The good, the bad and the ugly

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In his address to the Knesset last week, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert framed Israel's war in Lebanon as a war for "our right to be normal." His emphasis on our right to drink coffee led many to wonder if he understands the immensity of the threat we face as he curries favor with Israel's aging baby boomers.

 

As polls of the Arab and Muslim world's opinion of Israel make clear, The Jerusalem Post's Khaled Abu Toameh probably understated the magnitude of their desire to destroy Israel when he wrote on Thursday: "Throughout the Arab and Islamic world, hatred of Israel is so immense today that, if given the chance, tens of thousands of women and men would join Hamas and Hizbullah almost immediately."

 

The Arab world's desire to "wipe Israel off the map" is the result of their total immersion in an anti-Jewish, jihadist, genocidal world view through the indoctrination efforts of their state-run schools, mosques and media organs. In addition, their perception of Israel being on the retreat ever since it opened negotiations with the PLO in 1993 has convinced them it is possible to destroy Israel.

 

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has made wiping Israel off the map the central goal of his administration and is the primary sponsor of Hizbullah and Hamas, says he will respond to the US and European demand that Iran cease its uranium enrichment activities, on August 22. It is assumed that Iran today is pushing forward with its enrichment program. It is now accepted that Iran is collaborating with North Korea in its program to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles.

 

And so it may well be that on August 22 Ahmadinejad will announce that Iran has successfully completed the nuclear fuel cycle and so has the ability to independently destroy Israel, and to attack its Arab neighbors, Europe and the US with nuclear weapons. Such an announcement would push the Middle East into a tailspin.

 

This is the context in which Israel now finds itself at war with Iran's proxies. Both the Israeli people and Israel's allies must understand that the clock is ticking. Come what may, Israel must win this war.

 

Given the gravity of the hour, after two and a half increasingly bloody weeks of war, we Israelis must keep our heads and coldly assess where we stand: our resources; our stumbling blocks; and our mistakes. In short, we must assess the good, the bad and the ugly in our campaign in Lebanon.

 

The good

 

Our major ace in the hole is the unprecedented support we are receiving from America. US support for Israel stems from clear strategic considerations and, as a result, it is fairly stable. The Americans understand well just how dangerous Hizbullah and the Iranian-Syrian-Hizbullah axis are. If Israel loses this war, chances are the US will be unable to hold on in Iraq, where the same forces are fuelling the violence.

 

The fact of the matter is that in Lebanon, the jihad against the US and its allies has openly merged with the jihad against Israel. Because it understands that our fortunes are directly linked, the US is blocking all attempts by the UN, Arab governments and the EU to bring about an immediate cease-fire, understanding that doing so would be perceived as an Israeli defeat and a Hizbullah victory.

 

Due in large part to Hizbullah's successful psychological warfare against Israel, we seem to be ignoring the distress signals that our enemies are emitting. On Tuesday, Syria declared its interest in reaching a cease-fire. Iran joined the call on Wednesday. In his speech Tuesday night, Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah for the first time felt the need to justify his decision to attack Israel to the Lebanese people. Moreover, Nasrallah reduced his definition of victory from defeating Israel to ensuring Hizbullah's survival. These and other statements by Lebanese politicians indicate that Israel is causing Hizbullah significant pain.

 

Finally, there is the strength of the Israeli people. The fact that in the past week alone nearly 1,000 new olim have arrived from the US and France is a testament to the strength of our nation. That tens of thousands of families in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Judea and Samaria, and the Negev are taking in refugees from the North is proof that in spite of our enemies' best efforts, the will of our people remains steady.

 

The bad

 

Israel's strengths are formidable. Yet Israel also suffers from weaknesses that must be immediately addressed. First, although the Olmert government properly defined the goal of the campaign in Lebanon as dismantling Hizbullah, it will not take the necessary steps to achieve that vital goal. The government's stubborn refusal to commit a sufficient number of forces to Lebanon to enable the IDF to achieve victory is inexcusable.

 

The government's plan for prosecuting the war aimed at Hizbullah's dismantlement places the IAF as the main component of the campaign. The IAF is supposed to be assisted by limited ground operations that should not rise above the brigade level. Although this plan's logic fell apart a week ago when it became clear that the IAF bombings had not done enough to damage Hizbullah's war waging capabilities and its ability to rain down 100 rockets and missiles a day on northern Israel, the government maintains its devotion to the plan because it is unwilling to admit that its entire political vision for the country is based on lies.

 

The Olmert government insists that Israel can separate itself from terror and jihad and live a "normal life" by building a big fence and hiding behind it. The government knows that nothing will prove to the public the emptiness of its political rhetoric better than a serious ground invasion of southern Lebanon. And so, rather than shed its hallucinatory agenda, it clings to it with all the fervor of a Communist true-believer in Stalin's gulag.

 

While our political leadership insists on paralyzing the campaign in favor of its narrow political and ideological interests, for its own reasons the IDF General Staff is demonstrating a dangerous unwillingness to accept that its doctrine of an aerial war has failed.

 

The General Staff's concept of a campaign based predominantly on aerial bombing is a recap of the operational logic that guided the IDF in its earlier (failed) campaigns in south Lebanon, namely Operations Accountability (1993) and Grapes of Wrath (1996).

 

The logic of both operations was to "send a message" to Hizbullah and the Lebanese government not to mess with Israel. That message was to be sent by aerial and artillery bombardments of Hizbullah infrastructures and of Lebanese infrastructures that served Hizbullah. Today, since Israel's goal is to destroy Hizbullah as a fighting force rather than deter it, "sending messages" should not be the IDF's concern. Destroying Hizbullah as a fighting force requires more than an infantry battalion here and an infantry battalion there. It requires 100 tanks entering southern Lebanon to take control of the territory and destroy Hizbullah's arsenal and to kill or capture its fighters.

 

The ugly

 

The government's refusal to acknowledge that it cannot win a war through half-measures and the General Staff's insistence on believing, contrary to all evidence, that the IAF can win this war almost on its own have caused the IDF to commit avoidable tactical failures that if left uncorrected are liable to entrap us on a strategic level.

 

The battles in Bint Jbail this week were the result of a mistaken operational concept. IDF generals constantly refer to Hizbullah fighters as "terrorists." While this is a reasonable distinction for politicians, it is fatal for those actually waging war. It is true that Hizbullah is a terrorist organization. But on the gr
ound in Lebanon, it has organized itself as a near-conventional force that uses terror and guerrilla warfare tactics along with standard flanking maneuvers and ambushes.

 

When military commanders define the enemy as "terrorists" rather than as "fighters" they engender a perception of Hizbullah as an enemy little different from Fatah or Hamas. The result of this intellectual indolence is unwillingness on the part of IDF commanders to recognize the magnitude and quality of the military challenge they face and to take appropriate measures to surmount it.

 

When an army knows it is fighting a well trained opposition, its commanders remember to activate and man the electronic warfare defensive systems on their missile boats.

 

When an army fights against a conventional foe that has trained continuously for this exact war in earnest for the past six years and periodically for the past 24 years, its spokesmen and commanders do not make empty, unverifiable claims of victory. They do not make bombastic statements claiming to have destroyed 50 percent of the opposing force's infrastructures by aerial bombardment after two days and argue that ground forces are unimportant.

 

When an army fights an army, it does not attempt to cordon off an entire village with a single infantry battalion and it does not claim to have cordoned off a village when it has only surrounded it from 270 degrees.

 

As an increasing number of voices in and out of the IDF claim, it is possible that the IDF commanders who insist on fighting in Lebanon with force levels and methods bettered suited to Gaza will have to be replaced. Galilee Division Commander Brig.-Gen. Gal Hirsch, OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Udi Adam, IDF Spokeswoman Brig.-Gen. Miri Regev and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz may not be capable of successfully performing their duties.

 

At the same time, even ideal commanders would have difficulty achieving victory when the Israeli government, in the interest of its narrow and misguided political agenda, is denying the IDF the resources needed for victory. The security cabinet's decision Thursday afternoon to reject the IDF's request to intensify the ground campaign and to call up more reserve units is nothing less than a gift to Hizbullah – a gift the IDF will be hard pressed to take back no matter who its commanders are.

 

Wednesday, Olmert said that the war will last as long as the public supports it. It is debatable whether it is proper for a premier who is leading his nation in a war for survival to make such a statement. But since he has placed the decision in our hands, we the Israeli people must make clear our demand for victory.

 

A people that demands and requires victory cannot be deterred by obstacles placed in its path. With Israel's international, social, economic and strategic resources, it has the ability to win this war. And we have our secret weapon: the IDF.

 

As the soldiers and officers of Battalion 51 of the Golani Brigade demonstrated at that horrible battlefield of Bint Jbail Wednesday, our soldiers are simply extraordinary. Their heroism under fire takes your breath away. Without a doubt, it is the combination of its spirit and its hardware that make the IDF a world class fighting force.

 

A nation that sends its best sons into battle to defend its liberty and its very survival has the right and the duty to require its government to act responsibly and to discard hallucinatory ideological agendas before they lead us to yet another disaster. 

 

 

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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