You can judge the success of a military or political campaign by the consistency of the message conveyed about goals and strategy. One measure of the failure of Israel’s strategy in southern Lebanon is the shifting sands of its goals vis a vis Hezbollah. When the war began 11 days ago, the first statements from the IDF and political echelon ambitiously called for the elimination of Hezbollah and “changing the rules” in Lebanon:
Israel’s military operation in Lebanon is designed to cripple Hezbollah by destroying its headquarters, weapons stockpiles and supply network, and eventually eliminating the militant group, Israeli officials and analysts said yesterday.
Targeting Hezbollah’s leadership is a secondary priority for the time being, they said, although Israel would not hesitate to act if it had credible intelligence regarding the whereabouts of the militia’s leaders.
“We are trying to create a new reality that would not enable Hezbollah to operate,” one Israeli official said.
—Washington Times, July 19, 2006
The NY Times notes changes in Israeli pronouncements about its campaign again Hezbollah:
A week ago, Israeli officials said their military had knocked out up to half of Hezbollah’s rocket launchers and suggested that another week or two would finish the job of incapacitating the Lebanese militia. That talk has largely stopped.
Hezbollah is still launching 100 rockets a day at Israel [another Israeli civilian was killed today by a Katyusha], nearly as many as it did at the start of the war. Soldiers return from forays into Lebanon saying the network of bunkers and tunnels is more sophisticated than expected. And Iranian-made long-range missiles apparently capable of hitting Tel Aviv remain in the Hezbollah arsenal.
“Two weeks after Israel set out to defeat Hezbollah, its military achievements are pretty limited,” lamented Yoel Marcus, a columnist and supporter of the war, in the daily Haaretz on Tuesday.
In other words, instead of starting out with a limited military operation with the goal of bloodying Hezbollah’s nose and projecting Israel’s deterrent power, the IDF began with a maximal strategy which has proven not just unrealistic, but unachievable. The result has been a change in rhetoric regarding Hezbollah. You no longer hear the generals boasting about the eventual elimination of Hezbollah. Now, unfortunately too late, they realize that they cannot defeat Hezbollah:
A government minister, Eitan Cabel, a former paratrooper, caused a stir on Sunday when he expressed disappointment in the performance and speed of the army. “I admit I had hoped for better from the army,” he said, arguing that it was illusory to try “completely to eliminate Hezbollah as an armed force in Lebanon.”
This statement from one of Ehud Olmert’s senior security advisors displays the utter confusion at the heart of Israel’s strategy:
Avi Dichter, Israel’s public security minister, said the military objective in southern Lebanon was to weaken Hezbollah to the point where it could not seriously threaten Israel from the border area.
“From an Israeli perspective, the target is not to totally dismantle Hezbollah,” said Mr. Dichter, a former director of the Shin Bet security agency. Israel, he said, was “hoping that somehow we’ll succeed in setting up a new situation between Israel and Hezbollah.”
Interesting how in a mere seven days the Israeli strategy morphed from destroying Hezbollah to “weakening” it; from dismantling it to “not totally dismantling it.” Dichter also expresses a vague hope that “somehow” Israel will set up a new dynamic between it and the Lebanese militants. That’s a far cry from the earlier confidence Israel expressed that it could “change the rules” in Lebanon.
It reminds me of the blithe early statements we heard about a U.S. plan to administer Iraq after our victory. If there was such a plan it certainly never was carried out, or at least not effectively. I’m afraid a senior minister who hopes that “somehow” Israel will achieve its goals is doing the Israeli people a great disservice. This is clearly a failed policy which even Dichter cannot enunciate clearly. It has no clearly achievable objectives and is a recipe for disaster.
This change from ringing confidence and bellicosity to chastened humility is precisely what has happened to the U.S. mission in Iraq. We went from “mission accomplished” to Bush’s current deer-in-the-headlights look whenever he talks about Iraq. Israel is due for the same type of rude awakening in Lebanon.