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Ralph Peters is a regular columnist with the New York Post. Register here for access to the Post's Online Edition.



PETERS Israel’s New Fear 
by Ralph Peters [author, novelist] 7/18/06

Something big hasn't happened in the current round of fighting between Israel and its terrorist foes. That absence represents a potentially fatal change in Israeli policy.

For all of the air-attacks on targets in Lebanon, the Israeli Defense Force has not sent in ground troops. If IDF tanks don't thrust across the border in force in the next few days, it will reflect the greatest crisis of will in Israel's history.

Israel is signaling its enemies that it's afraid to risk its soldiers' lives. And the terrorists read the message clearly. This caution will only encourage Israel's enemies - just when the seemingly inevitable advent of Iranian nuclear weapons poses the greatest threat to Israel since 1948.

Ralph Peters - Contributor
Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications. [go to Peters Index]

Israel never squandered the lives of its soldiers. It couldn't afford to. But in past crises a sense of necessity prevailed. The IDF did what it had to do, and did it well for two generations. Then came the long involvement in Lebanon, "Israel's Vietnam." It broke something inside the IDF.

Is Israel's spirit of sacrifice dying? If so, it may prove fatal. Once brilliant in the attack, the IDF has declined into a defensive mindset that air-strikes can't camouflage. Meanwhile, the ruthlessness of Israel's enemies has increased horrifically. They would sacrifice millions of their own people to destroy Israel.

Perhaps the air campaign to date is only meant to prepare the battlefield for a strike by ground forces. For Israel's sake, let's hope so. Because Israel's enemies will only be unified - and never defeated - by attacks from 15,000 feet.

Precision munitions can't turn the tide in struggles of the soul. And the souls of men are Hezbollah's center of gravity.

Israeli decision-makers appear to have learned nothing from the failure of our "Shock and Awe" air campaign against Saddam's regime. After all the ludicrous claims that a sound-and-light show over Baghdad would drive Saddam to surrender, the war had to be won the old-fashioned way, with the Army and Marines battling their way to Baghdad.

If the U.S. Air Force, with all its resources, couldn't break Saddam's regime, IDF jets won't defeat Hezbollah - an organization with genuine popular support - by blowing holes in runways in Beirut and humiliating the Lebanese people. But that's about all that air power acting alone can do.

One of the many frustrating aspects of Hezbollah is that, while it's increasingly a potent, disciplined military force, it doesn't present many conventional military targets. It's maddeningly difficult to find dispersed clusters of terrorists - and it's impossible to corner and kill them in significant numbers without boots on the ground.

Israel is making the American mistake of betting on technology to defeat primal beliefs. The result is the opposite of the one desired: Stand-off attacks only convince religion-fueled terrorists that we - Americans or Israelis - lack the courage to "face them like men."

This time, it seems they're right. Israel's refusal to fight in the spirit of Dayan and Sharon will boost the morale of Hezbollah fighters, unify their supporters - and serve as a recruiting tool. In the Muslim world, this round of fighting will count as a terrorist win.

At present, Hezbollah is embarrassing Israel with its rocket attacks, while Israel has yet to wound Hezbollah.

For all the capabilities of hi-tech weapons systems, this is a new age of Cain-and-Abel warfare, of vicious close-in fighting in villages, apartment blocks and olive groves. No reconnaissance system can locate enemy warriors hiding in an urban labyrinth or a shaded village courtyard. The grunts have to do it. As in the age of Joshua, David and Solomon.

No one wants to pay a price in blood. But postponing the payment of an unavoidable blood-price in war only raises the ultimate cost (another lesson of Iraq). Without defeating Hezbollah on the ground - no matter what it takes - Israel can't win.

Israel faces enormous challenges and metastasizing threats. Like cancer, those threats will only grow worse if not treated aggressively. By trying to establish "psychological leverage" over the Lebanese government and population with attacks on the country's civilian infrastructure, Israel played into the hands of its enemies and came off as a bully in the eyes of the world. Attempts to wage "war-lite" have a heavy price.

Israel is in a fight for its life, but looks irresolute for the first time in its history. It appears shockingly weak where it counts most, in strength of will. And will is one thing Israel's fanatical enemies do not lack.

If, in the coming days, we do not hear the roar of IDF tanks pursuing Israel's enemies, we may one day hear a new lament for the children of Zion. CRO

Ralph Peters' latest book is New Glory: Expanding America's Global Supremacy. His next book, Never Quit the Fight, is due out July 10.

This piece first appeared in the New York Post
copyright 2006 - NY Post

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