Israel's Tactical Catastrophe

The U.S.-French cease-fire plan for Lebanon is getting the same reaction at the UN as a group of Connecticut bloggers at Lieberman campaign headquarters. Delegates from the Arab League arrived in New York to push the Security Council for a major rewrite, while Bush interrupted his vacation brush-clearing to brush aside the Arab world's concerns, saying the UN should approve the plan now and worry about the details later.

Neither Condi Rice nor John Bolton seemed in too much of a hurry to pull the plug on Israel's Lebanon offensive. "We're going to take a little time and listen to the concerns of the parties and see how they can be addressed," said Rice at the Crawford ranch. For his part, Bolton was happy to hold off until the Arab foreign ministers made their case: "We're not going to rush to have the text finished before they arrive." Both managed to stifle a yawn -- but just barely.

Meanwhile, the body count continued to rise as the fighting escalated -- the bombs and rockets being unleashed by both sides proving far more on target than the attempts at diplomacy.

Also escalating is the debate over whether Israel's efforts to wipe out Hezbollah are having the desired effect -- or whether they are, in fact, proving counterproductive.

This was the question I was asked to debate with Dennis Prager last night on Larry King Live.

For Prager, the discussion was all about the morality of Israel's actions (he has called support of Israel's battle with Hezbollah "the most clarifying moral litmus test of our time"). For me, it's a question of strategy and effectiveness. There's no question that Israel has the moral right to defend itself against a fanatical terrorist organization that seeks to destroy it. But, as I've asked before, does Israel want to be right or does it want to win? And can victory be defined as anything other than the ability of Israel to guarantee the security and safety of its people?

Ultimately, the long-term security of Israel depends on isolating and marginalizing the vile, violent extremists in the region from the rest of the Arab and Muslim world. As Prager wrote in a recent column, not every Arab or every Muslim is an enemy of Israel. But Israel's current tactics are pushing more and more Middle East moderates to embrace the extremists.

As Robin Wright of the Washington Post put it on Larry King: "A staggering poll last week -- in a country with 17 different recognized religious groups, 87 percent said they backed Hezbollah, which is unprecedented in the history of Lebanon." Even more ominous for Israeli -- and American -- interests, Israel's all-out approach is bringing together the traditionally divided religious factions in the country, with 89 percent of Sunnis, 80 percent of Christians, and 80 percent of Druze siding with the Shia terrorists of Hezbollah.

And we're seeing similar unsettling shifts throughout the Middle East. When the current conflict started, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan all condemned Hezbollah. Not any more.

It's extremely dangerous when you have the hearts and minds of the Arab world being filled with sympathy and understanding for a terrorist organization led by a man, Nasrallah, who has said, "If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak, and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology, and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew", and backed by the radicals in Iran, whose president said last week that the "main solution" to the Middle East crisis was the "elimination" of Israel.

Prager also tried to frame the debate over Israeli strategy as a left/right issue. In truth, the idea that Israel is doing itself more harm than good is shared by those on both sides of the political spectrum. Chuck Hagel, the second ranking Senator on the Foreign Relations Committee, recently declared "The war against Hezbollah and Hamas will not be won on the battlefield." He cautioned that a continued air and ground assault by Israel "will tear apart Lebanon, destroy its economy and infrastructure, create a humanitarian disaster, further weaken Lebanon's fragile democratic government, strengthen popular Muslim and Arab support for Hezbollah, and deepen hatred of Israel across the Middle East."

And Pat Buchanan, as identified with the Right as anyone, summed it up this way: "Whatever one thinks of the morality of what Israel is doing, the stupidity is paralyzing."

During our debate, Prager drew the comparison between Israel's response to the kidnapping of its soldiers and America's response to 9/11. That was Israel's "final straw," he said. "It's just like our final straw was 9/11."

It was an unfortunate example -- not because of the disparity in the magnitude of the two incidents, but because of the depressing similarity between the reaction to them.

After 9/11, America had the world on its side. We were undeniably in the right; no one that mattered doubted that we had the moral high ground. But we went after the wrong enemy -- Saddam and Iraq instead of bin Laden and al Qaeda -- and, as a result, find ourselves suffering in so many ways, not the least of which is the loss of our ability to be an effective power broker in the Middle East.

Just 26 days ago, Israel had the world on its side and the moral high ground. It now finds itself fighting an increasingly bloody ground war against a surprisingly effective enemy -- and the object of outrage throughout much of the world. Shades of America and Iraq.

America went after the wrong enemy. Israel went after the right enemy in the wrong way. Both decisions have left the world a far more dangerous place.

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