Talk to Lebanon

In the wake of the war in the North, exploit the political possibilities.

Israel hoped for a victory that would be clean, clear and decisive. The modern battlefield and complexities of international relations do not seem able to provide that good, old-fashioned total victory, as against Nazi Germany or Japan in 1945. Even the successful American campaign in Iraq with the fall of Saddam is far from a clear victory. Israel was hoping for another Six Day War in Lebanon. In the end, the IDF understood that military campaigns are determined by capturing the next hill. In the modern battlefield, where armies face guerrilla warriors, capturing the next hill is a lot easier than holding on to it. Israel's biggest casualties in this war were battles for the same hills that had already been captured only a day or two before. Decisive military victories are not so easy to achieve anymore, and in the end it is the use of other items in the international relations toolbox that determine whether or not military campaigns pay off. WAR IS only one part of the battle for changing the political realities on the ground. Wars often create new political and diplomatic opportunities. In the aftermath of the 1967 war Israel announced that it was waiting for a phone call from the Arab leaders to exchange territories for peace. King Hussein did call, but he demanded everything, including east Jerusalem, and Israel said no. Anwar Sadat's attempts to reach out diplomatically were also rejected; Israeli leaders said "Sharm e-Sheikh without peace is preferable to peace without Sharm e-Sheikh," and we ended up with the Yom Kippur War. In the end, that conflict was also a huge military victory, but the price paid, economically and in blood, was much too heavy to bear. But it did create a political opportunity - setting the stage for the Sadat visit to Jerusalem and the Israeli-Egyptian peace. The Lebanon war of 1982 was another huge military victory for Israel. The IDF swept through Lebanon, occupied Beirut, and expelled the PLO from Lebanon. But the campaign also gave birth to Hizbullah and to 18 years of bloody occupation of southern Lebanon. Israel's rush to put an end to the Lebanese fiasco after 18 years led to the unilateral withdrawal that gave birth to the Aksa Intifada. THE FIRST intifada also led to the political opportunities - the Madrid and Oslo processes - but these were not sufficient to produce the end-game acceptable to both sides. In facing the Palestinians during the second intifada Israel had no problems reconquering all of the territories, but that did not give it a decisive victory over the enemy and, at least politically, we find ourselves in an unbearable stalemate waiting for the next round, militarily or politically. Israel's fighting ability and technology far overpowers Hizbullah's, yet the militia is able to present itself as the winner, despite the significant blows that it received and the great losses of Arab life and property. While Egypt's Abdel Gamal Nasser also declared victory in 1967, Hizbullah's claims are different. In the aftermath of this war it will be important for Hizbullah to retain its ability to claim victory. That will be the best guarantee that the next round won't happen. Israel too needs to be able to declare victory. It seems that with all the criticism against the army and the politicians who made the tactical decisions in this war, it will be difficult for most Israelis to feel that we won militarily. Victory for Israel must be claimed in the political outcome in Lebanon. ISRAEL HAS a direct interest in the full implementation of UN Resolution 1701 and should do everything possible to ensure its full cooperation toward that goal. It is natural for the military to push forward in the final hours of the campaign, but it is completely without strategic value to endanger the cease-fire. Capturing the "next hill" - from which we will only withdraw hours later - has no value and will only cause more unnecessary casualties on both sides. Attention must now be placed on working with all the parties, especially the government of Lebanon, which has to send its forces to the south as Israel pulls back to the international border. For Israel, political victory can be claimed if Lebanon becomes the main victor of this war. Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora has emerged as one of the main players and one of the hopes for Lebanon. His emotions and commitment to a strong Lebanon are admirable, and Israeli leaders should learn not to mock those with whom we should now work to achieve real peace. Israel should be interested in a strong Lebanese government, and negotiate with it. It should state clearly that it wants to negotiate a prisoner exchange with Lebanon as well as discuss the future of the Shaba Farms. Victory will come for both Israel and Lebanon if, down the road, an Israeli-Lebanese peace is reached - not on the battle-front, but in the political and diplomatic arena. The writer is the Israeli-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.