A race against the clock
Complete victory is not the probable outcome of Israel's battle against Hezbollah. Instead, Jerusalem should set its goal as teaching it a lesson it won't forget soon.
War breeds leaders, but it also kills them off. It all depends on how things turn out. For the moment, the decision that Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz, under the spell of Dan Halutz, made to go to war against Hezbollah has catapulted them onto the stage of "A Star is Born." Over 80 percent of the public supports Operation Change in Direction, and over 70 percent approve of Olmert and Peretz as the leaders of the attack on Hezbollah-stan.
At the same time, a mutual love affair has blossomed between the home front and Israel's leaders. In contrast to the "drink some water" panic that seized the nation when the Scuds fell in 1991, the home front has been keeping its cool under the barrage of missiles that began on the northern border and moved on to Haifa. The home front continues to have faith in the government, mainly because of the consensus that Israel's actions are justified. The leaders reciprocate by praising the home front and laying the flattery on thick: Your stamina is what gives us the strength to go on. The trouble with these love affairs between the home front and the government is that they tend to be short-lived. Again, it depends on how things turn out.
The support expressed by America and many other countries, including a number of Arab nations, fortifies Israel and bolsters the justness of its cause. This broad backing for a military maneuver is hardly the sort of thing that happens to Israel every day. The reversal of the old refrain about the whole world being against us in certainly music to our ears, even if we know it is not forever.
On the other hand, it is no secret that going into Lebanon is easier than getting out. It took us 18 years to leave Lebanon after an operation that Ariel Sharon assured opposition leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres would take all of 48 hours. We can only hope that the government is weighing all the dangers involved in sending massive ground forces into Lebanon before it reaches a decision.
The air force claims that no ground force could do what its sophisticated technologies have been able to do. And anyone who says that no war has ever been won by air operations alone is wrong, in their opinion. The Gulf War was won without sending ground troops into Iraq.
So when can we say that the goals of the operation have been met? When an agreement is imposed that creates a buffer zone, manned by an international force and Lebanese troops, along the international border and keeps Hezbollah from setting foot south of the Litani River. While Hezbollah as a terror organization cannot be physically wiped out, because the Shiites are a part of the Lebanese people, it can be neutralized as a military opponent.
Unlike Operation Peace for Galilee, Israel has no plans to replace governments or install presidents or kings. Our sole objective is not to have troops who take orders from Iran and Syria grooming their mustaches on our border. From every possible angle, this is a defensive campaign. Israel's air strikes in Lebanon are justified, because Lebanon is responsible for allowing an armed force to sit on its international border and carry out attacks against Israel.
It is not clear how much the architects of Operation Change in Direction knew when they sat together and contemplated Israel's moves behind closed doors. Did they have advance knowledge of the quantity and quality of high-trajectory missiles that Hezbollah had stashed away? Did they know that Hezbollah would have the audacity to fire dozens, if not hundreds, of every kind of missile and rocket at Israeli towns and cities, day after day? Did they anticipate that dozens of Israelis would be killed and hundreds wounded? That the attacks would sow fear and destruction, leading tens of thousands of people to flee their homes? That plans were in the offing to fire missiles at Tel Aviv? A government spokesperson says that Hezbollah retaliation was taken into account. Maybe it was, and maybe it wasn't. But again, the end result is what counts.
In the meantime, Hezbollah is being surprisingly bold. America and the G8 may support Israel and cook up a ceasefire agreement, but Hezbollah as a militant organization is not going to disappear. A decisive victory is not in the cards. Even if the air force makes mincemeat out of them, they will not surrender. If Hassan Nasrallah is bumped off, a new idol will take his place.
Operations like this do not accomplish everything in one fell swoop. The important thing is that the beating Israel gives them sinks in and traumatizes them to the point where they will not be back on their feet anytime soon. But whatever we do, it had better be soon. Before the planners of the operation lose their faith in the home front. Before America says stop. As of now, it is a race against the clock.