Israeli Exit Strategy Coming Together
The London Guardian is reporting that the Bush administration is telling Israel that they have one week to wrap up operations against Hezbollah before the United States exerts diplomatic pressure to end the conflict. Whether that’s true–and the administration denies it–it does appear that some thought is being given to an exit strategy.
The US is giving Israel a window of a week to inflict maximum damage on Hizbullah before weighing in behind international calls for a ceasefire in Lebanon, according to British, European and Israeli sources.
The Bush administration, backed by Britain, has blocked efforts for an immediate halt to the fighting initiated at the UN security council, the G8 summit in St Petersburg and the European foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels. “It’s clear the Americans have given the Israelis the green light. They [the Israeli attacks] will be allowed to go on longer, perhaps for another week,” a senior European official said yesterday. Diplomatic sources said there was a clear time limit, partly dictated by fears that a prolonged conflict could spin out of control.
US strategy in allowing Israel this freedom for a limited period has several objectives, one of which is delivering a slap to Iran and Syria, who Washington claims are directing Hizbullah and Hamas militants from behind the scenes. George Bush last night said that he suspected Syria was trying to reassert its influence in Lebanon. Speaking in Washington, he said: “It’s in our interest for Syria to stay out of Lebanon and for this government in Lebanon to succeed and survive. The root cause of the problem is Hizbullah and that problem needs to be addressed.”
Every bit of that last sentence is true. Which is why a fixed timetable, as opposed to strategic milestones, makes no sense. As Bill Quick observes, saying Israel has seven days to achieve its objectives is tantamount to saying, “Hezbollah, if you can just hang on for another week, you’re home free.” Given that this is precisely why Bush has rejected a timetable in Iraq, I’d be surprised indeed if he was issuing such an ultimatum to Israel. I’d be even more surprised if Israel acceded to it.
Tony Blair yesterday swung behind the US position that Israel need not end the bombing until Hizbullah hands over captured prisoners and ends its rocket attacks. During a Commons statement, he resisted backbench demands that he call for a ceasefire. Echoing the US position, he told MPs: “Of course we all want violence to stop and stop immediately, but we recognise the only realistic way to achieve such a ceasefire is to address the underlying reasons why this violence has broken out.”
Which certainly doesn’t sound much like a timetable to me.
From the beginning of this latest escalation, I’ve expressed concerns that Israel seemed to be applying mass violence without any clear goals or, even worse, for the sole purpose of getting one prisoner released.
Israel is already laying the ground for negotiations. “We are beginning a diplomatic process alongside the military operation that will continue,” said Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, yesterday. “The diplomatic process is not meant to shorten the window of time of the army’s operation, but rather is meant to be an extension of it and to prevent a need for future military operations,” she added.
Moshe Kaplinsky, Israel’s deputy army chief, said the offensive could end within a few weeks, adding that Israel needed time to complete “clear goals”. Israeli officials said fighting could begin to wind down after the weekend, if Hizbullah stops firing rockets.
Rather odd to have a goal that was the status quo ante, no? The firing of rockets into Israel was the Hezbollah response to the invasion, not its cause.
A peace formula is also beginning to emerge: it includes an understanding on a future prisoner exchange, a deployment of the Lebanese army up to the Israeli border, a Hizbullah pullback, and the beefing up of an international monitoring force. For the first time, Ms Livni suggested Israel might accept such a force on a temporary basis.
Finally, we have something like a meaningful strategic goal that is both achievable and unachievable without war. The Lebanese government had neither the will nor the leverage to take control of their southern territory from Hezbollah prior to the Israeli incursion. Ditto the United Nations, which would simply chase its tail with fruitless talks without an emergency.
If the government of Lebanon–and the Palestinian authority, for that matter–can actually be coerced into doing something about the terrorist shadow government in their midst, we would have at least some basis for hope. And, while the UN is virtually worthless for putting an end to war, it has historically been quite adept at legitimate peacekeeping operations. The longstanding Multinational Force and Observers operation in Sinai is a particularly apt model. Let us hope all this killing has not been for nothing.