The Dark Crossroads
The Israeli response in Lebanon has been limited largely to preparatory aerial attacks. Chester examines the question of how a ground campaign, which he believes must clear the Bekaa Valley, may unfold. In the meantime, Ynet reports that the Israeli Ministry of Defense has called up three brigades of reserves which will relieve regular troops now deployed in Judea and Samaria -- the front facing Jordan -- so that these may be employed in the north.
Chester begins with an observation from Stratfor which seems incontrovertible. "No matter how effectively Israel seals the Lebanese coast, so long as the Syrian frontier is open, Hezbollah might get supplies from there, and might be able to retreat there." From this he reasonably concludes that any effective campaign has to degrade Hezbollah's strongholds in the Bekaa Valley, located between two rows of mountains which run parallel to the Syrian border, on Lebanon's eastern frontier. A campaign in the Bekaa may provoke Syria, and Chester links to Michael Oren's (author of the Six Days of War) suggestion in the New Republic that Israel address that problem by pre-emptively attacking Syria.
The answer lies in delivering an unequivocal blow to Syrian ground forces deployed near the Lebanese border. By eliminating 500 Syrian tanks--tanks that Syrian President Bashar Al Assad needs to preserve his regime--Israel could signal its refusal to return to the status quo in Lebanon. Supporting Hezbollah carries a prohibitive price, the action would say.
One idea is that ground operations against the Hezbollah will eventually produce some kind of buffer zone, which will be patrolled by Israelis or by an International Force. Bill Roggio at the Counterterrorism Blog describes Israel's past efforts to create a buffer zone in Lebanon against Hezbollah attacks. The most impressive item in Roggio's post is this map by Kathryn Cramer showing the coverage of Hezbollah's missiles from the vantage of Lebanon. It is clear from the graphic that as long as Hezbollah exists all of Israel will gradually come under the shadow of its rockets as their range increases. It spells the end of any hope of security from a buffer zone. Carl in Jerusalem quotes the mea culpas now being uttered by the newspapers and academics who dismissed the rocket threat from the Lebanon in terms eerily reminiscent of the disparagement of warnings the US public has heard about terrorist weapons of mass destruction. The rockets were simply banished from mind, until they started landing even in Israel's major cities.
The denial was not a press monopoly. Politicians and even some General Staff officers refused to regard the issue as a priority. The pullout from Lebanon, following 18 years of blood letting was accompanied with such an enormous sense of relief that any talk on what was left behind was considered troublesome.
The rocket deliveries continued on weekly flights from Iran to Damascus and Beirut, and Israel followed the movement with a near academic curiosity. In the immediate aftermath of the withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May, 2000, hundreds of Lebanese rushed to Fatma Gate, near Metula, and threw stones at the Israeli soldiers. In response, the Israel Defense Forces enclosed the soldiers in a metal cage, and then pulled the position away from the border all together in an effort to avoid friction.
The strategic problem facing any Israeli ground commander in Lebanon is that his key objectives are not located within the theater. The enemy center of gravity is located outside of Lebanon. The callup of another three brigades worth of troops can either be interpreted as insurance against any unforseen setbacks in an extended campaign against Hezbollah up the Bekaa or an acceptance of a strategic objective outside Lebanon. Yet as Chester points out, Israel has much to fear in the long run by collapsing the Syrian regime. Without a stable successor state Syria may become a gigantic terrorist playground and rockets can be launched from the decaying husk of Syria just as well as from Lebanon. It is an unfortunate fact that ground taken doesn't stay taken unless it is occupied by your own or a friendly force. And where will you find a friendly force in Lebanon or Syria? Taking on the Hezbollah may imply the necessity of restarting the Lebanese Civil War to create an end state where Hezbollah or groups like it are permanently driven from the scene. The same will go for Syria but on a far larger scale.
This of course is a recipe for a wider war, one which will leave not a single Arab regime, and possibly not a single country on earth unshaken. It's a dizzying prospect. What frightened me most about Oren's suggestion was not the suggestion, but that a sane and sober man like Oren should make it. The road to Bekaa Valley as measured on the map is a scant 30 kilometers from the Israeli border. The valley itself is only about 80 kilometers long. Distances are short in this part of the world. But in strategic terms the road to Bekaa stretches beyond human sight into dark regions we have never dared venture before.
Richard Cohen, writing in the Washington Post understands that we have come to very edge of the precipice and has decided to leap the other way: not the road into Syria, but Israel into oblivion.
"Never Again" lasted all of sixty years.
The greatest mistake Israel could make at the moment is to forget that Israel itself is a mistake. It is an honest mistake, a well-intentioned mistake, a mistake for which no one is culpable, but the idea of creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims (and some Christians) has produced a century of warfare and terrorism of the sort we are seeing now. Israel fights Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south, but its most formidable enemy is history itself.