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So it has come to this. All those bodies, all those photographs of dead children–more than 1,400 cadavers (we are not including the 230 or so Hizbollah fighters and the Israeli soldiers who died)–are to be commemorated with the possible resignation of an Israeli prime minister who knew, and who cared, many Israelis suspect, little about war. Yes, Hizbollah provoked last summer’s folly by capturing two Israeli soldiers on the Lebanese-Israel border, but Israel’s response–so totally out of proportion to the sin–produced another debacle for the Israeli army and, presumably now, for its Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert.
Looking back at this terrifying, futile war, with its grotesque ambitions to “destroy” the Iranian-supported Hizbollah militia, it is incredible Mr Olmert did not realise within days that his grandiose demands would founder. Insisting the two captured Israeli soldiers should be released and the militarily powerless Lebanese government should be held responsible for their capture was never going to produce political or military results favourable to Israel. One would have to add that Tzipi Livni’s demand for the Prime Mnister’s resignation sits oddly with her support for this preposterous war.
A close reading of the interim report of Judge Eliahou Winograd’s report on the summer war–to which Mr Olmert himself only granted the title the “Second Lebanon War” a month after it had happened–shows clearly that it was the Israeli army which ran the military, strategic and political campaign. Again and again in Winograd’s report it is clear that Mr Olmert and his Defence Minister failed to challenge “in a competent way” (in the commission’s devastating phrase) the plans of the Israeli army.
Day after day, for 34 days after 12 July, the Israeli air force systematically destroyed the major infrastructure of Lebanon, repeatedly claiming it was trying to avoid civilian casualties while the world’s press watched its aircraft blasting men, women and children to pieces in Lebanon. Israelis, too, were savagely killed in this war by Hizbollah’s Iranian-provided missiles. But it only proved the Israeli army, famous in legend and song but not in reality, could not protect their own people. Hizbollah fighters were told by their own leadership that if they would just withstand the air attacks, they could bite the Israeli land forces when they invaded.
And bite they did. In the final 24 hours of the war, 30 Israeli soldiers were killed by Hizbollah fighters and their land offensive, so loudly trumpeted by Mr Olmert, came to an end. During the conflict, a Hizbollah missile almost sank an Israeli corvette–it burnt for 24 hours and was towed back to Haifa before it was able to sink–and struck Israel’s top secret military air traffic control centre at Miron. The soldiers captured on the border were never returned–pictures of them, still alive, are flaunted across the border at Israeli troops to this day–and Hizbollah, far from being destroyed, remain as powerful as ever.
And so one of Washington’s last “pro-American” cabinets in the Middle East is now threatened by the very militia which Mr Olmert claimed he could destroy.
ROBERT FISK is a reporter for The Independent and author of Pity the Nation. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s collection, The Politics of Anti-Semitism. Fisk’s new book is The Conquest of the Middle East.