Hezbollah, Israel and the Spoils of Defeat
If there’s one lesson to be learned on the 10th anniversary of the Second War in Lebanon, it is that brokered cease-fires and UN resolutions are not to be trusted in the Middle East, where the definition of “victory” and “defeat” is elusive.
For 34 days during the summer of 2006, Hezbollah pummeled the Jewish state with rockets, and the Israel Defense Forces conducted air strikes to destroy the infrastructure and weaponry of the bloodthirsty Shiite organization, which – in typical Arab-terrorist fashion – were strategically placed in and around the homes and schools of civilians.
When the war was over, both sides declared victory, though then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s announcement sounded feeble to most Israelis. The regular IDF soldiers and reservists who participated in the fighting felt particularly deflated and bitter. When the war was over, their stories of inadequate equipment and lack of training for the missions they were sent to conduct emerged to everyone’s horror and disgust. One friend of mine recounted having to improvise all the time – for example, by using chocolate spread as face camouflage, and operating a tank with which he was completely unfamiliar.
The Winograd Commission, set up in the aftermath of the war, delved into these and other mishaps on the leadership and military levels. But the real culprit was a false assessment, reached more than a decade earlier, that the “conventional battlefield” was a thing of the past. According to this ridiculous theory, it would be wasteful to expend energy and resources training for ground incursions, when the era of high-tech sorties from the air was wave of the future.
Still, analysts pointed to the major blow suffered by Hezbollah in the war, pointing to the “restoration of quiet” in the north and the heavy losses incurred by the terrorist group. One such optimist was Iranian-born, London-based Middle East expert Amir Taheri, who visited the Jewish state in May 2007, less than a year after the war was over – on the eve of the release of the Winograd Commission’s interim findings.
In an interview I conducted with him at the time, Taheri said he couldn’t understand what all the “gloom and doom” on the part of large swaths of the Israeli public was about, “considering that Israel won the war against Hezbollah in Lebanon last summer.”
“Really?” I asked. “Hasn’t Hezbollah emerged strengthened?”
“No,” he said. “It has been destroyed.”
He went on: “Hezbollah was a major player in the Lebanese and Israel-Lebanon configurations in a certain context. That context has changed. As long as it controlled southern Lebanon, it could exert ‘proximity pressure’ on Israel. That…status quo no longer exists…[Hezbollah] may become stronger in the future — I don’t know; I’m not a prophet. But the Israelis killed 637 [of its] warriors out of a full-time fighting force of about 2,000. Usually in war, you talk of “decimation” — an army’s losing one-tenth of its manpower. In this case, Hezbollah lost about a quarter of its fighters. It also lost literally all of its missile launching pads in the south… In other words, it lost manpower, territory and weaponry.”
Taheri even tied Hezbollah’s “troubles” to its being too tied to Iran – something he claimed caused it to lose its “maneuverability.”
Nor was Taheri the only intellectual authority to hold this view. Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld said that though the war was “marked by a long series of failures,” Hezbollah “had the fight knocked out of it;” it was “thrown out of South Lebanon” and replaced by a “fairly robust United Nations peacekeeping force;” and northern Israel was experiencing almost unprecedented quiet along its border with Lebanon.
Well, that “fairly robust” peacekeeping force, which was supposed to prevent Hezbollah from transporting and rebuilding its arsenals, did nothing. As a result, the Iranian proxy has a lot more to celebrate than Israel on the anniversary of the war.
As the Washington Post’s William Booth pointed out on Saturday, “Ten years ago, Hezbollah fired 4,000 short-range, relatively crude rockets at Israel, about 100 a day, killing some 50 Israeli civilians. Today, the group has 100,000 rockets, including thousands of more accurate mid-range weapons with larger warheads capable of striking anywhere in Israel, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, according to Israeli army commanders and military analysts in Israel and Lebanon.”
Indeed, he wrote, “Hezbollah is now a regional military power, a cross-border strike force, with thousands of soldiers hardened by four years of fighting on Syrian battlefields on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad…Hezbollah troops have been schooled by Iranian commanders, funded by Tehran and have learned to use, in combat, some of the most sophisticated armaments available.”
In August 2006, as an editor at the Jerusalem Post, I “cleverly” headlined an analysis piece by the paper’s diplomatic correspondent, Herb Keinon: “The spoils of victory.”
Today, I would call it the “spoils of defeat.”
Ruthie Blum is the managing editor of The Algemeiner.