Archive for Saturday, August 19, 2006

U.S., Israel suffer major loss

August 19, 2006

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As soon as the guns fell silent after the war between Hezbollah and Israel, the question was: Who won? The answer is pretty obvious. And so the new question is: How bad is the defeat for our side?

My scorecard says it is very bad. And it's threatening to get even worse in a hurry.

What was basically a military tie is especially bad for Israel, which violated the maxim against merely wounding the king in an assassination attempt. It just makes him mad. So Israel now faces energized enemies throughout the region who no longer view its military as invincible.

Even worse, Israel is tearing itself apart in a storm of internal blame and finger-pointing, with predictions that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's coalition could collapse. A recent poll reported that two-thirds of Israelis are unhappy with the cease-fire.

The outcome was bad for America, too. Israel's inability to achieve its goals, despite our open support, dents our power and image, a fact Iraqi insurgents and Afghan Taliban are sure to exploit. Respect is nice, but fear is usually better in the Mideast. Right now, nobody there fears us.

Only two days into the tentative cease-fire, it was already clear that this was the little war that couldn't: Couldn't knock out Hezbollah. Couldn't deter Iran and Syria. And couldn't serve as a warning to Islamic terrorists everywhere.

Quite the opposite. Hezbollah seems stronger in every way and is now the king of terror groups. Six years after it drove Israel out of Lebanon, it survived an unprecedented onslaught for a month, something no Arab army has ever done. Its leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, now overshadows the elected government of Lebanon, an ominous sign of things to come.

And the damage goes beyond Lebanon. The presidents of Syria and Iran joined the chorus proclaiming victory, criticizing the United States and threatening Israel. Syrian President Bashar Assad said the war turned U.S. dreams of a "new Middle East" into "an illusion." Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, typically seeing divine messages, said "God's promises have come true. On one side, it's corrupt powers ... with modern bombs and planes. And on the other side is a group of pious youth relying on God."

No doubt both will be emboldened to make more mischief by upping their support for Hezbollah and maybe creating copycat groups. Hamas is almost certain to step up its attacks.

Finally, Lebanese officials put an exclamation point on a very bad ending by saying it wasn't the government's job to disarm Hezbollah, no matter what the United Nations thought when it set the cease-fire.

Was there any good news? Only if you believe in hope.

Hope that the United Nations is serious about assembling a peacekeeping force for southern Lebanon. By its sluggish standards, the United Nations is moving quickly to fill the gap left by departing Israelis. The involvement of numerous countries, including France, could be a sign that the world recognizes the need to counter Muslim aggression.

And maybe one more thing. The result is convincing proof that a tie, or worse, in Iraq, would be a disaster for America and our cause. The enemy will only grow stronger unless we prevail. But that lesson will be lost on us if we continue to fight among ourselves instead of uniting to fight those who want to kill us all.

Put another way, do you think terrorists care whether dead Americans are Democrats or Republicans?

- Michael Goodwin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Daily News.

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