ISRAEL AND LEBANON….The conventional wisdom about Israel’s campaign in Lebanon is that it’s been a strategic failure. They went in assuming they could substantially destroy Hezbollah’s military capability with an air campaign, and when that failed they were forced into a costly ground campaign followed by a belated realization that they were trapped in southern Lebanon ? again ? unless they could somehow convince a multinational force to take their place.

Jeff Weintraub thinks the conventional wisdom is wrong:

Unlike the situation in previous conflicts, it seems clear that this time around the Israeli government did not believe that Israel could achieve a solution by itself, nor that a solution to the threat posed by Hezbollah could be achieved solely by military force.

Instead, it looks increasingly apparent that a prime Israeli goal was to provoke a multilateral diplomatic and political intervention by the so-called “international community”….It also seems clear that the Israeli & US governments have been roughly in accord on this strategy ? and, more surprisingly, that the major European governments have signed on to its broad outlines.

….All the commentary that has misunderstood or ignored these connections between the military, diplomatic, and political dimensions of the situation ? which is to say, most of the commentary in news reports, punditry, and the blogosphere ? has largely missed the point of what is going on.

In other words, Israel’s current miserable situation was actually part of the plan all along. After years of watching Hezbollah build up its border forces, the Israelis finally decided that the only lasting solution required both the diplomatic involvement of the international community as well as a multinational force in southern Lebanon, and they figured the only way to make this happen was to conduct a major assault that would spur the international community into action.

This is a “two cushion bank shot” explanation of Israel’s otherwise perplexing actions, and I’ve noted before that I find such theories generally unconvincing. What’s more, I don’t see any evidence to persuade me that it applies in this specific case. I asked Jeff about this and he offered some clarification via email:

Do we have any good reason to believe that this was not the idea from the beginning? To conclude that, we have to assume (a) that the Israeli government believed that the Lebanese government would be able and willing to crush Hezbollah by itself, without outside involvement, and (b) that even if Israel managed to knock out a large portion of Hezbollah’s 10,000+ Iranian missiles, Iran & Syria wouldn’t simply replace them in the absence of some larger political & diplomatic solution. Governments do a lot of stupid things, based on a lot of stupid assumptions, but is it likely that in this case the Israeli government was being that stupid? Unlikely. That requires a more implausible story-line than the one I propose.

Unfortunately, there’s still no evidence here, and there are reasons to believe this storyline is wrong. The Israeli security cabinet has been leaking like a sieve during the war ? the local press practically seems to have minutes of their meetings ? and no one in Jerusalem has reported anything that supports this theory. On the contrary, all the reporting seems to support the idea that, in this case, a cigar is just a cigar: Hezbollah screwed up by not anticipating the Israeli reaction to their July 12 kidnappings, and IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz really did believe that air power would be sufficient to finish the Israeli counterattack. The Israelis were genuinely reluctant to start a ground offensive, and are conducting one now only because they ran out of options when the air attack failed.

(NB: Jeff points to a single New York Times article here that supports his theory that Israel wanted a multinational force in Lebanon all along, but it was published 12 days after the war began and seems to me to be a reaction to the dawning failure of the air war, not evidence that this was Israel’s original goal.)

But here’s the thing: I don’t read everything that’s printed and I might have missed something that supports Jeff’s theory. So I’m throwing this out for discussion. Has anyone read anything that suggests Israel was trying to provoke an international intervention from the very beginning? Or is a cigar just a cigar?