Monday, May 21, 2007

Eli Yishai and Bombing Lebanese Infrastructure

Today I read Eli Yishai's testimony. Yishai serves in the Olmert Government and Minister of Industry and Commerce, and as the senior minister from Shas he is a deputy Prime Minister and member of the inner cabinet that made operational decisions during the war.

What I learned from Yishai's testimony is that Olmert's decision not to bomb the power infrastructure in Lebanon, as Halutz proposed and as Yishai and apparently Haim Ramon favored, turned out, at least in retrospect, to be one of the crucial decisions of the war. But to see why is a little complicated.

The whole strategy proposed by Halutz and approved by Peretz was based on provoking international (i.e. American/French) intervention to the end the war with a diplomatic solution that achieved Israel's goals. Olmert was told by the Americans not to bomb the power stations or attack the electric grid (as the Clinton administration did in Kossovo, in what was the model for Halutz and Olmert), and so he refused to allow this part of Halutz's plan.

But Yishai, according to his testimony, thought that it was crucial to bomb the power stations so as to first, make Lebanon as a whole pay for harboring Hezbollah hostiles, and second, to provoke the international intervention that would end the war.

In retrospect is is hard to say whether Yishai was right and Olmert was wrong. Certainly, the Olmert government failed to anticipate that they would be given a free hand even after the first few days of fighting, and so they engaged for the remaining weeks of the war in search of some way to end it and get the diplomatic solution they wanted from the process of ending the war. On the other hand perhaps Olmert was right that bombing the electrical infrastructure in Lebanon would indeed have provoked Western intervention, but not on terms favorable to Israel.

The kicker, and the motivating reason for this whole blog, is that Israel's principal diplomatic goals (getting the Lebanese army into the South, and getting the Government of Lebanon to acknowledge its sovereign responsibility to prevent cross-border attacks on Israel) were indeed accomplished by Olmert's policy. So whether Yishai was right or not, the long-run difference is pretty small. Of course, if the diplomatic success of the war was better understood, we wouldn't be in this mess and I wouldn't be blogging.

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