When Prime Minister Olmert unleashed the air campaign as a response to the Hezbollah border attack and kidnappning, he obviously expected a rather quick and easy punishment operation.
The main aim of the very sharp counterattack was probably to restore the fear of the armed might of Israel that had started to weakened during the past few years. Now was the time to set an example, was the idea.
But two weeks into the war things are more complicated.
It’s increasingly obvious that an air campaign only can achieve very little apart from the counter-productive destruction of the infrastructure of Lebanon. The fighting capabilities of Hezbollah are certainly degraded, but not eliminated. It can probably easily be restored.
And the ground incursions into southern Lebanon are proving more difficult than anticipated.
At an emergency meeting yesterday evening and night as well as today, now with the entire Cabinet, it seems as if different alternatives were considered. The report in Haaretz is well worth reading.
A military proposal to make a massive call-up of reservist and launch a two-month campaign to clear the entire area up to the Litani river was obviouslu turned down. There were fears of large casualities – the 1982 war all over again – but also fear of stumbling into a major ground war with Syria.
So much for the talk over everything just being a question of some air strikes.
It seems as of Prime Minister Olmert is now instead aiming at the securing of an area in southern Lebanon that could be cleared of Hezbollah and then held until an international force could take over.
But that’s a debatable strategy.
If a proposal to clear the area up to the Litani has been rejected, we are obviously talking about a rather small area. While the genuine security perimeter of Israel now extends well north of the Litani – in view of the longer range of the rockets – this area would obviously end far to the south of the Litani.
It would not halt the most damaging of the rocket attacks of Hezbollah.
And to expect an international force to quickly just come in and take over the occupation operation of the Israeli army in this zone is in all probability a pipe-dream. Few would be happy with such a mandate and even fewer would be ready to provide the forces. And even under the best of circumstances it would take months to deploy anything of substance.
The irony of the situation might well be that the longer Washington provides political encouragement for the Israeli operation to continue, the greater is the risk of Israel being stuck in a quagmire that would risk a strategic defeat.
That’s certainly not in the interest of even those of us being – like myself – highly critical of the Olmert policies.
Israel needs to be rescued from the consequences of its policies. An agreed cease-fire as quickly as possible.
But as long as Washington doesn’t see it – it will not happen.