Sunday, July 23, 2006

Israel: Looking forward, reasoning back.

The situation in Lebanon is sensitive for me as I know someone who landed in Beirut the day before the airport was bombed and closed. His family was supposed to join him in Beirut in August; that won't happen now. It is a sorry state of affairs.

I've been struggling with a couple related questions. Why did the world sit so quietly while Hezbollah armed itself to the teeth, just miles from the Israeli border? And, in both the Lebanon action and the Gaza action, why does Israel do things that they just have to know are going to play out badly in the world media?

I think I might be able to rationalize what Israel is up to and make a little sense out of the situation. Israel saw that the world ignored its plight, with Hezbollah being armed by outside forces and getting ready to attack Israel. By doing an all-out assault, bombing even civilian structures like the airport, roads and bridges, and TV stations, Israel accomplishes two things. One, it does weaken Hezbollah. But two, and more important, it actually uses the anticipated negative world reaction to its advantage. How can the world sit back and watch the Israelis tear Lebanon apart? It actually looks like we might get French, British, Italian, even German troops on the border of Lebanon and Israel. This is exactly what Israel needed before the war, but could not get the world to take seriously. Now Condoleeza Rice looks like she might be able to get a coalition of countries to keep the peace.

So Israel is using some key lessons from game theory. One: look forward, reason back. What Israel needs is an international force on the border to keep Hezbollah from amassing arms again (or Israel would have to occupy South Lebanon, and they tried that once before). Convincing the world that Hezbollah is the enemy and the crazy force won't work, because the world is afraid to go directly against them. So Israel has to appear to the the crazy force that needs restraining. The second lesson from game theory is a bit of judo economics, or using the other player's incentives against them. Iran and Syria may soon find themselves with a European peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, and it will be much tougher to attack those forces than it would be to attack US forces. Also, even the Europeans are going to be surprised to see that it has somehow become in their interest to step in between Israel and Hizbollah. Who would have thought that would happen?

I am most pleased to see the US letting Israel play this out. Condoleeza Rice is exactly on mark when she says that a ceasefire will not solve anything.

The main conundrum this thinking resolves for me was Israel’s blatant attack of targets that one knew would turn world opinion against it. But that, it appears, may be exactly the plan.

1 comment:

Kevin Devor said...

Very perceptive. I agree with your analysis, in fact today's front page of the WSJ notes that Israel would accept a multinational force along Lebanon's border.