Dissent is the Highest Form of Patriotism

Jamie Levin, Executive Director of Ameinu, Urges Diplomatic Solution to Crisis

The Right of Self Defense

Israel is under assault. Katyushas raining down on her northern border have left half a million Israelis in bomb shelters; the whole northern economy is in peril, with crops rotting un-harvested and factories lying idle. In this scenario Israel certainly has the right to self defense.

While I support this right, and my heart goes out to Israelis languishing in the shelters, I am afraid that rights don’t necessarily translate into an effective campaign. Just because Israeli actions are defensive (read: justified) doesn’t make them appropriate; just because Israel is entitled to retaliate in the manner it has chosen doesn’t mean this campaign will be successful.

In fact, I think Israel’s Operation Just Reward, about to enter its third week, risks being a disaster of historic proportions for the Jewish State.

Goals of War

None of Israel’s current military actions are likely to bring about her desired goals: an aerial campaign cannot return the captured soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. Nor will it likely to cleanse Southern Lebanon of Hezbollah (and the continued threat to Israel’s northern border). Despite thousands of sorties by the Israeli Air Force, Hezbollah’s arsenal still remains; yesterday alone 60 rockets rained down on northern Israel and today we learn that Hezbollah possesses many more Zelzal rockets, capable of striking Tel Aviv, than previously thought. Also, while Israel has demonstrated its ability to quickly destroy conventional armies, its experience in the first Lebanon war, and two Intifada’s, has shown that it has little hope of a definitive victory against guerilla forces. Each request for an additional 24, 48, or 72 hours by Israeli military commanders brings the risk of a bloody ground war and an extended occupation that much closer.

Hezbollah Emboldened.

In fact, the only realizable goal of this mission might be to restore Hezbollah’s lost respect for Israeli deterrent capabilities. On Tuesday the 25th Hezbollah leader Mahmoud Komati told the Associated Press that Hezbollah “did not expect Israel to react so strongly to its capture of two Israeli soldiers.” Komati meant that since 2000 Hezbollah had come to expect that Israel would not defend itself in the face of repeated provocations (such as kidnappings, and bombs lobbed into the contested Sheba Farms region).

Deterrence is in the eye of the beholder—it only works when an adversary expects a swift response to provocation; if they don’t expect it, there is no deterrence. Israel’s withdrawal, and its subsequent failure to respond to provocations instigated by Hezbollah, acted to reduce Israel’s deterrent capabilities.

Komati’s recent admission proves that Israel has achieved at least one of the strategic aims of this camping: restoring its deterrent capability. Where Hezbollah was once emboldened to attack Israel it is now surprised at the swift and bloody reaction it has brought upon itself.

The Good Old Days

Most important, the actions on Israel’s northern border have acted to divert world attention from the real show in town: Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The war on Israel’s northern border, started by Iran’s proxy Hezbollah, might very well buy enough time for Iran to put the finishing touches on its enrichment program.

Iran is only missing one thing: time to complete the fuel cycle. It has the desire to go nuclear and the delivery systems to deliver a punch anywhere in the Middle East (and much of Europe as well).

I fear that once Iran goes nuclear these times might be referred to as the good old days. A nuclear tipped Iran will be empowered to act with impunity (either on their own, or through proxies); Israel can ill afford a deadly nuclear showdown on its doorstep in response to Katyusha rocket fire.

Negative Consensus

Disturbingly, the push for a military “solution” to Hezbollah and the Lebanese problem is not being seriously debated in Israel. According to Reuven Pedatzur, reporting in Haaretz on July 26th, “two weeks after the outbreak of the second Lebanon war, the Knesset has not held even one session on the conflict, its objectives, and the IDF operations.”

Although many observers of the conflict are reminded of the 1982 Operation Peace for the Galilee (i.e., the Lebanon War) I detect similarities with another conflict: the 1967 war.

In 1982 a certain Defense Minister, Ariel Sharon, duped the Israeli public into a bloody guerilla war. The original goal of a limited campaign to stop rocket fire into the north of Israel was quietly expanded into a full scale war to root the PLO from southern Lebanon with an extended twenty-two year occupation without proper debate in either the Knesset or the media.

After the Six Day War a consensus quickly emerged amongst the Israeli public; occupation became a fact of daily life—one that few people chose to contemplate until the first Intifada. This time around, the Israeli public is entering into an extended conflict—one with little hope of achieving its aims—with eyes wide open.

In 1967 the Israeli consensus was driven by the euphoria of vanquishing an existential threat of generations. In this campaign a certain ‘negative consensus’ has emerged. Israelis support the action of their government and defense forces because they see little alternative. In any event, a consensus has emerged once again with little debate; as in 1967 no one can say that they have been misled.

Diplomatic Solutions

Unfortunately, it seems obvious that only a diplomatic route will lead to the return of the missing soldiers. Though Israel might be justified in its most recent war, violence is unlikely to be quelled through force alone. Diplomacy, not bombs, will convince the Lebanese Armed Forces to secure their southern border and international attention is required to keep Iran from becoming a bigger menace in the region. But before there is a desire for diplomacy there must be a vibrant debate of the merits of this campaign. The Knesset and the Israeli media must not be afraid to question whether force will lead to quiet.

The opinions expressed by Jamie Levin are his own and in no way represent the views of Ameinu. 

Explore posts in the same categories: CALME Luminaries, Hezbollah, Iran, Israel, Lebanon

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