Letting the IDF Win

The use of the armed forces to make diplomatic gains is one of the fundamentals of statesmanship, certainly in the neighborhood in which Israel seeks to survive.

In the first Lebanon war the IDF made it to Beirut by arguing that it had to improve its positions. An operation that began with the misleading intention of pushing the range of PLO Katyushas 40 kilometers from the northern border ended with the occupation of the Lebanese capital. The broadening of the operation was done piece by piece, explaining that there is no other way because IDF forces were being exposed to life-threatening situations. Since Friday afternoon the second Lebanon war is taking on a similar character: the decision to move on to the Litani River is motivated by a hidden agenda but is being justified through practical needs.

To date, the war has been managed by Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz in an embarrassingly amateurish way, but motivated by practical considerations. The moves they opted to make - from the initial decision to respond to the Hezbollah provocation in the north, through the use of ground forces, all the way to the announcement on Friday afternoon that the war machine would move ahead into the depths of Lebanon - have been presented as direct responses, albeit not always wise, to military and diplomatic developments. But since the Security Council voted in favor of a resolution for an end to hostilities, and Israel welcomed it, the legitimacy of the order to continue the operation into Lebanese territory is less self-evident.

It is one thing to signal an intention to embark on a full-front offensive - to encourage the members of the Security Council to take into account the Israeli viewpoint - and another to go ahead and carry out the attack after the accepted formula is being presented by the Prime Minister's Office as a diplomatic gain for Israel.

The suspicion that the broadening of the military deployment is driven by hidden motives is reinforced further not only by Olmert's refusal to allow Tzipi Livni to participate in the deliberations of the Security Council, but also when answers are sought over what the military operation actually means. The impression is that the prime minister, who updated some of his ministers on Friday night, did not offer a uniform explanation. There are those who understood him to mean that the expanded IDF ground operation was meant to pressure the Lebanese government to release immediately the two abducted soldiers.

Others interpreted it as a wish to ensure the implementation of the Security Council resolution; others still maintain it was meant to deal with a situation in which the resolution is not being carried out. Long-term military considerations, some say, such as causing gravest damage to Hezbollah, are behind this; in similar vein, others point to urgent operational needs - such as improving IDF positions in anticipation of the cease-fire. Others argue that there are those who say the IDF's momentum was such that it could not be stopped. And there are those who admit that the purpose of the operation is to give the impression that Israel won the war.

Normally, cease-fire agreements are not implemented in one swoop; in the final moments each side tries to make gains it was prevented from doing during the fighting. It is possible that this is how the military outburst of the last two days should be seen, even if it resembles more a new offensive than the twilight time of battle. As far as we know, the operation initiated on Friday night does not formally contravene the Security Council resolution; it is being carried out with full U.S. knowledge and is meant to end today.

Notwithstanding, it raises concerns about the wisdom of the country's leadership: does the cost in human life claimed in this operation justify the expected result? Will the chances of deriving from this war a substantive change in the Israel-Lebanon relations increase as a result of the takeover of a few more square kilometers of territory? Will the vulnerability of the IDF forces to the lethal strikes of Hezbollah fighters not increase as a result of broadening its deployment? Will Israel's image in the world improve in view of images of continued fighting, despite the UN resolution? Will this action not strengthen Hezbollah's motivation to intensify its responses and establish its image as the group standing before the Israeli war machine?

The use of the armed forces to make diplomatic gains is one of the fundamentals of statesmanship, certainly in the neighborhood in which Israel seeks to survive. During the current war serious doubts arose regarding the expertise of the prime minister and the Defense Ministry in the combined usage of both channels. This uncertainty has deepened during the past 48 hours.