Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Sharon is to Blame for this War

The War as a Result of Sharon’s Irresponsible Negligence

Despite the government’s almost totalitarian manipulation of the media and local news sources, more and more questions and doubts appear in Israeli discourse. Increasingly, questions are being asked about the attainability of Israel’s war goals and more reminders are appearing regarding the inherently limited efficacy of military means in changing political reality, especially in Lebanon. And of course, the lunatic fringe chimes in demanding that everybody admit that they were right all the time.

Professor Moshe Arens is about the closest you can get to the Israeli version of Dr. Strangelove. Thrice Minister of Defense, and one of the most hawkish ideologues in the right-wing Likud party, Arens who is always ready with some advice as why it is necessary to go to war, without delay, writes an occasional column for the Ha’aretz. These days, his current high sounding title is Chairman of the Board of the College of Judea and Samaria, the manifestly illegal B.A. factory operating on Palestinian occupied territory in the town of Ariel on the West Bank.

Israel, at war, is now the land of hype and every conceivable argument in support of the present operation in Lebanon is dragged out of the cupboard and presented to the faithful as wisdom incarnate.

The first official version was that Israel went to war after the July 12, 2006, attack by Hezbollah on one of its patrols, and the resulting capture of two soldiers and the death of three others. There are a number of problems with this flimsy version. Minimal routine vigilance by the vaunted IDF forces would have been enough to frustrate or even completely cancel the attack. Can anyone believe that Israel went to war because of an incident that almost never happened? Would Israel have desisted from the present attack without the Hezbollah provocation? Who can believe that the entire Israeli operation is so chancy and casual an affair? One would have to have a mind warped by all the chauvinist poison in the air to accept uncritically the “they attacked – so we responded.” explanation for the current violence.

And of course, there is the question of proportion. This basic rule of civilized behavior, that the response, even to a clearly illegal action must bear some relation to the character and the dimension of the provocation, is the cornerstone of every system of law and morality. This is no small matter. Eliminating any sense of proportion opens the floodgates to even more violence and brutality.

So, the government changed its original version, and the latest hype is that this is a preventive action against the existence of thousands of rockets in the hands of the Hezbollah. Now we are getting somewhere. Israel claims that it refuses to live under this kind of threat for one minute. And it is its right and duty to eliminate this threat. And Israel claims that very nature of the threat constitutes a clear and indisputable causus belli. This is the most up to date justification for the Israeli attack.

Enter Prof. Arens. Arens accuses Arik Sharon (Ha’aretz, July 18, 2006) of ‘falling asleep on the job,” by failing to stop the massive missile build up by Hezbollah. This severe accusation is totally convincing for those who accept Olmert’s claim that Israel has the right and the duty to attack and to remove the missiles. Sharon, unlike Olmert, saw the missile build up and refused to start a war.

We are not great fans of Sharon and Barak (also accused of negligence), but something is wrong somewhere. Olmert and Peretz saw dangers that Barak and Sharon did not even notice? Olmert and Peretz are more militant and have a deeper strategic understanding than that of Barak and Sharon, who shunned the idea of a preventive attack on Hezbollah?

Indeed, something is wrong here. Either the citizens of the this country must praise the vigilance of Olmert-Peretz, thus proving that Arens attack on Sharon and Barak is absolutely on the mark or there is something totally wrong in the government justification for the attack.

These are the only possibilities, even though they might sound a bit speculative. There must be a clear difference of opinion between Sharon-Barak and Olmert-Peretz in the evaluation of the threat posed by the Hezbollah arsenal. Sharon-Barak saw Hezbollah as serious enemies. They must have been concerned at having all these rockets pointed in Israel’s direction. But it is a fact that Sharon and Barak did not get hysterical over the fact that Hezbollah has all these rockets because of the simple reason that they did not, in any way, constitute a serious threat to Israel’s existence or basic interests. Additionally, Israel has at its disposal enough retaliatory clout to negate the effects of any surprise attack. And this is most important: any attempt to solve the Hezbollah problem by force of arms seals off existing opportunities for peace with Syria, blocks all negotiations in the immediate future and sets the region, with Israel in the middle, on the path to a spiral of violence that can indeed threaten Israel’s existence. Olmert can drag Israel into this war, only by suggesting that Sharon and Barak, had been derelict in their duty, but it is more likely that they knew how to read Middle East maps a lot better than Olmert-Peretz, and were simply more careful and cautious.
(This is not to say, that Sharon would have rejected any U.S. sponsored military initiative, but he most probably would have demanded to understand the scope of the ‘game’ and asked about how all this is to end.)

Olmert, wishing to prove his clout, was egged on by the IDF generals. So far, he is getting away with the Lebanese operation, because George Bush and his crew believe are enthusiastic over the chance of bloodying their enemies’ noses, on the cheap. It is just fine with George W. that Israel has volunteered for the job and he is, therefore, giving Olmert all the rope he needs to play cowboy. In fact, whether he understands this or not, Olmert has volunteered Israel to serve as the Western battering ram against Iran. He thinks that the U.S. is doing him a favor…
The Hezbollah presence and its armed strength is a problem that demands political and diplomatic resourcefulness and initiative. But once again there are more signs than ever that there is no military solution.

The New Crusade

It will turn out very sad indeed if it is the Jews in Israel who are to lead the Christian (”civilized”) world on a the next crusade against radical Islam. Of course, the battle in Lebanon is more and more a proxy struggle between the United States (and its dwindling number of allies) and Iran which rejects U.S. hegemony. The United States had been considering going it alone on a military attack on Iran. It hesitates because of its dismal record in Iraq and fears of growing political isolation. Though momentarily stymied in its plans of aggression against Iran, the United States has decided to enjoy the Israeli pulverization of Iran’s ally in Lebanon, and to utilize it as a warning to Teheran. It is U.S. arms and military technology that are smashing Lebanon, just as it is Iranian and Syrian military supplies which endow Hezbollah with its strength. The Olmert government is crowing with delight that it has found a “window of opportunity” in Washington, allowing it to demonstrate its technological wizardry. Hezbollah’s supply base is more limited and fragile while Israel sits in the sky and bombs at will. However, it is always the political results of the military clash that really matter, and the political results are – especially in this area – often at great variance to the military results. When the Israeli government comes down to earth, it is going to be surprised at how little has changed on the ground.

There are already ripples of doubt in the military and the media that Israel can succeed without a “major ground offensive.” Back in 1982, Israel believed it could determine the future of internal Lebanese politics.

It actually did this – but not the way it wanted to do it. It created the conditions of occupation that created a new political force in Lebanon, called Hezbollah.