Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Is Israel Winning?

Is Israel winning the war? They effectively declared war on Hezbollah when they attacked Lebanon's infrastructure and announced their goal of eliminating Hezbollah as a military force. Are the Israelis accomplishing their military goals. Does it look like Hezbollah is going to go the way of the Beider-Meinhof gang and other terrorist groups? What are the chances that Hezbollah is going to survive? Is there any way that Hezbollah will get stronger as a result of the war?

Of course, accomplishing goals isn't the only way to win. People can fall short and still be perceived as winning if they "beat expectations." If the Israelis are not eliminating Hezbollah, are they at least beating the expectations that people had for their military capacities? What about Hezbollah? Have they proven to be a stronger or weaker force than the global public imagined? Is Hezbollah winning or losing the expectations game?

The answer for the Israelis appears to be "no" on both counts. It doesn't look like the Israelis are going to accomplish their military goals. There are two ways for the Israelis to eliminate Hezbollah as a military force. The most obvious way to eliminate Hezbollah would be to invade Southern Lebanon and occupy the territory. Instead of invading Southern Lebanon, the Israelis seem to be contenting themselves with "pinpoint strikes" to uncover "outposts," "tunnels," and mines. If such tactics are successful, they would certainly make military operations more onerous for Hezbollah in the future, but that's a long way from eliminating Hezbollah as a military force.

The second way to eliminate Hezbollah is to intimidate or terrorize the Lebanese government into getting rid of Hezbollah itself. Given that the Israelis moved so quickly Lebanon's government and civilian infrastructure, this appears to be what they intended. However, this strategy never had much chance of succeeding. If Hezbollah could survive eighteen years of Israeli occupation during the 80's and 90's, there is little chance that the far weaker Lebanese government could defeat Hezbollah militarily. Of course, the chances of the Lebanese themselves eliminating Hezbollah are decreasing everyday as Israeli attacks further cripple the Lebanese government. The transportation system in Lebanon has been so degraded that the Lebanese people are having trouble getting food and medical supplies. Conducting a civil war against Hezbollah and the Shiite population seems out of the question.

The Israelis also have very little in the way of tactical "wins" over Hezbollah. The Israelis claim to have destroyed 10,000 Hezbollah rockets, but that claim seems specious. Likewise, the Israelis don't seem to be killing large numbers of Hezbollah fighters, assasinating Hezbollah leaders, or taking over Hezbollah territory. Hezbollah hasn't accomplished its military goals of forcing the Israelis into a prisoner exchange either, but it doesn't seem like the Israelis are winning militarily.

So, are the Israelis "exceeding expectations." The answer here is definitely not. This is because the expectations for Israel are so high. Israel is rightfully seen as having a tremendous military machine and Israel's military capacities have been thoroughly demonstrated in the decimation of Lebanon's civilian infrastructure. Unfortunately, for the Israelis, the expectation was that they would whip Hezbollah as easily as they also whipped the PLO. Because that's not been the case, it's pretty clear that the Israelis are "not meeting expectations" and that their stock is beginning to slip a little.

In fact, it's Hezbollah that's winning the expectation game. Hezbollah went well beyond any reasonable expectations for them when they managed to heavily damage an Israeli ship. Hezbollah has also been able to keep firing their primitive rockets into Israeli towns and cities. They've only killed 30 Israeli civilians (compared to the 300 Lebanese civilians killed by Israel), but every Israeli civilian killed has come as a shock whereas everybody knew that the Israelis could kill as many Lebanese civilians as they wanted.

Hezbollah seems to be gaining in incidental ways as well. Hezbollah's network of social services has performed well in the crisis and has functioned to relieve some of the misery caused by Israeli attacks. Hezbollah spokespeople are starting to appear on global news services like CNN and are sounding confident and smart.

As discussion turns toward ending the crisis, there is some chance that Hezbollah could emerge with a clear victory. If a sizable UN peacekeeping force is placed in Southern Lebanon, it will fulfill a goal of Lebanon to have a UN buffer between themselves and Israel. Given that peacekeepers would be deterring the Israelis much more than they would deter Hezbollah, the establishment of a large peacekeeping operation would mean that the whole conflict was a net win for Hezbollah and a net loss for Israel.

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