Michael B. Oren: How Israel Can Still Win

Roundup: Historians' Take

For three weeks now, Israel has presented a textbook case of how not to wage a war. As a result, the European Union is demanding a cessation of hostilities, and the United Nations seems poised to demand a ceasefire; and both will likely pressure the Bush administration to arm-twist the Israelis to comply. An immediate end of the fighting will leave Hezbollah largely intact militarily and with its political prestige greatly enhanced. Syrian and Iranian influence will be immeasurably strengthened. A disaster of regional and perhaps global dimensions appears imminent--unless Israel seizes its last opportunity to regain the initiative and deliver a decisive blow to Islamic extremism.

Israel entered this conflict under supremely advantageous circumstances. Most of the world recognized Israel's right to defend itself against a terrorist organization that had violated an international boundary, killed and kidnapped Israeli soldiers, and bombarded Israeli towns. Even Arab states such as Egypt and Jordan expressed sympathy for Israel's case. The Bush administration gave Prime Minister Ehud Olmert an unequivocal green light to eliminate Hezbollah's independent army in Lebanon. But instead of exploiting this latitude by uprooting the Hezbollah mini-state in southern Lebanon, Olmert embarked on a massive air campaign that killed large numbers of Lebanese while failing to reduce rocket fire into Israel. The fact that Hezbollah is fighting behind a civilian shield is now ignored by a world that increasingly views the Israeli response as brutal. The terrorists and their Syrian and Iranian backers stand to win a stunning victory.

Such a conclusion will not only compromise Israel's security for years to come, but also threaten moderate states throughout the region by emboldening their Islamist opponents. A triumphant Iran will be empowered to extend its influence into Lebanon and the Gulf, and to pitch Iraq into a full-scale civil war. Tehran, together with its allies in Damascus, can establish its primacy from the Arabian Sea to the Mediterranean. With such power at its disposal, even the threat of international sanctions is unlikely to deter Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Israel, the Middle East, and the international community cannot afford such a calamitous outcome to the crisis. But to avert it, Israel will have to shift its tactics away from aerial strikes against infrastructure to a massive ground campaign to gain control of southern Lebanon up to the Litani River. By clearing the terrorists from the area adjacent to its northern border and by eliminating Hezbollah's most strategic strongholds, Israel will have won a concrete achievement. And though long-range rockets will continue to be launched at Israel from central Lebanon, Israel can address that threat by surgical aerial attacks while ensuring that the more plentiful short-range katyushas will be removed....
Read entire article at New Republic