Pinned down between Iranian missiles in the Gaza strip and southern Lebanon, Israel would make a heck of a hostage. Even if Israel prevails, the only way it can do so is to bomb Lebanese civilians with its US-funded military, which will increase hatred of the US in the Arab street. And Iran has set itself up as a Muslim protector and a major player, which will help it garner support when and if it is attacked by the US. Finally, as I reported in a previous post, Iran may be using this diversion to move along its nuclear program.
As to the Israeli perspective, Israel's immediate strategy is to disarm Hezbollah and make it impossible for Iran and Syria to send reinforcements. To that end, Israel bombed the Beirut airport and the Beirut-Damascus hiway. Hezbollah hid itself in the civilian population, which is why Israel is bombing civilian areas. As to its long range goals, Israel has made it clear that it wants a sovereign Lebanon that is free from Iranian and Syrian control.
Along with the rest of the world, I'm horrified by the widespread killing in both countries, but I think Israel has a strong case that its actions are a proportionate response and are justified:
- Israel tried all diplomatic methods to remove the military build-up on its border. Since 2000 when Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon and Hezbollah moved in, the UN has repeatedly demanded that Hezbollah leave the area and has called on the Lebanese government to remove them.
- Israel did not attack until it was attacked... many times over the last few years by Hezbollah in its hiding places across the Lebanese border. Throughout this conflict, Israel has been bombed continuously by Hezbollah.
- Before bombing civilian areas, Israel drops leaflets warning residents that the area will be bombed. Unlike Hezbollah, Israel is not bombing civilian areas because it wants to kill civilians; it is doing so because it is the only way to destroy Hezbollah's military capability and cut off reinforcements from Syria and Iran.
- It is vital to the security of Israel that it defeat Hezbollah. That's why the US is not asking for a ceasefire. There are two reasons why Israel can't hold back. One is that Hezbollah has an estimated 15,000 rockets in Lebanon aimed at Israel; as with the Cuban missile crisis, that situation can't be allowed to continue. The other is a deadly psychological consideration: if Israel doesn't win and win decidedly, it will look weak and its enemies will attack more ferociously.
Israel can and probably will beat Hezbollah, and the Lebanese might even kick out the foreign agitators who have been wrecking their country for decades. But lasting peace isn't possible until there is some sort of detente between the US and Iran. A US-Iranian peace accord might provide assurances that the US will not invade Iran, with Iranian concessions on its weapon build-up, or something like that.