There was one moment during the war when we had the upper hand. It was the moment when Israel had succeeded in striking Hezbollah with strong and surprising force, Haifa was peaceful and the number of casualties was small. That was the right moment to stop the war, declare victory and move on to the diplomatic track.
This opportunity came when the G-8 convened on July 14, two days after the fighting broke out. The G-8 formulated a four-point plan, and nothing could have been better for Israel. According to that plan, the three Israeli soldiers abducted to Gaza and Lebanon would be return unharmed, the Katyusha fire against Israel would stop, Israel would halt its military operations and pull back its forces, and it would also release the Hamas ministers and parliament members.
The G-8 statement declared that the full responsibility for the crisis fell on Hamas and Hezbollah and asked the UN Security Council to immediately formulate a program for the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559. The statement also called for the deployment of the Lebanese army in south Lebanon and suggested looking into the possibility of bringing an international force into the region. Israel and Lebanon were asked to launch diplomatic talks.
The international atmosphere was also pro-Israel, even among the hostile media. Israel received international legitimacy for its response to the killing and abduction of its soldiers inside its sovereign territory, and all the politicians, especially Ehud Olmert, were amazed at how much the world loved us.
But Olmert and Amir Peretz did not know when to quit. They wanted to show the public that they, the "civilians," were more courageous than their predecessors, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon. That is why they continued the war in order to attain goals that from the outset were unattainable.
This does not mean that if Israel had adopted the G-8 proposal, the problem of Hezbollah would have been resolved. That would not have happened. That can only be resolved at the diplomatic level, with an Israeli-Syrian-Lebanese agreement. But at least it would have prevented us from deteriorating to the current situation, with its accompanying feeling of failure, the dead and the wounded, the attack on Israel's moral standing, the hatred toward it throughout the world and the damage to Israel's military deterrence.
Israel has not managed to crush Hezbollah, and worse, it has strengthened Hezbollah's standing in Lebanon and the Arab world, which is seeing how a tiny guerrilla organization has succeeded in standing up to the mighty Israel Defense Forces and causing Israel serious losses among its civilian population. That is a dangerous precedent.
The Olmert-Peretz plan was to shell and demolish south Lebanon and south Beirut until the Lebanese public demanded that its government vomit Hezbollah out from its midst. It appears that like a number of other Israeli leaders, they did not understand how much killing, poverty and distress people are willing to take, as long as their honor is not harmed, as long as they are not humiliated. And indeed, instead of demanding that Hezbollah be dismantled, the people of Lebanon want revenge, and they want it now. That is their response to the killing of 750 civilians and the destruction of thousands of homes, bridges, roads, villages and towns, putting Lebanon 20 years in the past.
Now, after the tragic events in Qana, which killed some 60 civilians, even Israel's greatest ally has changed direction and says it wants a speedy cease-fire. Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has declared that Hezbollah's victory is the victory of the entire Lebanese people and that if Israel remains in south Lebanon, he will turn the Lebanese army against it. Siniora even spoke about a cease-fire without any agreement.
Other Lebanese, too - including some who are firm opponents of Hezbollah, such as Walid Jumblatt and Amin Gemayel - have also condemned Israel. Based on what has happened in the field, nothing remains of the grandiose goals of the beginning of the war.
Soon we will start to long for the excellent agreement offered by the G-8 at the beginning of the war. Today, it, too, is unattainable.
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