No half measures

If Israel does not eliminate Hizbullah, not even the most "robust" international force will be able to.

olmert badass 298.88 (photo credit: Associated Press)
olmert badass 298.88
(photo credit: Associated Press)
On Sunday morning, after an Israeli strike killed some 60 people at Kafr Kana, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the cabinet, "I have no intention of requesting a change in the direction of the fighting, or in reducing the action of the security forces." On Sunday evening, Israel agreed to a 48-hour partial cessation of air strikes, to coincide with an investigation of the Kafr Kana incident. This unilateral cease-fire was clearly requested by the US, which rushed to announce it. The US also joined in a wildly lopsided statement by the UN Security Council statement expressing "extreme shock and distress at the shelling by the Israeli Defense Forces of a residential building in Kana." In a matter of hours, we seem to have witnessed the buckling of President George Bush to the UN, and of our own government to the US. But this too is not clear. Last night, Olmert, in an impassioned speech, pledged to decisively prevail in this conflict, insisting that "there is no cease-fire" and neither was one looming. After this writing, the security cabinet was meeting, reportedly to consider and approve expanded ground operations in this war. By Wednesday, tens of thousands of reserve soldiers whose call up was authorized on Thursday will reportedly be ready to join the operation. Further, air operations against Hizbullah bases and launchers have continued. Also yesterday, Justice Minister Haim Ramon told Army Radio: "This (suspension) decision will allow us to continue the war over time and it will take off some of the political pressure, so I am sure this is the right decision for now. It is not stopping the war." Yet last week's decision to reject a more accelerated reserve call-up, coupled with yesterday's partial suspension of air operations, have led many Israelis to worry that Israel is not prosecuting this war vigorously enough. On Friday, soon after the IDF suffered casualties in the battle at Bint Jbail, a poll published in Yediot Aharonot found that 95 percent of Jewish Israelis approved of Israel responding as it did to Hizbullah's initial attack, and 82% thought Israel should continue more forcefully. Previous polls indicated even stronger support for the operation among Israelis who are still under bombardment in the North. These figures hardly bespeak of a generally militaristic attitude in Israel. The same public widely supported Israel's unilateral withdrawals from Lebanon in 2000 and from Gaza a year ago, and elected Olmert on a platform of further withdrawals. But the public feels, as Olmert aptly expressed in his Knesset speech on July 17, "There are moments in the life of a nation, when it is compelled to look directly into the face of reality and say: no more! ... Israel will not be held hostage - not by terror gangs or by a terrorist authority or by any sovereign state." Let's not fool ourselves. If Israel does not eliminate Hizbullah's terrorist militia within Lebanon, not even the most "robust" international force will be able to do it. The Lebanese army, which Lebanese leaders promise will join Hizbullah in fighting Israeli ground forces, also certainly will not. This fight is in Israel's hands. If Israel is making clear progress, the US will find a way to support ongoing military activity. If it looks like Israel is not serious or incapable of winning, US support will clearly evaporate, as will Israel's own determination to resist US dictates, however reluctant and wrongheaded. The job of Israel's political and military leadership is to do what it takes to quickly demonstrate that it has the ability and will to win. Winning does not mean killing some Hizbullah fighters while leaving its leadership and its ability to dominate Lebanon intact. Labor ministers, including Ramon and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, reportedly opposed the massive ground operation that the IDF wanted authorized last week. They did so partly on the grounds that the more massively Israel goes in to Lebanon, the harder it is to get out. The opposite, ironically, may be the case. The more decisive Israel's victory, the more likely it will be that an international force can be constructed that has a chance of being effective, and the more the conditions allowing for an IDF withdrawal - which all Israelis ultimately want - will be created. Half measures can only produce quagmire or defeat, neither of which is acceptable, and either of which will squander an opportunity to improve Israel's security for which we have already paid a terrible price.