A Smart, Successful War

Israel's conduct of the war is not due to weakness, but stems from political sagacity based on an understanding of the limits of military power.

This is not only a just war, but also a smart and successful one. There is no need to go on at length about its justness, but there is a dispute over its success and whether it was managed wisely. Most of the political and military commentators have few good things to say about this aspect. They are critical of the wisdom of the political echelon and point to the supposed foolishness of the military. Thus there is a vast gulf between the majority of the public and the media.

Most of the commentators ignore one central fact: Israel went into the war while imposing military and political restrictions on itself, and rightly so. According to the directive of the government, the Israel Defense Forces could have captured most of Lebanon within a few days, as it did in 1982. But that was not the goal this time. Israel wants to reduce its losses, and therefore the IDF is working cautiously - which is mistakenly being seen as hesitation. The government did not want to call up reservists in order to avoid causing any further damage to the economy.

In the first week of the 1982 war, between 6,000 and 10,000 Lebanese and Palestinians were killed. This time, in about three weeks of fighting, about 700 Lebanese civilians and more than 300 Hezbollah men have been killed. In 1982 Israel provoked Syria and sought to drag it into the war (and almost succeeded). This time Israel is trying to leave Syria out of the war.

In 1982, the government of Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon set out to create a chain reaction with the aim of bringing about a new regional order. The intention was to get the Christians in Lebanon, under Bashir Gemayel, into the ranks of leadership of the country so that they would expel the Palestinians to Syria, in the hope that from there they would move to Jordan and establish a Palestinian state there. This time Israel wants to leave the pro-Western government of Fouad Siniora intact, and to undermine Hezbollah without doing too much damage to Lebanon's fragile religious-ethnic-political fabric.

These limitations stem from the Israeli interest and from an explicit American request. They are the reason not only for the American support, but also for the understanding of the majority of the world's countries, including the tacit understanding of most of the Arab states. Similarly, the majority of Lebanese both in Lebanon and abroad want to see Hezbollah defeated and humiliated.

Israel's conduct of the war is not due to weakness, but stems from political sagacity based on an understanding of the limits of military power. From this point of view, we can only have even higher regard for the war's achievements. True, there have also been failures and mistakes. The chief of staff, who comes from the air force, apparently overestimated the ability of air power to vanquish Hezbollah alone. The reserves should have been mobilized and sent into action sooner. Here and there one sees fixated thinking by the senior officer corps, and there was also a failure of the navy. To the negative balance, we can add also the socioeconomic gaps which the war is bringing to the fore, between those who have been able to leave the north and those who cannot.

But all this is dwarfed by the successes. Based on precise intelligence, the air force struck accurately at the majority of the long-range missiles and their launchers in the first two days of the war. Thanks to intelligence, the special units were sent deep into enemy territory. Hezbollah headquarters, with their communications networks and their control-and-command centers, were hit hard. The line of fortifications along the Israeli border was demolished.

With all the pain at the losses of the war and the destruction it wrought, this is also a psychological war and a battle for the popular consciousness. And in this battle, Israel is certainly winning. The regular army and the reserves are displaying determination based on a belief in the justness of the cause. Israeli society is shaking off the spider webs of Hassan Nasrallah's metaphor. Hezbollah and Iran gained nothing. Instead of Israel being deterred by the missile threat, it is searing into the consciousness of Tehran, Damascus and perhaps also Hamas, that force of arms and threats will get them nowhere. These entities have to understand that they will get far more concessions from Israel in negotiations.