Who Won?

Israel and Hezbollah both claimed victory. One of them is dead wrong.
From the October 2006 Trumpet Print Edition

The noise and blaze of war engulfed the Middle East for 34 days in July and August before settling down under a fragile cease-fire. Both sides immediately claimed victory. Hezbollah’s leader crooned, “We are today before a strategic, historic victory, without exaggeration.” Israel’s leader boasted, “[T]he [Israeli Defense Forces] warriors always had the upper hand.” America’s leader concurred: “Hezbollah suffered a defeat in this crisis.”

These versions of this war cannot both be true. Events will soon put the lie to one of them, as it becomes clear whether Israel or Hezbollah took the hardest hit and grew most vulnerable.

But even the facts of what really happened during those 34 days reveal much.

Hezbollah proved its mastery of the missile attack, firing 4,000 rockets in 34 days. Israel proved itself helpless to stop them; the fiercer Israel’s retaliation, the heavier the rockets came.

Hezbollah garnered the sympathies of the press and the international community, taking on legendary heroic status among Muslims worldwide. Israel became almost universally condemned for defending itself; the world branded its offensive—which was so restrained the enemy never seemed even daunted—as “disproportionate and excessive.”

Syria and Iran, Hezbollah’s sponsors, despite all the funding, training, weaponry, tactical support and manpower they supplied, emerged after 34 days without having suffered even a whiff of punishment. Israel, on the other hand, looks like it is due for another trying political shake-up at the highest levels.

Who won? In many ways, the war couldn’t have gone worse for Israel—nor better for Hezbollah, Syria and Iran, and the general forces of Islamist extremism.

The gravity of this historic moment can hardly be overstated. The Israel of wars past—winning decisive, lightning-fast victories over multiple Arab states—has been visibly replaced by an Israel that failed to defeat a fighting force of only a few thousand well-prepared terrorists.

Step back and you see that, for Israel, this is but a step on the road to ruin.

A Tough Year

The last 12 months have been a chamber of horrors for the Jewish state.

It was only last summer that Israel undertook the painful project of forcibly evacuating all Jewish presence from the Gaza Strip. In return for gifting the Palestinians this territory, Israelis were treated to the sight of Palestinian terrorist rallies and marches of celebration and victory, with masked gunmen firing assault rifles into the air and burning Israeli and American flags. The different groups made clear their commitment not to disarm but rather to move their armed struggle against Israel to its next battleground: Jerusalem.

Just months later, the entire political scene in the region flipped on its head. In January, Israel’s government plunged into disarray when the nation’s stalwart leader, Ariel Sharon, suffered a massive stroke. Hints of conspiracy still linger concerning what may have triggered this event. His vacant office was filled by Ehud (“we are tired of fighting, tired of winning”) Olmert. The same month, the terrorist group Hamas (“jihad is our path and dying as martyrs for the sake of Allah is our biggest wish”) won an election to become the political voice of Palestinians.

Ashes from that political explosion have been settling on the landscape ever since. The government has continued to deal with Palestinian suicide bombers blowing themselves up in Israel’s streets and residential areas. Gaza, flooded with terrorist weapons and manpower since Israel vacated, has served as a staging ground for Palestinian terrorist groups and a launching pad for their rockets. In June, Hamas tunneled into Israel and attacked an Israeli military post, killing two soldiers and taking one captive. And in the background, through it all, has been the voice of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, issuing weekly or daily pronouncements about wiping Israel out or moving it to Europe; about overrunning Israel and the United States with tens of thousands of martyrs; about obtaining nuclear technology that could easily become nuclear weapons; about hastening cataclysmic world war in order to bring about the return of the messiah of Islam.

How can such a crushing litany of crises not take its toll on a nation’s outlook—even its will to survive? In March, a study showed 63 percent of Israelis willing to give up parts of Jerusalem in exchange for “real peace” with the Palestinians—with 75 percent of those open to such concessions admitting that real peace with the Palestinians is impossible. Evidently war-weariness and simple logic don’t coexist easily.

As Israel jadedly hoped for an end to the trouble, its enemies took this as their cue to ramp up its troubles even more.

Starting a War

On July 12, Iran unleashed Hezbollah. The terrorist group, camped out on Israel’s northern frontier, captured two Israeli soldiers and ignited a rocket campaign against Israeli towns and cities. The fact quickly became painfully clear that Hezbollah had meticulously planned for the resulting war.

From the beginning, Hezbollah’s strategy was tactically defensive. Dr. George Friedman analyzed it this way: “The group created a network of fortifications in southern Lebanon that did not require its fighters to maneuver and expose themselves to Israeli air power. Hezbollah stocked those bunkers so fighters could conduct extended combat without the need for resupply. It devolved command to the unit level, making it impossible for a decapitation strike by Israel to affect the battlefield. … Hezbollah acquired anti-tank weapons from Syria and Iran that prevented Israeli armor from operating without prior infantry clearing of anti-tank teams” (August 15). In essence, it was a war of survival, perfectly calibrated to exploit Israel’s weaknesses and force it into just the kind of high-casualty conflict Prime Minister Olmert had hoped to avoid. Apparently Hezbollah had been taking notes during his “we are tired of winning” speech and had sought a way to indulge him with an opportunity to experience losing.

The sophistication of Hezbollah’s weaponry was also impressive. A few examples tell the story. Israel was supposedly surprised to learn on July 14, when an Israeli missile boat off the Lebanese coast was almost sunk, that Hezbollah possessed a radar-guided c-802 anti-ship missile that Iran had acquired from China. One of the anti-tank weapons Dr. Friedman mentioned above has a greater range than that of Israel’s anti-tank weapons. Hezbollah rockets reached as far as the town of Afula, about seven miles south of Nazareth; Israeli Defense Forces claim they were Fajr-5 rockets, which have a 200-pound warhead (double that of the Fajr-3 rockets that hit Haifa, further north) and a 45-mile range. And one cannot ignore the sheer volume of rockets Hezbollah’s warriors launched: 4,000 in 34 days—enough to fire them almost indiscriminately (as the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger wrote, they used “unguided artillery Katyusha rockets like bullets”)—and there is the awful possibility that even more powerful armaments have been kept in reserve.

In this round of war, however, Hezbollah wanted only to avoid defeat—something no enemy of Israel has ever managed to do. In that respect, it scored a great triumph. Hezbollah successfully launched and survived Israel’s longest war since the War of Independence in 1948, proving itself a more formidable enemy—at least, to the Israel of today—than all the Arab states Israel has ever faced.

War Weariness

By itself, any single war of the type Israel waged with Hezbollah would tax the resources and capabilities of any government. Trouble is, Israel is dealing with a whole handful of such problems: threats from Gaza, internal terrorist groups, Syria, Iran and elsewhere. Of all the crises it has faced since becoming a state in 1948, it has never seen so many simultaneously.

Israeli leaders and citizens simply cannot continue to operate under such pressure without the onset of severe political and mental fatigue—which gives birth to other problems such as national disunity, lack of willpower and internal conflicts.

With lethal missiles arbitrarily dropping from the sky, Israelis in northern Israel hid and fled. The streets lay deserted as a million people holed up in shelters and over 300,000 flooded south, seeking refuge with relatives or in hotels. The government even offered state-sponsored four-day holidays to northerners, a project Olmert described as being “without precedent in the history of the State of Israel.”

In past wars, Israelis have shown considerable resolve in staying put despite such threats. Associated Press, which called this characteristic stoicism as a “traditional Israeli resistance to mass flight by its citizens in the face of war,” commented that “a month of war and thousands of Hezbollah rockets appear to have ended that stigma” (August 8).

One can hardly fault people for running from danger—in this case, a heavy, steady rain of rockets being launched by terrorists. Unfortunately, however, the sight of 300,000 Israelis on the run unquestionably strengthened Hezbollah’s reputation in the Muslim world. And running isn’t a viable response to rocket attacks for long, considering how tiny Israel is. There simply aren’t many hiding places.

The physical flight was matched by an intellectual flight. Though Israelis flocked to support their government’s actions against Hezbollah early on, a month of war exposed cracks in Israel’s unity and resolve. Voices of protest over the ground campaign began to emerge from leading intellectuals and politicians; the numbers at antiwar protests started to swell. As Israeli casualties mounted and images of bloodied and dirty soldiers saturated media reporting on the war, it became more apparent that many Israelis are simply tired of the fighting.

“We are getting lost in pursuit of a victory that is not there,” wrote mainstream columnist Nahum Barnea in the Yediot Aharonot daily. “There is no point investing in a lost cause,” he wrote, urging Olmert to “take what they’re offering you … and run.”

At the same time, the fractures that became evident among the citizenry were magnified within the leadership.

Divided Leadership

Though the Israeli government has traditionally seen politicians across all party lines (and there are a lot of those in Israel) pull together in time of war, during this recent war, however, politicians and military leaders sparred so violently over strategy that Israel Insider’s Jonathan Ariel wrote, “Relations between the country’s political and military leadership are at the lowest point in the country’s history, on the verge of a crisis” (August 9).

Ariel was commenting on a dramatic shake-up the previous day in the Israeli Defense Forces (idf), when Northern Command Chief Maj. Gen. Udi Adam was abruptly replaced by Deputy idf Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinksy—an awkward and radical change of command in the middle of a war. Some viewed Adam as a scapegoat sacrificed to deflect criticism from leaders higher up. Adam himself remarked that he had been restrained from fighting a truly effective war.

“According to informed sources, there is an almost total breakdown in trust and confidence between the General Staff and [Olmert’s] office,” Ariel wrote. He described a war plan the Israeli military had been perfecting for some two to three years—a swift, multifaceted offensive intended to break Hezbollah in 10 to 14 days—of which Olmert ditched all but certain components of the air attack. “Whatever his reasons, the bottom line, according to these military sources, is that [Olmert] castrated the campaign during the crucial first days” (emphasis mine).

Knowing what we know of Olmert, the fact that a disconnect quickly emerged between him and the military leaders is unsurprising. He was made prime minister by a slim percentage of Israeli voters after having campaigned on a pledge to extract tens of thousands of Jews from West Bank settlements. After winning, he made this inane declaration to Palestinian leaders: “We are ready to compromise, to give up parts of the beloved land of Israel … and evacuate, under great pain, Jews living there, in order to create the conditions that will enable you to fulfill your dream and live alongside us.” His speech last June—“We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies”—is not exactly the kind of language that fires up the troops for the lethal business of war-making.

Olmert’s jettisoning of the idf’s functional strategy was simply another manifestation of the same wishful thinking that makes the idea of retreating from the West Bank so attractive to him. Ariel continued, “[A]ccording to military sources, Israel finds itself getting bogged down by a manifestly inferior enemy due to the limitations placed on the idf by the political leadership. This has been construed by the enemy as a clear sign that Israel is in the hands of a leadership not up to the task, lacking the required experience, guts and willpower.”

As the UN-mandated cease-fire came into effect on August 14, voices within Israel descended upon the prime minister in crushing condemnation—even demanding he leave office. Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit, for example, wrote, “There is no mistake Ehud Olmert did not make this past month. He went to war hastily, without properly gauging the outcome. He blindly followed the military without asking the necessary questions. He mistakenly gambled on air operations, was strangely late with the ground operation, and failed to implement the army’s original plan, much more daring and sophisticated than that which was implemented. And after arrogantly and hastily bursting into war, Olmert managed it hesitantly, unfocused and limp. He neglected the home front and abandoned the residents of the north. He also failed shamefully on the diplomatic front. … Post-war battered and bleeding Israel needs a new start and a new leader. It needs a real prime minister” (August 11).

Sadly, however, Israel has no strong leaders to fill the office—certainly none that voters appear ready to rally around. It appears the nation is about to be plunged into yet another political imbroglio—something that will only embolden Israel’s enemies all the more.

Considering the stark contrast between Israel’s impotence against Hezbollah and Israel’s past victories, the most monumental outcome of the war was this: In the minds of Muslims, it evaporated Israel’s air of invincibility.

Hezbollah called Olmert’s bluff, and Israel lost. Decades of decisive Jewish ascendancy over Arab foes melted into ancient history, mere myth. The sense of Israel’s military pre-eminence shattered into a thousand shards. To Muslims, the unthinkable became viable; the impossible, inevitable.

The door is open for the next attack.

A Broader War

In one sense, speaking of this 34-day war as a victory for Hezbollah is misleading. Why? Because it was not an end in itself. Hezbollah’s missiles were less about killing Israelis than about laying the groundwork for future, deadlier operations.

Truly, these rockets achieved much for the forces of Islamist extremism. They manifestly chipped away at the willpower and political, mental and physical fortitude of the Israeli government, military and people. They also helped solidify Iran’s position as the pivot of the Middle East’s balance of power. “The Iranians,” wrote Stratfor, “have taken their desire to emerge as the regional hegemon to the next level” (August 9). “Activating Hezbollah in Lebanon and exposing Israel’s weakness—when no Arab state dared to confront the Jewish state militarily—has only reinforced Iran’s ability to reconfigure the balance of power in the Middle East in favor of the Shia” (August 15). Quite a triumph for the enemies of Israel.

But you can be sure they won’t just sit around patting each other on the back for long. They drew blood—their ranks are flush with new recruits—they are eager for more. The foundation has been laid for a broader, more direct conflict. There is a distinct feeling among millions of Muslims that the time for Israel’s destruction has arrived.

Fatigued by crisis and geopolitically isolated, Israel is on the threshold of breakdown. Iran, Hezbollah and radical Islamists, on the other hand, are on the opposite end of the spectrum: They believe they are on the threshold of achieving their greatest goal. The more exhausted the Jews become, the more energized and excited their foes grow.

At the beginning of January—when Ariel Sharon was still prime minister and Israeli politics still relatively stable; when Hezbollah was quietly burrowing into Lebanon’s landscape; before Hamas had taken over the Palestinian leadership—Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote a letter to certain Trumpet subscribers in which he warned that a crisis of massive proportions could erupt in Israel by the end of 2006. “You need to watch Jerusalem as never before. We are going to see one half of that city fall very soon. It could happen this year—2006!” he wrote. Based on a prophecy in Zechariah 14:2, he outlined a specific event about to occur in Israel: the Palestinians taking half of Jerusalem.

Iran, which sponsors Hezbollah and has strong ties to Hamas, has long held the goal of taking control over the Holy City. Could developments over the past year, culminating in Hezbollah’s war with Israel, be preparations for Iran and the Palestinians to conquer half of Jerusalem?

Keep your eyes on Iran. It will be central to any crisis that occurs in Israel. “Over the years, Tehran has worked hard to position its henchmen in and around Israel,” Mr. Flurry wrote in January. “Its efforts are paying off. Hamas now controls the strategic Gaza Strip and major parts of the West Bank—and dominates Palestinian politics! Hezbollah has grown into a highly organized, well-armed, well-financed organization in neighboring Lebanon. To the south, in Egypt, the Iran-friendly Muslim Brotherhood is growing increasingly popular.

Iran has a passion to seize control of Jerusalem—and now it has Israel surrounded! The Jewish nation is being ‘besieged’ (Deuteronomy 28:52).

“Iran has surrounded and infiltrated Israel. Now the city of Jerusalem is on the verge of destruction!” Perhaps nothing demonstrates Iran’s new boldness better than its having unleashed Hezbollah in this latest war. And with Israel now being reigned in by the international community in the form of a UN cease-fire, Iran can gear up to fight another day.

The crisis in Israel is not about to end. It is about to intensify.

Everything is gearing toward Iran and radical Islamists igniting a broader, more destructive crisis in Israel, specifically Jerusalem. The Trumpet warned about it earlier this year, and now Hezbollah’s rockets have laid the groundwork for it.

The Trumpet has said it before, but it is worth repeating: Watch Jerusalem.

A Changed Region

This war altered the geopolitical reality of the Middle East in many ways.

Israel is a changed entity. It concluded 34 days of operations seeking protection from an international peacekeeping force, hoping the terrorists would oblige the UN and stop firing missiles. No longer is it the feisty, self-sufficient power of yesteryear.

Make no mistake: Any notion the Hezbollah threat has been permanently eliminated is wishful thinking. Lebanon immediately announced it would not forcefully disarm the group, expecting Hezbollah to disarm itself. The UN wasn’t even charged with the job.

The fact that Israel agreed to this weak sham of a plan shows that it has stopped looking for a long-term solution to this problem. It is content with just buying time.

The Middle Eastern Muslim world is also profoundly changed. “In Lebanon, Hezbollah has emerged as a massive political force,” wrote George Friedman. “Syria, marginalized in the region for quite a while, becomes more viable as Hezbollah’s patron. Meanwhile, countries like Jordan and Egypt must reexamine their own assumptions about Israel. And in the larger Muslim world, Hezbollah’s victory represents a victory for Iran and the Shia. Hezbollah, a Shiite force, has done what others could not do. This will profoundly [affect] the Shiite position in Iraq—where the Shia, having first experienced the limits of American power, are now seeing the expanding boundaries of Iranian power.

“We would expect Hezbollah, Syria and Iran to move rapidly to exploit what advantage this has given them before it dissipates. This will increase pressures not only for Israel, but also for the United States, which is engaged in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in a vague confrontation with Iran. For the Israelis and the Americans, restabilizing their interests will be difficult” (op. cit.).

Israel may feel it dodged a bullet this time—but the next time is coming, and soon. Columnist Mark Steyn well summarized the greater challenge facing Israel by quoting a warning from the Irish Republican Army, after it tried and failed to kill Margaret Thatcher in the Brighton bombing: “[We] only have to be lucky once,” the terrorists said. “You will have to be lucky always.”

Cursed

Why has everything gone so wrong for the Jewish state? The Everest of crises that overshadows it cannot simply be blamed on poor strategy, weak soldiery or bad pr. Its problems preceded its present government, and they will continue even if Israelis undertake the messy business of installing a new government. Israel is at a dead end, and it simply does not have the means to free itself.

As we wrote last month about the United States (“How to Lose a War”), Israel’s basic problem is spiritual. The nation has turned its back on God, spurned His commandments, and trusted in itself. And as a result, it is now under a curse. Read Leviticus 26:15-32.

Anciently, when the people of Israel obeyed God, He would fight and win their battles for them. As Psalms 124:1-5 state, if not for God, Israel would have perished. But when Israel rejected God, it repeatedly suffered the curses of defeat and captivity.

Today, the times and dates have changed, but the story is still the same. If the Jews would only turn to God and repent of their national and personal sins, God would hear their cry and deliver them from all their enemies. That is the only durable and sustainable solution. Every humanly devised solution will prove to be just another curse.

Biblical prophecy spells out just what Israel’s immediate future will look like if it continues on its present course. God pleads, “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?”

A detailed biblical explanation of Israel’s future can be found in our free booklet Jerusalem in Prophecy.