Analysis: Israel needs a dramatic closing act

The Kafr Kana incident has altered the perception that Israel was indeed the victim in this war.

soldiers returning 298.8 (photo credit: Associated Press)
soldiers returning 298.8
(photo credit: Associated Press)
As the war enters its fourth week on Wednesday, the pendulum has unmistakably swung from the military to the political and diplomatic spheres. The Kafr Kana incident has edged this pendulum toward the political side quicker than the decision makers in Jerusalem had hoped, but it was clear even before Sunday morning's attack that this was the critical seam-week between the end of the military activities and the beginning of the diplomatic ones. This is the week, as prime minister Ariel Sharon's former spokesman Ra'anan Gissin pointed out, during which Israel would try desperately to change the reality on the ground in Lebanon, while Hizbullah would try to alter the perceptions about what is happening in Lebanon. One perception Hizbullah has already altered, or rather the IDF inadvertently changed by firing on that building in Kafr Kana, was that Israel was indeed the victim in this war, that its border was violated and that it was just doing what any normal, self-respecting country would do - fighting back to protect its citizens. But there is no way that after killing more than 50 civilians - nearly half of them children - Israel, even if it had superhuman public relations, can convince the world that it is still the victim in this battle. Kafr Kana has changed all that. As difficult and unjust as this may be, the country will still be able to deal with the shift in perceptions; the implications of the shift are uncomfortable in the short term - just look at the day's foreign newspapers and editorials - but it is a storm Israel will be able to ride out. What is more difficult to cope with, however, and what is more threatening for the country's strategic position, is the perception Hizbullah is creating that it is winning the war. Hizbullah has already succeeded in lowering its bar of victory to such an extent that all it needs to do to be crowned the winner - and by extension the heroes of the Islamic world - is to remain standing once the cease-fire is in place. It doesn't matter that Hizbullah's operational capabilities have been damaged, or that they have been pushed back from Israel's border. If Nasrallah stays alive, and if Hizbullah can fire even short-range rockets at the North, the perception in Lebanon and beyond will be that they beat the Israeli Goliath. The pro-Syrian Lebanese President Emil Lahoud said as much Monday. "Hizbullah achieved a military victory against Israel. Israel did not succeed in reaching the Litani, and did not succeed in forcing conditions on us." Perception, as usual, is almost as important as reality. Or, as Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin said in the cabinet Sunday, the perception of how this battle ends will have huge ramifications in the Palestinian Authority territories. Diskin said that the IDF needed to "deepen" its achievements in Lebanon so that the Palestinians could see and feel them. "In the Middle East it is important to show the potential terrorist in Balata not only the strategic victory, but to show the IDF achievements in order to effect deterrence." The potential terrorist is not going to split hairs over whether Hizbullah's strategic situation is better than it was before the fighting began, but will rather look to see if the organization can still level a blow against Israel. And when they see Katyushas continuing to fall, it doesn't matter that they are now falling on Kiryat Shmona because their ability to fire longer range missiles has been damaged. All that matters for them is that the missiles are still falling. Chief of Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin warned at Sunday's cabinet meeting that Nasrallah could fire long-range missiles capable of hitting Tel Aviv as a "closing act" to cement his victory. In addition to preparing for Nasrallah's closing act, as Yadlin said, Israel should also be thinking of one of its own. What Israel needs to do now, Gissin said, is to produce some dramatic event - akin to Sharon crossing the Suez in 1973, or Yasser Arafat being forced to flee Beirut in 1982 - that will sear the hearts and minds of Israel's enemies that despite the spin they put on the war, it was by no means a great Islamic victory. With the clock ticking, the IDF has but a short time to pull this off.