Colonel's Corner: Lipstick on a Pig

Lt. Col. Bill Cowan
August 18, 2006

When I opine that the Israelis are the real losers in the recent conflict, I'm clearly flying in the face of what the president says, what Israel's prime minister says, and what lots of folks on FOX, and elsewhere, are saying. But I'll stick with my comments. To me, saying Israel won isn't just like putting lipstick on a pig. It's like throwing on eyeliner and mascara too. And I don't say that because I have any interest in Hezbollah winning anything at all. Best as I can tell, I'm the only guy in all of the aforementioned who has actually engaged Hezbollah on the ground — up close and personal during my 11 years in and out of Lebanon and Syria. I despise them, I've seen their “handiwork” up close, and few could hail their demise more than me. But it simply didn't happen in this latest round — rather, it simply didn't even come close. And, as many of us have been saying on television, the latest round won't be the last.

Unfortunately, some have construed that saying Israel lost is an attack on Israel itself. But it's not. I support Israel strongly. And the majority of the criticism that the Israeli government is receiving is now coming from within its own borders, not from the United States. Before all is done, no one will be surprised to see a new government in place. Or, at a minimum, new faces in certain ministerial and defense positions.

As a quick critique, the war got off to a faltering start, as Israel tried to rely on airpower to achieve quick and certain victory, but was met by an enemy far stronger than anyone expected. This cost Israel dearly in military casualties, brought about a cease-fire which isn't worth the paper it's written on. It will finally end factually when all Israeli forces are back across the border into Israel. Once they're there, they'll be staring across the border right from where they started, wondering what it was all about. And as for Hezbollah, they'll be staring back across the border from their own side as they quietly re-arm, re-equip, re-group, re-train, and prepare for their next round. And, as always, they'll be the ones who get to pick the timing. Unless, of course, the Iranians do.

The sad fact in all of this is that Hezbollah comes out much stronger. Although there is no chance that actual Hezbollah casualties will ever be known, the fact is that they suffered mightily. But they didn't suffer so mightily that their lines collapsed in front of the Israeli assault. Moreover, despite the pounding from Israeli air, artillery, and ground forces, they didn't suffer so mightily that they weren't able to launch rockets into Israel right up until the cease-fire took place. In fact, they launched more rockets on the final day of hostilities than they had any day previously. And against that, how can anyone say they were the loser?

As any good boxer knows, you win some rounds and you lose some rounds. The question is whether or not you win the fight. This latest round with Hezbollah is scored as a round for them. It's the next round that counts, and we in the United States should do all we can to ensure it's a winning round for Israel.

How do we do that? One way is to make it more difficult for Syria and Iran to funnel weapons and material into Lebanon. It's not likely that the new U.N. force will be able, or perhaps even willing, to do the job on their own. Perhaps we can help them. One way is to use our intelligence resources to follow the movement of rockets and missiles from Iran as they make their way to Hezbollah. To be sure, we can't catch it all. But what we can catch, we could follow closely, and alert the U.N. to capturing it. Embarrassing disclosures of the movement of arms to Hezbollah won't stop Iran from doing it, but might somewhat enlighten other nations in the world community that the threat is real and pervasive.

We could also work much more closely with Israel's predominantly Sunni neighbors, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, to forge relationships in which they use their own intelligence resources to minimize Iranian, Syrian, and Hezbollah influence. The Israelis can't forge that kind of cooperation, but we in the U.S. can. Those countries are themselves worried about Shiite influence and the radicalism it brings, and it is in their vested interest, at this juncture, to support Israel's confrontation with the radicals.

The bottom line: Now that there is a lull within Lebanon and rebuilding of both the country and Hezbollah, Israel itself will go through some soul searching and ultimate rebuilding of their own. The U.S. should be standing there as a visible, mutual partner, much like a trainer just outside the ring, getting ready for the next round. It's one all of us can't afford to lose.

Lt. Col. Bill Cowan is a FOX News Channel contributor and internationally-acknowledged expert in the areas of terrorism, homeland security, intelligence and military special operations. He spent 11 years doing undercover operations in Lebanon against Hezbollah and Syria. Read his full bio here.