Is Lebanon in for "Prolonged Instability"?

| Thu Jul. 20, 2006 5:59 PM EDT

A few brief comments on the war in Lebanon. This article by Michael Young in Slate and this piece in The Jewish Week both make what seems to be the most crucial point: Israel simply cannot disarm—or even significantly weaken—Hezbollah through military force alone. Hezbollah is massively popular among the country's large Shiite minority, its rockets are hidden in thousands of homes across southern Lebanon, and even the upcoming "limited" ground offensive by Israel looks like it will be about as effective at uprooting Hezbollah as the flattening of Fallujah was at crushing the Iraqi insurgency. In other words, not at all.

So it's hard to imagine what the end result will be. Presumably Israel will cease its offensive at some point. Lots of civilians will be dead. Hezbollah will still exist, it will still have many of the 13,000 rockets it had before the war began, and it will likely be more popular than ever. The much-weakened Lebanese government isn't likely to confront Hezbollah now (especially if its army ends up fighting alongside the militia while trying to repulse an Israeli ground invasion). An international peacekeeping force might be deployed on the southern border, but if Hezbollah keeps its missiles hidden and refuses to disarm, then this gets us nowhere. No wonder Young predicts that "Lebanon is in for prolonged instability."

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An equally likely scenario is that there will be a tentative ceasefire, a loose border agreement that satisfies no one, and no peacekeeping force. Indeed, I have a hard time imagining that the UN will send in a force with a robust mandate to disarm or neutralize Hezbollah as well as the means to do so. Exactly how many countries want to send their soldiers to Lebanon to confront an angry guerrilla army with broad popular support and wealthy patrons abroad? (One Pentagon official claims that one of the Bush administration's ultimate goals is to get French support "to neutralize Hezbollah." Is it really that easy?)

I have no clue what the U.S. should do in this situation. The New Republic's suggestion that we should let Israel "defeat" Hezbollah (how? to what end?) and then "move ruthlessly to prevent Iran" from going nuclear is obviously insane. It would be awfully nice if TNR could focus on something besides proposals to get lots of people killed. As an alternative, it's hard to imagine that the United States would be ill-served by at least trying to open up talks with Iran and Syria, and see where that leads, rather than spend the next decade fighting a proxy war that benefits precisely no one. But one may as well wish for ponies at this point.