Defanging Hizb’Allah

The struggle between Israel and the terrorist group Hizb’Allah continues as Hizb’Allah missiles destroyed a building in Haifa and attacks continue. The excellent military blog OPFOR has more on the larger strategic implications of Israel’s recent moves.

Israel’s goal seems to be to destroy Hizb’Allah as a threat – and I agree that Israel will re-invade Lebanon, pushing as far as the souther suburbs of Beirut, destroying anything that Hizb’Allah can use against them in the process. Once that is accomplished the Israelis will either pull back to allow Lebanese forces to take over or allow an international stabilization force to take over security in the southern part of the country.

The existence of Hizb’Allah is non-negotiatiable: Israel cannot allow them to continue to operate. The threat to cities like Haifa didn’t materialize last week, Hizb’Allah has been stockpiling those weapons for months and years now. It was clear that the status quo was no longer acceptable to Israel, and it wasn’t acceptable to many in Lebanon either.

Michael Totten, a man who lived in Beirut and knows Lebanon intimately offers a warning about Israel’s strategy:

There is no alternate universe where the Lebanese government could have disarmed an Iranian-trained terrorist/guerilla militia that even the Israelis could not defeat in years of grinding war. There is no alternate universe where it was in Lebanon’s interest to restart the civil war on Israel’s behalf, to burn down their country all over again right at the moment where they finally had hope after 30 years of convulsive conflict and Baath Party overlordship.

The Lebanese government should have asked for more help from the international community. The Lebanese government should have been far less reactionary in its attitude toward the Israelis. They made more mistakes than just two, but I’d say these are the principal ones.

What should the Israelis have done instead? They should have treated Hezbollahland as a country, which it basically is, and attacked it. They should have treated Lebanon as a separate country, which it basically is, and left it alone. Mainstream Lebanese have no problem when Israel hammers Hezbollah in its little enclave. Somebody has to do it, and it cannot be them. If you want to embolden Lebanese to work with Israelis against Hezbollah, or at least move in to Hezbollah’s bombed out positions, don’t attack all of Lebanon.

Israel should not have bombed Central Beirut, which was almost monolithically anti-Hezbollah. They should not have bombed my old neighborhood, which was almost monolithically anti-Hezbollah. They should not have bombed the Maronite city of Jounieh, which was not merely anti-Hezbollah but also somewhat pro-Israel.

Israelis thinks everyone hates them. It isn’t true, especially not in Lebanon. But they will make it so if they do not pay more attention to the internal characteristics of neighboring countries. “The Arabs” do not exist as a bloc except in the feverish dreams of the Nasserists and the Baath.

I tend to agree with Totten. Lebanon was a democratic success story in the Middle East, far more so than fragmented, tormented Iraq. Israel’s actions were necessary. At the same time, this is the biggest blow to the hope of Middle East democracy since the United States pulled out of Iraq in 1992. Lebanon’s democratic movement has been shattered right along with Hizb’Allah. The amount of collateral damage may be relatively small, but it will have deep repercussions throughout the entire region.

Hizb’Allah started this war, and Israel must end it. However, once this war ends, the internatonal community has an obligation to work with the Lebanese and the Israelis to repair the damage, both physical and political. Leaving a shattered Lebanon will not work, just as it didn’t work after the disastrous Lebanese civil war. The war we’re fighting is against terrorism, not the innocent people in Lebanon. Israel must remember that, and so should we.

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