In the latest issue of its quarterly journal, Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) carries two (or three) articles debating in some depth whether– in the event of a new war against Lebanon that one writer describes as “inevitable”, Israel should actively target institutions and facilities of the Lebanese state, or just “restrict” itself to targeting Hizbullah.
The plainest case for targeting Lebanese national institutions directly is argued in The Third Lebanon War: Target Lebanon (PDF), by Maj.-Gen. (Retd) Giora Eiland, a former national security adviser to PMs Sharon and Olmert and before that head of the IDF’s planning and operations branches.
A more nuanced view– but one that concludes that launching a large-scale, and possibly also lengthy, ground operation in Lebanon is “inevitable”– is argfued by Yossi Kuperwasser in The Next War with Hizbollah: Should Lebanon be the Target? (PDF). Kuperwasser is a former head of the IDF’s intelligence research division.
Now, I understand that it’s the job of planners within the active-duty military to “plan for the worst.” But it’s fairly depressing that a publication that aims at a broad portion of the international political elite should give so much space to people making arguments completely based on the premise that Israel “has no alternative” but to go to war against Lebanon (or Hizbullah) sometime in the (possibly near) future. In addition to those two technical-military articles, the issue also contains one by Israeli exerts arguing– especially in light of Israel’s experiences during the 33-day war of 2006– that Israel should spearhead an attempt to get the laws of war changed to be more in its favor. (Surprise, surprise.)
Nowhere in this journal is there any hint that actually, within the context of a comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace settlement, there is a strong scenario whereby Israel might never “need” to go to war against Hizbullah or Lebanon ever again. (Ah, but if there’s not a salutary little war from time to time, how on earth can all the Israeli military companies that these men doubtless consult profitably with, ever keep their sales and profit figures up?)
Actually, the arguments both men make are really weak. They exhibit strategic short-sightedness, tactical idiocy, and severe historical airbrushing (mendacity.) Perhaps that’s because they’re writing here for an “international”, English-language audience that they expect– based on the rock-star welcome they get in most US think-tanks– will ignore the facts and just lap up every word that they write?
Strategic shortsightedness: Neither Eiland nor Kuperwasser can provide a convincing answer to the question, “Yes, but then what?” regarding all their arguments about how (not whether) to fight another war against Lebanon.
In his piece, Eiland makes a couple of arguments. He notes that Hizbullah has become stronger within the Lebanese state than it was at the time of the 33-day war. (Note, though, that he completely fails to explain that it was precisely the ferocity of the assaults Israel made on Lebanon during that war that spurred, that outcome…) So he concludes from that that, to fatally weaken Hizbullah it will be necessary to damage the Lebanese state a lot, too.
He also argues from the “precedent” of the massive, destructive campaign Sharon waged against the PA in June 2002. He writes that there, the real target was Hamas, but Hamas had won a lot of support from the PA, which had strong political support from the west.
“The US sanctioned an Israeli operation against Hamas,” he writes,
- but had a hard time accepting the operation as Israel planned it – an operation against the Palestinian Authority.
The US at first demanded that Israel leave all West Bank cities (area A) within forty-eight hours. Notable Israeli steadfastness maintained that this time it was impossible to return to the familiar rules of the game whereby only the terrorists are targeted, and the sponsors (the Palestinian Authority) remain immune. Israel’s firmness, which stemmed from a lack of other options, was successful. Israel had to concede on one matter only, stopping the siege of the muq’ata in Ramallah, home to Arafat at the time. On the other hand, the new policy (Israeli control over all Palestinian areas) was well received and commended by the international community.
So, he writes, it would probably be similar with an attack on Lebanon. The “west” might complain a bit at first… but “Israeli firmness” in pursuing its own goals would win the day and even become “well received and commended” by the international community.
- There is one way to prevent the Third Lebanon War and win it if it does break out (and thereby prevent the Fourth Lebanon War): to make it clear to Lebanon’s allies and through them to the Lebanese government and people that the next war will be between Israel and Lebanon and not between Israel and Hizbollah. Such a war will lead to the elimination of the Lebanese military, the destruction of the national infrastructure, and intense suffering among the population. There will be no recurrence of the situation where Beirut residents (not including the Dahiya quarter) go to the beach and cafes while Haifa residents sit in bomb shelters.
Serious damage to the Republic of Lebanon, the destruction of homes and infrastructure, and the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people are consequences that can influence Hizbollah’s behavior more than anything else…
Yes, Gen. Eiland, but then what??
So Israel succeeds in completely or substantially destroying the entire physical infrastructure of the state of Lebanon… (Assuming that the post-2008 model “international community” allows it to do this, which I actually doubt.)
And then what?
Israel has a failed state on its northern border and substantial portions of the international community up in arms… And that’s going to “solve” your Hizbullah problem, how?
I believe that Gen. Eiland is urging coordinated use of air and ground force attacks against Lebanon. In which case we could assume that the ground troops might be in control of substntial chunks of Lebanese territory.
Which takes us Back to the Future! Israeli troops bogged down in Lebanon, for 22 long years after 1978, 18 years after 1982.
The very conditions that created and incubated Hizbullah in the first place.
Why should anyone buy your crazy, inhumane, and go-nowhere arguments?
And then there’s Gen. Kuperwasser, who is much more explicit about the need for the “large scale ground operation” in Lebanon, even if he questions whether all the facilities of the Lebanese state as such should be targeted along the way.
Here’s what he writes about the ground op that he argues for:
- If there is another round between Israel and Hizbollah, Israel will not be able to make do with standoff counter attacks on Lebanese targets, and will probably have to launch a large scale ground operation. While Hizbollah will be able to exact a not inconsiderable cost from Israel for such an operation, the IDF has the ability to take control of the organization’s operational territories in southern Lebanon, including north of the Litani River, and if necessary, also in Beirut and the Bek’a valley. Such an operation, together with inflicting damage on infrastructures that serve Hizbollah, is the only one that will stop the firing, create a new reality in the field, and enable examination of the possibility of establishing a different arrangement with regard to relations between Israel and Lebanon in general and the Shiite community in particular.
So, you “stop the firing” of Hizbullah’s rockets onto northern Israel. Okay. And you “create a new reality in the field”… which is one in which Israel is left in control of very large chunks of Lebanese territory…
And then what?
(See my note about the IDF’s post-1978 and post-1982 occupations of south Lebanon, above.)
All Kuperwasser tells us about the political-strategic goal to be sought through this operation is “examination of the possibility of establishing a different arrangement with regard to relations between Israel and Lebanon in general and the Shiite community in particular.” Whatever that means. May 17 agreement, anyone?
These guys are strategic-thinking kindergartners, honestly.
Regarding their tactical skills, they don’t seem much better, either. Eiland writes,
- There is one way to prevent the Third Lebanon War and win it if it does break out (and thereby prevent the Fourth Lebanon War): to make it clear to Lebanon’s allies and through them to the Lebanese government and people that the next war will be between Israel and Lebanon and not between Israel and Hizbollah.
Yeah, well. The military planning required to prevent a war (through deterrence) is quite different from that required to fight one. Actually, Eiland doesn’t seem terribly interested in trying to prevent the next “Lebanese War,” at all. Only, perhaps, the one after that. (See note on the Israeli military industries, above.)
And then, from Kuperwasser we have this truly hilarious and ahistorical explanation of how “the next war” against Lebanon that he favors could actually work out, politically, to help realize the fuzzily defined political-strategic endpoint that he seeks:
- the Israeli goal might be to weaken Hizbollah and strengthen the moderate parties in Lebanon, while damaging the organization’s ability to rehabilitate itself and continue controlling southern Lebanon and presenting itself as the defender of Lebanon, similar to Israel’s strategic objectives in the Second Lebanon War (even if they were not explicitly defined as such). Other objectives in this context could be strengthening moderate elements in the regional system and increasing Israeli deterrence, in part to increase the chances of achieving a favorable peace treaty with Syria and to weaken the extremist elements in the Palestinian system.
Note how he’s effortlessly adopted the misleading and content-free US label of “moderate” to describe what are, actually, pro-US forces within Lebanon. But then see how he is advocating an almost exact replay of what the Israeli leadership attempted to do in 2006: Namely, to attack Lebanon’s civilian state facilities with the aim of turning as many Lebanese as possible against Hizbullah… while “strengthening” Israel’s general deterrent p;ower throughout the region.
It backfired badly in 2006, didn’t it?
Why on earth should anyone assume it might work better next time?
And this brings me to the whole question of these two mens’ extreme historical airbrushing (mendacity).
Actually, from Willem Buiter, I just learned a new word that’s very handy in this context: Publikumsbeschimpfung, which means insulting the intelligence of your audience.
Both Eiland and Kuperwasser insult our intelligence primarily through their reliance on a crucial but completely false assumption about the 33-day war, namely that Israel did not, actually, target any non-military facilities pertaining to the Lebanese state during that war, and, by clear implication, that that very ‘restrained’ approach to warfighting helped deny Israel the victory it could otherwise have won. But just look at the record of that war, including both the roster of the sites that Israel attacked during it– road systems, bridges, civilian factories, a power station– and the extremely bellicose statements from military and political leaders spelling out that “Once it is inside Lebanon, everything is legitimate“, “we will turn Lebanon’s clock back 20 years,” etc.
So Eiland and Kuerwasser are asking us to forget all that… Asking us to forget, too, that Israel’s use of massive overkill tactics against Lebanon backfired badly in [’06, and that after 33 days of assaults they were still unable to impose their will on the Lebanese people or their political system.
This, though the war occurred less than 30 months ago.
Publikumsbeschimpfung, indeed. (Taking the public for chimps, perhaps?)
At one level, I suppose we could read these two guys’ fevered and ill-informed writings as further evidence– if evidence still be needed– of the sterility of what passes for Israeli strategic “thinking” in the present era. After all the INSS, formerly the Jaffee Center, is not chopped liver. It’s the flagship of Israeli strategic-affairs think-tanks.
The problem for these guys, and for all their counterparts in the military-industrial complex throughout the western world is that the world has changed a lot in the past 15 years. Foreign wars have become just about unwinnable. Israel’s performance in Lebanon in 2006 is Example A in that regard. They had overwhelming superiority over Hizbullah at every single step on “the escalation ladder.” But still, they were unable to achieve their strategic goals!
So if foreign wars are unwinnable, then people– taxpayers, conscripts’ families, and others– might soon start to ask, “Why wage them? And why invest such a lot of our country’s treasure in the military industries that help us prepare for them?”
But if that were to happen, what on earth would happen to the military industries and their hordes of nicely paid consultants??
A problem, I think, not just for Israel but also for the US, Britain, and the rest of NATO…
But here’s the good news: There are many, many better ways to resolve conflicts and address fears of insecurity than through war.,