Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Roughly translated, the Hebrew word "michdal" means screw-up. It was all over the media after the Yom Kippur War in the context of all the intelligence failures that led to the surprise attack. Now that the Lebanon War (No. 2) has quieted down (for the time being), there will be much discussion about "michdal." Who screwed up, why, and how can we keep it from happening again?

P.M. Olmert assured us at the outset that the war would be quick if not easy, and would result in the return of the kidnapped soldiers and the total destruction of Hezbollah as a military threat to Israel. The war took a month, during which about a million residents of the north were displaced. Damage to civilian areas was extensive, and the economic disruption was intolerable. With a cease-fire in place, for the time being, the kidnapped soldiers remain in enemy hands, and Hezbollah's capability does not appear to be severely degraded; up until the cease fire over a hundred rockets were fired at the north every day. True, we gave back far more than we got in terms of damage, but in the Middle East perceptions are more important than realities. Hezbollah has declared victory, as have its patrons Syria and Iran. Its stature in the Arab world is enhanced immeasurably. Arabs are already entertaining the possibility of crushing Israel sometime soon. Hezbollah openly declares it has no intention of disarming, regardless of ceasefire agreements and U.N. resolutions, and the international community has no intention of disarming it by force. Iran and Syria can and will resupply it with all the armament Israel destroyed and then some. Since Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government, having the Lebanese Army deployed along the border is like having the fox guard the chicken coop. Neither it nor an international force led by the French (!) will keep Hezbollah from doing whatever it pleases. Israelis in Haifa and throughout the Galil will never feel truly secure. So what went wrong?

1. Israel's political leadership made the same mistake America's leadership made in Iraq, namely over-reliance on air power. Iraq shows that air power alone does not win wars; it prepares the battlefield but must be followed by boots on the ground and plenty of them. This is especially true when Hezbollah's rocket launcers are small, easily maneuverable and well hidden in civilian areas. The reserves should have been called up at the outset. Since Israel's economy cannot sustain a prolonged call-up of reserves, there should have been an all-out blitzkrieg operation as soon as the decision to go to war was made.

2. There was a perceived unwillingness on the Israeli side to take casualties. If 15 soldiers are killed in a day's fighting, the media play it up as the end of the world. Of course to us (but not to our enemies) every life is precious, and our hearts go out to the families of every soldier killed or wounded. But it is not the end of the world. Omaha Beach anyone? Antietam? Gettysberg? The London blitz? The casualties from this operation were proportionately far less than in the War of Independence in 1948-49. Again, in that part of the world perceptions count for more than realities. If Israel is perceived as reluctant to take casualties when its very existence is at stake, the enemy is emboldened to try to outlast us.

3. The military had its hands tied by two concepts that have hamstrung it since before the beginning of the state: havlaga (self-restraint) and tohar ha-nesheq (purity of arms). Taken together, they mean that Israel has to be the nice guy at all times. Israel must fight by the Queensberry rules while the enemy can gouge and bite. These concepts are suicidal when the enemy deliberately uses its civilians as human shields, attacking our restraint as a point of weakness. As soon as the decision to go to war was taken, the government should have declared all of Southern Lebanon a free-fire zone and given the civilian population 24 hours to leave or take the consequences. Warning every town that we're coming only warns the enemy to move its rocket launcers around. Click here for a similar analysis of the screwup in Iraq.

What now? A cease-fire is in place and seems to be holding, but Hezbollah is not destroyed and openly declares its intention to keep its arms and fight again. Residents of the north are returning to their homes, and the destruction will be repaired. But it is only a matter of time before Hezbollah and its Syrian and Iranian puppeteers decide to attack again, with missiles capable of reaching Tel Aviv. In that part of the world the loser must not only lose but perceive themselves and be perceived by others as losers. Hezbollah does not see itself as the loser, and is not seen as a loser in the Arab world. They think they can beat us, and they will soon try. Smart people learn from their mistakes. When the next round comes, we must go whole hog, go for broke and damn world opinion. Else why bother?

Click here for a New York Post editorial on the subject.


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