Analysis: Victory from the jaws of defeat?

For many Israelis, this was a weekend of stocktaking. The first wave of reservists arrived home for short leaves and supplied their families and friends with better reports than any newspaper can give. The impression was mixed. "I'm still shocked by the amount of screw-ups I've seen at every possible level," was the verdict of one veteran company commander. But there were more positive assessments. "It all depends on the initiative," said a young doctor who spent the last three weeks attached to a paratrooper battalion. "When our guys are waiting around, Hizbullah manages to surprise us, but when we take the initiative, we beat them every time. And thank God, the penny's dropped and we're doing that more and more." Despite the continuing rain of rockets on Israeli towns and their deeper reach into the center of the country and the disturbing revelations of more military mistakes and miscalculations, there is also a new feeling of confidence. Three sources can be identified for this resurgent optimism. The reports of commando operations deep in Hizbullah territory leave Israelis wondering about their tactical value, but they've fired the imagination and reminded people that the IDF isn't just the bumbling out-of-date behemoth that it had begun to resemble. On the other end of the operational spectrum, the overdue entrance to the fray of thousands of reservists might have given much cause for concern to every family across the nation but it also inspired faith. They might have added 15 kilos and lost a bit of hair since their days in regular service but these are the grown-ups; "our boys" now have their older brothers with them. The third high-point is the continued unflagging support of the US (and of the remarkable Tony Blair, though regrettably not of Britain), even after the Kafr Kana disaster. President George Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have outdone themselves, withstanding increasingly hostile pressure from the rest of the world and some rather inept diplomacy from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. They have kept their sights firmly on the main objective, dealing Iran's proxy a resounding defeat. And they're not about to allow French politicians and Israeli shortcomings to stand in their way. Now it seems the third point of light is growing even brighter. For those who turned on the news immediately after Shabbat and learned the details of the joint US-French draft resolution for the UN Security Council, it seemed almost too good to be true. How on earth did Jacques Chirac agree to a resolution that didn't even call for an immediate cease-fire or an immediate Israeli pullback from southern Lebanon, that allowed Israel to retaliate if attacked in the future, and called for the disarmament of Hizbullah and the unconditional release of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev? In other words, the proposal includes almost all the goals that Israel set out to achieve in this war. So is US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton a magician or is there a hidden catch somewhere? Well, of course, it's only a draft. France could still backtrack and there might still be objections from two other permanent members, Russia and China. Hizbullah has already announced it will never accept this resolution, and it remains to be seen whether this will cut any ice with any member of the Security Council. The current draft is far from being the last word on the subject and nothing concrete has yet been said about any long-term security solution, whether via the Lebanese army or employing some yet to be defined multinational force. But for once, time seems to be on Israel's side at the UN. If the resolution is approved sometime this week, the IDF will have had enough time to establish itself on a line roughly 10 kilometers to the north of the border. This will ensure that until a long-range solution is found (and hopefully long afterward), Hizbullah will not return to our border and the IDF will be in a much better position to retaliate for further rocket attacks. Of course, there will still be Hizbullah fighters operating within the new "security area," but eradicating them will now come under defensive measures. On the other hand, if the resolution is rejected, it will only lead to further diplomatic wrangling since the US will probably veto any radically different text, and that will probably last at least a few more weeks. Now that the IDF is, hopefully, gaining the upper hand on the ground, the additional time will allow it to cause much more irreparable damage to Hizbullah's infrastructure. Who knows, the intelligence services might even finally obtain the one vital piece of information that will, together with a missile, wipe out the elusive Hizbullah command post. Military Intelligence and Mossad officers are convinced that it's only a matter of time. If either of these optimistic scenarios works out, you can trust Israel's politicians and generals to be on hand to say "we won." At that point, someone should be around to remind them that it was Israel's friends in Washington who almost had to force Israel to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. If we reach that point.