The Israelis are losing this war because their government is fighting indecisively on one battlefield and not at all on the other. Because the Israelis aren't fighting the media war, the press is slashing at the Israelis hourly in a manner previously reserved for President Bush. Like the president, the Israelis are losing politically because the enemy is fully engaged on both fronts.
When Hizballah began their rocket attacks on Israel about three weeks ago and took two Israeli soldiers hostage, they didn't have anything in their arsenal that could have been militarily conclusive against Israel. Israeli air power has, so far, proved effective against their worst weapon, the Zilzal missile, and against resupply convoys coming from Syria. But nothing Israel has done amounts to more than damaging terrorist assets that will be quickly rebuilt and replaced with help from Syria and Iran. The Olmert government sent only a two-battalion sized force into Lebanon, an obviously inadequate response. Olmert is studying Bush when he should be reading Churchill. Sir Winston once said, "Never maltreat the enemy by halves."
Against the Israeli air strikes and small ground incursion, Hizballah had a well-networked web of village bases dispersed from southern Beirut to the Israeli border, dug in with good communications and arms caches as well as financial mechanisms to disperse funds. It was manned by at least 3,000 Hizballah terrorists supported by perhaps ten times that number in "reserve." This web was built over the past six years since Israel last withdrew from Lebanon. Syria and Iran have funded, equipped, and armed Hizballah very well for precisely this kind of fight. And Hizballah has one more weapon no foreign supporter need give them, one that their ideology compels. In this they have what may prove to be a conclusive advantage: human shields.
We know, from e-mails discovered after the Israelis killed four UN observers at an outpost more than a week ago, that the UN "peacekeepers" had been overrun and held captive by Hizballah. The UN people wanted to get out of the path of the battle, but the Hizballah wouldn't let them leave. On Sunday morning, we awoke to the reports of horrific civilian casualties in the Lebanese town of Qana. Dozens of children are among the dead.
Qana, like many other villages in south Lebanon, was papered with Israeli leaflets warning the citizens to flee the impending battle. Israeli aircraft have been broadcasting warnings and the Israeli forces -- imitating what our Commando Solo aircraft did in Iraq before the 2003 invasion began -- were literally telephoning Lebanese in their homes asking them to get out of the line of fire. Thousands have not. Why?
Because Hizballah is holding them captive and intentionally exposing them to Israeli attacks to create the public outrage that now dominates the media. Hizballah's strategy is to conceal under civilian bodies the result of any Israeli strike that destroys the terrorists' missile positions, bunkers, and weapons caches. The civilian death toll is appalling, just as Hizballah intends it to be. World leaders are unanimous in condemning the slaughter, having fallen prey to this Hizballah strategy. As has Israel.
After 1967 and 1973, the world became used to seeing Israelis slashing through Arab armies in antiseptic victories. A mile-wide plain covered with burning Syrian tanks is something to be cheered. Egyptian fighter aircraft, blown apart in their revetments, make cool pictures for the television screen and the front page. But a fallen building, surrounded by battered people dragging children's bodies out on makeshift stretchers, does not. The latter is the centerpiece of Hizballah's strategy. It is achieving a tidal wave of anti-Israeli coverage in the media, and increasing condemnation of Israeli action in the few remnants of the civilized world from Europe and America as well as in the UN.
Examine the Sunday headline stories. The UK Independent says, "50 Killed as Israeli air strike hits children." The AP lead story said, "Israeli missiles hit several buildings in a southern Lebanon village as people slept Sunday, killing at least 56, most of them children, in the deadliest attack in 19 days of fighting." The ever-reliable BBC said, "Displaced families had been sheltering in the basement of a house in Qana, which was crushed after a direct hit." But why were they there after Israel's warning of a coming strike? Were the Hizballah terrorists and arms hidden behind those captive children destroyed? No one asks, so no one answers.
The once-savvy Israelis apparently don't even know how to tell the world about what's going on. Didn't any of their military leaders watch some of the CENTCOM briefings on Iraq in 2003? (Note to Mr. Rumsfeld: Can't we lend them a cool pro such as Gen. Vince Brooks to teach them how to do a daily media brief?) Where are the photos of missiles being trucked into and launched from villages such as Qana? Where are the Israeli spokesmen condemning Hizballah's use of human shields? Israeli UN ambassador Dan Gillerman made a late start at this yesterday. Why aren't Olmert and Gen. Dan Halutz, the Israeli chief of staff, doing it every day? Someone ought to grab each of them by the shirtfront and shake some sense into them. They have to be made to understand that such media operations are just as important as the combat operations.
Where is the demand on the government of Lebanon to use the safe-conduct corridors to evacuate the innocent? Why isn't the Siniora government establishing refugee centers to care for those who flee? Why aren't there enough Israeli troops on the ground in Lebanon to seize the evidence and display it to the world? Unless and until Israel takes the offensive on the airwaves, its ground and air actions cannot succeed. Any diplomatic effort to expel Hizballah from Lebanon and free the Lebanese from them will fail.
Israel is losing this war because it is not fighting it in a manner calculated to win it decisively. It is fighting only Hizballah, a proxy of its real enemies. If Israel accepts a cease-fire without breaking Hizballah's hold on southern Lebanon, all of Lebanon will become a colony of terrorist Iran. And Israel will have suffered a strategic defeat. On the ground and on the airwaves, the war must be fought in the same way. Fight to win decisively, or lose inevitably.
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004) and, with Edward Timperlake, Showdown: Why China Wants War With the United States (Regnery, May 2006 -- click here to obtain a free chapter).
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