A reporter for the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, traveling with the US forces as they pushed up from Kuwait towards Baghdad, compared the American soldiers' shocked and bewildered reaction to unexpected Iraqi resistance to the opening phase of the war in Lebanon, where seemingly invincible IDF troops met unexpectedly fierce resistance in 1982.
The comparison is significant for a lot of reasons. Israeli eventually lost that war and was driven out of Lebanon. The goal to drive out Yasser Arafat and his PLO from Lebanon also failed; within fifteen years, Arafat had taken over parts of the occupied territories. Lebanon was not only a military defeat, it shattered Israel's brief Golden Age, its paradigm of moral righteousness and military invincibility. Specifically, it brought terror to Israel in a way never dreamed of before the invasion. It brought the suicide bomber, courtesy of the Shiite Hezbollah.
The Lebanon war, although battle-by-battle a victory for Israel, was a PR disaster. The Israelis bombed Beirut, killing thousands of civilians in their drive to oust Arafat. Whereas before much of the world admired Israel for its Holocaust beginnings and its idealistic struggle to create a lasting social-democracy in a sea of brutal autocracies, now the world saw Israel as brutal, militaristic and the inverse of the ideals that had once won it so much sympathy.
Israel became increasingly isolated from the world, including the West. At the same time, its military vulnerability inspired the once-docile Palestinians living under occupation to rebel like never before. Today, Israelis are easily the most isolated citizens of a democratic government in the world. They have problems traveling to most countries in the world. They are not safe wherever they travel. They are not safe on their own streets, in their buses or cafes. Most of the world's public opinion is strongly against Israel's policies towards the Palestinians. The more Israel has become isolated, the more it has swung to the right, voting for policies that further isolate it, which in turn further fuel support for the far-right. At the same time, small chinks in Israel's military armor exposed in the Lebanon war, however slight, were an inspiration to terrorists on a scale Israel had never had to deal with before. The result: Palestinian suicide terror, which led an increasingly isolated and right-leaning Israeli public to lurch even farther to the right. The farther right, the harder the crackdown. The harder the crackdown, the more sense of injustice, which fuels more terror, and at the same time, more public scorn from the international community.
This vicious cycle of increasing isolation and militarism, the Israel Scenario, is exactly where America is headed. Military superiority exhibited in Afghanistan and in the generally successful war against Al Qaeda, along with world sympathy following 9/11, gave the Bush Administration hawks far too much confidence in their invincibility (mirroring the position Israel was in on the regional and world stage before Lebanon). The Bush Administration has since managed to make America the most loathed, isolated democracy in the world -- after Israel. Americans in all parts of the world are reporting increasing harassment, while in entire regions it is too dangerous to even travel.
Now the military part of the equation is unfolding: sucked into a quagmire that was supposed to be easy, the US has already faced its first suicide bomber and thousands more are promised. TV images of the victims of American bombing are beamed around the world, further increasing anti-American rage. Even though the war is technically being won so far by the US, the first chinks in its armor were revealed after more than a decade of awesome invincibility. The Arabs are overcoming their fear and disunity. In response, Donald Rumsfeld has already announced that Syria may be targeted next. Syria: which controls Lebanon and the Hezbollah, who introduced the art of suicide bombing to the Arabs, including the Iraqi officer who blew up four American soldiers on Sunday.