Two years of hindsight

Could it be that our leaders no longer believe in the justice of the cause?

Lebanon war 224.88 (photo credit: AP )
Lebanon war 224.88
(photo credit: AP )
The second anniversary of the 34-day-long Second Lebanon War offers an apt occasion to reflect on its lessons for Israel, now that the dust has settled somewhat. It is almost universally agreed that although the Israeli home front displayed great resilience, the IDF, in failing to harness its overwhelming military superiority, squandered an opportunity to destroy the bulk of Hizbullah's military presence in southern Lebanon, to crush that group's state-within-a-state, and to enhance Israel's deterrence. The country's political echelons did conclude that the war called into question the strategy of unilateralism that had guided Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005. And yet the war's most urgent lessons, the adoption of which might prevent another round of fighting, remain regrettably unlearned. First, due to its stubbornly misplaced faith in the UN, Israel has continued to turn a blind eye to the rearming of Hizbullah. As she toured the northern border with her Italian counterpart Franco Frattini on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said, "We need to stop the arming of Hizbullah by way of the Syrian border." (UNIFIL is commanded by an Italian, Maj.-Gen. Claudio Graziano.) Yesterday, the security cabinet met to discuss the rearmament of Hizbullah, and the failure of UNIFIL (whose mandate is up for renewal next month) to stem the weapons flow and to implement resolution 1701. But all this amounts to little more than verbiage. "Syria is rearming Hizbullah at a rapid pace, and this is proof that 1701 has completely failed," a defense official told The Jerusalem Post this week. PRIME MINISTER Ehud Olmert, who mismanaged the war he had elected to fight, is still in power. In failing to achieve a decisive victory, and in exposing Israeli vulnerability in our ruthless region, Olmert lost the public's trust. Now, with further grave potential consequences for Israel, he is preoccupied with political survival. "In retrospect," Winograd Committee member Yehezkel Dror wrote last week in a dismal summation, "I think I erred in trusting the political system and the public to do what was obviously required in light of our harsh findings, namely to remove the prime minister from office." The Winograd panel called in January for a radical restructuring of the National Security Council. This, too, has not been implemented. The war's anniversary also highlights Israel's ongoing struggle to develop an adequate defense system against short-range missiles, or even fully to internalize that such missiles may have low military value, but high strategic value. At the war's outset, then chief of General Staff Dan Halutz insisted that "short-range rockets are not a decisive weapon." But as the 4,000 Katyusha launchings demonstrated then, and the Kassam barrages from Gaza have shown for years, that judgment is erroneous. Yet neither the Iron Dome anti-missile system, nor any alternative, are ready. Some of the fault for the bungling of the war stems from previous reductions in Israel's military budget. Under the direction of then-defense minister Shaul Mofaz, beginning in 2002 the IDF reduced conscript military service, shortened reserve duty and cut back on training. According to Maj.-Gen. Benny Ganz, chief of Israel's ground forces, the government has since 2001 cut allocations for training reserve units by $800 million. Not enough has been done to reverse this negative momentum. WITH TWO years of hindsight, however, the broadest unlearned lesson from the war concerns Israel's political culture itself. From the days of the Muslim conquest of Andalusia to today, it is impossible to recall Arab expressions of guilt or remorse over military victory. In contrast, Israel's political echelons have typically been prompted to hand-wringing self-examination less by defeat than by victory. Yet healthy self-examination - of the kind so lacking in the wake of the latest war - requires precisely the opposite. Could it be that both an underlying cause, and an effect, of the failures of the Second Lebanon War is that those steering this country no longer believe in the justice of its cause as utterly as used to be the case? Yet only with such confidence can Israel's political leadership be expected to exhibit not failure of nerve, but the required steadiness of hand.