The title should properly say that the "Next Stage" is uncertain, because that's really what's before us: will this war escalate, or will it settle into low level fighting and extended negotiations. (So far, I don't see how it stops altogether.)
Ed Morrissey infers from an article in the Australian that Hezbollah is losing and that they know they are losing. He picks up on two themes. First, that the U.S. failed to recognize the extent of Hezbollah' arsenal, and second, that Hezbollah expected, and even included in their strategic thinking, full Muslim and Arab support for the war. That the latter did not occur dovetails with the situation in the Arab blogosphere I mentioned yesterday. Morrissey writes:
Hezbollah sees all of this and has to wonder where their grand plan went wrong. They fail to recognize that the world has changed since Israel left Lebanon in 2000, and that Islamist terror groups no longer get considered as "freedom fighters" but as agents of despotism and brutal oppression. The world grew up, at least a little, since 9/11 -- and we're no longer patient with people who target civilians for death as political statements. Sheikh Nasrallah can contemplate that as the bombs fall on his head.
The consensus this morning seems to pick up on the NYT report I mentioned yesterday: Israel has a week to do as much damage as possible before the U.S. steps in to negotiate a cease fire.
My question, and I suppose we'll have our answer in a week, is how exactly we think we'll be successful at negotiating a cease fire? It's possible that Hezbollah and its sponsors are rational actors and will see that their cause is lost. It is also possible they are not rational actors, and that they will escalate. Their strategy is premised on twin madnesses in the first place -- the illegality of Israel and the efficacy of indiscriminate rocket attacks -- so why should we expect clear-minded thinking from them? Already there is bluster at least towards escalation, not retreat. Via Israellycool, the Iranian president is declaring that the Muslim world will soon set Israel "ablaze", and an earlier report had Hezbollah claiming it would provide an hour's warning before launching a massive rocket attack against Tel Aviv.
And, as the Australian puts it, "Israel senses one of its major military and political victories is within reach." Why should Israel stop short of destroying a virulent enemy, only so that enemy can recuperate under the auspices of what would probably be a U.N. peace keeping force?
Israel may be working to do not just a quantity of damage to Hezbollah, but damage that in particular will prevent its recuperation. From Israel Matzav, this report:
Military sources said warplanes attacked structures in which Hizbullah stores its money; among the targets hit were the four el-Mal (Money house) buildings in Bint Jbeil, Nabatiyeh, Baalbek and the Tyre area.
In addition, the "Shahid Fund" financial office in Beirut was also attacked by IAF jets, as were buildings used for Hizbullah financial operations in the capital.
The attacks are aimed at hindering Hizbullah's ability to recuperate following the conclusion of the IDF operation in Lebanon.
We should hope Israel does more than this to Hezbollah. As we watch events unfold, we should not forget that should Israel be victorious, a little piece of Hell, Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon, would be consigned to the ashes of history.
UPDATE 2:14 pm CDT: The Chicago Tribune carries an editorial by University of Chicago Associate Dean Raja Kamal. It's problematic, to say the least. He describes the predicate event of the current conflict between Israel and Lebanon thusly: "The current dispute, triggered by Hezbollah's kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers, illustrates the explosive nature in the region."
It is rapidly becoming an indicator of a person's seriousness on the issue of Israel whether or not they add, at some point, that the kidnapping was a military assault that left 8 other soldiers dead. These were not two hapless soldiers accosted outside a bar and sped to a remote location. The were part of a patrol that was attacked, an act of war.
His next sentence is equally myopic: "The response of Israel, as the record would indicate, was swift and disproportionately forceful." 10,000 rockets suggest otherwise. It was a deliberate provocation to war, and war is what Hezbollah received in return.
To be fair, the piece is moderate and ultimately calls for a reasonable solution: "a regional comprehensive resolution that will define the parameters of coexistence." As I've said before, the mid east wars ultimately end when Israel receives recognition from Arab states. The professor's suggestion suggests essentially the same.
But the piece is not just myopic as to the causes of the conflict, it also contains a central contradiction. Kamal writes:
Hezbollah is sadly emerging as the main power broker in Lebanon, and any prolonged conflict could advance the transformation of Lebanon into another Iraq, with far worse consequences. This conflict has crowned Nasrallah as a leader crossed between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. An unresolved conflict would invite into Lebanon radicals from around the world and transform the country into a war platform that will be the battleground against Israel. Furthermore, the exodus of Lebanese fed up with the status quo will further contribute to the brain drain and loss of needed talent required to inject growth and prosperity into the Lebanese economy.
This reflects the tragedy that is Lebanon today, but since the above is true, the path he sets for Israel is wholly impossible.
Short of an immediate cease-fire, Israel should limit its military attacks to Hezbollah targets. The crippling of the Lebanese infrastructure and the blockade must cease immediately. Helpless Lebanese civilians should not pay for the actions of Hezbollah.
Hezbollah has seeped into many corners of Lebanon. They hide among civilians, and even force them to be human shields. It is impossible to target Hezbollah and not risk hurting civilians. And since foreign states sponsor Nasrallah's illegal private army, the ports and roads and border crossings are, in fact, Hezbollah targets; they are the means by which Hezbollah receives support. The sad truth is that despite the headlines, Israel has in fact attempted to limit itself to Hezbollah targets. The problem is that the Lebanese have allowed Hezbollah to infect so much of their country, that much of their country is subject to attack even under the conditions Kamal sets for Israel. The bloodshed only stops when Hezbollah lays down its arms.
The rocket attacks against Israel, which entirely target civilians, continue: two boys were killed in Nazareth; a Ukrainian immigrant, a husband and father of a young daughter, was killed in Haifa. And while Israeli and Hezbollah troops clashed on the ground, leaving two Israeli soldiers dead, Israel has said that a full scale invasion is not imminent.
- Outcome Of Kidnappers' War Still Uncertain
- Israel Winning, Iran Wants A Time Out
- Kidnappers' War Grinds On, Part 2
- Kidnappers' War Grinds On
- 1914 Alert: Kidnappers' War May Be Reaching Breaking Point
- Various Updates On Israel / Lebanon / Gaza
- Wars And Rumors Of Wars
- Israel Masses Tanks, Rockets, Artillery On Northern Border
- "...we are ready for an open war."