I just fielded yet another AllExperts question on the Lebanon conflict, dealing specifically with the “end game” that seems to be developing on the ground and concurrently at the United Nations. Here’s the question and my answer – slightly retouched, but that seems to be basically normal these days.
What do you think about the continuing inability of Israel and Lebanon to agree on a ceasefire? From what I have heard, 15,000 Lebanese troops at the border would be useless and Israel will not leave until it believes it is going to be protected. They are at a standoff, right? How do you think the matter could be made appealing to both sides so that both will agree to a resolution? Do you personally think it is time to stop the war or should Israel continue to move north into Lebanon??
Dear G_____ –
The question isn’t only how “useful” the deployment of the Lebanese Army to the South would be in strictly military terms. Having the Lebanese government take responsibility for its own country has a tremendous political value, even if its armed forces are (A) weak and (B) largely sympathetic to, and even infiltrated by, Hezbollah. Once the government has its forces deployed in the South, they can (and should) legitimately be held responsible for what happens there – as opposed to the current situation, where Hezbollah attacks Israel from Lebanese soil and the Lebanese government acts as if the country were a completely peaceful, harmless, innocent victim. In effect, by permitting Hezbollah to operate as a semi-autonomous mini-state in the South, official Lebanon has been getting the benefits of being peaceful without actually having to give up armed struggle; once the government takes responsibility for their own country, they can’t act as if Hezbollah attacks on Israel were originating from somewhere in outer space.
Israel’s position is that the Lebanese Army is indeed insufficiently capable and motivated to act decisively to disarm Hezbollah; thus we believe that a strong international force will be necessary in order to supplement and strengthen Lebanese government forces. I don’t see any real impasse here; I view it more as an indirect negotiation that will take a little time to conclude.
I’m not particularly convinced that controlling territory X kilometers into Lebanon will be the answer to all our troubles; thus I don’t think that it will necessarily be a tragedy if we fail to reach the Litani River (or further) before fighting stops. On the other hand, we have something of a dilemma on our hands: we can’t withdraw our forces before an effective Lebanese/international force takes over in South Lebanon, and we also don’t want to stop where we are, take up static positions, and be a sitting target for Hezbollah suicide bombers as we were during our previous occupation of southern Lebanon. So we pretty much have to continue on the offensive and work our way northward, at least until a U.N.-sponsored ceasefire takes hold; at that point we can sit tight (at high alert, you can be sure!) and wait for our forces to be replaced by the Lebanese army and/or a strong United Nations force.
At the same time, I believe that we should always keep in mind that a conflict like the one in Lebanon seldom, if ever, ends in a conventional military victory. Low-intensity conflicts (and the current Lebanese campaign is, I think, in many ways a sort of high-intensity low-intensity conflict) are won and lost in political rather than military terms; and thus when we talk about “letting the IDF win” we are merely fooling ourselves. In my view, the reasons for continuing to move the IDF northwards are at least as much political as they are military: by keeping the offensive going, we ensure (assuming the campaign goes reasonably well) that we end the active phase of our engagement in Lebanon on an upbeat.
The whole issue of defining “victory” in low-intensity conflicts – and thus identifying exit points when the conflict occurs on foreign soil – is a complex and baffling one. At the same time as much of the Arab world has defined victory down to the point where stalemates and even crushing defeats are seriously portrayed as great victories, many Israeli thinkers apply a conventional-war-based definition of victory to our conflicts with Hezbollah and the Palestinians; this creates a situation where our adversaries claim victory merely because we haven’t bombed them into oblivion (or at least “back to the Stone Age”), and we basically agree with them because our criteria for victory are unrealistically high. More of this anon, methinks…
(This post can also be found at the Guns and Butter Blog.)