ISRAEL’S OPTIONS….Daniel Goldhagen writes in the LA Times today that Israel has only a limited number of strategies for dealing with a mortal enemy like Hezbollah. Here’s a summary:

  1. Deterrence. Won’t work because Hezbollah doesn’t care if Lebanon gets bombed.

  2. Genuine peace. Impossible because Hezbollah will never agree.

  3. Conventional war. Not effective against a guerrilla army.

  4. Put up with the status quo. Intolerable because Hezbollah’s attacks will only escalate.

  5. War with Syria and Iran. Bingo.

(Note: this is how Goldhagen numbered them. I’m not sure what happened to option #1.)

When you put it like that, a massive regional war almost sounds reasonable. But how about if we analyze it like this instead?

  1. Deterrence. Complete deterrence is impossible, but sharp and limited attacks do indeed have a partial deterrent effect even on groups like Hezbollah.

  2. Genuine peace. Certainly not anytime soon. However, Lebanon has been making slow but genuine progress for the past few years, and another decade spent on strengthening civil institutions there could weaken Hezbollah’s influence and capabilities and put in place a Lebanese government that truly has control over its own territory.

  3. Conventional war. It’s true that conventional war has a poor track record against guerrillas. But see #2.

  4. Put up with the status quo. Hezbollah’s kidnapping of Israeli soldiers was unquestionably an isolated escalation of violence along the Israel-Lebanon border. But it’s much less clear that Hezbollah has either the intent or the capability to initiate a broader escalation, and in any case Israel has the means to retaliate if Hezbollah tries it. Given the results of the current war, the 2000-2006 status quo might not look all that bad a year or two from now.

  5. War with Syria and Iran. Let’s think twice about this, shall we?

Israel tried occupying Lebanon for 18 years and it didn’t solve anything. In fact, it made things worse. But if you’re willing to try war for 18 years, why give up on a better strategy after only three or four? Sure, Israel should retaliate against Hezbollah’s rocket attacks and destroy what infrastructure they can, but beyond that wouldn’t it be wiser for the U.S. and Israel to retain the support of surrounding Arab countries by helping to steadily strengthen Lebanese civil society and the Lebanese government until it gets to the point where it can control Hezbollah?

Yes, this might easily take another decade. And yes, it might not work. But while it may be comforting to think that a massive military assault would work better, recent history suggests this is naive. Sometimes the only answer is the slow and agonizingly frustrating one.