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Seeing Through the Fog of War By: Kenneth R. Timmerman
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, August 10, 2006

Jerusalem, Israel (Aug. 9, 2006) – The debate raging in Israel these days is how far and how fast to push into Lebanon, and how to define victory once the phase of intense military operations is over.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has already changed military strategy twice in four weeks of fighting. On Tuesday, they assigned an “over-seer” from the general staff to second-guess Maj. Gen. Uri Adom, the operational commander in the north. None of these are signs of a well-planned war.

The Israeli press is full of reports of disputes within the General Staff, disputes within the Cabinet, poorly-planned operations, and pulled punches. Some have suggested publicly that Israel is losing this war.

Former Mossad Chief Efraim Halevy said Tuesday that Israel will ultimately emerge as the victor. "But we have to make sure that our enemies will not be able to project the image that they are similarly successful. This is very important for Israel's deterrence image. We must engrave in the mind of the enemy that it has suffered a serious setback,” he said.

But even this measure of victory may be beyond Israel’s grasp. Israel’s enemies will claim victory no matter how stunning their defeat. If the Arab states had any understanding of military realities, they would have conceded defeat in 1948 and gone on to make their own deserts bloom. Instead, they have poured a colossal fortune down the drain – trillions and trillions of dollars in oil revenues – to pursue a doomed jihad against a Jewish state whose existence they can never accept, even today.

So let’s step back from the depressed news coverage that suggests Israel is losing this war - because Israel will never win the propaganda war:  not against the Arabs, the Islamo-fascists, or the Europeans.

Here is a short list of what Israel has accomplished after one month of fighting. These are not perfect achievements. Nor are they complete. (There is no complete victory against terrorist forces, as Ariel Sharon learned after smashing the PLO in Lebanon in 1982.) But real capabilities have been destroyed and these are important victories.

€ The massive arsenal supplied to Hezbollah by Iran has been almost entirely wiped out.

While some news agencies have mis-reported that Iranian rockets continue to hit Haifa, in fact, as Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld told me after Sunday’s deadly rocket strikes that killed 15 Israelis, “only a handful” of Iranian Fajr-3 rockets have hit Israel during the entire conflict.

What happened to those Iranian rockets? Israel took most of them out on Day One of the fighting, senior military officials say.

Through good intelligence, they managed to identify the location of the launchers before they could be used. “We made this our top priority,” a military intelligence source told me.

While Hezbollah most likely has a strategic reserve – and can still pull off surprises – this means quite simply that Iran lost in a single day of Israeli airstrikes an investment that has cost them hundreds of millions of dollars and six years to build.

The arsenal Hezbollah still retains are mostly shorter-range rockets, which Israel can take out in ground operations up to the Litani river.

€ Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has been turned into a fugitive.

Sure, Nasrallah may be hiding in the basement of the Iranian embassy in Damascus, and he will manage to give pre-taped interviews to Hezbo-TV for the conceivable future. But his public speaking days at mass open-air rallies are over. He steps out of his bomb shelter, and an Israeli missile sends him to Allah. Welcome to life underground with Osama.

€ Iran overplayed its hand.

Guided no doubt by Nasrallah’s inflated analysis of Israeli weakness, Iran gave the operational orders to Hezbollah to launch the July 12 attack on Israel during face-to-face meetings in Damascus the day before, as I have previously reported.

Iran believed that Israel would collapse under a steady barrage of rocket-fire against its northern cities, towns and villages, and sue for peace. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his hojjatieh religious mentors were convinced that Israel’s humiliation would pave the way toward their avowed goal of destroying Israel and America, by hastening the return of the Shiite Muslim messiah (the Mahdi) and ushering in the end times. Instead, it’s their own demise that is near.

€ Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards Corps has been humiliated.

Revolutionary Guards officers, assigned to Hezbollah missile units in Lebanon, have been killed on the battlefield in Lebanon and sent back like dogs in Syrian caskets to Iran.

To disguise the losses (and Iran’s direct involvement in the fighting), the dead Iranians were put in civilian caskets, and taken to Syria in convoys of refuges. This is a humiliation and a wake-up call the Revolutionary Guards have never endured.

€ The Islamic Republic has failed to divert international attention from its nuclear weapons programs.

The timing of the war was no accident: just days before the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia. Initial plans for the summit placed Iran’s nuclear weapons program at the top of the agenda.

Iran’s goal in provoking this war was to divert international attention from its nuclear weapons program at the summit; and initially, it appeared that Iran was successful. Iran was stunned when the UN Security Council passed a resolution two weeks later giving Tehran a hard deadline to accept the U.S.-backed take-it or leave-it offer to suspend all enrichment and reprocessing activities, in exchange for Western goodies. In response to that UN action, Iran has thumbed its nose at the international community, and indicated last week that it would reject the offer. But the UN deadline holds.

In other words, Iran’s efforts to game the international community have failed, and failed miserably.

Each day the fighting continues, Hezbollah grows weaker.

Each day that Israel that bombs Hezbollah command and control bunkers, and destroys Syrian and Iranian and Chinese-built rocket launchers, the future threat to the citizens of northern Israel diminishes.

Israel has made clear that it will not accept a ceasefire in Lebanon until Hezbollah is effectively disarmed and some arrangement is made to prevent Hezbollah from returning to southern Lebanon.

In the fog of war it is often difficult to recognize victory or the beginnings of victory. Israel still has a ways to go to defeat Hezbollah and prevent it from becoming a future threat. But it has reached a tipping point. From here on, the losses are going to be overwhelming one-sided, in Israel’s favor.

Most important of all, however, has been the message sent by Israel’s civilian population to the leaders of Syria and Iran.

Until this war, Iran believed it could deter any Israeli military action against it – in Lebanon, or in Iran – by the threat of massive rocket attacks, essentially using Israel’s civilian population as hostages.

By playing its hand too early, Iran has lost that deterrent. That may be Israel’s greatest victory of all.

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Kenneth R. Timmerman was nominated for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize along with John Bolton for his work on Iran. He is Executive Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, and author of Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran (Crown Forum: 2005).

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