How will the third Lebanon war look? More or less like this: For three or four days, about 2,000 to 3,000 rockets will rain on Israel. Most will be short-range rockets that hit from Haifa northward. Some will be medium-range rockets that hit Herzliya northward. A small number will be long-range rockets that hit Tel Aviv, the center of the country and the northern Negev.
From 160 Shi'ite villages in southern Lebanon, which have turned into rocket bases, the civilian and military home fronts will be attacked as never before. The Israeli response will be resounding. The air force will even destroy Hezbollah targets next to hospitals and schools. The Israel Defense Forces will destroy Hezbollah targets, even if a ground offensive involves heavy losses. As a result of the Israeli counterattack, the rocket fire will gradually diminish. After a while it will be paralyzed. In Lebanon, thousands will be buried, including many civilians. In Israel, hundreds of soldiers, women and children will be buried. The third Lebanon war will be a far more powerful version of the Second Lebanon War, with consequences like those of the Yom Kippur War.
A wave of rumors has spread in Israel in recent weeks: War will break out already this summer. The rumors are exaggerated and premature. As of now, the northern border is quiet. Syria and Hezbollah have been deterred. Both Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah know what to expect if they attack, so they are not interested in an immediate flare-up. Everyone knows that the next war will be a terrible one, so nobody is eager to begin it. Nobody is risking a limited violent incident that might spark a large and unprecedented operation.
A genuine balance of terror is stabilizing the quiet, so we can keep on watching the soccer World Cup. We can continue to play paddleball on the beach. The third Lebanon war will not erupt tomorrow, but it might erupt the day after tomorrow. It will erupt the day after tomorrow.
Two scenarios are liable to ignite the war of the day after tomorrow. One is an Israeli attack on Iran. There is no question that if Israel strikes at Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president will strike at Israel with the help of his forward forces south of Lebanon's Litani River. The second scenario is the nuclearization of Iran. Shortly after Iran acquires an unconventional capability, it will feel free to initiate an unconventional war that will make Israel bleed and weaken it. Whether Israel attacks or Iran goes nuclear, the result will be the same missile war in the north.
Next week U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet in the White House. Obama will talk about Palestine, Netanyahu will talk about Iran. But what both leaders must talk about is the third Lebanon war - a war that is liable to break out during their terms and have their names on it. A war that Obama and Netanyahu must prevent.
To prevent the third Lebanon war, Obama must do two things: Stop pushing Israel into a corner and show regional leadership. Obama has been doing the opposite. He is handling the Iranian challenge hesitantly. He is conveying to the Middle East a lack of determination. Without meaning to, the peace president is liable to bring the next war closer.
To prevent the third Lebanon war, Netanyahu must do two things: Take Israel out of the corner and demonstrate proactive leadership. He has been doing the opposite. Just as on the eve of the Second Lebanon War the IDF's emergency stores were empty, today the diplomatic emergency stores are empty. If Israel has to use force to defend itself, no one will understand it and stand by its side. Ironically, under a prime minister who believes in diplomatic power, Israel has achieved total isolation and a dangerous diplomatic weakness that is bringing the next war closer.
Obama and Netanyahu must wake up. The deal is a familiar one: determined American action vis-a-vis Iran in exchange for a determined Israeli initiative vis-a-vis Syria and Palestine. This deal can be closed only by these two leaders, who will look each other in the eye next Tuesday in the Oval Office. If they don't change their ways and learn how to work with each other, Obama and Netanyahu will bear personal responsibility for the results of the third Lebanon war.