Like many, if not most, people, the current conflict in Israel/Lebanon/Gaza has been on my mind a lot lately, especially the military activity in Lebanon. Personally, I've been all over the map in my thinking on it. Hezbollah, while it does have some limited political legitimacy in Lebanon through holding elected office and through its strong social support network (it has built hospitals, after all) is, nevertheless, a despicable organization comprised mainly of brutal, hate-filled murderers who think nothing of targeting Israeli citizens and infrastructure. They initiated this crisis with their unprovoked aggression and continue to court a military response with the firing of rockets into Israel. And the Bush administration's argument against merely returning to the status quo has a lot of merit. A much larger and more brutal conflict may loom in the not-too-distant future if Hezbollah, and through it Iran, is not put into check during this opportunity.
Initially I thought they got what was coming to them and Israel was undertaking a legitimate military response to a real and persistent threat. I think there is some room to argue that the response was a bit opportunistic in that this was a huge set of airstrikes that were costing more than a few innocent lives in Lebanon over 2 soldiers that could (potentially) be succesfully negotiated for. But, then again, this has been a long and difficult struggle and it is not easy to draw a clear and simple line about what constitutes a mere continuation of previous hostility and what is a new form or level of aggression. In poking around the internet or watching TV, there seems to be a lot of people who think that this is actually an easy distinction to make and it seems a great deal have settled into a black-white polarity in their thinking on this matter. Either Israel is right or it is wrong, and the latter no matter what Hezbollah did or is doing to foment the conflict. If Israel is right, then a cease-fire or UN peace-keeping force should be pushed off into the future, whether by weeks or months, in order to let Israel finish the job. If Israel is wrong, then these options cannot be brought into the picture fast enough to end the attacks. There is very little middle ground and even less nuance in understanding this conflict.
That being said, I will lay out my position: Israel should end all attacks on Lebanon except on active Hezbollah attack points, ie, missile launchers about to be, being, or have immediately been fired. This means no more attacks on population centers, roads or other non-military targets. Israel should withdraw its troops from Lebanon and seek an actual armed UN or NATO force to impose a cease-fire and to assist the Lebanese government in gaining control over its territory.
Here are my reaons:
1) This has been an ongoing conflict for decades and so it actually makes little sense to try to point to a single act as the cause of this latest flare-up. Yes, Hezbollah kidnapped some soldiers, but they did so in support of Hamas and the Palestinians in Gaza who were coming under attack for their own kidnapping operation. Why did Hamas kidnap that soldier? Certainly in response to some Israeli action, which itself was a response to some Palestinian action, which itself was a response to some Israeli action...ad infitum. While I certainly believe that Hamas, Hezbollah and other such groups bear a large balance of the moral culpability in this conflict, we cannot pretend that Israel has been perfectly upright in all its dealings and activity in regards to the Palestinians. The very founding of the modern nation of Israel was actually a bit of ethnic cleansing, forcing Palestinians off of their lands in order to make room for the Jews. And since then, Israel has indeed committed its own fair share of crimes and immoral activity. Even though Israel does not intentionally target civilians, it seems to think very little of inflicting civilian casualties - the Palestinian death toll in the Intifada was more than 3 times that of the Israelis. In the latest conflict, Israel has targeted ambulances and intentionally shelled a UN observation post, and the Lebanse death-toll is somewhere around 10 times the number of Israeli dead. Both sides share in the long and convoluted cords of blame and just because Israel is a Western-style Democracy does not mean that it is infallible or that we should give it a pass on its failings. I am not arguing for moral equivalency, only that the roots of this conflict are too deep to easily make black & white declarations. And because of that, Israel's response may be predicated more on decades of anger and frustration rather than clear thinking on how to best respond to these attacks. I think this long history is churning up more emotion than strategy.
2) Israel's aggressive response is predicated on the notion of eliminating Hezbollah as a military threat. An idea I fully support. But can Israel succeed in this mission? The answer is an unfortunate "no." Yes, Israel may be able to capture or destroy most, or even all, of the rockets and other long-range munitions that Hezbollah currently uses. It may be able to kill or capture most, or even all, of the organization's fighters and leaders. But Hezbollah is not a threat just because of its weapons and it is not limited to its actual members. Hezbollah is an ideology and Israel's response is actually feeding it, helping it to grow and take root. Dealing a strong blow to Hezbollah now will only beat it back in the short term; it will grow back and find new ways to attack Israel. Perhaps it will realize that conventional weapons aren't effective and seek to acquire some form of WMD. Basically, I don't think this is a battle Israel can win in the long-term and I think its chances of success in the short-term are actually pretty low. Hezbollah is dug in deep, it has a well-developed logistics, intelligence and recruiting network, as well as political power and legitimacy in Lebanon and elsewhere. Israel cannot kill it. I don't believe Hezbollah can be negotiated with either, which is why an armed, empowered peacekeeping force is probably the best chance Israel has of achieving a more stable peace.
3) And finally, if the US and Israel is right, and Hezbollah is really just the lapdog of Iran and Syria (to a lesser extent) than a death toll of nearly 600 Lebanese caught in the crossfire is completely unacceptable. I fully believe that a decent percentage of those killed were either actual Hezbollah fighters or were directly supporting Hezbollah's attacks in some other way (ie, storing weapons or housing fighters), but it is entirely inconceivable that even half of them were directly linked in any meaningful way. I don't care what anyone says, a decision to bomb a bunker that is surrounded by civilians is as much a decision to kill those civilians as it is to destroy the military target. Innocent casualties are unavoidable in any modern conflict, but is Israel trying hard enough? I think the death toll proves otherwise and when the sheer numbers are considered in conjunction with attacks on ambulances, neutral observers and vital civilian infrastructure like power stations, we can conclude that Israel is being far too cavalier about the effect its attacks are having on innocent people. That is not at all fitting of a nation that obviously respects the rule of law, the rights of individuals and the spirit of democracy. To argue that Israel must be free(r) from moral restraint due to the barbarity of Hezbollah is arguing for moral equivalency from the opposite direction.
I think 2 & 3 are actually the most compelling reasons for an Israeli withdrawal. Why continue an attack that is costing so many innocent lives if the chance for success is low? Why push forward on something that is only going to make things worse in the long run?