The fruits of the surprise
Lebanon War II can lead to a political settlement with Lebanon and the renewal of talks with Syria. One can only hope that the government will know how to take advantage of the new opportunity.
Two narratives have developed since the end of the war: One is Israel's, the other is Hezbollah's. According to the Israeli narrative, Israel was defeated in the war. This has taken hold in the public conscience without any serious discussion on the results of the war, and it has been taken in mainly because of the media. This narrative embodies all the hallmarks of the public discourse in Israel in recent years.
By nature, the Israeli narrative is so wrapped up in itself that it does not pay attention to what is happening beyond the borders of the country. And this is a shame - because the talk that is coming out of Lebanon these days could contribute to the discussion in Israel and show that considerable achievements were made in the war.
In an interview carried on Sunday by a Lebanese television network, Hassan Nasrallah said that had he known in advance of the force with which the Israelis would respond, he would not have ordered the abduction of the soldiers. Nasrallah also said that he did not expect a second round of fighting and that his organization would not react to what he called Israeli provocation. Prior to the war and during the course of it, the Israeli media portrayed Nasrallah as a credible leader whose words must be taken seriously, especially his threats. If so, then he should also be believed now, when he says that he was surprised by the Israeli reaction.
These remarks by Nasrallah contradict the Israeli narrative. If Hezbollah is no longer claiming victory, then Israel was not in fact defeated, and its attitude is born out of despondency, a national downer, and does not reflect the situation as it really is.
The war did indeed reveal serious flaws, especially at the tactical level - the careless deployment of some of the ground forces in various sectors; the disconnection between the high command and the units on the ground; the ongoing demise of Northern Command intelligence, which failed to discern how the Hezbollah had erected a large line of fortifications close to the border; and, perhaps the biggest failure of all, the governments' neglect of the home front over the years.
All of these matters must be looked into, but not necessarily with the tools of a state commission of inquiry; an inquiry by unbiased professionals will also provide the necessary conclusions.
Notwithstanding the above, the war did produce some achievements too. The air force demonstrated impressive capabilities; the intelligence community, and the Mossad in particular, back in the days of Ephraim Halevy, provided information about the storage locations of the long-range missiles and their launchers and enabled the air force to destroy them. The razing of Hezbollah's headquarters in southern Beirut undermined the organization's command and control capabilities and dented Nasrallah's pride. Commando raids mounted by elite Israel Defense Forces units deep in enemy territory sowed fear among Hezbollah. In several cases, Hezbollah fighters fled and left their equipment behind, fearing face-to-face combat with IDF soldiers.
Even more impressive are the strategic fruits of the war. Had Israel been offered the details of the cease-fire arrangement before the war, any government would have approved it willingly. The Lebanese Army will deploy along the border, a large multinational force of about 10,000 soldiers will back it up, Hezbollah will no longer be encamped along the border, and its members will not bear arms openly. Hezbollah's fortifications along the border have been destroyed; about half of its missiles, especially the long-range ones, have been destroyed; support for the organization has diminished; and it is perceived as having brought destruction upon Lebanon. It is for good reason that Nasrallah is now compelled to justify himself.
The claim that Iran initiated the crisis with the aim of diverting world public opinion away from its nuclear program has also been proved baseless. Iran's support for Hezbollah only increases the West's hostility toward it. It is difficult to believe that Tehran gave Hezbollah such massive aid, worth several billions of dollars, only for the purpose of spending it on the abduction of Israeli soldiers. It is more reasonable to assume that Hezbollah was prepared as a reserve, intended to be brought into the fray if Iran itself were attacked.
In the wake of the war, the strength of this reserve has dwindled. The fact that Nasrallah admits that he was surprised by the Israeli response is conclusive proof that Israel's deterrence has not been eroded. Perhaps, to the contrary, it has been strengthened. A public opinion survey that was published in Beirut this week showed that two-thirds of the non-Shia public in Lebanon believes that Hezbollah was defeated in the war.
But even if the war did not end in a decisive victory, it has created an opportunity to rehabilitate the diplomatic process. Israeli military victories in the past were not always translated into diplomatic achievements, and even led instead to stagnation. On the other hand, wars like the Yom Kippur War, which went on and ended without a clear military victory, were the catalyst for diplomatic moves that ripened into settlements with Egypt and Syria.
Lebanon War II can lead to a political settlement with Lebanon and the renewal of talks with Syria. Syrian President Bashar Assad has already made it clear on several occasions that he is prepared for this. One can only hope that the government will know how to take advantage of the new opportunity.