A question that won't be asked

Could Israel have achieved the same strategic and political objectives without going to war in Lebanon?

lebanon damage 298 88 (photo credit: AP)
lebanon damage 298 88
(photo credit: AP)
The Israeli government will soon decide to appoint a national investigation commission to look at Israel's military and political failings during the second Lebanese war. The one and perhaps most important question that the commission will not even ask is: Wasn't there a way to entirely prevent the eruption of the war and to still achieve the strategic goals put forth by the government? The commission will not even ask this question because it is so beyond the realm of conditioned response in Israel to military threats and attacks. There is no doubt that Israel had a real casus belli in facing Hizbullah after it had violated Israel's sovereign border, killed eight soldiers, kidnapped two others and shot Katyusha rockets at the civilian population. The question is, could Israel have employed political and diplomatic tools to achieve the same strategic political objectives as were achieved after more than a month of war? Israel's strategic goals were to remove the missile threat of Hizbullah armaments in the south of Lebanon, to push the Hizbullah combatants north of the Litani River, to stop the rearming of Hizbullah from Syria and Iran, to have the Lebanese army deploy along the Israeli border and to have the international community deploy a more robust and forceful international presence between Israel and Hizbullah. All of these elements were incorporated in UN Security Council Resolution 1701. All of these are the positive political results of the war. The decision to go to war was overwhelming supported by the Israeli public. Almost no one in Israel asked if there was a non-military way to face the unprovoked attack of Hizbullah and the real strategic threat that Israel faced since its withdrawal from Lebanon six years ago. Israel has confronted real existential threats since its birth in 1948. The legacy of the Holocaust has taught us to maintain a firm defensive vis-a-vis our neighbors in this very volatile and dangerous part of the world. We have been brought up on the understanding that the Arabs only understand the language of force; and in doing so, we too have taught ourselves that force is our own mother tongue as well. DIPLOMACY IS a tool that remains almost unused in Israel's strategic "tool box" when facing threats in the "neighborhood." If Israel's prime minister had called Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora after the Hizbullah attack and arranged for a secret meeting to confront the crisis together, it is likely that the Sunni leader Sa'ad Hariri, son of the late Rafik Hariri, would have joined in and supported steps against Hizbullah. It is also likely that the Druse leader Walid Jumblatt, who has led a courageous anti-Syria position in Lebanon, would have supported moves that would have reined in Hizbullah. There is even a chance that the Shi'ite leader of the moderate Amal party, the speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, Nabih Berri, would have also supported those moves. Instead, after going to war in what was interpreted in Lebanon as a war against the people of Lebanon, Israeli alienated all those Lebanese leaders, created an almost united front among Lebanese citizens against Israel and behind Hassan Nasrallah and the Hizbullah and increased support for Hizbullah throughout the Muslim and Arab world. Prime Minister Saniora and the Lebanese state are so far turning out the most victorious party in the aftermath of this war. There is a direct interest for Israel, the region and the world that the government of Lebanon be strengthened and empowered. This positive development is mainly because of the courage and leadership of Saniora, despite Israel's derogatory and insulting comments about him. The same results could have been achieved without launching a war and without all the unnecessary loss of life, human suffering and tragedy, and such tremendous physical damage. The war Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz believed would build their reputations as non-military men who knew a thing or two about strategic affairs has backfired. How unfortunate that this new, non-military leadership did not adopt non-military tools and lead Israel and Lebanon to a strategic victory without employing force. In Israel, the conclusions of the national investigation commission will deal with rearming, military tactics and strategies and the personal failures of officers and leaders during the war - all in preparation for the next war. Instead, the commission would be wise to ask deeper questions concerning how diplomacy could be used to capitalize on the peaceful relations already established with Egypt and Jordan in reaching out to others in the "neighborhood" in order to reduce and remove strategic threats by converting them into strategic allies. The writer is the Co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. www.ipcri.org