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To Win, Make Them Know They Are Defeated

By David Warren

George Friedman, the well-informed if often too-clever-by-half mind behind Stratfor, the American intelligence consultants, was told by several of his Israeli contacts to "expect some surprises". So was I by mine. And Mr Friedman has spent this last week admitting that he is, indeed, surprised. For he can make no sense of Israel's battle plan against Hezbollah. Neither can I.

It made perfect sense this time last week. It appeared the Israelis were closing all exit routes to Hezbollah, in preparation for a large invasion to wipe them out. The number of troops the Israelis had called up suggested a very large operation. They are still calling up reserves, but most of the regulars are waiting for orders. The Israeli incursion has been extremely modest (if bloody); the air war goes on and on.

A good sign, for an observer partial to Israel, is that while Syria and Iran have been calling for a ceasefire, Israel has not. The Israelis must think their air strikes are achieving something. No journalists can see inside the southern Lebanese inferno (the Israeli army does not accommodate embeds), and my own sources are second-hand. The only thing I can say with confidence, is that most of the action remains ground-to-air, from one side, and air-to-ground from the other.

One moment Prime Minister Olmert says Israel is prepared for a battle to the death, the next he starts talking about creating a border security zone only two kilometres wide -- which would be as if the Germans attacked the Maginot line, but not France.

There is speculation, still, that the Israelis are pulling a huge ruse -- exaggerating their difficulties to build Hezbollah's false confidence, before delivering the crushing blow. I can't believe this. The Israeli political class consists almost entirely of big-mouths, and you can't keep a secret among them.

Moreover, I hear alarming reports to suggest internal confusion; and worse, that Ehud Olmert is out of his depth -- thinking politically when his problem is military.

I needn't quote the phrase, "weak and stupid", from any private correspondent, for it is said often enough of their entire political class by some Israeli media. I am myself amazed, and troubled, by how many Israeli officials continue to speak as if the goal were a trade-off with Israel's mortal enemies. But the thing about mortal enemies is, there's nothing to trade but your head. Here is my horrible thought: If "liberalism" can survive under such intense conditions, as those to which Israel has been exposed for nearly sixty years, it can survive until the West is extinct.

Morale is the issue here. Always crucial in warfare, it becomes the whole object in struggling against guerrillas and terrorists.

The word "morale" shares the root of "moral", and "mores", and pertains to character and conduct. The cadres of Hezbollah genuinely believe, in their twisted 7th-century way, that they are morally superior to the Israelis, and that this is proved when the Israelis mostly bomb them, and shy from engaging them man-to-man. So their morale is actually improved by the bombing, whatever their losses. They can recruit more, they can import new weapons in the course of time. The Israelis must make them know they are defeated, and this can only be done on the ground.

Hezbollah's way of war (as that of all Islamist factions) is founded on fear, not body counts. If they are assured the Israelis fear them, they will continue to attack. They sue for peace when they believe their enemy has lost his fear -- as Hamas were doing in Gaza, where the Israelis sent in divisions. (But now Mr Olmert has pulled those forces back, so that Hamas begins to think it has won again.)

The problem, for Israel as for the West, is not just Hezbollah, or Hamas, but all future Islamist terror brigades. Every pulled punch against Hezbollah and Hamas is an inspiration to Iran, and to aspiring Muslim "martyrs" everywhere, to raise new brigades, and find new methods of instilling fear in us, until we crack and run.

That is why, for the Israelis, anything that resembles an act of appeasement or retreat -- such as withdrawing Jewish settlements -- must be forsworn. There is nothing they can do to make the Arabs like them; the strategic question is instead, "What will crush their morale?" Ditto in the larger "war against terror".

Egypt and Jordan did not come to terms with the state of Israel, in 1979, because they suddenly developed a soft spot for Zionism. They did so when they realized they couldn't budge Israel, let alone drive her into the sea. Peace came when they gave up trying.

otiosus@sympatico.ca

© Ottawa Citizen


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