Lost Audacity: Once Again a Time for Boldness in Israel

Israel lost its first war in Lebanon when it fought Hezbollah for eighteen years and withdrew suddenly in 2000 without victory. If it loses this second war, it will be for the same reasons: political immobility, military timidity, and the fear of negative world opinion.

This was not the case when Israel was governed by political and public relations giants like David Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, and Menachem Begin. Who can forget Prime Minister Begin's statement after the Israel Air Force destroyed Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor in June 1981?

'Despite all the condemnations which were heaped on Israel for the last 24 hours, Israel has nothing to apologize for. In simple logic, we decided to act now, before it is too late. We shall defend our people with all the means at our disposal.'

By contrast, Israel's current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has yet to show that he can make decisions that are fateful, decisive, timely, and victorious.

A second reason for Israel's predicament is its loss of military audacity. Its current chief of staff, Lieutenant General Dan Halutz, is a past air force commander who does not fathom the limits of air power. One can start a war with air attacks, but one can finish it only with grunts on the ground. He also does not follow Danton's famous precept, emulated so well by Ariel Sharon when he was Israel's most daring and most successful general in the field,

'L'audace! Encore l'audace!. Toujours l'audace!'  ('Audacity! Audacity again! Always audacity!')

Corollary to this lack of boldness in the second Lebanese war were Israel's multiple intelligence failures.

The commando raids deep into the Bekaa Valley, and the possible capture of important persons and computer hard drives may signal a recovery of some of Israel's former boldness. Better late than never.

Israel's current political and military leadership also fails to appreciate the link between victory and casualties. In 1948, in order to establish their state, about one percent of Israel's population of 650,000 lost their lives. But, now, when the population is ten times larger, its leaders believe that its people will not endure a far lower percentage of fatalities in order to preserve their state. Live television coverage and focus on human tragedy appear to have robbed Israel as much as America, of its willingness to pay a price in blood for victory. Earlier Israelis, coming out of the Nazi Holocaust era and World War Two, knew that in order to win, the nation must sacrifice one to save 10, ten to save hundreds, hundreds to save thousands, and thousands to save millions.

A third reason for Israel's predicament is the age—old Jewish worry about 'Mah yomru hagoyim,' (Hebrew for 'What will the non—Jews say?') As a result, Israel has imposed upon itself some need for approval, or at least not too much disapproval, from a hostile world. This is nonsensical. Wars are won by will, not by public relations moments and by public opinion. The only public opinion that should matter to the Israelis is American public opinion, which is giving them time to destroy Hezbollah, Iran's and Syria's dutiful proxy.

The Geneva Conventions are clear that placing military weapoins among civilians constitutes a war crime, but attacking those weapons does not. Yet Prime Minister Olmert apologized for the deaths at Qana, even as  evidence accumulates of staging for propaganda effect:

'I express deep regret, along with all of Israel and the IDF, for the civilian deaths in Qana. Nothing could be further from our intentions and our interests than harming civilians — everyone understands that. When we do harm civilians, the whole world recognizes that it is an exceptional case that does not characterize us.' 

U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns' response to the incident was tougher:

'We have to make sure that Hezbollah is not allowed to be in a position to strike again.'

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader, did not apologize. He has no qualms about killing both Arab and Israeli civilians. When Israel's response kills Arab innocents, as it sometimes does and must, he and his supporters are overjoyed. For Islam despises Infidels who lose. In radical Muslim eyes, there is always a connection between public opinion and military success. That is why the same Muslims who blamed Hezbollah at the start of the conflict made Nasrallah into an icon at the end of it. After all, despite the vaunted Israeli Air Force and Army, he sent rockets and missiles deeper into Israel than ever before, and lived to brag about it.

So it is clear that Israel's policy of avoiding, limiting, lamenting, and apologizing for civilian casualties is not working. It has never worked. Hezbollah (and Hamas) hate 'the Zionist entity' because it dares to exist, not because it seeks to prevent or curtail civilian casualties and then, when things go wrong, begs for understanding and forgiveness from an anti—Zionist world.

Prof. Fouad Ajami of the Johns Hopkins University has noted

'the extremist is never alone; the terrorist on the fringe of political life always works with the winks and nods of the society that gives him cover.'

Every action has a consequence. If the civilians who do the winking and the nodding do not conclude that supporting terrorists is the stupidest decision they ever made, that is not Israel's problem, and it has no need to apologize to anyone.

Israel must defy and ignore world opinion. It must kill the terrorists in their very beds. If the beds happen to be next to those of civilians, that is very sad. But that is the price the civilians were fated to pay when they and their leaders let Hezbollah go to war from their midst.

Israel must never permit its wars to be unilateral. The notions that Arabs may kill Israelis, but that Israelis cannot kill Arabs in response, that the deaths of Israeli civilians are acceptable but the deaths of Arab civilians are not, that Arabs may win, but Israelis may not, and that when the Arabs are losing, NATO or the UN must save them, are all insane.

In sum, if Israel doesn't interdict the weapons coming from Syria and Iran, and attack Damascus and threaten Teheran, this existential conflict will go on forever, or until Israel ceases to exist.

Edward Bernard Glick is the author of Between Israel and Death and Israel and Her Army, and a professor emeritus of political science at Temple University in Philadelphia.