Who Started It?
Did, as the Bush administration maintained early in the conflict, Iran and Syria egg Hezbollah into kicking things off by capturing two Israeli soldiers? Or was there something to the Aljazeera report that the war plan was "approved" by Dick Cheney at a meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu at a June American Enterprise Institute conference in Colorado? There's no way to tell for sure, and there may never be. We know Iran is a long time supporter of Hezbollah, but have yet to see any proof that it goaded the militant Shia organization into crossing the border to grab the two IDF members. What's more, that kind of back-and-forth body snatching has been going on for a long time.
Seymour Hersh's latest article in The New Yorker titled "Watching Lebanon" persuasively indicates that yes, White House and Pentagon fingerprints were all over the Israeli war plan, but I didn't anything in the Hersh piece that supported Aljazeera's claim that Cheney was the grand puppet master.
Nonetheless, Hersh's article makes it reasonably clear that if the Bush administration didn't push Israel into war, it sure didn't discourage them.
Who Didn't Stop It?
Before U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice began calling for an immediate cease-fire, she spent nearly three weeks rejecting the "false promise" of an immediate cease-fire. And even after she'd brokered an "immediate" ceasefire at the UN, it was another two days before Israel's cabinet voted to accept it and another day after that before they stopped fighting.
If that's Condi's idea of "immediate," I'd hate to see what she considers "when you can get around to it."
Whatever was going on behind the scenes, U.S. diplomatic actions had the net effect of giving Israel enough time to accomplish what it wanted to accomplish militarily. And that we armed them with bombs and provided signals intelligence in the middle of a shooting conflict makes it clear that we supported Israel's war aims and were determined to ensure they achieved them.
Who Started and Stopped?
In retrospect, once Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided to go to war, and declare the intended purpose of removing armed Hezbollah from south Lebanon, he should have gone for it with every means of military power available to him. He shouldn't have listened when his Israeli Defense Force Chief of Staff Dan Halutz told him that air power could get most of the job done with little involvement of ground forces. Staying air-centric in the early going allowed too many unfortunate things like the Qana incident to happen and too little damage to Hezbollah. By the time IDF ground forces began to roll, Israel was already suffering a public relations nightmare. It was about then that Condi Rice's tune changed, and she started pushing, at least publicly, for a UN peace resolution. Olmert announce an "expansion" of the ground war several times, only to stay the offensive in order to allow time for another round of peace negotiations.
Tactically and operationally, this kind of stutter stepping almost always works to the advantage of the defender, giving him time to reinforce his physical position. Strategically, Olmert may have thought making at least the appearance of giving peace talks a chance to work would help Israel recover some of its standing in world opinion. But world opinion was already lost, and rather than create the perception that Israel was acting compassionately, Olmert merely added to the growing impression in the Arab world and elsewhere that the mighty IDF didn't have the stomach for a ground fight with Hezbollah. Olmert's constituency lost confidence in him, angry that four weeks into the war rockets were still raining down on Israeli soil. Ari Shavit of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz called for Olmert's resignation, saying…
There is no mistake Ehud Olmert did not make this past month. He went to war hastily, without properly gauging the outcome. He blindly followed the military without asking the necessary questions. He mistakenly gambled on air operations, was strangely late with the ground operation, and failed to implement the army's original plan, much more daring and sophisticated than that which was implemented. And after arrogantly and hastily bursting into war, Olmert managed it hesitantly, unfocused and limp. He neglected the home front and abandoned the residents of the north. He also failed shamefully on the diplomatic front.
Just now, things don't seem to have worked out real well for either the U.S or Israel in this conflict. That could change if the cease-fire holds, south Lebanon stabilizes, and Hezbollah actually disarms.
If the cease-fire doesn't hold, or if things go up for grabs after the UN-Lebanese force takes over and Israel leaves--run for cover.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.