Eye on the Middle East Nov/Dec 2007

A recent report out of the Middle East could provide a formula for how not to run a war.

Following the cease-fire that interrupted the battle between Hezbollah and Israeli forces in Lebanon in 2006, terrorist leaders trumpeted their “great victory.” From Hezbollah’s point of view, the battle was a stunning defeat for Israel and a harbinger of the ultimate elimination of the Jewish state.

However, we have now heard another view that, if correct, changes everything and demonstrates that things aren’t always what they seem.

On July 31 The Jerusalem Post ran a story titled “Hizbullah [sic] officer: We would’ve given up.” He said his men would have surrendered if the war had lasted 10 more days.

In an interview aired on Israel’s Channel 10, the officer said, “The ceasefire acted as a life jacket for the organization [Hezbollah].” He said the terrorists were running perilously low on food, ammunition, and supplies, so much so that had the conflict continued for only 10 more days, Hezbollah would have been forced to run up the white flag. Then Hezbollah would be busy today licking its wounds rather than threatening to launch a new war on behalf of its Iranian and Syrian benefactors.

Since the 2006 war, Israel’s political leaders have attempted to convince the country that the standoff actually had been a victory for the Israel Defense Forces.

Whatever the facts, a few lessons emerge that are much needed in these turbulent days of attack and defend.

(1) It is folly to attempt to direct a war from a statehouse with an eye on the polls and prospects for reelection. On this point we can draw a lesson from the American Civil War of the 1860s. When Abraham Lincoln decided to cleanse the Union army of incompetent commanders and turn the combat prerogatives over to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and the army, things began to change. Grant’s philosophy was to pursue the enemy, giving him no rest until he had no choice but to surrender.

This action gave naysayers a chance to accelerate their cries for President Lincoln’s political scalp by calling for a negotiated, stalemate peace. Mr. Lincoln, however, possessed the character to risk his career for the greater good of the country. Some 150 years later, we remember and revere Abraham Lincoln. There are no statues in Washington commemorating the achievements of his detractors.

(2) It is also folly to believe every negative report you hear. Radical Arab elements, whatever the facts, never admit defeat but alchemize every military trouncing into a sterling victory. Consider the Six-Day War of 1967. While Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s forces were being pummeled by the Israelis, Nasser sent messages to Jordan’s King Hussein claiming to be winning big. If Hussein wanted to wear a garland when victory was declared, Nasser told him, he would have to get into the fight. Hussein believed the lie and lost the West Bank and Jerusalem.

After Egyptian and Syrian forces scored initial gains in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, they were handed a devastating, humiliating thrashing by the Israelis. Nevertheless, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and the Egyptian army celebrated annually the military action that would better have been forgotten. While commemorating the eighth anniversary of Egypt’s “achievements” in the war, Sadat was gunned down as he sat in a reviewing stand.

In short, wars are better left to the military. We must never allow the enemy to outfox our leaders by convincing timorous elements that they have more tough than bluff.

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