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Ira Sharkansky



Was Lebanon the war
Israel refused to win?, August 15, 2006

By Ira Sharkansky
JERUSALEM—No Israeli is talking about the most recent month of fighting as "the war to end all wars."
Dissatisfaction is wide spread, wall to wall, encompassing all points of the political compass. There seems no one who is defending the prime minister and the defense minister, except the prime minister and the defense minister. A Knesset member of a right wing party expressed it artfully: Olmert sounded like Churchill at the beginning of the war, and Chamberlain at the end of the war.
The common theme from the right is that the government did not allow the military to do its job. From the left we hear that the war did enormous damage to Israelis, especially the poor of the north; that there is now not enough resources to meet the country's social needs, and that the large number of deaths and injuries were not justified by the degree of security achieved by the government's conduct of the war. We hear from the left and the right that Israel lost the war.
Ranking generals are saying, not always anonymously, that the government failed in its timidity. Ranking politicians are saying that the military did not deliver the goods. At a critical point toward the end of the fighting the prime minister proclaimed that his government had never turned down a plan presented by the military. Then he accepted a plan to move forcefully with a greatly augmented force on the ground, but delayed the implementation of the plan for several days. When he and his defense minister gave the go ahead, the military had less than three days to do what they had not done in a month. Among the criticisms is that the last offensive cost the lives of more than 30 Israeli soldiers, and did not accomplish anything of significance.
Reservists returning from Lebanon have circulated at least one petition against government policy, and are saying that they did not have enough equipment of the right kind; were not trained for this kind of war; and found themselves hindered by a cease fire before they could do what they felt necessary.
If all this is not enough, the large cadre of retired generals and colonels, commentators with a bit of military training, and others without the foggiest idea are filling the columns, the air time of radio and television. There are also the blossoming blogs of Israelis and overseas Jews and non-Jews fascinated by our problems and our sins. I am part of this, separated from the mass only by an exaggerated sense of wisdom and modesty.
Lots of voices are calling for the government to resign and a national election. So far the government coalition has enough votes to maintain itself in office. No obvious opposition candidate has appeared from the critics within the government, the parliamentary opposition, or all the voices of complaint from outside the Knesset.
It is not only Israeli decision-makers who are being broiled. The Bush administration is said to have provided considerable support, but also to have turned against us when it counted most. Perhaps it could not stand the pressure of civilian casualties. Perhaps it felt it necessary to demonstrate a commitment to an international effort. Perhaps it had decided that the Israeli army could not deliver a dramatic, quick, and heroic victory. Whatever the reason, it lent its weight to an international chorus that saddled Israel with the appearance of an agreement that may serve as no more than a fig leaf for the rearmament of Hezbollah and preparation for the next round in this war. Bush's claim to be bringing peace in our time is no more convincing here than in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Against this cacophony of shrill criticism, Hassan Nasrallah is declaring victory. He is cheering on the stream of refugees returning to southern Lebanon, and promising that his people will rebuild their homes and villages without demanding that they stand in line and ask favors of government bureaucrats. He is also refusing to honor the international agreement that southern Lebanon be cleaned of armed personnel not part of the Lebanese army. Nasrallah repeats that he is the only effective defense of Lebanon. It is highly likely that numerous Hezbollah fighters are included in the reverse flood of refugees, and that the cars and trucks have weapons and ammunition somewhere among the personal belongings piled along with the women and children.
It is appropriate to warn myself and those bothering to read this blather that it is too early to decide who is right in all of this noise. Self-interested columnists, politicians, and retired military personnel are saying "we told you so."
Government officials are saying that the United Nations and the government of Lebanon have in place a mechanism to assure peace. It is their chance. If they do not do the job, Israel will have to do it!
Meanwhile, Israeli refugees are streaming back to their homes in the north. The government is promising reconstruction of the damage, and people being interviewed say that they want to work, to have their children begin school in two weeks, and to begin the fall football schedule on time.
We will have to see if this is—or is not—the last of the Israeli-Lebanese wars. Lebanon is likely to boil internally, especially if Nasrallah cannot wave a magic wand and rebuild all that the IDF destroyed. We can hope that the Israeli military will get the resources, and have the incentive to prepare better against the possibility that there will be another chapter. Still waiting is the Israeli-Palestinian front. The IDF has been active in Gaza and the West Bank while the world's attention has been focused on Lebanon. If the United States and its few allies can deal with the Islamic threats from Iran, Britain, France, and the rest of Western Europe, as well as outposts in numerous Americans cities, there may actually be peace in our time. But I am not counting on any of this.

Sharkansky is an emeritus member of the political science department at Hebrew University in Jerusalem