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Lebanon War Fiasco: An experiment in learning by doing


After nearly a month of war, it is becoming increasingly evident that we are witnessing a pointless and horrendous fiasco, a prodigious waste of lives and property comparable in senselessness, if not in abolute scale, to General Ambrose Burnside's debacle at the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg in the US Civil war, and to Churchill's fiasco in Gallipoli in World War I. The unwisdom of Gallipoli, which dragged on for months, should have been painfully evident very soon, but nobody took the required action until it was far too late and hundreds of thousands had died for no reason. The Lebanon war drags on toward disaster in the same way.

As I noted when the war began, the Hezbollah is a menace that must be removed, and Israel has a right and duty to do so by every means possible. I also noted that it is not always wise to exercise a right. If nothing is achieved, and the Hezbollah remains unharmed at the end of the war, then all the lives and money and property were for lost for no reason.

The strategic and tactical blunders of the Israel government were detailed here. Apparently, they were inevitable. Who is to blame, and who is not to blame? A totally inexperienced government took on a task it did not understand, refused to recognize reality, refused to accept responsibility. The Israeli cabinet met again and again and each time dramatically decided not to decide. Finally, on Wednesday, the government adopted a curious plan to conquer South Lebanon in "30 to 60 days," apparently by continuing the disastrous policy of applying not enough force in the wrong places and making bellicose pronouncements of victory. It is probably a recipe for a little Vietnam war. We may, or may not, have been spared this further adventure. It is very likely that the government doesn't intend to widen the war, and was simply trying to exert pressure to get a favorable UN resolution.

The "good news" for Olmert: Condoleezza Rice called just in time to explain that a cease fire was a matter of days. It is the same thing she has been saying for several weeks now, but this time there was a "breakthrough compromise." The breakthrough "compromise" achieved at the insistence of the French is that Lebanon will lose its freedom, Israel will lose the war, and Hezbollah will maintain its arms in defiance of Security Council resolution 1559. Contrary to previous UN decisions, Israel will be forced to give up Shebaa farms. But never fear. The peace peace in Southern Lebanon will be kept by none other than the glorious French army. Against the Nazis and the Viet Minh they did not do so well, but they dealt efficiently with the Ivory Coast air force. Israeli security will now depend on French troops and the whims of Ahmadinejad in Tehran. Olmert could breath a sigh of relief. Armed with this "victory" he could postpone the further invasion of Lebanon until Friday and hope that the UN would put an end to his misery. Now it is Friday, and there is as yet no UN resolution, and then it will be Saturday and Sunday and perhaps there will be no resolution then either.

The "bad news" for Olmert: the Hezbollah-controlled Lebanese government decided that the draft resolution is insufficient humiliation for Israel, and refused to accept the terms of the resolution. France has veto power in the UN Security Council. France does the bidding of the Lebanese government, which does the bidding of Hassan Nasrallah, who does the bidding of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Thus we are witnessing the spectacle of an aggressor and outlaw controlling the UN Security Council Resolutions that are supposed to be taken to stop his aggression. Ahmadinejad is not interested in a cease fire as long as the UN is contemplating sanctions against Iran for its nuclear development program. Any resolution that is agreed to by Lebanon, will be one that allows Hezbollah to fire at leisure. Lebanon will never agree to a resolution that disarms the Hezbollah either, because Ahmadinejad won't agree to it, and if Ahmadinejad won't agree, the Security Council will not agree.

Israel is not alone in this fiasco. The United States and Britain, after holding fast for a while, caved in to what amounts to terrorist blackmail. Hezbollah and its supporters organized a huge public relations campaign. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, urging a "deal" that would give Shebaa farms to Lebanon, essentially gave the stamp of approval to acquisition of territory by aggression. Perhaps the US and Britain now think that disarming Hezbollah is not a priority. Like the Israeli government, they could have figured that out a month ago.

The basic fault however, lies with the Israeli government and the Israeli army No Israeli government has ever put its trust in the UN or in foreign support alone, and no Israeli government ever planned a military campaign that would take months. The IDF did not deliver the goods, and the government did not recognize from the first days that its strategy or lack of strategy was not working.

Now the draft resolution will be modified further to assuage the Lebanese. Perhaps instead of French troops, Iranian Pasdaran National Guard will be called in to police south Lebanon. Whatever the result, it seems that Olmert and his government will declare a great victory. Yediot Ahronot and Naharnet are reporting that Israeli cows have invaded Lebanon. If you are waging a real BS war, that is the way to do it.

Too late perhaps, there are some who are calling for Olmert's resignation. Olmert Must Go writes Ari Shavit in Haaretz:

If Olmert runs away now from the war he initiated, he will not be able to remain prime minister for even one more day. Chutzpah has its limits. You cannot lead an entire nation to war promising victory, produce humiliating defeat and remain in power. You cannot bury 120 Israelis in cemeteries, keep a million Israelis in shelters for a month, wear down deterrent power, bring the next war very close, and then say - oops, I made a mistake. That was not the intention. Pass me a cigar, please.

There is no mistake Ehud Olmert did not make this past month. He went to war hastily, without properly gauging the outcome. He blindly followed the military without asking the necessary questions. He mistakenly gambled on air operations, was strangely late with the ground operation, and failed to implement the army's original plan, much more daring and sophisticated than that which was implemented. And after arrogantly and hastily bursting into war, Olmert managed it hesitantly, unfocused and limp. He neglected the home front and abandoned the residents of the north. He also failed shamefully on the diplomatic front.

Witness how the war aims changed, or try to figure out what they really were, and you understand that there was no leadership and little strategic thinking. The announced goals at the beginning of the war were to wipe out the Hezbollah. To make sure that Nasrallah does not forget the name of Amir Peretz. At least that goal is achieved. We can bet that Nasrallah will remember Amir Peretz, just as Wellington remembered Napoleon. The real goals at the time were probably to pressure the Lebanese government to agree to return the kidnapped soldiers and disarm Hezbollah. However, the Lebanese government proved to be immune to aerial assault, since the real Lebanese government is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and he doesn't care how many bridges IAF destroys in Lebanon.

Next, the goals apparently shifted to weakening the Hezbollah in order to get a better negotiated settlement. Since too much aerial bombardment of civilian targets and not enough ground force and aerial backup were applied for this tactic, the result was needless Israeli casualties and needless Lebanese civilian casualties and a victory for Nasrallah.

Now the strategic goal seems to be to not make Olmert and Peretz look too ridiculous, to avert utter disaster, and to get out of the mess as quickly as possible. As long as Nasrallah doesn't actually take over Haifa, Olmert can claim victory.

Olmert doesn't understand or doesn't care that this is not "Spin City." The really important problem, as bad as it is, is not how many lives were lost in this war, but rather the much greater number of lives that will now be lost in future wars because Hezbollah will remain intact, will very possibly take over the government of Lebanon, and may be able to use the "International force" as a protective shield for further mayhem in the future.

The source of the malaise is much more serious than this war and much more serious even than the current losses of life and property in Israel and in Lebanon. Unbelievably, we have a government that is learning by doing. The "Subject-Project" method is an excellent educational tool. It is good for teaching adolescents to build a house or a canoe or to recreate history. But the "Lebanese war" project should have been carried out and directed by professionals who understood what they are doing.

There is no point discussing now whether Israel should widen the offensive or not, because any military action requires civilian oversight, and it is evident that there would be nobody qualified to provide that oversight and leadership and to evaluate the success or failure of the IDF.

The post of Minister of Defense is probably the most sensitive government post in Israel. Mistakes can cost thousands of lives, as we learned in 1973. Whoever is in charge must have judgement, experience, knowledge and the authority to make his views carry the day.

Incredibly, Amir Peretz was given the post of Defense Minister more or less as patronage, so that he could prepare his planned future career as Prime Minister. Instead of keeping quiet on the sidelines and being suspected of being a fool, he insisted on speaking up and proving it. While rockets were raining down on Haifa and our sons were getting killed in conquering (and reconquering) Bint el Jbail, media accounts explained that Peretz was learning on the job. A "senior source" was quoted by Yediot Ahronot on July 27 as saying:

"What we are lacking is a defense leadership who will make decisions about the continuation of activities in Lebanon. Enough with the chatter. Somebody needs to make decisions. That apparently is us, so please make appropriate decisions."

But the chatter went on, and on, and on.

A Yediot Ahronot article of August 1 explained how Peretz was getting on the job tutoring, late at night:

...the thing is that Peretz never even cared about security issues..

Last Sunday, around midnight, a group of former senior officers secretly came to the bureau of Defense Minister Amir Peretz.... Each side presented their view. Peretz asked many questions, occasionally requesting a translation for a military term.

We can imagine these discussions. "Excuse me, that is very interesting, general. But could you please explain to me what is an APC and what are these anti-tank rockets we keep hearing about? Are they dangerous?"

The newspaper reported that Peretz is learning quickly, and is a bright student. Perhaps in 30 years he will know what someone like Ehud Barak knows, and in 50 years he will know what Ariel Sharon forgot. Meanwhile we are paying for his tuition, and someone must clean up the laboratory experiment he made in Lebanon. Olmert is a bigger version of Peretz it seems, and some others may be no better.

It is not just a problem of specific knowledge or judgement of specific persons. The wrong people were chosen for the job because the wrong criteria were used to select applicants. Instead of asking if Peretz will be good for the Defense Ministry, the question was "will the Defense Ministry be good for Peretz?" This did not happen by accident. All leaders are ego-involved. But Israel's earlier leaders were ego involved with advancing the cause of Israel and making the state secure. Our current leaders seem to be concerned only with advancing the cause of themselves and making their seat secure.

In the Middle East, expect the unexpected. Usually the unexpected is bad, but it might be that by some accident of fate, the Israeli government will be somehow saved from the results of its folly by a beneficent providence working its way through a UN resolution, a quirk of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or other natural disasters. However, that is not a basis for policy decisions.

Regardless of the ultimate political outcome of the Lebanese misadventure, having produced an ignominious disaster and a prodigiously wasteful and pointless fiasco, the government should resign, and elections should be held at the earliest practical date. The Labor Party would do well to select another leader as well. A commission of inquiry should also determine what changes must be made in the IDF, and in other Israeli institutions.

Hezbollah and Syria and Iran will undoubtedly claim victory, and the cause of moderate democratic government in Lebanon is probably lost for a while. For that we have to also blame France, who betrayed the Lebanese people to Iran, and the other permanent members of the Security Council who refuse to implement Security Council resolution 1559 and disarm Hezbollah. Hezbollah, resupplied and inspired by Iran and Syria, will renew their attacks, and there will be another generic war, but really it will be another battle in a conflict that has been going on for over half a century.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000497.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 6 comments


I have grave doubts as to whether the cease-fire will accomplish anything. As I see it, Hezbollah comes out the winner.

It does not appear that the international community has any will to disarm Hezbollah. So, I suspect there will be a brief respite and the rocket attacks will start all over again.

I've been from a reputable scholar over here (Bernard Lewis of Princeton University) that Iran may be planning an Armageddon attack against either Israel or the U.S. fleet in the Persian Gulf. Has any of this made it into Israeli media?

Posted by Phil Dillon @ 08/12/2006 07:35 PM CST

"We can imagine these discussions. 'Excuse me, that is very interesting, general. But could you please explain to me what is an APC and what are these anti-tank rockets we keep hearing about? Are they dangerous?'"

Priceless! The whole article is well written and well said.

Posted by Isaac Citrom @ 08/12/2006 10:09 PM CST

Thanks for simplified explanation of complex problems. I have a son on a U.S. ship in the Mid-East. I'm a Viet Nam veteran who wonders, are we getting into it again? A war of attrition that no one wins and just goes on and on and on. I think if there were two people left on the face of the Earth, they'd find something to fight over.

Posted by Art Hicks @ 08/15/2006 06:34 AM CST

Perhaps it would have been smart for the Israeli 'moderates' to see at the outset what was quite plain to everyone else in the world (outside America) and come out strongly against this misconceived war at the outset. A lot of lives could have been saved and Israel could have presented itself as magnanimous and humane, instead of looking both ineffectual and inhumane.

Regarding "Hezbollah, resupplied and inspired by Iran and Syria, will renew their attacks" - what attacks were these, exactly? Apart from a little crossborder skirmishing (with both sides behaving agressively on occasion) what attacks did Hezbollah make on Israel?

Here's Adam Schatz in the "New York Review of Books" in 2004:-

"When Nasrallah was asked whether he was prepared to live with a two-state settlement between Israel and Palestine, he said in interviews with both Seymour Hersh and me that he would not sabotage what is finally a "Palestinian matter""

It seems to me that a minimum requirement for a peace activist is to refrain from caricaturing the Offical Enemy in a way which allows the war party to continue setting the agenda. Going back to your statement about the wisdom of exercising rights, it doesn't really matter whether Nasrallah thinks Israel has the right to exist, as long as he doesn't propose to try and implement his views.

And finally, a ceasefire where one party declares its intention to assassinate the leaders of the other party is not a ceasefire in the commonly understood sense of the term. I think that's a matter which requires the attention of the peace camp also.

Posted by Chris @ 08/15/2006 05:14 PM CST

Morality is not on our side
By Ze'ev Maoz

"Let's start with a few facts. We invaded a sovereign state, and occupied its capital in 1982. In the process of this occupation, we dropped several tons of bombs from the air, ground and sea, while wounding and killing thousands of civilians. Approximately 14,000 civilians were killed between June and September of 1982, according to a conservative estimate. The majority of these civilians had nothing to do with the PLO, which provided the official pretext for the war.

In Operations Accountability and Grapes of Wrath, we caused the mass flight of about 500,000 refugees from southern Lebanon on each occasion. There are no exact data on the number of casualties in these operations, but one can recall that in Operation Grapes of Wrath, we bombed a shelter in the village of Kafr Kana which killed 103 civilians. The bombing may have been accidental, but that did not make the operation any more moral.

On July 28, 1989, we kidnapped Sheikh Obeid, and on May 12, 1994, we kidnapped Mustafa Dirani, who had captured Ron Arad. Israel held these two people and another 20-odd Lebanese detainees without trial, as "negotiating chips." That which is permissible to us is, of course, forbidden to Hezbollah"

Posted by jas @ 08/17/2006 12:14 AM CST

Dear Ami,

I disagree that France betrayed the Lebenese people were betrayed by France. The resolution called to what amount to an Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. To say Iran runs Lebanon simply because Israel did not get what it want is off. The Prime Minister of Lebanon wisely saw reality and knew it would not be benefecial for his people.

Unfortunately Israel and the U.S. should be blamed they wanted to disarm Hizbollah they couldn't. Don't blame France for listening to a Lebenese prime minister who knew Israel wanted to ocupy south Lebanon

Posted by Butros Dahu @ 08/17/2006 07:34 PM CST

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