- The Washington Times - Monday, August 14, 2006

It is no exaggeration to say that Israel today is entering one of the most dangerous periods in its history. The radical Islamist regime in Tehran commanding a population more than 10 times Israel’s size, its coffers swelled by rising oil and gas prices is ascendant: It flouts U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding it halt its nuclear weapons program. Now, in the wake of the “cease-fire” barring offensive Israeli military operations against Tehran’s client Hezbollah, the terrorist group can claim, with substantial accuracy, to have prevailed twice on the battlefield with Israel over the past six years.

Israelis on the right and left are coming to the conclusion that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government’s inept prosecution of the war against Hezbollah has left Israel in a much more dangerous, vulnerable position to confront the Islamofascist threat from the north.

Israel’s failure to meet the Hezbollah challenge will likely have major implications for Israel’s value as an ally to the United States. “Part of the reckoning will be our reputation as a strategic partner, when we tell the Americans, ‘Give us the tools and we’ll do the job,’” Itamar Rabinovich, Israeli ambassador to the United States under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in the 1990s, told the New York Times. “Part of our self-image is of military miracle workers, and we didn’t do that this time.” There is no pleasant way to say this: Over the past six and a half years, Israel’s handling of the Hezbollah threat from Lebanon is a compendium of failure and self-delusion by governments of the right, left and center that have emboldened Israel’s enemies and endangered its people. Ever since Hezbollah chased Israel out of Lebanon on May 24, 2000, there have been continuing provocations on the border: random shooting attacks that killed Israelis, kidnappings of Israeli soldiers and Katyusha rocket attacks. Time and again, Israel restricted itself to retaliatory airstrikes but little else. A 2004 exchange of hundreds of imprisoned terrorists for an Israeli businessman and three soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah further emboldened the terrorists.

Prior to the July 12, 2006, attack in which Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, setting off the current conflict, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, spoke openly of Hezbollah’s intent to kidnap more Israeli soldiers to exchange for imprisoned terrorists.When Hezbollah snatched the soldiers, Sheikh Nasrallah apparently believed that the Israeli response would again be a weak “proportional” one.

Instead, Mr. Olmert surprised him by launching a 33-day military campaign aimed at dislodging Hezbollah from southern Lebanon, severely damaging it as a military force capable of threatening Israel and killing its leadership.

Although Israel succeeded in killing hundreds of terrorists, destroying numerous Hezbollah bases and armories and pushing its forces a few miles farther away from the border, Sheikh Nasrallah and most of Hezbollah’s leadership have survived.

Hezbollah remains a viable fighting force, capable of firing hundreds of rockets into Israel each day right up to the end of the war. Despite the arms embargo placed on Hezbollah by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, IDF Chief of Military Intelligence Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin acknowledged Sunday that Hezbollah will be reinforced in the future with weapons from Syria and Iran.

Moreover, Hamas representatives say openly that Hezbollah’s success in standing up to the IDF can serve as the springboard for a new wave of violence in the Palestinian territories.

The Kadima Party, created in November by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his protege, Mr. Olmert, could be the number one casualty of failure to defeat Hezbollah in Lebanon. Kadima leaders have spoken of the need to rise above the preoccupation with holding territory and the notion that military men were uniquely suited to lead a country that has been in a state of war since its inception.

Ari Shavit, a left-leaning columnist for Ha’aretz, wrote on Saturday that Hezbollah “surprised us this summer with the low level of national leadership,” which included “scandalous strategic bumbling.” Israelis, Mr. Shavit continued, “were drugged by political correctness.” Israeli elites and the Israeli government “did not have the tools to deal with the reality of an inter-religious and inter-cultural conflict. It made the baseless assumption that the occupation [of the Palestinian territories] is the source of evil. It assumed that it is the occupation that is preventing peace and causing unrest.”

On the political right, former Minister of Defense Moshe Arens, a respected elder statesman, declares that Mr. Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Amir Peretz proved “not fit to govern Israel in these trying times.” As “the war they so grossly mismanaged wore on, as northern Israel received its daily dose of 150-200 rockets, the Galilee was destroyed and burned to the ground, over a million Israelis sat in shelters or abandoned their homes and both civilian and military casualties mounted gradually the air went out of” Mr. Olmert and his colleagues. Then, Mr. Arens says, they used the fig leaf of a Security Council resolution to extricate them from the war they were incapable of winning.

In the coming months, Israelis have difficult choices to make. One of the most difficult, wrenching decisions will involve whether Mr. Olmert’s government, which is less than five months old, is capable of leading the nation at a time of tremendous, existential danger.


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