Two Strategic Surprises: How Nasrallah Misread Israel--and the World

Men make mistakes. Yet rarely have the consequences of a grave mistake been as costly as they are now to those Islamist totalitarians who challenged Israel to the present battle raging in the Galilee and in Lebanon.

As I write these lines—early on Wednesday morning, as the AJC Undaunted Mission prepares to go to the North on our solidarity mission, after spending a dramatic but exhilarating day in the South yesterday—it is already clear to all, or most, that while Israel will suffer painful losses, the essential outcome is certain. A man was cut to pieces in a Nahariya street by a Katyusha rocket; in Haifa, earlier, eight civilians were killed in the railroad yards; in all, thirteen civilians have already been killed, hundreds were wounded, many thousands went south for safety—where we met them at an impressive beachside camp facility, put together in less than thirty-six hours by the Jewish Agency with the help of a major donor, Arkadi Gaydamak, and an enthusiastic band of young volunteers. But all of this, a great majority of Israelis agree, is the price we must pay to gain a decisive victory (yes, that non-PC word again) over all that Hezbollah stands for.

This has come as a surprise to the “Party of God.” To judge by Hassan Nasrallah’s initial and arrogant performance, he expected either of two outcomes: a frightened Israeli leadership (“technologically strong but weak as cobwebs”) settling down to a humiliating negotiation for the abducted soldiers; or, in the wake of a somewhat more forceful Israeli action, an international outcry against Israel, and an internal Israeli outcry against the unbearable cost of war. With minor (but annoying) exceptions, neither happened:

  • In Israel, the level of national cohesion and unity of purpose is the highest it has ever been since 1967. True, there are debates on points of policy and anguish over the means we use (which reminds me of the way Ariel Sharon inflected his voice when explaining Israeli politics to visiting AJC leaders: “We are Jews, yes?”). But well over 80 percent of Israelis are fully committed to the proposition that this campaign should be carried through to the point at which Hezbollah is effectively defanged.
  • Internationally, the positions taken by the G-8 in St. Petersburg were almost astounding in their support for Israel’s basic proposition: that Hezbollah and its backers were to blame; that 1559 must be implemented in full; indeed, that this round in the global war on totalitarian Islamism must end with an unambiguous defeat for the Axis led by Iran. The EU (and French) positions were almost as robust, despite an undertone of understandable concern for the welfare of Lebanese civilians. It is clear by now that when U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice comes to the region next week, she will be doing so not to impose a ceasefire, but to coordinate policies and purposes with the Arab players who came out openly in opposition to Hezbollah and the ruin it brought upon Lebanon. This unusual list now includes the Egyptians, Jordan, and, last but not least, the Saudis, who took a forthright position—almost unprecedented for its candor (and possibly quite influential in curbing Syrian behavior and helping wilting lilies in the West realize what is really at stake here)— as to the utter irresponsibility of Nasrallah’s conduct.

None of this happened in a vacuum. The folly of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial, the provocative acts of violence by Hamas and Hezbollah, swayed Western and even Arab official opinion. But we need not underestimate the steady work, day in and day out, of Israel’s friends worldwide, in an effort (often led by AJC’s diplomatic savoir faire) to educate world leaders, and even reasonable regional leaders, about what is at stake. When a solid block of the U.S., Germany, Canada, Britain, and, to some extent, even France, swung the G-8 resolutions, this was traceable, among many other things, to the careful groundwork laid, over the years, by saying basically: “For once, when Israel is right, let the leaders and people of Israel know that you recognize it.”

What all of this adds up to is more time for the IDF to grind the military capacity of Hezbollah; to track down and destroy as many missiles and rockets as intelligence and operations forces (including special forces on the ground) can detect; to drive the Katyushas out of range—hopefully, without resorting to a full-scale invasion; and to hunt down the command structure of Hezbollah, wherever they may reappear after the ruin of Dahia (southwestern Beirut, long a self-sustaining Shi’a enclave). All of this will be used, when the right moment comes, to ease the way for the Lebanese government, backed by some form of armed and effective international presence—no more toothless UNIFILs!—to assert full sovereignty over every inch of its tiny territory.

And finally, a personal note. Readers of Ha’aretz—the most highbrow of all Israeli papers, in more ways than one our very own New York Times—may have been surprised to read, in a prominent op-ed by an Israeli Marxist novelist and critic, Yitzhak Laor, that I—Eran Lerman—am the “director of the Middle East Department of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)” [in the  originally published version, which is available in the cached Google record at  http://news.google.com/news?hl=en&lr=&q=eran%20lerman%22%20haaretz&btnG=Search&sa=N&tab=wn, but is now “fixed” online] and an advocate of war with Syria. As my readers know, I am neither, and clearly Mr. Laor is as careless with his facts as he is doctrinaire in his opinions. (In public and in private sessions, I am known for using pithy expressions to explain why the foolish young man in Damascus is a secondary and not a primary concern for Israel.) I am expecting a public correction and an apology. But Laor, one of the few antiwar voices in Israel now, troubles me in a different respect. How can Marxists—no matter how angry they may be with the failures (or rather, the success?) of the Zionist endeavor—place themselves in indirect support of movements, such as Hamas or Hezbollah, whose ideological provenance and lineage, obvious to all who read their covenants, is clearly fascist? Laor makes the point that the IDF was defeated and humiliated in Lebanon, finally withdrawing in May 2000. But does this prove anything? The Spanish Republicans lost the cruel civil war to the Fascists. This brought World War II a step nearer (and perhaps our perceived failure in Lebanon helped do the same for “WW IV” and 9/11). But does this prove that the Fascists were right? Or that the war was not worth fighting? 

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