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It's hard to make of the Israeli government's willingness to talk about an international peacekeeping force deployed on the border between Israel and Lebanon. Is this a way to stall for time, as the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) tries to complete the destruction of Hezbollah? Or is this a genuine acquiescence to international pressure?
Either way, it seems as though the pressure is a reality that Israel can no longer ignore. Does that mean that Israel's assault into Lebanon was a success, or a failure?
First, it's important to understand Israeli war aims. A recent Salon article hit the nail on the head: the offensives into Gaza and Lebanon have as much to do with Israeli domestic politics as the real threat that Hamas and Hezbollah pose. In despair since the collapse of the Oslo peace process, Israelis that once voted for peace initiatives are now impatient to see results through more violent means. Ehud Olmert, lacking the military background of some of his predecessors as prime minister, feels the skeptical gaze of the electorate on the back of his neck. Therefore, he gambled on what seemed like "decisive action," expanding the lunge into the Gaza Strip into a lunge into Lebanon.
But what sort of decisive outcome was this action supposed to achieve? Perhaps Olmert gambled on a repeat of the Egyptian strategy in the 1973 Yom Kippur War: start a conflict, draw international attention to issues that were not getting resolved (in 1973, the Israeli occupation of the Sinai Peninsula; in 2006, the freedom of action Hezbollah fighters enjoy in southern Lebanon), don't worry about a military victory, but instead get the rest of the world focused on helping Israel fix the Hezbollah problem. Viewed from this perspective, Secretary of State Rice's trip to meet with Lebanese prime minister Fuad Saniora is a good thing, since it raises the international community's investment in curbing Hezbollah.
Equally plausible is a different strategy, the same one that Israel pursued in its 1982 invasion of Lebanon: seize the opportunity to swiftly crush the guerrillas launching attacks from southern Lebanon into Israel. Tired of rockets falling on Haifa and infiltrators killing Israeli civilians, the IDF launched Operation Peace in Galilee to push the PLO out of Lebanon. However, that conflict ended badly for Israel. The cost--the even more Hobbesian conflict in Lebanon, the invigoration of Hezbollah, the tarnishing of Israel's national self-image--did not justify the only tangible benefit, the migration of the PLO leadership from Beirut to Tunis.
In fact, this conflict might easily turn out as badly for Israel as the Suez Crisis did. In 1956, Israel, France, and Britain believed themselves to be in the right, seizing control of the Suez Canal, which Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser had nationalized. Surely, Israel calculated, the international community, beyond its immediate British and French allies, would see the need to keep the Suez Canal open to global shipping. Instead, the troika that seized the Canal faced international condemnation. At one of the most contentious times for the US and USSR, the superpower adversaries joined in demanding the immediate withdrawal of Israeli, British, and French forces from the Suez Canal.
Looking at the current Lebanon crisis, it seems a Suez-like outcome is more likely than the Yom Kippur-like one. The rest of the world, the United States and Great Britain in particular, do not have the political, military, or economic resources to invest in a difficult, expensive resolution of the Hezbollah problem. The most the United States can do, under the circumstances, is choose whether or not to denounce Israel. While the United States isn't the only country capable of helping, it doesn't help to have the country with the most influence over Israel in no way capable of sustaining a general diplomatic effort to resolve the Lebanon crisis.
Who knows--the Bush Administration might seize the moment to rebuild the credibility and confidence it lost in Iraq. Or, more likely, the Administration may continue to give the Israelis a free pass in Lebanon, as it has done with other issues, most significantly settlements. As in other matters, the well-understood habits of the Bush Administration seem to be the best guide to its future behavior.