This is a partial transcript from "The Journal Editorial Report," August 6, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.
PAUL GIGOT, HOST: Hezbollah militants fired a record number of rockets into Israel this week as the IDF carried out its deepest raids yet into Lebanese territory.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said his country will not stop its offensive until a multinational peacekeeping force is in place.
Can Israel deliver a decisive blow before a cease-fire? Michael Oren is a senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem and a reserve major in the Israeli Defense Forces. He joins me now from Jerusalem.
Michael, thank you for being with us.
MICHAEL OREN, SENIOR FELLOW, SHALEM: Pleasure to be with you, Paul.
GIGOT: This week you wrote in the New Republic, quote, "A disaster of regional and perhaps global dimensions appears eminent unless Israel seizes its last opportunity to regain the initiative and deliver a decisive blow to Islamic extremism," unquote.
What did you mean by that?
OREN: Well, understand, Paul, that this is not a battle between Israel and Hezbollah, not a battle between Israel and Lebanon, but very much a battle between the modern free world, if you will, and militant Islam. And it's not only Israel that stands to lose catastrophically if Israel does not achieve its minimal objectives in this campaign.
An Israeli defeat, or rather the perception of a Israeli defeat in this campaign will grievously endanger moderate Arab regimes, Jordan, Egypt, even Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries will be it endangered by an ascended Iran that feels it has overwhelmed Israel, and through Israel, really emerged triumphant over Israel's American backers.
GIGOT: Well, when you say decisive blow — Israel must deal a decisive blow, how do you define that. Is that defined by getting rid of all of Hezbollah's heavy weapons, its missiles, or is it taking out the Hezbollah leadership? How do you define it?
OREN: Well, clearly, getting rid of all of the missiles is beyond Israel's capability. Probably beyond the capability of any country at this stage with our current level or technology. Yes, we can strike a blow at Hezbollah by eliminating its upper echelon leaderships.
But the decisive blow we can deliver on the ground, certainly the most tangible blow, is by conquering southern Lebanon up to the Litani River. That's a depth of 15 miles into Lebanon.
Now, keep in mind, that area of southern Lebanon was the heartland of Hezbollah. That's where its prestige was invested. It was from those areas that it launched attacks both in the air on the ground against Israel.
If Hezbollah is no longer deployed in the south, then it's hard to maintain its prestige, its claim that it is on the forefront of the battle against the Zionist entity, as they call us.
So it's very important to deliver that decisive blow by pushing Hezbollah 15-20 miles back from Israel's border.
GIGOT: So the air campaign that the prime minister started with you think was a mistake to be so limited? But are they now making progress toward this delivering this blow on the ground? Are they doing enough? And do they have enough time, in your view, to get this done?
OREN: Well, clearly, it was a mistake at the opening of the campaign to rely so heavily on air power. Israel was reluctant to send in large numbers of troops into southern Lebanon for several reasons. One was the fear of losing a large number of soldiers; two, the memories of our rather unfortunate 18 years occupation of southern Lebanon, 1982-2000.
And third, we had problems mobilizing our reserves. The last five, six years, we've been engaged in a low intensity war in Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza. And the army was not prepared — certainly not the reserve part of the army — was ill prepared to engage in a larger- scale, more conventional style war in the south.
Now, over three weeks into this conflict, the reserves are poised to move in. We currently have about 12,000 troops operating in southern Lebanon. That number is going to have to get up around 20,000, topping it.
In 1982, when Israel went into southern Lebanon, we had 30,000 men, about 20,000 plus will begin to move more with greater rapidness toward this goal of reaching the Litani River.
But as you intimated, Paul, we are up against a countervailing clock here and there are discussions.
GIGOT: Well, that's right and — they're talking about a diplomatic initiative coming, in some kind of U.N. resolution calling for a cease-fire next week. Is that too soon?
OREN: Well, it's too soon from Israel's perspective. But right now, Hezbollah, as of this morning, is saying that it will not agree to any cease-fire that is linked to its disarmament as an armed organization. And that is the general thrust of American diplomacy, of British diplomacy, is to inextricably link the cease-fire to the entry of an international force, which will come into Lebanon and restore Lebanese sovereignty and disarm Hezbollah.
GIGOT: What do you think of this idea of an international force? American officials are saying now that the French, the Italians, maybe the Turks would come in, and with rather robust rules of engagement. They wouldn't just be like the current U.N. force. These people would be charged with going after Hezbollah if that's what it talks.
Do you think that has a chance of succeeding?
OREN: I think it has probably the best chance of succeeding of any program we have. But it's important that the countries that participate in this force, by sending their armies and their forces to participate there, understand that this is not going to be a blue-helmeted peacekeeping observer corps, but very much a combat force.
Hezbollah will not go quietly into the disarmament night. It will use every power, every bit of explosive at its disposal to prevent this force from disarming this organization, much as they did to the U.S. Marines in Beirut in December of 1983.
And these countries that are sending the forces to the international peacekeeping force will know that they're going in to fight, and perhaps even die, for Lebanon, for peace in the Middle East and ultimately for security of the world.
GIGOT: All right, Michael Oren, thank you for being here. We'll see how it goes.
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