19 July 2006

Israeli Exit Strategy in Lebanon?

Writing in today's Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer posits:

There is crisis and there is opportunity. Amid the general wringing of hands over the seemingly endless and escalating Israel-Hezbollah fighting, everyone asks: Where will it end?

The answer, blindingly clear, begins with understanding that this crisis represents a rare, perhaps irreproducible, opportunity.

The opportunity? Well, the liberation of southern Lebanon (and it's repatriation) by Israel following a Gulf War I style campaign:
It starts by preparing the ground with air power, just as the Persian Gulf War began with a 40-day air campaign. But if all that happens is the air campaign, the result will be failure. Hezbollah will remain in place, Israel will remain under the gun, Lebanon will remain divided and unfree. And this war will start again at a time of Hezbollah and Iran's choosing.

Just as in Kuwait in 1991, what must follow the air campaign is a land invasion to clear the ground and expel the occupier. Israel must retake south Lebanon and expel Hezbollah. It would then declare the obvious: that it has no claim to Lebanese territory and is prepared to withdraw and hand south Lebanon over to the Lebanese army (augmented perhaps by an international force), thus finally bringing about what the world has demanded -- implementation of Resolution 1559 and restoration of south Lebanon to Lebanese sovereignty.

All well and good, one supposes, except Israel's been there before. Like anything else in history, not a perfect reprise of 1982, especially since the Hezbollah actions have generated the unprecedented, if somewhat muted, condemnation from the Arab League and prompted even Russia to join in condemnation at the G8 summit. Nevertheless, a 40+ day air campaign against Lebanon-based Hezbollah with nightly footage of Lebanese victims and their outraged countrymen would likely turn world opinion against the Israelies. One can already sense the drift in the reporting by the MSM from the ground in Beirut (no surprise there). The reality is the window of opportuity is probably only another week or two, absent action by Syria or another miscalculation by Hezbollah. Expect to see a growing campaign for a ceasefire and a "diplomatic soluiton."

It will be interesting to see how nations line-up in the coming weeks. Will Egypt and Jordan's outspoken criticism of Hezbollah withstand the restlessness of sympathizers in their own countries? Will continental Europe with its large (and growing) indigenous Moslem population press for an early termination of ops by Israel? And the US, already with much on its plate in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, how long before "quiet overtures" are made to the Israelies to wrap things up? How much pressure will there be for Secretary Rice to return from her trip to the region waving a document that promises peace?