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Little to Gain, Everything to Lose

Restarting the 34 Day War

by MIKE WHITNEY

"I prefer the most unfair peace to the most righteous war."

Cicero

Israel is in a state of post-war trauma. Its 34 day pounding of Lebanon has achieved none of the stated goals and has left the public furious at the incompetence of the Olmert government. 118 soldiers were killed in the conflict and Israel’s celebrated "power of deterrence" was smashed to smithereens. Nothing was gained. In the north, industry and commerce were brought to a complete standstill while the local people were shunted off to fallout shelters for weeks on end.

What for?

Hezbollah hasn’t been "disarmed" and the two captured Israeli soldiers haven’t been returned. The war was abruptly called off when Olmert couldn’t bear the rising death-toll, a fact that was not lost on Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah. Nasrallah said from the very beginning that the only way to beat Israel was by "killing soldiers and destroying weapons". Olmert’s retreat just proves that that Nasrallah was right.

Kenneth Besig summarized the feelings of many Israelis in his comments in the Jerusalem Post:

"Fewer than 5,000 poorly-armed Hezbollah terrorists stood off the mighty IDF for over a month. An Islamic terrorist gang with no tanks, no artillery, no fighter jets, no attack helicopters, and just a few RPG’s and rifles held to a standstill nearly 30,000 crack IDF troops with the finest tanks, the best artillery, the fastest and most advanced fighter-jets and attack helicopters in the world. And they can still empty our northern communities with their rockets whenever they want. If that is not a victory, then the word has no meaning."

Besig may be wrong when he calls Hezbollah "terrorists", but many Israelis agree with his overall analysis. Israel may have decimated Lebanon, but no one believes they won the war.

Since the ceasefire began, the recriminations and finger-pointing have only gotten worse. The daily gnashing-of-teeth in the media has reached a crescendo with every major newspaper calling for the resignations of Olmert, Defense Minister Peretz and "George Armstrong" Halutz. Disgruntled reservists are flocking to the streets in public protests calling for "heads-to-roll" while hundreds of IDF regulars have signed petitions demanding an independent inquiry into the botched war plans.

"I’m telling Ehud Olmert and Emir Peretz to look me in the eye and tell me they are fit to hold their posts," said Sgt. Major Lior Vilnes one of the many protestors.

So what does this firestorm of public outrage augure for Lebanon and the prospects for peace in the region?

The probability of peace "breaking out" has never looked more dismal. Public opinion is compelling Olmert to restart the war to salvage his battered career. Already, government officials have begun talking about a "second round" of hostilities, a euphemism that is being reiterated with worrisome regularity in the press. The mood in Israel is ugly and many believe that it foreshadows greater violence ahead.

Olmert is surrounded by "hawks" from the Sharon era who brush aside any plan that doesn’t involve force. That makes military action all the more likely even though the objectives are as ambiguous as they were before.

Eli Yishai, Vice Prime Minister, sums up the current thinking in the Olmert administration:

"No army in the world is more moral than the IDF.We cannot be bleeding hearts while our citizens are being hurt. If Lebanese citizens pay the price, they will rise up against Hezbollah. I have proposed that we damage infrastructure and flatten villages because Hezbollah personnel must know they are not immune. We should make it clear to them that all residents in villages from which firepower is launched at IDF soldiers will be warned and required to leave their homes in 48 hours. And later these villages will be bombed from the air. That policy would have assured that Lebanese citizens would not permit Hezbollah to live next to them." (from Haaretz)"

Isn’t this the same flawed-logic that led to "shock and awe"? What gives people like Yishai and Olmert such confidence in violence when it hasn’t worked in 40 years of occupation?

The penchant among the Israeli high-command for resolving political issues with brute force doesn’t bode well for Lebanon. Israel wants to settle accounts with Nasrallah and reestablish its dominance in the region, but that can only be accomplished by dealing a knockout blow to Hezbollah.

Olmert has no chance of defeating Hezbollah. Guerilla groups disappear in one place and pop up in another; crushing them is nearly impossible. The clueless Prime Minister is probably more interested in "saving face" than in protecting Israel’s national security. In truth, Olmert’s bruised vanity won’t allow him to be remembered as the "man who lost the war to Hezbollah". This will lead to a steady escalation of incitements (like the commando raid near Baalbeck three days ago) which will eventually trigger all-out war.

Restarting the conflict will only create greater threats to Israel’s security. It will strengthen the Lebanese resistance, weaken the already-feeble Siniora government, rouse more hatred for the United States, destabilize friendly Arab regimes, and further erode the perception of Israeli invincibility.

Israel has little to gain and everything to lose.

Never the less, Olmert will probably disregard the consequences and blunder ahead in the futile hope of silencing his critics while indulging his right-wing allies. Anything less than a full-blown assault on his Lebanese arch-rival would be tantamount to political seppuku.

Former Shin Bet chief and current Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, made a reasonable proposal that could deescalate tensions and extract Olmert from his current predicament. Dichter said, "We must not sit and wait for the next war. A peace agreement in exchange for giving back the Golan Heights would disconnect Syria from Iran and disarm Hezbollah."

Dichter’s advice is dead-on. If Israel conceded the Golan to Syria, then Syria would cut-off supplies and weaponry to Hezbollah setting the stage for a comprehensive peace treaty between the 3 nations.

It’s a long-shot, but it could work and it reduces the liklihood of more fighting.

Unfortunately, Olmert quickly dismissed Dichter’s plan saying, "We are not going into any adventure when terror is on their side. When Syria stops support for terror, then we will be happy to negotiate with them."

Blah, blah, blah; terror, terror, terror; the same worn mantra we’ve heard from Bush for the last 5 years while the entire region is doused in gasoline and ready to light up like a Roman candle.

Olmert has erected another road-block to peace and set the stage for a "second round" of devastation and bloodshed. His choice is bound to create more enemies for Israel while condemning thousands of Lebanese civilians to death.

That’s a strategy for failure, not success.

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He can be reached at: fergiewhitney@msn.com