The Deterrence Thing

When war is waged without discrimination, deterrence is meaningless; the internal forces can no longer perform because they are under attack.

Once again, the worrisome question must be asked: Who is making the rules, the Israel Defense Forces or the government? Or, in other words, is the government the IDF's house brand, or vice versa? For instance, the deterrence thing. Last week we saw the "we'll go anywhere we want" show, as the chief of staff put it, set in exotic Baalbek. Now, it seems, "they" will truly be afraid.

We've seen this magic before, in Entebbe, in the War of Attrition with Egypt, in Jordan with the attempt to assassinate Khaled Meshal, in Lillehammer, in Beirut, in Malta and in Tunisia. So what's so remarkable about raiding a hospital in Baalbek? In truth, if one stretches one's memory, one recalls that we've been in Lebanon before and even had a security zone there once. So what gives with that deterrence thing?

This war began with a sack full of legitimacy. No state can allow its soldiers to be abducted. Interestingly enough, not only did a few Arab leaders agree with that stance, so did many Lebanese who realized that Hezbollah had placed them on a collision course with Israel. Three weeks later, the sell-by date has passed on that realization, to be replaced by deep humiliation, suffering and anger. Why wouldn't a Lebanese who has seen his home flattened into concrete confetti, his neighbors and their children killed by the hundreds and the likelihood of the school year to start on time fade away, begin to recoil? After all, he is already convinced that this is not merely a war against Hezbollah, but rather an all-out war against Lebanon, against him, whether he is Christian, Druze or Shi'ite.

When the war began, he still believed that the IDF, angry and vengeful, would help him hit back at Hezbollah twice as hard, but now he finds that his country has turned into a refugee state. He suddenly meets people he has never known and understands things he never understood: that war, in the final analysis, is not against an organization or an army, it is against a population. Hassan Nasrallah knows this well, and inside of three weeks he engineered the upset he had hoped for: He is once again Lebanon's hero, the spearhead of the state. In the competition for the hearts and minds of the Lebanese, after all, Israel will never have the upper hand when its shells cannot distinguish between their targets.

Anyone struggling to understand this equation may want to review previous study notes and ask why it is that the Palestinians, without long-range missiles, heavy weapons, tanks or super-headquarters, are also not deterred by the all-powerful IDF. Why, after more than 150 have been killed in three weeks, do they continue firing Qassams, mortar shells, whatever. Why is it that the logic of the IDF, which measures its forces by the amount of steel it possesses, does not work on them. The answer is the same: When war is waged without discrimination, deterrence is meaningless; the internal forces, the ones that are supposed to absorb the next blows, can no longer perform because they are under attack.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is already singing songs of praise for the resistance. Many Lebanese civilians have changed tack and now want Hezbollah to keep fighting, and are giving him donations. The suffering of the population in Lebanon, as in Kiryat Shmona or Carmiel, has been made part of the war effort. There is one difference: In Lebanon, no one is talking about the IDF being vanquished. The ambition is much more modest: They want the IDF and the Israeli population to suffer so much they will not attack the next time. In Israel the aspiration is still enormous: to disband Hezbollah, to drive it away from the border, to reach a new agreement, and, yes, to deter.

But the war in Lebanon, like the one being waged in Palestine, will not result in deterrence. At most, there will be a balance of deterrence, just as there was before the war; the kind that will require the army each time to check what Israelis are broadcasting from the bomb shelter. Because very soon, it won't be just the Four Mothers who will be tired of this deterrence, bur rather thousands of families.