This morning, Israeli forces will have ceased fire in Lebanon, forced by their government to accept a strategic defeat in the month-long war against Hizballah. Almost any military can recover from tactical losses, but nations are usually powerless to avoid defeat after losing a strategic battle. For World War II Japan, defeat was still three years away when the last of four aircraft carriers was sunk by Adm. Ray Spruance’s dive bombers and torpedo planes in the battle of Midway. For Israel, defeat may come much sooner if it doesn’t mend its prime minister’s ways. Yamamoto had to explain his defeat to Emperor Hirohito, who left him in command. Olmert has to explain his to the Israeli electorate. They must be less forgiving because their time is measured not in years but in weeks or months.
Since July 12, when Hizballah raided into northern Israel and kidnapped two soldiers, Hassan Nasrallah’s terrorist brigades have fired hundreds of rockets each day into Israel, killing civilians and driving about one million Israelis into bomb shelters. In answer to that, the Olmert government sent Israeli aircraft and commandos into Lebanon to strike at Hizballah’s well-dug-in command centers, arms caches, and armed units. Though it has suffered enormous damage, Hizballah continues its rocket attacks. Yesterday, more than 200 rockets struck, some as far south as Haifa.
Several times last week, Olmert ordered large Israeli ground units into Lebanon to take out Hizballah. But each time they were sent in, Olmert hesitated. What was sent in was withdrawn, Olmert playing the role of Lyndon Johnson to Nasrallah’s Ho Chi Minh. Every time it appeared that the UN would declare a cease-fire, Olmert held his hand. And the Israeli Defense Forces were several times sent in and then pulled back to the outrage of its members and the citizenry it is sworn to defend. One Fox News reporter, standing on the border, told us about nine tanks he saw go into Lebanon and then come right back out again a couple of hours later. Now a large Israeli force is in Lebanon, to serve as sitting ducks for Hizballah attacks, prohibited from conducting offensive operations.
In every war since its independence, Israel has won decisively against Arab forces by throwing its full military weight against the enemy. None, before Hassan Nasrallah, has been able to withstand the Israelis. But now Nasrallah towers over all other terrorist leaders, even bin Laden. Nasrallah has fought the Israeli military to a standstill for a month, and his rockets still rain down on Israel. Nasrallah was, by UN action, elevated to the status of leader of a nation-state able to accept or reject the UN’s terms. He has said that his “fighters” will continue to attack as long as Israeli soldiers remain in Lebanon.
Nasrallah now rules Lebanon, or “Hizballahstan” to be more accurate. The UNIFIL force, whenever it is re-formed and deployed, will do no more than it has in the past, meaning there will be no effort to disarm Hizballah. The Hizballahstan government, relieved of Israeli air attack, will have Syrian and Iranian aid to rebuild the supply lines and regroup and rearm its terrorist army in southern Lebanon in a matter of days or weeks.
Hizballah is a proxy for Syria and Iran. And in this war Israel — closely identified with America — has failed to achieve anything that remotely resembles victory. This is not a matter of Israel’s value as an American ally. It is a matter of civilization’s ability to defeat global Islamic terrorism and the nations that create and support it. Nasrallah’s victory says that democracies can be counted on to fight on the enemy’s terms, disdaining the capability they have to win. Other terrorist leaders and their cells in the UK, America and elsewhere will take Nasrallah’s victory as proof that they too can succeed where al Qaeda has so far failed. They will attack again and again believing that eventually they will win against democracies that respond to attacks minimally, foregoing their battlefield advantages in a pusillanimous attempt to appease Muslims who aren’t yet openly siding with the terrorists.
It is often said that the Jews are the miner’s canary of civilization. When they can be killed with impunity, when their enemies are allowed to continue genocidal attacks, every democracy is endangered. So it is with Nasrallah’s victory. But that can be changed. It must be, and not just for Israel’s sake.
Hizballah has more American blood on its hands than any other terrorist organization with the sole exception of al Qaeda. If Israel is unable or unwilling to defeat it, there should come a time — perhaps even later this year — when we would tell Israel to step aside and to do the job ourselves. But we will not, because — like Israel — we quail at the thought of doing what we can for fear of what will be said of us among our enemies. In 1973, USAF aircraft were being fueled and armed to flash into the skies over Israel, establish air supremacy and prevent disaster on the ground. The next time Israel’s existence is threatened, even our fastest fighters and bombers may not be able to get there in time to do more than survey the damage below.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, this war was precipitated by Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a dress rehearsal for something larger. Ahmadinejad wanted to establish Lebanon as the first Islamist state in Iran’s new caliphate. In that, he has only to consolidate Nasrallah’s victory to succeed. After Olmert’s cabinet approved the cease-fire yesterday, his foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, said the UN deal would, result in a “change in the rules of the game” between Israel and Lebanon. She added, “It can lead to the real change in the Middle East that we have all been waiting for.” A more complete detachment from reality is unimaginable. By pursuing the minimalist strategy against Hizballah and by accepting the UN deal, Olmert has given Ahmadinejad the green light for whatever comes next.
Israel’s military is still capable of dealing with Hizballah itself. If Olmert were removed and competent leadership put in place, the first rocket attack from Lebanon would be answered with an air and ground campaign that would sweep through Lebanon north to the Syrian border in a manner that emulated Sherman’s march through Georgia. Lebanon’s civilian government would be freed — forcibly — from the grip of Syria and Hizballah. And Syrian forces, now reportedly gathering near the Golan Heights, would be destroyed without warning. But what if Olmert remains, his government comprised of the weak Amir Peretz and the risible Livni, in control of Israel’s future?
Time is the most precious asset in any war. Israel has very little of it left.
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).