Last update - 11:19 28/07/2006
By Ze'ev Sternhell
It's a widely accepted idea that an Israeli who returns home, even after a short period of time, feels as if he has come to another country. But the opposite is the case: He returns to the same situation, the same problems, the same thought patterns and mainly, the same solutions. Apparently, we did not learn a thing from the first Lebanon War or from the American defeat in Iraq. If the definition of Israel's strategic goal given by the head of Military Intelligence at the beginning of the week reflects the government's position, we are in big trouble.
If Israel really did embark on the war in order to force Lebanon to impose its authority on the south, which is in Hezbollah's hands - or in other words, to force the Lebanese government to begin a civil war in the service of Israel - that is a sign that it is dominated by thinking even more primitive than the thinking that led Ariel Sharon to Beirut about a quarter of a century ago.
But this time, we have exacerbated the problem: At the beginning of the third week of fighting, in spite of the determination and courage of the attacking soldiers, the war seems only to be beginning. That is why we should achieve a cease-fire before the campaign gets out of control, claims victims in vain and, in the long run, even turns into a strategic failure. In the more distant future, it will be necessary to carry out a fundamental structural reform of the government's work procedures and to examine its dependence on the Israel Defense Forces' General Staff. These are truths that are not pleasant to voice at this time, but that is the reality, and we are obliged to confront it.
And in fact, considering the means that the IDF is employing and the ratio of forces in the field, any outcome less than the elimination of Hezbollah as a fighting force will be considered an Israeli failure and a great achievement for the enemy. But since it is impossible to uproot Hezbollah from among the Shiites without destroying the population itself, wisdom requires us to refrain from positing goals that are unachievable.
The inability of a major power to put an end to a guerrilla war is not a new phenomenon: From Napoleon in Spain, through his successors in Algeria, to the Americans in Vietnam and now in Iraq, well-organized armies equipped with modern technology have always failed in attempts to defeat irregular forces. The latter know how to adapt themselves to their surroundings, they are an inseparable part of the population and they serve its material, religious and emotional needs.
When there is fighting, guerrilla organizations want the entire population to be harmed. When everyone is a victim, the hatred will be directed at the enemy more forcefully. That is why bombing residential neighborhoods, power plants, bridges and highways is an act of folly, which plays into Hezbollah's hands and serves its strategic goals: An attack on the overall fabric of life creates a common fate for the fighters and those standing on the sidelines. At the same time, the greater the population's suffering, the greater its alienation from the formal ruling institutions - the government, the parliament and the various security forces that are powerless to save them.
It is an illusion to hope that the 700,000 Lebanese refugees will direct their fury at their government, or that the population that still remains in place will evict the Hezbollah members from among it. As far as the population is concerned, responsibility for its catastrophe lies entirely with Israel, and failure to cooperate with whoever fights against Israel would be considered national treason. It was foolish to assume that the Lebanese political elite would dare to confront Hezbollah and use force against it. And anyway, who was even capable of using force? The Lebanese Army, whose bases were bombed as well?
That is why Israel's interest must be to isolate Hezbollah, to strike a hard blow at its bases and camps, but to avoid harming the infrastructure of life for the general population, even when its gives refuge to those bearing arms. This is not a matter of military ethics, but of a cold practical considerations.
The goal of the war is to restrain Hezbollah, because nobody is dreaming any longer of destroying it. As things look today, at best, Israel will make do with removing it from the border. There, behind the back of an international force, which in the Arab world will in any case be seen as protecting Israel, Hezbollah will be able to reorganize, train, equip itself with more modern weapons and prepare for the next round.
There is no military solution for this situation. IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz has already implied that the solution is political. The prime minister, who bears overall responsibility and will be required to give an accounting in the future, would do well not to lag behind the person who in any case will pass him the hot potato.
And a word about the price of American support. Sometimes it seems as if U.S. President George W. Bush wants Israel both to destroy Lebanon and to sustain painful losses. That way, Israel provides him with an excellent alibi for the war in Iraq: The fight against terror is global, the blood price is the same, the methods of operation and the means are identical, and the time needed for victory is long. The Israeli vassal is serving its master no less than the master is providing for its needs.