Monday, August 21, 2006

New York Times Editorial - Israel's leaders under fire

New York Times Editorial - Israel's leaders under fire
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: August 20, 2006

Israel is politically roiled by public dissatisfaction with the monthlong Lebanon war. The public has been surprised by the inconclusive outcome of the campaign, frightened by unintended consequences like the surging popularity of Hezbollah, and angry that Israel's vaunted military has been shown to be less than all-powerful.

This debate could prove politically costly to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, two neophyte leaders who now must answer for a costly military effort that did not lead to the Hezbollah defeat that Israelis expected.

Israelis believe, as we do, that Olmert was right to respond firmly to Hezbollah's cross-border provocations. Given the implacable hatred of its enemies, Israel cannot afford to show weakness. But it is even more important that whatever it does is done successfully. The military campaign failed to achieve its stated objectives despite its heavy toll in Lebanese and Israeli lives. Now Israelis have a right to ask whether Olmert rashly raised the ante by demanding the military destruction of Hezbollah without having any clear and realistic strategy for achieving such an ambitious aim.

Olmert and Peretz unwisely accepted the assurances of the military chief of staff, an air force general, that a brief air campaign alone could accomplish the mission. Clearly, it didn't. Yet for weeks, they refused either to suspend the airstrikes or switch to a different approach. The ground offensive they finally ordered came too late to make a difference.

Washington might have helped rescue them from their predicament, but it did not. President George W. Bush still has not learned the difference between supporting Israel and uncritically endorsing the policies of fallible Israeli leaders. That often hurts Israel's larger interests, and America's as well, as it did in this case.

There are things Washington can do for Israel that Israel cannot do for itself, like negotiating with Hezbollah's patrons in Damascus and Tehran and mobilizing diplomatic coalitions that can maneuver Hezbollah into concessions that military pressure alone can never achieve. None of this was done, resulting in a fudge of a United Nations resolution that is worth no more than France's so-far absent will to back it up.

Washington helps Israel best when it supplements, and where necessary restrains, Israeli actions, not when it acts as a mindless echo chamber. America abdicated leadership in this crisis, leaving Olmert to deal with the messy outcome.
It doesn't help that unlike most of his predecessors, Olmert does not have a professional military background. But if he is prepared to learn the right lessons, he might survive. His chief rival, after all, is Benjamin Netanyahu, who has own long record of costly and impetuous decisions.


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