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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 The Road To Qana
by Ralph Peters [author, novelist] 8/2/06

The airstrike on the Lebanese village of Qana has been a tragedy for Israel. A publicity debacle, the deaths of 57 civilians united Israel's enemies, complicated American support - and may lead to a cease-fire that rewards Hezbollah.

The Qana attack can't be excused. But it can be explained.

The images of children's bodies dug out of an apartment building's rubble were a gift to Hezbollah, Syria and Iran - and a direct result of the Olmert government's attempt to wage an "easy" war.

All efforts to make war easy, cheap or bloodless fail. If Israel's government - or our own - goes to war, our leaders must accept the price of winning. You can't measure out military force by teaspoons. Such naive efforts led to the morass in Iraq - and to the corpses of Qana.

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]

Despite one failure after another, the myth of antiseptic techno-war, of immaculate victories through airpower, persists. The defense industry fosters it for profit, and the notion is seductive to politicians: a quick win without friendly casualties.

The problem is that it never works. Never.

Even the Kosovo conflict - frequently cited as an airpower victory - only climaxed after we threatened to send in ground troops. Prior to that, we'd spent billions bombing charcoal grills the Serbs used as decoy tank engines. (Our sensors read hot metal, and bombs away!)

Without boots - and eyes - on the ground, you just blast holes in the dirt. Or hit the targets your enemy wants you to strike. That's what happened in Qana.

Anyone who's ever served on a military staff or at the upper echelons of government during a crisis can tell you what happened: The pressure to obtain results grew ever heavier as it "rolled downhill." The prime minister and his Cabinet pressured the generals. The generals pressured the staffs. Staff principals pressured the intelligence officers and targeting analysts.

When Israel's version of "shock and awe" failed, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert froze like the proverbial deer in the headlights. Committed to a model of war that couldn't work, the stunned Israeli government insisted on "making" it work. Day after day, the pressure increased - until a desperate system dropped its safeguards.

Hezbollah sized up the situation perfectly. It already had succeeded in feeding the Israelis false intelligence about various sites and vehicles, gulling the IDF into attacks on civilian buses and buildings - followed up by prompt hate-Israel orgies in the media. But Hezbollah needed a "name" event, an apparent atrocity that would echo across continents.

Qana was the perfect setup. Hezbollah fired rockets from a position near the building that the terrorists wanted the IDF to bomb. This time, Hezbollah probably didn't "shoot and scoot" but let the launcher linger as bait. Hezbollah also may have fed the Israelis phony info about the doomed building serving as a terrorist safe house.

As for the women and children occupying the target, Hezbollah wrote them off as a necessary sacrifice. The terrorists would have sacrificed 570 innocents as readily as they did 57. Their will to win - at any cost - is their most formidable weapon.

Within the Israeli headquarters responsible for green-lighting the strike - where staffers are undoubtedly weary after weeks of war - the targeting data didn't get the "Are we sure?" grilling that doctrine demands. And - because of the Olmert government's unwillingness to commit serious numbers of ground troops (or even a heavy special-operations presence) - there were no Israeli eyes on the scene to confirm the target's validity.

Anxious to hurt Hezbollah, a chain of command grown tired and careless ended up by harming Israel terribly.

The consequences are grave. At Qana, Israel lost the information war beyond all hope of recovery. It's losing the war on the ground, too. After ill-judged claims a week ago that the Israeli Defense Forces had eliminated 40 percent of Hezbollah's military capability, more rockets rained down on Israel last Sunday than on any previous day of the conflict.

The Olmert government chose war but didn't want to pay war's price. The cost of fighting half-heartedly has been Hezbollah's transformation from a middleweight sparring partner into the Middle East's new heavyweight champion.

This woefully mismanaged war strengthened America's enemies, too. Away from the microphones, you can bet that plenty of profanity has been aimed at Israel in the West Wing - and it wasn't just Mel Gibson calling to chat. (Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice probably ain't too thrilled, either, after being blindsided by Qana - her multicountry diplomatic effort turned into a trip for brunch in Tel Aviv.)

Our support for Israel has always been costly to our foreign policy, yet it was justified on several grounds: morally imperative backing for a Jewish homeland after the Holocaust, moral and practical support for a fellow rule-of-law democracy and the knowledge that Israel would fight to win.

But Israel isn't fighting to win this time: It's been tossing bombs and hoping for a miracle.

With the Muslim world infuriated and Hezbollah reaping the benefit, the Olmert government's fecklessness has boosted the cost to Washington of supporting our old ally. We can't help Israel if Israel won't help itself.

So far, the Olmert government has been a disastrous aberration in Israel's history of wartime Cabinets - and a gift to Hezbollah. Israel needs leadership, not Clintonesque equivocation. President Bill Clinton's weakness led to 9/11. Olmert's weakness led to Qana.

The problem isn't Israel's people - who overwhelmingly support the effort to destroy Hezbollah. And the IDF knows how to do the job. But the Olmert government seems terrified of finishing what it started. Now, with global cries for a cease-fire, it may be too late. This may be the first "shooting war" Israel loses.

War is never a cheap date. CRO

Ralph Peters' latest book is Never Quit The Fight.

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

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