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July 29, 2006

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Ignore the reservists. Just scaring off the tourists will tank the economy and is inevitable if you start a multi-week war.

As far as long-term costs, this could mean Israel is SOL on the two or three actual non-military existential threats they face.

Andrew: thanks.

I'd add that one of Israel's most important assets has always been the IDF's reputation as an amazing fighting force. If I ran Israel, this would make me more reluctant to wage war than I would have been otherwise, on the grounds that one never knows just how a war will turn out, and if the IDF did badly, or even noticeably less well than was expected, then an important strategic asset would have been lost.

Well, now it's lost, I think. reading the Israeli press over the past couple of weeks, there has been, for a while, a fairly serious undercurrent of alarm about the performance of the IDF. Now even Newsweek has noticed:

"The bottom line: Hizbullah is winning. That’s the hideous truth about the direction this war is taking, not in spite of the way the Israelis have waged their counterattack, but precisely because of it. As my source Mr. Frankly put it, “Hizbullah is eating their lunch.”

We’re talking about a militia—a small guerrilla army of a few thousand fighters, in fact—that plays all the dirty games that guerrillas always play. It blends in with the local population. It draws fire against innocents. But it’s also fighting like hell against an Israeli military machine that is supposed to be world class. And despite the onslaught of the much-vaunted Tsahal, Hizbullah continues to pepper Israel itself with hundreds of rockets a day."

This is very bad.

The people of Lebanon, meanwhile, will continue to pay for Israel's mistake until such time as the Israelis realize they have little to gain and much to lose by continuing this campaign.

This sounds so detached. Yet our tax dollars and our government are encouraging Israel to continue the campaign.

Andrew, do you see a role for U.S. citizens in helping bring pressure to bear for a cease-fire?

A combination of despair and lack of courage has silenced most of those who ought to be pushing this administration on its backing of the Israeli assault. But we're complicit; I'm uncomfortable with discussion that seems to assume this is just something between Israel, Hezbollah, and Lebanon.

Nell,

This sounds so detached.

I see little profit in allowing emotion to overcome reason when discussing this, or any other, subject.

I have no objections whatsoever to utilizing our influence with Israel to convince them to stop this now. I think it might be wise, in fact, to do so, since that would allow Israel to blame America for stopping them before they 'finish the job' and gives them another narrative for ending the fighting than admitting they lost. I am not certain, however, how much influence the U.S. government has over Israel; if we stay stop, will that, in fact, convince them to stop?

It is hard to sell a war, based on sound rational policy. It seems bloodlust and romantic notions of liberty sell the package easier.

Believing citizens in a democracy or a tyranny are actual savvy individuals searching for reason is a bit naïve.

Sometimes masses of people enjoy throwing the weak against the wall to watch it scream and bleed.

All for God and liberty, of course.

Believing citizens in a democracy or a tyranny are actual savvy individuals searching for reason is a bit naïve.

I'm not attempting to structure an argument to appeal to the masses. I am attempting to analyze the situation rationally. There's no logic in attempting to find a good way to convince people of something before you've reasoned out what the best course of action is.

SomeOtherDude: I agree with Andrew that one has to think things out before deciding how to package them. But I don't think it's all that hard to sell a war, provided you have good reasons for entering it. At any rate, I don't think our entry into WW2 was a hard sell after Pearl Harbor, nor was invading Afghanistan a hard sell after 9/11. Iraq was harder, though not nearly as hard as it should have been, but that's precisely because we did not have a good enough reason to invade.

Counterfactually: it's not at all clear to me that it would not have been possible to persuade people that it was a good idea to use force to stop the Rwandan genocide.

Andrew, the 'detached' part to which I was objecting isn't the calm, rational tone of discussion -- I've got no objection to that at all. It was the implicit assumption that the assessment of the conflict can be detached from U.S. policy, which you make explicit here:

I am not certain, however, how much influence the U.S. government has over Israel

I'm not certain, either, but I'm confident it's a lot more influence than our government has the will to use. It would be remarkable if we had so little voice considering the billions the U.S. spends annually in in foreign aid and loans, the military cooperation and sales of advanced equipment; relentless diplomatic support (the Security Council vetoes alone of resolutions critical of Israeli actions amount to quite a pile-up of potential influence). Etc.

The identification of the U.S. with Israeli behavior and objectives by the rest of the world is a separate question from whether the Israeli government would respond to U.S. pressure if it were applied, but is another piece of reality crucial to rational strategic assessment of the conflict. No amount of agnosticism about U.S. influence on Israel permits us to ignore that reality.

I think a reasonable set of victory conditions for Israel is as follows...

What about this victory conditions: shaky Kadima/Labor coalition becomes very popular? Olmert and Peretz become national heroes? You don't believe that war is politics conducted by other means?

Nell,

My apologies for misunderstanding.

I'm confident it's a lot more influence than our government has the will to use.

On that, we are agreed. Indeed, that seems to be a fact, since the Bush administration has made it clear they intend to give Israel a free hand in this for the foreseeable future.

abb1,

I think Clauswitz was correct in that formulation. However, political goals such as those you refer to tend to require some level of concrete accomplishment, which is where I drew my analysis of Israel's victory conditions.

Were I to analyze the war from the political perspective, however, I have difficulty believing they are succeeding on that front, either. While the Olmert government may be popular at the moment, that popularity will not last very long once it becomes clear Israel has lost the war.

I have largely refrained from posting on the topic of Lebanon, because my thoughts on the matter cannot easily be expressed in a blog comment. I have no simple conclusions. (What I do have is cousins on a kibbutz less than two miles from the Lebanese border).

Still, since the substance of this post and the comments, and many others, is that Israel is making a terrible strategic error, I would like to suggest that that its behavior ought to be examined in a larger context than the conflict with Hezbollah.

Israel is under threat from Iran. It needs to deter that threat. One way to accomplish this is to demonstrate that it is quite willing to retaliate strongly against an attack, even if that retaliation goes beyond what appears to be "sensible," from an Israeli point of view.

Demonstrating a willingness to inflict damage on one's attacker, regardless of the cost to oneself, can be quite a deterrent. It takes away from the potential attacker the ability to estimate the limit of the retaliation it will have to endure. Is this the thinking of the Israeli government? I don't know.

Lest I be misunderstood, I am not arguing here that such a strategy justifies Israel's actions. (Or that it doesn't. As noted above I have no easily stated views on the crisis). But I do think that before assuming that Israel's behavior is hopelessly foolish one should look at a larger context.

No apology needed, Andrew; my phrasing was ambiguous.

Bernard, I hope your cousins and their community are not hit by rockets.

How, exactly, is Israel under threat from Iran?

"How, exactly, is Israel under threat from Iran?"

I presume you are aware of the names of the two countries from which Hezbollah receives weapons? Syria and Iran?

I presume you are aware that Hezbollah is not capable of independently manufacturing the rockets that can hit Haifa?

I presume you are aware that Hezbollah has in fact actually hit Israel with these weapons?

I presume you are aware that Hezbollah does not have independent sources of wealth which would allow them to easily buy such weapons if they were not given to them?

Israel is under threat from Iran. It needs to deter that threat.

And conversely, contrariwise. I speculate that part of the story here is that Iran wanted to show Israel and America just how tough it can be to invade a country defended by well-trained zealots, even if they are at a severe technological disadvantage. So Hezbollah pricked the IDF's vanity and the IDF responded in the required manner.

I have no evidence whatsoever for this theory, but I'm sure some warblogger has already done a lengthy treatise based on some such premise. Gary Farber will be along presently with a bunch of links.

Kevin: that and distracting attention from their little nuclear issue. Though after reading around I am not convinced that Iran called this particular shot (as opposed to funding an organization likely to do this sort of thing, greenlighting the possibility, etc. I'm not arguing that Iran has no responsibility here; just that it's not clear at all, to me, that it caused this to happen at this particular time. Or, for that matter, that it didn't.)

I presume you are aware of the names of the two countries from which Hezbollah receives weapons? Syria and Iran?

how many countries does the US sell weapons to ?

Demonstrating a willingness to inflict damage on one's attacker, regardless of the cost to oneself, can be quite a deterrent. It takes away from the potential attacker the ability to estimate the limit of the retaliation it will have to endure. Is this the thinking of the Israeli government? I don't know.

Posted by: Bernard Yomtov | July 29, 2006 at 12:24 PM

Isn’t this the Hezbs reasoning?

Terrorist acts, in general?

“Look at what we will do to ourselves and others. Suicide missions and such!”

This week I've been reading Henry Kissinger's Diplomacy, which I should have read a long time ago. In the section on the period between WWI and WWII, he talks about the misunderstandings between the French and English that prevented them from forming a close alliance until it was too late. The Brits, according to Kissinger, underestimated how much French policy toward Germany was driven by fear. They could see the demographic trend-lines were against them, and with Soviet Russia out of the picture for the time being and the Austrian Empire gone, there was no continental power available to balance against Germany. This led the French to take actions, like encouraging secession in the Rhineland and demanding Germany not be absolved of its reparation payments, that the British found incomprehensible. So much so, that some in Britain feared France, not Germany, was now the major threat to the other nations of Europe!

I think sometimes we underestimate how much of Israel's foreign policy is driven by fear - after all, they are surrounded by hostile nations whose populations are growing much faster than Israel's, and they do live under the threat of daily terror attacks. These fears occasionally lead the Israelis to take actions that seem at odds with their long-term interests, which as Andrew pointed out should be to find a way to live in peace with the Arabs.

Whether or not these long-term interests are achievable is the question. If Hitler had not come to power, it is conceivable that eventually Germany could have found its rightful place in the power structure of Europe without a second world war. The fact that Israel managed to achieve peace with Egypt and Jordan suggests that a general Arab-Israeli peace is possible. But the actions Israel is taking in Lebanon and the Occupied Territories are pushing any real peace further away. That may be irrational, but fear leads people to do irrational things.

I believe our own long-term interests in the Middle East are practically identical to Israel's. But we should not feel obligated to defer to them if we see that they are not acting in a rational manner.

More important than the economic costs of war, however, are the costs of the ongoing slaughter of Israelis by rockets, mortars, suicide bombers, border conflicts, and raids.

As an Israeli pointed out to me a couple of years ago now, every time she drives into Tel Aviv with her children in the back of the car, she and her children are statistically far more likely to be killed in a traffic accident than by a suicide bomber. She was, nonetheless, more afraid of suicide bombers than she was of driving, but she recognized that this was an irrational fear.

The "ongoing slaughter" is happening in the Occupied Territories and in Lebanon, not in Israel, and it is not Israelis who are being slaughtered.

Isn’t this the Hezbs reasoning?

Terrorist acts, in general?

It may explain some terrorist acts. I don't think it explains them in general, nor do I think it is Hezbollah's or Iran's reasoning.

Deterrence may be part of Iran's goal here, as Kevin says, but the strategy he suggests they are following seems to be more one of demonstrating strength.

I suspect it will be many years before we fully understand the motivations at work here.

I'm having a particularly cynical week, so I wonder who are the Israeli equivalent of Bush's friends, the oil companies. That is, our Iraq war may be a disaster by most rational calculations, but given that Halliburton and Big Oil profits are up, how bad is the war going, *really* -- I mean, for the people who *count*.

Basically, since the Bush Administration is on the large corporations' leash, and Bush is on Israel's side, I wonder who is holding the Israeli government's leash.

Not to mention, Andrew, that you left out Tip O'Neill's Law. The question is not how does this war play with Israeli voters overall, but how does it play to the "base" -- and I don't know enough about Israeli politics to have a clue who their "base" might be.

Bernard, does Sebastian's response to my question pretty much cover it for you? I had assumed you were talking about a threat from something other than the rockets.

A note: While there have been several rocket attacks a year from Hezbollah over the last five or six years, this last barrage began only after the IDF responded to the Hezbollah capture of their soldiers with an all-out attack on Lebanese targets. I'm not justifying the capture or the rockets, which latter are certainly a war crime. But this escalation did not begin with rockets fired toward Israel.

Bruce R. reviews developments over the course of the UN deployment along the border. His analysis puts a lot of blame on the government of Lebanon, with no mention of the role of Iran or Syria in supplying Hezbollah or severely raising the cost to the government of Lebanon of stepping up to try to implement Resolution 1559.

I have no objections whatsoever to utilizing our influence with Israel to convince them to stop this now. I think it might be wise, in fact, to do so, since that would allow Israel to blame America for stopping them before they 'finish the job' and gives them another narrative for ending the fighting than admitting they lost.

I think the underlying tension is that the US wants Israel to continue its course -- maybe more so than Israel does. Haaretz via TPM. US policy is to encourage the war because it is allegedly one against Iran through its proxy Hezbollah (a lunatic position -- similar to Viet Nam era nonsense that we were really fighting the Russians; a misperception that led to serious errors in how to fight the conflict).

Israel's strategy seems to be overkill to dissuade Lebanese from supporting Hezbollah, and not much more. There does not seem to be an earnest effort by Israel to cleanse southern Lebanon of Hezbollah or rockets.

Yomtov is right -- Israel's strategy of overkill has long been its policy, and whether used in a misguided manner here, it is what seems behind this. What is amazing is the Bush administration response to this -- cheerleading an even wider war as a solution to problems.

The view that Israel has erred stems from the fact it is attacking a neighboring country that is not responsible for Hezbollah, but must also suffer its presence for now. This type of overkill has much greater implications than the overkill used against Palestinians in the West Bank.

A campaign more focused on Hezbollah military targets in southern Lebanon would have been far wiser. The perception of Israeli weakness is in part driven by its overblown rhetoric as to its alleged far reaching goals, which it apparently does not intend to accomplish. That rhetoric now seems as a cover for the general punitive air strikes -- as if those strikes were allegedly in aid of the military aims against Hezbollah instead of primarily for terror, and that a military campaign against Hezbollah was the alleged goal rather than a terror campaign against Lebanon in general.

The political peception that Hezbollah is winning is driven in part by the Israeli rhetoric as to its intentions, which it does not seem to be accomplishing. Would the same perception exist if this campaign was more focused to southern Lebanon and on military targets there, rather than rubbling large urban areas where Hezbollah happens to have an office?

If the argument should not be emotional, linking to the one terrorist who killed little children makes no sense. Hezbollah has not even said how many prisoners they wanted as a swap, let alone who.

To keep things clean emotional appeals via these kinds of assumptions and predictions should stay out of the story imho. I wouldn't like a thread with links to horrendous things either party did - most of us are aware of those.

Other than that I agree.

Hmm...I didn't think of that as an emotional appeal, but a fact-based one. Hezbollah is not seeking the release of fighters, but terrorists. It's hard for me to equate two members of the IAF with a man who murdered two civilians.

Here Michael Neumann is (tongue-in-cheek but quite plausibly) arguing that by the standards established in the last few years the initial Hezbollah operation was nothing but a humanitarian intervention. It's a good point.

Ooops, sorry, here's the link: http://www.counterpunch.org/neumann07292006.html

But Andrew, how do you know they asked for him?

The last prisoner swap with Lebanon was with Lebanise prisoners who were held in administrative detention AFAIK. I have no idea what kind of Lebanese prisoners there are. If all of the prisoners from Lebanese descent were convicted of murder, a link to that description would be better for the discussion that this story which is designed to work as an emotional appeal.

And again - if it is about killing civilians there are plenty of children killed by the IDF. So why run the risc that the thread will be a linkfest to the most horrible killings?

IMHO the bloke the link was about should definately stay in prison if the story was true. But for the time being we only know that Hezbollah wants to swap, we have no idea what they demand. Unless you have more info than I?

Nell,

I am surprised that my statement that Israel is under threat from Iran aroused disagreement.

Sebastian's response begins to cover it, but there is more. Certainly Ahmadinejad's statements, combined with Iran's nuclear policies, heighten the threat. And of course there is a long history of hostile statements from Iranian leaders. Put all that together with Iran's willingness to arm Hezbollah, and the threat seems clear.

Nor am I willing to dismiss the earlier rockets as irrelevant. These were not natural events, like tornadoes. They were deliberate attacks by an organization very closely associated with Iran.

In other words, Iran makes threatening statements and has a continuing practice of arming something like a proxy to attack Israel. Meanwhile it develops its nuclear capabilities. That seems to me to justify my statement.

I'm aware, BTW, that there are claims that Ahmadinejad was mistranslated. I am not impressed by these claims, in part because the allegedly correct translation is not comforting, in part because I do not think those making them are impartial translators.

Bernard,

What did you think about the communist threat against capitalist states?

Real serious question. All snark aside.

I remember being really paranoid during the late 70's and early 80's. I went to a very right-wing evangelical church, and the threat was pounded into us. Lot's of stories about communists taking over nations and raping and killing whole swaths of folks. I remember being really scared.

And then there was the whole Apocalyptic Christian thing. Yet, while growing up the threat was not as simplistic as all that. Plus, reading alternate histories concerning the paranoid capitalistic nations, I began to realize that things were not as black and white.

Remember "The Day After" I hated and despised the Soviet Union after that movie.

The stories we have been handed down and the fears others are trying to force us to live under should be inspected fiercely.

I mean, I read communists stuff, it was evil and dangerous. They wanted to destroy the society I lived in, and they talked about it all the time. From the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China, Cuba, shit…there were communists in Paris and Los Angeles that wanted to start revolutions and kill so many people in my church and schools. I feared the nation eating communists. Did you?

Bernard, I appreciate your reply. I didn't disagree; I asked a question. I'm interested in hearing, from those who see the battle with Hezbollah mostly as a proxy fight, what exactly is the character of the threat from Iran, directly and by proxy.

That's because some threats are near-term; others are decades away. Some are existential threats; others are manageable. When I hear someone assert that "X is under threat from Y", I usually want to hear that unpacked as specifically as possible, in order to have some basis for evaluating the threat.

SomeOtherDude,

"I feared the nation eating communists"

Ya, man. Right on! Not like communists ever killed anybody.

OK, this http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/30/world/middleeast/30iran.html>article in the NYT on the view from Teheran makes more specific a thought I'd had a while back: Iran has viewed Hez as a deterrent force -- Israel can't attack Iran for fear of the Iranian ally/proxy sitting on its northern border. And, I add myself, so it has to worry about whether the overreaction by Israel (and strong US support for same) was intended to be a prelude to attack.

The article seems to assume a worse outcome for Hez than currently looks like the most likely result -- especially given the strike in Qana -- and more uncertainty for Iran. If, however, one finds at the end of the day that Hez is still a deterrent force at some level, and that the reputation of Israeli arms is diminished, and tolerance among US allies in the Arab world gone down,* then maybe the Iran strike really does have to be taken off the table. Inasmuch as the final victory in Iraq was going to come from regime change in Iran (I'm projecting a little here, but this seems to be how these people think) then the foray into Lebanon is an even greater disaster for US policy than it otherwise looks.

Fear not, our bold President will probably conclude that the only way to get Israel out of its Lebanon problem is to strike at Iran anyway.


* I can imagine US policymakers being confident that whatever the leaders of SA etc say in public, they'd tacitly support regime change in Iran, even if it came from the use of Israeli arms. It's another version of the 'greeted as liberators' dream that follows from confidence that one is ultimately doing something that will benefit others, if only they could/would see it. Hell, the official line -- here and in some ME capitals -- for the first several days of this Leb war was that the Israelis would be greeted as liberators: not completely crazy, as Ara's uncle can testify, but only if shock and awe really works. It doesn't.

SOD,

I'm not sure what you are asking me.

Of course I remember the threat. I'm old enough to have participated in those silly grade school drills where we learned to crawl under our desks in case of nuclear attack.

If you are suggesting that the threat was exaggerated then I think you need to make distinctions. Are you talking about the danger of nuclear attack? At what time? Are you talking about ground invasion of Europe, about efforts to extend Soviet influence in Africa and Latin America, about domestic subversion?

Obviously, nuclear war was avoided. I have no great expertise in the intricacies of Cold War history, but I tend to think this happened due to some combination of deterrence, luck, sanity, risk avoidance, and who knows what else.

Was the Soviet threat exaggerated by our policy-makers? Sometimes. Sometimes not. But that's a far cry from saying it was never anything to take seriously.

The stories we have been handed down and the fears others are trying to force us to live under should be inspected fiercely.

Of course that's true. But sometimes the inspection reveals that the fears are justified. And the results of one such inspection should not be too readily applied to a different case.

This is the closest thread about this topic, so I link this from Josh Marshall.

But there are persistent signs that the US is egging Israel on to bring the war to Damascus.

Here's a clip from the end of an article today in the Jerusalem Post ...

[Israeli]Defense officials told the Post last week that they were receiving indications from the United States that the US would be interested in seeing Israel attack Syria.

And there are other ominous indications of the US pressing for expansion the Israelis don't seem to want.

Von and Andrew taken their positions based on the presumption that the Israelis are doing this on their own accord. Would either of you revise your position if it were the case that the Israelis were responding to US pressure?

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