President Bush should be commended for granting Israel additional time to carry out its military campaign against Hezbollah, but it is a sad state of affairs when even Israel’s strongest ally accepts the underlying assumption that Israel must eventually be reined in. Simply put, why should a sovereign nation have to face any timeline to defend itself against aggression by an enemy?
Israel’s quick and decisive military victories of the past, most notably in 1967’s Six Day War, have raised expectations that Israel should be able to win any military conflict in a matter of days or weeks. During the current conflict, many staunch supporters of Israel have been contrasting its grueling war against Hezbollah with its historically swift victories.
In a pessimistic column in the Wall Street Journal last Tuesday, Bret Stephens wrote:
“During the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Israelis were stunned by their early reversals against Egypt and Syria, yet they eked out a victory over these two powerfully armed, Soviet-backed adversaries in 20 days.”
In a Washington Post column last Friday, Charles Krauthammer argued that by failing to make short work of Hezbollah, Israel may lose support from the United States in the future by showing itself to be less strategically valuable to the U.S. Krauthammer also highlighted past Israeli military successes:
In 1970 Israeli military moves against Syria saved King Hussein and the moderate pro-American Hashemite monarchy of Jordan. In 1982 American-made Israeli fighters engaged the Syrian air force, shooting down 86 MiGs in one week without a single loss…
While novice Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert deserves criticism for his wavering leadership and failure to authorize a major ground offensive earlier in the current conflict, it is worth noting that all of the prior examples of Israeli dominance were instances of conventional warfare, whereas the current conflict against Hezbollah is asymmetric.
The United States used superior military power to win quick victories in the conventional phases of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but years later, it is still battling a terrorist insurgency in Iraq and remnants of the Taliban in Afghanistan. If the most powerful military in the world could not eliminate these insurgents in years, why should Israel be expected to destroy Hezbollah (one of the fiercest and most well-funded terrorist groups in the world) in a matter of weeks?
Critics of the American-led war in Iraq say they oppose the war on grounds that Iraq was not a direct threat to the U.S. and that the invasion was unprovoked. That argument is specious with regard to Iraq, but indefensible with regard to the current conflict between Hezbollah and Israel. Hezbollah started the fighting by killing and kidnapping Israeli soldiers and perpetuates it by firing hundreds of rockets into Israeli towns each day. And Hezbollah (as well as its nuclear aspirant sponsor in Tehran) leaves no doubt about its ultimate goal of destroying Israel.
Proponents of a quick ceasefire believe that such an action will spare civilian lives, but they are gravely mistaken. While an immediate end to the current conflict may save lives in the short-term, in the long run it will only put more civilians at risk.
The reason is that by putting a timeline on any Israeli military action, it sends a message to Hezbollah and other terrorist groups that they don’t actually have to defeat Israel (as Arab nations tried and failed to do through conventional warfare), but simply run out the clock. And the most effective way for terrorists to run out the clock is to continue to fire rockets and store weapons among civilians, which will cause Israel to act more tentatively and expedite international calls for a ceasefire.
The Israelis themselves are willing to do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to ensure that Hezbollah cannot threaten their cities again. Last week the Jerusalem Post cited a poll showing that 95 percent of Jewish Israelis approved of Israel’s response to Hezbollah’s initial attack, and 82 percent thought Israel should continue more forcefully.
President Bush has chided critics who have called for a timeline for withdrawal in Iraq by arguing that it would embolden the terrorists. He has instead stressed the need to “stay the course.” It’s time that Israel be allowed to stay the course as well.