In the very first days of the war with Hezbollah, Israel's top political and military echelons simply could not contain their delight. Displaying quite horrifying misplaced confidence, ministers crowed in private briefings that Sheik Hassan Nasrallah's fighting force would be broken in a week.
The gravity of such misconceptions point to a level of arrogance and complacency probably unparalleled since the false pride bred by 1967's military achievements was punished so bitterly by the surprise of the 1973 war.
Nasrallah's Iranian masters have bought themselves another few weeks of undisturbed nuclear development, and they've learned a good deal, too, about Israel's preparedness for conflict and abilities to wage war. But Israel, if it is wise, can learn some of the lessons of this war. It had better.
For more than a month, despite the best efforts of a constrained Israel, the north of Israel absorbed day after day of relentless rocket attack. The Israel Defense Force was unable to fulfill the obligation in its very name — defending the people of Israel.
Gravitating to the apocalyptic certainties offered by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the only lesson Israel's enemies can possibly have been learning is that, after decades of defeat, they have found the means to effect the demise of the Jewish state. They need only acquire greater rocket and missile capabilities — ideally on more than one front — and the Zionists, bloodied by Kassams in the south and battered by the Katyushas in the north this time, will next time have nowhere to flee.
Plainly, Israel now needs to re-emphasize its investment in offensive and defensive military technologies. It needs to work toward an anti-missile defense system. It needs to internalize the limitations of air power and allocate funding for neglected aspects of the IDF, starkly including the training and equipping of its vital reserve forces.
But Israel's long-term security does not rest solely on its ability to protect itself on the battlefield. It depends also on our ability to articulate to the world why the military measures we take are justified, and it hinges, too, on the alliances we forge to ensure concerted action against shared enemies of freedom.
In contrast to the complexities so effectively exploited by the Palestinians in wooing international support for their "resistance," it should have been easy for the watching world to distinguish between aggressor and victim in this Hezbollah-Israel conflict.
Evidently, it was not. The fact that the United Nations has itself confirmed that Israel has no territorial dispute with Lebanon — and the fact that it was Syria and Iran that were essentially hijacking Lebanese sovereignty to arm and train Hezbollah — coupled with the fact that the fighting began with a concerted rocket and artillery attack on northern Israel, and a cross-border incursion into Israel — none of this resonated to Israel's decisive public relations or diplomatic advantage.
Yet a few well-articulated addresses by Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, hinted at what might be achieved if Israel moved from crisis (mis)management to wider planning and coordination — if Israel, that is, would only formulate diplomatic and public-relations strategies to advance its concerns on the world stage month by careful month.
By his own insistent testimony, Ahmadinejad is hell-bent on destroying Israel; this conflict in Lebanon was just an opening round. But he makes no secret either of his wider goal of hegemony in the Islamic world and an upcoming confrontation with the West. And he is a long, long way down the path to the nuclear capability that would elevate the challenge he poses to untenable levels.
This is Israel's existential danger. It must also be a focus for concerted international attention.
A conflict that Iran and Hezbollah may not have anticipated exploding this summer has given Israel the opportunity not only to learn from its own arrogance and complacency (and thus defend itself better), but also to credibly argue to the rest of the world the need for coordinated action to counter a still more potent threat from a nuclear Iran.
Amid all the dismay, the despair, at the lives lost, damage done and goals unrealized over the past few weeks, this conflict can yet be resolved to Israel's decisive benefit — if its lessons are internalized here militarily, and if it is presented as part of a compelling case to the West to thwart Iran's grand ambitions.
Did Israel win, tie or lose this battle with Iran and its proxy army? The question has already been superseded. Israel must not lose the war.
David Horowitz is editor of The Jerusalem Post.