The day after US President Barack Obama announced that he was deploying additional US forces to Afghanistan, an event occurred in Beirut that brought home the stakes in that battle.
On Wednesday, Hamas leaders flew to Beirut to pay their respects to Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah. The Sunni jihadists reportedly came to the commander of the Shi’ite jihadist Iranian proxy terror force to receive Nasrallah’s blessing for the deal they are now negotiating with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government. If the deal resembles what is being reported, it will represent the worst non-territorial capitulation of a free nation to jihadist forces in recent years. According to media reports this week, Israel has agreed to release up to 2,000 Muslim terrorists from its prisons in exchange for the release of Israeli hostage Gilad Schalit.
If the deal goes through, it will constitute a massive victory for Hamas. The fact that as they stand at the precipice of such a great triumph, Hamas’s leaders felt it necessary to come on bended knee to Nasrallah demonstrates Hizbullah’s power.
Hizbullah won two strategic victories against Israel. First in May 2000, then prime minister Ehud Barak gave Hizbullah southern Lebanon on a silver platter by withdrawing IDF forces from the area after 18 years. Barak’s decision to withdraw from Lebanon came at the end of a year of strategic dithering during which he refused to adopt a strategy for victory over the Iranian proxy. Instead Barak wildly understated or ignored the threat a Hizbullah-controlled south Lebanon would constitute for Israel, and repeatedly announced his intention to leave without victory which – due to his understatement of the Hizbullah threat – was supposed to be unnecessary.
In the months that preceded Israel’s withdrawal, Israeli officials gave frequent media interviews in which they condemned as corrupt and ineffective Israel’s Lebanese partners in the South Lebanese Army. Incidents of SLA soldiers and officers acting as double agents for Hizbullah were given wide coverage in the Israeli media. At the same time the rationale for their defection to Hizbullah was studiously ignored by the pacifist news editors who championed Barak’s strategy of retreat.
Most of the SLA soldiers who spied for Hizbullah in the months preceding Israel’s withdrawal were spurred to act as they did because Barak’s declared intention of withdrawing IDF forces from the country without first defeating Hizbullah left them in a lurch. Unlike Barak and his protean chorus in the Israeli media, SLA forces understood that an Israeli withdrawal meant a Hizbullah victory. Anticipating that victory, spying for Hizbullah became their life insurance policy. Only by switching sides could they hope to spare their families from the swords of the victorious Iranian-controlled mujahadin. As for their SLA comrades who remained loyal to Israel to the bitter end, they fled to the Israeli border by the thousands with their families in the hours that followed Israel’s middle-of-the-night retreat. Today the former fighters live in penury as stateless refugees among the Israelis who betrayed them.
After Israel withdrew, Hizbullah was heralded as the hero of the Islamic world. Iran’s currency rose. Nasrallah built a terror state in south Lebanon and began making inroads in the Lebanese political arena incrementally increasing Hizbullah’s influence over the Lebanese state.
The Palestinians took a lesson from Lebanon. Yasser Arafat’s response to Hizbullah’s victory was to reject peace and prepare for a renewed terror war against Israel. In June 2000 Arafat tasked Fatah commander Marwan Barghouti with forging operational alliances with Hamas and Islamic Jihad and forming the Aksa Martyrs Brigades terror group from Fatah forces.
Hizbullah’s rise was stymied temporarily in 2003 with the US-led invasion of Iraq. Hizbullah received a body blow following the Syrian-ordered February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri. In the aftermath of Hariri’s murder, the anti-Syrian, pro-Western March 14 movement in Lebanon forced Syria to withdraw its forces from the country. For a brief moment, there was hope that denied Syrian protection Hizbullah would be unable to maintain its control over south Lebanon.
Alas, it wasn’t to be. Israel, then on the brink of reenacting the failed withdrawal from south Lebanon in Gaza, was unwilling to help the March 14 forces. And the US, distracted by the escalating insurgency in Iraq, would do nothing substantive to protect the March 14 forces from the far stronger Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hizbullah. So in the end, despite the temporary setbacks, Hizbullah was able to strong-arm its way into Fuad Siniora’s government and received governmental support for its state-within-a-state in south Lebanon.
Israel was given a second opportunity to defeat Hizbullah in July 2006. After Hizbullah attacked an IDF border patrol, abducted two soldiers and began bombarding the North with rockets and missiles, prime minister Ehud Olmert declared that Israel would return to Lebanon and defeat Hizbullah.
But then Olmert changed his mind. Upon reflection, Olmert decided that he wasn’t interested in victory. He knew that he needed to do something because the public demanded action. But to actually defeat Hizbullah as he had promised, he would have had to order the IDF to reconquer south Lebanon. Ordering such an operation would constitute an implicit repudiation of his government’s central goal – reenacting the withdrawals from Lebanon and from Gaza in Judea and Samaria.
And so, Olmert opted for a sound and light show. He sent IDF forces into battles with no strategic purpose. He called up the reserves but then failed to deploy them in sufficient numbers in battle until after the UN Security Council had already passed a ceasefire resolution that legitimated Hizbullah and ignored its state sponsors in Syria and Iran.
This week, Israel was condemned by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon for protecting Jewish property rights in Jerusalem. Israel was also condemned during the annual UN Day of Solidarity with the Palestinians in their war against Israel.
At the same time, Lebanon was elected to the UN Security Council. Since last month’s unity government agreement between the enfeebled March 14 movement and Hizbullah gave Hizbullah control over Lebanese Foreign Ministry, what Lebanon’s election to the Security Council means is that come January, Hizbullah will be a member of the Council.
THIS STATE of affairs in all its depressing detail gained new relevance on Tuesday night as a non-committal, clearly unhappy US President Barack Obama announced his plan to deploy an additional 30,000 US forces to Afghanistan and then withdraw them in 18 months.
When Obama entered office in January, he was presented with a situation in Afghanistan where thanks to the 2001 NATO invasion, the Taliban had been sidelined but not destroyed, and the Western-backed Karzai government was too weak to defeat them. The question that presented itself to the new president was how to effect the final defeat of the Taliban and a permanent victory for the US and its allies.
But that was not a question that Obama was interested in asking. And so he didn’t.
Instead of asking what was required for victory, like Olmert before him, Obama asked two questions. First, he asked what he needed to do to placate a public that views him as soft on defense. And second, just as Olmert did in Lebanon, (and later in Gaza), Obama asked what policy he should adopt in Afghanistan that would not hurt him too much with his anti-war political base.
And so he arrived at Tuesday’s announcement at West Point.The US will not pursue victory. It won’t even do much to strengthen the Afghan government’s ability to fight the Taliban on its own. Indeed, it views the Taliban as a legitimate force in Afghanistan.
What Obama agreed to do was lend his commander on the ground
, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, 30,000 troops for 18 months. But the message he sent US forces is far from resolute. With the forces’ rules of engagement constrained by the Obama Justice Department’s penchant for prosecuting US servicemen and intelligence officials for aggressively pursuing their enemies, it isn’t clear how many risks those forces will be willing to take. Moreover, it is hard to imagine fighting with decisiveness under a commander-in-chief whose vocabulary does not include the word victory.
Then there is the message he sent the Afghans. Just as Barak and Olmert discouraged the Lebanese from cooperating with IDF operations against Hizbullah when they declared that the IDF would not remain in Lebanon, so by announcing a timeline for withdrawal at the same time he announced his force build-up, Obama told the Afghan people that they have no reason to collaborate with US and NATO forces on the ground.
For Obama personally, this is a win-win situation. If McChrystal is able to make headway, Obama will take the credit. If not, Obama will blame McChrystal, and the Afghans, and NATO, and the Republicans, and George W. Bush for his failure. Then he will withdraw all US forces from the country, and watch as a disinterested observer as the Taliban retake control of Afghanistan – all to the rousing applause of his anti-war political base.
On the other hand, for the American people and for the free world as a whole, this is a lose-lose situation. The sound and light show strategy Obama announced will enable al-Qaida and the Taliban to grow stronger as they wait out the American withdrawal. Likewise, just as Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon emboldened the Palestinians to initiate their terror war in September 2000, so the US retreat from Afghanistan will embolden terror forces and their state sponsors the world over to attack US and Western targets.
IN ISRAEL, the refusal of successive governments to fight our jihadist enemies to victory served to demoralize the public by making it believe that the IDF is incapable of truly protecting the country. The path that Obama has now embarked upon in Afghanistan will likely have the same impact on many Americans. This posture of weakness and helplessness will be sharply contrasted with the emboldened stance of America’s enemies.
From the time the Netanyahu government took office in late March until its recent moves to cut a shockingly dangerous deal with Hamas and prohibit Jewish building in Judea and Samaria, there was a sense that Israel had turned a corner. The public rejected the Barak-Olmert legacy of defeat and elected Netanyahu to change the course of the country. Depressingly, today it is less apparent that Netanyahu has in fact abandoned their legacy of defeat.
What is absolutely certain, however, is that until both Israel and the US change course and defeat our enemies, we will not be safe. Moreover, we must recognize the infuriating fact that even if both countries decide to defeat their enemies, their embrace of victory will come too late for the soldiers killed in futile and pointless battles and for civilians murdered in terror attacks that could have been prevented.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.