Interesting Times: Whither deterrence?

We have become used to the idea that international forces are worse than feckless.

saul singer 88 (photo credit: )
saul singer 88
(photo credit: )
Remember "convergence"? That was Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's plan to unilaterally withdraw from most of Judea and Samaria. It is a little bit difficult to imagine at this moment, as our soldier-children fight in Lebanon and Gaza and missiles rain down on our cities, that this plan was built on the "success" of the unilateral withdrawals from exactly these areas. I can't say "I told you so," because I didn't. Perhaps with trepidation, I believed in deterrence. At some level, I thought it didn't matter that Lebanon was bristling with missiles pointed at us at point-blank range, so long as Hizbullah was deterred from firing them by the understanding that we would hold Lebanon, Syria and perhaps even Iran accountable if they did. Though holding the Palestinian leadership accountable was more problematic, in theory the same deterrence logic seemed to apply to Gaza. In this logic, interests mattered more than capabilities. When Israel was in Gaza and Lebanon, our enemies' capabilities were smaller and our ability to fight them was greater. But we were caught in an endless war of attrition, a tit-for-tat process in which we could never use our superior power to crush the enemy because that would be considered an "escalation." Better to withdraw and let the other side increase its capabilities in exchange for us having the right to eliminate them if they were used against us - or so we thought. IN A SENSE, this logic worked. We are now seeing essentially universal recognition that Israel does have the right to crush Hizbullah, and even grudging understanding that it was necessary to hold Lebanon accountable through a blockade and infrastructure strikes. At the same time, however, there is a widespread sense that it was a mistake to rely so completely on deterrence. In reality, we had become the hostages of a terrorist army and its masters in Teheran. We thought we were deterring them, but they were deterring us from doing anything about their growing arsenal. In signing on to the logic of deterrence, I was in good company. The Israeli consensus, through its support for Ariel Sharon's disengagement from Gaza, was on board the deterrence train. So was the international community, which would ineffectually demand that Hizbullah disarm, even as it continued to fill its bunkers with new Iranian and Syrian missiles. Does all this mean that deterrence should be tossed out of our lexicon? To do this, we would have to go to the opposite extreme and return to Gaza and Lebanon, since only we can be relied upon to completely erase the enemy's capabilities - and even the IDF did not succeed in doing this when our forces were heavily deployed in these areas. Not a promising option. But if neither "security zones" nor deterrence work, then what is to be done? WE NEED a new hybrid conception, under which the building of capabilities is both blocked and deterred. We have become used to the idea that international forces are worse than feckless. UNIFIL, in effect, has served as human shields for Hizbullah, thereby doing more to facilitate aggression than to fulfill its mandate of "restoring peace and security." This must change. Israel has given the West an enormous head start in destroying the terrorist arm of Iran, which threatens the entire free world. The world cannot simultaneously demand that Israel respect Lebanon's independence without stepping in to help the weak and reluctant Lebanese government finish off Hizbullah as a terrorist/military force. UNIFIL's first stated purpose was to "confirm" the withdrawal of Israel from Lebanon. The mandate of a new international force should, in principle, have nothing directly to do with Israel: Its job should be to implement and enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1559, requiring the disarming of Hizbullah and the deployment of Lebanon's army in its place. The current war is seen as a test for Israel, which it is. But it is no less a test for the West. What Hizbullah is to Israel, Iran itself is to the West. Iran sees no distinction between attacking Israel and attacking the United States. As Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Iranian television this week: "Lebanon is the scene of a historic test, which will determine the future of humanity... It is inconceivable for anyone who calls himself a Muslim and who heads an Islamic state to maintain relations under the table with the regime that occupied Jerusalem... A bunch of people with no honor rule some countries in the region. England was the founder of this sinister regime [and] America, which supports it now, are accomplices to all its crimes. They are the ones who started this fire" (translation by Actually, it was Iran itself that pulled the trigger on this war, evidently to intimidate the West into not taking the Iranian nuclear question to the UN Security Council. Even the Arab states - led by those "dishonorable" people Ahmadinejad directly threatened - realize that Iran must be stopped, and crushing Hizbullah is a good start. Accordingly, the new international force, while it should not be created by the UN, should be operating within a new resolution under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. This resolution would trigger sanctions against any country - such as Iran and Syria - that attempts to subvert Lebanon's independence and Israel's security by rearming Hizbullah. In other words, the Iranian nuclear file, the Syria-Lebanon file, the Hizbullah-Israel file, and even the Iran-Iraq file must be combined: as they are in practice on the ground. It makes no sense to separate Iran's quest for nukes, its campaign of terror against Israel, and also in Iraq. Ditto for Syria, which has a mutual defense pact with Iran and is doing much of its dirty work. Defending the West, defending Israel, and defeating Iran are all part of the same framework. An international force in Lebanon should be seen as a necessary stopgap measure toward the real goal: forcing the mullahs in Teheran out of the nuke and terror business, or more likely, out of power. [email protected]

- Editorial Page Editor Saul Singer is author of the book, Confronting Jihad: Israel's Struggle & the World After 9/11