Restating what should be some obvious points…
- Israel has clear conventional superiority of Hezbollah and Lebanon, and can obviously do a lot of damage. However, the idea that Israel can destroy Hezbollah is absurd. If Israel could have destroyed Hezbollah, it would have done so at some point between 1982 and 2000. It’s clear that the IDF can hurt, but equally as clear that it can’t exterminate Hezbollah through military force alone.
- If the IDF can’t do it, then the Lebanese obviously can’t do it. Suggestions that the Lebanese simply lacked the will to deal with Hezbollah are idiotic on their face. Will in this case is irrelevant; Lebanon (largely, but not solely, because of the interference of its two more powerful neighbors) is one of the least capable states in the world. If you think that the Lebanese Army could have destroyed Hezbollah, then you really don’t understand what a state is, and certainly know nothing of the relationship between states and non-governmental actors.
- Dan seems cautiously optimistic about the idea of international assistance for Lebanese government forces in action to disarm Hezbollah, but I’m unconvinced. Various Lebanese militias managed to survive attacks from each other, Syria, Israel, and the United States in the 1980s, and I don’t see any reason to believe that the situation has changed.
- The Israeli action has been defended on the pretense of establishing a reputation for resolve and national will. Who, I wonder, doubted Israeli resolve before three weeks ago? When I wasn’t looking, did Israel indicate that it was full of pansies? Or is it possible that a reputation for resolve does not, in fact, save you from terrorist attack? There’s probably a dissertation to be written in here somewhere, but to put it as briefly as possible, Israel seems to be a critical negative case for the idea that a reputation for resolve and will can deter attacks. Israel habitually responds to such attacks with overwhelming force, but either this never establishes for Israel a tough reputation, or a tough reputation doesn’t matter. As an aside, if you believe that the security fence has cut down on terrorist attacks in Israel fine and good, but a fence is about capabilities, not resolve.
UPDATE: In response to this last point, Alex notes in comments that the withdrawals from Lebanon in 2000 and from Gaza in 2005 may have left Israel with a reputation for weakness. There are two colossal problems with this argument. The first is that, in order to believe that the withdrawal in 2000 was consequential for terrorist behavior, you have to assert that Israel’s reputation for toughness was deterring attacks prior to 2000. This is an absurd claim. Second, the policy implications of this position are appalling. The argument seems to be that having occupied a territory, a state can never withdraw without suffering dire reputational effects. The implications of this argument for US Iraq policy are quite troubling; literally, the US will acquire a reputation for weakness if it EVER withdraws from Iraq. If there are multiple ways of interpreting a particular action (that is, if Hezbollah can interpret as weakness something that Israel interprets as strength) then the logic of the resolve argument collapses. If people can interpret things in any way they see fit then they can never be convinced that strong action actually indicates strength; they will always assert, rather, that it covers weakness.
And this is the empirical problem with the resolve argument. Because there are no measurable indicators of resolve (indeed, by the nature of the beast, such indicators are impossible), partisans of the reputational argument can invariably insist that the bad thing X is the consequence of weak policy Y. What, you beat five guys to death but left two standing? Weakness!!! In response to bad thing Z, which has no evident temporal connection to Y, the policy recommendation is simply “more toughness”. It’s an empty argument.