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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Mark Helprin

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Mark Helprin

Last Build Date: Tue, 10 Oct 2006 00:58:36 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

The War in Lebanon

Tue, 10 Oct 2006 00:58:36 -0600

With the loss of four sailors and minor damage to a frigate, the Lebanese navy blockades Israel's coasts with 100% effectiveness. More than a thousand Israelis are killed, four times that number wounded, and a quarter of the Jewish guerrillas slain in combat. Because the guerrillas choose to fire their rockets amid the civilian population, the homes of almost a million Jews are razed by the Lebanese air force, the Israeli economy comes to a halt, foreigners are evacuated, and the world looks on in horror. Meanwhile, its own economy humming, Lebanon deploys in the battle zone on average less than 2% of its army, of which 118 fall in combat. Thirty-nine Lebanese die in the Israeli guerrillas' barrage of 4,000 missiles, a kill rate of less than 1%. Lebanon is able to destroy more than 3,000 of the remaining 6,000 missiles, including almost all those of greater range, putting to rest the guerrillas' threat to attack Beirut. The guerrillas and their supporters repeatedly beg for a cease-fire. The Israeli prime minister cries that his country has been destroyed, and weeps on camera. Israel is blockaded by sea, its other links to the world cut at will by the Lebanese air force. The Lebanese army remains in key positions in the north of the country, and the world's powers, great and small, sympathetic and not, look on both unwilling and unable to intervene, finally coming to Israel's aid only on the stated condition that Israel accept the presence of alien troops on its soil to disarm the guerrillas and protect Lebanon from further incursions. Who won? Unrealistic Expectations To reflect the common wisdom in regard to the real war that has just taken place in Lebanon, one would have to say, absurdly, that in the fictional example Israel won. For the whole world and Israel itself perceives a Hezbollah victory, even if in a blind test as above, the judgment most certainly would be different. This is explicable on many levels. With the same kind of intellectual lethargy that led to the obligatory description of the proposed international force as robust (I hope never to hear the word again), people who do not pretend to knowledge of either the Arab-Israeli conflict or military affairs habitually declare that Israel is invincible. Insensitive to fact, variation, potential orders of battle, or the effects of nuclear weapons, they have been saying this since the Six-Day War of 1967. That war, the 100-hour 1956 Sinai Campaign, and the 1976 Entebbe operation are responsible for expectations that Israel produces miracles every time it takes to the field. These decisive victories were a surprise to many, who were shocked that the Jews, whom the Russian Empire's Cantonist Decrees of the 19th century had subjected to 25 years or more compulsory military service, had a military tradition and could hold their own in battle. And thus the swing of the pendulum from irrational contempt to irrational awe. Irrational because even in 1967, in a war that borders on the miraculous perhaps more than any other, the struggles for Jerusalem and the Golan were hard fought, costly, and closely run. Irrational because for Israel the 1948 War of Independence dragged on with high casualties and much destruction, and left it with borders that were a strategical nightmare. Irrational because the War of Attrition spanned several difficult years and brought Israel no gains whatsoever. Irrational because in the 1973 War Israel came perilously close to extinction. And irrational because none of the campaigns in Lebanon has been anything but slow and bloody, and collectively they have given birth not to miracles but to the Hezbollah garrison that in this war Israel was compelled to reduce. Perhaps surprisingly, because now and then they pay for it dearly, the Israelis themselves are prone to the same unrealistic expectations. And in this war these were supercharged by their new prime minister, a man of civic rather than military affairs, who, when the most that could be achieved was Hezbollah's reduction, promised its destruction. Contrast this with the [...]