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Israel's War, and Ours

The Journal Editorial Report

Paul Gigot: This week on "The Journal Editorial Report," Israel steps up its offensive in southern Lebanon ahead of a diplomatic deal to end the fighting. Can the IDF deliver Hezbollah a decisive blow before a cease-fire? Plus, what would a multinational peacekeeping force in Lebanon look like, and what would it need to succeed? And the U.N. issues an ultimatum to Iran. Is the Security Council resolution worth the paper it's printed on? But first, these headlines.

Gigot: Welcome to "The Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot. Hezbollah militants fired a record number of rockets into Israel this week as the IDF carried out its deepest raids yet into Lebanese territory. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said his country will not stop its offensive until a multinational peacekeeping force is in place. Can Israel deliver Hezbollah a decisive blow before a cease-fire? Michael Oren is a senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem and a reserve major in the Israeli Defense Forces. He joins me now from Jerusalem. Michael, thank you for being with us.

Oren: Pleasure to be with you, Paul.

Gigot: This week you wrote in The New Republic that, quote, "a disaster of regional and perhaps global dimensions appears imminent unless Israel seizes its last opportunity to regain the initiative and deliver a decisive blow to Islamic extremism," unquote. What did you mean by that?

Oren: Well, understand, Paul, that this is not a battle between Israel and Hezbollah, not a battle between Israel and Lebanon, but very much a battle between the modern free world, if you will, and militant Islam. And it's not only Israel that stands to lose catastrophically if Israel does not achieve its minimal objectives in this campaign. An Israeli defeat, or rather the perception of an Israeli defeat, in this campaign will grievously endanger moderate Arab regimes--Jordan, Egypt, even Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries will be endangered by an ascendant Iran that feels it has overwhelmed Israel, and through Israel, really emerged triumphant over Israel's American backers.

Gigot: Well, when you say decisive blow--Israel must deal a decisive blow--how do you define that? Is that defined by getting rid of all of Hezbollah's heavy weapons, its missiles, or is it taking out the Hezbollah leadership? How do you define it?

Oren: Well, clearly getting rid of all of the missiles is beyond Israel's capability, probably beyond the capability of any country at this stage with our current level or technology. Yes, we can strike a blow at Hezbollah by eliminating its upper-echelon leadership. But the decisive blow we can deliver on the ground, certainly the most tangible blow, is by conquering southern Lebanon up to the Litani River. That's a depth of 15 miles into Lebanon.

Now keep in mind, that area of southern Lebanon was the heartland of Hezbollah. That's where its prestige was invested. It was from those areas that it launched attacks, both in the air on the ground, against Israel. If Hezbollah is no longer deployed in the south, then it's hard to maintain its prestige, its claim that it is on the forefront of the battle against the "Zionist entity," as they call us. So it's very important to deliver that decisive blow by pushing Hezbollah 15 to 20 miles back from Israel's border.

Gigot: So the air campaign that the prime minister started with, you think was a mistake to be so limited. But are they now making progress toward this delivering this blow on the ground? Are they doing enough, and do they have enough time, in your view, to get this done?

Oren: Well, clearly it was a mistake at the opening of the campaign to rely so heavily on air power. Israel was reluctant to send in large numbers of troops into southern Lebanon for several reasons. One was the fear of losing a large number of soldiers; two, the memories of our rather unfortunate 18 years' occupation of southern Lebanon, 1982 to 2000. And third, we had problems mobilizing our reserves. The last five, six years we've been engaged in a low-intensity war in Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza. And the army was not prepared--certainly not the reserve part of the army--was ill-prepared to engage in a larger-scale, more conventional style war in the south. Now, over three weeks into this conflict, the reserves are poised to move in. We currently have about 12,000 troops operating in southern Lebanon. That number is going to have to get up around 20,000, topping it. In 1982, when Israel went into southern Lebanon, we had 30,000 men. About 20,000-plus will begin to move more, with greater rapidness toward this goal of reaching the Litani River.

But as you intimated, Paul, we are up against a countervailing clock here and there are discussions.

Gigot: Well, that's right. They're talking about a diplomatic initiative coming, in some kind of U.N. resolution calling for a cease-fire next week. Is that too soon?

Oren: Well, it's too soon from Israel's perspective. But right now, Hezbollah, as of this morning, is saying that it will not agree to any cease-fire that is linked to its disarmament as an armed organization. And that is the general thrust of American diplomacy, of British diplomacy, is to inextricably link the cease-fire to the entry of an international force, which will come into Lebanon and restore Lebanese sovereignty and disarm Hezbollah.

Gigot: What do you think about this idea of an international force? American officials are saying now that the French, the Italians, maybe the Turks would come in, and with rather robust rules of engagement. They wouldn't just be like the current U.N. force. These people would be charged with going after Hezbollah if that's what it talks. Do you think that has a chance of succeeding?

Oren: I think it has probably the best chance of succeeding of any program we have. But it's very important that the countries that participate in this force, by sending their armies and their forces to participate there, understand that this is not going to be a blue-helmeted peacekeeping observer corps, but very much a combat force. Hezbollah will not go quietly into the disarmament night. It will use every power, every bit of explosive at its disposal, to prevent this force from disarming this organization, much as they did to the U.S. Marines in Beirut in December of 1983. And these countries that are sending the forces to the international peacekeeping force will know that they're going in to fight, and perhaps even die, for Lebanon, for peace in the Middle East, and ultimately for the security of the world.

Gigot: All right, Michael Oren, thank you for being here. We'll see how it goes. When we come back, how effective would an international peacekeeping force be in Lebanon, and what exactly would it take for it to succeed? Plus, the U.N. Security Council passes another resolution on the latest diplomatic effort to neutralize the Iranian nuclear threat. Will it work? Our panel weighs in on those topics and our "Hits and Misses" of the week, when "The Journal Editorial Report" continues.

Gigot: Welcome back. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said late this week that Israel was very close to reaching its military goals in Lebanon. As the international community works to finalize plans for a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah and toward the deployment of a peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, does Israel have enough time to gain and hold its ground?

Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor Dan Henninger, foreign affairs columnist Bret Stephens and editorial board member Rob Pollock. Bret, this week you didn't pull your punches in your column. You said Israel is losing this war. Do you think that as the week progressed it began to regain some of the offensive?

Stephens: I thought it--it's beginning to regain a little bit of ground, but I think its failures at the beginning may end up being crippling. And the main thing is what Michael Oren pointed out: perception. Hezbollah has now had close to a month in which to show that it was able to stand up and withstand withering Israeli fire, to present itself as the victim in this conflict, and to present itself, which it's always wanted to do, as the defender of Lebanon and Lebanese sovereignty against Israeli aggression. That's not how this conflict started out. If you remember, at the very beginning, the Lebanese were furious with Hezbollah and Sheik Nasrallah for this provocation.

Gigot: And so the bombing campaign, you agree with Michael Oren, was the mistake.

Stephens: The bombing campaign was a terrible mistake. Israel had to strike a very hard blow, very fast, and achieve its objectives rapidly. And it's let it go on for much too long.

Gigot: Rob, I want to read you a quote from Mark Malloch Brown, who is Kofi Annan's right-hand man. He's a British citizen, Kofi Annan's right-hand man at the U.N. And he said this, quote, "It's not helpful to couch this war in the language of international terrorism. Hezbollah employs terrorist tactics, but it is an organization that draws on a strong political well of support in southern Lebanon, and after the events of the last few weeks, more deeply," end quote.

What do you think of that argument that this is not really about terrorism, this is really about a local conflict between Lebanon and Israel?

Pollock: Yes, and maybe it's not helpful if you're a proponent of outrageous moral equivalence. But look, what is Hezbollah doing? Hezbollah is firing--is deliberately targeting civilians with rockets filled with shrapnel to cut holes into people. It hides among civilians. It fights out of uniform. These are all classic terrorist tactics. They're the exact same kind of tactics that characterize an organization like al Qaeda or the insurgency in Iraq. It's all part of the same fight that the civilized world is having with unlawful combatants.

Gigot: So this is our fight?

Henninger: Absolutely. And the terms of the fight are very important. I'd like to pick up on this Malloch Brown point about the United Nations. You know, one of things going on here in this event is that the United Nations is standing discredited. Certainly the blue helmets are. The last thing anyone wants is a U.N. peacekeeping force. What they want is a NATO force between Israel and the Litani River. And it was earlier this week when Gen. Abizaid was speaking before the Armed Services Committee. He spoke directly to this and said the most crucial thing for that peacekeeping force are the rules of engagement. And when he was asked, he said, I'm talking about not just small arms, but all arms.

Gigot: Before we get to this point, I want to--I mean, isn't it--what about those people who say that the Lebanese government is being weakened by Israeli attacks? That, in fact, you're going to end up enhancing Hezbollah's political power as a political force inside Lebanon if this campaign keeps going?

Stephens: Well, I mean, I do think that the Israeli campaign has to some extent managed that. But the ultimate interest of the Lebanese government is to get rid of Hezbollah. You know, I've visited Hezbollah party headquarters. The people on their walls, the people they celebrate, are the Ayatollah Khomeini and the Ayatollah Khamenei. Hezbollah is an arm of Iran, and I think that's something that people don't understand. It's infiltrated the Lebanese government, but it doesn't represent the Lebanese people in any significant way. And if you can destroy Hezbollah, you will not only be setting back this particular terrorist organization, but you will be setting back Iran. And that's in America's strategic interest.

Pollock: But if Israel continues to fight this campaign in the halfhearted way that it has, I think that the critics have a point. Look, a nondecisive campaign against Hezbollah will strengthen Hezbollah and will weaken the Lebanese government. Not only that, you know, strengthen the hand of the axis of evil and weaken the hand of democratic reformers all across the Middle East.

Gigot: All right. Well, is this international force going to make a difference? I mean, the Americans are talking about the French. They're talking about--not a NATO flag, but they're talking about the Turks, who are good fighters, and they're talking about the Italians.

Henninger: But the Turks said two weeks ago, the rules of engagement were crucial to their participation. So they're not going to go in there unless they're able to fight Hezbollah rather than just stand there and keep the peace.

Gigot: I think you have to give the French credit too, don't you? Because at least the French are calling for a cease-fire. I know you hate this idea, Bret, but the French are calling for a cease-fire--but at least they're willing to say we're gong to put our own troops in there. And the French know how to take care of some of these situations, as they've shown in Africa from time to time.

Stephens: I think they have short memories. In 1983, almost 60 of their paratroopers were killed by Hezbollah. And I think it's going to be very difficult for any constellation of an international force to go in there and really keep a peace there and disarm Hezbollah, whether it's a NATO force or whether--certainly if it's a U.N. force. The only group outside of Israel that could do it is the United States. And I don't see any appetite for that kind of intervention.

Gigot: So quickly, Rob, should the U.S. policy be to just stretch this out to give Israel more time to finish the job?

Pollock: I think it has to be. I don't think a peacekeeping force is promising, listening to the way the French and Turkish governments are talking. I don't think that they can lead a tough peacekeeping force.

Gigot: All right, last word. When we come back, the U.N. issues an ultimatum to Iran. But does it have teeth? That and our "Hits and Misses" of the week when "The Journal Editorial Report" continues.

John Bolton, U.N. ambassador: This resolution will demonstrate to Iran that the best way to end its international isolation is to simply give up the pursuit of nuclear weapons. We look forward to Iran's full, unconditional and immediate compliance with this resolution.

Gigot: After months of diplomatic wrangling, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution this week calling for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment by the end of August or face the threat of sanctions. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rejected the deadline, saying that Tehran would not be pressured into halting its nuclear program.

OK, Dan, we finally got the U.N. resolution on Iran 14-1, with the major power, Qatar, voting "no," the only one.

[laughter]

Is this a step forward?

Henninger: Yeah, I think it is a step forward, and I'll tell you why. Circumstances have changed. Up until now, the diplomacy with Iran has simply been diplomacy and nothing more. Now, with what's going on in Lebanon, you've got some muscle behind this diplomacy. We now understand that Iran has been supplying Hezbollah. We know that Iran is simply not a country that sits there by itself playing with the Europeans. It is part of the international terrorist movement. And if we could get--and this is why I disagree here about the French not contributing anything to a peacekeeping force. I would like to have the French in the Middle East with soldiers doing something in Syria. Because I think that would add some muscle to anything that goes on diplomatically with Iran.

Gigot: Well, this is particularly useful, isn't it? And I agree with Dan on this point in the wake of the events in Lebanon, because the Iranians probably wanted to change the subject from their own nuclear program. And this was saying--the G-8, the major powers, are saying, Sorry, you're not going to get away with it. We're watching. And now, put the pressure back on you.

Stephens: Look, I'm sorry, but I have to disagree with you both. I think we've seen this happen before. It happened with Iraq. And I think it's happening now. And this is the game: You get--countries like France and Russia get the U.S. to play their game at the United Nations. You get the U.S. to legitimate the process, to bless the process, and then you sandbag them down the road. And this is what's happening in this resolution.

This says, If the Iranians don't stop enriching uranium by Aug. 31, then we're going to start thinking about a number of sanctions perhaps legally binding ones. Do you think that that's actually going to happen in September or October? I have my doubts, particularly when it comes to a country like France, which just called Iran a "stabilizing" force in the Middle East.

Gigot: Yes, it is a potential trap. There's no question about it. And the challenge is going to be to focus this so that Iran has to make a firm up-or-down answer and say we're either going to suspend or not. And if you don't, we will go right to sanctions. Now, I don't know if that's going to happen. But, Rob, you disagree?

Pollock: I agree entirely with Bret. I mean, look, like you said, France called Iran a "stabilizing" force in the Middle East. They're negotiating with Iran about the contours of the possible peacekeeping force for Lebanon. Now, how do we think that makes the mullahs feel about our will to confront them over the nuclear program? If we're going to negotiate with them over Lebanon--I mean, look, I think they're only emboldened. I don't think this resolution is going anywhere. I think Ahmadinejad has already said, I don't respect the end-of-August deadline.

Gigot: OK, fine. But then he's playing right into the hands of the United States, is he not? If they don't--if he resists this, then the United States has to put up--the U.N., rather, has to put up or shut up and into forcing sanctions.

Henninger: Absolutely. And I think you have to, at this point, grind forward with pressure on Iran, who has now been put in the middle of the table as the source of the terrorist problem in the Middle East. People are beginning to understand that. It's hard to hide from that fact. And you know, the next thing you do is, if you--what is the problem with that?

Pollock: I think they're looking to Iran as the solution to the terrorist problem in Lebanon right now.

Gigot: You mean the French are.

Henninger: I absolutely disagree with that. I think you're overstating that.

Gigot: Yeah, I think--well, if that's true, then why did they sign on to this U.N. resolution saying that they must not enrich uranium and they must settle the problem?

Stephens: But look at what this U.N. resolution says. Let's say the Iranians play ball, OK? And after Aug. 31 they suspend enrichment. Well guess what? They already did this. We've already gone through this play before. November 2004, the Iranians agreed with the Europeans. They said, OK, we're going to suspend enrichment and we're going to have a negotiation about the package of goodies you're going to give us in return for this act of goodwill. This charade went on for about eight months. And finally, the Iranians said, Well, you know something? We don't like what you're offering us. Guess what? Eight months later, they've had eight months to progress on nuclear programs. And they're playing it again.

Gigot: What's the alternative to this, Bret, though? This is something of a diplomatic dance. You really do, if you're President Bush, you really do want a have some allies if you are forced to confront Iran before the end of your term.

Stephens: Look, one of the key facts that people forget about Iran is that Iran imports about half of its refined gasoline. The United States could put a stop to those imports and could squeeze Iran like nothing else. People think Iran has oil as a weapon.

Gigot: By itself?

Stephens: Yes, by itself. By itself it could do this. Most of that gasoline goes through our ally the United Arab Emirates. We can do it, and we can break their financing as well.

Gigot: All right, Bret, thank you. We have to take one more break. When we come back, our "Hits and Misses" of the week.

Gigot: Winners and losers, picks and pans, "Hits and Misses," it's our way of calling attention to the best and the worst of the week. Item one, Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha is slapped with a defamation suit. Dan?

Henninger: Yeah, that's right. As we know, Rep. Murtha recently promoted himself to chief critic of the war in Iraq. And last May, he stated publicly that he had been told that there'd been a Marine massacre of civilians at Haditha. Well, just this past week, one of the Marines who was involved in that incident, Sgt. Frank Wuterich, filed a defamation suit against Rep. Murtha.

Now, I'm all for this lawsuit. It was just earlier that Richard Jewell, remember, who was accused of the 1996 Olympic bombing said, you know--and he was falsely accused--he says everywhere he goes now people think he actually committed that bombing. So I think Frank Wuterich was completely within his rights to let Rep. Murtha know that there's a cost when a public figure shoots off his mouth, and that even soldiers are innocent until proven guilty.

Gigot: A case of prejudgment by Congressman Murtha. All right, next, United States senators are dealing with a new kind of traffic jam in Washington. Bret?

Stephens: Yes, members of the "world's greatest deliberative body," as they like to call themselves, are having to suffer a new affront to their dignity, and that's sharing the senators' only elevator with reporters, lobbyists and, yes, mere members of the public. Now, this is creating an amazing and perhaps unique bipartisan consensus. People like New Jersey liberal Frank Lautenberg and Pennsylvania conservative Rick Santorum both seem absolutely aghast and up in arms at this invasion of this inner Senate sanctum, this one great Senate tradition that still remains theirs. But I think a former senator had the wisest and best word on this. This is John Breaux of Louisiana. He said, "I think the elevators are designed to keep members of the public from having to ride with senators." Well said, Senator.

Gigot: All right, Bret, thanks. Finally, Congress reaches a truce with the French, of all people. Rob?

Pollock: Yes, Paul, say goodbye to "freedom fries" and "freedom toast." Congressmen will be able to have French toast and French fries again in the cafeteria. The original change was of course made after the French declined to support us on the Iraq war. The reason for the switch back, which was kind of quietly done, is unknown. Frankly, I welcome it. I mean, look, there was a little bit of a "shocked, shocked" quality about the whole affair, in the sense that, look, France has always had rather perfidious governments.

[laughter]

Besides which, purging foreign influence from the language is a very French thing to do, and I think we can be better than them.

Gigot: All right, Rob, thank you. That's it for this week's edition of "The Journal Editorial Report." Thanks to Dan Henninger, Bret Stephens and Rob Pollock. I'm Paul Gigot. Thank you all for watching, and we hope to see you right here next week.


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