I want to start by making, as clearly as I can, a point I've been making in comments, namely:
It is not OK, when arguing about what Israel should do, to say something like: do you expect them to accept Hezbollah's presence, with rockets, just over the border? You need to show that there is some way in which Israel could actually root out Hezbollah. If there is nothing Israel can do about the presence of Hezbollah, then the answer to the question "do you expect them to just accept it?" is: well, they can accept it, or rage against it, or adopt any attitude they like, but apparently they can't do anything to change this situation. And if there is nothing they can do, then the choice between (a) a course of action that does not root out Hezbollah, but that does kill hundreds of people, send hundreds of thousands fleeing for their lives, inflict billions of dollars in damage, and risk toppling a very fragile democracy that, while imperfect, is better than a lot of other possibilities, and (b) a course of action that also fails to root out Hezbollah, but that has none of these consequences, seems to me pretty clear.*
I do not believe that Israel's actions will stop Hezbollah from firing rockets at Israel. I have three sets of reasons for thinking this. First, nothing in my reading of history leads me to believe that when you're fighting an insurgency with serious popular support, and a source of weapons and funding just across a long and porous border, killing a lot of people actually helps. (Establishing that you will respond to attacks does help, as a deterrent; that's why I supported the first day or two of bombings. Everything after that point, however, cannot be justified by the need to establish that kidnapping soldiers will have serious consequences. That point has already been made.) That killing a lot of people will not help to root out an insurgency is especially true when you're unwilling to occupy the country in which the insurgents are to be found. Second, I assume that if it were possible to wipe out Hezbollah, then the IDF would have done so during the 18 years when it occupied southern Lebanon. The fact that it did not succeed then makes me think that it is unlikely to succeed now, when it is not occupying the country. Third, Andrew doesn't think it's possible now, and he knows a lot more about this than I do; and other military analysts agree with him.
What it will do, aside from causing enormous amounts of destruction, is turn people who might have opposed Hezbollah into supporters, and people who might have supported getting along with Israel into Israel's enemies. In comments, several people have described this set of concerns as 'not wanting to upset the terrorists'. So let me be very clear about it: this is not a matter of thinking: oooh, Israel shouldn't do anything that would offend the tender feelings of terrorists! I am not, in the first instance, concerned about what the terrorists think. [Note added about a minute after posting: This is in the first instance. I can get interested in the views of terrorists later; they're just not my most immediate concern.] I am, however, greatly concerned about what Lebanese who were not members of Hezbollah before this crisis erupted think. The reason I care about this is not because I am worried about their having hurt feelings, or not liking us, or anything like that. I am worried that someone who might otherwise not have supported Hezbollah will strap a bomb to his body and blow people up; that someone who might otherwise have turned Hezbollah members in to the Lebanese government might allow them to operate with impunity instead; or that the Lebanese government might become unable to consider various courses of action that would enhance the prospects of peace with Israel because, after this bombing, any attempt at reconciliation would strike too many people as appeasement or capitulation, and reject any government that tried to make them.
No one who cares about the interests either of Israel or of Lebanon could regard any of these outcomes as not worth taking seriously.
One might think that this campaign might end up rooting out Hezbollah in the following way: Israel degrades Hezbollah's capabilities, and occupies some part of southern Lebanon until the arrival of an international force. That international force then disarms Hezbollah, and continues to occupy southern Lebanon until the government in Lebanon is strong enough to control its own territory. If that government is willing to keep Hezbollah from rearming, the international force then leaves, and Israel is secure. I am somewhat skeptical of this, for several reasons. First, the Israeli army is one of the best in the world, and, as I said, they had eighteen years in which to disarm Hezbollah. I don't see any reason why a multinational force should succeed where Israel failed.
Second, it is not at all clear to me that this force will have the requisite mandate. Disarming Hezbollah against its will would, essentially, mean going to war with Hezbollah. It's worth asking: why would any country sign its army up to do this? In fact, it's not clear that many countries are:
"The United States has ruled out its soldiers’ participating, NATO says it is overstretched, Britain feels its troops are overcommitted and Germany says it is willing to participate only if Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia that it would police, agrees to it, a highly unlikely development.
“All the politicians are saying, ‘Great, great’ to the idea of a force, but no one is saying whose soldiers will be on the ground,” said one senior European official. “Everyone will volunteer to be in charge of the logistics in Cyprus.” (...)
Israel’s foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, laid out the goals in a meeting on Sunday with senior officials of the British, German and French governments. Ms. Livni told them that Israel’s goal was to disarm Hezbollah and that either the Israeli Army or an international force would have to do it, said officials from those four countries who were familiar with the discussion at the meeting.
By contrast, the Europeans, including Britain, France and Germany, envision a much less robust international buffer force, one that would follow a cease-fire and operate with the consent of the Lebanese government in southern Lebanon.
Such a situation would mean that Hezbollah, which is part of the Lebanese government, would be part of a decision that led to its own disarming and the protection of Israel, which the Europeans see as far-fetched."
There are, of course, non-European possibilities. Some of them are not good enough to take on Hezbollah, and those that are will probably demand some interesting payback in return for their participation. For instance:
"Condi might ask the Turks to jump in. This has certain uncomfortable historical overtones (call it the return of the Ottomans) but the Turkish Army is pretty good and might actually be able to handle the job, if anyone can. But one imagines that before the Turks agreed to do any such thing, they would name their price. And if I were the Kurds, I'd be a little nervous about that."
So would I.
If the multinational force does not have robust rules of engagement -- the sort that would allow it to forcibly disarm Hezbollah -- then it will be another peacekeeping force, able at best to watch and see whether Hezbollah actually strikes Israel, but not able to actually disarm it. And that would prevent this scenario from bringing about the end of Hezbollah.
Third, I do not believe that any democratically elected Lebanese government will be able to prevent Hezbollah from rearming for quite some time. This was not necessarily true before the current crisis. It was certainly not true during its first couple of days, when there were a lot of reports of Lebanese anger at Hezbollah's having unilaterally dragged them into a war. But it is true now.
If we're going to argue about this, let's at least recognize that we are not living in a world in which any state of affairs we might want is achievable. Stopping Hezbollah from firing rockets is difficult. Katyushas are nine or ten feet long, which makes them a lot easier to smuggle and to conceal than, say, your average ICBM. They can be fired from any hard surface, using a pipe and a car battery. Hezbollah has hidden them all over southern Lebanon, and they would not be hard to smuggle in from Syria. A force with popular support -- say, the army of a popular Lebanese government -- might be able to keep actions against Israel to a minimum, if not to stop them altogether. But an unpopular occupying force, whether Israeli or multinational, probably will not, even if it does have the right mandate and rules of engagement.
If you think I'm wrong about this, then argue with me. But don't just ask me whether Israel is supposed to just accept the presence of people willing to use rockets on the other side of the border, without explaining what alternative there is. And don't say that Israel has to do what it's doing since it was attacked, without being willing to explain why exactly you think that Israel's actions will in fact make it more secure.
*Update: The choice between two courses of action that have identical outcomes save for the fact that one kills hundreds of people, and so forth, is presumably clear. One might object, however, that this isn't the choice Israel actually faces. They will presumably degrade Hezbollah's capacity to some extent, and it might take some time to rearm.
I do not, myself, think that hundreds of lives, over a thousand wounded, 800,000 fleeing for their lives, and hundreds of billions in damages is a remotely OK price to pay for the few months that it would take Hezbollah to rearm and reconstitute itself. If you look at this handy chart of Hezbollah attacks (h/t d+u), there are a bunch of periods lasting around six months with no Hezbollah attacks on Israel; attacks seem to have come at a rate of three or four a year. That is, obviously, three or four too many; but it also means that if Hezbollah regroups and starts attacking again, that will be more or less what one would expect to have happened had Israel just tried to respond in a way serious enough to serve as a deterrent, without going on to trash the country.