Middle Israel: Who won?

Militarily, the IDF has disappointed in its operation's lack of swiftness and imagination.

amotz asa el 88 (photo credit: )
amotz asa el 88
(photo credit: )
At this writing it is still unclear whether Israel's offensive in Lebanon has been merely slowed down momentarily, or altogether stopped in its tracks. And yet several conclusions can already be drawn. Militarily, the IDF has disappointed in its operation's lack of swiftness and imagination. Massive aerial bombardments on mountainous guerrilla enclaves, followed by ground forces frontally approaching villages just beyond the border fence, could hardly have been more banal. Had we been a superpower we may have been in a position to adopt such a quantitative, time-consuming attitude, but the fact is that Israel never gets enough time in its wars, and can therefore lose no time in rushing to the enemy's heart. Considering south Lebanon's compactness, its proximity to Israel and the high motivation of our troops - many of whom are themselves residents of the North - it takes no military genius to believe that the situation demanded airborne commando raids in the enemy's rear, and Hizbullah's leaders to be targeted not with megatons of dynamite unleashed from warplanes far above them, but with 5.56-mm. bullets shot from their bunker's doorstep. Instead we saw an over-reliance on air power that brought to mind military thinker Giulio Douhet, who is widely recognized as the prophet of the warplane's supremacy in the battlefield and of strategic bombing's decisiveness in winning wars. While pioneering, this Italian general's insights were conceived in the wake of World War I, and were already considered anachronistic before the end of World War II, which demonstrated that wars are won on the ground. Judging by what we have seen so far, either the General Staff failed to recognize this simple fact or, worse, it just did not anticipate and prepare for an order to swiftly defeat Hizbullah. HOPEFULLY, this war's aftermath will still be shaped by, and remembered for, a very inventive last act - but if it isn't, one of its conclusions may well have to be that Ariel Sharon's experimental appointment of a pilot as chief of staff has been a failure. Equally disappointing, if less important, was the IDF Spokesman's performance. Brig.-Gen. Miri Regev's failure to silence all uniformed babblers - and at the same time assign one authoritative and eloquent general who would brief the public daily - has been unprofessional and damaging. No less perplexing was the initial failure to embed reporters and deliver footage from the battlefield, not to mention Regev's failure to effectively and personally address the big foreign networks, especially after Kana. And yet all these drawbacks do not change the fact that Hizbullah has been dealt a strategic blow for which it did not prepare, and from which it is not likely to recover with its prewar clout intact. FIRST OF all, while Hizbullah's troops were motivated and brave, at the end of the day they were defeated decisively in each encounter with IDF infantry. Even more importantly, Hizbullah lost its hard-won grip on the Israeli-Lebanese border, and will therefore find it more difficult in the aftermath of this war to disrupt its protection the way it could before. Secondly, Hizbullah's main doomsday weapon - the ground-to-ground rocket and missile - has been exposed and severely damaged. Considering that Hizbullah's possession of this weapon, and its willingness to use it, were no secret, what remained to be seen was the impact of its unleashing; and that impact proved anti-climactic. With nearly 2,000 rockets fired as of Tuesday, their potential damage seems no more challenging than the suicide-bomb attack, the last new weapon with which Israel was massively challenged. An attack that for nearly three weeks targeted a million civilians but managed to kill or seriously wound fewer than 100 is not what Hizbullah sought. Moreover, the Home Front Command has now been provided with vast hands-on experience in dealing with this threat, and can be counted on to use that experience in perfecting its ability to shield civilians from rocket attack. MOST OMINOUSLY, Hizbullah has caused Israel to formally target civilian locations that shield terrorists. In this it has done a disservice to Israel's enemies, who will in the future find it more difficult to abuse the Jewish concern for human life. Equally damaging from its viewpoint has been Hizbullah's contribution to the restoration of the Israeli consensus. The patriotism and unity with which Israel is taking this skirmish are for us priceless, and have already refuted Hassan Nasrallah's memorable boasts that Israel's social fabric is as weak as a spider web. Having said all this, the worst blows to Hizbullah's position were beyond the battlefield and, in fact, beyond this region. AROUND THE globe Hizbullah is now recognized as part of the fundamentalist threat to mankind's freedom and well-being; not because Israel has said anything about this with particular eloquence - it hasn't - but because the whole world watched the entire leadership of the industrialized powers, along with the major Arab countries, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, treat it with contempt. True, this trend has yet to mature. As the Kana tragedy has demonstrated, fingering Israel in such moments still comes reflexively to too many people, most of whom didn't even bother to mention Hizbullah's unabashed targeting of a million civilians for the previous three weeks; if, as Hosni Mubarak demanded Monday, the Kana attack warrants an international inquiry, why wouldn't the attacks on Haifa, Tiberias and Nazareth? Equally frustrating and unreconstructed was the French foreign minister's insistence this week that "Iran is a stabilizing factor in the Middle East" - a statement that makes sense if you also think that robbers stabilize the banking system and contraception makes more Catholics. And yet even France and Egypt did nothing to stop Israel's assault on Hizbullah, and in fact still openly share Jerusalem's view that Lebanon's Islamist militia should be disarmed and pushed northward. The extent to which this actually transpires remains to be seen, but the fact is that Nasrallah has overplayed his hand, emerging from this bout facing a world that has lost much of its prewar patience for his bravado and provocations. Lebanon's non-Shi'ite majority know he is out to hand Beirut to Teheran, they know he does not share their quest for liberty, and they know it is he who has inflicted all this damage on their land. Now they also know that if they won't challenge him, someone else will, even if it comes at their expense.