WASHINGTON -- Israel's war with Hezbollah is a war to secure its northern border, to defeat a terrorist militia bent on Israel's destruction, to restore Israeli deterrence in the age of the missile. But even more is at stake. Israel's leaders do not seem to understand how ruinous a military failure in Lebanon would be to its relationship with America, Israel's most vital lifeline.
For decades there has been a debate in the U.S. over Israel's strategic value. At critical moments in the past, Israel has indeed shown its value. In 1970, Israeli military moves against Syria saved King Hussein and the moderate pro-American Hashemite monarchy of Jordan. In 1982, American-made Israeli fighters engaged the Syrian air force, shooting down 86 MiGs without a single loss, revealing a shocking Soviet technological backwardness that dealt a major blow to Soviet prestige abroad and self-confidence among its elites at home (including Politburo member Mikhail Gorbachev).
But that was decades ago. The question, as always, is: What have you done for me lately? There is fierce debate now in the U.S. about whether in the post-9/11 world Israel is a net asset or liability. Hezbollah's unprovoked attack on July 12 provided Israel the extraordinary opportunity to demonstrate its utility by making a major contribution to America's war on terror.
America's green light for Israel to defend itself is seen as a favor to Israel. But that is a tendentious, misleadingly partial analysis. The green light -- indeed, the encouragement -- is also an act of clear self-interest. America wants, America needs, a decisive Hezbollah defeat.
Unlike many of the other terror groups in the Middle East, Hezbollah is a serious enemy of the United States. In 1983, it massacred 241 American servicemen. Except for al-Qaeda, it has killed more Americans than any other terror organization.
More importantly, it is today the leading edge of an aggressive, nuclear-hungry Iran. Hezbollah is a wholly owned Iranian subsidiary. Its mission is to extend the Islamic Revolution's influence into Lebanon and Palestine, destabilize any Arab-Israeli peace, and advance an Islamist Shiite ascendancy, led and controlled by Iran, throughout the Levant.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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