I wish I shared Rabbi Grossman’s rosy assessment of the legacy of the Lebanon War, which marks its one-year anniversary next week. She lists a number of factors that she cites as positive outcomes from the war, and it is certainly true that there are some improvements. On the other hand, she fails to mention Hamas’ takeover in Gaza, the decreased morale of Israel’s citizens, the stagnation in the current administration and at the top ranks of the army, the strengthening of Palestinian militants in southern Lebanon, and the final nail in the coffin of the all-important myth of Israel’s invulnerability. All of these factors can be traced to Israel’s disastrous decision to go into Lebanon–a fitting irony since it was Israel’s original incursion into Lebanon under Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon that first began to erode that myth.
If there is one lesson to come out of the last 50 years, it is that wars launched to gain territory or with the “strategic intent” of realigning the neighborhood hardly ever go the way the aggressor intends or desires. From Korea, to Vietnam, to the First Lebanon War; from the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan to Rwanda to Kossovo to Iraq to the Second Lebanon War, time and again the hostilities have backfired in the face of the aggressor.
The clear lesson is that voluntary wars, in Hebrew milchemet reshut, have no winners. (Witness the immortal words of Kevin Kline’s pro-America character in “A Fish Called Wanda”: “We didn’t lose Vietnam. It was a tie!”), and there is something distasteful about debating who lost less, as Rabbi Grossman does. This is not to say I’m a pacifist; Israel needs to stand up to aggression and to respond militarily if provoked to maintain its security. However, launching full-scale wars on the shaky premise of installing friendly governments or creating new allies ought to be so thoroughly discredited as a tactic that any minister or government official should be ashamed to propose it. Yet Dick Cheney is making coy remarks about attacking Iran and Ethiopia is fighting a proxy war in Somalia, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
For all countries considering military action to promote foreign policy, the Lebanon War should serve as a stunning rebuke.