Israel’s Maximal Option
My article on the political and military aims of the Israeli government and of Hizbullah is out at Salon.com.
Israel has a range of options. It has already made one raid into the south. It could pull back at any point. But the maximal option would be to change the human geography and military posture of the Lebanese south. The next stage could be a calibrated Israeli incursion into the south, reminiscent of its Operation Litani in 1978. Israeli Maj. Gen. Uzi Adam told reporters at a news conference of his advice to Lebanese in the south: “We recommend that they leave their villages and homes and go to the north of the country … We are going to heavily attack the south of Lebanon.” Those Israelis who favor the maximalist option hope that turning the militarized south into central and northern Lebanon’s problem will set the Maronite Christians, Sunnis and Druze leaders even more resolutely against Hezbollah and provoke them to use the Lebanese army to rein in or destroy the Shiite paramilitary.
Israeli Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter insisted that Hezbollah rocket launchers be cleaned out of the area between Israel’s northern border and the Litani River, creating a sort of demilitarized Zone on the model of the Koreas. He added ominously that the Israeli army “should be instructed to operate without a time limit and without a limit of means to apply heavy pressure on the residents of southern Lebanon to evacuate northwards, thereby applying pressure on the center of the Lebanese government.” Dichter’s statement appears to envisage an Israeli attack on south Lebanon that will have as its goal the displacement of tens or hundreds of thousands of Lebanese Shiites into Beirut, burdening the city with a massive refugee problem. A military spokesman said that a ground invasion was not being planned; instead, Israel would attack with airstrikes and artillery fire.
Tens if not hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have already been displaced. UNICEF’s representative in Lebanon told Agence France-Press that “The situation is both alarming and catastrophic. There are about 500,000 people displaced already.”
If it comes about, the forced transfer of the Shiites of the south would have several advantages for the Israelis. The depopulated territory would make it easier to search for and destroy all the Katyusha emplacements and the heavier missiles of which Hezbollah boasted on Sunday. With Hezbollah’s approximately 5,000 fighters deprived of civilian cover, it would be easier to kill them. The Israelis clearly anticipate that a refugee crisis in Beirut will put pressure on the Lebanese government to turn on Hezbollah decisively and to intervene against it militarily. Finally, they expect Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, in the aftermath, to send the Lebanese army south to take up positions along the border and so form a buffer between Hezbollah and Israel.
How good is the maximalist plan enunciated by Israeli military and government spokesmen? Ethically, it is monstrous, involving war crimes on a vast scale insofar as it targets a civilian population for forcible relocation. And practically, any such plan is doomed to abject failure. ‘
Read the whole article.
See also Aluf Benn and Rami Khouri at Salon on this issue.
As usual, I urge readers to subscribe to Salon.