Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The July War Series, Part III – The Israeli defeat

The July War Series, Part III – The Israeli defeat

03/08/2009 By Yusuf Fernandez
August 2, 2009

In recent decades, Lebanon has become a curse haunting Israeli leaders. The defeats of May 2000 and August 2006 had the same consequences for the Israeli psyque as the defeat of the Vietnam war did for the United States. The withdrawal under fire of the Israeli army from Lebanon in 2000 along with the fall and destruction of the pro-Israeli collaborationist militia of the “South Lebanon Army”, led by Antoine Lahad, and the surrender or flight to Israel of its members recalled to memory the scenes of the fall of Saigon and the end of the US misadventure in Vietnam. However, the victory over Israel was obtained not by a large army but by some thousands of fighters of Hezbollah.

The defeat of their army in Lebanon in 2000 shocked the Israeli public. For their part, the members of the Israeli military and political establishment could not hide its anger for this humiliating defeat, which had shattered the image of an “invincible army” that they had tried to build in the previous decades. Obviously, they wanted “another opportunity” to “settle the score” with Hezbollah.

The anti-Syrian and anti-Lebanese policies of the Bush Administration made the Israeli establishment feel confident that the Israeli army would have soon another opportunity to invade Lebanon and crush its Resistance. With Iraq under occupation and Lebanon without Hezbollah´s protection, Syria and Iran would feel intimidated and they should surrender to Israeli and US hegemony in the Middle East. Otherwise, they would be also attacked and bombed into submission. The autumn 2006 was the time chosen for the attack on Lebanon. Therefore, the destruction of Hezbollah would be the first step for the building of “a New Middle East.” Or at least, that is what they believed...

On August 14, 2006, the US journalist Seymour M. Hersh published an article in the New Yorker in which he explained the real plan that laid behind the Israeli war against Lebanon. He claimed that the Bush Administration had been “closely involved in the planning” of Israel´s offensive. “President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney were convinced, current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials told me, that a successful Israeli Air Force bombing campaign against Hezbollah´s heavily fortified underground-missile and command-and-control complexes in Lebanon could ease Israel´s security concerns and also serve as a prelude to a potential American preemptive attack to destroy Iran´s nuclear installations... Israel had devised a plan for attacking Hezbollah -and shared it with Bush Administration officials- well before the July 12 offensive.”

When Hezbollah launched the "Operation Truthful Promise" on the border and captured two Israeli soldiers in order to exchange them for the thousands of Lebanese prisoners in Israeli prisons, Olmert decided to bring forward the operation. Of course, he hoped to achieve a quick and decisive victory. However, he could not then imagine that the July War would become a new and more powerful disaster for Israel and the end of his own career.

It is noteworthy to point out that in the context of the continued occupation, detention of prisoners and repeated Israeli attacks and incursions into Lebanese territory, the capture of the Israeli soldiers was entirely legitimate. The operation was fully in line with Lebanese ministerial declarations, supported by the Parliament, that stressed the right of the Resistance to liberate the rest of the occupied Lebanese territory (the Shebaa Farms), free Lebanese prisoners of war and defend Lebanon against Israeli aggression.

In order to achieve its goals, Israel the government employed all the brutality it could against the Lebanese population during the July war. Nearly 1,500 Lebanese civilians, a third of them are children, were massacred by Israel. The injured were more than 6,000, including an estimated number of 1,200 left maimed. “We must reduce to dust the villages of the South... I do not understand why there is still electricity there,” Haaretz quoted Israeli Justice minister Haim Ramon as saying, after the failure of the invasion of the town of Bint Jbeil. The Israeli army warned the Lebanese population that anyone staying in south Lebanon would be considered as a “terrorist” and killed. This was clearly another Nazi-style strategy that Israel usually employs.

Hezbollah responded the brutal Israeli air campaign against Lebanon and the massacre of Lebanese civilians with the launch of thousands of rockets against numerous targets in the north of Israel. Hezbollah had tried from the beginning of the war to limit the further escalation by adopting a strategy of limited response in order to avoid civilian targets. However, Israel´s systematic destruction of huge civilian areas in Beirut and elsewhere and perpetration of horrendous massacres forced the organization to shift to an all-out confrontation in order to affirm Lebanon´s right to deter aggression and defend its territorial integrity and its citizens, just as any sovereign state would do. Therefore, Hezbollah achieved surprising military successes, maintained its position in the face of Israel´s superior fire power and preserved its capacity to wage a long-term war.

On July 26, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz wrote that thousands of rockets and missiles were striking Israeli targets from the outbreak of hostilities and the Israeli Army recognized that its efforts to reduce or prevent these attacks had failed. In fact, despite all the force that Israel applied, Hezbollah launched rockets and missiles onto Israeli targets until the very last day of the fighting.

Before the war, Israeli sources claimed that the number of rockets and missiles in Hezbollah´s arsenal was about 12,000. These rockets brought life in the city of Haifa and several other Israeli towns to a standstill. An estimated 500,000 people throughout northern Israel remained indoors or in concrete shelters.

Rockets hit the towns of Safed, Nahariya, Carmiel, Nahariya, Acre, Tiberias, Rosh Pina, Maalot and the Golan Heights. One of the most damaged towns was Kiryat Shemona, which was hit by more than 1,000 rockets, which destroyed or damaged 1,600 buildings. Half of its 22,000 inhabitants fled to the south during the war.

Haifa was also attacked. On July 17, eleven people were wounded when a building in the Bat Galim neighborhood of Haifa collapsed after a direct hit from a Katyusha rocket. On July 23, eight Israelis were killed in Haifa by a long-range missile, which hit a main train station in the city. The previous day, some 17 people were wounded, when more than 160 rockets struck targets across the north of Israel. On the whole, 19 Israelis died as a result of rocket and missile attacks up to July 26. Though it was not the first time Haifa was hit during this conflict, Israelis were surprised by the continued and precise attacks. “The devastation was huge,” said Micky Rosenfeld, the police spokesman, to the newspaper Haaretz.

Because of the attacks, the streets of Haifa, a city of some 270,000 people, got deserted and Israeli authorities decided to close the port of the city, the Transportation Ministry said. This port is one of Israel´s key shipment points. Haifa also has oil refineries and some of Israel´s most sensitive industrial facilities, including chemical plants. There are 1,800 industrial companies in the city. In this way, the city became a very important target for the Lebanese.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said that attacks on Haifa were retaliation for Israel´s brutal and unjustified killing of scores of civilians, including many children in Lebanon, and promised more “surprises.” Some Lebanese observers also said these strikes were only a “warning,” and that Hezbollah could hit bigger targets in Haifa, including oil refineries and major chemical plants.

The Israeli army was concerned that Hezbollah Fajr-3 and Fajr-5 rockets, whose range is estimated to exceed 200 kilometers, might be used. The new versions of the Fajr-5 -mounted on a mobile rocket launcher- are easier to move around and quicker to launch, according to Jane´s Information Group. With these missiles, Hezbollah could have targeted the Tel Aviv metropolitan area if it had wanted to.

More importantly, the rocket and missile attacks dealt a severe blow to the Israeli economy. According to Al Jazeera, Israel began to lose around 400 million dollars daily since the Hezbollah rockets started to fall in Haifa and the North. An estimated 630 factories in northern Israel had to shut down during all or part of the war. The Manufacturers Association of Israel claimed that 25% of factories in the north of Israel were completely shut down and 30% were operating at partial capacity. Israel´s Finance Ministry agreed to compensate companies for damages, but said that not all costs could be covered.

The Israeli journalist Shira Horesh wrote in Globe at the end of July that “the war in the north is causing increasing difficulties to industrial enterprises within range of Hizbullah Katyusha rockets. Many companies are struggling to go about their normal business, and small and medium-sized enterprises are suffering from severe cash flow distress. Many enterprises have moved some activity to their factories in the centre of the country, says Manufacturers Association of Israel managing director Yoram Blizovsky. Some companies have transferred their operations abroad. Others have resorted to air cargo because of the closure of the port. Blizovsky says the financial damage to industry in the north has reached 2.3 billion Israeli Shekels so far. This figure includes loss of production on days when factories were closed.”

At the Port of Haifa, economic losses in July surpassed 14 million dollars. Around 60% of Israel´s foreign trade passes through this port, which was shut for the first two days of the fighting. During the war, the port handled only about a quarter of its typical traffic, as companies scaled back operations.

In addition, many foreign businessmen cancelled their travels to Israel. Tourists also fled from the country shortly after the beginning of the war and the hotels were occupied only by journalists and soldiers. Hezbollah´s missiles reached even Tiberius, a summer resort located around 40 kms from the Lebanese border, driving tourists away. Some hours after the first attack, Tiberius became a ghost town. Israeli Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson had previously announced plans to encourage Israeli and foreign tourists to visit the north in an attempt to provide an urgent cash injection for the region.

According to Matthew Kalman, reporter of San Francisco Chronicle, Israel lost more than 3 billion dollars as a result only of the damage suffered by the tourism industry. The Zionist entity expected to receive 2,5 million passenger arrivals in 2006. However, “officials said cancellations were already being received for 2007.” “About half of the people who had planned trips to Israel in July and August cancelled or been no-shows,” said Ami Etgar, director general of the Israel Incoming Tour Operators Assn., to LA Times. Hotel bookings for the following months in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem plunged by about 60%.

The agriculture also suffered important losses. The peaches and pears of northern Israel rotted in the orchards. Also, the rockets ignited fires that destroyed orchards. Israeli officials claim that agricultural damages in the region would exceed 100 million dollars.

According to the site, Israeli economists predicted that if hostilities cease in only some few weeks, Israel would lose up to 1% of GDP or even more. “The longer it takes for a ceasefire, the more uncertain the result will be,” said Leonardo Leiderman, chief economist at Bank Hapoalim, to the site.

On the whole, 158 Israelis, 119 of them soldiers, died during the war. Also, 3,970 Hezbollah rockets were launched against Israel. The sentiment of defeat was overwhelming in the Zionist entity. A Globes Smith poll showed that 52% of electors believed that the Israeli army had failed in its Lebanon offensive as opposed to 44% who thought it had done well.

Uri Avnery, a leading Israeli pro peace activist, said that the Israeli campaign had been a total failure. “Hezbollah has remained as it was. It has not been destroyed, nor disarmed, nor even removed from where it was. The Israeli army has not succeeded in removing it from one single village. Its fighters have proved themselves in battle and have even garnered compliments from Israeli soldiers. Its command and communication structure has continued to function to the end. Its TV station is still broadcasting,” he said. “Hassan Nasrallah is alive and kicking. Persistent attempts to kill him failed. His prestige is sky-high. Everywhere in the Arab world, from Morocco to Iraq, songs are being composed in his honor and his picture adorns the walls.”

Lebanon became the tomb of the careers of many Israeli politicians and military officers. Olmert was unable to fulfill his promise to eliminate Hezbollah and the new defeat of the Israeli army would end up destroying his political career. He suffered from record low approval rates from the end of the war on. A poll taken by Haaretz newspaper showed that Olmert´s rating approval plunged from 75% at the start of the conflict to 48%. He never recovered and his popularity continued falling up to the end of his mandate in 2009.

Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit asked Olmert to resign after the conflict. “You cannot lead an entire nation to war promising victory, produce humiliating defeats, and remain in power. You cannot bury 158 Israelis in cemeteries, keep a million Israelis in shelters for a month and wear down deterrent power and then say, oops, I made a mistake.” Olmert would also be forced to negotiate a deal with Hezbollah to recover the bodies of the two Israeli soldiers captured on July 12, which meant a humiliation for him.

There were more political “victims” of the war. One of them was the then-Minister of Defence, Amir Peretz, who was also leader of the Labor Party. Peretz´s popularity sank due to his failure in Lebanon and he was forced to leave his post in the party shortly after.

Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, the head of the Israeli Army, was also forced to resign from his post when he admitted selling about 28,000 dollar worth of his stocks within three hours of Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers. The failure of Israel in the Lebanon war was another main reason for his dismissal.
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