Monday, August 07, 2006

The Road Ahead

How much longer will Haifa's streets remain empty?

Whether or not a cease fire is announced next week (my money is on the latter possibility), the war between Israel and a coalition currently made up of Hizbullah, Iran, Syria, and elements of the Lebanese state, is far from over. Even if there is a cessation of hostilities, Hizbullah has unleashed a monster that will rear its head again and again.

At the moment, Israel is pursuing two different battles: the fight against Hizbullah ground forces in southern Lebanon, and the actions against the rocket launching cells. On the first of these fronts, Israel is winning. That is to say, the army is destroying Hizbullah fortifications, killing many of the organization’s fighters in close combat, and taking a number of them prisoner. Hizbullah has been pushed back from the immediate border area for now, but the fight is going slowly, and the IDF has suffered a relatively high number of casualties. (To get a sense of Hizbullah operational tactics, read the excellent article by Steven Erlanger and Richard Oppel, Jr. in the NYT). But although it is important for Israel to continue inflicting losses on Hizbullah in southern Lebanon, the real strategic and existential threat is posed by the katyushot. Given that missiles continue raining down on Israeli towns and cities, one has to wonder whether any progress has been made in the second of these battles.

The IDF, to its credit, has been able to wipe out a number of rocket-launchers and crews, especially those firing the long-range missiles that have hit Afula and Hadera. But so far this has not really deterred the attacks. According to DebkaFile, Hizbullah

no longer bothers to conceal the launch sites of its heavy missiles. Their crews are under orders to execute “suicide launchings,” accepting that the moment they let their rockets fly they will be exposed to reprisal.

Hizbullah still has many rockets left, and given the status quo the Iranians and Syrians will continue to supply these to enable the terrorist organization to strike Israeli civilians. Likewise they will continue passing on advanced weapons (made by them or bought from Russia) to Hizbullah militants engaging the IDF.

There is no easy solution to the problem of the rockets. Sometimes we forget that Israel has been unsuccessfully battling rocket attacks on its civilian population for several years now. In effect, the current missile strikes against Israel’s North are Qassam launches from Gaza writ large. In Europe and the US, these Qassams are often imagined as harmless. It is true that they have not killed as many people as Hizbullah’s rockets. This can be explained in part by the far better intelligence Israel has about activity in Gaza – intelligence that has enabled it to take out Qassam-crews on their way to attacks. It might also be thanks to the passive (rather than active) role of Egypt in the smuggling of armaments by the Palestinians. But even these factors have not eliminated the Qassam firing.

Those who recommend Israeli concessions, such as an immediate withdrawal from the West Bank, should remember that the Qassams began in earnest after Israel evacuated from Gaza. Whoever believes that, after a withdrawal from the West Bank, the Palestinians will not rush to duplicate what they have accomplished in Gaza, and what Hizbullah has done to the North, is living in a movie.

Elsewhere on this blog, Ariel has cited Gideon Levy, suggesting that this whole conflict could have been avoided if only Israel had returned the Golan Heights. I am not terribly convinced, but even if Levy were right, I am terrified by what might happen when Assad Jr. finally falls and the Islamists start running Damascus. How long until terrorist groups start firing heavy surface-to-surface missiles from the Golan?

The genie is out of the bottle, and so far Israel does not have a winning recipe to put it back in. Indeed, it has not even achieved one of the most important prerequisites for such a solution: convincing the rest of the world about the nature and extent of the threat. For too many armchair analysts, narrowly focused on the “disproportionality” of Israel’s actions and the “small” number of victims on Israel’s side, Hizbullah’s missiles and the Palestinian Qassams still appear astoundingly abstract. They do not yet realize that Hizbullah’s katyushot and the era they have ushered in represent a threat to Israel’s existence, as Meirav Arlosoroff writes in Ha’aretz.

For those who need a more concrete illustration of this threat, I recommend Carmia’s excellent documentation, “The Aftermath of One Katyusha” on this blog. Just imagine that a missile like that loaded with thousands of ball bearings, somewhere down the line during a lull in fighting, during a period of calm, strikes Haifa's Moriah or Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Street without warning.

This war will not be over until Israel has used all the diplomatic and military means at its disposal to banish that nightmare scenario from the realm of the possible.


Anonymous said...

How much longer will Haifa's streets remain empty?

Answer/Question: How much longer will Israel be a stupid/terrorist nation?

John said...

It wouldn't be a good idea for Israel to hand back the Golan Heights.

Israel should have all of their traditional/historical territory.

But there is a right place for the Arabs to call home, too!

Even if Israel recovers all of their historical territory, the Arabs will still have 600 times more land worldwide than the Jews.

As for the Palestinian Arabs, a homeland exists for them too - its called Jordan.

God loves all nations, and He has appointed a rightful homeland for each.

I am both pro-Israel and pro-Arab. I love both and wish the best for both. But there is a right home for the Jews and a right home for the Arabs - and this needs to be accepted.

Anonymous said...

You insist on lumping all Arabs together. Clearly, however, all Arabs are not the same, in spite of their supposed solidarity and various attempts at pan-Arab nationalism. Neither Lebanon nor Syria nor Jordan nor Egypt is a home for the Palestinians, as the sometimes murderous policies of their governments have amply demonstrated. Whatever you believe god to have ordained, I would ask you to refrain from offering Biblical surveying as any kind of justification for current policy, whether on our side or theirs.

Likes clouds in israel said...

Is that the dvd store at s'derot moriah?

John said...

Dear Anonymous:

Do you believe the Jews have a right to self-determination in a homeland of their own, somewhere within Palestine?

You asked me to "refrain from offering Biblical surveying as any kind of justification for current policy, whether on our side or theirs".

What alternative would you propose as a basis for, or philosophy for determining the borders between Israel and an independent Palestinian State, and indeed the borders between an independent Palestinian State and existing Arab States such as Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt?