Following the U.N. Security Council approval (and beginning of implementation) of the U.S.-France sponsored ceasefire agreement between Israel and Lebanon, President Bush says (here) that Israel defeated Hezbollah. Hezbollah, for its part, insists that it came out the victor. It is quite possible that both views have some validity, because different parties understand victory differently.
Given Hezbollah’s pan-Islamic, stateless definition of victory (see Mark Steyn’s take on pan-Islamism, some of which goes too far, in my opinion), it would be difficult for the terrorist organization to perceive any outcome as defeat. Indeed, loss of Lebanese lives, displacement of significant swaths of the Lebanese population, and loss of Hezbollah military positions do not constitute defeat for Hezbollah or its masters in Tehran and Damascus. Hezbollah retains its ability to fling missiles into northern Israel from Lebanon, and it insists that it yet has missiles fully capable of reaching Tel Aviv. Supply of war materiel from Iran and Syria continues unabated. Support for its cause and for the puppeteers manning its strings has increased throughout the Middle East.
Israel’s so-called victory can only tepidly be referred to as such. Make no mistake; Israel significantly whacked Hezbollah positions in Lebanon. But Israel is experiencing some of the same frustration the British experienced during the American Revolution. The British, using their standard experienced military tactics, won every major conflict and occupied many major metropolitan centers early in the war, and yet they could not prevail against a decentralized, but committed government and a populace that supported the Revolution.
Israel’s greatest benefit from the war may be their newfound understanding of Hezbollah’s capabilities. The last time Israel had to deal with a sustained barrage of Hezbollah rockets, it was obvious that Hezbollah was something of a ragtag group of renegades. Now Israel and the West have discovered, much to their dismay, that Hezbollah embodies a level of training, organization, technology, and popular support that seemed unimaginable only a few weeks ago. They have embedded Iranian military advisors. They have drone aircraft. While the world’s media outlets and politicians still want to paint Hezbollah as a minor localized glitch, the fact is that they pose a very serious military threat. And they are not concerned only with Lebanon.
The terrorists, on the other hand, discovered something valuable that has now been exposed to the whole world. Today’s Israel is not the Israel of a generation ago. Many American and Western hawks figured that Israel would quickly and easily stomp on their attackers, as their fathers and grandfathers had a history of doing. But the recent, somewhat ambivalent election that brought Ehud Olmert to power in his own right after assuming the reigns from an ailing Ariel Sharon, should have been a message to the world that the Israeli populace doesn’t have the stomach for serious security actions that their predecessors did.
Israel today seems worn out; fatigued from decades of fighting implacable neighbors and continual political oppression from its supposed allies in the West. Many of its citizens seem to have bought into the West’s proposition that the path to peace is giving up land to its neighbors. Other citizens are like our “To Hell With Them” Hawks, thinking that security comes from sequestering themselves behind some kind of barrier while allowing those outside the barrier to do whatever nefarious business suits them. Israel has tried to follow both of these strategies. Obviously, neither one works. That should be a warning to us.
While the West breathes a collective sigh of relief that we have a ceasefire agreement, it should be a clue to us that the terrorists (none of which are parties to the agreement), have been loudly arguing in favor of such an agreement since early in the conflict. They did this not because they wanted mercy, but because in their view, a ceasefire is merely a symptom of weakness. It’s a feather in their cap; another way they define success.
So, is President Bush right? Did Israel beat Hezbollah? Sure, just as much as the British beat the Americans when they took Philadelphia; a Pyrrhic victory, at best. Or did Hezbollah win? Well, when you define winning as the feeling a suicide bomber has just before blowing himself up on a bus filled with innocent citizens, I don’t know how you could say that Hezbollah lost. In Hezbollah’s twisted value system, any outcome could be defined as victory.
But Hezbollah and its supporters today know more of the weaknesses of their perceived enemies, while Israel and the West only know more of the strengths of Hezbollah and its cruel masters. The question is whether we will wake up and do something to effectively deal with these threats.