Learning Lebanon II’s lessons

The war was not considered a success by Israel, but the fact that it’s the Hezbollah leader hiding in a shelter this year and not Israeli children, suggests that it was not a total loss either.

Time flies not only when you’re having fun.
Proof: On July 12, it will be five years since the Second Lebanon War broke out, and the intervening years seem to have gone quickly. Perhaps it was because they were so packed with action.
Lebanon II has since been overshadowed by Operation Cast Lead, reluctantly launched after missiles rained down on the South at the unignorable rate of 80 a day in the winter of 2008.
This means that residents in a huge part of the country have within the last five years known that peculiar shaky feeling you get under missile fire.
The South is still hit periodically and unpredictably by projectiles.
What does this do our collective psyche? Ask the inductees who are now going into the army – those who were roughly bar/bat mitzva age when Lebanon II and the Gaza campaign were taking place.
My guess is they take the “defense” part of the term Israel Defense Forces very seriously. Every soldier wants to protect his mother just as every mother is naturally protective of her child. Among the lessons of the Second Lebanon War is that the home front is the front in modern warfare.
This year’s recruits have also grown up aware of the fate of Gilad Schalit, demonstrating particularly poignantly just how long the IDF soldier has been held in captivity. (And in his case I retract my opening statement: For Schalit and his family, these five years – every day of them – have been an eternity.) The conflict produced heroes, as such campaigns do, but they were certainly not found among the political or military leadership. Instead we were impressed by the story of Maj. Ro’i Klein, who died with the traditional Shema Yisrael prayer on his lips as he threw himself onto a grenade to save his men.
Compare this to the action of then-chief-of-staff Dan Halutz, who somehow found time on the first day of the war to sell his stocks.
FIVE YEARS offer a certain perspective. The war took the lives of 119 soldiers and 44 civilians, and the country as a whole underwent a process similar to that in a bereavement including denial, anger, and finally acceptance. The physical evidence of the war is barely perceptible, but the psychological scars are still there, unfelt as long as circumstances don’t jog the unpleasant memories.
For the most part, we have gone on with our lives. The Galilee and Golan are popular destinations for pastoral vacations; Haifa is continuing to transform itself into a major tourism magnet; Karmiel is holding its annual dance festival.
Politically, the country also moved on, although haunted by ghosts. Ehud Olmert was ousted, albeit not officially for his failure in the war (reflected in the findings of the Winograd Committee) but because of the numerous criminal investigations he faced. Kadima as a party failed to return to the Prime Minister’s Office, and while party leader Tzipi Livni considers her role in determining the final outcome of the war via a UN resolution to be invaluable, it is clearly not viewed favorably by all.
Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu is now in the hot seat, but Israeli politics are fluid: Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who took over largely as a result of the perceived failings of Labor’s Amir Peretz, appears to be on his way out, while Peretz is poised (or posturing) for a comeback and even Halutz is hoping to run with Kadima.
Gabi Ashkenazi, who succeeded Halutz as chief of staff, has come and gone, having safely negotiated the Gaza campaign.
Operation Cast Lead was influenced by Lebanon II at several levels. That it took the government so long to act in the South can be ascribed to Olmert’s obvious fear of a having a second war, in which the main diplomatic and military objectives were not achieved, on his watch.
Since Lebanon II, however, Israel has learned not to rely solely on air power as a wartime strategy while also realizing the importance of defense projects, such as the Iron Dome anti-missile missile.
Eventually, being prepared might even become a proper part of the defense doctrine.
THE OUTBREAK of the war on July 12, 2006, came as a bolt out of the blue – with the same brutal suddenness of the Katyusha rockets, and the deaths of eight soldiers and abduction of two more. The way Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were snatched from across the border a month after Schalit – or more to the point, the way they were returned in coffins two years later in exchange for the release of Palestinian and Lebanese terrorists – also changed the way the country sees things.
While everybody sympathizes with the Schalits and empathizes with Gilad, the question of “price” – an ugly term for an ugly equation – cannot be ignored.
Israeli citizens, of course, weren’t the only ones to suffer. Both Lebanon II and the Gaza campaign saw a massive, cynical use of “human shields” by Hezbollah and Hamas, with the inevitable cost involved.
Hezbollah, backed by Iran, is believed to have tripled its missile and rocket arsenal since Lebanon II. Meanwhile, the UN forces proved unable or unwilling to stop this rearmament, and also ineffective at preventing the mass infiltration by “refugees” on the northern borders in the highly publicized, recent Nakba and Naksa day events.
War, as noted by Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, can take many forms. Lately, it has assumed the shape of self-professed peace activists, who demonstrably want to express their solidarity with Palestinians (and to hell with the rest of us).
As the Arab Spring turns into a hot Middle Eastern summer, there is a general feeling of discomfort. Events in one part of the Arab world will always influence the rest of the region.
Last week, when a UN tribunal issued indictments implicating four members of Hezbollah with the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, the organization’s leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, immediately claimed that Israel was behind the murder.
It is some small comfort that Nasrallah was talking, as usual, from an undisclosed location – apparently fearful that Israel is capable of seeking him out and killing him. Although Nasrallah, of all people, must know that blaming “the Zionist entity” in the Hariri case is disingenuous, Israel is widely considered to be behind the elimination of Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh and Syrian Gen. Muhammad Suleiman in 2008, Hamas arch-terrorist Ali Mahmoud Mabhouh last year, and various Iranian scientists involved in the race for nuclear weapons.
I like the thought of Nasrallah having to move every few days, as Post defense reporter Yaakov Katz noted in an analysis last week. He should feel like a criminal on the run. I just hope that he is fleeing from bunker to bunker, and not sleeping in pleasant surroundings in an opulent Beirut home.
Five years on, it is appropriate to remember that it is Nasrallah who was to blame for the conflict.
The war was not considered a success by Israel, but the fact that it’s the Hezbollah leader hiding in a shelter this year and not Israeli children, suggests that it was not a total loss either. Force plays a role in the Middle East, but never underestimate the power of deterrence.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.