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July 23, 2006
Israel: We'll Take NATO

Israel has indicated that it will accept a new multinational screening force in Lebanon to keep Hezbollah off of Israel's border, but wants NATO-commanded forces for the task. Whether or not NATO -- and by extension the United States -- decides to take job is another question entirely:

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Sunday that Israel would accept a temporary international force, preferably headed by NATO, deployed along the Lebanese border to keep Hizbullah guerrillas away from Israel, according to officials in Peretz's office.

"Israel's goal is to see the Lebanese army deployed along the border with Israel, but we understand that we are taking about a weak army and that in the midterm period Israel will have to accept a multinational force," he said according to his office.

Peretz made the comments during a closed meeting with visiting German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. ...

Israel has made clear that any agreement in Lebanon would have to be based on a release of the captive Israeli soldiers, an implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559 that calls for a disarming of Hizbullah, deploying Lebanese army troops along the border with Israel, and the extension of Lebanese sovereignty throughout the country.

Israel has also expressed a willingness to consider various ideas for the positioning of a multinational force in southern Lebanon for a limited period to augment the Lebanese army - an idea that will surely be raised at the Rome conference. The details of this force still need to be worked out.

Israel cannot hope to completely destroy Hezbollah, and really wants a solution that keeps them from sitting within rocket range of Israel. UNIFIL turned out to be a complete disaster, enabling terrorism instead of stopping it and creating the conditions on the ground that started this war. Any new multinational force would have to pledge to attack Hezbollah positions and disarm Hezbollah terrorists in the buffer zone, or else its worth will be the same as UNIFIL.

That's the reason that Israel appears ready to accept a cease-fire and temporary multinational force without the UN's involvement in military decisions. NATO actually fought against the warring factions in the Balkans, instead of standing around while Serbs committed atrocities as in Srebrenica, as the UN forces did. Peretz will not entrust the security of the northern border to UNIFIL again; he wants the buffer zone enforced, not just watched.

Israel has taken a very pragmatic view of victory, in this sense. Many pundits opined that Israel could only achieve victory in this war if they killed every terrorist in Lebanon. That makes as much sense as if we defined victory in our war as the death of every Islamofascist terrorist. We didn't kill all the Nazis in World War II, but we beat the hell out of them anyway and rendered them incapable of harming us or their neighbors again. Israel understands the difference, which is why the Washington Post reports this morning that Israel has little angst over the continuance of Hezbollah as an unarmed political entity:

The United States, Israel, the United Nations and the European Union have reluctantly concluded that despite punishing military attacks, Hezbollah is likely to survive as a political player in Lebanon, and Israel now says it is willing to accept the organization if it sheds its military wing and abandons extremism, according to several key officials.

"To the extent that it remains a political group, it will be acceptable to Israel," Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon said yesterday in the strongest sign to date that the Israelis are rethinking the scope and ultimate goals of the campaign. "A political group means a party that is engaged in the political system in Lebanon, but without terrorism capabilities and fighting capabilities. That will be acceptable to Israel." ...

In the long term, the United States and Israel hope that Hezbollah is discredited or marginalized politically, too; Lebanon and the Arab world hold it responsible for the July 12 cross-border raid and kidnappings of two soldiers that sparked the punishing Israeli response and widespread destruction, officials say.

And that is where victory lies, because Hezbollah cannot survive long as a political group. What are the politics of Hezbollah, after all? They preach hate and war in a country sick of both. If the Lebanese could have disarmed them after the ejection of Syria, they would have done so. Sheikh Nasrallah knows that the only way Hezbollah can keep its momentum is to conduct terrorist operations on both sides of the border. Without guns, they are bullies and rockthrowers, and little more.

Even more, a disarmed Hezbollah seriously damages Syria, even more so than Iran. Without its Hezbollah proxy, the Syrians can put little pressure on Israel. They lost the strategic Golan Heights (and want them back), which means that without coming through Lebanon, the Syrians have no easy way to attack Israel when the next war breaks out. Any action Damascus takes has to come directly and openly from the Syrians, rather than the stupid raid and abduction operation they apparently endorsed. More importantly, they lose political influence in Beirut and leverage over the Lebanese government, further isolating Syria in the region. A real multinational force, prepared to do battle with provocateurs, would isolate them much further.

Israel has a clear definition of victory: ejection of Hezbollah from southern Lebanon and stripping them of their arms. If NATO can do that, then the Israelis will be glad to see it. They don't want another UNIFIL and will be most unlikely to accept one.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 23, 2006 8:45 AM

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