It's become fashionable recently to say Israel is losing the war to Hezbollah. This view is as inaccurate as claiming the Arab world would destroy Israel in 1967, that PLO forces were winning a guerrilla war in the 1970s, and that the Palestinian intifada was defeating Israel after 2000.
Hezbollah may survive and inflict casualties on Israel, but it cannot win, since it will not:
* break Israeli morale;
* stop Israeli forces from controlling southern Lebanon;
* prevent tremendous damage to itself;
* avoid huge damage to Lebanon;
* or win over an angry Lebanese majority that hates Hezbollah.
Nor can they gain Western support. Despite the many critical statements and articles about Israel, it has more global backing now than for any military operation since the 1970s. In addition, the Franco-American cease-fire proposal looks relatively good from Israel's standpoint (although it may be watered down later, as discussed below).
Israeli morale is extremely high. Those critical of earlier military strategy recognize these faults have been corrected. Nobody in Israel thinks it is losing, despite the continued rain of rockets.
To a large extent, Hezbollah is repeating the PLO's failed tactics from almost forty years ago. Basically, the concept boils down to claiming that Arab (Muslim) willingness to sacrifice everything in an all-out war will make it easy to wipe Israel off the map. When Arab states tried this approach in 1967, they suffered a humiliating defeat. Thereafter, Yasir Arafat bragged that guerrilla warfare would do the trick. The result was civil wars in Jordan and Lebanon, more defeats, years of suffering, and the waste of billions of dollars in resources. Central in this fantasy and failure has been a mistaken view of Israel as weak, divided, and cowardly.
Here is Arafat in 1968: "The Israelis have one great fear, the fear of casualties." If the PLO killed enough Israelis, the country would collapse or surrender. A PLO official in 1970 said the Jews could not long remain under tension and threat since, "Zionist efforts to transform them into a homogeneous, cohesive nation have failed."
And here is Hassan Nasrallah on July 29, 2006: "When the people of this tyrannical state loses its faith in its mythical army, it is the beginning of the end of this entity." Nasrallah says, as Arafat did before, that Israel's army has been shown as, "helpless, weak, defeated, humiliated, and a failure." This is after Israel has inflicted up to ten times higher casualties on Hezbollah and driven it out of southern Lebanon.
The big hope of Arafat then and of Nasrallah now is to terrorize Israeli civilians. Arafat said in 1968, the PLO would "weaken the Israeli economy" and "create and maintain an atmosphere of strain and anxiety that will force the Zionists to realize that it is impossible for them to live in Israel." A PLO magazine explained in 1970 that every Israeli would feel "isolated and defenseless," would want to leave, and Israel would cease to exist.
Nasrallah now insists Hezbollah's great accomplishment is that two million Israelis were displaced or forced to stay in bomb shelters for two weeks. He brags of financial damage inflicted, of the alleged lost of trust in leaders, and low morale. Yet Israeli public opinion polls show high support for the war, the political leadership, and army.
Obviously, people like Arafat and Nasrallah have no understanding of Israel's legitimacy or its people's patriotism. Equally, they don't comprehend how democracy works and how it strengthens a society. Without real comprehension of these two points, peace is impossible, moderation unlikely, and the Nasrallahs of the future will lead their deluded followers into more defeats and sufferings.
They can only win ground if the West and the world are cowed into appeasement. This can certainly happen. The first reports of the Franco-American cease-fire plan look reasonable from the standpoint of Israeli interests. But will it really be implemented given Hezbollah's, Iran's, and Syria's desire to sabotage it?
Apparently, the draft cease-fire plan includes:
* A southern Lebanon buffer zone that only Lebanon's army and an international force can enter;
* An insistence that all sides must respect the Lebanese-Israeli border;
* A procedure to disarm Hezbollah;
* A strengthening of Lebanon's army to ensure it controls the south;
* No arms imports into Lebanon or foreign forces in the country (i.e., Iran and Syria) without the Lebanese government's approval.
* The release of the two Israeli soldiers held as hostages by Hezbollah
Yet, having a good plan and implementing it are two different things. Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria don't want peace along the border; Hezbollah will fight to keep itself from being disarmed. What will the world do if the terrorists and their radical state patrons act in a predictable manner to sabotage peace?
Most of the problems listed below will happen:
* If anyone tries to disarm Hezbollah, it will fight an all-out war backed by Iran and Syria. Will the West fight back or cave in?
* Would the international force help Lebanese authorities find and confiscate weapons directed to Hezbollah entering Lebanon from Syria or on Iranian planes through the Beirut airport?
* Is the world ready to levy sanctions against Syria and Iran for sponsoring terrorist attacks on the force and for trying to sabotage the cease-fire arrangements?
* If the force finds Hezbollah terrorists trespassing in southern Lebanon, does it fight and try to capture them or just watch them pass?
* If the force fails to stop Hezbollah from attacking Israel, does it condemn Israel for attacking that specific group to protect itself?
* What does the force do if Hezbollah or other terrorists (Al-Qaeda, Palestinians, etc.) shoot at them or try to kidnap its members? Will it fight or run?
* How will contributing countries react when terrorist groups threaten to attack their own territory if they furnish soldiers or urge them to do their job energetically?
* If the international force suffers serious losses, will countries start dropping out and removing their soldiers? Remember that Hezbollah and Syria drove an international force out of Lebanon in the early 1980s by killing of over 300 American and French peacekeeping troops, without facing any Western reprisals.
In each case, the great temptation is to give up or redefine its mission in Hezbollah's favor. Will the world let Hezbollah take over Lebanon as an Iranian-Syrian colony? And will the international community's behavior help convince millions of Arabs that violence and extremism are the most effective tactics?
If so, Middle East instability and anti-Western terrorism will become far more common, dwarfing the casualties of the recent fighting.
Tel Aviv, August 7, 2006
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA).