Israel’s Strategic Defeat
by a United States military field-grade counter-terrorism officer
For the second time in less than a decade Israel has suffered a strategic defeat in Lebanon. The first occurred in 2000, when the Barak government unilaterally withdrew from Lebanon. At the time, Barak claimed that such a withdraw would remove from Hezballah a casus belli and would bring peace to Israel’s northern border. The more than 3,500 hundred rockets that have hit Israeli’s northern cities this past month has demonstrated that at best it was wishful thinking, and at worst represented a delusional mindset. The second strategic defeat occurred this Sunday with the approval of by the Israeli cabinet of Security Council resolution 1701. No matter how the Olmert government tries to spin its acceptance of the cease-fire, the fact remains that Israel failed to achieve any of its strategic goals it enunciated at the beginning of the campaign.
By accepting the Security Council resolution, Israel is compounding its defeat and negating any marginal success it had in debilitating Hezbollah’s military capabilities. The idea that a French led United Nations and Lebanese forces will ensure that Hezbollah is disarmed is surreal. The reality is that the “peacekeepers” are going to be composed of soldiers whose political leadership is sympathetic, if not outright supportive, of Hezbollah. The primary mission of these forces is going to be self-preservation, not enforcement of a UN resolution. Subsequently, there can be no realistic expectation that these forces will ensure that Hezbollah is not rearmed and militarily reconstituted. Indeed, the force will serve more as a deterrent to Israeli freedom of maneuver as Hezbollah violates the terms of the cease-fire and rearms.
The Olmert government had the opportunity to achieve a significant strategic victory against Islamic-fascism in the Global war on Terrorism. Israel certainly possessed the military prowess to achieve such a victory. However, Olmert’s initial decision to reject the IDF’s recommendation to expand the deployment of ground troops reflected a lack of political will on the part of the Olmert government. Given this lack of resolve, one has to conclude that the initial decision to respond forcibly to the kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers by Hamas and Hezbollah was mainly an effort to build the requisite security credentials among a skeptical Israeli public so that the Olmert government can implement its “convergence” plan to withdraw from most of the West Bank. If this indeed the case, then the Olmert government will compound its defeat in Lebanon and will ultimately bring to Central Israel what the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 brought to Northern Israel.
Israel finds itself in the present predicament because of a confluence of two phenomena, the reduction of its strategic depth and the concurrent erosion of its deterrence credibility. Successive Israeli withdrawals from Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2004, coupled by its impotent response to thousands of provocations by the Palestinians in the territories, has created a perception amongst Islamic fascists that Israel has lost the will to fight. The proclamation of the Olmert government to continue Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the territories, coupled with its muted response to Hamas rocket attacks, reinforced this perception among the Islamic-fascists. Israel’s acceptance of the cease fire resolution, coupled with its failure to decisively defeat Hezbollah on the battlefield will serve as a robust recruiting tool for both Hezbollah and Islamic militants on the West Bank and Gaza.
The historical record makes it clear that while territorial disputes can often times be resolved through negotiation, existential conflicts usually require the decisive defeat of one side. It took the collapse of the Soviet Union to end the cold war. Moreover, it took the decisive military defeat of the Axis powers to end WW II. By failing to grasp the reality that it is engaged in an existential conflict with the Palestinians, and its Arab neighbors, Israel is ensuring prolongation of the conflict and ultimately more suffering by both Palestinians and Israelis.
Unfortunately, Israel’s strategic failure has repercussions far beyond the Middle East. Israel’s failure to destroy Hezbollah is a defeat for the West in its struggle against Islamic fascism. Unfortunately, too many people in the West continue to delude themselves that they can negotiate and place a movement devoted to their destruction. By failing to conduct the war against Islamic-fascism as we did against Nazism, the West is creating an environment in which victory for democracy and freedom may be in doubt. It is time for the West to recognize that we are engaged in an existential conflict with Islamic–fascism. We ignore this reality at our own peril.
The writer is a United States military field-grade counter-terrorism officer with more than 20 years experience and education on subjects dealing with the Middle East and terrorism.