Daniel Pipes:  Israel has a war to win

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, will be the William E. Simon distinguished visiting professor at Pepperdine University in 2007.]

A leading Israeli philosopher some years back referred to his countrymen as"an exhausted people, confused and without direction." Before he became prime minister, Ehud Olmert publicly declared these extraordinary words:"We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies." In that demoralized spirit, the state of Israel retreated twice in five years under fire, from Lebanon and from Gaza -- and now, as a consequence, is fighting wars in precisely those places.

Individual members of congress have noticed this problem; I suggest that the executive branch take Olmert at his word and buck up this fatigued but exceptionally close ally. Even if Israel can very capably defend itself (as recent events have confirmed), it lacks the will to make the protracted efforts to defeat its enemies. And Israel's enemies--Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran--are also America's enemies.

Building on this assessment, I suggest that the administration make the following requests of Tel Aviv, to protect American interests.* Specifically:

  • Do not engage in exchanges with terrorist groups, such as the 2004 trade of one rogue Israeli civilian and the remains of three soldiers for 429 living terrorists and criminals. This returns terrorists to the field while encouraging further abductions.
  • Do not allow Hezbollah to acquire thousands of Katyusha rockets from Iran and station them in southern Lebanon. The estimated current arsenal of nearly 12,000 Katyushas not only threatens all of northern Israel, as recent days have proved, it provides Iran with a strategic threat with implications for the entire region.
  • Do not permit arms to reach the terrorist Fatah organization, as recently happened, according to the Jerusalem Post, when an estimated 3,000 American rifles and a million rounds of ammunition were delivered to it out of a misguided ambition to help one Palestinian faction beat out another.
  • Do not turn the West Bank over to Hamas terrorists. This endangers U.S. interests in several ways, notably because it would threaten Hashemite rule in Jordan.

Israel has a significant role in the U.S.-led war on terror; it can best defend itself and help its U.S. ally not by aspiring to agreements with intractable foes but by convincing them that Israel is permanent and unbeatable. This goal requires not episodic violence but sustained and systematic efforts to change regional mentalities. Therefore, U.S. policymakers might suggest to Olmert that he view the current fighting not as a momentary exception to diplomacy but as part of a long-term conflict.

With the emergence of an aggressive and perhaps soon-to-be nuclear-armed Iran, the strategic map of the Middle East is in the throes of fundamental change. This overarching threat should provide the backdrop for every Israeli decision going forward ? whether to retake territory in Gaza, what to target in Lebanon and whether to launch military actions against Syria.

Paradoxically, developments of the past week bring good news: Many Middle Easterners, not just Israelis, fear Iranian ambitions. Worries about Iran prompted the Saudi kingdom to take the lead in condemning attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah on Israel as"rash adventures." As the Jerusalem Post's Khaled Abu Toameh has documented, Israel's counterattacks have prompted"an anti-Hezbollah coalition." Sound Israeli policies will greatly influence the evolution of this nascent force.

As Arabs worry more about Iranian Islamists than Israeli Zionists, a moment of opportunity presents itself. Close coordination between Washington and Jerusalem is needed, including timely reminders to Israelis that they have a war to win.

July 20, 2006 update: * As originally submitted, this line read,"Building on this assessment of Israel, I suggest the administration make three requests." In the course of editing, the sentence was changed to the above. Only after publication did some readers point out to me, correctly, that Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv, is the capital of Israel, and that my text implies otherwise.

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