Winning: Lebanon Check List

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August 30, 2006: In the weeks since the cease-fire in Lebanon, news of Israeli shortcomings have emerged. This criticism of the Israeli Defense Force's performance has continued. However, many of the critics are confusing the failure of the Israelis to achieve their immediate objectives with a total loss on all levels of fighting a war. This is not unusual, particularly when one side's media and society is much more open than the other's, creating a distorted media picture.
This is not a new phenomena in time of war. For example, look at the Battle of the Coral Sea in May, 1942. In that engagement, the United States lost one fleet carrier (Lexington), an oiler, and a destroyer, and had another carrier (Yorktown) suffer damage. Japanese casualties were one light carrier sunk (Shoho), and a fleet carrier damaged badly enough it could not participate in the Battle of Midway (Shokaku). The initial impression by a person would be that the United States lost that battle. However, the initial impression is misleading. In the case of the battle of the Coral Sea, Japan was turned back, and cancelled its operation to invade the south coast of New Guinea. Japanese losses in terms of aircraft and aircrew were so severe that another carrier, Zuikaku, was also unable to participate in the Battle of Midway, which was a decisive American victory.
The same is true of the fighting in Lebanon. The effects go beyond what happened on the battlefield. Israel did not meet its immediate objectives (the rescue of the kidnapped soldiers). However, this is only part of the effects. It is true that Israel had things go wrong in the war. As a result, there is a lot of second-guessing of the Israeli government going on among pundits and bloggers. It is forgotten that Hizbollah shot off over four thousand rockets into Israel, and didn't have much to show for it. The terrorist group was also forced to retreat in the face of the Israelis, even though the IDF was clearly pulling its punches. The Israelis captured enough materials to prove that Syria and Iran were actively supplying Hizbollah. Perhaps most damaging, the blogosphere discovered that Hizbollah was staging, altering, or faking numerous photos. The most recent were photos of an alleged missile attack by Israeli forces on Reuters vehicles.
These are significant strategic blows to Iran, Syria, and Hizbollah. Iran and Syria have now been proven to be sponsoring and supporting Hizbollah ' particularly due to materials from this round of fighting (some of which were captured, and others were fragments from the very rockets and missiles Hizbollah fired at Israeli targets). In a very real sense, the leaders of Syria and Iran are in much worse strategic positions than they were two months ago. Two months ago, their sponsorship of Hizbollah was known, but the extent of that sponsorship was not known. Now, not only is the extent of Iranian and Syrian assistance known, but the knowledge was gained in a manner that did not compromise sources of intelligence.
Hizbollah, Syria, and Iran have been hurt, too. The damage to them is not as apparent due to much tighter controls on the media in their countries than there are in the west, but damage has occurred. The recent admission by Hizbollah boss Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, that he had no idea Israel would react so forcefully to the kidnapping of the soldiers, and that he wouldn't have done it had he realized what the response would be, is one indication of this. Hizbollah is probably more unpopular in Lebanon now than they were when the fighting started. Also, Syria and Iran now appear to have supported an organization led by a person who admits he misjudges the consequences of his actions at best (at worst, he doesn't consider the consequences at all). That is not a good thing for these two countries, which have used Hizbollah as a proxy against Israel.
Hizbollah obtained a short-term public-relations/information victory against Israel in about a month of fighting. However, this is a very limited victory that came with heavy costs for the terrorist group and its state sponsors. The present hand-wringing in the blogosphere is obscuring this, and making the situation look much worse than it actually is. ' Harold C. Hutchison (haroldc.hutchison@gmail.com)

 


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