Some sharp questions for Jerusalem

if I were a relative of any of the 24 Israeli soldiers killed today in Lebanon, or a relative of any Lebanese civilian killed today, I would have some very sharp and hostile questions for whoever decided to continue the ground offensive through 8 am Monday.

Both Lebanon and Israel have agreed to this cease-fire. So has Hizbullah, sort of: Nasrallah is agreeing with “reservations”. What, exactly, does advancing the Israeli troop lines to the Litani River do for Israel’s military or political position?

One possibility is that Israel believes that the cease-fire will not hold. This certainly is logical. UN Security Council Resolution 1701 states that Israeli troops should withdraw “in parallel” with the deployment of the Lebanese Army and the “enhanced” UNIFIL. One can imagine the scene when a Lebanese brigade, with either virtually no weaponry or a lot of soldiers who look suspiciously like Hizbullah fighters, shows up at Israeli positions, with a bunch of, say Norwegian troops.

LEBANESE COMMANDER: We’re here. You can go home now.

IDF COMMANDER: Are you crazy? You’re not ready for this; you’ve got no serious weaponry, and pardon me if I’m not fully trusting of a Norwegian force.

LEBANESE COMMANDER: You’re violating the cease-fire.

Or maybe it’s just some Israeli corporal who thinks that he sees something; or maybe a Hizbullah fighter who can’t resist the temptation to do his part in ridding the world of Jews, etc. etc.

If this is the case, then Israel would want to hold onto territory in the expectation of the cease-fire not holding. But if so, why sign it to begin with?

Maybe the psychological impact of reaching the Litani is necessary because then Israel can say the operation was a success. One can make a good argument that Israel did achieve a lot in this war, but something so patently symbolic is absurd.

And something so patently symbolic as an excuse for losing dozens of soldiers’ and civilians’ lives is close to criminal.

I reluctantly supported the Israeli decision to retaliate as it did because the choices facing the Cabinet were hard ones. The choice to continue today does not seem to be one.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

9 thoughts on “Some sharp questions for Jerusalem”

  1. "One possibility is that Israel believes that the cease-fire will not hold."
    The question is not whether the ceasefire will hold, but rather for how long it will hold. I would guess that the fraction of Israelis who believe that the ceasefire will continue to hold for, say, as long as the last one did (six years or so) is vanishingly small. Hence, any Hizbullah soldier or munition destroyed before the ceasefire takes effect this time will not be available next time, when the fighting resumes.
    "If this is the case, then Israel would want to hold onto territory in the expectation of the cease-fire not holding. But if so, why sign it to begin with?"
    Many Israelis are asking exactly that question. Time will tell (1) who was responsible for the slow pace of the Israeli military escalation; (2) who was responsible for winding it down before its objectives were even close to being achieved; and (3) what price Israel will pay next time for failing to achieve its objectives this time around.

  2. "f I were a relative of any of the 24 Israeli soldiers killed today in Lebanon, or a relative of any Lebanese civilian killed today,"
    Everyone is that realative. It is our Gods who are not related and for who the carnage is wrought. I say throw out all the Gods and prophets and look our brothers in the eye.

  3. Whatever. I'd love to know how bloggers can come to such *strong* opinions for or against this or that combat tactic, and within hours of its being employed. Based, as far as I can tell, on zero knowledge of the actual situation on the ground. Based, apparently, on such fine-tuned guages of success and strategic benefit as the specific number of Israeli soldiers killed (with zero information about the effect on Hezbollah.) I don't have a strong opinion about the operation (though I strongly deplore the civilian casualties) – but I'm fascinated at the timescale now applied to such things. I suppose Olmert set himself up by giving a timeline in advance. But judging such an operation based on a timeline of a couple of weeks seems ludicrous to me. Hezbollah has spent years building up combat readiness and materiel, with total impunity. But if they aren't knocked on their behinds in a matter of days it's this huge embarrassment.

  4. I agree that Hizbullah may well have been much better armed and trained than the Israelis expected (that's a clear military intelligence failure, although one that obviously predates this past month's fighting). And it might therefore have taken far more soldiers far longer than anyone would have thought for Israel to achieve its military objectives. But several things are certain:
    1) The offensive that began several days ago could have begun much sooner than it did, and would then have achieved much more, whatever the strength of the opposition–if only because it involves something like four times as many troops as before.
    2) This offensive is being halted before achieving a number of objectives that are clearly within reach, such as the encirclement of Tyre and the dismantlement of Hizbollah's units, bases and arms caches there.
    3) The decision to delay the offensive by 48 hours to "give diplomacy a chance" was a blunder of the first order. It was almost certainly responsible for the success of the last minute maneuvers to weaken the UNSC resolution in favor of Hizbollah, and for the US' reluctance to resist those maneuvers. Starting the offensive on schedule would only have increased the pressure on Hizbullah's allies at the UN to get a ceasefire called, and therefore the odds that a resolution with real teeth might have been passed.
    Note that these points apply regardless of any of the specific tactics used or not used during the campaign (which I agree distant amateur bloggers are ill-positioned to judge).

  5. Sorry guys, but what a crock of sh-t.
    Zasloff-"…reluctantly supported the Israeli decision to retaliate.."
    Mr. Zasloff invariably "reluctantly" supports the use of military force by Israel in "retaliation" for each and every act by any outside entity. Apparently (for him) the history of Israel's conflict in the region begins anew with every Israeli death, and disregards any other.
    Zasloff- "One can make a good "argument" that Israel did achieve a lot in this war, .."
    Really? Please make one or two of those "arguments", cause from my perspective the only thing that Israel has achieved is to unite the ME behind Hezbollah, incur the disgust of most of the world (due to the disproportionate number of Lebanese civilian casualties), and expose the weaknesses of the IDF in fighting a 4th generation conflict with a well-trained, well-led, and entrenched enemy.
    Mr. Simon, with respect, what evidence leads you to believe that the IDF could disarm or dismantle Hezbollah's military capabilities without an open-ended occupation of a substantial portion of Lebanese territory?
    That didn't work out so well last time, did it?

  6. Again, I don't claim to know exactly how much degradation of Hizbullah's military capabilities Israel could have accomplished had it not made the three mistakes I identified. (And in any event, since Hizbullah is armed, funded and trained by Syria and Iran, these countries could eventually rebuild even a completely obliterated Hizbullah to something approaching its former strength.)
    What I do claim, however, is that whatever reduction in Hizbullah's military strength Israel managed to achieve would have been considerably greater had it begun its large-scale offensive earlier, ended it later, and managed the diplomatic process more firmly.

  7. Mr. Simon,
    Again Sir, with respect, but exactly what point are you trying to make?
    You, wisely in my estimation, admit that Hezbollah would be able to re-supply and re-arm after whatever level of degradation Israel MIGHT have visited upon it, so what would have been gained by more troops, more bombs, more casualties, on both sides?
    Do you believe that Israel needed to prove that they would, and will, respond to any provocation with overwhelming military force?
    Do you believe that Israel, even given your tactical analysis, would have gained any overall strategic advantage in widening the conflict?
    IMHO, the WORLD already knows quite well (as evidenced by world opinion polls citing Israel and the U.S. as the greatest threats to world peace) that Israel and the U.S. will respond to any provocation, any threat, real or perceived or fabricated, with military force.
    AND that hasn't done a damn thing for the security of either nation.
    Forgive me Mr Simon, but anyone who believes that successful military tactics can overcome a failed political strategy for any historically significant length of time just hasn't read enough history.
    See Bush/Cheney/Rumsefeld-Iraq.

  8. To answer your questions:
    1) The key word is "eventually". The greater the damage inflicted on Hizbullah, and the shorter and easier the job of inflicting it, the longer it would take for Syria and Iran to rebuild Hizbullah up to a strength level that would present a plausible challenge to Israel. Lots of things can happen in that intervening time, and for a country like Israel that is surrounded with murderous, hate-filled enemies, such respites are precious.
    2) Yes, of course Israel needs to prove that it would respond to any provocation with overwhelming military force. Nasrallah himself admitted that he did not expect such a large-scale response to his provocation. The obvious implication is that if he'd known, he never would have launched the initial attack in the first place. And conversely, if he'd known that a still larger attack would have provoked only a token response, that's what he'd have ordered.
    3) Although I criticized Israel's campaign against Hizbullah as insufficient, it was also misdirected. A much more effective strategy would have been to strike at Syria directly. In fact, that's what Israel did shortly after its withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, and it's taken till now for Syria to build up its courage and confidence in Hizbullah to the point where it was willing to green-light an attack as serious as the one that started this war.
    4) Foes at least as strong, determined and numerous as today's have been trying to destroy Israel for nearly sixty years now. If merely having so many enemies constitutes a "failed political strategy", then either your dictum is inaccurate, or you consider sixty years to be historically insignificant.
    Now, I don't deny that Israel's survival is in jeopardy–as it has been since its inception. But I don't attribute that peril to any "failed political strategy", any more than I would the peril that dogged the Jewish people for the millenia that preceded Israel's existence. It would be a lovely world if the only reason peoples or nations ever came to be widely hated was their mistaken adoption of a "failed political strategy".

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