From a helpful comment in the previous thread and recent news accounts, here is a summary of the basic motivations driving this conflict. In choosing what to listen to and what to ignore the most important feature for me is the basic assumption that all of the major players are fundamentally rational people acting for understandable reasons. Any appeal to one side or the other being some shade of evil (e.g. demented, blinded by religious hysteria, etc; See Tim F’s Law) strikes me as unserious and not worth listening to.
So here goes:
* The Hamas kidnapping required at least a month of preparation, so whatever they were reacting to happened long before the event itself. It is quite obvious that the move was meant to provoke Israel, possibly to create favorable terms for a prisoner exchange.
* On the other hand, Hezbollah seems to have merely seen an opportunity and siezed it. Mark Perry explains at TAP:
Oy vey. There are a lot of people in Washington trying to walk that story back right now, because it’s not true.
Hezbollah and Israel stand along this border every day observing each other through binoculars and waiting for an opportunity to kill each other. They are at war. They have been for 25 years, no one ever declared a cease-fire between them. … They stand on the border every day and just wait for an opportunity. And on Tuesday morning there were two Humvees full of Israeli soldiers, not under observation from the Israeli side, not under covering fire, sitting out there all alone. The Hezbollah militia commander just couldn’t believe it — so he went and got them.
* Where Israel might (but probably would not) have negotiated with Hamas, the Hezbollah provocation made it simply impossible not to respond militarily. This set off a choreographed kabuki dance that both sides have no doubt wargamed for years. Hezbollah’s long rockets, the Katyushas, Fajr-2′ sand Fajr-5’s, have more of a strategic significance here than tactical in the sense that the rockets will do little to nothing to degrade Israel’s warfighting ability. In fact their purpose is precisely the opposite – the incessant rain of rocket fire on Israeli towns and cities makes it politically impossible for Israel to entertain any moderated peace plan.
* Why doesn’t Hezbollah want Israel to stop fighting? Hezbollah believes that it has made sufficient advances in its fighting ability to inflict grevious losses on Israeli forces if they attempt a land invasion. If that happened and Israel was forced to withdraw the strategic loss for Israel would be enormous – Hezbollah could continue raining ever-more-sophisticated rockets on northern and (eventually) central Israel and the point would be made that Israel can do nothing about it. This change would shift the bargaining table dramatically in favor of the Palestinians in the neverending tug-of-war over demands like 1967 borders and the right-of-return.
* Contrariwise, Israel hopes that a sustained bombing campaign will degrade Hezbollah’s capabilities and morale to the point where they will be unable to effectively resist a land incursion. Olmert has two problems here. First, the aforementioned rain of rockets creates a near-irresistible political pressure to invade immediately. Second, a UN force in Lebanon would effectively prevent an invasion but may also sit by while Hezbollah continues raining rockets on northern Israel. This is not unheard of in the history of smurfs (blue-helmeted UN troops) in the middle east.
There you have the basic outlines of what I think is happening right now. I have left out Iran because at the moment I have seen no evidence that they have done anything more than not actively rein in Hezbollah’s enthusiasm. Israel acting prremptively against Iran or Syria would massively change the balance of forces that I have described here and for that reason I would not expect it. Needless to say such an action would also do incalculable damage to our posture in Iraq, so unless we have dumber leaders than even I thought phone calls are being made right now to nip that possibility in the bud.
What does America do? I think that for credibility’s sake we need to at least put on a very good show of appealing for peace. I don’t expect that anything short of entering the fray ourselves will deter either side at the moment, so as long as our noises will have no consequence there is no reason in the world why we shouldn’t make them. Behind the scenes I think that it in Israel’s interest to continue bombing Hezbollah until it loses the will to fight, but even more in her interests to avoid killing innocent Lebanese in the process. If we are doing anything at all behind the scenes it should be 1) pushing Israel to keep its bombing within a certain reasonable range of actual Hezbollah targets, and 2) engaging Iran and Syria to keep this from growing into a regional conflict before the UN has a chance to do its thing.
As a side note, I am extremely amused by rightwing calls for UN troops to swoop into Lebanon and forcibly disarm Hezbollah. Grab their guns, if you will. One supposes that this UN force would arrive in some sort of helicopter…painted dark so that you can’t see them at night…why does this sound familiar?
(*) Insofar as it matters the writer supports Israel’s right to exist and any criticism directed at it comes from concern that the state is acting contrary to her own best interests.
Two more analyses, not necessarily in agreement with mine, which I find compelling: