To Climb the Mountain Or Stop
Some indication of the internal debate within the Israeli government may be gathered from Benjamin Netanyahu's speech at the Knesset. Traditionally opposition politicians are supposed to mute their criticisms in time of war. Netanyahu's words were on their face both an encouragement and warning.
A third of the country is paralyzed because of this. Who knows whether this will include other citizens as well. This is a strategic threat…that requires a strategic victory. Those were the objectives set out by the government, justly, wisely, and boldly. They were presented to the security cabinet on the 13th of this month.
I know there's immense unification in order to achieve the objectives. It comes from all parts of the country because people know we're facing a different threat. This isn't merely a militia. In order to remove this threat, we recieved support from our greatest friend, the US, which rightfully said: We must do something, because if we don't, what have we done?
The journey of war is like any other journey. It starts easily but midway there's a difficult junction where we must decide whether we continue to climb the mountain or stop, and I call on the government: Don't stop midway. Complete the job.
Some members of the Olmert Cabinet understood that if the war stopped today, it would be a strategic victory for the Hezbollah. The Israeli Justice Minister said:
Justice Minister Haim Ramon said that despite the decision to suspend the air campaign, the war in Lebanon has not ended. "If the war ends today, it would be a victory for Hizbullah and global terrorism and would have far reaching consequences," he told Army Radio. "I'm convinced that we won't finish this war until it's clear that Hizbullah has no more abilities to attack Israel from south Lebanon. This is what we are striving for," he said.
And yet it was far from clear that Israel could stop the fighting when it chose. Some had believed that the IAF's announced bombing halt would be matched by Hezbollah. That hope ended when five rockets were fired into Gallilee. Hezbollah would fire when it would whatever Israel did.
A salvo of five rockets slammed into the Galilee early Monday afternoon, shattering a half-day of quiet and hopes that Hezbollah had suspended its launchings in response to curbs of IAF activity. ... Earlier in the day, a Lebanese parliamentarian from Hezbollah hinted that the group may be willing to put its attacks on hold, in the wake of a 48-hour cessation of Israel Air Force strikes, sparked by the deaths of 56 Lebanese civilians in the southern town of Qana on Sunday.
Yet even with an Israeli victory apparently distant -- even with an Israeli resumption of hostilities so uncertain -- international diplomacy has expressed confidence that a ceasefire and lasting peace was attainable within a week. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said, "As I head back to Washington, I take with me an emerging consensus on what is necessary for both a cease-fire and a lasting settlement. I am convinced we can achieve both this week." Tony Blair said "You know the position of Israel, now there's a statement from the UN Security Council which shows the right degree of unity in the international community. What's important now is that we have a real chance of getting a UN Security Council resolution, which will give us an opportunity both to have a complete cessation of hostilities and to do so on a sustainable and lasting basis."
The only way the distance to victory can be reconciled with the apparent nearness of a ceasefire is to assume that one of the parties at war had dropped a basic demand in the "lasting peace" formula; that one of the parties is willing to settle for less than they started for. That party, absent any evidence to the contrary, is likely to be Israel. Perhaps sensing this, Netanyahu has brought up the decisions of the "security cabinet on the 13th of this month" to warn to Olmert not to renege on an earlier decision to win "a strategic victory"; to "complete the job"
But the latest accounts of IDF activities in Lebanon which have been described as "reshaping the border" cannot be described as a strategic campaign in any meaningful sense of the word. It is still a preparation if it is anything. The strategic part of the campaign implicit in Netanyahu's words: "a strategic victory. Those were the objectives set out by the government, justly, wisely, and boldly. They were presented to the security cabinet on the 13th of this month" -- the campaign the cabinet decided on -- was not yet in evidence. The question is whether it remains on the agenda. Netanyahu added that "midway there's a difficult junction where we must decide whether we continue to climb the mountain or stop, and I call on the government: Don't stop midway. Complete the job."
Completing the job sets up a direct collision with the ceasefire scheduled within the week. It's possible to have a strategic campaign or a ceasefire. But it will be very difficult to have both.