'No' to Lebanon War II
Israel must not let the abductions drag it into a regional war.
The shooting attack and abduction initiated by Hezbollah in the north of the country yesterday presents the Israeli government and the Israel Defense Forces with a dilemma. On the one hand, we cannot accept the scathing attack on Israeli sovereignty. The IDF withdrew from Lebanon to the international border, the withdrawal was officially approved by the United Nations, and the government declared at the time - both domestically and internationally - that Israel will know how to defend its citizens and its land from within its territory. The credibility of this deterrence suffered a blow yesterday. The clear connection to the abduction of Gilad Shalit in the south makes the incident in the north still more grave. The natural inclination is to react with force, and thus bolster the deterrence that has been damaged.
On the other hand, Israel has repeatedly adopted a more restrained and level-headed policy in the past, even in times of anger and frustration, while stating that it will respond - but at the time and place it sees fit, not necessarily right away, and with a large military force that destroys hostile forces as well as peaceful civilians. Such an outburst of Israel's tremendous power can easily get totally out of control, spurring a dangerous process of escalation on the divided and unruly Lebanese front, as in the wake of the IDF incursion there in 1982.
There may be some who think that it is appropriate to use the opportunity to "cleanse" all of southern Lebanon of Hezbollah bases so as to give Israel back its deterrent capability. Syria, too, is liable to be seen as an appropriate target in this context, especially since Israel - justifiably so, to a great extent - views Syria as having the ability to influence the Palestinian organizations and Hezbollah. But it's doubtful that such inordinate action will bring about the release of the captives; it is liable to bring about, God forbid, a new version of the 1982 entanglement.
The need for restraint is particularly salient because two soldiers were kidnapped in the attack and Hezbollah is, we hope, holding these soldiers alive. The government and the IDF are declaring their commitment to do everything they can to bring the soldiers back from captivity. Israeli governments have negotiated with Hezbollah in the past, under similar circumstances. Such negotiations are not meant to change Israel's overall policy toward the organization, as long as it is involved in terrorism.
The major blow Israel suffered yesterday, the circumstances of which will certainly demand explanations, is particularly harsh primarily because this did not come as a surprise. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned in April that he planned to get back Samir Kuntar, even by force. Israel has refused to release Kuntar, who murdered the Haran family from Nahariya in 1979, until it receives information about MIA Ron Arad. Freeing Kuntar along with the other Lebanese prisoners and captives may have prevented yesterday's kidnapping. It is also possible that if Israel had agreed to the principle of negotiations with the Hamas government, a deal would have been worked out for Shalit's release and for a cease-fire in the south.
In the state of war that Israel is facing in the territories and vis-a-vis Hezbollah, its deterrent ability must be bolstered, especially because abductions can indicate that this ability has indeed been eroded - but Israel must not let the abductions drag it into a regional war.