Monday, August 21, 2006

Measuring victory 

As previously reported, we are on vacation in the Adirondacks. Connectivity is less than ideal, and our days are filled with exciting adventure, such as today's extended hike in the Blue Mountain Lake area. Still, helpful readers have been sending me lots of good ideas, and I'd be remiss if I didn't call a couple of them to your attention before hitting the sack.

This afternoon while lounging on our dock I listened to the podcast of Friday's edition of "Washington Week in Review" (yes, I am just that cool). A good part of the show was given over to the virtually universal view in the Western chattering classes that Israel has come out on the short end of the late fighting with Hezbollah. Neither I nor my co-blogger Cardinalpark agree with the received wisdom, and the two items for your evening reading are some small support for our view.

Regular readers will remember that I have written a couple of very superficial posts suggesting that Israel's financial markets do not seem to reflect a significant degradation in that country's geopolitical situation. Now the National Review's Jerry Bowyer interprets Arab financial markets as signaling the same thing.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that the Israeli stock exchange rallied and fell in step with Israel’s fortunes in the war. But as the above chart shows, the Arab Titans index did the same, rising and falling in step with Israel’s success. Why? Because Israel’s counter-attacks were not the destabilizing factor in the region. Hezbollah’s failed-state warlordism was.

Israel’s attack was part of the solution. That’s because the conflict isn’t between Arab and Jew; it’s between civilization and chaos. The complex web of information that constitutes Saudi bankers, Kuwaiti phone execs, and their shareholders seems to have been voting that civilization is either winning, or that it must win.

Wishful thinking, perhaps, but there are often important clues in the behavior of financial markets. If the result of this war had made it more likely that Hezbollah or any other power would attack Israel any time soon, would we have seen these reactions?

If the mystical world of the financial markets does not persuade you that Israel's fortunes rose in the month just past, then you must read Edward Luttwak's very sharp piece in today's Jerusalem Post, "Misreading the Lebanon war." Luttwak (a historian and economist who has written widely on geopolitics and whose son, I am told, fought in the 101st Airborne in Iraq) puts the Hez-Israeli war in crucial perspective. Teaser:
In the immediate aftermath of the 1973 October War, there was much joy in the Arab world because the myth of Israeli invincibility had been shattered by the surprise Egyptian crossing of the Suez Canal, and the Syrian offensive that swept across the Golan Heights. Even unbiased commentators noted the failure of the Israeli air force to repeat its feats of 1967 while losing fully one-quarter of its combat aircraft to ground fire, just as hundreds of Israeli tanks were damaged or destroyed by brave Egyptian infantrymen with their hand-carried missiles and rockets.

In Israel, there was harsh criticism of political and military chiefs alike, who were blamed for the loss of 3,000 soldiers in a war that ended without a clear victory. Prime Minister Golda Meir, defense minister Moshe Dayan, the chief of staff, David Elazar and the chief of military intelligence were all discredited and soon replaced.

It was only later that a sense of proportion was regained, ironically by the Egyptian and Syrian leaders before anyone else. While commentators in Israel and around the world were still mourning or gloating over Israel's lost military supremacy, both Egypt's president Sadat and Syrian president Assad soberly recognized that their countries had come closer to catastrophic defeat than in 1967, and that it was absolutely imperative to avoid another war. That led to Sadat's peace and Assad's 1974 cease-fire on the Golan Heights, never violated since then.

Only in retrospect can the 1973 war be satisfactorily analyzed. Israel had been caught by surprise, because perfectly good Intelligence was misinterpreted in a climate of arrogant over-confidence. The frontal sectors, left almost unguarded, were largely overrun. The Egyptians had an excellent war plan and fought well. Syrian tanks advanced boldly and even where a lone Israeli brigade held out, they kept attacking in wave after wave for three days and nights. Within 48 hours, Israel seemed on the verge of defeat on both fronts.

But as soon as its army was fully mobilized, as soon as the reservist brigades that make up nine-tenths of its strength were ready to deploy for battle, it turned out that they could stop both the Egyptian and Syrian armies in their tracks, and start their own advance almost immediately. The war ended with Israeli forces 70 miles from Cairo, and less than 20 miles from Damascus. As for the Israeli air force, its strength over the battlefields was certainly blunted by concentrated anti-aircraft missiles and guns, but its air-combat supremacy prevented almost all attacks by the large Egyptian and Syrian air forces, while itself being able to bomb in depth almost at will.

That was the real military balance of the 1973 war, which was obscured by the tremendous shock of surprise, emotional overreaction, and the plain difficulty of seeing things as they are through the fog of war.

It is the same now, with the Lebanon war just ended. Future historians will no doubt see things much more clearly, but some gross misperceptions are perfectly obvious even now.

Read the whole thing, including particularly this part:
Nasrallah has a political constituency, and it happens to be centered in southern Lebanon. Implicitly accepting responsibility for having started the war, Nasrallah has directed his Hizbullah to focus on rapid reconstruction in villages and towns, right up to the Israeli border.

He cannot start another round of fighting that would quickly destroy everything again. Yet another unexpected result of the war is that Nasrallah's power-base in southern Lebanon is more than ever a hostage for Hizbullah's good behavior.

History will reveal that this last war was a victory for Israel, no matter the gleeful pessimism of Gwen Ifill's guests or the emphemeral certainty of Stratfor.


By Blogger RPD, at Tue Aug 22, 11:03:00 AM:

I also wonder just how long this ceasefire will last. It looks to me like no one is going to pony up the troops for a UN Peacekeeping force.  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Tue Aug 22, 12:09:00 PM:

I have a very distinct interpretation of the hezbullah victory statements:

translating from the Arabic:

Israel didn't kick our asses nearly as bad they could have, as we thought they could have, as everybody else in the world thought they could have, Therefore WE WON.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Aug 22, 12:13:00 PM:

The whole "we survived therefore we won" interpretation doesn't make sense when you are the aggressor.  

By Blogger Buce, at Wed Aug 23, 09:46:00 PM:

"The whole "we survived therefore we won" interpretation doesn't make sense..."

It's a first principle of Jewish theology. As in "they tried to kill us, we won, let's eat."  

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