Tuesday August 15, 2006


Israel hoped for victory that would be clean, clear and decisive. The modern battlefield and complexities of international relations do not seem able to provide the good old fashion total victory, like against Nazi Germany or Japan in 1945. Even the successful American campaign in Iraq with the fall of Saddam is far from clear victory. Israel was hoping for another “Six-day war” in Lebanon. In the end, the IDF understood that military campaigns are determined by capturing the next hill. In the modern battle field where armies face guerilla warriors, capturing the next hill is a lot easier than holding on to it. Israel’s biggest casualties in this war were battles for the same hills that were already captured only a day or two before.  Decisive military victories are not so easy to achieve anymore, and in the end, it is the use of other items in the international relations “tool box” that determine whether or not military campaigns pay off.


War is only one part of the battle for changing the political realities on the ground. Wars often create new political and diplomatic opportunities.  In the aftermath of the “six-day war” Israel announced that it was waiting for a phone call from the Arab leaders to exchange territories for peace.  King Hussein did call, but he demanded everything, including East Jerusalem and Israel said no. Sadat’s attempts to reach out diplomatically were also rejected stating that “Sharm el Sheikh without peace is preferable to peace without Sharm el Sheikh” and we ended up with the “Yom Kippur war”.  In the end, the Yom Kippur war was a huge military victory, but the price paid, economically and in blood, was much too heavy to bear. The political opportunity created then war was the Sadat visit to Jerusalem and the Israeli-Egyptian peace.


The Lebanon war of 1982 was another huge military victory for Israel.  The IDF swept through Lebanon, occupied Beirut, and led to expelling the PLO from Lebanon. But it also gave birth to Hizbollah and to 18 years of bloody and painful occupation of southern Lebanon.  Israel’s rush to put an end to the Lebanese fiasco after 18 years led to the unilateral withdrawal that gave birth to the Palestinian al Aqsa intifada.


The first intifada led to the political opportunities of the Madrid and Oslo processes, but these were not sufficient to produce the end-game acceptable enough to both sides to put an end to the conflict. Vis-à-vis the Palestinians, we returned to the use of warfare with the second intifada. Militarily, Israel had no problems re-conquering all of the Palestinian territories, but that did not give Israel the decisive victory over the enemy and at least politically, we find ourselves in an unbearable stalemate waiting for the next round, militarily or politically.


Israel’s fighting ability and technology far over powers the Hizbolllah yet Hizbollah is able to present itself as the winner, despite the significant blows that it received and the great losses of life and property. While Naser also declared victory in 1967, Hizbollah’s claims of victory are significantly different that those of Naser. In the aftermath of this war it will be important for Hizbollah to continue to retain its ability to claim victory which will be the best guarantee that the next round will not happen.


Israel too needs to be able to declare victory.  It seems that with all of the criticism against the army, the generals and the politicians who made the tactical decisions in this war, it will be difficult for most Israelis to feel that we won militarily.  Victory for Israel must be claimed in the political outcome in Lebanon.  Israel has a direct interest in the full implementation of UN Resolution 1701 and should do everything possible to ensure its full cooperation towards that goal.  It is natural for the military to push forward with force in the final hours of the campaign, but it is completely without value in the real strategic view of the situation and endangers to impending ceasefire. Capturing the next hill from which we will only withdrawal from hours later has not value and will only cause more unnecessary casualties on both sides. 


All attention must now be placed on working will all of the parties, especially the Government of Lebanon which now has to send it forces to the south at the same time that Israel pulls back to the international border. For Israel, political victory can be claimed if the Government of Lebanon becomes the main victor of this war.  Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has emerged as one of the main important players and one of the hopes for Lebanon. His emotions and commitment to a strong Lebanon are admirable and Israeli leaders should learn not to mock those with whom we should now work to achieve real peace.


Israel should be interested in a strong Lebanese government. Israel should want to negotiate with that Government. Israel should state clearly that it want to negotiate the prisoner exchange with the Government of Lebanon as well as the future of the Shebaa farms. Victory will come for both Israel and Lebanon if down the road Israeli-Lebanese peace will be reached - not on the battle front, but in the political and diplomatic arena.


Gershon Baskin is the Israeli-CEO of IPCRI, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information,