What Israel and the Israelis have grossly miscalculated is how Lebanon and the Lebanese would react to the aggression on Hezbollah and Lebanon. Israel thought that Lebanon would revolt against Hezbollah at the same time as Hezbollah would be pounded militarily by Israel.
Reading several blogs and online comments from the Israeli press point one to believe that Israel was really counting on the fact that the majority of the Lebanese population would align against Hezbollah in a way that would help precipitate their fall, after adding to the military pressure that Israel would inflict them.
Paraphrasing these comments sounds like this:
- while you were partying, Hezbollah was arming itself and infesting the South; it’s time that you pay for it, you deserve it
- why don’t you wake-up and get rid of this terrorist organization who is dragging you down?
- why don’t you get a better, stronger government, why are you so passive about it, we thought you were a democracy?
- Tel-Aviv is like Beirut, we have more in common than you think
The dilemma is that the above questions are correct in framing the issues, and they are the right ones to ask. But what differs between Israelis and Lebanese is the approach taken to solve them. Whereas Israel believes that military brute force action can shake things overnight, the Lebanese people are more in favor of a diplomatic, slow-paced, consensus driven solution. And the Lebanese people are a lot more tolerant than Israelis about co-existence even if one doesn’t approve of another party who is living next to you.
For many Lebanese, both Christians and Muslims, Hezbollah’s military and political rise was a big issue that they were trying to deal with. They knew that this hot potato had to be dealt with eventually, and they were buying time to try to resolve it while containing it, as much as possible. Take the analogy of the Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank. Israel doesn’t like them, so it starts to attack them. The Lebanese didn’t like Hezbollah, but they weren’t attacking them, rather they were trying to work with them towards a longer term solution, starting by strengthening the Lebanese government itself to assert its authority over the entire territory. For many Lebanese, the Hezbollah issue was as grave as the Palestinian issue is for Israelis: people whose behavior you don’t like are living in your backyard.
Now, Israel has a bigger problem on their hand. Before the war, at least 40% of the Lebanese population was openly against Hezbollah. Now, polls show the majority of Lebanese (~80%) have sided with Hezbollah, not because they love Hezbollah,-- but because, of the 2 evils, Hezbollah is suddenly the lesser one. Many Lebanese Christians had warm feelings for Israel, but not warm enough to form bonds with Israel, especially after Israel started bombing Lebanese infrastructure and turning everyone’s life into chaos. In a nutshell, this war has affected every Lebanese person this time: by uprooting them, disrupting their businesses, personal lives, dreams, aspirations and plans one way or the other. Israel has in fact united the Lebanese far more than the Lebanese have ever been united in the recent past.
Going forward, we still have a “Hezbollah problem”, and we still have an “Israeli attitude problem”. Compound to this, we have a “Lebanese passivity problem”, a sort of laissez-faire attitude that allowed the country to thrive, despite of Hezbollah’s thorn in its side, but has prevented the country from being perfect at the same time.
What Israel did not understand is that the Lebanese people were more tolerant of the shortcomings of others, and that they worked around it, instead of facing it, i.e. if you ignore a problem long enough, it often goes away or becomes irrelevant.
If Hezbollah was the fly in the ointment, the Israelis approach has been to bring a magnifying glass into that small fly to make it look much bigger, then get the big sledge hammer and slam it, regardless of the collateral damage around it. The Lebanese people would have solved the same problem by filtering the oil slowly and allowing the fly to get trapped, and then deciding the fly’s fate after the oil was clean.
Of course, one can argue that Israel wanted to stop the firing of rockets into its territory, but the military approach is not the solution to a safer Israel. Rather, Israel must start to better understand their neighbors if it wants to live in peace with them in the future. This isn’t 1967, nor 1973. Israel may have military superiority, but crushing neighbors doesn’t solve its problems, but rather compounds them.
At the end of the day, we all want to live in peace, not war. Sure, Israel could win the war, but can they win the peace? It is time to seize this moment and revert to a “peaceful solution” that addresses all roots of the problem from all sides.