The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The War In Lebanon—Revisited

Immediately after the Israeli-Lebanese war cease-fire, I wrote:
… Hezballah did win, because it didn’t lose. Syria and Iran won, because they can now rest assured that the sponsorship of international terrorism has no consequences. Nasrallah did win, because in the delusional world of Arabic thinking, a terrorist thug who has fought the “occupier” to a standstill is a greater hero that a true leader who would bring them out of their self-imposed darkness.

Now that I’ve had a few months to ponder the outcome, I can only conclude that I was wrong.

Nearly everyone in the West, friend and foe, judged Israel’s success using unrealistic and ill-formed expectations. In an excellent review of the war, Mark Halperin provides a clearly reasoned analysis of the outcome from both a tactical and strategic point of view.
To judge the war solely according to its devastation (for which Hezbollah, deliberately sheltering missile launches against Israel among its own people, was entirely responsible and too little condemned), by its tactical efficiency, by numbers and metrics, in view of carelessly stated objectives, or in thrall of the compelling testimony of the participants and victims of both sides, is to overlook its greater import.

It was a war like most of Israel's wars rather than the few, and its egregious missteps beg for correction. But as Churchill said of a weak, 17th-century England that did not enjoy the wealth and power of the Victorians who condemned its immoralities in the affairs of state, "We had to keep ourselves alive and free, and we did so." Israel has lost the battle for public relations but achieved a number of necessary objectives--reducing the growing arsenal arrayed against its civil population, putting a large stick in the spokes of Hezbollah's wheels, perhaps buying a period of relative peace in the north, and holding Lebanon to account for grafting onto its political structure a Spartan state at war with Israel for the purpose of its destruction.

But the really important outcome of this war was not the battles or the destruction or the cease-fire. It was the message, sent not to Hezballah, but to Iran.

In the US and Europe, we try to communicate with the Iranians using negotiation and diplomacy. Amadinejad and the Mullahs laugh, and view our pathetic moves at containment as just that -- pathetic, ineffectual, weak. They proceed as if there is no existential threat to their cause, because there isn’t any -- at least from us.

Israel took a different tack. They responding to Iran's proxy forcefully, maybe even disproportionately, without much regard to world opinion. Halperin comments:
Both it [Iran] and Syria possess chemical and biological weapons, Iran's stockpiles being rich and varied. And yet not one of Hezbollah's 10,000 missiles capable of carrying a chemical or biological warhead was so equipped. Without guidance, they would not have achieved maximum impact, and merely turned the public relations battle on its head. But, more importantly, had they been used, they would have given Israel not only the occasion it does not need to attack Iranian nuclear facilities, but reason to attack Iran itself. Iran now knows exactly what kind of game it is in, and will calibrate its moves accordingly: perhaps emphasizing deception all the more, hardening its facilities as never before, or even reaching some sort of deal. Whatever it does, it has been unambiguously put on notice. The dense traffic in symbols and signals among proxies and principals, as in the conduct of the Cold War with a similar language and millions of casualties, has moved all parties closer to the denouement.

So the question, really, is not whether Israel won, but rather what did it accomplish? And the answer to that question is simple—it accomplished what it needed to accomplish. In the final paragraph of his article, Halperin say’s it all:
To the Iranian de facto declaration to Israel, the Arabs, and the West that it possesses a belligerent outpost on the Mediterranean, Israel has weathered world condemnation to reply that the rent for this outpost is high and can be made higher. When Iran spoke to Israel in the language of war, Israel spoke back with absolute clarity even if not with the mythical brilliance attributed to it by friend and foe alike. Which is not to say that it is incapable of fighting the stunning existential battles that once it fought. For it is indeed capable of them, and they are yet to come.