Thursday, August 17, 2006

Who Won, Who Lost and Why?

For anyone confused about the results of the war in Lebanon, what with both Israel and the Hezbollah claiming victory, the following rule of thumb should be helpful. Those claiming an Israeli victory and a Hezbollah defeat are basing themselves on things that are supposedly going to happen in the future. George W. is the most prestigious representative of the “Israel won” school of thought. He said this. “How can Hezbollah claim victory when they are going to be replaced?” Georgie, losing still another battle with the English language, must have meant “displaced.” Experts on GWB explain that he quite often confuses things that he wants to happen with things that are actually happening.

Those, who state that Israel lost and Hezbollah won, base themselves on what happened, and this is of course, the only reliable basis for analysis.
The extent of the loss and the significance of the Israeli defeat are, of course, open to discussion.

And now, I have to make a confession. A few days back I wrote an article for our Hebrew website, “Hagada Ha’smolit” [Left Bank]. Pained and disgusted at the war and the steady stream of the official lies, I said some very unpleasant things about the state of Israeli society. The key motif of that article was that even the most consistent opponents of Israeli policy over the years could not have known the depths to which Israeli society had sunken. The blistering indictment that I presented there is so severe as to pose the question as to whether there are still some redeeming features in Israeli society. Fearing to be misunderstood on so critical an issue, I wanted to rewrite the English text, though I knew that, eventually, I would have to come clean and write the sad and bitter truth for my English readers. I had simply hoped that I could find a way to balance the indictment by finding a few just people and events in Sodom. If you have not noticed we are in Sodom and Gomorrah.

Three items in the news yesterday showed me that I was silly and naïve.
Item one revealed that Dan Halutz, the IDF Chief of Staff had called his bank at 12:00, three hours after the July 12 incident, in order to sell all his stocks. The Attorney- General decided that very morning to file charges against Ha’negbi, one of the leaders of Kadima and the present chair of the powerful Knesset committee on Security and Foreign Affairs, for handing out civil service jobs to party hacks. On the same morning, the police requested the Attorney-General to file charges against Haim Ramon, the Minister of Justice (!), for sexual harassment.

Of course, these gentlemen richly deserve the anguish and humiliation that they should be feeling (but do not be certain they do feel anything of the sort). Moreover, this is just one more instance of some flotsam and jetsam being expunged from dark and deep currents.

The plain fact of the matter is that, even as consistent political and moral opponents of the Israeli regime, we did not and could not have known that the rot and the decay in the interstices of Israeli society had proceeded to a level that challenges the imagination.

Of course, we are not concerned with the peccadilloes of this or that politician or general. We are concerned with the recent formation of a national consensus enthusiastically supporting a war that should have been seen immediately as a wild and irresponsible project launched by irresponsible politicians and arrogant generals. There is no need to repeat here all the aspects of this debacle, recognized as such by almost every part of Israeli society. The details of the disaster are becoming clearer day by day. But it our duty to ask the more basic question of WHY this happened! There is a sickness in this land and those who cherish the land and its people, those who see it as their homeland, cannot avoid facing the whole truth.

Root Causes – Real Ones

These, in broad outline, are the root causes of the deep and abiding crisis in Israeli society.

One: Israeli politics have been thoroughly militarized to the point that all major issues are analyzed exclusively in military terms and the employment of brute power. The military and its thought patterns has permeated the body politic and the civilian echelon rendering civilian control of the armed forces a sad joke.
The public is led to believe that all problems and difficulties can be resolved only through the use of force. The assumption is that the IDF, were it released from moralistic considerations and political wimps could take care of business. Thus, the persistence of unresolved difficulties is understood by public as a result of lack of will on the part of the civilian echelon. In times of tension or military operations, the first concern of the government is to convince the public that it has given the military a free hand. The politicians are in mortal fear that any general accuse the government that prevented the army from reaping the fruits of victory. All the government has to do is to “Let the IDF win!”

Two: The pre-existing special alliance between the United States and Israel has been upgraded. Israel has become a full scale operational partner in the “war on terror” and has been assigned specific targets in the crusade of the Bush administration against the axis of evil. Most Israelis are convinced that they are receiving fantastic diplomatic, military and logistical support for doing something that they would have to do anyway. Indeed, how could Israel not respond with a deep sense of gratitude and solidarity when the only major superpower deepens the special alliance and converts it to a mutual interest in battling “Islamo-Fascism.” Israel believes that, with the security of the U.S. commitment, its existential problems are over.
The political and military elites, including the intellectuals, who should know something about the reliability of the United States, have enrolled Israel in a project that might well end in a major catastrophe. Israel is quite satisfied with itself about lining up with Bush, though it does not have the faintest idea of the objectives and the chances of reaching them.

Three: It is impossible to oppress an entire people for 40 years and not to succumb to the ultimate rationalization for such action. Anti-Arab racism is endemic in Israeli society. This racism is so pervasive that it covers the political landscape like a cloud and infects all the thinking and the attitudes of the overwhelming majority of Israelis. There are endless variations on the never ending litany of the faults of the Arabs – some more sophisticated for the more educated strata and more vocal and vicious for the masses.

Four: In a society busily engaged in privatizing its very soul, the concept of dedicated public service becomes anachronistic. Everyone is involved in his/her own career, looking out for advancement and pursuing more monetary reward. If you are smart, you understand the value of public relations. If you want recognition you will find your way to the media. Truth is irrelevant, and everyone knows that what counts is what gets to the media.

These broad and far reaching developments: rampant militarism, abject subservience to Washington, deep seated racism and careerism are the deeper reasons why Israel embarked on the recent adventure in Lebanon. Despite the tremendous sigh of relief all over the country after the cease fire went into place, the hawks, the generals and their stooges are already explaining that the next round is inevitable and it won’t take long in coming.

The Risks of Leadership

With a slight nuance here and there, the Zionist left rallied to the flag of national unity when Olmert and Peretz blew the bugle. However, from the very beginning there were some brave souls who disassociated themselves from their leadership by showing up at the demos by thousands of the militant left which opposed the war from day one.

At a meeting of Peace Now activists on July 24, 2006, there was a clear division between supporters and opponents of the war. Supporters of the war rejected a suggestion that Peace Now, at the least, come out in support of a cease fire. The movement leadership argued that its supporters would not understand such a position and that it was impossible to know whether the demand for a cease fire might not help Hezbollah.(!?)

Public opinion counted Peace Now with those sections of the left who had seen the light and returned to the fold of the nation. But as the war dragged on and there were signs that victory would be evasive or not be achieved at all, three central figures of the Zionist left (Amos Oz, A.B. Yehushua and David Grossman) came out in support of a cease fire on Sunday, August 6. In parallel development, Peace Now and MERETZ activists called, in open defiance of their leaderships, for a demonstration on Thursday, August 11, supporting the demand for a cease-fire. As the week went on, pressure was building on the recalcitrant leaderships to take a position. By Thursday morning, the break away, grass roots initiative had been adopted by both leaderships as an official movement activity calling for quick end to the war .
During the week, there were insistent rumors that Israel was going to launch a mass land offensive drive to the Litani River, any minute. This had the effect of uniting all sections of the Zionist left, which recognized the move as nothing more that a costly attempt by the IDF to bolster its sagging prestige.

There are two ways to respond to these events in the peace movement.
One could say, well, better late than never. Another way of looking at this is to ask what kind of leadership has to be dragged by its rank and file to the street in order to protest against a government that is blatantly ignoring the human costs of an imbecilic war?

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman Go To War

Three prominent Israeli writers, David Grossman, A.B. Yehushua and Amos Oz have published a statement (Ha’aretz, August 6, 2006) in which they reiterate their total justification of the Israeli military action, but call at this point on the Israeli government to agree to a mutual cease-fire.
The three were obviously trying to put some distance between themselves and the rampaging Israeli war machine. Basically, this was another of those “too-little and too late” responses designed for no other reason than to calm a very uneasy conscience. But the text of three such distinguished figures deserves careful study. The opening paragraph must be quoted verbatim. And it is a source of deep concern.

“The aggression by the Hezbollah against Israel which was carried out in Israeli territory and included the killing and kidnapping of soldiers and the shooting of missiles on civilian population centers, required Israel to carry out a wide ranging military action in its defense against both Hezbollah and against the Lebanese authorities who grant full backing and assistance to this murderous organization, which calls for the destruction of the state of Israel.”

It is astonishing that the three writers still adhere, at this late date, to the official version of the outbreak of the war. The more serious sections of the local media, including those who support the war, have no problem in admitting that the kidnapping incident was a pretext. They admit, quite openly and convincingly, that Israel was searching for an excuse to attack Lebanon in order to destroy the massive stockpiles in the hands of Hezbollah. This is the generally accepted and unabashed explanation for why Israel went to war. This more sophisticated explanation (which is an open admission of support for preventive war) replaces the cheap propaganda version to the effect that “Israel had to respond as it did.” The more sophisticated argument has the virtue of, at least, relating to the real problems, to questions linked to the substance of the struggle between Israel and the Hezbollah.

It is also astonishing that intelligent observers could treat the “Lebanese authorities” as “full backers” of the Hezbollah. This is a gross and misleading misrepresentation of Lebanese political realities. These realities, including the limited capacity and stability of the Lebanese government are well-known and not unconnected to Israel’s historic and current role in the region and its tendency to intervene in Lebanese politics.

The authors evade their chief responsibility which is to ask and reply to the hard questions: a) Could Israel have taken serious steps to reduce tensions and danger by diplomatic initiatives? b) What is the source of Hezbollah’s growing political and strategic clout? c) Is an armed attack on Lebanon, its population and its infrastructure an effective means to reduce Hezbollah’s standing and prestige in Lebanon and the Arab world?; Instead of dealing with the real questions on the agenda, the three opted to parrot the official version to the effect that Israel “had to carry out a wide ranging action.”

We cannot leave the text without relating to the following argument presented by the three, wherein and whereby they attempt to whitewash Israel’s horrible human rights record: “Even though, in this action, many civilians of the enemy country were, to our sorrow, harmed, its aim was not the killing of civilians for its own sake, as opposed to the Hezbollah…”.

Israel has forced more than three quarter of a million people out of their homes and made them refugees in their own land, destroyed the infrastructure, roads, bridges, and vital services of an entire country. It is preventing or delaying urgent humanitarian aid. A thousand civilians have been killed by now and many thousands more wounded.For our authors, the main thing is that this is all unintentional. It is the old story. These horrific developments are what is called “collateral damage.” War, you understand, involves collateral damage. Remember Vietnam yesterday and Iraq today. So there is “lots” of collateral damage today in Lebanon. We have heard the collateral damage argument before, but we do not remember any writers of status who used it to attempt to justify the results of totally unjustifiable military operations.

Monday, August 7, 2006

The French Connection

If you have not noticed, French diplomacy over the Lebanon crisis has achieved for France the questionable status of co-conspirator with the United States. The moral bankruptcy of French foreign policy consists in lending a shred of credibility to Madam Rice’s argument that it is necessary to delay the imposition of an immediate and unconditional cease-fire. Rice’s argument that political agreements and accords must be reached before any cease fire so that the status quo ante will not return is puerile in the extreme.

I hope Madam Rice doesn’t find herself in a situation where she and her family are in urgent need of emergency medical services. One family member is dying, others are seriously wounded, still others are in a state of shock. The family is refused admission and care since the hospital policy is not to attend victims of circumstances until it ascertains the [root] causes of the accident and takes effective steps to prevent its reoccurrence.

France by giving credence to the U.S. stalling operation, attempts to evade its clear moral and political duty to work for an immediate, unconditional cease fire. The argument that the French diplomats will surely concoct about “effectiveness” is crude and irrelevant. The delay in implementing the cease fire is a clear prize to Israel’s war plans and is designed to enable the IDF to carry out additional operations. France, which has decided to enable Bush and Rice to hide behind it, has entered the conspiracy. As usual, everyone will be astounded when it is learned how cheaply France has sold its honor.

The Israeli Right Bares its Fangs

In a recent interview with the foreign press corps, Olmert remarked that Israel will be glad to return to its pre-war political agenda which includes plans for additional unilateral withdrawals in the West Bank.

The Israeli right is naturally overjoyed over the recent Israeli offensive and has snapped to attention as the most loyal and devoted section of the ranks of national unity. But this remark touched off a flurry of furious reactions. They seized convincingly on every single one of the government sponsored rationales for the current invasion of Lebanon as convincing proof that the “convergence plan,” should be dead and has no public backing today. The establishment journalists ran to the side of the ‘insulted” right-wing politicians and censured Olmert for not understanding the newly emerging political map. There was even an incipient rebellion of right wing settlers in the IDF. Right-wing politicians sensing the possible damage to the right’s image quieted the upset settler-soldiers.

Olmert and Peretz appear more and more in the Israeli media as the first potential political victims of the present nefarious adventure. They are about to learn that the initiators of a stupid, brainless war are apt to fall as victims of the political logic that they enhanced in the broad public.The center (Sharon’s legacy and party) will be branded for giving up territory (the retreat from Gaza and the retreat in 2000 from Lebanon). The public mood at this point is that even if Israel “wins”, Olmert and Peretz will lose, and if Israel doesn’t win, and even loses, then Olmert and Peretz certainly will lose. The trouble is that they stand to be succeeded by right- wing politicians who are hysterically demanding to carry the war to the “real” enemies, Syria and Iran. These enthusiastic warriors in the war of civilizations will call on Israelis to keep on fighting and to put their fate in the hands of their Maker, Bush, Rumsfield and Rice, not necessarily in that order.

Listen Mr. Ahmadinijad

The intolerable stream of vituperation which characterizes many of your public statements should not be ignored, especially by foes of U.S. imperial policies in the Middle East. As a rule you have not denied insistent reports as to your call for the destruction of Israel and other scurrilous statements relating to the Holocaust. We would not put it past some news sources to try and distort your exact wording. However, the Prime Minister of Iran has sufficient means at his disposal to issue faithful accounts of his statements and his intentions. The latest recent statement to the effect that Iran supports a cease fire in the first place and the destruction of Israel afterwards is pure grist to the mill of Israeli propaganda. This kind of irresponsible and inflammatory talk is in effect ammunition for the same forces attacking Lebanon and preparing its dismemberment. The resentment of the people of Iran against Israeli policies is understandable, but you have no legitimate reason to manipulate that resentment and convey yet another message of death and destruction in the region. This kind of talk serves the enemies of peace in the region. It also damages the best interests of Iran and its people. Iran has powerful enemies, why help them?

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Scaling the Heights of Perverted Logic

The bleary-eyed crowd of pro-war analysts and commentators are mourning the fact that time is running out on the Israeli offensive with no evidence that any of the stated Israeli war objectives will be reached. The objectives, it will be recalled, were the annihilation of Hezbollah as a military-political force, the return of the captured soldiers and the replacement of Hezbollah by a military force (Lebanese, international or both) along the Israeli-Lebanese border designed to enhance Israel’s strategic and tactical position in the area. The strongest army in the Middle East backed by the strongest power in the world is bogged down in the Lebanese quagmire. Oh, how much arrogance and stupidity is required to create a new quagmire on dry land in the middle of the summer.

Thus Olmert, staring failure in the face, has decided to declare victory and preparing to get out.
Speaking at the National Security College in Tel Aviv, Olmert gave one of those speeches replete with profound ideas like “we will win because we must win.” Yesterday, he came out with the eerie declaration that Israel has already won the war. This is a strange statement from somebody who is desperately lobbying the international community to extend Israel’s license to hunt and kill in Lebanon for another week or ten days. Olmert speaks of the achievements of the Israeli attack in glowing terms of “nearly unprecedented success” and “even today, it may be said that the face of the Middle East has changed following the great achievement of the State of Israel.” The success is so great that “In no way can this war be measured by the number or range of missiles still being fired at us…we did not promise that there would be no more missiles” and “each day is weakening the enemy’s resolve…” (Ha’aretz, August 2, 2006). The Ha’aretz correspondent felt it necessary to explain that Olmert spoke off the cuff.

This morning, newspaper readers were reading Olmert’s rosy assessment of the situation when the heaviest of salvos – more than 150 rockets - smashed into the north of Israel. Pity Olmert who had just explained that success cannot be measured by the number of missiles still being fired on us. Pity poor Chief of Staff, Halutz, whose press conference this morning was interrupted again and again by announcements calling on people to go down into the shelters. Halutz was explaining that no one ever promised that there wouldn’t be any more missiles and trying to cheer up the Israeli public with the news that Israel had successfully raided a hospital (!) in the sensitive Baalbek area close to the Syrian border. Halutz also took pride in the fact that the IDF had killed 300 Hezbollah fighters in recent battles.

May I say a word to friends who have been convinced of the justice of the Israeli reaction on July 12, 2006. The debate on this issue will, of course, continue. Meanwhile, it is clearer, day by day, that Israel is in the hands of totally irresponsible and incompetent politicians and generals. This particular sense of what is happening is spreading through all sections of the informed public. This can be verified by careful monitoring of the Israeli media. There is a growing evidence s that both the Prime Minister and the C. of S. are in a state of disconnect. It simply had not occurred to the two of them that it is harder to get out of a war than to get into one. Now they are finding this exit especially hard to find since their political hides and careers are on the block. In these growingly dangerous circumstances, cannot we all unite on a clear and urgent demand to stop the fighting, before it is too late??

Israel Does Have Some “Achievements”!
The list of Israeli “achievements” is impressive:

a) Israel has considerably improved the status and the prestige of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and in the entire Arab and the Muslim world.

b) Israel has recast Hezbollah’s role un Lebanon from that of an important, but minor player in Lebanese politics, into a major player whose influence will play, in the near future, an even greater role in internal Lebanese politics.

c) Israel seems to have tipped the scales and isolated the more rabid anti-Syrian circles in Lebanon. Syria will be less isolated and more influential than before in Lebanese politics.

d) Israel has exposed the true nature of the “moderate” Arab regimes, such as Egypt and Jordan and revealed their disloyalty to the cause of an independent Palestine and a free Lebanon.

e) Israel has helped to begin to heal the open wounds in the tensions between Sunnis and Shi’ites.There is nothing more dangerous to the United States today in Iraq than potential Sunni-Shi’ite unity. Israel may do the impossible and unify these bitter enemies.

f) Reports from Teheran observe that the Israeli attach has hurt reformists and strengthened the hard-liners. g) Israel has disproved (for the n’th time) the myth that air power, even uncontested, can win a war and once more, it is clear that victory depends on “boots on the ground.” This myth persists because the air power gurus play on the anxieties of the cheap politicians in advanced Western countries. The generals promise victory by virtue of smart bombs, laser, etc. and all the impressive technology. The politicians buy the story because they want a war without casualties from among their constituents. Invariably, the win by air power formula turns out to be quite airy.

Admittedly, during a war, things can still change. Even so, the above “achievements” are clearer and more certain than the dubious and murky achievements which Olmert claims for Israel in the “new Middle East.”