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Israel: No Victory, No Defeat

9 September 2006

By Yisrael Ne’eman

There was no Israeli victory in the Hezbollah War. Based on what were considered to be reasonable expectations and PM Ehud Olmert’s speech to the Knesset the vast majority of Israelis identified with the bumper sticker, “We will win,” quoting the PM, but it was not to be. This past week Chief of Staff Dan Halutz tried to convince some 100 reserve generals that the IDF won on points. Few were buying the argument. Northern Command has always had the operational motto which every soldier learned by heart, “Objective: Defense of Settlements in the North”, meaning the Galilee and Golan. This is the heart of the matter – the army exists to defend the civilian population.

With some 50 killed, hundreds wounded and close to 4000 rockets landing on the north, the IDF did not succeed in its objective. The big question is whether the army was given the order to fulfill its mission by the PM and Defense Minister Peretz (and the 60 hours allotted just prior to the UN cease-fire does not count). True, the damages in Israel were far less than those suffered in Lebanon but the objective when defending the north was to eradicate the Hezbollah capabilities of firing into Israel. Due to the lack of a serious ground offensive most katyusha launch zones were not captured. The air force on its own was and still is unable to do the job. The military has no victory.

Many say Israel’s deterrence capabilities were damaged as a result of Hezbollah and its Sec. Gen. Nasrallah having survived the war. Against the Islamists, Israel does not have deterrence, but rather works on a containment policy. It is here that both Olmert and Peretz are correct, sometime in the future we will know the political/diplomatic outcome of the war, meaning whether the Islamists are being blocked.

In 1967 Israel was perceived as being “victorious” while in 1973 the immediate reaction was one of “loss.” Yet after 1967 the Arab League at Khartoum voted on the 3 No’s – No peace, no negotiations and no recognition of the State of Israel. After 1973 Egypt entered a diplomatic process leading to peace with Israel (1979), decoupling Cairo from a united front against Israel. Jordan made peace in 1994 and although many attribute this to movement on the Palestinian front (what is today the failed Oslo Accords 1993), such a move would have never been made had there not been the agreement with Egypt.

There is speculation that had Israel given the army the two weeks it needed to capture south Lebanon up to the Litani River and even beyond, the Hezbollah would have lost its rocket launch capacity by at least 70% and that could have been considered at least a partial victory. But “would have” has nothing to do with history and everything to do with fiction or wishful thinking. Israel “could have” and “would have” destroyed the Egyptian 3rd Army at the end of the Yom Kippur War in 1973 but international pressures and a UN imposed cease-fire forced the IDF to allow them to be re-supplied instead.

Investigating committees are being established to determine why the IDF and the government led by Olmert/Peretz were unsuccessful in the military effort. For the bottom line as to whether the Hezbollah will be removed as a threat from Israel’s northern border, we must wait to see what happens in Lebanon with the Hezbollah and what will be the outcome of the international military presence in the south of that country before declaring who won.

Only future events will allow the jury of history to make its final decision.