August 15, 2006

Tally Ho

Hatched by Dafydd

Avoiding the patriotic chest-thumping of the Bush administration; dismissing the self-serving doubletalk of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz; brushing off the triumphalist squawking of Sheikh Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general of Hezbollah; and shunning the tantrum of defeatism by Jed Babbin and his ilk, let's take a moment to tally up, in as unbiased a fashion as we can, who won, who lost, and in what ways, in the recent dustup between Israel and Hezbollah.

Alas, much of the result is opaque, depending still on future events. But I'll try my best to make predictions.

Let's go through each player in turn, starting with...

Israel and Hezbollah

The war clearly was not a "win" for Israel; but that does not necessarily mean it was a "loss," either.

The Israeli hostages: Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev remain as hostages in Hezbollah's hands, though securing their release was a major reason that Israel went to war in the first place (not the major reason; that was to decimate -- not obliterate -- the threat posed to Israel by Hezbollah's proximity to the Blue Line border). On this goal, Israel was utterly thwarted.

However, Hezbollah itself was also thwarted on this issue. When Hezbollah sent an 80-man raiding party into Israel to kill some Israeli soldiers and capture hostages, they were slightly successful: they only netted two "bargaining chips," despite a very strong incursion; two, however, is better for Hezbollah than none, so this has to be accounted a minor victory.

However, they didn't seize the hostages simply for fun. They intended to exchange them for duly convicted Hezbollah criminals serving their sentences in Israeli jails for various horrific crimes against Israelis. And on that larger goal, so far Hezbollah appears to have lost, and lost badly.

During the upcoming prisoner exchange, there is every indication that Israel will only offer some of the high muckety-mucks of Hezbollah captured during the war, which isn't at all what Hassan Nasrallah had in mind when he ordered Israeli soldiers grabbed in the first place. In fact, at the end of the war, Israel holds considerably more Hezbollah prisoners of war than Hezbollah holds hostages.

On this issue, far from being a big win for Hezbollah, the terrorists lost big time: they managed to capture two Israeli IDF members, but only at the cost of a much larger number of higher ranking Hezbollah members. I would have to rate this issue either a draw or, if anything, a slight advantage to Israel (I'll discuss the PR damage later).

The Katyusha and other rocket forces: not enough were destroyed, and too many (nearly 4,000) were launched into Israel; Israel did not shoot down any of these missiles; they were never able to stop the launches.

On the other hand, the rockets proved far more effective at scaring Israelis than killing them. On the whole, Hezbollah achieved a minor victory on this issue.

Actual combat at arms: Israel won hands down. At the beginning of the war, there was a boatload of chatter about how much tougher and stronger Hezbollah was than anyone had anticipated. Iran had heavily trained Hezbollah -- the forward-deployed SpecOps branch of the mullah's military -- and they were armed with much more effective anti-personnel, anti-tank, and anti-aircraft weapons. The implication was clear: this time, the Israelis would blunt their swords against the stone wall of Hezbollah resistance.

In reality, Hezbollah was beaten like a bass drum in every face-to-face encounter with Israel. On those few occasions where Olmert actually consented to allow the IDF to fight, they killed the highly trained Hezbollah "soldiers" at a ratio of about 7:1 or 8:1, sometimes much higher. Many of the IDF deaths resulted from sniper fire and rocketry; remove those, and the overall ratio of kills is probably more than 6:1 in Israel's favor.

Hezbollah killed a few Israeli Merkava tanks; but Israel overran numerous Hezbollah "strongholds" and destroyed many rocket launchers (not enough of the latter, however). And Hezbollah, for all its fighting and Israel's hesitation, was nevertheless driven back relentlessly.

Israel gets points for their actual combat victories on the ground.

Hezbollah proximity to the border: prior to the war, Hezbollah enjoyed clear and unchallenged control of all Lebanese territory from somewhat north of the Litani River all the way down to the border, plus the entirety of the Bekaa Valley and large portions of Beirut. To Israel, the most immediately threatening Hezbollah position was that between the Litani and the Blue Line (the internationally accepted border between Israel and Lebanon).

At the moment, Hezbollah no longer controls that portion of Lebanon; but their hold over the rest of their territory further north is undiminished. For Hezbollah to reclaim south Lebanon, the Lebanese Army and the UNIFIL force would both have to abdicate their joint central mission. While that is certainly not outside the realm of possibility, it hasn't happened yet.

And it's unlikely to happen in the next couple of months; as we've said a number of times on Big Lizards, a lot can happen in that time -- including perhaps the collapse of Olmert's Monster and the election of a more stable government with a prime minister and defense minister who will actually fight next time (see infra).

At this point, I must take the data as they currently exist, not a blind guess about what might happen months from now. At the moment, Israel succeeded in pushing Hezbollah back by and large across the Litani. Those ten Katyushas that were fired at Israeli forces last night were fired from central Lebanon -- north of the Litani -- not from the south. This is a major military victory for Israel.

Public relations: this is the point on which Hezbollah achieved its greatest victory, accompanied by Israel's most substantial loss. The world -- not just the Arab world -- is not looking at this war in the nuanced fashion found on this site: they see only that "tiny" Hezbollah stood up to "giant" Israel, toe to toe... and that it was Israel who blinked and begged for a ceasefire.

It's not true' but Hezbollah has been as brilliant at spinning straw into gold as Rumplestiltskin. The world has bought into Nasrallah's fantasy.

Of course, it's the outcome that most of the world (including most of antisemitic Europe) desperately wanted to see; and it's arguable that no matter what happened on the ground, that's the result that Hezbollah would declare and much of the world would believe: Israel could have slaughtered 9,000 Hezbollah fighters and driven the organization all the way back up into Syria, and Nasrallah would still have declared a historic victory while the ummah cheered and shot fireworks.

Nevertheless, Israel badly lost the PR war. The loss was inevitable; but Israel managed to lose it worse than they needed to do.

Political fallout: the stature of Hezbollah has been dramatically enhanced, not only throughout Lebanon but the entire ummah.

But in Lebanon in particular, Hezbollah went from being distrusted invaders from Iran and Syria -- to being national heroes of Lebanese sovereignty and religious heroes of rising Islamic power. If elections are held anytime soon in Lebanon, Hezbollah will surely do much better than they did in the May-June 2005 elections.

In the 2005 race, the Rafik Hariri Martyr List won a clear majority of 72 of the 128 seats in the Lebanese parliament; Hezbollah won 14 seats and were offered two positions in the cabinet. However, if elections were held today, it would not be surprising if Hezbollah nearly reversed that result.

Of course, the Hariri bloc will do everything it can to prevent elections from being held anytime soon; and given a cooling-off period -- and especially if the war resumes later with more positive results for Israel in round two -- it's probable that Hezbollah's actual electoral gains will be kept to a minimum.

Still, I cannot see a situation where they would not pick up seats, no matter how long the ruling bloc manages to delay. Thus, it's a political victory for Hezbollah, but not as much as many might expect.

Contrariwise, the war was little short of electoral disaster for the Olmert government. Already shaky -- a weak coalition between Kadima and Labor with a lot of minor parties needed to make even a bare majority of the Knesset -- the conduct of the war by the two coalition partners, Prime Minister Olmert of Kadima and Defense Minister Peretz, the head of Labor, is widely seen by Israelis across the political spectrum as incompetent to the point of imbecility.

The Israeli Defense Force, the only universally respected institution in Israel, has become open and vocal in their scorn for the political "leadership." I do not see how Olmert's Monster can survive the next few months; a quick vote of no-confidence, followed by general elections 90 days later, will completely change the scene in Israel, one way or another.

Likud is likely the big political winner: they came in only fourth in the last election, running not only behind Kadima and Labor but also the radical Sephardic religious party Shas. Over the next couple of months, I suspect anger at both Kadima and Labor will only deepen, as will the fear of terrorism and Hezbollah on the part of Israeli citizens, no matter what their party. If new elections are held in the next four months, I predict that Likud will win an outright majority, or at least so close to one that they need only ally with other right-leaning parties and can exclude Labor and the Israeli Left altogether.

Kadima will not survive this political catastrophe; I think everyone in Israel now understands that it was a creature entirely of Ariel Sharon, and it should have died with his his permanent incapacitation.

But Likud's victory does not necessarily mean Binyamin Netanyahu's victory. It's hard to tell. Netanyahu may manage to resuscitate a career that many had written off as dead, but it's not certain. I suspect it will definitely lead to the restoration of Shaul Mofaz, demoted to make way for Peretz, to his previous position as Defense Minister (unless he becomes PM).

So the political winners will be Hezbollah in Lebanon and Likud in Israel -- and Israel itself, in my opinion, because I have always hated Labor and I never believed in Kadima's existence for a moment; the losers are the Hariri bloc in Lebanon and Kadima and Labor in Israel.

Iran and Syria

Iran fomented a war between Israel and Hezbollah ("let's you and him fight!"), gained in international prestige as the only Moslem power to successful stand up to Israel, briefly distracted some attention from its own nuclear program, and managed to damage the "Little Satan"... all this while paying only a very small price:

  • Iran was not directly attacked;
  • Its catspaw Syria was not directly attacked;
  • Iran's Hezbollah was cut up some; but the mullahs and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad don't care if Hezbollah members are captured or even killed.

    They're like the cockroach army eternally battling Fat Freddy's Cat in the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers underground comic: break another 1,221,785 soldiers out of egg storage!

The only price they paid was in the poor performance of Hezbollah in the field; this casts much doubt on Hezbollah's ability to serve as a devastating counterattack in the event the United States attacks Iran.

On balance, Iran is a winner in this conflict, as is its sock puppet, Syria, but not huge winners.

The United States

The United States demonstrated that it is willing to give Israel every opportunity to defeat our common enemies; the fact that Israel squandered that opportunity doesn't turn us into losers.

We showed that we could negotiate an agreement through the UN that was considerably more pro-Israel than such agreements usually end up being. UNSCR 1701 clearly ascribed blame for starting the war entirely to Hezbollah, and Hezbollah is held to much harsher terms than is Israel. The agreement is supposed to lock in a number of gains made by Israel -- though whether it will succeed in doing so is doubtful (because of the toothless nature of the United Nations).

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and UN Ambassador John Bolton proved in particular considerably more adroit than previous diplomats (Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright) at eliciting pro-Israeli clauses and killing off anti-Israeli, pro-terrorist clauses; they work very well as a team, and Condi showed that she was neither a lightweight nor an "Arabist."

From what I can tell, Israelis recognize the extraordinary latitude President Bush gave to Olmert, and they are very grateful; their anger seems to be directed entirely at Olmert and Peretz -- and, per Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.Gen. Dan Halutz of the Israeli Air Force -- for not taking advantage of America's defense to press the offensive and really chew up Hezbollah -- Israelis don't blame us for Olmert's ineptness.

On the whole, except insofar as the entire civilized world loses whenever barbarity is not soundly trounced, the United States probably won slightly in this conflict: we proved we had the willingness and the ability to guard the backs of our friends.

The Big Picture

This is why I say that overall, neither Hezbollah nor Israel won this war; both lost. Hezbollah lost the actual ground war worse than Israel did; but Israel lost the PR war worse than did Hezbollah. Iran/Syria and the United States both had slight wins; and Europe showed itself to be, once again, feckless and unreliable.

The result will probably be an emboldened Hezbollah and an increase in morale for radical Islam, but a turn by Israel towards the right and a hardening of attitudes by the Israeli citizenry. Hezbollah's power within the government of Lebanon will probably increase, while Likud will rise quickly within Israel.

Round two of the Clash of the Titans will probably come before the year is out.

I agree that Israel did not do anywhere near as well as it could have, had it a different government. But it's just plain irresponsible to don sackcloth, roll in ashes, and proclaim a total and complete victory by the forces of darkness. For heaven's sake, results were mixed on all sides.

Let's all just get a grip, evaluate all aspects of the war results, and rationally decide on a future course of action.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 15, 2006, at the time of 3:23 PM

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Tracked on September 1, 2006 3:23 PM


The following hissed in response by: Bill Faith

The above hissed in response by: Bill Faith [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2006 3:40 PM

The following hissed in response by: MTF

Dafydd, when you wrote:

On those few occasions where Olmert actually consented to allow the IDF to fight, they killed the highly trained Hezbollah "soldiers" at a ratio of about 7:1 or 8:1, sometimes much higher. Many of the IDF deaths resulted from sniper fire and rocketry; remove those, and the overall ratio of kills is probably more than 6:1 in Israel's favor.

I think you meant to say the ratio improved to greater than 10:1, didn't you?

On to your subject: The biggest loss Israel suffered is that, for once, European public opinion, along with the Russians and even many of the Arabs, thought Israel had just cause to fight, and to varying degrees wanted Israel to win. Perhaps these countries had different motives, like the Saudis may simply have wanted someone to blacken the Iranian eye for them (how funny is that: Israel fighting a proxy war for the Saudis?), but the Israelis had an unprecedented opportunity of the blessing of many of their traditional antagonists to go to Lebanon, and clean it up, but they blew it.

Hezbollah may have won nothing worth having, but Israel missed a big chance. Not every "loss" is necessarily a "win" for the opponent, but it's still a loss.

The above hissed in response by: MTF [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2006 3:44 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


I think you meant to say the ratio improved to greater than 10:1, didn't you?

Israel claims to have killed 590 Hezbollah fighters and lost (I think) 115 IDF members. That's a total ratio of 5:1. But if you look only at total deaths in combat, I suspect that it would rise to about 6:1 or even maybe 7:1.

For it to rise to 10:1, you would need to have about half of the IDF fatalities be due to missiles or snipers; but I don't think it's that high.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2006 4:20 PM

The following hissed in response by: FredTownWard

I think you are being too pessimistic in your assessment, Daffyd. I score this a disappointing victory because of all the missed opportunities but a victory nevertheless (sort of like Jutland). Frankly, I have doubts about Hezbollah actually gaining much politically in Lebanon from this debacle at least after their "constituents" get a chance to look at what is left of their homes. Sure, they held off the mighty Israelis for a month... long enough to get most of Southern Lebanon rubble-ized in the process. Worse, as the Lebanese should be able to grasp better than anyone else, if these idiots start the war again (or even make obvious preparations to do so like heavy rearming or gaining effective control of the Lebanese government) is the UN or the French going to keep the Israelis from blowing Lebanon even further to Hell? I don't think so. It is fair to ask whether the Lebanese CAN do much about Hezbollah, but only the truly insane among them will be spoiling for "Round 2". After all NEXT time the Lebanese won't have any excuses, and NO ONE will be listening to their whines no matter what Israel does. See Palestinians, democratic history of.

Second, with this stupid stunt Iran has unquestionably blown its major deterrent against Israeli or US attack of its nuclear program. If this is the worst that Hezbollah can do, it is bombs away at the time of our choosing, and Iran has probably moved up that time by this display of recklessness.

The above hissed in response by: FredTownWard [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2006 5:49 PM

The following hissed in response by: rich

This may be cynical but, it looks like Hezbollah is pushing Lebanese civilians back into South Lebanon to provide cover for further attacks on Israelis in Lebanon.

This could get ugly fast.

The above hissed in response by: rich [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2006 6:14 PM

The following hissed in response by: Section9

I guarantee you Nasrallah will start this thing up again. The Hezzies are infiltrating south. The French have begged off from operating as part of the MNF, once they heard that Nasrallah had intimidated Siniora into agreeing not to disarm him. What needs to happen is a Vote of No Confidence and a Snap Election.

This will get ugly, and soon!

The above hissed in response by: Section9 [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2006 8:14 PM

The following hissed in response by: Robert Schwartz

I don't think that Israel did much worse than usual in the PR war. The MSM following their masters on the left has become more anti-Semitic over the last few years than it ever was.

The Reuters fiasco was a function of Reuters' own deeply held leftist agenda. The fact that it was exposed and Reuters was forced to retreat was an enormous victory for truth, justice and the American Way.

The above hissed in response by: Robert Schwartz [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2006 8:53 PM

The following hissed in response by: BigLeeH

I would have to score the Lebanon-Israeli conflict as a disappointment for Iran, if not an actual setback. The war started when Iran, finding themselves under uncomfortable pressure about their nuclear program, decided to deploy their Lebabese assets in an effort to distract attention from themselves. It was a good plan, from their point of view; Hezbollah was well dug in, situated in heavily populated civilian areas. Digging them out selectively would cost Israel time and casualties and taking them out by brute force would cost Israel geopolitically. Either way, Iran figured that it would tie up the attention of the international community for a long time -- either watching as Israel dug out Hezbollah bunker-by-bunker, or in prolonged recriminations after Israel flattened half of Lebanon. Iran was counting on the war lasting a long time -- which it didn't.

Of course the war can, and probably will, restart at any minute but its usefulness to Iran is mostly over. When the war restarts the UN, having promised to do something useful and failed to follow through, will have to pretend that other matters require their attention -- rather like a dog owner who pretends not to notice as his dog is taking a dump in your yard. Fighting in Lebanon? Yes yes, most unfortunate. But we are quite concerned about Uraniun enrichment in Iran...

The above hissed in response by: BigLeeH [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 16, 2006 8:04 AM

The following hissed in response by: oarmaswalker


Intersting commentary. I would venture to say this war was closer to the one the Cubans fought against the South Africans in 1975. The South Africans wiped them out, within 10 years the entire Soviet / Cuban adventure in Southern Africa was moot. I think it's clear, regardless of the PR, that Iran (and Syria) blinked at the urging of Hizb'allah. I also like using the name the clearly has 'allah' in it, the Party of God. The phonetic translation of this group from Arabic, gives it more credibility than it desrves.

The above hissed in response by: oarmaswalker [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 16, 2006 12:10 PM

The following hissed in response by: Norman Rogers

I am bemused by all of the caterwauling about Israel's "losing" the war.

Here is how things stand (my view):

1. This was a battle, not a war.

2. This was Lebanon vs. Israel (Hezbollah IS Lebanon), and if you count the casualties and battle damages, Israel won by a TKO.

3. No matter how many weapons and how many troops Hezbollah retains, Lebanon will not soon again try to singe Israel's beard.

4. Iran's cards have been played and they have lost. Hezbo spent over half their missiles store and inflicted precious little damage for all their sound and fury. Now the threat is gone. Yes, Hezbo can start firing them again -- but they won't. They didn't work when tested and would work less well if used again (think of the Battle for Britain and the great Blitz).

5. I predict that GWB will link recovery aid to Lebanon with Hezbo disarmament. Lebanon will have to choose: Give up the proxies or squat in your own filth.

6. The IDF has gotten a good lesson (watching the success of the Yanks in Iraq wasn't enough). The IDF will come up with counters to Hezbo's use of wire guided missiles in lieu of tube artillery and will train the troops to avoid sheltering in buildings in sight of enemy positions. And tank commanders will be taught to keep their heads down and their hatches battened. And the IDF will greatly strengthen training of regular troops and reserves. And the IDF will get substantially greater operating funds.

I don't know if Olmert will survive -- and I don't know if he should survive. I need to know more about the advice he was given and the warnings he received (from Rice & co).

But, PLEASE! Chill out! So what if the Hezbillys dance in the street? Smell the rotting corpses in their bunkers and gauge their appetite to rejoin the battle.

The above hissed in response by: Norman Rogers [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 17, 2006 8:55 AM

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