Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

In Sixth Arab-Israeli War, Hezbollah Survives, Israel Loses, Bush Missing in Action

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

In Sixth Arab-Israeli War, Hezbollah Survives, Israel Loses, Bush Missing in Action

Article excerpt

A seminal moment in American history occurred 225 years ago when, in 1781, British Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis surrendered with his troops at Yorktown, Virginia. A band was playing a tune of that era called "The World Turned Upside Down." And, in fact, the world did turn upside down and nothing was ever the same again in North America.

More than two centuries later, another momentous event has taken place and the world may also never be the same. After six Arab-Israeli wars, the forces of Hezbollah and its allies more than held their own against Israel's latest attack on Lebanon. The victory will be credited to Hezbollah secretary-general Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, who not only is charismatic but also systematic in organizing his people to make things work in an area which has been notable for disorganization in the past.

The dispute started almost accidentally, when Hezbollah fighters killed three Israeli soldiers and captured two others. As it turned out, the Israelis had been planning an attack on Lebanon for at least a year in order to discourage Hezbollah incursions into Israel. The Hezbollah action came less than three weeks after a similar action in the Gaza Strip, when Palestinian militants tunneled into an Israeli military outpost just outside the Gaza border and killed two Israeli soldiers and captured another. Both Hezbollah and Palestinians insisted the soldiers would be returned in exchange for Israel's release of hundreds of the many thousands of prisoners it holds.

Given the politics of both occasions it cannot be ascertained whether the prisoner exchanges will take place promptly or whether the incidents will have unhappy endings.

In the 34 days of fighting in Lebanon that began July 12, Israel intended to score a large and unmistakable series of victories over the Arabs. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had expected the Israeli assault to quickly destroy the area between Israel and Lebanon's Litani River (see October 2006 Washington Report, p. 21).

Israeli troops launched attacks on the Mediterranean port of Tyre in the west to Bint Jubail in the east. Things did not go as planned, however. Sometime before they reached even three kilometers into Lebanon, the Israelis were stopped by fierce resistance from well-prepared Hezbollah positions. "If you are waiting for a white flag coming out of the Hezbollah bunker, I can assure you it won't come," said Brig. Gen. Ido Nehushtan of the Israeli army's general staff.

Instead of moving forward, Israel's Markava tanks were mired in frequent ambushes, so that instead of moving forward, the Israelis found themselves fighting for their lives. With total command of the air, the Israeli air force expected to rule the skies of Lebanon unchallenged. But the Hezbollah fighters were undeterred.

In the early days of fighting, an Israeli warship off the coast of Lebanon was severely damaged when it was hit by a Hezbollah rocket. This set off wild celebrations around Beirut, many of whose residents were able to see the attack from their windows.

One of Israel's most devastating assaults was on the biblical town of Qana, where more than 10 years ago many neighboring villagers who had sought shelter at the U.N. post there were killed in an Israeli air strike. Killed in Israel's latest bombardment were 51 civilians, 22 of them children, stranded in their town because Israel had bombed the roads leading north.

Meanwhile, U.S. President George Bush, who had promised the Israelis an interval to eliminate Hezbollah, found the Israelis begging for more time, as world public opinion demanded a halt to the hostilities. At last, secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for a temporary cease-fire. After a day and a half, however, the Israelis started fighting again. Finally, on Aug. 11, the United Nations security Council voted for a cease-fire, which went into effect three days later.

An estimated 1,200 Lebanese, most of them civilians, had been killed, while 117 Israeli soldiers and 41 civilians died in combat and from Hezbollah rocket fire. …

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