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On War: Winning and Losing

What does it mean to win a war?
Around here, there has been too much talk about Israel “losing” to Hezbollah. That could be true if Hezbollah actually won anything. But it got battered, lost most of its fighting corps and weapons, its position along Israel’s border, the element of surprise it used to such advantage, and it must now reckon with the Lebanese people who experienced a trauma while Hezbollah pursued the interests of Syria and Iran. But Hezbollah survived, at least they can claim that.
Some victory. It would be called defeat by anyone but the weak and feable.
The idea that Israel lost reinforces the unrealistic standards we demand from the IDF. If the IDF generals snap their fingers and the Arabs don’t run for cover, the IDF was defeated. After all, Israel’s security depends on Arabs believing that the IDF is invulnerable. If it takes a few casualties while fighting on the enemy’s turf, it shows it can be beaten.
The way people talk about Hezbollah reminds me of how people used to discuss Yasser Arafat. The Palestinian leader completely failed to bring anything good to his people despite numerous opportunities. But newspapers still lauded him for his “shrewd” negotiating style and leadership. Even in his final years, while he sat in a bullet-ridden room in constant fear of assassination, op-eds would appear asserting that Arafat would likely emerge the clear winner of the intifada.
So, what does it mean to win? For Israel, it means maintaining its strategic edge and its psychological advantage over the Arab world. It also means achieving the goals it set out in the first days of the conflict. No matter how we look at it, Israel failed to squeeze the kidnapped soldiers out of Hezbollah’s hands. And it failed to “break” Hezbollah’s backbone. But I’m not sure at all that Israel’s strategic edge has been harmed, despite what some extremists say.
Israel showed that a daily barrage of rockets will not bring its citizens to their knees, demanding an immediate ceace-fire (like in Lebanon). Except for the kidnapping that ignited the whole month of fighting, Israel did not experience a breach of its territory on the ground. It couldn’t stop the rockets from inside Lebanon, but it managed to protect its citizens pretty well – Hezbollah fired 4,000 rockets and killed 41 civilians.
All in all, I don’t see how anyone could say Israel came out of the war looking vulnerable. I think Lebanon’s state of disaster will prevent another Hezbollah attack in the near future. Syria has always been a big talker. But if Israel was being defeated by the mighty Hezbollah, why didn’t Syria jump in and capture the Golan Heights? Because talks is cheap; rebuilding road, bridges, and its electrical system are expensive.
But still, it is impossible to ignore the “shortcoming” Olmert alluded to in his speech before Knesset. Israel had complete air supremacy throughout the fighting but it wasn’t enough to keep the soldiers safe or to push Hezbollah out of its strongholds. I don’t know what the higher eschelon knew about Hezbollah’s capabilities, but soldiers returning from the field consistently expressed surprise about what they were facing. Someone has to answer for these failures. It will be interesting to see who goes and who stays when it all plays out. Then we’ll know the war’s real winners and losers.
(Cross-posted with Turning the Tide)

6 thoughts on “On War: Winning and Losing

  1. Not that I normally subscribe to quoting Napoleon, but….. “History is written by the vitors”. We have thousands of years of oral and written history, not that it’s all sunshine and flowers, but I forsee a much brighter future for our people. Then again, it could just be the valium talking….

  2. As long as the soldiers haven’t been returned Israel didn’t win anything. Olmert is an idiot for having believed he could force hezbollah to return them simply by bombing Lebanon to rubble. Not that I mind Lebanon getting reduced to rubble, but neither does hezbollah.

  3. “Israel showed that a daily barrage of rockets will not bring its citizens to their knees, demanding an immediate ceace-fire (like in Lebanon).”
    If this is true, then why has the support for the West Bank Re-alignment plan plummeted?
    “I don’t know what the higher eschelon knew about Hezbollah’s capabilities, but soldiers returning from the field consistently expressed surprise about what they were facing. ”
    The answer may lie in the culture of secrecy in Hezbollah. Israel has not succeeded in getting spies and informants within Hezbollah, as it does within Palestinian groups. The Washington Post ascribes this powerful secretive nature to something within the Shia faith.

  4. Support for unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank collapsed because it has become clear that the policy does not bring peace, it brings attacks from the evacuated territory. It happened in Lebanon and it happened in Gaza. Does anyone expect us to believe it won’t happen in the West Bank?
    But there is no connection between that and the strong support Israelis showed for continuing the war effort. People understand that Hezbollah remains a threat and fighting Hezbollah is the only way to end that threat.

  5. “Does anyone expect us to believe it won’t happen in the West Bank?”
    no. but if the re-alignment plan is finished, what next?

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