Defining Victory in the War on Terror
Writing in London-based ash-Sharq al-Awsat, Bernard Haykel has a column about Hezbollah's definition of "victory" against the Israelis. It's a fascinating look into the mind of what turns out to be a pragmatic terrorist:
"Pay attention, for example, to the way in which Sayyid Nasrallah has defined victory in his typically low-key style, which contrasts sharply with the old-style and bombastic claims of Arab leaders such as Jamal Abdul-Nasser and Saddam Hussein. Sayyid Nasrallah is very clear and precise that Israel cannot be defeated militarily. Hezbollah, he says, 'cannot shoot down Israel’s F-16 fighter jets,' but what it can do is bleed Israel’s military forces, harm its economy and extract political concessions, any of which constitutes a victory. Victory, in other words, is a new psychological state for Arabs and Muslims, as well as for the 'defeated' Israelis, and bears no relationship to the actual physical or material costs of war."
That's a far cry from the "push the Jews into the sea" rhetoric that you still hear from Iran's Ahmadinejad.
To the extent that Haykel is correct, all recent proposals for a cease-fire would be a total disaster (although that's clearly not Haykel's point). Nasrallah is hiding in relative comfort and ease somewhere in downtown Damascus, a guest of Bashar Assad's thuggish government, in no danger whatsoever of the conflict coming to his own doorstep. He can calmly discuss "moral victory" in spite of Arab deaths because there's no chance his own life is in danger. In other words, he can calmly view the mounting Lebanese casualties as necessary, just to show the Israelis how tenacious he is. And if Israel agrees to a cease-fire -- well, then Nasrallah is right. he wins his moral victory, he doesn't have to care about dead Lebanese civilians, and he gains respect in the Arab world.
The only way Israel can actually pull a victory out of the current conflict is to break the backs of those firing rockets at Israeli civilians. Anything less than a complete rout of Hizbollah means Israel loses, the attacks will continue, and they are in a worse position than when they started.
That's why I'm happy to see the Lebanese Prime Minister isn't going along with Hizbollah on this: he rejected a UN peace plan that was backed by the Bush administration. Obviously he didn't do so because he wants Israel to blow up more stuff in southern Lebanon, but the result is the same. No cease fire: more explosions.
Part of me wonders whether the Lebanese government doesn't see eye to eye with Israel on this. Lebanon doesn't like Hizbollah in its southern territory any more than Israel does. Hizbollah is essentially its own government, and Beirut has little influence there, except to the extent of Hizbollah's own representation in the Lebanese parliament. But the government is not strong enough to root out the terrorists by itself. That's where the Israelis come in. They give Beirut plausible deniability, and Beirut can ostensibly condemn Israel's actions, while enjoying the repercussions thereof.
As I have said before, war is a terrible thing. But when it becomes necessary (as it sometimes does), you must fight to win, and to win decisively, so you don't have to keep fighting the same conflict over and over again. Israel has already achieved this to some extent. It was so incredibly effective in the six-day war that neighboring governments (such as Egypt) fear more conflict. Syria needs to learn that lesson, as well.