If the fighting ends in the next few couple of weeks, and it ends with the IDF still flailing about ineffectually in a "buffer zone" a couple thousand meters across, with Hezbollah still standing, and no sign of U.N./E.U. troops willing to serve as a proxy for an IDF occupation force, will this amount to "national suicide" on the part of the Israeli state?
It is useful to consider this possibility now, as it seems the most likely result of the 2006 ME "Summer War".
Well, no, obviously not. National Suicide, if it means anything (and it may not), means dropping The Bomb on your own capital, maybe, or ordering the whole populace to drink cool-aid laced with cyanide and then they're stupid enough to do it. No doubt the Israelis will feel like shit after the conflict fizzles out (its most likely conclusion), but the State will still be there, and it will still have an arsenal of about 400 nukes if they ever face a real existential threat. So its time to shut up already with the self-piteous clap-trap from Israel, and the naive doomsday pronouncements on the part of her apologists, and to try to look clearly at the most likely outcome of the conflict: a resurgent Hezbollah and a humiliated Israel.
WAPO's David Ignatius has indeed looked clearly at the matter, and in his column from earlier this week, entitled "War is Opening a Door", he sees a potential bright side to an IDF strategic defeat. His historical reference for this belief is the Yom Kippur War of October, 1973:
The 1973 war seemed like the ultimate disaster: Israel's very survival was at stake in the early hours of the battle. As the war dragged on, there was a risk of a U.S.-Soviet nuclear confrontation; and the conflict triggered an Arab oil embargo that devastated the global economy. Because of its close alliance with Israel, the United States was isolated from many of its European and Arab allies.
Yet in the long lens of history, the importance of the 1973 war is that it opened the door to peace. The Arabs, humiliated by earlier wars with Israel, could now claim a measure of dignity because of Anwar Sadat's bold attack across the canal. The Israelis learned that their Arab adversaries wouldn't run from battle, as they had in the 1967 war. That gave them a stake in making peace, too.
Ever since Ariel Sharon blew up the Palestinian peace process in the late 1990s in order to relaunch his political career, the Israeli attitude to the Palestinian issue, and the issues that arise when you are living in a sea of Arab states, has been "Fuck 'em! We can stomp their ass on the battlefield!" However, the Summer War is going to, at the end of the day, very effectively demonstrate the limits of Israeli military power. And the Israelis are going to have their nose rubbed in it. As the bible (or wherever) says: "Pride Goeth Before the Fall."
But after the fall comes the potential for Rebirth. As with the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War, Israel will, one hopes, feel it has a stake in making Peace with its neighbors and, perhaps, with the Palestinian population that it has effectively imprisoned in Gaza and the West Bank.
Note: an interesting piece by Haroon Siddiqui in which he quotes extensively from words by Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth concerning the "war crimes" that his organization has attributed to Israel in a report that I noted earlier here. Mr Roth is discussing the Israeli practice of "warning" Lebanese civilians before shellacking their villages:
...Israel is to be commended for issuing warnings, but warnings do not absolve it of the duty to continue at all times to distinguish between civilians and combatants in launching attacks.
"If that were not true, Hamas might `warn' all settlers to leave the settlements and treat those who remained as fair game for attack."
So if the Israeli argument is solid, all Hezbollah has to do is broadcast a few alerts and then fire away to their heart's content. Hey Presto! No more war crime!