LATE LAST WEEK, the Israeli cabinet decided not to expand its ground offensive in southern Lebanon. This decision can be read, in part, as a capitulation to the "international community," which has, since the start of Israel's defensive war on Hezbollah more than two weeks ago, called for a "proportional" and "restrained" response to the Islamic militia's unprovoked kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers.
In truth, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) continually exercise restraint in its war on terror. We were IDF paratroopers during the second Intifada, which erupted in September 2000. Baxpehler was a first sargeant and stationed in Hebron when the intifada began. Hebron saw some of the fiercest battles of that war. Clashes happened almost every night. After Hebron, both he and Rudstein served in and around Ramallah, leading counterinsurgency strikes and monitoring one of the city's most important checkpoints. In the spring of 2002, in the battle of Jenin, Rudstein led a paratrooper platoon.
Before every mission, we discussed tactics on how to avoid civilian casualties. You can believe us: No 19-year-old soldier takes pleasure from shooting at civilians. Quite the opposite. Whenever collateral damage occurs, it has a lasting negative impact on the psyche of our fellow soldiers. The IDF did, and still does, its utmost every day to avoid such scenarios. At Jenin, the IDF chose to have its infantry, instead of tanks or helicopters, conduct house-to-house searches with the aim to avoid civilian casualties. On one such mission, 13 reserve soldiers died in a Palestinian ambush.
From our experience, we know that it will take time to significantly damage Hezbollah. What is important is that Israel fights Hezbollah, without a timetable, until the following goals have been achieved: First, the significant reduction of Hezbollah's arsenal. Second, the dismantling, through capture or killing, of most of Hezbollah's leadership. Third, control of southern Lebanon, which would allow the Lebanese army to move in and patrol this territory. And fourth, the breaking-down of Hezbollah supply routes along the Syrian border. Only when those goals have been achieved can Israel withdraw.
But the Israeli cabinet's decision to limit the ground campaign may make it more difficult to achieve these goals. Indeed, it only demonstrates the government's indecision. By explicitly limiting the war, there will be no fear of a possible attack on Syria and Iran. This raises serious doubts as to whether Israel's current leadership has the stomach to end the terror threat from the north.
And there are other consequences. Iran will understand that all it takes to swing European opinion is civilian casualties. The recent meeting of world leaders in Rome showed that only the United States has the courage and stamina to say no to terror. Iran and Syria have successfully split Western opinion, by the use of proxies, and are on their way to reestablishing themselves as power centers in the region. The consequences of such a power realignment, if it occurs, would be far-reaching and dire, with global repercussions.
It is sad and pathetic that the international democratic community does not support one of its own but prefers to appease terrorists and dictators. By calling Israel's response "disproportionate" and urging Israel to stop fighting back, the international community only encourages Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran to continue on their current path of terror--and ensures a prolonged and deadly conflict.
Kevin Baxpehler was paratrooper in the Israeli Army during the second intifada and serves his reserve duty in an anti-tank reconnaissance unit. Dani Rudstein is an Officer with the Israeli Paratroopers reserves. He is on his way to Lebanon.