Interesting Times: What the war is about

Most Israelis and friends believe war was lost, but some in Lebanon disagree.

saul singer 88 (photo credit: )
saul singer 88
(photo credit: )
It is hard to find anyone in Israel who says we won this war besides the prime minister and those around him. The same goes for Israel's friends abroad, who almost uniformly term it a resounding defeat. But I found someone who disagrees - in Lebanon: "Hizbullah at best won a tactical victory in standing its ground. However, its rocket deterrent has effectively been neutralized for years, because Shi'ite civilians cannot soon be put through such trauma again. "Hizbullah's skills were on display in a fight that was largely meaningless, and you can be assured that next time the Israelis will come better prepared; the vague Lebanese consensus behind the party, never very strong anyway, has been shattered, so that Hizbullah cannot be as adventurist in the future as it was in the past. Arab hostility to Hizbullah has escalated, and was on display during the recent diplomacy; and for the foreseeable future Hizbullah will have to behave more like the Salvation Army than a 'resistance' because of the hundreds of thousands of Shi'ites it must take care of. "For all these reasons and more, I don't see this as a victory for Hizbullah, and I'm not even mentioning the billions of dollars of losses Lebanon must face. In its calculations, strangely, Hizbullah never seemed to factor in the losses outside the Shi'ite community." So wrote Michael Young, opinion editor of a major Lebanese paper, The Daily Star, distributed throughout the Arab world. His comment appeared Tuesday in a live, on-line chat on with an Israeli journalist (full disclosure: me). YOUNG COULD have added other losses for Hizbullah's patrons, Syria and Iran. Before the war, Iran thought it had an excellent deterrent against an Israeli strike on Iran or Syria: the thousands of missiles pointed at Israeli cities. That deterrent is gone - because almost all of Hizbullah's long-range missiles were destroyed, because the Israeli public showed it could stand up to the rest, and, as Young points out, Hizbullah knows it cannot again put Lebanon through such a trauma any time soon. In addition, Iranian and Syrian aid for Hizbullah has been exposed, removing much of the "plausible deniability" they enjoyed despite being terror-supporting states; while also revealing that Israel is fighting for its existence, not over territorial dispute. This, by the way, is a strategic setback for the Palestinians, who had successfully convinced the world otherwise. Now it is obvious, as Tony Blair put it, that Hizbullah was not fighting "for the coming into being of a Palestinian state, but for the going out of being of an Israeli state." None of this is to suggest that this war went according to plan, that our leaders - military and political - fought it decisively, or that our military was as prepared as it should have been to fight it. It is to argue that many significant things have happened that we should build upon. Rather than dedicating ourselves to settling scores over a lost war, we should invest our zeal in winning the peace. WINNING THE peace begins with shaping the lessons of the war. The first lesson: Iran is fighting a comprehensive war against the West, including Israel. The West's response must be equally comprehensive. Iran approved this war to distract and intimidate the West from confronting its regime. If the West pretends this is only about Lebanon and Israel, Iran's strategy succeeded; if the West uses this war to turn the spotlight where it belongs, the Iranian strategy will have backfired. Lurking behind the current limp Western policy toward Iran is a hidden belief that nothing can be done. Non-military measures, it is assumed, won't work, and military action would be premature, ineffective, counterproductive, messy, or all of the above. The result is a going-through-the-motions policy that actually encourages Iran to be more belligerent, as the Lebanon war demonstrated. These Western assumptions, however, are incorrect. Let's separate the "non-military action won't work" idea into its two constituent parts: It's not enough, and it won't happen. When people think of economic sanctions, they think of those ineffective against Saddam Hussein for so long. But sanctions were effective against Libya, particularly when the context became one of regime change in the wake of Saddam's ouster and capture. The UN Charter authorizes the Security Council to plunge a country into total isolation. As Chapter 7, Article 41 states, sanctions "may include complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations." Perhaps Iran would not buckle under a total economic and diplomatic embargo, even one backed by the threat of military force. But just because lesser measures have failed in the past is hardly evidence that truly draconian sanctions would not force the regime to back down. THE MORE serious problem is not "won't work," but "won't happen." But this too can be addressed. Rather than tailor diplomacy to what Russia and China will agree to, the US and Europe can impose a total embargo on their own, then work to pass as much of it as they can through the Security Council. This may well be implausible. But if it is, that means Iran can continue to accelerate its "militia mayhem," as Mideast expert David Makovsky points out, by supporting terrorist militias in Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza; that it can continue its race to obtain nuclear weapons; and continue to threaten Israel, a UN member state, with genocide - all with impunity. This war is not about Hizbullah, Hamas, or even al-Qaida: it's about Iran. It is about whether the many peace-loving states of the world will confront and defeat a single vulnerable but aggressive state that cannot be deterred because its leaders are happy to sacrifice millions of their own people as "martyrs" to fulfill their own apocalyptic ideology. Equally, the war is not about Israel. It is about whether the West will lift a finger to defend itself. Saul Singer is editorial-page editor of the Jerusalem Post and author of Confronting Jihad: Israel's Struggle and the World After 9/11.