeli people in 1982 about his Lebanon adventure being a limited incursion lasting at most a few weeks and not advancing farther north than the Litani River? Does anyone remember Bush telling us the Iraq war would cost a mere fraction of what it has ended up costing us?
The point is (and I’ve been pounding away mercilessly at it here for weeks) that unless you execute a pinpoint military operation with clear and limited objectives you must perforce make the same mistakes Olmert, Peretz and the IDF are making here. Their biggest problem is that they are improvising the Lebanon war–essentially making it up as they go along. They have a “plan” in the same sense that the U.S. had a “plan” for administering Iraq after it “won” the war against Saddam. It represents mission creep, which is:
the expansion of a project or mission beyond its original goals, often after initial successes. Mission creep is usually considered undesirable due to the dangerous path of each success breeding more ambitious attempts, only stopping when a final, often catastrophic, failure occurs.
I’d rephrase that passage as it relates to Lebanon. Israel may believe it has had successes so far in its invasion. But I believe it is reoccupying Lebanon out of fear, rather than out of the exhilaration of military success. Israel knows it has roused a hornet’s nest in taking on Hezbollah. It also realizes that it has not, and cannot, extirpate the group from the region. It knows that if it withdrew from Lebanon the northern border would be a hot zone like you wouldn’t believe (especially compared to the relative quiet of the past six years). Therefore, it must (in its view) reoccupy or it will face the renewed ferocity of Hezbollah’s attack. The only problem with this reasoning is that this new protective zone will not protect either Israel or the IDF troops patrolling it. Expect the same devastating guerrilla attacks to resume which drove Israel out by 2000.
And let us not forget that Hezbollah (with Syrian backing) drove both the U.S. and France out of Lebanon in 1983 with massive terror attacks against their respective forces. So Hezbollah is expert at fighting invaders and driving them from its land. It is patient, it can afford to lose many in pursuit of its goals. I don’t believe that the Israeli people will have the same level of patience when the body bags start coming back home. Please make no mistake, I will not feel any positive emotion from this despite the fact that I will have been proven right. I will feel only sadness for lives lost which needn’t have been.
Israel is of course mindful of the analogies that are being made between 1982 and 2006. Its representatives keep repeating the mantra: “They’re not the same, they’re not the same,” as if wishing made it so:
A senior government official said Israeli forces intended to clear out Hezbollah strongholds in border villages as the military is already doing in Bint Jbail and Marun al Ras.
The military plans to move into other villages as well, but “this will not be the re-establishment of the old security zone,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. “It is not remotely similar.”
Of course it’s not. Just because he says so. And we believe him because…? But of course the invasions and occupations are so similar as to be virtually the same. And they will end virtually the same as I wrote above.
Though Israel has promised that its invasion will last only as long as it takes to constitute the new peacekeeping operation, that is now fraught with complications. The only European country which has expressed willingness to contribute troops, Germany, has wisely said it will only do so with the approval of Hezbollah. Why should Germany be so stupid as to try to do what Ronald Reagan tried and failed in 1983? Many observers feel that Hezbollah’s agreement to such a force is a dubious proposition. Why should Hezbollah agree unless it gets something in return like a return of Israel’s Lebanese prisoners and return of the Shebaa Farms? Besides, the U.S. is talking to neither Hezbollah or its patron Syria. Without such engagement I see little reason for either party to go along with the peacekeeping option.
And the Times says few other nations have stepped forward to participate in the mission:
The United States has ruled out its soldiers’ participating, NATO says it is overstretched, Britain feels its troops are overcommitted and Germany says it is willing to participate only if Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia that it would police, agrees to it, a highly unlikely development.
“All the politicians are saying, ‘Great, great’ to the idea of a force, but no one is saying whose soldiers will be on the ground,” said one senior European official. “Everyone will volunteer to be in charge of the logistics in Cyprus.”
There has been strong verbal support for such a force in public, but also private concerns that soldiers would be seen as allied to Israel and would have to fight Hezbollah guerrillas who do not want foreigners, let alone the Lebanese Army, coming between them and the Israelis.
And this anonymous unbelievably obtuse comment from a State Department official in Condi Rice’s entourage about the supposed inevitability of the deployment of such a force:
I think you will hear about the impossibility of deploying an international force until the day it is deployed,” the official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue. “But there will be an international force, because all the key players want it.”
I guess since we’re not talking to Hezbollah no one’s told this joker that Hezbollah’s attitude is: “not so fast.” Does he forget what happened in 1983 when we assumed all the ‘key players’ wanted us there??
As long as the international community cannot get its act together to create a viable force that is accepted by both warring parties Israel will be in southern Lebanon. To paraphrase Walter Mondale’s witty comeback against Ronald Reagan during a presidential debate: Israel won’t tell you it’s going to be occupying Lebanon for the indefinite future. I just did.”
I have to give credit where it’s due to Aron Trauring who presciently predicted today’s events in a post going back to July 18th:
Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 and bombed it to smithereens. At the time there was no Hezbollah to rain down rockets on northern Israel. 18 years, thousands of dead people later, Israel left Lebanon, with its tail between its legs and Hezbollah, a well trained, well armed guerilla movement, left behind as a potent force in Lebanon.
So now, when Israel seems bent on repeating the mistakes of the past (and despite the disclaimers, it looks like Israel will invade Lebanon and recreate the failed “buffer zone”), even before the invasion there are large numbers of casualies on the Israeli side. Does any rational person truly believe Israel can defeat the Hezbollah militarily, when it failed to do so for 18 years? Jews think of themselves as being smart. But the mind-numbing display of blind stupidity displayed by the so-called “pro-Israel” camp, takes one’s breath away.
I have to admit I was skeptical at the time. I unfortunately gave the IDF and the Israeli government too much credit, believing they would recognize the quagmire they’d escaped from in 2000 and would be leery of falling into it again. Aron you were right and I was wrong. Lebanon redux IS a “mind-numbing display of blinding stupidity.”