The Post-war Failure

Failure in war is serious but not terminal - even a fiasco like the Lebanon war can still be turned into the starting point of the rehabilitation.

Even the Israel Defense Forces' inquiries cannot whitewash the truth: The recent war in Lebanon was a fiasco. The failure in the war was not localized. The failure in the war was not limited to a certain place or sector. It was not one division commander or another who failed. It was not one operational idea or another that failed. The IDF failed. The government failed. The sovereign Israeli body failed. From beginning to end, the 2006 war was a war of failure.

Two months after the last Katyusha fell on Haifa, however, it is clear that the failure of the war pales in comparison to the post-war failure. In spite of all its evils, the second Lebanon war contained a blessing as well: It flashed a warning signal. It showed Israel its weaknesses and flaws. It proved to all of us that there is something rotten in our kingdom. It taught anyone with eyes in his head that rot is dangerous. Corruption kills. An inferior political culture kills. Ideological shallowness kills. Irresponsible leadership kills. Cynicism, nihilism and deception kill. The Israeli crisis of values endangers the very existence of the State of Israel.

In this sense, the recent war in Lebanon granted Israel a strange moment of grace. In the most tragic way, at a cost of 160 dead, it granted Israel a rare historical opportunity. The failures were not exposed when Syrian commando forces took over Mount Hermon or Mount Meron. The failures were not exposed when Shihab missiles paralyzed the power station in Hadera. The failures were not exposed when a minor nonconventional incident claimed the lives of tens of thousands of citizens in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area. Instead, the failures were exposed under relatively favorable circumstances - at a time when the public is strong, the economy is flourishing, the stock market is rising; at a time when the routine of normalcy is still at its full strength.

However, the window of opportunity opened by that same war in Lebanon is not a long-term window of opportunity. Nobody knows when the renewed deterioration in Lebanon's Shia South will occur. Nobody knows when the increasingly-likely-war with Syria will break out. Nobody knows when exactly the moment of truth with Iran will arrive. However, it is entirely clear that at least one of Israel's four fronts with radical Islam will flare up in the foreseeable future. It is entirely clear that the risk that several of these fronts will flare up at one and the same time is a real one.

So, the result of the failed war in Lebanon was twofold: On the one hand, it brought the next war much closer; but on the other hand, it gave Israel the opportunity to prepare for it. On the one hand, it encouraged the extremists of the Middle East to attack once again, and even more forcefully; but on the other hand, it signaled to the Israelis that they must come to their senses, carry out a swift and thorough self-examination, and prepare themselves for the moment of a supreme national test.

The extremists understand the outcome of the war and the new strategic situation it created. They are operating accordingly: Hezbollah and Hamas are arming themselves, Syria is preparing, Iran is gaining momentum. In Israel, on the other hand, they understand the strategic situation quite well, but are doing very little. The army is in a state of depression and has lost its direction. The political arena is all about survival, scheming and deception. The public is bewildered and confused. There is no coming to our senses, there is no putting our house in order, there is no serious preparation for coming events.

Failure in war is serious but not terminal. A nation can fail at war, learn the lessons of its failure, recover and be strengthened. A post-war failure is much more serious. If a body under attack knows that it is under attack and does not deal with the attack, it cannot recover. If a sick body knows that it is ill and becomes addicted to its illness, its situation is almost critical. Its immune system is no longer functioning. Its life force is in decline.

It is still not too late. It is still possible to exploit the shock of this past summer to change direction. It is still possible to turn the 2006 failure into the starting point of the rehabilitation. But time is running out. The chances are lessening. The horizon is darkening. The wartime failure of the Olmert government is nothing compared to the post-war failure.