EQUIVALENCE AND PRAGMATICS. Noam Scheiber responds to my post on Israel's attack on Lebanon as a preventive war, and offers up two observations that I think are red herrings. One is that -- as I'll happily agree -- it made perfect sense for Israel to deploy some level of retaliatory force to try and discourage Hezbollah from a repeat of the cross-border raid that launched the current round of fighting. Another -- as I'll also concede -- is that "I don't think you can regard all preventive wars as morally equivalent." Clearly not. Different situations are different.

That said, the core notion that Israel's preventive war is, in this case, essentially the same as one aimed at preempting an imminent attack seems bizarre. Sure, Hezbollah has expressed an intention to destroy Israel. That and a pony will get Hezbollah a pony. The group was hardly on the verge of obtaining parity with the IDF. Which is where we get back to the enormous practical problems with preventive war. By shifting the location of the conflict into Lebanon, Israel has landed itself in a much worse position than it was in before. Already, far more Israelis have been killed by Hezbollah rockets since Israel began its campaign than in the six previous years. And the following outcomes now seem available:

  • Israel semi-permanently occupies a swathe of southern Lebanon (again), getting itself bogged down in a futile guerilla war (again), except this time they won't be able to secure much of anything in the way of local allies in light of the way things turned out for the SLA the last time.
  • A cease-fire is arranged along the lines of the status quo ante, which, as hawks keeping noting, will count as a de facto win for Hezbollah.
  • A face-saving compromise is arranged, wherein some combination of the Lebanese Army and a UN force deploys to the south and pretends it will disarm Hezbollah while, in fact, the status quo ante prevails.
  • A well-trained, well-equipped French-led UN peacekeeping force decides to land in Lebanon and vigorously -- and successfully -- fights Israel's war for it. After destroying Hezbollah but before leaving, it uses its Jedi Mind Trick to convince Lebanese Shiites that they actually love Israel.

Of those scenarios, only the fourth would actually constitute a significant improvement in Israel's position and this is . . . not going to happen. Indeed, I feel that if I suggested six weeks ago that Israel was going to be counting on a French-led UN force to provide its security, folks in the Israel-hawk community would have -- quite rightly -- laughed at me. Option one is more realistic, and holds out some promise of saving the lives of Israeli civilians at the price of higher IDF casualties, but also only makes it less likely that Israel and the social forces that Hezbollah represents will ever come to a peaceful accommodation.

--Matthew Yglesias

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