What Lies Beyond Israel and Lebanon?
SCOTT SIMON, host:
And we're joined in the studio now by Ambassador Martin Indyk, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel. He now directs the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution. Thanks very much for being with us, Mr. Ambassador.
Ambassador MARTIN INDYK (Former U.S. Ambassador, Israel): My pleasure, Scott.
SIMON: And help us understand. Israel's reaction to the capture of two Israeli soldiers has been decried as disproportionate in a great many quarters, an arm and a leg, an eye and an arm and a leg as opposed to an eye for an eye. Help us to understand what Israeli policy is hoping to accomplish.
Ambassador INDYK: Well, I think one has to understand the broader context in which Israel withdrew from Lebanon six years ago, completely, and was endorsed by a U.N. Security Council resolution. And in the meantime, Hezbollah, with the help of Iran and the facilitation of Syria, has been building up a vast arsenal of rockets, some 10,000, now missiles with longer range that can hit the Israeli City of Haifa, and as Nasrullah had said yesterday, beyond Haifa.
And this has just been building up on Israel's northern border. The Lebanese government, notwithstanding U.N. Security Council resolutions which require it to extend its sovereignty to the south and send its army down there, has been too weak to do that. And so the context of Hezbollah's operation, particularly with what's going on with Hamas, led Israel, I think, to decide enough's enough, and we are going to take down this Hezbollah infrastructure that threatens our northern villages, towns and even cities. So that's the broader context in which they're operating.
SIMON: Let me ask you a huge question that presents itself very urgently now. Can Israel destroy Hezbollah and the infrastructure without at the same time destroying the infrastructure of the Lebanese government that had actually made Israel hopeful when it came into power that there were some co-existence there?
Ambassador INDYK: Well, that is the heart of the matter. You've put your finger on it. And it's a very delicate line to walk. I think President Bush tried to signal to the Israelis that he didn't want the Lebanese government toppled at the same time as they tried to go after Hezbollah.
But the trick here is not so much in the military area, although that's important, but it's somehow to use force in a coercive way to get the Lebanese government and the Lebanese people to turn on Hezbollah and say enough's enough, we cannot take this anymore, you have to disarm, you don't have the right as a militia, now that we have a Lebanese democracy, to operate like this. The U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, which called for the withdrawal of Syrian troops, and that was implemented, also called for the disarmament of Hezbollah.
But its refusal to disarm has in many ways triggered this crisis. So what the Israelis, I think, have to try to do is to use the coercion to turn the Lebanese people against Hezbollah. That's an extremely difficult thing to do, because the anger with Israel for destroying the airport tarmacs and the roads and the other infrastructure counterbalances that.
SIMON: And killing civilians.
Ambassador INDYK: And killing civilians, of course.
SIMON: What's your estimation of whether or not the situation can be cauterized just between, let's say Israel, Hezbollah and Lebanon, because people are obviously concerned that Syria, Iran, have interests and might drawn in?
Ambassador INDYK: I think that the Israelis would prefer to keep it localized to Lebanon. But the problem they face is that Hezbollah is like a car now with an accelerator and no brakes. As they look to try to get Hezbollah to stop the attacks on Israel's northern villages and cities, they're going to start looking at Syria to exercise its influence. No coincidence again that President Bush yesterday pointed the finger at Syria and said, you need to do something about this. Of course, we've pushed Syria out of Lebanon and they're going to respond to us, the United States, by saying, do you want us to go back in to do this? But Israel, I think, may use military threat, and that has the potential to broaden the war to bring Syria in as well.
SIMON: Former Ambassador Martin Indyk, thanks very much for being with us.xxx
Ambassador INDYK: Thank you, Scott.