The recent prisoner swap marked the end of the Second Lebanon War. Everything has been seemingly said about it, all the lessons have been learned, and all the conclusions have been drawn. Senior officials were replaced, the army went back to training vigorously, and even the government is attempting to adopt more appropriate ways when faced with important decisions. There is a sense that if we shall be forced to fight the third Lebanon war, we will be much more successful. But is that indeed the case?
In my estimate, if we face another war in Lebanon, its results would be similar to those of the previous war. Our own improvements may be counterbalanced by improvements on the other side. As we know, Israel has no way of addressing the rocket fire. Moreover, Hizbullah has more rockets than it did in 2006, and more importantly, many of them have a range that would enable the group to keep firing even if we conquer all the area between the border and the Litani River.
Therefore, in tactical terms, our situation has not improved. Yet this is not the main problem. The major issue is the one that was also at play in the previous war – I am talking about the wrong answer to the following key question: Who is the enemy?
The State of Israel declared war on the wrong enemy, and therefore it failed to win. It is impossible to defeat an effective guerilla group when the following is true: It operates from the territory of another country; it enjoys the full backing and support of that country; that country (Lebanon) is immune to an Israeli response.
If those are the characteristics of the next war too – we shall lose. We shall lose because we will agree to participate in a game whose rules serve everyone: Hizbullah, the Lebanese government, the United Nations, and France – yet they don’t serve us.
What is the real reality in Lebanon? Reality is that Hizbullah and its “rivals” are highly coordinated when it comes to presenting a mirage whereby Hizbullah represents the “bad guys” while the Lebanese government represents the “good guys.” In case of war, Israel would only be allowed to fight the “bad guys,” but it won’t be allowed to target the interests of the “good guys.” The trouble is that it is almost impossible to only hit the “bad guys,” while the “good guys” are immune to us.
Lebanese puppetsThe “good guys” and “bad guys” cooperate happily. The Lebanese government (and people) allowed Hizbullah to be the ruler. The true military force is the Hizbullah army, the important decisions are taken by Hizbullah, the border with Israel on its Lebanese side is controlled only by Hizbullah, and the power to decide whether there will be aggression from the Lebanese side is Hizbullah’s alone.
In order to prevent us from effectively fighting the Hizbullah state, the Lebanese made sure to place puppets at seemingly important posts. These puppets safeguard Lebanon’s interests (which are so important to the West) and therefore we are not allowed to target the Lebanese state. We are only allowed to fight Hizbullah.
The only good thing that happened in the last war was the relative damage caused to Lebanon’s population. The destruction of thousands of homes of “innocents” preserved some of Israel’s deterrent power. The only way to prevent another war is to make it clear that should one break out, Lebanon may be razed to the ground. Not only will the Lebanese government fear it, so would Hizbullah, which is so concerned about maintaining its legitimacy – this will deter the group, if it realizes that aggression on its part would result in destruction that would outrage the population and turn it against Hizbullah.
Israel must first and foremost make this clear to its allies. The most effective way to convince anyone is to tell the truth, and the truth is we cannot defeat Hizbullah as long as it is being supported by the Lebanese state. Therefore, if there is again aggression on the part of Lebanon, Israel would have no choice but to fight against the state that is encouraging aggression in practice. Those who had any doubt about the position of the Lebanese state should be reminded of the warm reception for murderer Samir Kuntar on the part of the Lebanese president and government ministers.
Is this the message relayed to the French president during his recent visit to Israel? This is doubtful. I assume that our senior officials preferred to agree with the guest that Hizbullah are the “bad guys” while the Lebanese government constitute the “good guys.” As long as this is the message, we should not be surprised when we lose next time.
Major-General (Res.) Giora Eiland is the former head of the National Security Council