Rattling the Cage: There is a limit

Morally, there is just so far we can go, and we've gone far enough.

By LARRY DERFNER
July 26, 2006 21:56
larry derfner 88

larry derfner 88. (photo credit: )

I wouldn't have joined last weekend's demonstration in Tel Aviv against Israel's war in Lebanon, because I think this war was forced on us. If Hizbullah had been allowed to kidnap two IDF soldiers and kill eight others without being made to pay a wholly "disproportionate" price, if the IDF had settled for a tit-for-tat response, then Hizbullah would feel free to attack again anytime, and the security and well-being of northern Israel would be at Hassan Nasrallah's mercy. But if Israel is still fighting in Lebanon after another week, then I'm going to be looking for an antiwar protest to join - and my guess is that such a protest, if it's still necessary, will attract a lot more people than the 2,500 who showed up for the first one. So let the IDF take a few more days to kill as many Hizbullah men and destroy as much of their weaponry as possible - but then this has to stop. There is just so much we can reasonably expect to achieve in this war, there is only so high a price we can pay - or make Lebanon pay - and just so great a risk we should take. WE'VE ABOUT reached the limit of what's reasonable. If the IDF keeps going, it will be fighting on overconfidence, and that's a dangerous thing. The war could get out of control and become one Israel can neither win nor walk away from. It's happened to Israel before in Lebanon. It's happened now in Iraq to America, Israel's patron in the new war against Hizbullah. When the fighting started I felt sure the Olmert government wasn't going to get swell-headed, that it had in mind an intense, two-or-three-week, in-and-out operation meant to leave Hizbullah severely wounded and reluctant to try Israel again. It seemed a worthy goal that could be achieved at an acceptable price. But I'm not so sure about the Olmert government now. Between the genuine "moral clarity" of Israel's cause, the war's wall-to-wall domestic support, the encouragement that's come in from abroad, and the green light from Bush, the government seems to have become giddy. Its war goals, its conditions for a cease-fire, are unrealistic, if not impossible. If the government stands by these conditions - which the Bush administration, in its well-meaning, pea-brained way, is backing - there's no telling how long the war could last or where it might lead. Israel is saying it won't stop fighting until Hizbullah is supplanted in southern Lebanon by the Lebanese army and/or an international force, one that will be committed to actually fighting off Hizbullah and enforcing the cease-fire. GOOD LUCK. Which countries are going to put their soldiers in such a spot? They'd have to be crazy. If the Bush administration honestly thought this was such a good idea, it would be offering at least a few thousand US troops for the mission - but it's not, because the last time America sent troops to Lebanon, Hizbullah blew up 241 of them, along with 58 from France, and that was the end of that peace-keeping mission. Right now, the war in Iraq is more than enough Mideast adventure for the forces of democracy, thank you. If Israel is waiting for someone to "hand off" to in southern Lebanon, it will be waiting a long time. The government's other "non-negotiable" condition for a cease-fire is that Hizbullah free the two kidnapped IDF soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. I find it impossible to believe that any level-headed Israeli really expects Nasrallah to just give the two up, unconditionally, without getting at least a couple hundred of his own men out of Israeli prisons in return. Yet the Olmert government has committed itself to this demand, and it will be difficult to abandon, but it's going to have to be abandoned if the war is ever going to end. I think everyone knows we're going to have to trade to get Goldwasser and Regev back, only not everyone - nor any politician I know of - is willing to admit it. THIS WAR has become too much for civilians on either side to bear. A million residents of the Israeli North are at their wits' end, in their third week of living in bomb shelters or at their relatives' houses further south. In Lebanon, of course, it's far worse. Whatever the justice of Israel's cause, whatever Hizbullah's immoral use of the Lebanese civilian population, the IDF cannot wreak "collateral damage" on civil Lebanese society without limit. The deaths to innocents and destruction to infrastructure there may be unintentional, but it is also inevitable. Morally, there is just so far we can go, and we've gone far enough. What worries me most, though, is that Hizbullah will land one of its "surprises," which will cause not only intolerable Israeli casualties but also compel us to escalate in kind - because if we let them land the last blow, they win and we lose. This is the road to quagmire. It can happen again, unless we wrap this thing up. Israeli-US policy is to bring Hizbullah to its knees; but Hizbullah is in another league militarily from that of Hamas and the other Palestinian terrorists. The only conceivable way to break Hizbullah is to fight an all-out, open-ended war in Lebanon, and probably in Syria and Iran as well. In such a war, the chance of bringing Hizbullah to its knees would be dwarfed by the chance of catastrophe. But if Israel winds the war up now, it can still win. Once the fighting stops and the dust settles, Hizbullah will retain plenty of capability to hurt Israel, but I don't think it will be in a hurry to try. Lebanon does not want to go through this again, and neither do the leaders of the Arab world. Israel has exacted a very high price for Hizbullah's aggression, and by doing so it just may have achieved the one realistic, legitimate goal of this war - the reestablishment of Israeli military deterrence. If this goal is accomplished, the war will have been a success. But we can only find out once the war is over.


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