Commentary Magazine


Declaring Victory in the Jaws of Defeat

Arab nations have a habit of denying obvious military losses. Saddam Hussein declared victory in the aftermath of the Gulf War. He had been thoroughly defeated, his forces crushed and driven out of Kuwait, and he was forced to accept severe restrictions, sanctions, and conditions in exchange for being left in power — but he had survived, and could still shout his defiance at the world. So, by his standards, he had won. During the Iraq War, the Iraqi Information Minister became a living embodiment of this delusional attitude. The bombastic (and utterly divorced from reality) proclamations became an international joke, as did Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf himself. Who can forget his fierce denials of American troops being anywhere near Baghdad while the press conference attendees could clearly hear the tanks?

In 2006, Israel finally got fed up with Hezbollah’s incessant attacks and invaded Lebanon. Hundreds of Hezbollah fighters were killed, numerous weapons stockpiled, and the “brave warriors” were driven to flee. But because they were not exterminated (and, also, because the international community has since willfully turned a blind eye while Hezbollah rearmed, reoccupied southern Lebanon, and consolidated its power within the Lebanese government, all in contravention of UN Security Council Resolution 1701), they have declared the whole mess a “great victory” — in light of the parenthetical observations above, with more than a smidgen of justification.

Hamas likewise considers the Gaza war a “victory,” the straight-face proclamation of which requires selectively forgetting that Israel decimated all worthy targets before marching in with ground troops to intensify the attacks, while incurring minimal casualties. Then Israel declared a unilateral cease-fire and sent its troops home. Hamas’s role in the whole process was largely confined to that of a punching bag. But it was nonetheless not exterminated, and by the standards established by Middle Eastern tradition, anything short of utter annihilation is a victory — indeed, a great victory.

There is a bit of symbolism behind the phrase “denial is not just a river in Egypt.” That this river runs through a Muslim nation is a meaningful coincidence. For its own sense of denial in fighting the Jewish state, Egypt has faced the most severe repercussions to date. In 1967, it found itself deprived of the entire Sinai Peninsula, and surrounded by Israeli troops on the east side of the Suez Canal. The bitter taste left by Egypt’s anti-Israeli adventure contributed heavily to its willingness to make peace with Israel at Camp David.

Anything less than total, complete, abject defeat of Hamas, Hezbollah, and their ilk will be declared a great victory by terrorists, and a grave defeat for Israel. Israeli leaders should keep that in mind through all future conflicts.