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The week before Hizbullah launched its war against Israel in the country's north, Ha'aretz's chief diplomatic correspondent Aluf Benn wrote an ode to Hizbullah. Entitled, "We need a Nasrallah," Benn romanticized the terror master writing, "Nasrallah hates Israel and Zionism no less than do the Hamas leaders, [kidnapped IDF Cpl. Gilad] Shalit's kidnappers and the Qassam [rocket] squads. But as opposed to them -- he has authority and responsibility, and therefore his behavior is rational and reasonably predictable."
Benn continued, "The moment Hizbullah took control overâ€¦ south [Lebanon] and armed itself with thousands of Katyushas and other rockets, a stable balance of deterrence was created on both sides of the border."
This Thursday, Benn wrote a follow-up column excusing his own blindness by noting that "The IDF, the intelligence services and the government, who have at their disposal much better sources of information than mine, thought the same" of Nasrallah in the days before his Iranian bosses ordered him to war.
Benn's strategic befuddlement is noteworthy not merely because of what it says about the quality of analysis he provides to his readers, but also because it exposes the fact that there is a gaping chasm between the perceptions of reality shared by a disconcertingly large and influential segment of Israel's governing elite and reality itself.
Happily, today Benn and his likeminded colleagues in the IDF, the intelligence services and the government are no longer being looked to for guidance by the Bush White House. While the Israeli elites, including Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and her colleagues in the government still speak of a need for Israel to seek some sort of accommodation with Hizbullah, its terrorist allies in the Palestinian Authority and Syria as well as with the terror apologists in the EU and UN, America has stopped listening. US President George W. Bush, his press secretary Tony Snow, US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, and both houses of the US Congress have made it clear over the past week of war that America is unwilling to continue to abide by the view that it is possible to deter terrorists.
As Snow put it in a press briefing on Tuesday, "What we want isâ€¦ the cessation of violence in a manner that is consistent with stability, peace, democracy in Lebanon, and also an end to terror. A ceasefire that would leave the status quo ante intact is absolutely unacceptable. A ceasefire that would leave intact a terrorist infrastructure is unacceptable. So what we're trying to do is work as best we can toward a ceasefire that is going to create not only the conditions, but the institutions for peace and democracy in the region."
Snow explained that from the administration's perspective, a ceasefire that leaves Hizbullah intact would effectively be rewarding it for its criminal behavior. In his words, "You do not want to engage in a ceasefireâ€¦ when you say to the Israelis, 'You guys just stop firing,' when you have Hizbullah saying, 'We're going to wage total war,' because Hizballah would read that as vindication of its tactics."
It is important to recall that "the status quo ante" was a situation where Hizbullah and its state sponsors Iran and Syria pocketed Israel's ill-advised territorial and political concessions and used them to build up not only a massive arsenal of missiles, but also a complex underground bunker system that Israeli ground forces are only beginning to uncover; and a formidable, well trained paramilitary force replete with Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers as trainers and commanders. This is the threat developed under the "status quo ante," and the declared goal of Israel's current campaign in Lebanon is to eliminate this threat.
Assuming that Israel is able to achieve its military objective, what should a ceasefire that does not revert to the status quo ante look like? What should be the guiding assumptions on which it is based?
Any Israeli strategy directed towards building military and political stability has to be based on two components: decisive and continuous fighting against terrorist and other irregular forces; and the development of a system of deterrence directed against hostile regional actors whose aim will be to compel them to refrain from interfering in the Israeli-Lebanese-Palestinian area of operations.
In the case of Lebanon, this means that the Lebanese and Syrian governments must be compelled to accept that in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1559 and the requirements of Israel's national security, Hizbullah and all other irregular forces must remain perpetually disarmed. To this end, during the course of the current military campaign, Israel must act to make clear to both governments that they will pay an enormous price if they enable the reconstitution of Hizbullah. And that price must be clear: Israel will bring down both governments if they do not ensure that in the aftermath of the current campaign Hizbullah remains disarmed.
In this vein, Israel must not accept an international force in south Lebanon. The lesson of our long and bitter experience with international forces from UNIFIL in Lebanon to the MFO in Sinai is clear: The only force willing and able to defend Israel is the IDF.
So too, Israel must end its practice of granting immunity to Syrian way stations for arming Hizbullah as well as Syrian bases for Hamas and other terror groups.
It is quite reasonable to expect that in the future, the Israel-Lebanon border will remain open for one-way traffic. IDF forces will enter Lebanon any time there are signs that Hizbullah and other hostile forces are attempting to build a presence anywhere near the border.
While attention is now riveted on events in Lebanon, it is important to recall that Lebanon is merely one of three fronts from which Israel is being attacked. After all, Hizbullah joined the fray last week in order to come to the aid of its ally and fellow Iranian proxy, the Palestinian Authority.
The PA is led by a formal alliance between the Fatah and Hamas terror organizations. That alliance was cemented both by last month's Fatah-Hamas cross-border operation that led to the capture of Cpl. Shalit, and by the signing of the so-called "Prisoners' Document" by Fatah leader and PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader and PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
As Mort Zuckerman noted this week in US News and World Report, the joint signing of that document "means that both Hamas and Fatah are equally committed to Israel's annihilation. Now that Fatah is seeking to outflank Hamas on the side of radicalism, it is no surprise that Israelis feel they do not have a partner for peace. Abbas's willingness to sign it should open the eyes of the world to the fact that he is no moderate and no potential peacemaker."
In a recent training video broadcast on al Jazeera, Hamas boasted that like Hizbullah in Lebanon, it has exploited Israel's land giveaway in Gaza to establish a military force of some 15,000 soldiers in Gaza alone. Moreover, events of the past week are a stark indicator that there is no difference between Hizbullah control of south Lebanon and PA control of Gaza and sections of Judea and Samaria.
Since the northern campaign began last Wednesday, in both Ramallah and Gaza, the PA has organized daily mass marches in support of Hizbullah. Members of PA militias, of Fatah and Hamas have demanded that Arab League states join the war against Israel. Commanders from the PA militias have openly admitted their desire to join Hizbullah in attacking Israel. This week, two suicide bombers from Judea and Samaria attempted to attack in Jerusalem and the Sharon region and Israeli forces have been engaged in pitched battles with terror forces in Nablus.
Nearly every day another militia is founded. Last week Fatah announced the establishment of a force of female suicide bombers in Judea and Samaria and this week the Popular Resistance Committees - a terror consortium that includes personnel from PA militias, Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad -- displayed its female suicide bomber unit in Gaza. The ladies marched through the streets with their rifles and declared their intention of joining the forces of global jihad. As a spokesman in that Hamas training video explained, Hamas will continue to fight, "Until the liberation of Palestine, and until the message 'There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His Messenger' reaches the entire world."
The activities of all factions of the PA show that as is the case in Lebanon, it will be impossible to achieve stability in Gaza, Judea and Samaria through deterrence. The only way to stabilize these fronts is by conducting a military campaign aimed at disarming all the terror groups and all 17 PA militias. That is, Israel must conduct a campaign in Gaza and Judea and Samaria that will disarm the Palestinian Authority in its entirety.
Once this operation is complete, Israel will have to establish buffer zones in Gaza along its borders with Egypt and Israel that will prevent the Palestinians from either rearming or attacking Israel.
In Judea and Samaria, in addition to reasserting its security control over all areas, based on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's intention to act in accordance with the Israeli consensus that the large settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley should remain under Israeli control in perpetuity, Israel should apply Israeli law to these areas.
Israel's steps in Gaza and in Judea and Samaria should be accompanied by a declaration of intent according to which Israel will freeze the political status of Gaza and the remaining sections of Judea and Samaria for ten years. This declaration would serve two purposes. First, it would recognize the fact that today Palestinian society is unwilling to live at peace with Israel. Second, it gives the Palestinians sufficient time to determine whether or not they wish to reform themselves and to act on that decision. If at the end of the decade the Palestinians have in fact undergone a cultural transformation, then Israel would be willing to recognize a demilitarized, democratic and anti-terrorist Palestinian state in Gaza. It would be further willing to conduct negotiations with that state and other relevant parties regarding the future status of the Palestinian areas in Judea and Samaria.
An Israeli strategy aimed at stabilizing the security and political situation in Lebanon, Gaza and Judea and Samaria is essential today to enable the international community to contend with the greatest threat to global security: Iran's nuclear weapons program. As was evidenced by last weekend's meeting of the G-8 in Russia, through its proxies' attacks against Israel, Iran was able to distract the global leaders from its nuclear program.
As if to emphasize the danger his regime poses, in a speech broadcast on Iranian television on Tuesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, "The final point of liberal civilization is the false and corrupt state that has occupied Jerusalem. That's the bottom line. That's what all those who talk about liberalism and support it have in common."
Ahmadinejad went on to threaten "all those who talk about liberalism and support it," saying, "If this volcano [of Muslim pride] erupts - and we are on the brink of eruption... and if this ocean rages, its waves will not be limited to the region."
The challenge that Israel is now presented with on the battlefield is great. But if Israel stands strong with US support and meets this challenge, it will have the opportunity of striking out in a new strategic direction that holds a realistic possibility of stabilizing the security situation in a manner that enhances the chances of a peaceful future for the region and world as a whole.