Video: What's next in the Mideast?

By David Gregory Chief White House correspondent
NBC News
updated 7/31/2006 8:39:38 PM ET 2006-08-01T00:39:38

Israel has said all along it's fighting in self-defense, and again on Monday President Bush agreed.

"It is important to remember this crisis began with Hezbollah's unprovoked terrorist attacks against Israel," said Bush. "Israel is exercising its right to defend itself."

Yet the death toll of Lebanese civilians mounts and the outrage in the Arab world and beyond — once muted — grows.

Hezbollah was at first condemned by moderate Arab governments, but now it's Israel being cast as the aggressor, not the victim.

Did Israel miscalculate?

Military experts say the Israeli Defense Force misjudged the enemy — thousands of entrenched guerrilla fighters still capable of launching rockets.

"They tried to do this on the cheap with precision air power, special operations, pinpoint attacks," says retired U.S. Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, an NBC military analyst. "They needed to get in and expunge Hezbollah."

At the center of this war is Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, an untested leader without the military background of his predecessors, Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon. Sharon, experts say, would not let himself get bogged down in Lebanon a second time.

"Sharon was focused on one strategic objective, and that was to withdraw from Gaza," says Middle East expert Haim Malka with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Prime Minister Olmert, Malka argues, was misled.

"He has let himself be convinced by the military that this was going to be a quick and relatively painless operation to neutralize Hezbollah's threat," he says.

With each day of survival, Hezbollah's support grows. Its leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah is now celebrated as the man who stood up to Israel.

Israel's ambassador to the United Nations on Monday argued Nasrallah cannot be allowed to succeed.

"Israel has repeatedly been compelled to act not against Lebanon but against the forces and the monstrosity which Lebanon has allowed itself to be taken hostage by," says Dan Gillerman.

But Israel's missteps to date raise troubling questions: Has Israel, the seemingly invincible power of the region, lost its ability to deter its enemies from attacking?

And has Israel's increasing isolation dealt a critical blow to America's image in the region as well?

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