The Fog of Peace
The end of hostilities across the Lebanese—Israeli border now necessitates a considered after action review to determine the lessons learned. The first determination that needs to be made is the end state. During conflict we hear the term 'fog of war' when we just can't quite fit all the variables into a simple analysis. In this case, the fog is perhaps thicker with the cessation of fighting, sort of a 'fog of peace'. Just what is the endstate? It was a tie.
Of course, both sides claim victory even amid accusations of failure by opposition groups within their own country, although this is particularly acute in the case of Israel with a free press, democracy, stronger ties to western media, and a strong military legacy to live up to. So let's just look at the facts of how things ended and compare that to the objectives.
The first and most obvious objective for Israel was to rescue the soldiers kidnapped by Hezb'allah. This was never a practical objective. It was important, it was honorable, it was minutely possible, but practically impossible. As a criterion for determining Israeli strategic success, it provides little value. It was a small propaganda win for Hezb'allah, very small.
The second stated objective was to stop the rocket attacks on Israeli soil. Again, this was never a practical objective unless the Israeli government committed to a total, long term stability and security operation south of the Litani River. Even if Israel had gained total control of the southern border region then all Hezb'allah had to do was move the rockets out of reach. Again, this objective was not well thought out and was never achievable with anything less than a sustained and vastly expanded campaign. However, Israel did substantially degrade the numbers and usability of this terror weapon. The very use of them was a propaganda failure for Hezb'allah in the west. This was a small victory for Israel.
For Hezb'allah's part, the objective was as it always is, portray themselves as the heroic Muslim victim against the infidel onslaught. This turned out to be a miserable failure for them, despite the millimeter thin analysis usually provided by western media. Yes, support for Hezb'allah increased in the areas directly controlled by them in Southern Lebanon, but so what, they already owned southern Lebanon.
They failed miserably on the international level. Arabic leaders even made tacit statements of condemnation against them, which simplistic media analysis misconstrued or just misreported as support for Israel, a ridiculous conclusion. But there is value in learning that the Shiite/Sunni divide is exploitable. As al Qaeda has used the technique against civilians in Iraq, the west can use it against Islamofascist elements of both sects in of course, a moral manner.
Hezb'allah reminded the mainstream western culture that they are in fact a terrorist group by firing weapons at the Israel population with zero intent to hit legitimate military targets, although they did hit one crowd of soldiers by accident. This point is perfectly supported by the recent ad in the LA Times by eighty—four Hollywood celebrities condemning their actions.
The endstate will be a Lebanese southern region controlled by Hezb'allah, as it was before the recent fighting, with many times more UN troops to monitor their activities. That is a spectacular failure for Hezb'allah. They hate the UN on a visceral level unlike the average neo—con who hates it on an ideological level. Soon, maybe by the end of this year, it is quite likely they will even clash directly with UN forces, instead of just drawing fire on them by firing rockets from near their locations. This is an egregious development for them that they did not want, despite the attempts to portray themselves as victims in need of UN protection.
Yet they did reveal the vulnerabilities of Israeli security for the first time in generations. This was a tactical victory in a region where there is no surer way to look good than by making Israel look bad. And Israel has shown that it has lost the ability to use its own weaponry. Tanks crawled through fields like a scalpel in the hands of a surgeon unlike the way armor really should be used, as a sledgehammer. If you go in with tanks, you better be ready to wreck up the place, with as much restraint as possible, but loath to leave them like sitting ducks while you confer on the next hovel to be taken. The strategic operation was excellently planned and executed, but the intelligence preparation of the battlefield was abysmal. They Israelis didn't know that anti—armor minefields where emplaced just a few miles from their own border?
But even in tactical victory, Hezb'allah lost prestige in the western world. It is hard to portray yourself in the romantic fashion of a native resistance fighter when you are using the most sophisticated anti—tank weaponry the world has seen used in combat (minus American use). Photos of Hezb'allah fighters in civilian clothes played directly against that most ridiculous notion of American naivet the 'fair fight' just as the 'over—reaction' of Israel played against its own image.
Of course, there were staggering indirect unintended consequences. For the first time, terms like 'Pallywood' have entered the popular lexicon. People who didn't pay attention to Islamofascist propaganda before have now become sensitized to it. This will increase awareness of related Islamic Jihad propaganda efforts across the globe as evidenced by CNN's Anderson Cooper admitting the local Hezb'allah was staging events. And the western media has been forced to clean house in an effort to stem the flow of lower tier journalists spreading this propaganda directly into American homes with no context. Just as Hezb'allah revealed the weaknesses of Israeli security, the internet has revealed the weakness of western media reliance on 'stringers', some of whom are locals employed with apparently little vetting who have strong ties to one involved party with no inkling of objectivity.
Another unintended consequence can be termed 'truth in victory'. Prior to 9/11 many Americans believed that the US was viewed by Palestinians as an 'honest broker'. The Palestinians just wanted safety and security and looked to the US for financial and political support which they received. Then came the street dancing in the Palestinian territories in reaction to the horrific deaths of 3,000 innocent Americans. Despite the attempt by the Palestinian Authority to suppress the news coverage, the video got out and many saw for the first time that Americans were not considered potential saviors, but the enemy to be slaughtered like so much sheep. A closely kept Palestinian truth was revealed in victory dance.
And it has happened again. All across southern Lebanon are banners placed on rubble by the local inhabitants. The banners say 'made in America'. Throughout the Iranian, Palestinian and southern Lebanon areas we are being treated to a severe display of enjoyment at the perceived loss of American esteem. This is not a subtle point, the leaders and Imams are making direct statements that they have defeated the Americans and Zionists. Again, in victory, Islamic fundamentalism has revealed what some on the American left have continued to deny. These fundamentalists are not interested in peaceful co—existence. They want victory over America. Moderate America still takes that personally.
Despite the death knell sounding on the President's Middle Eat policy, the war had the unintended consequence of firming the Bush Administration position. As the saber rattling from DC has increased in regards to Iran, many on the American left began a policy of pre—emption against Bush's policy of pre—emption. The argument was typically along the lines of 'Bush lied to us about WMD and terrorism in Iraq, so how can we trust him on Iran?' It was a lack of credibility argument. This argument has now exploded as did the first sophisticated, Iranian provided and most likely operated anti—ship weaponry fired on the Israeli navy. The volley fire of anti—tank weapons finished this argument as it finished the Israeli tanks. It is now beyond reasonable question that Iran is a state supporter of terrorism. The 'no credibility argument' has, well, lost the little credibility it had before. Bush's position on Iran has strengthened.
Another unintended consequence is the framing of the American security debate. It is now harder to make the argument that terrorism is an imagined transgression employed by the state to control its citizenry through fear tactics. In the context of thousands of rockets with no aim point raining down on a democracy, that liberal fringe argument that was gaining mainstream recognition has been pushed back out to the fringe. In the vacuum, the Republican Party and President Bush look just a little smarter than the Democrats when it comes to protecting the United States.
A smaller, less obvious but very important revelation is the public statements of al Qaeda during this conflict. It looks very much like al Qaeda is watching the Iranians overcome the Sunni/Shiite divide (with perceived Hezb'allah and Hamas cooperation, real or imagined) and have decided that they also must unite across the separate factions to win in Iraq (still a pipe dream but their objective non the less). Italian media is reporting that Ayman al—Zawahri is making reconciliation offers to the Iranian government to gain the support of Iraqi Shiites. The short term outcome may be a cease—fire between the factions in Iraq as well, if the Iranians agree. The long term outcome may be an Iraq united completely against US presence, but unlikely as the majority Shiite population has a lot to gain from US support that not even Iran can provide. But within this reported offer of truce is an obvious truth. Al Qaeda now knows they are too weak to take control of Iraq singularly, an interesting development.
In the end, or rather endstate, we see an Israel that failed to accomplish rather lofty objectives that it erringly set for itself publicly. But it did accomplish the degradation of Hezb'allah forces. And perhaps most ironically, has revealed its own vulnerabilities in a limited conflict, for which it will now determine its own lessons learned and fix the equipment, intelligence, and command deficiencies that will be minimized when the next big fight comes. They will create a better scheme of maneuver and train on anti—tank tactics, techniques, and procedures and most likely acquire defeating technology.
Hezb'allah will enjoy the momentary tactical victory, gain money and support, but will find its perceived win came at the price of western sympathies. And in the end, apart from an apocalyptic WMD scenario, the only way Islamofascism can win, is through the loss of western political will to fight the misuse of Islam as a justification for killing nonbelievers. In other words, they can only win if the west gives up. Hezb'allah has set the opposite condition in the west. They have set the conditions for failure. Short term failure on Israel's part, long term failure on Hezb'allah's part, it's a tie, for now.
Ray Robison is the proprietor of RayRobison.com.