The choices Israel faces

| July 23, 2006

While I haven’t commented much on the newest war in the Middle East, I have continued to follow it closely, both because of my interest in military history and that fact that it could lead to, oh, significant global conflict.

By and large, my sympathies are with Israel, which is surrounded by countries and terrorist groups dedicated to its eradication, in spite of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon. But this op-ed piece in the San Francisco Chronicle by David Biale, a professor of Jewish history at UC Davis, does as fine a job as any I’ve seen in setting out just how tough Israel’s choices are:

There are, however, major risks to Israel in pursuing these goals. First, it is questionable whether a bombing campaign can destroy Hezbollah. While the bombing is causing terrible civilian suffering, irregular forces such as Hezbollah can survive relatively intact. On the other hand, a ground invasion is unlikely to be any more effective than Israel’s failed 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon was.

Second, because bombing does cause extensive civilian casualties as well as destroying civilian infrastructure, such as the electricity grid, it necessarily causes a backlash. Most Lebanese appear to be angry at Hezbollah for dragging them into this confrontation, but because Israel must use such powerful munitions, this anger is quickly turned onto the Jewish state. The same is true for international opinion, initially sympathetic to Israel but then increasingly hostile as the bombing campaign continues. Israel knows that, as in past wars, it has to realize its military goals quickly before international intervention puts a stop to hostilities.

Third, although military deterrence works against states (Syria has kept quiet on the Golan Heights since the 1970s, despite its hatred of Israel), it rarely does against irregular entities. Despite all of Israel’s draconian measures against the Palestinians, Hamas was deterred for only a little over a year to keep an informal cease-fire. Similarly, Hezbollah, which kept relatively quiet for six years, nevertheless undertook its unprovoked attack despite the full knowledge that Israel would respond tenfold. If, as many think, Iran gave the green light for the attack, then deterrence becomes even less convincing because Iran itself suffers no direct consequences from Israel’s response.

Finally, there is little hope that either a reinvigorated Lebanese government or an international force will succeed in suppressing Hezbollah. The international force, led by the United States, that intervened after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 was driven out in short order by the first generation of suicide bombers. And America’s record in Iraq suggests that even the most powerful army in the world is relatively impotent in the face of a fanatical insurgency.

Sometimes there are no “good” choices — just bad and worse.  ..bruce..

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Category: Geopolitics, Main, Military

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

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