At least in the eyes of many a party apparatchik, Israel’s second Lebanon war is a huge success. Not so much due to the military bombardment and invasion of Lebanon, but due to the campaign’s consolidating effect inside Israel.
After four weeks of fighting, hundreds of civilian deaths, the ruthless destruction of Lebanon’s infrastructure, and the forced evacuation of an estimated 800,000 Lebanese citizens who have become internal refugees, it is now fairly clear that Israel will not realize the grandiose objectives it set out to achieve: namely, to bring about structural change within Lebanon so as to force the Lebanese government to clamp down on Hasan Nasrallah’s militias, while cleaning Southern Lebanon of Hezbollah’s military bases. Taking Israel’s own objectives as a yardstick, militarily the war is no less than a flop.
Even President George W. Bush is disappointed. He thought, as one Israeli commentator recently noted, that within a few days Israel would deal a death blow to Hezbollah. After all, in 1967 Israel defeated three Arab armies within six days, while in October 1973 it managed to transform an initial retreat into a military victory within less than three weeks. But as the brutal fighting in Lebanon continues, even the warmongering administration on Capitol Hill is beginning to appreciate that there is no military solution to the present crisis.
This, however, does not mean that the war has failed to produce favorable results for Ehud Olmert’s government. Not unlike the effect September 11 had on Bush’s Administration, Israel’s second Lebanon war is turning out to be a blessing.
Up until the invasion of Lebanon, profound divisions afflicted both Israeli society and its military. Over 50 percent of Israelis were against Olmert’s convergence plan (a proposal to unilaterally withdraw from parts of the West Bank) which served as his running ticket in the previous elections and as the glue holding his government together. Short of a political miracle, it was unclear whether the government could actually lead Israel’s fractured society.
Similarly, deep divisions have plagued the Israeli military, whose combat units consist of many soldiers from Jewish settlements or those affiliated with the messianic ideology of the settlement movement. These soldiers have felt deep frustration with the government’s policies, particularly the withdrawal of troops from the Gaza Strip and Olmert’s intention of dismantling more settlements in the West Bank. The war has managed, at least for the time being, to mask the bad blood and re-establish the connection between the hawkish soldiers and the state.
Israel’s campaign has also caused a group of reserve soldiers from Courage to Refuse to modify their position. These soldiers, who were unwilling to continue serving in the military because they oppose the occupation of Palestinian territories on moral grounds, have now put their military fatigues back on and are currently fighting in Lebanon. They are convinced that Israel is struggling for survival.
Even Peace Now, which was at the forefront of the protests against the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, has declined to join Israel’s small antiwar movement and is now standing next to right wing settlers in support of the government. Yariv Oppenheimer, a spokesman for the dovish organization, recently explained “that this war is just and that Israel has every right to defend itself.”
In fact, polls indicate that upwards of 80 percent of Israel’s citizens support the campaign, an extremely high number considering that 20 percent of the country’s citizens are Arabs, the large majority of whom are against the war. Jewish doves and hawks have become bedfellows: What more could an Israeli government ask for?