If Hizbullah survives, it will become an even stronger force in Lebanon than it was before this war.
By JERUSALEM POST STAFF
The Lebanese government, presumably representing Hizbullah, has rejected the draft Security Council resolution on ending the current hostilities, apparently in the belief that the US and Israel are essentially suing for peace and that it can therefore squeeze out a better deal.
This is actually an opportunity for Israel to turn the tables and correct its premature declaration of victory and tentative embrace of a cease-fire.
In a speech on August 1, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert started laying out his argument that Israel had already won, since the reality on the ground had changed: Hizbullah will no longer sit on the northern border; Israel has destroyed Hizbullah's long-range missile capability; a strategic threat controlled by Iran has been removed, and Israel has demonstrated the strength of its citizenry and its unwillingness to be paralyzed by the threat of rockets.
The problem is that all this may true, but largely irrelevant. Throughout Lebanon and the Muslim world, there is an expectation that if Hizbullah survives as an organization, it will become an even stronger force in Lebanon than it was before this war.
So long as Hassan Nasrallah is alive and has an organization to lead, his survival will make him a hero in the Arab world, and his path - that of seeking Israel's destruction - will be seen to have been vindicated. This may be a bizarre way to look at things, through Western eyes, but perceptions and beliefs can create their own reality.
The sight of Israel being pounded daily by hundreds of rockets can be counted to hearten the jihadis, not those seeking a more moderate path for the Muslim world. By this logic, if a militia like Hizbullah can bloody Israel and survive, then the jihadis can claim that Israel is not invincible, and destroying Israel is a realistic goal.
This is an intolerable outcome for Israel.
Until now, Olmert seemed to have been convinced, under his deterrence-based theory of victory, that a cease-fire in the near future was acceptable and there was no point continuing the ground operation further north. But neither an international force nor the Lebanese government can be relied upon to finish the job unless Hizbullah has been truly vanquished. Israel, accordingly, does not have a satisfactory option of stopping now and declaring victory.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz has reportedly been pressing to continue the ground operation up to the Litani. Olmert is reportedly reconsidering his initial rejection of this, following the heavy losses Israel suffered on Sunday and the undiminished barrages of rockets exploding in the North. The IDF, which was initially no more eager to expand the ground war than the political echelon, is evidently reconsidering.
In addition, as much as the government understandably does not want the war to expand to Syria, Israel cannot ignore the fact that Syria is busy resupplying Hizbullah, and that some of these supplies are getting through. It is not enough for Israel to attempt to destroy these supplies when they cross into Lebanon, with only partial effect. The government should state that it regards the resupplying of Hizbullah to be an act of war, and warn that it will take action to prevent the resupply if it continues.
Victory needs to be defined as it originally was when this conflict began more than three weeks ago - by Hizbullah's destruction as a military force. The Bush administration should need little persuasion that if Hizbullah becomes more powerful within Lebanon, it will be a victory for Iran and a defeat for the US.
Bush, by agreeing to the French draft resolution, and Olmert, with an initial readiness to redefine victory to allow for Hizbullah's survival, have complicated their shared vital goals. But the damage can be undone so long as the US continues to back Israel's insistence that an agreement be reached on an international force before the cease-fire resolution takes effect. In a two-step process, as Israel's diplomats have already pointed out, there is no assurance that an agreement on an acceptable international force will ever be reached.
Time and again, Israel has wanted to believe that how its actions are perceived in the Arab world does not matter. Yet the terrorists and the countries that back them do not necessarily operate on the basis of Western notions of national interest. Creating a perception of weakness and defeat can have real consequences. The common objective of addressing the underlying causes of the next war begins by ending this war with Hizbullah's indisputable defeat.
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