One of the most useful devices of general semantics is the use of numbers and dates to remind ourselves of individuality and change. Cow-1 is not the same as cow-2, and Israel-1967 is not the same as Israel-2006.
In 1967, Israel launched a blitzkrieg attack against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, and in less than a week had captured and occupied the Sinai, Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.
Israel-2006, however, has been fighting for 13 days as of this writing and has captured only one small village about two miles above the Israeli border with Lebanon. Capturing that little village took three days and cost the Israelis a number of casualties, tanks, and helicopters. Nor has Israel been able to stop the rockets from striking Haifa and other cities in the north of the country despite virtually round-the-clock, seven-days-a-week bombardment by air, artillery, and naval gunfire.
Israel has not gotten weaker in terms of conventional military power not with American aid that now is estimated to cumulatively total $108 billion. The Israeli Defense Force and the Israeli air force could still defeat the conventional forces of Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. But it would not be as easy as it was in 1967. It would be harder, more like the 1973 war, but certainly doable.
One month before the present conflict with Hezbollah began, Lt. Col. Itay Brun was explaining Israel’s new military concepts, according to a story on the Middle East Newsline. Most of Israel’s operations, the air-force officer explained, would be conducted from the air. Fighter jets would destroy guerrilla strongholds, helicopters would pick off enemy combatants, while unmanned aerial vehicles would select and track targets. Those are essentially the tactics America used in Afghanistan.
So why has the Israeli notion of invincible air power been shattered by a small guerrilla outfit? For basically the same reason the British lost the American Revolution. Overwhelming power leads to overconfidence, which leads to hubris, which leads to underestimating one’s opponents. It is also a lesson in general semantics. Hezbollah guerrillas-2006 are not the same as PLO fighters-1982. In 1982, the Israeli army smashed its way into Beirut without too much difficulty and routed the PLO. That conflict and the 18-year occupation by Israel of southern Lebanon gave birth to Hezbollah.
Hezbollah’s guerrillas, however, are well-trained, well-armed, disciplined, and well-dug-in. Though you might not guess it from the same clips of some Hezbollah celebration with marching troops that television keeps showing over and over, Hezbollah is unostentatious. One observer noted that traveling in southern Lebanon, you could see virtually no trace of Hezbollah fighters, but “you felt they were around.”
And this brings up just one of several examples of how out of touch with reality the Bush administration is. The Bush people keep talking about getting rid of Hezbollah as if it were some foreign entity occupying Lebanon. It is a Lebanese organization. It is the Lebanese people in that area. It has members elected to parliament, and some serving as ministers in the Lebanese government. It operates an extensive welfare/education/medical services network. You can’t “throw” Hezbollah out of Lebanon unless, of course, you intend to exterminate or expel 40 percent of the population. I’m sure the neocons and the Israelis would be perfectly willing to do that, but I don’t think world opinion would tolerate it.
Israel was prepared for this operation and only waiting for an excuse. Israeli officers were showing PowerPoint presentations of their plans to crush Hezbollah to officials in Washington on a hush-hush basis as early as a year ago, according to some news reports.
Now, mighty Israel is embarrassed. Its savage bombardment of Lebanon has won Hezbollah more supporters, not fewer. Hezbollah doesn’t have to win any battles. It just has to survive to the point in time when the Israelis give up trying to destroy it.