The Israeli government will soon decide to appoint a national investigation commission to investigate Israel’s military and political failings during the second Lebanese war. The one and perhaps most important question that the commission will not even ask is: wasn’t there a way to entirely prevent the eruption of the war and to still achieve the strategic goals put forth by the Government?
The Commission will not even ask this question because it is so beyond the realm of conditioned response in Israel to military threats and attacks. There is no question that Israel had a real causus belli in facing Hizbollah after it had violated Israel’s sovereign border, killed eight soldiers, kidnapped two others and shot katyusha rockets at the civilian population.
The question is: could Israel have employed political and diplomatic tools to achieve the same strategic political objectives that were achieved after more than a month of war? Israel’s strategic goals were to remove the missile threat of Hizbollah armaments in the south of Lebanon, to push the Hizbollah combatants north of the Litani river, to stop the rearming of Hizbollah from Syria and Iran, to have the Lebanese army deploy along the Israeli border and to have the international community deploy a more robust and forceful international presence between Israel and the Hizbollah. All of these elements were incorporated in UN Security Council Resolution 1701. All of these are the positive political results of the war.
The decision to go to war was overwhelmingly supported by the Israeli public. Almost no one in Israel asked if there was a non- military way to face the unprovoked attack of Hizbollah and the real strategic threat that Israel faced since its withdrawal from Lebanon six years ago.
Israel has confronted real existential threats since its birth in 1948. The legacy of the Holocaust has taught us to maintain a firm defensive offence towards our neighbors in this very volatile and dangerous part of the world.
We have been brought up on the understanding that the Arabs only understand the language of force and in doing so, we too, have taught ourselves that force is our own mother tongue as well. Diplomacy is a tool that remains almost unused in Israel’s strategic “tool box” when facing threats in the “neighborhood”. If Israel’s Prime Minister had called the Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora after the Hizbollah attack and arranged for a secret meeting to confront the crisis together, it is likely that the Sunni leader Saad Hariri, the son of the late Rafik Hariri, would have joined in and supported steps against Hizbollah. It is also likely that the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who has led a courageous anti-Syria position in Lebanon, would have supported moves that would have reined in Hizbollah. There is even a chance that the Shiite leader of the moderate Amal party, the Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament Nabi Beri, would have also supported those moves.
Instead, after going to war in what was interpreted in Lebanon as a war against the people of Lebanon, Israeli alienated all of those Lebanese leaders, created an almost united front amongst Lebanese citizens against Israel and behind Hassan Nasrallah and the Hizbollah and increased support for Hizbollah throughout the Muslim and Arab world. Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora and the Lebanese State are so far turning out the most victorious party in the aftermath of this war. There is a direct interest for Israel, the region and the world, that the Government of Lebanon be strengthened and empowered. This positive development is mainly because of the courage and leadership of Mr. Sinoira, despite Israel’s derogatory and insulting comments about him.
The same results could have been achieved without launching a war and without all of the unnecessary loss of life, the human suffering and tragedies, and such tremendous physical damage.
Now the war that Mr. Olmert and Mr. Peretz believed would build the careers and reputations as the first real non-military Israeli Prime Minister and the non-military Minister of Defense may bring down their careers to an early end. How unfortunate that the new non-military leadership of Israel did not adopt non-military tools and lead Israel and Lebanon to a strategic victory without employing force.
In Israel, the conclusions of the national investigation commission will deal with re-arming, military tactics and strategies and the personal failures of officers and leaders during the war – all in preparation for the next war. Instead, the Commission would be wise to ask additional questions concerning how diplomacy could be used to capitalize on the peaceful relations already established with Egypt and Jordan in reaching out to others in the “neighborhood” in order to reduce and remove strategic threats by converting them into strategic allies.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.