Tuesday, August 01, 2006

An Israeli Defeat? The Ugly Consequences of an Hezbollah Victory

As the 2006 Mideast War grinds on, there's speculation here and there of the possibility and consequences of an Israeli defeat. Today's lead editorial at the Wall Street Journal looks at the turn in world opinion against Israel's campaign against Hezbollah, and reiterates the point that the bomb attacks haven't done much to weaken the Shiite terrorist organization:

The question is what now. One temptation for the Bush Administration, which is under fire from most Arab leaders including Iraq's, will be to rein in Israel quickly. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been talking about pushing a cease-fire through the U.N. later this week, although the timetable seems to have been pushed back. One of the ideas is that a multinational force would then help Lebanon's government disarm Hezbollah.

But moving too soon, and with Hezbollah still powerful, risks replaying the disastrous scenario that unfolded in August 1982. That's when civilian casualties related to attacks on PLO strongholds in Beirut led the Reagan Administration to demand a halt to the fighting. The resulting events--insertion of multinational forces, the Marine barracks bombing, and U.S. withdrawal--are still cited by the likes of Osama bin Laden as evidence the civilized world has no stomach for a hard fight.

A premature cease-fire now would allow Hezbollah to claim a victory over Israel and emerge as a stronger regional power. Even a best-case scenario would probably see Israel again fighting Hezbollah--at a time of Hezbollah's choosing and as the dominant force in a future Lebanese government. There could also be trouble for Israel with other neighbors, since Israel would have forfeited the aura of military invincibility that has kept it relatively safe for decades in such a rough neighborhood.

Leaders in Tehran and Damascus would also conclude that employing terrorist proxies works. Iran could roll ahead with its bomb program knowing that Europe and the U.S. can be easily intimidated. Lebanon's fledgling democracy would be another casualty. President Bush's entire vision for the Middle East would suffer a severe setback if the current fighting ends with Hezbollah still a credible military force.

Israel does not deliberately target civilians, much less children. They were hit in Qana because Hezbollah operates near civilians to use them as a shield and to exploit such tragedies as to turn world opinion against Israel. Hezbollah has been the consistent and flagrant violator of international law throughout this conflict--deliberately targeting Israeli civilians with shrapnel-filled missiles, fighting out of uniform, and hiding among Lebanese civilians and helpless U.N. peacekeepers.

If these and other tactics remind you of al Qaeda and the insurgents in Iraq, they should. They are the reality of today's asymmetrical terrorist methods, and their success in Lebanon will only mean the further spread of those methods against others in the Mideast and beyond.
The editorial continues by advising the adminstration to push Israel to finish the job against Hezbollah, even if that means escalating to a full-blown ground invasion in Lebanon. Bret Stephens, also in today's Wall Street Journal, declares flatly that "Israel Is Losing This War." Over at the New York Times, on the other hand, the editors argue that in the face of increasing civilian casualties, and with the likelihood of 10-14 more days of fighting needed to neutralize Hezbollah rocket strongholds, the U.S. should push Jerusalem to accept a cease-fire as U.N. diplomacy proceeds.

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