Naming the war

Calling the conflict a war does not change anything. In the public's mind, it obviously was a war.

War in Lebanon 88 (photo credit: AP)
War in Lebanon 88
(photo credit: AP)
On Monday, a ministerial committee decided that last summer's war in Lebanon would be officially designated as a war. Two committees, appointed by the prime and defense ministers, have been tasked with proposing a name for the war. At some level, budgetary consequences aside, calling the conflict a war does not change anything. In the public's mind, it obviously was a war: 119 Israeli soldiers were killed, two were captured, and more than 400 were wounded. In northern Israel, 43 civilians were killed, over 4,400 people were wounded, and about a million people were driven into shelters. Hizbullah fired around 4,000 rockets at Israeli cities. To end this barrage, the Israel Air Force conducted roughly 12,000 combat missions, and large ground forces were sent in, including tanks. Hundreds of Hizbullah fighters were killed and most of Hizbullah's long-range missile arsenal was destroyed, as was its "capital" inside Beirut. Hundreds more Lebanese civilians died in the fighting, as Israel sought to destroy Hizbullah strongholds deliberately placed in civilian areas. It was a war. And so, its victims deserve the compensation for damages that is accorded by the government in cases of war, and soldiers who fell in the war deserve that the context of their sacrifice be recognized, as their families have demanded, on their tombstones. But what should the war be called? In the vernacular, the war already has a name: "The Second Lebanon War." There is, in truth, nothing wrong with such a plain name. The name "The Six Day War" is not bombastic, though by pointing to its short duration, does hint at the extraordinary speed of the Israeli military success. "The Yom Kippur War," as a name, says nothing about about the trauma that it caused to Israeli society, except by invoking the memory of being surprised by a massive two-front attack on the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Similarly, the name "Second Lebanon War" connects this recent war with the long history of fighting in southern Lebanon, and even subtly alludes to the expectation that it may not be the last in a series. Yet, perhaps because such a high price was paid and the gap between what was achieved and the expectations created by the government were so great, the search is on for a name that will retroactively give the war a clear mission. Reportedly, some of the suggested names are: "The War to Return the Captives," "Peace in the North" and "The Northern Shield War." All of these names attempt, with considerable justice, to shift attention to the fact that Israel was attacked. Indeed, this war should be remembered for the fact that human rights groups and foreign media, which should have been immediately struck by Hizbullah's triple crime - starting the war, targeting Israeli civilians, and hiding behind Lebanese civilians - instead dedicated themselves to excoriating Israel. Trying to combat the Orwellian attempt to paint Israel, rather than terrorist aggressors, as war criminals is an understandable goal in naming the war. If the name of the war is to have a didactic element, however, then all of the suggested names ignore the war's most salient aspect. The most important characteristic of the second Lebanon war was that, more than any of Israel's other wars, it was fought directly against the fundamentalist jihadi axis that is waging a war against the entire West. Hizbullah was, and is, essentially an Iranian division stationed on Israel's border. Though Hizbullah piggybacked on the war started by its Palestinian ally Hamas, as Tony Blair has suggested, the war had nothing to do with creating a Palestinian state and everything to do with eradicating Israel. The jihad against the West and the West's self-defense is also a war without a name. The second Lebanon war was a battle in this wider war. Whatever we call this battle, or war, we need to remember who we are fighting against, and that we, the West, must defeat the jihad against us together.