Monday, August 14, 2006

Why Israel has won this battle..

If this was a defeat, the Israelis must be praying for a lot more of them Tim Hames August 14, 2006 UK Times IF ONLY Israel were as effective at public relations as at military operations, the results of the conflict on and around its border with Lebanon would be so much starker. As it is, however, the real meaning of the UN resolution that will start to come into force today is being widely misrepresented. Hezbollah is hailing a “victory” of sorts, albeit one of a presentational character. In a bizarre situation, Israeli politicians on both the hard Left and the hard Right appear to agree with the terrorists. All are profoundly mistaken. What, after all, does this Hezbollah claim consist of? The organisation considers it a triumph that it has not been completely “destroyed” after just four weeks of fighting. It contrasts this with the dismal record of several Arab armies combined in 1967. It has not yet been disarmed and may not be formally neutralised in the near future. Nor has it been discredited on the Arab street, where it has enhanced its popularity. The Hezbollah leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrullah, thus proclaims himself a “new Nasser”. As victories rank, not being destroyed, disarmed or discredited is not that impressive. It is hardly Henry V at Agincourt. The idea that the Six-Day War represents the military standard for the Arab world is a somewhat humiliating notion. Allowing for the feeble record of the original Nasser, Israelis should not be too disturbed by the prospect of another incarnation. Nor was the Arab street that equivocal about Israel’s existence before these clashes started. The facts now evident on the ground suggest an entirely different assessment. First, the damage inflicted by the Israeli Defence Forces on Hezbollah’s infrastructure and resources is far, far greater than the equivalent harm that it has suffered. A sizeable proportion of Hezbollah rocket launchers and fighters have been eliminated, while the Israeli army has lost no more than a few tanks and, to its regret, about 100 soldiers. For a body that is used to incessant combat, this is not a spectacular setback. Secondly, Hezbollah has deployed a huge percentage of its missile arsenal to very little advantage. Only in the Alice in Wonderland world of the Middle East could it be seen as a “triumph” for a terrorist organisation simply to launch Katyusha missiles in the direction of Israel and roughly 95 per cent of them to hit nothing of any value. It took Hezbollah six years to accumulate a stockpile that, fundamentally, it has wasted. Thirdly, the administration in Lebanon, which had ostentatiously refused to send its soldiers to the south of that country for the past six years, has been obliged to pledge to the United Nations that it will now do so. It will, furthermore, be under the de facto control of a much larger international force than has been assembled in that region before — one that will be judged a success or otherwise by the extent to which it keeps the place quiet. The wider strategic consequences of these recent events are yet more significant. Hezbollah was, until July 11, a problem exclusively for Israel. That dilemma has been internationalised. It is now of paramount importance to the Lebanese Government and the UN Security Council. If Lebanon’s troops cannot pacify Hezbollah then ministers there well know that Israel’s air force will be back over Beirut. The UN will come to appreciate that if it cannot maintain the peace this will be because Hezbollah has broken the ceasefire that the Security Council imposed, and its own authority will be endangered. This is an important breakthrough for Israel. If Ehud Olmert, the Prime Minister, had been told six weeks ago that Hezbollah would cease to be the principal militia in southern Lebanon by the beginning of September he wouldn’t have believed it possible. Further, Israel’s security has been improved more than has been acknowledged. Fewer than three years ago, Israel’s northern border was exposed to Hezbollah, its eastern boundary with the West Bank was so porous that suicide bombers regularly broke through it and its military was engaged in a bitter and often futile attempt to contain Hamas in Gaza. As of now, it can be confident of pushing Hezbollah back beyond the Litani river in Lebanon, the barrier it erected around the West Bank has reduced the number of suicide blast atrocities to the level of an unfortunate irritation and Hamas, whose military command was decapitated by Israel in a series of controversial strikes in 2004, is more likely to engage in a civil war with Fatah than it is seriously to inconvenience Mr Olmert. The final dimension to this saga may, nevertheless, prove the most compelling. The past few weeks have exposed Iran’s pivotal role as the political patron of terrorism as well as the audacity and extent of its ambitions to shape Islam in its image. None of this has taken Israel by surprise. It has been a severe blow to Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Jews constitute no threat to mainstream Sunni Islam. The Shia challenge is another matter. Once the crocodile tears for Lebanon have dried up (which will take a month at most) and the mood on the Arab street has moved on (which will not take much longer), it will become obvious to Sunni regimes that Israel is an ally against Iran. The rhetoric directed against Israel will not abate, but it will be increasingly irrelevant. That Lebanese civilians with no connection to terrorism have died while all this has occurred is a tragedy of the highest order. Israel relied too much on air power at the start of these exchanges and allowed its opponents a propaganda opportunity. Yet, in the end, Israel’s survival does not depend on Arab “hearts and minds” or opinions expressed by television viewers who live many thousands of miles away. It relies instead on winning crucial battles. If this is a “defeat”, then Israel can afford many similar outcomes.

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