Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Israel's window of opportunity to weaken Hezbollah

According to the AP, "Israel declared Tuesday it was ready to fight Hezbollah guerrillas for several more weeks and possibly send ground forces into Lebanon, raising doubts about international efforts to broker an immediate cease-fire in the fighting that has killed more than 260 people and displaced 500,000." Indeed, "Israel is in no hurry to end its offensive, which it sees as a unique opportunity to crush Hezbollah."

According to Haaretz, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who blames Iran for initiating this conflict (via Hezbollah) in order to deflect attention away from its nuclear program, "is not ruling out negotiating an end to the crisis". However, he has "expressed reservations over a proposal to station a special international force in Lebanon". He says that Israel's offensive in Lebanon will go on "until it is certain that there is no threat of fire against Israel".

Sure, but when will that be? And is it even realistic?

I've expressed support for Israel -- support that has received some determined criticism from some who think I'm wrong -- but I must stress again that my support for Israel, both in this conflict and more generally, is not unconditional. I have been critical of Israel in the past and I am prepared to criticize Israel once again. To this point, I think that Israel's response to the Hezbollah threat, a threat that manifested itself in the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers, a threat that we now know includes missiles that can hit Israel's major cities, has been proportionate. Israel must be able to defend itself -- and must defend itself -- when faced with terrorist organizations and state sponsors of terrorism that seek to destroy it.

But enough may soon be enough. Israel ought to destroy as much of Hezbollah's infrastructure in Lebanon as possible, and as carefully as possible. However, there is still the danger that this conflict could spread beyond its current parameters and engulf various other interested parties, including Syria and Iran. Surely Israel's leaders know this. Surely they know that an expanded conflict wouldn't necessarily be in Israel's best interests. Surely they know that much of the support they have would dry up if they went too far.

And perhaps the conflict will soon be coming to an end regardless. Consider this interesting piece at Guardian Unlimited:

The US is giving Israel a window of a week to inflict maximum damage on Hizbullah before weighing in behind international calls for a ceasefire in Lebanon, according to British, European and Israeli sources.

The Bush administration, backed by Britain, has blocked efforts for an immediate halt to the fighting initiated at the UN security council, the G8 summit in St Petersburg and the European foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels.

"It's clear the Americans have given the Israelis the green light. They [the Israeli attacks] will be allowed to go on longer, perhaps for another week," a senior European official said yesterday. Diplomatic sources said there was a clear time limit, partly dictated by fears that a prolonged conflict could spin out of control.

US strategy in allowing Israel this freedom for a limited period has several objectives, one of which is delivering a slap to Iran and Syria, who Washington claims are directing Hizbullah and Hamas militants from behind the scenes.

Perhaps this American "green light," if there is one, doesn't matter much to Israel. But I would suggest otherwise. Israel will continue to do what it can to weaken Hezbollah while it has the limited opportunity to do so. This may go on for another week or until the two soldiers are returned or even for longer if Hezbollah continues to attack Israel with missiles designed to inflict civilian casualties. But I predict that Israel will roll back its offensive before the conflict expands into some sort of international conflagration.

Extremists on all sides, including Bill Kristol and America's warmongering neocons, may hope to see this limited conflict erupt into World War III, but I suspect that some semblance of sanity will prevail, at least in the short term.

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