‘The focus should be on Damascus’

Efraim Inbar, a professor of political science at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, says Israel’s priority is to stop Hezbollah’s rocket attacks on Israel and then disarm the group.

Efraim Inbar: Arab states have failed to make the transition to modernity
Efraim Inbar: Arab states have failed to make the transition to modernity

But he questions whether Israel is taking the right actions to achieve this goal

Inbar has written four books: Outcast Countries in the World Community, War and Peace in Israeli Politics; Labor Party Positions on National Security, Rabin and Israel’s National Security and The Israeli-Turkish Entente.

He is director of the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies and also a columnist for the Jerusalem Post.

Aljazeera net: What are the Israeli goals in Lebanon?

Efraim Inbar: The goals are simple: To remove the missile threat to Israel, to push Hezbollah out of South Lebanon and to try to damage its military capability as much as possible. The direct responsibility is with Hezbollah which has a clear intent to destroy Israel and is a declared enemy of Israel. The Lebanese government may be formally at war with Israel, but it does not pursue any measures against Israel. The problem with the government is that it is unable to extend its sovereignty to all the state, which allows Hezbollah to operate as an independent militia and to build a state within a state.

What do you think is the very minimum Israel will accept for a ceasefire?

Basically, the minimum conditions are the same as Israel’s goals. But the US will decide when enough is enough and Israel will do what is acceptable to them. Between God, and us there is the United States. America, as well as the international community, is interested in the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1559, which calls for the dismantling of Hezbollah.

Does the Israel public, in your view, consider the killing of now over 300 Lebanese, mostly civilian, as proportionate?

The general feeling in Israel is of support for the government.

The issue here is not the abduction of the two soldiers but that Hezbollah does not hesitate to threaten the life of so far a fifth of Israel’s population – and says it has longer-range missiles that can reach more of the population.

In that context, it is the moral duty and the first obligation of the state to defend its citizens.

How many more deaths of civilians, on both sides, will the Israeli public tolerate?

First, each side’s tolerance level for casualties on the other side is rather high. 

If the goal is perceived as important, the Israeli public tolerance for deaths on our side is also high. In 1948, because of the importance of the goal – the establishment of a state – the death of 6,000 was perceived as tolerable. In 1982, after 600 Israeli casualties, the public called into question the whole operation in Lebanon. Now, the security of Israeli citizens is an important goal, which probably raises the tolerance level of Israeli society.

Personally, I’m not sure what we are doing is the right thing – I think the focus should be on Damascus and not on the poor Lebanese.

Is it likely that the Israeli government has been in contact with any Arab governments?

There may be consultation on various levels with Egypt and Jordan and with other countries like Tunisia, Morocco, in Oman and in Qatar. The diplomatic avenue is not closed at any time and there may be ongoing dialogue.

The last time Israel invaded Lebanon, it left scars that fed extremism in the region. Why does this not appear to be a consideration in the present offensive?

I’m not sure it’s Israeli action that fuels extremism in the Arab world. It is primarily the failure of the Arab states to gradually make the transition to modernity, which creates social and political problems that lead to extremism. Islamic extremism is home grown.

The Israeli occupation of South Lebanon helped to establish Hezbollah, but in my view it was a secondary factor because there was already a certain measure of radicalisation within the Shia community before Israel arrived.

Hezbollah is now a much greater threat than before and we have to deal with the immediate threat rather than future concerns.

Would Israel consider attacking Iran or Syria? 

The government that can make a difference is not the Lebanese government; it is the regime in Damascus that can cut off support for Hezbollah.

I advocate attacking Syria – to some extent we are wasting ammunition in Lebanon. But I’m not sure the Israeli government thinks in those terms. It has been making statements that it does not want to escalate the situation by attacking Syria.

Iran is too distant and so I think w’’re more likely to leave the Iranians to the Americans – for now

Is the peace process now dead?

Forget about it, it’s over.

We are in a post two-state paradigm, primarily because the Palestinians failed to establish a functioning political entity. Similar to the Lebanese situation, the Palestinians allow the existence of independent militias.

The convergence plan is based on the assumption that there is no Palestinian partner for peace in the near future.

Source : Al Jazeera

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