HEZBOLLAH AND THE IDF, PART 2….Conservative pundits are seemingly united in their belief that Israel shouldn’t leave Lebanon until Hezbollah is completely destroyed. Earlier today I asked if this was even feasible: “The IDF spent nearly two decades in Lebanon until Ehud Barak withdrew in 2000, and presumably was doing its very best during that time to destroy Hezbollah. But they weren’t able to do it. So what’s changed since then to make us think that the IDF can do it now?”

Via email, Aaron Rutkoff suggests that, conservative pundits to the contrary, utter destruction probably isn’t the goal of the Israeli military:

I don’t think anyone in the IDF believes a total elimination of Hezbollah is possible, even if Israeli forces had two decades instead of two weeks to pursue a military solution. But remember that in Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon ? and the ill-conceived occupation that followed ? the aim wasn’t to uproot the Shiite non-state militia of Hezbollah. Instead, the IDF circa 1982 wanted to uproot a secular non-state militia (the PLO under Arafat) ? and at least that original mission must be viewed as a success (Arafat and his army did flee en masse on slow boats to Tunis, after all). Hezbollah filled in the power vacuum the IDF’s prolonged presence created in the south, and they managed to thwart the IDF only as a guerrilla hit-and-run movement, not as a quasi-military with established firing positions and whatnot.

What’s changed since then is that Hezbollah in south Lebanon today is much more like the PLO of 1982 than the Hezbollah of the mid-90s. I’ve been there to the border. Hezbollah has military-style border outposts with its own yellow flags and watch towers. The IDF and the Hezbollah soldiers shadow each other, much like hostile armies do along international boundaries everywhere in the world. It does not seem inconceivable to me that the IDF could smash these sorts of hardened positions and severely degrade Hezbollah’s missile-launching infrastructure (these are not crude Hamas-style rockets, after all, but more sophisticated imports from Iran).

In this way, Hezbollah may be reduced to a guerrilla army again. And then, presumably, the regular Lebanese army or (more likely, in my opinion) an EU-led force can replace Hezbollah on the border. So Hezbollah wouldn’t be gone (none of the Haaretz analysts suggest this is even a remote possibility), but they just wouldn’t be left ruling the southern boundary like they have been since the IDF left six years ago.

I’m not quite sure how the bombing of Beirut figures into this, but what do I know? In any case, this sounds like a pretty plausible answer: it’s not a matter of destroying Hezbollah, just a matter of bombing them back to their guerrilla roots. Time will tell if this works.