The Canary Keels Over

Make no mistake — Israel's July 29th retreat from the village of Bin Jibeil marks the most serious defeat of Western arms to date in the War on Terror.

Whatever occurs from this point on, the retreat (And it is a retreat; there is no other way to spin it. It is not a strategic withdrawal, it is not a redeployment, it is not a retrograde advance. The Israelis left and the Hezbollah are still there. That is called a 'retreat'.) marks the end of this campaign, a fact only underlined by Israel's decision to suspend its airstrikes after the Qana raid, which apparently killed a large number of civilians. There is little or no chance of any meaningful resumption of operations from this point on. This war is over, and Hezbollah has won.
 
The Israeli incursion into Lebanon opened as a classic isolate—and—destroy operation. Southern Lebanon, the high seat of Hezbollah, was cut off by a quick and flawless set of air strikes destroying major highways and bridges. The connection to reinforcements and resupply from Syria was effectively severed, as was the alternate resupply route through Beirut airport. Hezbollah was limited to a small and crowded area with little room for maneuver. Israeli artillery and air began preparing the battlespace for exploitation by ground forces, a coup de main which would destroy bases, missile stores and launch sites, and cripple Hezbollah as any kind of fighting force. 

With the Sunni Arabs providing guarded approval and the U.S. holding back interference from the UN and Europe, Israel was provided with an unprecedented opportunity to remove, permanently and completely, a strategic threat from its northern flank while changing the balance of forces of the remaining frontline states. Such an opportunity is not likely to recur for years, and will probably never recur in its current state of perfection.

Even at the beginning of last week, it seemed that the Israelis were poised to move. But then something happened. Politicians being so good at covering their tracks, we'll probably never know the precise details. But the final responsibility lies with Prime Minister Ehud Ohlmert. Ohlmert is the Israeli version of a hack politician, with a lengthy record of jumping from party to party as opportunity offered. He filled a number of minor cabinet positions of the health and minority affairs type without even the trace of distinction such seats offer. Ohlmert's record is full of bluster against the Palestinians and Arab opposition with little in the way of action to back it up. His current position as head of government is an accident of history, due almost entirely to Ariel Sharon's poor health. Sharon's apparently bungled medical treatment  well turn out to be one of the more tragic accidents of recent history in the Middle East.

The errors of this campaign will require months to work out, but here's the short list:

* Ohlmert, apparently one of the few prominent Israeli political leaders with no combat experience, refused to take advice from experienced officers and directly interfered with the set war plan.

* There's evidence of further micromanagement, particularly in the 'siege of Bint Jibeil', which any competent commander would have masked and bypassed. It appears that the IDF was ordered to concentrate on the place, thus hitting the Hezbollah where they were strongest. It's a faulty strategy that has been tried before in other wars, at places like Verdun and Stalingrad.

* Announcing to Hezbollah, Syria, Iran, and the world at large what Israel was not going to do. At several points in the past weeks Israeli authorities told the world they were not going to move any deeper in Lebanon, not attack Syria, not duplicate their 1982 invasion, not advance on Beirut, etc., thus allowing the enemy to shift men and resources from these areas to where they were most needed. In1965, Lyndon Johnson said exactly the same thing about North Vietnam. He lived to regret it.

* Making an enormous public play about avoiding civilian casualties in a situation where they couldn't possibly be avoided, rather than putting the blame where it belonged.

* Continuing infrastructure strikes long after they stopped making tactical or strategic sense, guaranteeing the hatred and fury of the Lebanese, the people they have to work with to control Hezbollah. (Yet another bridge was struck on Saturday the 29th, days after the decision not to invade was made.)

* Depending on air power to do the job, attempted by such conquerors as LBJ, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton. It worked for Bill in Serbia because everything works for Bill. It has never worked for anyone else.

It's possible to go on, and people will, but that's enough for the moment. Israel was presented with an unparalleled strategic victory on a platter — and threw it away. Hezbollah will be dancing and cheering, and they have every right to. Lebanon is now theirs for the taking, unless somebody steps in to stop them — which is not likely. In Damascus, Bashar Assad will be breathing a sigh of relief. Syria, the mangy stray of the Arab world, has once again stumbled past disaster. As for Iran... the picture is mixed, but it can't be said to be negative at this point. The push for hegemony continues.

Hezbollah's victory will provide a boost to every terror organization in the world. We can expect even more activity in Iraq and Afghanistan over the coming weeks, and renewed effort in places like Indonesia, India, and the Philippines. We may even see large—scale attacks on Western targets before summer's end. It's hard to say how far the ripples will spread.

As for the good points... Hamas has been brought low. This won't last, but it gives the Israelis some time to maneuver. The same, to a lesser extent, is true of Hezbollah, which has suffered serious damage. Iran, after months of bluster, effectively collapsed when the rubber hit the road, crying for the UN, for cease—fires, for peace conferences, for anything apart from what it's been demanding for months: the annihilation of Israel. This may well be the longest period Ahmadinejad has been quiet since his election. All this needs to be kept in mind during the next Iranian crisis. 

Israel is a product of Europe, and as such, suffers from many of the same debilities that afflict Europe today. These include socialism, which saps the life out of any polity it infects, public and political frivolity, and that strange, disturbing, and not often remarked alienation from the normal currents of life that has gripped Europe since the end of the 19th century and found its intellectual expression in such movements as existentialism and deconstruction and its political expression in the collectivist ideologies. Europe has managed to stumble along under this burden for quite some time. But Israel cannot. It must change or die. The question of Israel's future has suddenly grown much starker.

It's now understood throughout the Middle East that you can strike the entire country with as many missiles as you please with the response being strictly limited. Does the Israeli populace grasp this? If not, nothing else matters. 

This campaign may well mark the end of first phase of the War on Terror. It's been a strangely slow—moving war. Our equivalent of the Phoney War, with Europe and much of the rest of the world insisting on acting as if nothing was happening, has taken nearly five years. Now we have our equivalent of May 1940, with Israel threatening to take the place of France, as the solid ally who simply collapses before a weaker enemy. It hasn't happened yet, and I hope it doesn't. Rejection of demands for a cease fire is a start.

We've never doubted that the road would be long. I don't think we have any idea, even now, how dark and bloody it will turn out to be.

J.R. Dunn is a frequent contributor.

Make no mistake — Israel's July 29th retreat from the village of Bin Jibeil marks the most serious defeat of Western arms to date in the War on Terror.

Whatever occurs from this point on, the retreat (And it is a retreat; there is no other way to spin it. It is not a strategic withdrawal, it is not a redeployment, it is not a retrograde advance. The Israelis left and the Hezbollah are still there. That is called a 'retreat'.) marks the end of this campaign, a fact only underlined by Israel's decision to suspend its airstrikes after the Qana raid, which apparently killed a large number of civilians. There is little or no chance of any meaningful resumption of operations from this point on. This war is over, and Hezbollah has won.
 
The Israeli incursion into Lebanon opened as a classic isolate—and—destroy operation. Southern Lebanon, the high seat of Hezbollah, was cut off by a quick and flawless set of air strikes destroying major highways and bridges. The connection to reinforcements and resupply from Syria was effectively severed, as was the alternate resupply route through Beirut airport. Hezbollah was limited to a small and crowded area with little room for maneuver. Israeli artillery and air began preparing the battlespace for exploitation by ground forces, a coup de main which would destroy bases, missile stores and launch sites, and cripple Hezbollah as any kind of fighting force. 

With the Sunni Arabs providing guarded approval and the U.S. holding back interference from the UN and Europe, Israel was provided with an unprecedented opportunity to remove, permanently and completely, a strategic threat from its northern flank while changing the balance of forces of the remaining frontline states. Such an opportunity is not likely to recur for years, and will probably never recur in its current state of perfection.

Even at the beginning of last week, it seemed that the Israelis were poised to move. But then something happened. Politicians being so good at covering their tracks, we'll probably never know the precise details. But the final responsibility lies with Prime Minister Ehud Ohlmert. Ohlmert is the Israeli version of a hack politician, with a lengthy record of jumping from party to party as opportunity offered. He filled a number of minor cabinet positions of the health and minority affairs type without even the trace of distinction such seats offer. Ohlmert's record is full of bluster against the Palestinians and Arab opposition with little in the way of action to back it up. His current position as head of government is an accident of history, due almost entirely to Ariel Sharon's poor health. Sharon's apparently bungled medical treatment  well turn out to be one of the more tragic accidents of recent history in the Middle East.

The errors of this campaign will require months to work out, but here's the short list:

* Ohlmert, apparently one of the few prominent Israeli political leaders with no combat experience, refused to take advice from experienced officers and directly interfered with the set war plan.

* There's evidence of further micromanagement, particularly in the 'siege of Bint Jibeil', which any competent commander would have masked and bypassed. It appears that the IDF was ordered to concentrate on the place, thus hitting the Hezbollah where they were strongest. It's a faulty strategy that has been tried before in other wars, at places like Verdun and Stalingrad.

* Announcing to Hezbollah, Syria, Iran, and the world at large what Israel was not going to do. At several points in the past weeks Israeli authorities told the world they were not going to move any deeper in Lebanon, not attack Syria, not duplicate their 1982 invasion, not advance on Beirut, etc., thus allowing the enemy to shift men and resources from these areas to where they were most needed. In1965, Lyndon Johnson said exactly the same thing about North Vietnam. He lived to regret it.

* Making an enormous public play about avoiding civilian casualties in a situation where they couldn't possibly be avoided, rather than putting the blame where it belonged.

* Continuing infrastructure strikes long after they stopped making tactical or strategic sense, guaranteeing the hatred and fury of the Lebanese, the people they have to work with to control Hezbollah. (Yet another bridge was struck on Saturday the 29th, days after the decision not to invade was made.)

* Depending on air power to do the job, attempted by such conquerors as LBJ, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton. It worked for Bill in Serbia because everything works for Bill. It has never worked for anyone else.

It's possible to go on, and people will, but that's enough for the moment. Israel was presented with an unparalleled strategic victory on a platter — and threw it away. Hezbollah will be dancing and cheering, and they have every right to. Lebanon is now theirs for the taking, unless somebody steps in to stop them — which is not likely. In Damascus, Bashar Assad will be breathing a sigh of relief. Syria, the mangy stray of the Arab world, has once again stumbled past disaster. As for Iran... the picture is mixed, but it can't be said to be negative at this point. The push for hegemony continues.

Hezbollah's victory will provide a boost to every terror organization in the world. We can expect even more activity in Iraq and Afghanistan over the coming weeks, and renewed effort in places like Indonesia, India, and the Philippines. We may even see large—scale attacks on Western targets before summer's end. It's hard to say how far the ripples will spread.

As for the good points... Hamas has been brought low. This won't last, but it gives the Israelis some time to maneuver. The same, to a lesser extent, is true of Hezbollah, which has suffered serious damage. Iran, after months of bluster, effectively collapsed when the rubber hit the road, crying for the UN, for cease—fires, for peace conferences, for anything apart from what it's been demanding for months: the annihilation of Israel. This may well be the longest period Ahmadinejad has been quiet since his election. All this needs to be kept in mind during the next Iranian crisis. 

Israel is a product of Europe, and as such, suffers from many of the same debilities that afflict Europe today. These include socialism, which saps the life out of any polity it infects, public and political frivolity, and that strange, disturbing, and not often remarked alienation from the normal currents of life that has gripped Europe since the end of the 19th century and found its intellectual expression in such movements as existentialism and deconstruction and its political expression in the collectivist ideologies. Europe has managed to stumble along under this burden for quite some time. But Israel cannot. It must change or die. The question of Israel's future has suddenly grown much starker.

It's now understood throughout the Middle East that you can strike the entire country with as many missiles as you please with the response being strictly limited. Does the Israeli populace grasp this? If not, nothing else matters. 

This campaign may well mark the end of first phase of the War on Terror. It's been a strangely slow—moving war. Our equivalent of the Phoney War, with Europe and much of the rest of the world insisting on acting as if nothing was happening, has taken nearly five years. Now we have our equivalent of May 1940, with Israel threatening to take the place of France, as the solid ally who simply collapses before a weaker enemy. It hasn't happened yet, and I hope it doesn't. Rejection of demands for a cease fire is a start.

We've never doubted that the road would be long. I don't think we have any idea, even now, how dark and bloody it will turn out to be.

J.R. Dunn is a frequent contributor.