Yesterday the Israelis fought a battle that didn't go so well. A few soldiers got into trouble, and the relief column was ambushed. The Israelis reinforced heavily and a pitched battle was fought. This sort of operation is nothing new. Setting a trap for a small unit then a bigger ambush for the relief is a long established guerrilla tactic. In war, you accept setbacks. That's part of fighting, unless the war is an utter mismatch. The fact that even winners lose battles will get lost in the fact that for the first time it seems likely that Israel will seen as a loser on the battlefield.
Israel has enjoyed a reputation for military brilliance for decades. Their reputation was cemented after the Six Day War in June 1967 when Israel defeated Syria, Egypt and Jordan in less than a week. Israel came away from that war in possession of the Golan Heights, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. All of which are under contention today. For years when Arabs fought Israel Arabs lost, usually in a very one-sided manner. Humiliation was their lot in life, and that reputation for inflicting humiliating defeats has been one of Israel's assets over the years. It's much easier to make peace when you're seen as strong than weak. Victory makes people scared of you.
But no one should really be surprised by this. Most people don't know that in 1948 Israeli forces actually outnumbered their Arab counterparts. Israelis were highly motivated, and many had served in Western armies during the recent war. 'Win or die' meant plenty in the aftermath of the Holocaust. That morale advantage combined with numbers and training led to decisive victory.
The Israelis have not gotten worse. Hizbullah has gotten better. Lebanon fought a civil war in 1975-6 as an increasing (primarily Shi'ite) Muslim populace fought to throw off the political control of a corrupt Christian minority. In 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon in an attempt to break the PLO. They defeated PLO fighters decisively, and were initially welcomed by the Shi'ites of southern Lebanon. But Israel decided to establish its own buffer zone in Lebanon and that occupation became a rallying point. Civil War began anew and due to a fair amount of incompetence by the Reagan administration the Untited States became a defacto partisan in that civil war on the side of the minority Christians. The 1983 bombing of the Marine Barracks in Beirut can be seen as a response to U.S. direct military support for the Lebanese Army, which was then a Christian force.
Ever since then Shi'ites have been fighting Israelis in Southern Lebanon. The secular Amal militia was eclipsed by the fundamtalist Hizbullah as fundamentalism has become more popular throughout the globe. At first Shi'ites performed poorly against Israeli troops.
You gotta pay your dues If you wanna pay the blues You know it don't come easy
Nothing teaches like blood. Combat is a s darwinian process. While luck plays an important role, the people who grasp the basics of combat survive. Those who do not pay with their lives. Veterans train the next generation. At the beginning of this conflict Lebanese Shi'ites were little more than farmers with machine guns. Thirty years of fighting and dying have produced soldiers trained to a high standard. They aren't making the dumb mistakes which made possible Israel's former easy victories.
Which means Hizbullah can fight the Israelis in the kind of war being fought today. They are fighting in an urban environment which they know intimately, because they live there. They can fortify easily because they are part of the neighborhood. Natural cover is plentiful. Superb ambush sites abound. Narrow streets limit the maneuverabilty of armored vehicles. Hizbullah fights among civilians in order to force Israel to choose between massive use of firepower, which kills lots of non-combatants, or fighting a pure infantry battle where Hizbullah is their equal. If you want to know why civilians are dying imagine the choices faced by an Israeli commander between risking civilian casualties or the lives of his troops, many of whom are friends and neighbors. How would you choose?
In other words, in the kind of war they're fighting today, Hizbullah is Israel's match. That doesn't mean they are Israel's equal. They can't fight a tank battle with the Israelis. They could never dream of invading Israel, they'd be massacred. That sort of fighting is what Israel craves Hizbullah knows this.. But on their turf, on their streets, with Israel constrained by the presence of so many civilians and the world's eye upon her, Hizbullah can fight the Israelis and hope to win.
That's what the extremists want. If Israel is seen as beatable, suddenly everyone who hates the Jewish state and wants to see it wiped out takes heart. The dream might become real. Peace becomes a lot more difficult to make, because in the long run Israel's deepest enemies have total faith in their victory.
Sooner or later Israel will be forced to withdraw, and most of the world will see it as having been defeated, despite all its planes and tanks. The UN can't bail them out, because everybody knows that unless Hizbullah agrees, any 'peacekeeping' force that tried in inset itself between the combatants would find itself under attack from Hizbullah, using the same tactics that worked against the israelis. What politician wants to send his solders to die for Israel? George Bush might but he hasn't any soldiers left to send. Hizbullah isn't going to agree to a UN force because none of the people who have leverage over it want that outcome. Iran, Syria and Hizbullah all agree that bleeding Israel is good for them and bad for the moderates in the Arab world. Theyt have no incentive to make peace.
Meanwhile in Iraq, Islamic militants are training themselves against American forces. Our troops are getting better, but so are the bad guys and our enemies are improving faster because they had so much further to go. Sooner or later the mighty United States will pull out, and we will have lost our second war.
if you were an Islamic extremist, what could possibly be sweeter than seeing both America and Israel defeated?