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Home > English > Website archives > Rainbow of Crisis > The Limits of Might


The Limits of Might

Tuesday 15 August 2006, by Michel WARSHAVSKY

This morning, 8 August, the Israeli newspaper headlines announced that the Deputy Chief of Staff, Major General Moshe Kaplinsky, has been appointed supreme commander of the Israeli military in the northern front. Everyone understands this move as a de facto dismissal of General Udi Adam, the present commander of the northern front.

If one still had any doubts about the pathetic failure of the Israeli military offensive in Lebanon, the decision of the Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz, and his spokesperson in the government, the so-called Minister of Defense, Amir Peretz, put things straight: one month of the colossal use of military force did not bring any substantial results, outside of massive destruction and horrible massacres.

A recent Ha’aretz editorial is unambiguous about the failure of the Israeli offensive:

Let there be no doubt: Despite the efforts of the prime minister and IDF generals to enumerate the IDF’s achievements, the war as it approaches its end is seen by the region and the world—and even by the Israeli public—as a stinging defeat with possibly fateful implications ("Snatch a Possible Victory," Ha’aretz, 8 August 2006).

Political as well as military initiatives are usually evaluated according to their initial objectives. In this case, a preliminary problem we are confronted with is the lack of clearly defined objectives, or, more precisely, the fact that the stated objectives of the war have changed many times. First, the declared aim was to release the Israeli prisoners of war captured by Hezbollah. Then, few days after the beginning of the Israeli offensive, Prime Minister Olmert announced that the objective was no less than to eradicate Hezbollah.

The method suggested by the Israeli high command was characteristic of the narrow-mindedness of senior military personnel and their inability to learn anything from history, including their own one: massive terror operations against Lebanon, in order to “teach the Lebanese government and people” what the price of letting Hezbollah act from Lebanese territory is. The result of indiscriminate destruction and killing in Lebanon (including the Beirut airport, more than hundred bridges, power stations, etc.) was to create a massive pro-Hezbollah sentiment among the Lebanese people, including among large sectors of the Christian population.

Confronted with growing sympathy towards Hezbollah and its sensational ability to hit the heart of Israel with hundreds of rockets, the declared objective was reduced to “destroy the ability of Hezbollah to send rockets on the Israeli territory.” Two weeks after the colossal air strikes on Hezbollah, the number of rockets hitting Israel, and inflicting serious damage across the northern part of the country, is even bigger than before! Another failure. Finally—for today—the objective has once again been enlarged: to restore the Israeli capacity of deterrence and its image as a local military superpower.

This objective too has not been achieved. Quite the contrary actually. As Zvi Barel, Ha’aretz expert for the Arab world explains: “Why wouldn’t a Lebanese who has seen his home flattened into concrete confetti, his neighbors and their children killed by the hundreds and the likelihood of the school year to start on time fade away, begin to recoil? After all, he is already convinced that this is not merely a war against Hezbollah, but rather an all-out war against Lebanon, against him, whether he is Christian, Druze or Shi’ite” (Zvi Barel, “The Deterrence Thing,” Ha’aretz, 6 August 2006). In his article, Barel suggests for the Israeli leaders to try to learn something from the Palestinian experience: “Anyone struggling to understand this equation may want to review previous study notes and ask why […] after more than 150 have been killed in three weeks, do they continue firing Qassams, mortar shells, whatever. Why is it that the logic of the IDF, which measures its forces by the amount of steel it possesses, does not work on them.”

The fact that the Israeli military has not been able to achieve even one of its objectives, and that after a month Hezbollah is still able to send hundreds of rockets into Israel, is perceived in Israel as a national tragedy. “Does anyone feel like we’ve won?” asks Yoel Marcus, “Does anyone feel Olmert has kept his promise to defeat Hezbollah and eliminate the missile threat that looms over Israel?” (“Little Satan Has Big Teeth,” Ha’aretz, 8 August 2006).

However, the conclusion drawn by the military high command, most of the Israeli leadership and many Israeli commentators, is to increase the offensive, to mobilize more reserve units, to try to invade and occupy parts of Lebanon. Marcus concludes his article on the total failure of the Israeli offensive with the following appeal:

By now, it is clear this war is not about Lebanon. Hezbollah is not a local terrorist organization but an operative arm of Iran, Syria, Al-Qaida and the instigators of the attack on the Twin Towers. Israel is not just safeguarding Kiryat Shmona, Hadera and maybe Tel Aviv. It has been forced to become a partner in the war on fire-and-brimstone Islamic fundamentalism and what Bush calls the “axis of evil” in this part of the world. So let’s leave the critiques and the armchair commentary until after the war and face reality. Reality is that we need to take a deep breath and strike Hezbollah with everything we’ve got, on land and air, until we neutralize it as a military force on our border. It is important to achieve the upper hand by cease-fire time. We have to show them that “Little Satan” has big teeth” (“Little Satan Has Big Teeth,” Ha’aretz, 8 August 2006).

Often, during demonstrations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and upon witnessing the massive use of force and the brutality of the Israeli soldiers against civilians, we use to tell them: “Big heroes! Your war is against unarmed women and children, and you dare calling it ‘confrontation’ or even ‘a battle!’ The types of wars you are strong at are wars against helpless civilians! But when you will be confronted with real fighters, you won’t know how to fight, and you will either die or run away like rabbits!”

And indeed Israeli soldiers are experiencing a war with well trained and well motivated fighters, and proving to be completely inefficient. The number of casualties is huge compared to the relatively small number of Hezbollah fighters. And one should ask what may happen if Israel dare to attack Syria, not only from the air, where definitely Israel has tremendous superiority.

The Israeli experience is strikingly reminiscent of the US experience in Iraq: a powerful military, but too powerful, too self-confident, too arrogant, and too spoiled to be able to fight with the efficiency that would be expected from the enormous means at its disposal.

In the next few days, we will know if the aggression against Lebanon will degenerate into a regional conflict, or the Israeli government will be coerced into accepting a ceasefire and political agreement. Though the Israeli military, and its puppet Amir Peretz, are definitely pushing for a massive invasion, their pathetic failure until now may lead Ehud Olmert to use the UN Security Council as a means to get down out of the tree he has climbed into. Yet, the demand for revenge and a new opportunity to show what the Israeli military is “rally capable of” will be so strong, that it is almost certain the cease-fire will be no more than a truce. And we too shall prepare for a next round.