The two civilians snapped to attention
The civilians - Olmert and Peretz - felt inferior to the generals, and within minutes made a fatal decision and set unattainable, pretentious goals.
The second war in Lebanon has no name yet. The army and the government are waiting to see how things work out. If the results are good, Dan Halutz and Ehud Olmert will choose a heroic name to immortalize their action. But if it ends badly - which appears more likely - they will try to belittle it and turn it into a small, unimportant, nameless operation.
Expectations were high. For the first time in decades, two civilians were at the top of the defense pyramid. Many celebrated the victory of the social-civil agenda over the military-security one. Many believed that when the chief of staff urged for a military solution, Olmert and Peretz would stand against him like a brick wall. After all, they don't see the world through the sights of a gun; therefore, they will choose a restrained, proportionate reaction, which will take into account all the risks and the repercussions for Israel.
But the opposite happened. The civilians felt inferior to the generals, and within minutes made a fatal decision and set unattainable, pretentious goals: driving Hezbollah out of south Lebanon and deploying the Lebanese army in its place. People close to Olmert said he was about to do something even the great Ariel Sharon was afraid of doing. Because he is braver, stronger, wiser than the sick leader, who cannot answer him.
But Olmert and Peretz should know that a large, cumbersome army built for conventional wars cannot defeat a small agile guerrilla group that controls the territory. Also, there is little in common between a neat military plan outlined in an air-conditioned briefing room and the reality of getting entangled in the old familiar Lebanese quagmire.
It appears, however, that Olmert and Peretz cannot tell the difference between being right and being effective. It was justified to react harshly to the killing of three soldiers and the capture of two. But since it is impossible to accomplish the lofty, arrogant goals the prime minister had announced, Israel should have made do with a short, limited response, thus avoiding the grave damages, which are increasing.
The first and dearest price of all is the military and civilian fatalities and casualties. OC Northern Command Udi Adam has a way of ignoring this. "We must change our way of thinking and not count the dead now." With this method we could have continued the first war in Lebanon until today.
Israel is also paying dearly in world public opinion and among most world leaders. The news media, even in the United States, show the vast devastation caused by the bombings, the destroyed houses and buildings, bridges and infrastructures, the hundreds of thousands of refugees and the numerous civilians who were killed.
Olmert and Peretz boast that they had no qualms about exposing the Israeli home front to rocket volleys, which they described as "a strategic change." But did they take into account the economic disaster which the home front is now undergoing? The million people in Israel's north? Did they take into account the bankruptcies, the losses, the unpaid wages and the expected economic slowdown due to halting economic activity in the north, and the growing fears in the center?
Has anyone calculated how many billions would be lost, how many billions the army would demand to requip itself? Did they take into account that because of that Israel would not be able to carry out the plans to bridge gaps, to fight poverty and to assist the weak and elderly?
Most ludicrous of all is to hear Olmert boast of American and British support. If it were up to George Bush and Tony Blair, they would already send the Israel Defense Forces today into Syria as well, to do their work - to the last drop of Israeli soldiers' blood.
The present trap was easily predicted. The war's goals - which the army promised to achieve within two weeks by aerial bombardment alone - are not being accomplished. The rocket launching is not abating, Hezbollah is not breaking down and there is no military victory. The haughty statement of the Air Force's commander, Eliezer Shkedi, that Hezbollah is nothing but a gang, is not helping.
Olmert, who perhaps realizes now the depth of the quagmire into which we have sunk, has already waived one of his impossible conditions, that the tiny Lebanese army deploy on the border instead of Hezbollah, and has expressed support for posting a multinational force. But he'll find out soon enough that the Europeans are not exactly thrilled to send a "foreign legion" to prevent Hezbollah from reaching the border. Nobody is eager to die on Lebanese soil, especially not for Israel.
The whole world watches the mighty Israeli army, the world's fifth largest, with its state-of-the-art warplanes, pinpoint weapons and colossal budgets - and sees it is incapable of defeating a small terror group of a few thousand fighters. What does that say about Israel's power of deterrence in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and in all the Arab states?
Time is not on our side, and Israel's interest is therefore clear. Declare victory, accept the mediation proposals, and end the war immediately.
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