Widening the War

WIDENING THE WAR….I suppose this isn’t unexpected, but it’s hardly comforting either:

Israel called up a few thousand reservists today, in possible preparation for a more extensive ground operation in southern Lebanon, as its warplanes continued to hit targets there and to drop leaflets warning residents of villages to leave their homes and head northward.

The consensus theory here seems to be that Israel will spend a few weeks degrading Hezbollah’s military capability and then withdraw, allowing an international peacekeeping contingent to patrol southern Lebanon. But that’s harder than it sounds. Israel may well be able to destroy Hezbollah’s watchtowers and some of its rocket launching capacity, but Hezbollah’s ability to wage guerrilla war is unlikely to be seriously damaged. This means they’ll keep fighting, which in turn means that Israel will find themselves unable to leave Lebanon since (a) they won’t be willing to leave under fire and (b) no international peacekeeping force will take over unless there’s a peace to keep.

This is pretty much what happened to the United States in Iraq. The original plan was to swoop in, destroy Saddam’s army, and then withdraw all but a token force within six months. But the rising insurgency made that impossible and three years later we’re still there. Likewise, Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon was also supposed to be a brief affair, and it ended up lasting 18 years.

This isn’t to say the situations are precisely comparable, but they do have a certain disquieting assonance. Once a country introduces serious numbers of ground troops into a conflict, it’s pretty much committed to staying until it can credibly declare victory, and in guerrilla wars that can commit them for a very long time. Ze’ev Schiff implies (“1982 versus 2006”) that the Israeli government and the IDF are well aware of this and know what they’re doing here. I sure hope he’s right.