The Second Lebanon War, as Seen from the White House

Aug. 15 2017

When war broke out between Hizballah and Israel in the summer of 2006, the U.S. expected that the IDF would achieve a quick and decisive victory, resulting in a better situation than the status quo ante. Such an outcome would benefit the U.S. and Israel, could help Lebanon break free of Hizballah’s influence, and was even desired by many Arab governments. As the war dragged on, however, then-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice lost confidence in then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and the possibility of a decisive Israeli victory receded. Elliott Abrams, who at the time served on President Bush’s National Security Council, recalls:

[A]fter two weeks of war, new realities began to surface. The IDF was not decimating Hizballah, as just about everyone had expected. The fact that combat continued meant that there was, inevitably, some damage to [Lebanese] infrastructure and collateral damage to civilian life. Hizballah did a masterful job at propaganda that falsely multiplied the scale of damage, and in this it was greatly aided by [then-Lebanese Prime Minister] Fouad Siniora and his government. . . .

The Arab governments grew nervous, because their “street” was watching Al Jazeera depict the total destruction of Lebanon. This was a lie, but a powerful one. Typically, the Europeans wrung their hands—and that was all they did or even thought about doing. . . .

So, by week three, American resolve was dissipating. There would be no great Israeli victory; we had no allies in holding out for something better than the status quo ante; Siniora was acting essentially as Hizballah’s advocate; and to Rice, Israeli policy seemed lost, to the point that she began to lose confidence in Olmert and in the IDF. . . .

[In the end], Hizballah emerged larger and better armed, the Lebanese government and armed forces became weaker in the [southern part of the country], and, though the UN International Peacekeeping Force in Lebanon was enlarged, it remained unable and unwilling to challenge Hizballah.

Why was more not achieved? Israel could not win at the United Nations, nor could the United States earn for Israel what Israel itself had not achieved on the battlefield. It had not crushed Hizballah, and having failed to achieve its military goals it could not achieve its diplomatic goals. When this became evident to Israel, Olmert suffered political damage from which he never recovered.

Welcome to Mosaic

Register now to get two more stories free

Register Now

Already a subscriber? Sign in now

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Condoleeza Rice, Ehud Olmert, George W. Bush, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Second Lebanon War

What Donald Trump Gets Right about Israel and the Arabs

Oct. 17 2019

With a brisk history of American policy toward the Jewish state, Michael Doran highlights the failure of those who have seen a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict as paramount to U.S. interests, and the success of those who have instead made a clear-eyed assessment of Middle Eastern geopolitics. Too often, writes Doran, “Israel’s conflict with the Arabs has functioned as a screen onto which outsiders project their own psychodramas”: a skewed perspective that led to the failed Oslo Accords and to the misguided condemnations of American moves like the relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem. (Free registration required.)

Sign up to read more

You've read all your free articles for this month


Sign up now for unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, US-Israel relations