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2006-08-15,1:23 PM

Why Israel’s strategy in Lebanon is self defeating

By William Hardiker

Since the beginning of hostilities between Israel and Hizbullah, the latter has become more popular than ever across the Middle East and indeed garnered much public sympathy worldwide. Israel is clearly losing the public relations war whilst pursuing a strategy that is self defeating. The military campaign has displaced roughly a quarter of Lebanon’s population, caused billions of dollars in damage to infrastructure and killed well over a thousand people, mostly civilian. The invasion has empowered Hizbullah and its allies in Lebanon and weakened those political factions sympathetic to both Israel and the United States. The conflict has also cemented the perception that Israel and the US are ‘joined at the hip’ and that that Israel is merely America's attack dog in the region.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi Shi'i cleric Muqtaba Al-Sadr has reportedly set up recruitment centres in Baghdad to send volunteers to fight Israel in Lebanon. Naturally there is a higher risk than ever that Shi'i forces in Iraq will attack US troops stationed there as a consequence of Israel's actions. The question that begs to be answered has to be, “and for what?” .Victory is impossible, much as it was against the PLO in Northern Ireland for the British. Israel’s security will not be improved, let alone secured. Despite all the talk of Israel acting to end a 'terrorist threat' on its northern border by Hizbullah, the border between the countries has been relatively quiet since the Israeli Defence Force withdrew from Lebanon in May 2000. According to Middle East expert Augustus Richard Norton from Boston University, six Israeli civilians have been killed in the six years prior to the Israeli invasion and five in an August 2002 Palestinian operation that was likely aided by Hizbullah. During the same period, twenty five Israeli soldiers were killed by Hizbullah attacks; this number includes the eight soldiers killed in the July 12 incident that triggered the current invasion. Israel has also destroyed the perception that it has absolute military superiority over its Arab enemies and neighbours. Four weeks after the beginning of current hostilities, Israel has been unable to hold territory in Lebanon and Hizbullah continues to strike at cities with more than a hundred rockets per day. In military terms it is a stand-off, whilst from a public relations point of view it appears a crushing defeat for Israel and its proxy master, the United States.

During the war against Vietnam by the United States, a Communist leader is said to have proclaimed that the US could kill ten Viet Cong for every American that died and yet still lose the war. The same is true for Israel’s war against Hizbullah. The reasons in military terms are simple. Bombing from the air is ineffective; occupation on the ground has to be permanent, and inevitably involves an unacceptable number of casualties. The most Israel can do is conduct repeated punitive expeditions, involving the loss of many innocent lives. This in turn will only strengthen Hizbullah while damaging Israel’s economy, relations with the world community and America’s standing in the region. Though Hizbullah is portrayed and referred to in the mainstream media, not to mention by US allied politicians, to be simply a “terrorist organization” this is in fact not the case at all. Hizbullah is in fact much more akin to the Irish Republican Army and its political wing, Sinn Fein which America supported for so long in its fight against the British. Hizbullah is a political force with massive political support in its own community and beyond. The idea that the British could have eliminated or disarmed the IRA through bombing raids or occupying the Irish Republic was always a self evidently ridiculous notion. Rather, the end of the IRA’s activities came only after a long and arduous negotiating process involving concessions on both sides.

Israel needs to re-think its entire strategy, not only in Lebanon but in the entire Middle East. Israeli strategy has comprehensively failed in Lebanon just as it has failed in Palestine. In the meantime, Israel must withdraw from the Lebanon and a large International peace keeping force be deployed in southern Lebanon to protect Israel from attack on its northern border.

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