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Thursday, August 17, 2006
Counting their dead, licking their wounds

Even as the Lebanese Army moves into the buffer zone south of the Litani River, and Condi Rice does her best to spin it positively, Israelis and their partisans in the west seem to have traded defiance for despondency following the arguably failed Lebanon campaign. (41% of Israelis apparently want Ehud Olmert to quit... the two missing soldiers seized by Hezbollah are still missing ... a nasty inquest is coming ... and Israel's moral standing around the world is in tatters. And yes, Israel's enemies are emboldened...) So that's where we are.

From the WaPo today:

METULA, Israel, Aug. 16 -- From her dining room window, Zvia Drori looks into Lebanon, less than a mile away from this border town, and sees the yellow flags of Hezbollah stirring slightly in the hot sun. For Drori and her neighbors, the banners seem to taunt Israel for its failure to wipe out the Shiite militia.

"I don't want to stay here anymore," said Drori, 60, who came home Tuesday after fleeing for a month to Tel Aviv. "You see my beautiful view. But you still see Hezbollah."

Thousands of Israelis are returning now to their homes near the Lebanese border. They are bitter and angry about what many call a futile war, and what others call an outright loss.

"Israel lost big-time," said Ravit Ben-Simon, 25, glumly reopening her cellphone store on Wednesday in nearby Kiryat Shemona. "It wasn't a worthwhile war at all. It all started because of the kidnapped soldiers. Where are they now? Still kidnapped. It was all for nothing."

That view was reflected in a national poll released Wednesday, showing that public support for the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has plummeted. The poll by the Maariv newspaper showed that Olmert's support had dropped from 78 percent on July 19, shortly after the war began, to 40 percent.

Here in what Israelis call the "frontline towns" -- the kibbutz farming communities of the settlers who arrived decades ago and the hardscrabble towns that became home to immigrants -- the view is harsh. The rain of Hezbollah rockets emptied these places, sending most residents fleeing to the south and forcing the remainder into grim bomb shelters in their basements.

They emerged with Monday's cease-fire to sweep up the broken window glass, haul away the burned cars and -- in Kiryat Shemona on Wednesday -- bury the dead. Hundreds of residents watched in the cemetery as uniformed soldiers fired a formal salute for Sgt. 1st Class David Amar, 24, a local who had been called up for the reserves. He was killed in Lebanon by an antitank missile Sunday, the day before the fighting stopped.

"He was always smiling. So happy," said a red-eyed soldier who would not give her name. "Was the war worth this? No. We don't think so."
And if there are not already enough parallels with the Iraq war (too few troops, a national leader inexperienced in military matters, and teeming civilian casualties that inflamed hatred for the occupying army...) there's also this:


Israel Television on Wednesday aired interviews with returning reservists offering scathing criticisms of the army, complaining that supplies and armaments were missing, orders were confused, and food and water were in short supply.

And this:


During the war, 118 Israeli soldiers and 39 civilians were killed. More than 5,000 were injured, and at least 12,000 homes were damaged. Estimates of the civilian death toll in Lebanon range from about 700 to more than 1,000, and Israeli bombardment left a path of destruction in southern Lebanon that is unmatched here.

But for Israel, accustomed to military domination of its Arab foes, the failure of its army to crush Hezbollah, or even to reduce the shelling, was a bitter pill.

"Our government was unprepared. They didn't know what they were getting into," said Gital Lahyani, 36, as she reopened her cafe in Kiryat Shemona. "The situation is even worse now. Now the Lebanese, and the Syrians and the Iranians, perceive us as weak. It just set the ground for the next war." ...

... All but an estimated 3,000 of Kiryat Shemona's 24,000 residents had left. Biton had stayed. It was "like a Warsaw ghetto. It was a catastrophe," he said. Beneath his building, a few residents had huddled in the claustrophobia-inducing concrete shelter until the tension drove them out. A child's painted handprints were the only sign of cheer left in the place. Affixed to the shelter's steel door was a sticker, handed out early in the conflict by a newspaper company: "We will win," it boasted in patriotic blue.

"This war didn't do anything," Biton said, waving the cigarette in disgust. "We lost over 100 soldiers. . . . What did we do? We failed."

In the blogosphere, the aftertaste of the war is no less bitter. Let's start with the Likudniks at Powerline:


The magnitude of Israel's failure in Lebanon becomes clearer every day. Hezbollah, stating the obvious, has said it has no intention of disarming (but it may curtail public displays of its weapons). Lebanese officials have made it clear that the "government" has no intention of disarming Hezbollah. Why, asked one leader, should the Lebanese army try to do what the IDF could not accomplish (especially with Hezbollah's popularity now at a new high)?

Meanwhile diplomats are scrambling, without much apparent success, to come up with the members of the new UNIFIL force. If that force arrives, it can hardly be expected to take on Hezbollah. French troops are still expected to take the lead, and the French foreign minister (who has proclaimed Iran a force for stability) slyly promises only to attempt to persuade Hezbollah to disarm. In short, Hezbollah, the Lebanese government, and the international community are already rubbing Israel's nose it it, as well they might. Indeed, it would probably be better for Israel if no enlarged U.N. force appears -- that way the IDF will have more freedom to attack the next time Hezbollah provokes a crisis.
He then tosses in even more despondent comments from The Gambler himself, Bill Bennett:


—Today, Condi Rice has an op-ed in the Washington Post claiming the U.N. resolution on Israel and Lebanon a success, writing among other things that the cease fire brokered, “a truly effective cease-fire, requires a decisive change from the status quo.” She claims Hezbollah has earned “the blame of the world for causing the war.”

—Someone at State forgot to give Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria the talking points.

—The status quo is changed all right, Israel is made weak, is made to look weak and Hezbollah has -—far from any blame -—new respect on the Muslim street. And the headline in the WAPO today is “Hezbollah balks at withdrawal from the South.”
Meanwhile, over at the New York Post, columnist and historian Arthur Herman waxes even more maudlin:


HISTORIANS will look back at this weekend's cease-fire agreement in Lebanon as a pivotal moment in the war on terror. It is pivotal in the same sense that the Munich agreement between Adolf Hitler and Neville Chamberlain was pivotal in an earlier battle against the enemies of freedom. The accord in October 1938 revealed to the world that the solidarity of the Western allies was a sham, and that the balance of power had shifted to the fascist dictators.
Resolution 1701 shows that, for the time being at least, the balance has likewise shifted to the terrorists and their state sponsors. Like Munich, it marks the triumph of the principle of putting off until tomorrow what needs to be done today. Like Munich, it will mean not peace in our time, but a bigger war in our future.

In that sense, the cease-fire may be even more momentous than Munich, and a greater blunder. In 1938 Chamberlain and other appeasers had the excuse that they were trying to prevent an armed conflict no one wanted. Today, of course, that conflict is already here. Historians will conclude that by supporting U.N. Resolution 1701 and getting Israel to agree, the Bush administration has in effect declared that its global war on terror is over. We have reverted to the pre-9/11 box of tools, if not necessarily the pre-9/11 mindset. From now on, the worst Iran, Syria, and North Korea will have to worry about are serial resolutions in the United Nations. Terrorists will be busy dodging Justice Department subpoenas, not Tomahawk missiles.

Our enemies know better. They know the war is only entering a new stage, and they know who the winners and losers were last weekend.
Yeah, I'm sure Hezbollah's 14,000 some odd fighters are prepping to overrun Tel Aviv any minute. Come on guys, I think this is a bit much...

Sorry for that aside. Anyway, Herman get's even gloomier:


The clear losers were the United States and Israel. Israel has sacrificed lives and treasure, and had its honor dragged through the mud of international opinion, for no purpose. America squandered its political capital at the start of the crisis by getting moderate Arab regimes to condemn Hezbollah instead of Israel. They did so because they thought Hezbollah was about to be annihilated. However, they soon realized their mistake. They now know Tehran and Damascus will set the agenda in the Middle East, not Washington. The Arab League's support for this U.N.-brokered deal is just one more measure of our strategic failure.

The other loser is Lebanon. The price of peace in 1938 was de jure dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, as Germany annexed the Sudetenland. The price of Resolution 1701 is de facto dismemberment of Lebanon. A large, well-armed terrorist army acting at the behest of a foreign power now controls the southern half of Lebanon, and pulls the strings in the other half. The facade of Lebanese self-government has been preserved. As a territorial state, it may even last longer than Czechoslovakia did (Hitler gave the Czechs five months before he annexed the rest of their country).

But other states in the region will have learned their lesson. Faced by an internal terrorist organization, especially one with links with Tehran, they will have to make accommodations. No white knight in the guise of U.S. Marines will ride to their rescue; no Israeli tanks and F-16s will do their dirty work for them. Appeasement will be the order of the day.

That includes Iraq. The disarming of Sunni and Shia militias, the necessary first step to ending sectarian violence there, will be postponed - perhaps for good. On the contrary, this crisis has taught Iraq's Shia minority that extremism pays, particularly the Iranian kind.

For everyone in the Middle East knows Iran is the clear winner. Only the diplomats and politicians, including the Bush administration, will pretend otherwise. Iran has emerged as the clear champion of anti-Israeli feeling and radical Islam. The Iranians have their useful puppet in Syria; they have their proxy armies in place with Hezbollah and Hamas. They have been able to install missiles, even Revolutionary Guards, in Lebanon with impunity. Sunni regimes in the region will move to strike their own deals with Iran, just as Eastern European states did with Germany after Czechoslovakia. That includes Iraq; the lesson will not be lost on Russia and China, either. And all the while, the Iranians proceed with their nuclear plans - with the same impunity.

Finally, the other winners are the conventional diplomats at the State Department, especially Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns. In a narrow professional sense, appeasement is their business. They never saw the point to a "war on terror they are delighted to take back the initiative from the hawks at the Pentagon and the White House.

The war in Iraq has clearly sapped the moral strength of the Bush administration. The men of Munich acquiesced to Hitler because another world war like the first seemed unthinkable. The Bush administration clearly feels it cannot face another major confrontation even with a second-rate power like Iran. Yet by calling off the war on terror, it has only postponed that conflict.

"We have passed an awful milestone in our history," Winston Churchill said after the Munich agreement was signed. "Do not suppose this is the end . . . This is only the first sip, the first foretaste, of a bitter cup that will be proffered to us year by year." Despite the failure of appeasement, Churchill still believed the Western democracies would make the "supreme recovery" and take up the banner for freedom again. The United States and the forces of democracy will recover from this debacle - even with a Democratic Congress in 2006 and a Democratic president in 2008. The reason will not be because Bush's opponents have a better strategy, or a clearer vision, or even a Winston Churchill waiting in the wings. It will be because our enemies will give us no choice.
I don't know if I would go so far as to say that we have witnessed another Munich, although I do agree, and have said since the beginning of this conflict, that it was a war that Israel could not win, even if it had managed to prevail militarily. Bombing Lebanese old women and children is no way to win a war on terror. That said, Israel will survive, folks. It remains the strongest military power in the region, and the one true godchild of the United States (contrary to conventional wisdom, we appear to be the godchild of the Saudis, not the other way around). Anyway, more doldrums, this time from the other side of the aisle:

Sidney Blumenthal writes the following, for Salon:


Israel's debacle, courtesy of Bush

Aug. 17, 2006 On Monday, the day the cease-fire was imposed on Israel's war in Lebanon against Hezbollah, and just days after the London terrorists were arrested, President Bush strode to the podium at the State Department to describe global conflict in neater and tidier terms than any convoluted conspiracy theory. Almost in one breath he explained that events "from Baghdad to Beirut," and Afghanistan, and London, are linked in "a broader struggle between freedom and terror"; that far-flung terrorism is "no coincidence," caused by "a lack of freedom" -- "We saw the consequences on September the 11th, 2001" -- and that all these emanations are being combated by his administration's "forward strategy of freedom in the broader Middle East," and that "that strategy has helped bring hope to millions." If there was any doubt about "coincidence," he concluded a sequence stringing together Lebanon, Iraq and Iran by defiantly pledging, "The message of this administration is clear: America will stay on the offense against al-Qaida." Thus Bush's unified field theory of fear, if it is a theory.

Then, once again, Bush declared victory. Hezbollah, he asserted, had gained nothing from the war, but had "suffered a defeat."

At the moment that Bush was speaking an Israeli poll was released that revealed the disintegration of public opinion there about the war aims and Israeli leadership. Fifty-two percent believed that the Israeli army was unsuccessful, and 58 percent believed Israel had achieved none of its objectives. The disapproval ratings of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz skyrocketed to 62 percent and 65 percent, respectively.

The war has left Israel's invincible image shattered and moral authority tarnished, while leaving Hezbollah standing on the battlefield, its reputation burnished in the Arab street "from Baghdad to Beirut." Virtually the entire Israeli political structure has emerged from the ordeal discredited. When the war against Hezbollah ended, the war of each political and military leader against every other one began.
Whatever your ideological bent, and unless you're under the beguilement of the Bush-Condi spin, one other thing is clear: thanks to the blundersome Israeli bombardment of Lebanon, and the wanton destruction of that country's infrastructure, the war has given birth to a new rock star in both the Arab and Muslim "streets", and his name is Hassan Nasrallah. He should send the IDF a thank you note. (Care to guess who's rebuilding southern Lebanon?)

As for the broader war on terror, it should be clear to every sentient being at this point that it can no more be won by military might than it can by parting claustrophobic airline passengers from their petroleum jelly and Evian via F-15.

Oh! ... and Rich Lowry thinks Iraq is becoming another Vietnam.

Happy Thursday!

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Tags: , , , Politics, Israel, Terrorism, War, News, Lebanon
posted by JReid @ 6:51 AM  
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