Strategic Crossroads

Some thoughts from Ze’ev Schiff, long one of the most astute military analysts on the Israeli scene. Schiff writes that after two weeks of fighting it is clear that Israel has still not achieved its strategic objectives. This dynamic has raised the unacceptable spectre that Israel is of strategic parity with Hezbollah.

“Hezbollah and what this terrorist organization symbolizes must be destroyed at any price. This is the only option that Israel has. […] If Hezbollah does not experience defeat in this war, this will spell the end of Israeli deterrence against its enemies.”

Schiff continues:

“Iran is known to be demanding that Syria increase its support for Hezbollah in order to enable it to better resist the pressure from the Israel Defense Forces. Just as the United States would like Israel to defeat Hezbollah, Iran does not want the organization destroyed and is doing everything in its power to prevent this. This shows that the military struggle has still not reached its peak, nor have the diplomatic efforts.”

[…]

“This struggle will also determine Iran’s position in the Middle East and its role among the Arab states. Some of the Arab states recognize this fact and do not wish Hezbollah to emerge victorious in this campaign. Their stance does not stem from love of Israel, but from concerns for their own future.”

Strange bedfellows indeed…

Schiff’s diagnosis is indeed disheartening to the concerned observer from afar, and catastrophic for those Lebanese and Israelis intimate with the consequences of this war. But at the moment I see no alternative to Schiff’s clear-eyed analysis of the stakes. This has long ceased being about the fate of some captured soldiers. Though their return is important, it pales in comparison to the regional dynamics at play here. As the chorus for a cease fire grows louder, we would do well to keep in mind Schiff’s words.

“There is a whole generation in Israel that may not recall how many useless cease-fire agreements were signed in Lebanon. The most significant, which followed the 1978 Litani Operation, established UNIFIL. Israel does not need another cease-fire of this sort in southern Lebanon; it needs a new reality that, at the least, will distance Hezbollah’s military wing from this area.”

I know that many would charge that to accept Schiff’s advice is to accept an Israeli perspective on the violence. Well, yes. Guilty as charged. But as I wrote below, decent minds cannot be neutral in a battle between irredentist religious fanatics who fight as a proxy force for an expansionist theocratic regime in Tehran and a liberal democracy defending itself. To write this is not to support every specific action Israel takes in an effort to defend herself, but it is to take a stand. Thoughtful people can differ on the best strategy Israel should undertake in her own defense. But let us at least be clear about who is right and who is wrong.

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5 Comments on “Strategic Crossroads”

  1. Opinionated Wench Says:

    E, there is a huge difference between stating who you support and ‘who is right and who is wrong’. I believe that’s the kind of thinking that makes these messes. At this moment, I’ll even take the fairly radical step of agreeing with you, I don’t see what else Israel can do at this strategic point, and I see reasons why further violence is a viable option. These, incidentally and off the point, are huge concessions for me. But, if I were to try to determine ‘who is right and who is wrong,’ I would wind up in a list of grievances so deep and unclear I think I would never get out, and I might wind up reversing the earlier position. Decent minds can and should be as neutral as possible, not because they want to remove themselves from responsibility and conflict, but so they can do exactly what you are doing here, analyzing the regional dynamics and the real costs and stakes of this engagement. Never worry that anyone will be too neutral, it’s pretty impossible, and that should be recognised as well.

  2. HW Says:

    Why would you support someone or something that you didn’t think was right?

  3. Opinionated Wench Says:

    I wouldn’t. But I also wouldn’t presume to think that my thinking something is the right course of action makes it intrinsically right. Here’s where my relativism kicks in, and this is where you and I usually get stuck, so it might be an impasse.

  4. ERG Says:

    At the risk of drowning my response in overly philosophical terms, it seems that the crux of our disagreement is your discomfort with the absolutist nature of my analysis, i.e. in this conflict between Israel and Hezbollah there is a wrong and a right party. That does not mean that Israel, who is in the right, cannot act in an evil way. They are not intrinsically moral. It seems they have made poor judgments, and I can guarantee they will make more. But fundamentally, my point is that there can be no doubt that they deserve our support in a struggle against a theocratic, fascist foe that stands in opposition to every liberal value I hold dear.

    The issue, I think we can agree, is your abiding faith in relativism, as the absolute comes across as frightening. But I do not think I am being so absolute as I am clear. I think it is okay to know what you are against, and I am against the enemies of liberalism. And I can’t buy any argument that heralds Hezbollah as the vanguard of liberalism’s defenders. To me, that is appalling and delusional.

    More specifically, while it is important to recognize that one does not have all the answers, or ones culture is intrinsically better, it is a slippery slope into moral nihilism if you are unwilling to draw any lines in the sand or make a clear stand on certain fundamental issues of what is right and what is wrong. For instance, the very idea of human rights collapses under such thinking. Who are we to insist that it is wrong to demand that women wear a veil over their face (or risk having acid flung in their eyes)? Who are we to insist that women should be allowed to go to school? Who are we to insist that it is wrong, regardless of varying legal strictures, to hang a 16 year old girl in Iran because of alleged sexual permissiveness ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/5217424.stm)? I mean, their legal code says that this is God’s will, who are we to object?

    There are certain principles in this world that are right simply because they are right. They are right even if George Bush says they are right. And I am of the mind that we must be clear in saying so.

    To bring it back to the more specific issue at hand…and to repeat, while it is indecent to condone everything Israel does (And I certainly don’t approve everything Israel has done (not just in the past few weeks, but throughout her history) one must be careful that when they stand opposed to Israeli actions (or American actions) they are careful not to stand with those who advocate the antithesis of all that is decent ( i.e. the liberal values you seem to be defending in the comment). (And Opiniontaed Wench does not commit this sin, but it is a general concern in certain precincts of the left – – especially the British left).

  5. « small-d Says:

    […] As I have previously written, when it comes to the unfortunate war in Lebanon and northern Israel, decent minds cannot be neutral in a battle between irredentist religious fanatics who fight as a proxy force for an expansionist theocratic regime in Tehran and a liberal democracy defending itself. To write this is not to support every specific action Israel takes in an effort to defend herself, but it is to take a stand. Thoughtful people can differ on the best strategy Israel should undertake in her own defense. But let us at least be clear about who is right and who is wrong. […]


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