Blogging the War: War in North and South Lets Israel Reshuffle Deck

by Brian on July 18, 2006

in In the News,Living Through Terror,War with Hezbollah

This article was posted on on Tuesday, July 17, 2006. The link is here. 


In the fifth day of the
2006 Lebanese War, Hezbollah missiles killed eight in a strike on the
Israeli port city of Haifa while the Israeli air force pounded more
targets in Beirut and the south of its northern neighbor. With no end
in sight, voices are growing stronger for Israel to take ever-stronger
action, perhaps against Syria…or even Iran. Is either option realistic?
Is this just Middle East saber rattling, or an opportunity to
permanently change the balance of power in the Middle East?Clearly,
it was no coincidence that the Hezbollah attack on an Israeli army
convoy last week that killed eight soldiers and led to the kidnapping
of two more occurred shortly after Israel began stepping up its
operations against in Gaza. That operation in Gaza was also launched
following a cross-border attack that resulted in several dead and
another kidnapped soldier.

Iran and Syria call the shots for
both Hamas and Hezbollah, and when it looked like things might
ultimately go badly in Gaza (or perhaps as an even more cynical tactic
to distract world attention from Iran’s nuclear intentions at this
week’s G-8 Summit in Russia), Hezbollah’s handlers in Tehran ordered
the opening of a second front.

And what a front it’s been. The
flash point of both conflicts – the kidnapping of soldiers – has been
mostly buried under the terror unleashed from the skies. The Israeli
response has rapidly evolved from a relatively modest goal of putting
pressure on Hamas and Hezbollah to “return our boys” to a full-scale
flushing out of the “true hands” of Israel’s most implacable terrorist
opponents – along with a not so thinly veiled intention to reshuffle
the deck.

Some Success

In that respect, both Israeli
operations have been, ironically, wildly successful so far – at least
concerning the first goal. First to Gaza: Hamas has demonstrated that
it can hit deep inside Israeli territory as far as Ashkelon where a
number of strategic Israeli installations are located. Forcing Hamas to
demonstrate this capability has helped unite Israeli – and perhaps even
world – opinion in terms of enabling a tough response to take out the
terrorist infrastructure.

Less than a year after Israel’s
controversial disengagement plan, it is unlikely that many Israelis on
either the right or left would now oppose the Israel Defense Forces
retaking a swath of land in Gaza to use as a buffer zone. The irony of
the IDF returning to some of the very settlements evacuated in August
2005 has not been lost on Israeli public consensus.

The same is
happening in the north. For years, we have lived with a kind of
hush-hush detente, where we knew what Hezbollah had, but pretended
otherwise as we visited the bed and breakfasts in the north while
hiking through the picturesque hills of the Galilee and Golan Heights.
Now that Hezbollah has been forced to show how far its missiles can
reach – to Haifa, Tiberias, perhaps even further – the terrorist group
has essentially played its cards, too, and Israel can point to full
justification for taking out that infrastructure.

It’s as if
Iraq had actually deployed weapons of mass destruction before the U.S.
operation. In Lebanon’s case, what we hope is our worst-case scenario
has become real and we have the right – backed at least for a few days
by much of the world – to defend ourselves.

But how? Going after
Hezbollah and Hamas seem the most prudent and immediate moves, but will
they make a difference in the long term? The smuggling border with
Egypt is still as porous as they come, and despite Israeli bombing of
the main highway from Damascus to Beirut – not to mention Lebanon’s
sole international airport – there are numerous other ways to transfer
weapons technology from Syria to its proxies in Lebanon.

The Syrian Card

Israel be better served by attacking Syria directly? And what about
Iran? Has the time come when Israel’s long-rumored contingency plan to
take out the Iranian nuclear threat is given the green light? Would
there be any better time down the road?

While no one is talking
publicly about a direct Iranian option, a Syrian attack has already
been denied by Israel. Which makes it much more likely to occur. Over
the weekend, the London-based Al Hayat newspaper reported that Israel
had issued an ultimatum to Syrian President Bashar Assad according to
which a regional war would erupt within 72 hours if Damascus does not
prevent Hezbollah attacks. In the article, a Pentagon source is quoted
as saying that Israel has warned Syria it would bomb essential
installations in the country if Damascus did not try to influence

The IDF has denied Syria is on Israel’s agenda,
saying “it won’t be right to bring Syria into the campaign.” However,
Syrian officials are clearly sounding worried. “Any aggression against
Syria will be met with a firm and direct response whose timing and
methods are unlimited,” Syria’s official news agency quoted Information
Minister Mohsen Bilal as saying.

Bringing Syria into the
conflict directly could force the Damascus regime to play its hand,
too. Although the prospect of long-range missiles being fired at
Jerusalem and Tel Aviv with chemical weapons would be an escalation of
devastating proportions and certainly not one that Israel would want to
encourage, it, too, would bring out the worst-case scenarios and
potentially allow for a reshaping of the Middle East. As unlikely as
this scenario probably is, it is undoubtedly weighing heavily on the
planners in the Tel Aviv kiryiah war room.

The war so far is
being fought primarily from the air. An Israeli ground invasion into
Lebanon, as has happened on a limited scale in Gaza, may still occur,
and the losses associated with this type of fighting could change the
current Israeli and international consensus that the IDF briefly
enjoys. That window will gradually close in any case, so the next few
days will be crucial in terms of laying all of Israel’s enemy’s cards
on the table and determining if there is any way to reshuffle the deck
conclusively so that Israel’s future does not hang under the constant
threat of uncertainty and fear.


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