If, instead of ordering an incursion deep into Lebanon, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had ushered in this past weekend by telling Israel Defense Forces soldiers that the war had ended, the headline above would have been a banner in 80-point type. If, instead of spending another day in refugee camps, residents of the north had been urged to return to their homes, the following words would have been written more decisively.
But despite the outrage over the bizarre decision - to say the least - that has cost the precious lives of 24 young men in recent hours, this war has not been in vain. Despite the unnecessary suffering of residents of Haifa and the Galilee, our situation today is incomparably better that it was on July 12. Since the peace talks with Syria peaked in 2000, there has not been a window of opportunity in the north similar to the one opened by UN Security Council Resolution 1701.
Had it not been for Olmert's well-known haste, it would have been possible to find a more appropriate time for dealing with the growing threat of Hezbollah's missiles. Nevertheless, his courageous decision to buck a large majority of the public, as well as the generals and pundits who argued against the cease-fire, makes up for all those mistakes, as well as for a long list of failures. Had it not been for the arrogance that runs in his veins, which emerged on that Friday night when he shot from the hip in describing the aims of the war, Olmert would not have needed to work so hard in order to justify it and to explain its achievements on the Saturday night it in effect ended.
The prime minister promised the public that he would not end the war without creating a new order in south Lebanon, disarming Hezbollah, freeing the Israeli captives and, if possible, obtaining Hassan Nasrallah's head on a platter. And all this would happen without the presence of a force that would even vaguely resemble UNIFIL, and certainly without negotiating over the release of Lebanese prisoners. Thus, with his own big mouth, Olmert set a standard for himself that even the president of the United States has not come near to meeting (see the Iraqi example). Therefore, in order to correctly assess the war's results, it is first and foremost necessary to ditch the term "victory" in favor of a more modest term - "achievement" - and to distinguish between lunatic expectations and viable goals.
The most important achievement of this war lies in the words of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who dignified the Security Council with a description of the agreement as "a Zionist document." Iran did not arm Hezbollah with missiles capable of reaching beyond Haifa so that Nasrallah would hoist a white flag and beg Arab leaders to stop the fighting. The ayatollahs did not pour hundreds of millions of dollars into bunkers like those discovered in Maroun al-Ras so that their Shi'ite brethren in Lebanon would unreservedly adopt Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's "seven-point program." That program, which is mentioned several times in Resolution 1701, not only announces that the era of a "state within a state" in Lebanon has formally ended; it explicitly cites the 1949 armistice agreement with Israel - an agreement that Hezbollah has hitherto adamantly rejected.
Two weeks too late, following much loss of life and an erosion of Israel's deterrence, Olmert understood that swimming with the aggressive populist tide was liable to deprive us of the opportunity to save Siniora's pragmatic but weak government. The prime minister related with appropriate seriousness to the danger that the destruction of Beirut's remaining infrastructure and an influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the south would lead to anarchy and civil war. That would have left us with an Iranian-Shi'ite government to the north and a Sunni-Muslim Brotherhood government to the south.
Olmert deserves to stay in power, because he managed to learn, albeit the hard way, that in our neighborhood, it is not enough to show that the landlord is capable of going crazy. He appears to have learned that it is important to reach peace agreements with those neighbors who are interested in leading normal lives - even if this requires giving up "victory," even if it requires giving up real estate. The prime minister's final grade will be determined by his willingness to internalize these lessons and apply them vis-a-vis our Syrian and Palestinian neighbors. But first of all, of course, he must withdraw the Israel Defense Forces from Lebanon without delay, and enable the Lebanese government, and its army, to exercise its sovereignty. Otherwise, we will all remain stuck in the Lebanese quagmire.
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