- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2006

As Israel’s ground operation against Hezbollah moves forward, an intense debate has begun in Israel over what constitutes victory in Lebanon and how it is to be achieved. Some Israel Defense Force commanders want to expand ground operations to destroy the terrorists’ launch sites, but Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and perhaps some dovish generals have nixed the idea of doing more on the ground. Although the government is mobilizing close to 30,000 reservists, it is not ready to go forward with the kind of large-scale ground operation that will probably be a necessary component of any campaign to destroy Hezbollah as a military force capable of attacking Israel from Lebanon.

But without a campaign that accomplishes this, it is difficult to see how the Israeli government can attain its goal: militarily degrading Hezbollah to the point that some kind of international force combined with the Lebanese army would be capable of maintaining security in southern Lebanon. Israel cannot settle for anything less than a decisive victory. And it needs to understand that many political conservatives — some of its strongest supporters in the United States — are worried that the political leadership within Israel has yet to formulate a battle plan that will enable the Israeli military to do enough damage to Hezbollah so that no one could conceivably attempt to spin military defeat as a victory.

Right now, even though Israel has destroyed hundreds of Hezbollah targets and killed many of its fighters, the terrorists are still firing upwards of 100 rockets a day into Israel. Also, Israeli casualties are mounting as a result of brutal house-to-house combat against a terrorist army in southern Lebanon that has had more than six years to prepare for battle. And Hezbollah boss Hassan Nasrallah is alive, reportedly meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iranian representatives in Damascus, a location that Israel has declared off-limits from military action for now.

Adding to the problem is the fact that one of Israel’s leading newspapers, Ha’aretz, yesterday quoted U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Welch as declaring that Israel needs to “be realistic” about the fact that its military campaign cannot disarm Hezbollah and that negotiations over an international force in Lebanon need to begin regardless of whether Hezbollah has been militarily defeated. Unnamed U.S. officials, according to Ha’aretz, are said to be counseling the Pentagon and the Israeli government that just as the United States agreed to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program, it is time for Washington to open negotiations with Syria over Hezbollah.

Given the fact that nuclear talks with Iran have yielded nothing of substance, the idea that they should serve as a model for U.S.-Syria negotiations over Hezbollah seems like a prescription for defeat. Such an outcome would leave Hezbollah strengthened and more dangerous and reward Syria, one of the world’s leading state supporters of terror. President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice need to clarify that Mr. Welch’s reported remarks do not constitute U.S. policy and that Washington stands behind Israel as it moves forward in its campaign against Hezbollah. Israel is likely to insist that any agreement with Lebanon include some mechanism to monitor the country’s border crossings to block the delivery of weapons to Hezbollah. Although the IDF is taking action to block arms shipments to Hezbollah since the current conflict began on July 12, Israeli officials say the terrorist group continues to receive Katyusha rockets and other equipment from Syria.

We don’t presume to give the Israelis unsolicited military advice about fighting Hezbollah and how the Israeli public should define victory in Lebanon. But we can say this with some confidence: For all the blathering about Israel’s “disproportionate” response in defending itself (and the reality that from a public-relations perspective, it can be good to be a victim), and notwithstanding Americans’ moral sentiments, they also prefer to be with a winner. Moreover, even Israel’s enemies in the Middle East and Europe begrudgingly respect Israel’s hardwon record of invincibility on the battlefield since her founding.

In the long run, Israel does itself no favors by listening to those — both civilians and military — whose response to state-supported terrorism consists of half-measures that ensure Islamofascists an opportunity to survive and fight another day.

If a large-scale Israeli ground operation proves necessary to do the job against Hezbollah, Mr. Olmert should go forward — with strong support from Washington.

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