Some bitter thoughts about this war now that UNSCR 1701 has been passed, and even if the IDF continues its ground attacks next week:
It’s hard to escape the feeling that Israel has lost this war. Lebanon has also lost this war. Hizbullah seems to have come out ahead, although not exactly a winner. Iran is the outright winner and Syria has a big wide grin on its hideous face.
UNSCR 1701 has now been voted into place by the UN Security Council in a unanimous vote. Although Israel is fighting in Lebanon as I write, and despite the fact that it has sent in larger ground forces today after weeks of dilly dallying, according to all reports, Olmert will press the Cabinet to sign off on this Resolution on Sunday. While the language suggests that Israel must only stop “offensive” operations, as opposed to defensive ones, which leaves some wiggle room for further Israeli actions that will be described as defensive, the overall gist is that the war must end. Immediately.
At the beginning of the war, Nasrallah said about the two kidnapped Israeli soldiers, “No military operation will return them… The prisoners will not be returned except through one way: indirect negotiations and a trade of prisoners.”
At the beginning of this war, Olmert suggested that Israeli victory will be achieved when the two kidnapped Israeli soldiers are returned without negotiations to Israel, when Hizbullah is disarmed and the Lebanese army and government control S. Lebanon, and when the rocket attacks on Israel by Hizbullah stop.
1. The kidnapped soldiers will not come home because of this war. If they do come home, it will be after negotiations. Although Israel managed to arrest Hizbullah members in this war, presumably to trade for the soldiers in necessary, it is unlikely Hizbullah will agree. Furthermore, if it hasn’t happened yet, Hizbullah will now be able to smuggle the Israelis out of Lebanon to Syria or Iran where they may disappear for years in the same way Ron Arad remains missing.
Clear advantage: Hizbullah
2. Hizbullah disarmed and out of S. Lebanon; Lebanese government in full control of the area and in full compliance with 1559.
This is hard to call.
The Resolution calls for disarming all militias in Lebanon and full compliance with 1559 by Lebanon. The problem is that Lebanon previously refused to comply with 1559 because of Shebaa. Shebaa Farms issue remains unresolved and the UN may come to its previous conclusion again wherein they continue to consider it Syria land under Israeli occupation. Additionally, the Lebanese army is weaker than Hizbullah and even with 15,000 UNIFIL soldiers willing to fight, how are they and the Lebanese going to succeed where Israel has not? Lebanon is not going to accept another civil war, which leaves the choice of Hizbullah disarming and leaving S. Lebanon in the hands of…Hizbullah and their champions, Iran and Syria.
3. The rocket attacks on Israel are supposed to stop and in the past Nasrallah has said that once Israel stops bombing Lebanon, Hizbullah will stop its rocket attacks on Israel. Even the most optimistic Israeli public estimates assume Hizbullah still possesses over 7000 of its rockets and most of these have a range that renders them effective north of the Litani River. As such, they can be launched north of the area which the Lebanese Army and UNIFIL are supposed to take over and still hit Israel. In this instance, however, Israel will be challenged in attacking Hizbullah because the Lebanese Army and UNIFIL will serve as a buffer. In other words, Israel is losing its ability to retaliate and fight back while the Lebanese gain a measure of protection from Israel. Nobody in the world will abide by targeted Israeli attacks on UNIFIL soldiers so this will become a serious problem for the IDF in the future. Additionally, while Hizbullah may launch rockets at Israel from a distance, as a sovereign state, Israel will be attacking another sovereign state every time it responds with an air attack. While this war was justified because the Lebanese government itself had supported the breaches of UNSCR 1559 on the basis of the status on Shebaa and was therefore directly complicit with Hizbullah’s numerous attacks on Israel before and during this war, once they sign off on 1701, they will no longer be complicit with Hizbullah’s actions.
Clear advantage: Hizbullah
Israel’s position in the Middle East has been weakened tremendously. It is now clear that the IDF is not as capable as it was in its previous wars. The jury is still out as to why, but this was a war where it didn’t have to contend with another air force, where its opponent was populated by several thousand active soldiers and many more thousands who were part-timers, and where it had technical superiority. Despite this, they encountered numerous situations where brave Israeli soldiers who were executing professionally, found themselves in harm’s way because intelligence didn’t provide necessary information, because the IAF wasn’t able to soften the targets it truly needed to soften, and because of Hizbullah’s merciless and clever use of civilians as both human shields and propaganda fodder.
Expect Hizbullah’s tunnel system to be replicated in areas close to the Israeli border in every Arab state that abuts Israel. Furthermore, expect this to be the kiss of death for any unilateral withdrawal from Judea and Samaria/West Bank. Gaza was one thing, but the Israelis aren’t going to do the same in the much larger and more dangerous West Bank.
Also, it has now become clear that Israel has three key weak spots. First, an army of missiles and rockets can create severe stress, damage and injury for its population and would be difficult to beat. Even basic unguided rockets like Katyushas have been able to cause severe harm and damage while remaining relatively unhittable by the IAF. Second, anti-tank weapons have been proven effective in fighting Israeli forces. They can be fired from far away, leaving the shooters unexposed, but can target not only tanks and bulldozers, but also Israeli soldiers as they move from house to house as they do in urban warfare in this villages. The third weakness is civilians on the Arab side. While Israel attempts to avoid harming them, this places its troops in greater jeopardy giving the enemy more maneuvering room. Israel is also clearly sensitive to international public opinion and this becomes an effective tool for the opposing army.
With respect to strategic capability, we have yet to see the type of bold, creative strategies employed successfully by Israel in ’48, ’67, ’73 and ’82. Maybe the situation would have been different under Israel’s previous Chief of Staff, Moshe Yaalon, but this is uncertain since Mofaz was his Minister of Defense as well as the preceding Chief of Staff and they both worked under Sharon who was a brilliant tactician and perhaps strategist. It is hard to escape the feeling that two things are going on here and both have to be changed rapidly. The first is that Israel has become so focused on technology and the IAF, that it is missing out on the development of clever, creative tactics that a smaller and poorer army might use. It still believes it is that army, but it is not and must find a way to return there. Second, it is known to all that Halutz was a political appointment suited to Sharon’s objectives. I’m sure he’s a very capable pilot and officer, but he may not be the right person to lead Israel in war. Just as he was appointed due to political considerations, one can assume that many other officers at all ranks also receive promotions on the basis of politics and not always quality of the officer. This has to stop because only the very best officers must stay on and then make it to the senior ranks. I hate to say it but this war showed that the younger officers were quite brave and capable, while the middle level and senior level have been less than capable. The conclusion is that the quality is there but the system prevents the cream from rising to the top.
The US is a staunch ally and friend to Israel. While there may be issues of minor conflict here and there, the US was definitely in Israel’s corner in this fight. This is, in part, why Israel must abide by the cease-fire which the US has co-sponsored at the UN. However, the US must be disappointed in Israel’s performance in this war. Israel didn’t take care of business and the US must have been hoping that Iran and Syria would take a hit here. Instead, Israel is taking the hit, proving to be vulnerable, and perhaps as being less than the stellar strategic asset it has been in the past. For these reasons, Israel MUST immediately run some independent commissions of inquiry that lead to a transformation of the IDF into what it used to be; that enable it to assess how to better fight in these new types of war; have new elections that would bring in leadership that knows how to lead in war and in peace; and keep their heads down to minimize friction while they rebuild these traditional strengths.
The media war was lost for many reasons by Israel. The first was the choice to go to an air war. While it may have been right to do this for a couple of days with specific targets, Israel lost the world’s initial support rapidly once large numbers of civilians and their buildings came under attack. In the meantime, the obvious ground incursion didn’t happen. There was little information forthcoming from Israel as to why it was attacking certain targets and little success in having the kind of control over the message to the media that Hizbullah appeared to have. Hizbullah was unafraid to manipulate the news in numerous ways, and it is partly the shame of many news services such as BBC and Reuters that they played along. However, on the Israeli side, they didn’t seem to understand the transformation of the international community’s view of the conflict until it was well past too late, and even then there was little coordination between the IDF and the people doing the explaining. After Qana, for example, the Israeli spokespeople were unable to explain why that building had been targeted.
Ultimately, Israel walked into a trap that Iran and Hizbullah were not even prepared to launch. They were still in the planning stages, it seems, but this war worked out beautifully for both. Iran has been able to avoid bad news about its nuclear program, and even deflect diplomatic machinations by having the G8 summit focus on Israel and Hizbullah. Iran has also proven that the tactics, training and arms provided to Hizbullah were effective against Israel to the degree required. Maybe Israel wasn’t destroyed, but the damage is significant. Hizbullah has also been able to walk away from this with a swagger and Nasrallah will keep mocking Israel until the day an Israeli missile lands in his lap.
Israel will need to conduct some deep soul searching about its political class and its upper military class. Israel will need to make some significant changes and be unafraid to make them. Israel will need now to heal the wound of a war that hasn’t gone right while repairing the North, rebuilding tourism and industry, healing the economy and repairing the budget. It will have to restock its army and rethink decisions like buying F-16s at $60 million but not providing Trophy anti-tank systems to its tanks because of budgetary constraints. Israel will need to revisit anti-rocket technologies which it abandoned due to cost of development. Finally, Israel will need to seriously evaluate whether there is any way of solving the conflict with the Palestinians. Unilateral withdrawal will not be on the table any time soon, so what else is there?
I have to believe that Olmert and Peretz’s careers are effectively over, at least as leaders of their parties but perhaps even as politicians. Halutz will also likely not remain in place for long, but he will not be blamed for this war as they will be. Ultimately, it was their choice to go to war and their choice to fight it as they did. They will seek to deflect blame on to the IDF, and the IDF will seek to lay blame at their feet. In truth, all are to blame and every family that has lost a family member either as a soldier or as a victim to a Hizbullah attack will know the war was just and the loss caused by Hizbullah and their champions, Iran and Syria. But these families will also wonder why this war was fought in the way it was and whether it could have been fought differently and with a different set of outcomes.