Re­build­ing Is­rael’s de­ter­rent

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

It is no ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say that Is­rael to­day is en­ter­ing one of the most dan­ger­ous pe­ri­ods in its his­tory. The rad­i­cal Is­lamist regime in Tehran com­mand­ing a pop­u­la­tion more than 10 times Is­rael’s size, its cof­fers swelled by ris­ing oil and gas prices is as­cen­dant: It flouts U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tions de­mand­ing it halt its nu­clear weapons pro­gram. Now, in the wake of the “cease-fire” bar­ring of­fen­sive Is­raeli mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions against Tehran’s client Hezbol­lah, the ter­ror­ist group can claim, with sub­stan­tial ac­cu­racy, to have pre­vailed twice on the bat­tle­field with Is­rael over the past six years.

Is­raelis on the right and left are com­ing to the con­clu­sion that Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Olmert’s gov­ern­ment’s in­ept pros­e­cu­tion of the war against Hezbol­lah has left Is­rael in a much more dan­ger­ous, vul­ner­a­ble po­si­tion to con­front the Is­lam­o­fas­cist threat from the north.

Is­rael’s fail­ure to meet the Hezbol­lah chal­lenge will likely have ma­jor im­pli­ca­tions for Is­rael’s value as an ally to the United States. “Part of the reck­on­ing will be our rep­u­ta­tion as a strate­gic part­ner, when we tell the Amer­i­cans, ‘Give us the tools and we’ll do the job,’ “ Itamar Rabi­novich, Is­raeli am­bas­sador to the United States un­der Prime Min­is­ter Yitzhak Rabin in the 1990s, told the New York Times. “Part of our self­im­age is of mil­i­tary mir­a­cle work­ers, and we didn’t do that this time.” There is no pleas­ant way to say this: Over the past six and a half years, Is­rael’s han­dling of the Hezbol­lah threat from Le­banon is a com­pen­dium of fail­ure and self-delu­sion by gov­ern­ments of the right, left and cen­ter that have em­bold­ened Is­rael’s en­e­mies and en­dan­gered its peo­ple. Ever since Hezbol­lah chased Is­rael out of Le­banon on May 24, 2000, there have been con­tin­u­ing provo­ca­tions on the border: ran­dom shoot­ing at­tacks that killed Is­raelis, kid­nap­pings of Is­raeli sol­diers and Katyusha rocket at­tacks. Time and again, Is­rael re­stricted it­self to re­tal­ia­tory airstrikes but lit­tle else. A 2004 ex­change of hun­dreds of im­pris­oned ter­ror­ists for an Is­raeli busi­ness­man and three sol­diers kid­napped by Hezbol­lah fur­ther em­bold­ened the ter­ror­ists.

Prior to the July 12, 2006, at­tack in which Hezbol­lah kid­napped two Is­raeli sol­diers, set­ting off the cur­rent con­flict, Sheikh Has­san Nas­ral­lah, Hezbol­lah’s leader, spoke openly of Hezbol­lah’s in­tent to kid­nap more Is­raeli sol­diers to ex­change for im­pris­oned ter­ror­ists.When Hezbol­lah snatched the sol­diers, Sheikh Nas­ral­lah ap­par­ently be­lieved that the Is­raeli re­sponse would again be a weak “pro­por­tional” one.

In­stead, Mr. Olmert sur­prised him by launch­ing a 33-day mil­i­tary cam­paign aimed at dis­lodg­ing Hezbol­lah from south­ern Le­banon, se­verely dam­ag­ing it as a mil­i­tary force ca­pa­ble of threat­en­ing Is­rael and killing its lead­er­ship.

Al­though Is­rael suc­ceeded in killing hun­dreds of ter­ror­ists, de­stroy­ing nu­mer­ous Hezbol­lah bases and ar­mories and push­ing its forces a few miles farther away from the border, Sheikh Nas­ral­lah and most of Hezbol­lah’s lead­er­ship have sur­vived.

Hezbol­lah re­mains a vi­able fight­ing force, ca­pa­ble of fir­ing hun­dreds of rock­ets into Is­rael each day right up to the end of the war. De­spite the arms em­bargo placed on Hezbol­lah by U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion 1701, IDF Chief of Mil­i­tary Intelligence Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin ac­knowl­edged Aug. 13 that Hezbol­lah will be re­in­forced in the fu­ture with weapons from Syria and Iran.

More­over, Ha­mas rep­re­sen­ta­tives say openly that Hezbol­lah’s suc­cess in stand­ing up to the IDF can serve as the spring­board for a newwave of vi­o­lence in the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries.

The Kadima Party, cre­ated in Novem­ber by Prime Min­is­ter Ariel Sharon and his pro­tege, Mr. Olmert, could be the num­ber one ca­su­alty of fail­ure to de­feat Hezbol­lah in Le­banon. Kadima lead­ers have spo­ken of the need to rise above the pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with hold­ing ter­ri­tory and the no­tion that mil­i­tary men were uniquely suited to lead a coun­try that has been in a state of war since its in­cep­tion.

Ari Shavit, a left-lean­ing colum­nist for Ha’aretz, wrote on Aug. 12 that Hezbol­lah “sur­prised us this sum­mer with the low level of na­tional lead­er­ship,” which in­cluded “scan­dalous strate­gic bum­bling.” Is­raelis, Mr. Shavit con­tin­ued, “were drugged by po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness.” Is­raeli elites and the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment “did not have the tools to deal with the re­al­ity of an in­ter-re­li­gious and in­ter-cul­tural con­flict. It made the base­less as­sump­tion that the oc­cu­pa­tion [of the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries] is the source of evil. It as­sumed that it is the oc­cu­pa­tion that is pre­vent­ing peace and caus­ing un­rest.”

On the po­lit­i­cal right, for­mer Min­is­ter of De­fense Moshe Arens, a re­spected elder states­man, de­clares that Mr. Olmert, For­eign Min­is­ter Tzipi Livni and De­fense Min­is­ter Amir Peretz proved “not fit to gov­ern Is­rael in th­ese try­ing times.” As “the war they so grossly mis­man­aged wore on, as north­ern Is­rael re­ceived its daily dose of 150-200 rock­ets, the Galilee was de­stroyed and burned to the ground, over a mil­lion Is­raelis sat in shel­ters or aban­doned their homes and both civil­ian and mil­i­tary ca­su­al­ties mounted grad­u­ally the air went out of” Mr. Olmert and his col­leagues. Then, Mr. Arens says, they used the fig leaf of a Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion to ex­tri­cate them from the war they were in­ca­pable of win­ning.

In the com­ing months, Is­raelis have dif­fi­cult choices to make. One of the most dif­fi­cult, wrench­ing de­ci­sions will in­volve whether Mr. Olmert’s gov­ern­ment, which is less than five months old, is ca­pa­ble of lead­ing the na­tion at a time of tremen­dous, ex­is­ten­tial dan­ger.

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