Are Israel’s actions justified?

Clearly, the most important story of the last 11 days has been the conflict between Israel and Lebanon. Below I’ve listed my posts in which I’ve struggled for understanding of the situation there. Yesterday I presented an imperfect but straightforward framework for understanding the issues: it’s a dysfunctional neighborhood. I also presented a sketch of how one determines whether the decision to go to war is justified and suggested that Hezbollah’s actions do not fulfill the criteria.

I deliberately stepped over the issue of whether Israel’s actions are justified because I intended to answer that question in greater length in a separate post. I think that the question deserves some consideration: although it places me in opposition to many in the blogosphere, including some of my closest blog-friends, I don’t think that absolutely anything Israel might conceivably do in pursuing peace would ipso facto be justified.

Are Israel’s actions moral?

I think the the answer is, tentatively, “Yes”. I write “tentatively” because I think that Israel’s objectives and tactics are evolving rapidly and not even they are absolutely sure what they’ll do next or how they’ll do it.

I believe that Israel’s decision to go to war is justified (jus ad bellum). The decision was made by a legitimate authority;
the causes are grave, lasting, and certain—revealed to be substantially more grave than was apparent before this exchange by Hezbollah’s missile attacks on Haifa and its apparent possession of weapons with substantially longer range; the preponderance of the evidence at hand suggests that Israel has been discriminating in its bombing (jus ad bellum); and I don’t doubt that Israel has right intentions—they mostly want their neighbors to stop attacking them.

There is, however, one cloud: is Israel’s goal achievable? The stated goal has been to eliminate Hezbollah’s capacity for attacking Israel. Is that achievable short of exterminating Hezbollah, the Lebanese, Syrians, and Iranians?

It has been reported that the Israelis have been disappointed in their air campaign’s effectiveness in degrading Hezbollah’s capabilities:

Israel’s new chief of staff, an air force general, believed that most of Israel’s future operations would be conducted from the air.

Military leaders were convinced that with superior communications and air power they did not even need new U.S. “bunker buster” munitions to root out terror leaders in underground hideaways.

Today, this vision of air power as a panacea has been shattered.

Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz and his advisers have been stunned by the failure of Israel’s air war against Hizbullah, which has shrugged massive air bombings on its headquarters in Beirut to maintain the rocket war against the Jewish state.

The next stage, presumably, is a ground attack and there is some evidence that will happen soon:

The IDF was gearing up for a large-scale ground incursion into Lebanon on Friday. Thousands of reservists were being mobilized to the North throughout Friday to beef up forces stationed in the area in preparation for a possible operation.

In total, three to four ground divisions will be operating along the Lebanese front.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz said on Friday that the defense establishment was evaluating the size of the force needed to conduct a large-scale operation in Lebanon.

“We have no intention of being dragged into something that Hizbullah wants to drag us into,” Peretz said. “Nevertheless, we will operate in every place that we find it necessary.”

Where will it be necessary? If pressed, Hezbollah can withdraw farther north into Lebanon or farther yet into Syria. Will Israel pursue? Without pursuing I don’t see how Israel can achieve it’s objective but by pursuing it both increases the likelihood of civilian casualties and expands the possibility of drawing Syria or Iran into the conflict.

In an editorial yesterday the New York Times called for diplomacy to counter Syria or Iran’s direct participation in the conflict and a UN Security Council resolution:

The resolution should mandate the return of Israel’s kidnapped soldiers and, finally, pledge major international contributions to help Lebanon rebuild from the destruction of the last week and bolster its weak democratic government. If the Security Council isn’t willing to issue such explicit demands or link them to clear punishments, the United States, Europe and key Arab allies, who are also eager to see the fighting end and Hezbollah contained, will have to bring serious pressure on their own. While the Council negotiates, Western powers and responsible Arab leaders, who more often than not sit on the sidelines, should begin a major diplomatic push in the region.

Everyone’s first stop needs to be Damascus, to tell President Bashar al-Assad of Syria that he will be persona non grata if he keeps meddling in Lebanon. The same message needs to be delivered to Tehran. The Europeans have resisted placing Hezbollah on their terrorism list, with the attendant denial of visas and freezing of bank accounts. They need to make clear they will do so now if the group doesn’t immediately bow to international demands.

The Times’s editorial presumes facts that are not in evidence. If China and Russia are not willing to impose sanctions on Iran to prevent nuclear war, how likely are they to be willing to impose sanctions on Iran to curb Hezbollah? Without China and Russia’s participation sanctions will be ineffective and meaningless.

The Bush Administration recognizes the futility of a ceasefire at this point:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday announced plans for talks with Israeli, Palestinian and Lebanese leaders as part of a new U.S. diplomatic effort in the Middle East conflict, but warned that the United States would not support a cease-fire that fell short of disarming Hezbollah and restoring Lebanese government control throughout the besieged country.

On the eve of her foray into the crisis, Rice warned against the “false promise” of an immediate end to hostilities that would only trigger more violence “five or nine months” down the road.

“There are no answers that are easy, nor are there any quick fixes,” Rice said at a news conference outlining talks scheduled in Israel on Monday and a meeting Wednesday in Rome with U.N., European and Arab officials on Lebanon.

“What I won’t do is go to some place and try to get a cease-fire that I know isn’t going to last,” she said.

but seems to be denying the facts that are in evidence:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she wants a “robust” international military force to try to oust Hezbollah forces from southern Lebanon, as she prepares to leave on a diplomatic mission to the region next week.

Rice said she will leave July 23 for meetings with Palestinian and Israeli officials, and then will meet with other nations in Rome to discuss the fighting in Lebanon.

“We do seek an end to the current violence and we seek it urgently,” Rice told reporters at the State Department. Still, “a cease fire would be a false promise if it just returns us to the status quo.’”

The conflict in the Middle East is now in its 10th day and Israel and the Hezbollah militia have vowed to continue the fighting that has left more than 300 Lebanese and 34 Israelis dead since it began July 12 when Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers.

Any military force must be “robust enough” to supplant Hezbollah in southern Lebanon where it can launch attacks on Israel, she said. If not “we’re going to be back here in the next few months,”, Rice said.

Hezbollah is well-armed, well-trained, numerous, and motivated. When was the last time a UN-authorized force faced such a challenge? Presumably, in Korea 50 years ago. The UN peacekeeping missions currently in place in Lebanon are neither robust enough nor do they, apparently, have much of an intention of doing anything in particular. There have been some suggestions that the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon has been complicit in Hezbollah activities.

What international force has faced such a challenge? Presumably, the Coalition’s invasion of Iraq. Does any country other than the United States have the excess capacity to put a “robust force” of the type suggested by Secretary Rice into the field?

Is there any advantage to either the United States or Israel in a U. S.-dominated force taking the field against Hezbollah? Is that even politically possible for the United States? Is there any advantage to either the U. S. or Israel in an international force incapable of confronting Hezbollah taking the field against Hezbollah? The only mission that kind of force could undertake would be “force protection”—not enough to reduce the threat to Israel. Who has the capability or will to participate in a force actually capable of dealing with Hezbollah?

The obvious answer is Israel. What does an international force have to offer?

Do not under under any circumstances miss Ralph Peters’s column today. Here’s his conclusion:

The situation is grim. Israel looks more desperate every day, while Hezbollah appears more defiant.

This is ultimately about far more than a buffer zone in southern Lebanon. In the long run, it’s about Israel’s survival. And about preventing the rise of a nuclear Iran and the strengthening of the rogue regime in Syria. It’s also about the future of Lebanon – everybody’s victim.

The mess Israel has made of its opportunity to smack down Hezbollah should be a wake-up call to the country’s leadership. The IDF looks like a pathetic shadow of the bold military that Ariel Sharon led into Egypt three decades ago. The IDF’s intelligence, targeting and planning were all deficient. Technology failed to vanquish flesh and blood. The myth of the IDF’s invincibility just shattered.

If Israel can’t turn this situation around quickly, the failure will be a turning point in its history. And not for the better.

This is a must-read.  And brings us full-circle to justification.  Are Israel’s objectives achievable?  If not, the justification for its actions fails.

9 comments… add one
  • huh. israel has already recieved a pay-off.
    the “disproportionate” response has convinced fatah and hamas that they will never see a hectare of the West Bank under palestinian control if it is to become a rocket launcher farm like gaza and leb.
    witness haniya and abbas calling for a ceasefire together.

    “If Israel can’t turn this situation around quickly, the failure will be a turning point in its history. And not for the better.”

    and now do you see why saving-face could be a payoff?

  • I think that it is far too early to tell if the whole course of the war will be justified; that will depend upon how the war goes, and it’s currently only partway along. However, it’s crucial to remember that Israel does not have to prove the same level of justification that Hizb’allah does, because Israel didn’t start the war. In self-defense, a lot more is permissible without justification than in an attack.

    That said, I think that Israel’s key challenge in a moral and political sense, as opposed to in a physical and military sense, is to ensure that Hizb’allah is severely beaten up on and pushed permanently North of the Litani River. The combination of the two will bring Israel a measure of peace in the North, and cannot reasonably be seen as over-reaction to Hizb’allah’s acts of war against Israel.

    There is real danger of a spreading war in the Middle East. Lebanon could jump into the fray, particularly if Israel advances past the Litani to the West of the Lebanon mountains. If that happens, Syria could jump in to “save” Lebanon. For that matter, Syria could jump in anyway. While Lebanon itself jumping in is not a problem, Syrian intervention is. Israel would destroy the Syrian military and government, which in turn might be forced to use chemical/biological weapons on Israel. That would lead Israel to a nuclear strike on Syria and Iran, and then the world changes.

    But even with all of that, the responsibility is Hizb’allah’s, for raiding into Israel and then launching rockets at Israeli cities when Israel responded; and Iran’s, for creating an illegitimate army (essentially, Hizb’allah are Iranian-paid mercenaries) and sending them against a legitimate state.

    And if the escalation goes down the worst-case route, no one will care whose responsibility it is.

  • As usual, Jeff, I don’t know that I disagree with a word that you wrote.

  • phil Link

    “Are Israel’s objectives achievable? If not, the justification for its actions fails.”

    Not necesssarily. Objectives over the course of a war can change as circumstances change and as operations are found to not be as effective as originally thought. Hezbolla is a terrorist organization, it has no legitimacy. Nothing it does is legitimate. Therefore Israel’s actions to counter Hezbolla are legitimate even if the objectives are not achievable, even if the execution is flawed. That’s not a blank check, Israel still has to operate within certain boundaries, but that itself is the difference, Hezbolla has no such limitations.
    But ultimately whether I decide that Israel’s actions are legimate or not is irrelevant. It is the Israelis who have to make that decision and live with the consequences. Israel can never win the idea war. The hate-Israel meme is too widespread and they will never be able to get better press than Hezbolla. It would be better to operate under the radar and just take out everbody operating against them. There are no good choices here, this is something people in the West have a hard time comprehending. Sometimes the only solution is to kill the people who are trying to kill you. That doesn’t play well in the West where that kind of brutality was done by previous generations who can comfortably be condemned by their descendents who enjoy the peace secured by their efforts. Too many people think that peace is something that everybody wants therefore war is caused by greed or stupidty or some miscalculation. But terrorist organizations like Hezbolla and al-Qaeda want war, not peace. After all they are called terrorists for a reason.
    Whatever Israel does won’t be enough to end the insane terrorism. This will keep going. The real question is why doesn’t the war in the Congo rate the same 24hr airtime?

  • so, then what needs to happen is a “graceful degradation”. a way for both parties to back down and save face.
    the best way to fight terrorists is to make them into citizens.

  • Well, Dave, you’re a perceptive guy. 🙂

  • Who has the capability or will to participate in a force actually capable of dealing with Hezbollah?

    The obvious answer is Israel.

    Curiously, this is the Conclusion the editor of the Arab Times(a Kuwaiti publication) draws in giving his support for Israel’s actions.

  • echo chamber.

  • People have to make decision based on what they know and given the situation Israel was to great extent justified in my opinion. It would have been foolish to speculate on the outcome when you can not be certain . There was after all possible favorables as well unfavorable outcomes to consider at the start.

    Don Lapre is a Superstar

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