Our World: How I spent my summer vacation

Is the Olmert government capable of achieving its stated objectives in Lebanon?

IAF fighter jet 298 (photo credit: AP)
IAF fighter jet 298
(photo credit: AP)
Northern Israel is a vacationer's paradise. From hiking trails to walk on, to rivers to swim in, to luxury hotels to bask in, to mystical sites to seek inspiration from, it has something for everyone. This is why, when last week I took my first vacation in four years, I made my way to the North. As Hizbullah attacked an IDF patrol on the Lebanese border Wednesday morning and so opened its newest round of war, I was standing at the fortress of Megiddo looking at the ruins of civilizations and their wars for this land stretching back 5,000 years. Thursday found me in Nahariya walking on a battlefield of the current war: the street where two hours earlier Monica Seidman was killed by a Katyusha while sitting on her balcony drinking her morning coffee. After I left Nahariya with its residents huddled in bomb shelters and stairwells of apartment buildings, I headed west along the border highway to Kiryat Shemona. As I drove along the empty, beautiful, mountain road and gazed at the rocket smoke buffeting upwards from Mt. Meron, Safed, and Rosh Pinna below me, commentators on the radio kept asking, "Why is Hizbullah attacking Israel now?" Former generals spoke of the need for Israel to restore our deterrence against Hizbullah. FOR SIX years, since Ehud Barak surrendered to the demands of the radical, EU-funded Israeli Left and withdrew IDF forces from southern Lebanon in May 2000, Israel stood by and did nothing as Hizbullah built up its massive arsenal of rockets and missiles. The IDF did nothing as Iran effectively set up shop along the border. All day Thursday Lebanese radio stations played military marches. Announcers made repeated statements invoking Allah, Lebanon, mujahadin and jihad. Clearly, they were thrilled that the long anticipated war had begun. For six years Israel was deterred by Hizbullah. The knowledge that the Iranian proxy has missiles capable of hitting Haifa and Hadera sufficed to convince three successive governments to ignore or appease repeated Hizbullah provocations while praying that Hizbullah would wait for the next government to start its war. Now that Hizbullah has started the war, can it be deterred from continuing to attack Israel? What can Israel do now, as more than one million Israelis live in areas that have already come under attack? Hizbullah struck last week because Iran ordered it to attack. Immediately after the Iranian delegation rejected the European-American offer of all manner of goodies in exchange for a suspension of its uranium enrichment activities, they flew to Damascus and gave Hizbullah its marching orders. Hizbullah is always ready to attack Israel. That is what it exists to do. As its leader Hassan Nasrallah makes clear every day, Hizbullah sees the destruction of Israel as a central battle in the global jihad. And jihad is all that matters to Hizbullah. In this, Hizbullah is no different from Hamas. Hamas (and Fatah for that matter), defines itself by its goal of destroying Israel and conquering Jerusalem in the name of jihad. Both Hamas and Fatah have used all their resources to build up their political, social and military capabilities to fight Israel. Because these groups exist only to destroy Israel and advance the cause of global jihad, they cannot be deterred. They have no interest other than war and there is nothing they are not willing to sacrifice in order to win. Since they cannot be deterred, the only thing that Israel can do is destroy their ability to fight by demolishing their military capabilities. ALTHOUGH IT is impossible to deter Hizbullah, there are parties in the current conflict that can be deterred. Specifically, Israeli officials have rightly pointed their fingers at the Lebanese and Syrian governments as central enablers of Hizbullah. Although both governments are also Iranian proxies, unlike Hizbullah and Hamas, they have interests beyond the destruction of Israel and therefore, they can be deterred. To date, because Lebanon is weaker than Hizbullah, Iran and Syria, successive Lebanese governments have cooperated with Hizbullah rather than fight it. The Lebanese army cannot disarm Hizbullah. It can however be deterred from assisting Hizbullah. If Israel is able to credibly assert to the Lebanese that IDF forces will not end their operations in Lebanon until Hizbullah is completely destroyed as a fighting force, then it can persuade the Lebanese government to stay out of the conflict and deploy its military along the border with Israel after the fighting is ended. Syria too has interests unrelated to Israel. Bashar Assad wants to maintain his grip on power. Israel can weaken Syria's bond with Iran by threatening his regime. In the first instance, this should involve targeting Hamas headquarters and Hamas chief Khaled Mashal's home in Damascus. By targeting Hamas in Syria, Israel would be making clear that national borders are not sacred for states that sponsor terrorism. If attacking Hamas in Damascus is not enough to make Assad recalibrate his national interests, then Israel should attack the headquarters of the regime's secret police as well as Syria's Scud missile bases and its chemical and biological weapons arsenals. By destroying Hizbullah and peeling away its client states, Israel would be striking a serious blow at Iran which is directing all the violence in Lebanon and Gaza as well as in Judea and Samaria and Iraq. Iran has made destroying Israel a central plank on its agenda because by attacking the hated Jews, Iran is successfully raising its stature as the leader of the Muslim world. By leading the war against Israel, Iran has rendered itself immune to attacks from Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Egypt that, while objecting to Iran's power grab, cannot condemn aggression against the same Israel they have indoctrinated their people to despise. Iran's proxy war against Israel follows the same strategy as its proxy war against the US in Iraq. In both cases its goal is to defeat its enemies through a prolonged war of attrition that will defeat the will of the Israeli and American people to fight to victory. GIVEN THE diverse interests of all the parties involved in the current war against Israel, the Olmert government rightly defined Israel's objectives as destroying Hizbullah as a fighting force and compelling the Lebanese army to deploy along the border with Israel after Hizbullah is routed. But is the Olmert government capable of achieving its stated objectives? Disturbingly, several indicators lead to the conclusion that to the contrary, the government does not have the will to accomplish its declared goals. First, by Sunday evening, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was signaling that he was ready to start negotiating a cease-fire through UN or EU intermediaries. Since both the UN and the EU are organizations dedicated to ensuring the survival of organizations like Hizbullah and Hamas, Olmert's willingness to use these groups as intermediaries exposes his willingness to stop far short of destroying Hizbullah. Second, Olmert's strategy in the south against Hamas and Fatah in Gaza shows that he does not understand that Israel's terrorist adversaries are by their nature undeterrable. When Saturday Palestinian forces blew a hole in the wall separating Gaza from Egypt and so enabled hundreds of terrorist to pour across the border, they made quite clear that they have not been impressed by Israel's military actions in Gaza. Indeed, Israel's continued support for Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas in spite of his group's intense collaboration with Hamas both in the guerrilla raid that led to Cpl. Gilad Shalit's capture, and in the rocket offensive against the Western Negev is a clear indication that Israel is not serious about destroying its terrorist enemies. Third, the Olmert government's continued insistence on going forward with its plan to retreat from Judea and Samaria and partition Jerusalem indicates that the premier has not accepted the now obvious fact that Israeli withdrawals strengthen our enemies. Since the central policy of the government contradicts its stated objective of denying operating bases to terrorists, it is difficult to see how the government will muster the necessary enthusiasm to see its campaign in Lebanon to a successful conclusion. FINALLY, THE fact that the government has limited the IDF campaign in Lebanon to aerial bombardment indicates that it is not willing to take the necessary actions to secure the country from Iranian-Hizbullah attacks. The IDF campaign recalls the NATO bombing campaign against Kosovo and Serbia in 1999. Yet the situation on the ground in Lebanon is more analogous to the situation in Afghanistan in 2001. It was possible to limit the campaign in Kosovo to aerial bombardment because the Serbian government was deterrable. Yet, like the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan, Hizbullah is not open to persuasion and so must be destroyed utterly. This can only be accomplished with ground forces. As my interrupted vacation proved, by retreating from Lebanon and Gaza, Israel effectively surrendered the initiative for waging war to its enemies. Israelis no longer control when war comes to us. It is therefore imperative that the Olmert government understand that retreat is not an option. Otherwise, whether at work or at play, at home or on the town, we will all be sitting ducks.