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THE CRISIS TODAY - An Insider's Briefing (Wednesday, July 19, 2006)

Israeli Security Expert Yossi Alpher offers a daily briefing during the elevated crisis in Israel...

Today's Briefing - Wednesday, July 19

"War aims problematic" by Yossi Alpher

The aims of the campaign in the north, as I understand them, are to weaken and isolate Hezbollah to the extent that the government of Lebanon, possibly with international help and support, will compel it to release the two kidnapped soldiers, withdraw from Israel's northern border and cease attacking Israel. The aims of the now nearly forgotten campaign in the south are similar, except that in Gaza there appears to be no alternative sovereign to Hamas, albeit in some combination with Mahmoud Abbas' Fateh movement, and Israel fears a total power vacuum if it destroys Hamas.

Another war aim that informs all of Israel's actions is to strengthen deterrence against future attacks by our Islamist guerilla/terrorist neighbors.

On both fronts, Israel wants to achieve these aims largely through air power, avoiding at all costs a reoccupation of Lebanese or Gazan territory. It also seeks to avoid Syrian involvement and limit its northern front to Lebanon.

There are additional, unarticulated aims as well. Heavy setbacks for Hezbollah and Hamas will also deal a blow to the Iranian-Syrian-Hezbollah axis; improve Israel's future strategic position vis-a-vis a nuclear Iran by weakening Iran's option of deploying Hezbollah as a proxy force; strengthen the moderate Arab camp, led currently by Saudi Arabia with its strong condemnation of Hezbollah and rather mind-boggling support for Israel; and clear the field for Olmert's disengagement initiative on the West Bank.

There appear to be four serious problems with these objectives.

First, recent experience (America's, twice in Iraq) shows that air power cannot do the job even against a conventional army without serious military involvement on the ground. But Israel is extremely wary of ending up once again, for lack of an alternative, as an occupier. Moreover, short of finding and freeing the three captured IDF soldiers, Israel will ultimately have to buy their freedom with some sort of prisoner deal, however minimal.

Second, I would not place my bets on the viability of the Lebanese government or its capacity to enforce its sovereignty upon Hezbollah. The problem with Lebanon for the past 40 years is that it does not function like a sovereign polity and the southern part of the country is a political black hole. Nor are the Saudis, Egyptians and Jordanians the strong players in the Middle East today. That title belongs to Iran, Israel and Turkey.

Third, it is extremely difficult to deter Islamists who believe victory lies in martyrdom.

And fourth, international involvement in resolving and policing Israel's conflicts with its neighbors has never worked unless all sides to the conflict welcome it and seek to cooperate with it. The MFO in Sinai and UNDOF on the Golan succeed because Israel, Egypt and Syria all follow the rules. In Lebanon, UNIFIL is a failure because Hezbollah is not a party to its terms of reference, Israel was never consulted and the Lebanese government is too weak to make a difference. This is liable to be the situation with the next force.

The key to Israeli success in realizing at least its minimal war aims is the amount of damage inflicted on Hezbollah and Hamas and the willingness of the international community to bolster Lebanon's fragile government and accompany it to that country's southern border. Even then, all parties will have to exercise vigilance to prevent a resurgence of Iranian and Syrian influence in Lebanon.

A lot is at stake here. If these minimal war aims cannot be achieved, then the end result of the current two-front war will strengthen Syria, Iran and the radical Islamist movements at the expense of the region's moderates.

The Crisis Today-An Insider's Briefing is a new daily, internet publication of Americans for Peace Now. A new edition of The Crisis Today will be posted every weekday morning by 9:00 a.m. for as long as the current crisis continues.

The Crisis Today is written by Yossi Alpher, whose views do not necessarily reflect those of Americans for Peace Now or Peace Now.

Link to APN's Crisis Resource Page

Links to previous Briefings:
July 18, 2006