A Loss for the Israelis

Perhaps the only modern war in the Mideast that can be said to have led to a continuing peace was the Yom Kippur War in October 1973. After the humiliation of the Six Day War when Israeli forces captured the Sinai from Egypt, the West Bank from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria, Anwar Sadat, the President of Egypt, realized that it would be impossible to make peace with Israel and save face. Any peace would have to appear to be an agreement among equals.

Israeli complacency and military hubris grew in direct proportion to Egypt’s embarrassment. Israel was convinced that its vaunted intelligence service would make them aware of any planned attacked well in advance. During the Six Day War, Arab troops were undisciplined and ill-trained. At the first contact they retreated. The behavior convinced the Israelis that they could deal with any Arab military threat.

Enamored of their prowess, Israel was surprised by the military assault launched by Egypt and Syria on the Jewish holiday day. For the few days, the Arab armies had the momentum as the Israelis were caught on their heels. The Arab troops were aggressive, they effectively used new anti-tank weapons, and the Israeli Air Force was largely neutralized by new anti-aircraft missiles provided by the Soviets.

The Israelis counterpunched by devising new tactics to circumvent the effectiveness anti-tank weapons. After the Egyptians pushed too far ahead of their anti-aircraft installations, the Israeli Air Force decimated columns of Egyptians. In a counter attack, the Israelis pushed across the Suez Canal and were marching to Cairo. With the Egyptians still on the east side of the Suez and the Israelis wrapping around the southern end of the Suez, a cease fire could be called with both sides on fairly even turns. The Israelis were clearly on the offensive and the Egyptians regained a measure of military respect lost after their pitiful performance of seven years earlier.

In the aftermath of the war, Sadat had the courage to travel to Jerusalem and make peace with the Israelis. The Israelis made a trade of land for peace that has lasted. For his efforts, Sadat was assassinated by the same radical Islam that has since come to power in Iran and animates Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. The land-for-peace-formula has been employed since then in Lebanon and Gaza, but no peace followed. The Israelis offered land for peace in the West Bank and rewarded by the civil unrest known as the Intifada. The difference is that there is not another Anwar Sadat genuinely seeking peace.

In some ways the current conflict of the Israelis with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon has similarities with the Yom Kippur War. Israel was convinced that they could make easy work of the Arabs, but the Hezbollah fighters have fought tenaciously and made life complicated for Israelis by deliberately mixing among civilians. Israeli intelligence was surprised by the quantity and sophistication of weapons that had been smuggled into southern Lebanon from Iran via Syria.

After initially trying to use surgical strikes to push out Hezbollah fighters, Israel was amassing troops for a large more overwhelming initiative. At this writing this initiative is being thwarted by the cease fire agreement signed by the UN Security Council and agreed to, at least for now, by Lebanon and Israel. The extent to which Hezbollah will comply with any agreement is not clear, given that the UN Resolution 1559 which called for the disarmament of militias in southern Lebanon was ignored by Hezbollah.

In the current conflict, if the result can be spun as a victory by Hezbollah (a draw equals a Hezbollah public relations victory), it will not, as in the case of Sadat and the Yom Kippur War, provide an opportunity for peace. In this situation anything other than a clear victory by Israel, will embolden Hezbollah and other terrorists.

At the end of the Yom Kippur War, Israel was racing into Egypt just as Israel is now racing towards the Latani River, the original goal of the Israelis. Unless Israel is able to hobble Hezbollah before the cease fire takes place, it will continue to threaten northern Israel. If an all out assault by Israel has not cleaned up southern Lebanon, there is little hope that the Lebanese army even aided by UN troops will do so.

When this conflict began, the Bush Administration claimed it did not want a return to the status quo, where a cease fire did not bring security and simply led to more violence later. At this point, it is difficult to recognize much of a distinction between the status quo before the conflict and the present cease fire agreement. If that proves to be the case, it will be a loss for the US, Israel, and the Bush Administration.

For contrasting view points check “An Unmitigated Disaster” by Caroline Glick and “UN Resolution Meets Government Goals” by Herb Keinon.

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