Unnecessary Friction

As last year's war was drawing to a close, a former Shin Bet advisor sent Olmert a report detailing what not to do. The study calls for neutralizing catalysts for conflict, including IAF overflights in Lebanon.

Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi's remarks on the seeds of the third Lebanon war drowned in the sea of commentary ahead of the release of the Winograd report on the Second Lebanon War. At the cabinet meeting two days ago Ashkenazi said that Hezbollah is trying to reach the open areas south of the Litani River. The chief of staff also said that Syria is continuing to transfer arms to the organization and that the efforts of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and the Lebanese Army to prevent the smuggling of arms to Hezbollah are not going well. According to him, so it was reported, the difficulty stems from the fact that no effective mechanism was established to supervise what goes on along the long border between Lebanon and Syria. Ashkenazi also said that, "If the Lebanese prime minister were strong enough to enforce supervision over the border, he would do so."

What the chief of staff forgot to say is that the government of Israel is also not applying the decisions of UN Resolution 1701 on respecting Lebanon's sovereignty to its own armed forces. Last Wednesday, UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Lynn Pascoe, reported to the UN Security Council that the Israel Air Force is continuing to penetrate Lebanon's air space. According to him, Israel does not deny the report and argues that the flights are necessary for security measures, in light of the continued breaches of the embargo on transferring arms to Hezbollah. Pascoe noted that the government of Lebanon maintains that these flights are provocations and added that the UN will continue to tell both parties in the strongest possible terms that one violation cannot justify another.

Dr. Mati Steinberg of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who was a special adviser to the head of the Shin Bet General Security Service, says with unconcealed worry that every flight in Lebanese skies is documented by Hezbollah and is added to the "file" on Israel's violations of the agreement. "The situation has always been such that escalation in the Lebanese arena starts with frictions along the border that widen into an all-out confrontation," Steinberg wrote in one of two documents that a mutual friend relayed to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. This occurred on August 8 and 9 last year, a few days before the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1701. Here is a summary of the analysis and recommendations presented by Steinberg, whose two sons, incidentally, served on the northern border.

According to Steinberg, Hezbollah's standing order consists solely of combating Israel and after the latter withdrew from southern Lebanon, most of its efforts focused on turning Lebanon into a confrontational state. Hezbollah is not looking to have a constant war with Israel, but wants to create a reality that will enable it to activate the front at will. The call to liberate Shaba Farms enables it to maintain the border with Israel as a conflicted one and to present itself as a Lebanese liberation movement, as opposed to an offshoot of Iran and Syria.

The material and technological asymmetry between Hezbollah and Israel, Steinberg believes, means the organization is measured according to a reverse asymmetry, which provides with it an important advantage: It is not expected to win, only not to be defeated. Its mere survival is considered a great accomplishment for Hezbollah. The more Israel defines its objectives regarding Hezbollah in terms of submission and victory, the greater its accomplishments will be. Even if militarily speaking it is possible to achieve victory, i.e., to dismantle Hezbollah and even disarm it, this would require the occupation of most of Lebanon. And yet, a physical strike against Hezbollah by expanding military operations to the Litani and beyond may actually strengthen its position as "the defender of Lebanon."

Steinberg warned Olmert that a broad military operation would lead to the weakening and perhaps even the collapse of the government of Fouad Siniora and to an increased influence of Syria and Iran, Hezbollah's sponsors. This would mean that the foundation (which was weak to begin with) on which Resolution 1559 and its derivatives are based would collapse. All authority would remain in the hands of President Emil Lahoud, who is close to Syria and Hezbollah, and Lebanon would cease to have a government able to dispatch its army to the south. The Israeli military operation would transform Hezbollah into the spearhead of the Lebanese national liberation movement in the south. In the best-case scenario - which is terrible - the Lebanese government would be forced to follow in Hezbollah's wake and recognize it, unwillingly, as a clear-cut Lebanese national entity.

An Israeli military operation is likely to undermine the source of the diplomatic-political authority that conforms with Israel's objectives. In such a scenario, Russia and China would likely drop their support for the UN Security Council resolution. The expected military achievements, which would entail heavy casualties - perish the thought - would therefore counteract the diplomatic-political accomplishments that could already be realized. Not only will we not be able to improve them by virtue of an expanded operation, but we would in fact be backtracking, from a diplomatic-political point of view. From there, the path would be paved for a Shi'ite takeover of Lebanon.

The essential question that should have been asked, even before we launched our wide-scale response, Steinberg wrote Olmert, is how we can accomplish anything in a situation in which we are unable to achieve a decisive outcome. What are the accomplishments? Since Hezbollah desires to transform Lebanon into a country of confrontation, the primary objective is to remove the pretexts the organization clings to in order to renew the clash. In other words: "Neutralizing the catalysts for escalation will enable the construction of a balance of mutual deterrence between Hezbollah's arms and Israel's air power." In order to remove any doubt (if that is necessary), Steinberg says that he in no way meant unnecessary provocative flights in Lebanon's skies.

Come and learn with us

Who said the war with Lebanon resulted in a bad reputation for the Israel Defense Forces the world over? A few weeks after the last Katyusha fell on Kiryat Shmona, seven generals from three continents - Europe, Asia and the United States - entered the gates of the National Security College. All the officers are in key tracks in their armies, they are up for promotions and come from a diverse military and academic background. At least one of them was designated as the next chief of staff in his home country. According to the IDF Spokesman, the visitors noted that their studies at the college contributed to their image of Israel and to their understanding of the security challenges it is dealing with.

The IDF Spokesman noted that the decision to open the National Security College to the senior foreign generals, as is the practice at similar institutions around the world, was made after ongoing general staff discussions. In the background hovered the growing weight of the international environment as a factor in Israel's national security and the need to bring the international perspective into classroom discussions. The foreign officers not only enhance the discussion by diversifying perspective, the encounter with them also establishes ties between senior Israeli defense and government officials and their colleagues around the world.

Aside from a few classified lectures, which were closed to them, the foreign officers are an inseparable part of the class. Prior to commencing their studies, they underwent a three-month preparatory course in which they studied the history, geography, culture and society of Israel as well as the structure of the IDF and the defense establishment.

According to the accounts of the Israeli students and lecturers, "the foreigners" fit in well socially. As for the State Comptroller's report, which warned of large gaps in the education of senior officers, the IDF Spokesman noted that the absorption of the foreign students at the college did not come at the expense of reducing the number of Israeli officers.

Not only did the foreign officers cross an ocean in order to study elements of strategy and battlefield management with us, their governments are paying Israel $50,000 per student. The IDF Spokesman says that the tuition is similar to that charged in parallel institutions around the world and is even less than that charged by leading institutions in the U.S. and Britain. It covers most of the costs of academic studies, tours in Israel and abroad, lectures and workshops, living expenses and translations. Due to time constraints, the visitors managed to learn only basic Hebrew and were provided with simultaneous translation into English. For the most part, professional translators from a civilian company translated at lectures, whereas during the tours and group discussions, English-speaking soldiers translated for the visitors.