Why is Israel suddenly bringing the crazy? It's not about rockets, and it's not about soldiers. It's about water and territory.

The fact that Israel currently has unilateral support from the most pro Israel, pro unilateralist, pro interventionist Administration in history doesn't hurt. Essentially, this is an opportunity for Israel to weaken Hizbullah, gain access to further territory and water supply, and weaken Lebanon when it comes time to negotiate a DMZ,Meanwhile, the US gets to use the whole exercise to put pressure on Syria and Iran, and lay groundwork for further expansion in the ME.

In the Israeli view, Lebanon will eventually offer a reasonable demilitarized area adjacent to Israel, with further access to water resources, etc. or Israel will create it in Lebanon, by force. For Israel the demand is both non-negotiable, and its guarantee will only be by means of the IDF's ability to wield force in Lebanon, and deter retaliation.

From Reuters, on the eve of the IDF's ground offensive, "Late night calls from Israel spook jittery Lebanese":

At first, Bushra Khayyat tried to ignore the incessant ringing of the phone at her house in Lebanon's southern port city of Sidon. It was 4 a.m., but she finally got out of bed.

"I said hello and got a recorded message from Israel," she told Reuters.

In clear Arabic, the strong voice on the phone said: "Oh Lebanese people, we tell you not to follow Hizbollah. We will continue to strike and no one will bring your prisoners back from Israel except the Lebanese government."

Other residents of the south have received similar calls.

"My grandmother got two calls at 5 and 6 in the morning saying the Israeli state would not stop the attacks and asking everyone to leave the area south of the Litani," said one woman who is stranded in Sidon. "She slammed the phone down."

From the Independent:

Israeli aircraft dropped leaflets over southern Lebanon yesterday warning civilians to leave border villages for areas north of the Litani river, about 13 miles from the frontier. The area south of the river is normally inhabited by around 300,000 people.

The history of Israel and its plans to capture the Litani water one way or another have been in the works for years:

In a paper from 1997:

"In the Middle East, the supply of water is much less than its demand, thereby resulting in conflict over it. This is true for Israel and Lebanon, where there have been struggles, although not always armed, for the waters of the Litani River. At this point, Israel occupies southern Lebanon. Part of the Litani is located in this region. There are conflicting reports and conclusions over whether or not Israel is using the Litani. There is also a verbal struggle over which country needs the Litani more, could make best use of it, and who, therefore, should develop their use of the Litani. Although there is not an armed struggle over it now, it has been involved in armed struggles in the past (in the 1967 war, and in 1982) and it is conceivable that in the future the struggles over it may become armed."

After the 1967 war, Moshe Dayan, defense minister, asserted Israel acheived "provisionally satisfying frontiers, with the exception of those with Lebanon."(21)

Israel hoped that it would have use of the Litani by the mid 1980s, when it projected that it would have fully used up the waters captured in the 1967 war. Israel hoped to meet this goal by securing the Litani in 1978. Israel had even included the Litani in calculations of their water resources.(22)

In fact, Israel's need for water makes it conceivable that it may already be using the Litani. It is not recent that Israel has been suspected of planning to divert the waters of the Litani for its own use. Near 1994, this developed into a large number of direct accusations that Israel was using the Litani.(23)

a. Israel and the Litani

Captured water is the most important part of Israel's total water supply. The four most important sources of Israel's water at the time of this writing were: "ground water; the Jordan watershed; lesser surface waters; and recycled water and water from desalinization plants," for a total of just less than 2,000 MCM per year.(24)
Israel's significant sources of water are currently exploited, and the only other source is the Litani, which, in order for Israel to use it, would have to be in Israel's possession, which could possibly happen through seizure. The only other source of additional water would be recycled water.(25)

Hizbollah represented a problem, sure, but is everything Israel doing really worth just degrading Hizbollah? Why is so much of Lebanon's civilian and military infrastructure being destroyed if there is not a larger goal afoot?

"Operation Litani" was the official name of Israel's 1978 invasion of Lebanon, intended to drive the PLO across the river and beyond the range of Israel's northern communities. The southern reaches of the Litani run parallel to the border - a "natural" border, thought Chaim Weizmann - before emptying into the Mediterranean north of the port of Tyre.

From Lonergan and Brooks' Watershed: The Role of Fresh Water in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, published in 1995:

Israel’s incursion into Lebanon and the establishment of the “Security Zone” in the early 1980s allows it access to the lower reaches of the Litani River (which flows within 10 km of the Israeli border). These actions, coupled with past unsuccessful attempts by Israel to reach an agreement with Lebanon to share Litani water, have led to great Arab concern that Israel will unilaterally divert the Litani into the Jordan River.... In a letter to the British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, Chaim Weizmann noted [in 1919] that Lebanon “is a well watered region . . . and the Litani River is valueless to the territory north of the proposed frontiers . . . . It can be used beneficially in the country much further south” This interest in the Litani continued through the 1950s, when both Prime Minister Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan, Israel’s Chief of Staff, advocated Israeli occupation of Lebanon up to the Litani River. The fact that Litani water is very high in quality with a low mineral content only enhances its value — and the perceived threat.

During the years of southern Lebanon's occupation, there were persistant rumours, eventually proven unfounded, that Israeli engineers were constructing a tunnel to divert the waters of the Litani towards the south. As Lonergan and Brooks write, "the lack of any evidence supporting the claim of an Israeli diversion of Litani River water does not mean that some Israelis do not covet the Litani River. It is the only nearby source of surface water that would allow Israel to maintain its present consumption rates and avoid the difficult choice of whether to reallocate water away from agriculture."

If Israel again reaches the Litani and holds it, the pressure will be that much greater to exploit Lebanon's waters, because the environmental exigencies are that much more exacerbated this century then they were even twenty years ago. In 2002, Ariel Sharon threatened Lebanon with war if it diverted the water of the Hasbani River from the Sea of Galilee, Israel's largest reservoir.

"In the Lebanese view, the mutual need for security of both Israel and Lebanon is best met through negotiation between the parties, on a equal basis, and should have pan-Arab participation for its guarantee. This runs completely counter to Israeli strategy since the 1967 war, which, through every Israeli government since, has been "Divide Arabs, and come to terms, state by state."

From the Israeli point of view, except for Lebanon, the strategy since 1967 has been largely successful; they occupy more territory than they did in 1967, they have achieved substantive peace and security (with ups and downs in the interim) with both Jordan and Egypt, and finally have the Palestinians effectively controlled in Gaza and the West Bank, and Syria is presently internally occupied, and is not a direct threat. Israelis see no reason to change, and Israeli public opinion continues to be inflamed in support of military action by Arab military attacks.

From the Arab point of view, Israel does not negotiate except from a position of strength, maintained by unfair military advantage, and a program of repression and human rights violations, for which Israel pays no international penalty, and respects no higher authority. The only Arab tactics that have ever seemed to affect Israeli public opinion, outside the capitulation to Israeli interests of Jordan and Egypt, has been terrorism.

Unless something changes in these patterns, Israel will be in conflict with its neighbors forever. What has to change is Israeli insistence on maintaining military superiority in the region, while the world looks on. An Israel finally made to compromise equally with its neighbors, in exchange for international security guarantees, would be an Israel that no neighbor would need fear. What is required for this to be achieved, is a willingness on the part of the U.S. to stop asymmetric support of Israel, and an insistence that Israel submit to international mediation in a revitalized peace process, while it significantly disarms.

The time is past when it is any one's interest to maintain that Israel or any of its neighbors has an inherent right of self-defense, since the map and the ground of the region make this militarily impossible to accomplish, without either Israel or its neighbors unilaterally offering defacto demilitarized zones to support an uneasy stalemate. No situation of stability and equality can come from the insistence of one party to a conflict of its right to enforce conditions on the other. Israel can not have an unfettered right to self defense extending to defacto control of its neighbor's territory, and still have peace with security.

It is time to move out of the trenches in this region, as it was nearly 100 years ago in Europe. It is time for the peoples of the Middle East to recognize, as has Europe finally, that their differences are as much opportunity, as difficulty. It is time for Israeli disarmament, and responsive Arab statesmanship.

Or else, it is, and will continue to be, time for still more graves."

From Jeff Wells at Rigorous Intuition, and various Metafilter posts