Ehud Barak is a corrupt traitor, but to accuse him of withdrawing from Lebanon is superficial. After 18 years of occupation, Israeli soldiers continued to be killed there and Muslim guerrillas multiplied. In war, there is no middle way. Israel could not install a collaborationist government in Lebanon because that patchwork country is simply ungovernable. Lebanon’s various groups operate by consensus, not authoritarian decision. A totalitarian government led by the Lebanese Christians could be forced through; a hard-line Christian state in the Middle East would be acceptable to the West and beneficial to Israel. But such a Lebanon could only be created with Syrian cooperation, because a transparent Lebanon-Syria border allows Islamic guerrillas a free hand. Syria doesn’t care whether Lebanon is Christian or Muslim, as long as it is embedded in the Syrian sphere of influence. Feeding north Lebanon to Syria and creating a militant Christian state in the south is the most viable option for Israel; at any rate, Israel is better off if Syria annexes Lebanon than merely influences it: Israel can counter a conventional Syrian army, but lacks the political will for a thorough anti-guerrilla warfare. In return for a large chunk of Lebanon, Syria would agree to resettle the Israeli Arabs who now constitute a majority in many parts of the Galilee.

A worse alternative to dividing Lebanon with Syria is an unconditionally supported Christian strongman there. He would have to engage in ugly, Sabra- and Shatila- style massacres in order to terrify the local Muslims into abandoning support for Islamic guerrillas. In such a scenario, the IDF would have to directly assist Lebanon’s Christian army on occasions.

The least desirable of workable options is to foster any Lebanese government with a firm grip on the militants. So far, the only candidate to form such a government is Hezbollah. The Lebanese army’s protracted fight with the insignificant Fatah al-Islam group in the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp shows that army incapable of cornering the many guerrilla groups embedded in several Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, each seething with weapons. Even if a Palestinian state is created, it won’t let the refugees back – Abbas understands that these inner-city throngs, with no experience of productive work for three generations, would blow up his state. Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are immensely more radical – patriotic – even than Gazans, to say nothing of the relatively affluent and moderate West Bankers. Abbas’ partitioning of what they see as a Palestinian homeland with Israel is inconsequential for them. With a population density of over 50,000 jobless Arabs per square kilometer, the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon will erupt, launching immense guerrilla warfare around that powerless country. Hezbollah, popular among the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, is the only force that can keep the otherwise uncontrollable Palestinian militants at bay.

Hezbollah is radical and irresponsible now, but would behave differently when ruling the country. A Hezbollah burdened with the civic responsibilities of government, engaged with France and the West generally, would moderate as every other revolutionary group has done upon coming to power. Now, Hezbollah is engaged in terrorism only because it can afford irresponsibility – in fact, it is paid to be that way. But at the national level, Iran wouldn’t be able to provide meaningful aid to all of Lebanon and would inevitably lose influence with a Hezbollah in power. It is inconceivable that a Hezbollah government would launch a conventional war against Israel, or sponsor terrorist operations, if risking a conventional reprisal. A Hezbollah in power, unlike a Hezbollah in opposition, would care a lot about Israel bombing the Beirut airport. Even now, Hezbollah is not exactly a terrorist organization. It mostly works in welfare projects and defense. Hezbollah’s bunkers along the Israel-Lebanon border are defensive; bunkers are not used for offense. Hezbollah stocks mid-range missiles, also a strategically defensive weapon. Hezbollah only demanded that Israel go from Lebanon and now from the unimportant Shebaa farms, not that the Jewish state be taken off the map. Kidnappings of Israeli soldiers, if planned by Hezbollah central command at all rather than by its local mavericks, are a little something that Hezbollah must show its sponsors and supporters. At any rate, isolated cross-border kidnappings are not war, and historically Israel had demonstrated a high tolerance for such incidents with Egypt, Jordan, or Lebanon; Hezbollah did not imagine that it would start a war with Israel by kidnapping the IDF soldiers.

It’s ethically unpleasant to cooperate with Hezbollah, but Israel cooperates with the PLO, so the moral aspects should be no problem. Israel continuously carps at Hamas for kidnapping Shalit, but rarely utters a word about the soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah. After France had invited Hezbollah for talks, Europe would eventually welcome the militant group. Face it: Hezbollah is the only real power in Lebanon. Killing them off would create a power vacuum. If Israel wants to talk with Lebanon, there’s no one else to talk with but Hezbollah.

Fighting Hezbollah is strategically worthless for Israel. In the best-case scenario, if Hezbollah goes away from the scene, another militant group will arise to fill the power vacuum. Lebanon, besieged by powerful neighbors and internal religious conflicts, is weak and susceptible to militants. When there is an opportunity in Lebanon, insurgents will rush in to exploit it; atheist Palestinians yesterday, Shiite Hezbollah today, Sunni Palestinians or whoever else tomorrow. Israel can strain Hezbollah’s resources with sabotage, police enforcement, and low-level military activities, but need not extinguish the group.

Hezbollah enjoys Iranian subsidies and free arms shipments from Syria. While Israel cannot realistically establish aerial control over the Syrian-Lebanese border, periodic rocket attacks on unauthorized traffic could restrict the arms flow to Hezbollah. Drive out Lebanese merchants – who financially support Hezbollah – from Sierra Leone and Congo, replace them with Israeli diamond traders. Take control of the drug trade now handled by Hezbollah. Also, flood Gaza with cheap drugs to divert the Arab youth, instead of Hezbollah’s drugs that are now flooding Israel.

The Israeli passive defense against Lebanon won’t work; no passive defense does. The Soviet Union agreed to every German demand, showered Germany with aid and supplies, assembled forces at the borders which should have deterred the aggressor – but was attacked anyway.

Peace does not come abruptly, especially when only one side wishes it. Peace is a product of exhaustion. No single move such as disengagement can achieve peace, but only protracted efforts – military efforts. Israel tried the opposite approach with Egypt, hoping that a peace treaty would lead to peaceful relations; nope. Both the Israeli and the Egyptian armies grew qualitatively after the Camp David accords and the Egyptians still hate the Israelis. Countries usually achieve peace through total wars. Limited expeditions suffice only over non-critical objectives, but even then, accumulated grievances often lead to a total war. Britain did not annihilate Argentina over the insignificant Falkland Islands, but after several attempts to establish the status of Alsace-Lorraine through limited war, France and Germany resorted to two total wars, incidentally dragging in many other nations. Israel lacks the resources for a total – necessarily protracted – war even with Lebanon, short of nuking that country. Israel’s two viable strategies in relation to Lebanon are a strong government there of whatever orientation or a centuries long, seemingly indecisive, low-intensity conflict. Lebanese guerrillas will shell Israel, Israel will bomb the Beirut airport, the UN will intervene, Israel will withdraw, the guerrillas will regain their forces and so on in an almost endless cycle. Rationalist children of the Enlightenment want clear-cut solutions with immediate results. In social relations, such solutions do not exist.

Welcome to the good old world of realpolitik, where violence still rules.