Friday, August 18, 2006

Now that's it's over(?)

1. Watching the Israeli society in the last six weeks felt, for me, like watching a close friend getting drunk and uncontrollably abusive. A provocation becomes a brawl; everybody gets hurt, including the drunk himself, the place is trashed beyond recognition, and the horrible truth is that there's not much you can do, just wait until it's over.
The U.S, which in similar situations in the past acted as the responsible adult friend of the adolescent bully - clearly biassed but cold-headed enough to stop it before it gets worse - was acting as a cheerleader, occasionally handing more vodka just to make it more fun.
And now, like always after a night of heavy drinking, comes the hangover. And judging by Israeli news websites, it seems like a pretty bad one.

2. What were the Israeli 'officer corps' (as Juan Cole reffered to them) thinking?
The same methods and techniques were used in 1994 (under Rabin) and 1996 (under Peres); those rounds of bombings started similarly with resolute statements and ended with a negotiated deal after much devastation but inability to defeat Hizbulla. This time we saw a much more brutal version of the same thing, only with a shambolic land invasion to top it up. Why did they think what failed twice would work now?

If the aim was to get the Lebanese Army to deploy on the border, then this was achieved (but remember that in 1992-2000 Hizbullah was operating from areas controlled by the Lebanese Army. It didn't bother them much. Hizbulla's decisions will be influenced more by political balance in Lebanon than anything else). But then the aim changed to 'defeating Hizbulla', a clear impossiblity.

How could the Israeli army recommend this operation, with no clear aims, and therefore with no chances of success? My only lame explanation is that generals think through military force; that's what they're paid to do. They are delighted to use their deadly toys when opportunity knocks. The problem starts when there is no-one to stop them

3. There are interesting parallels between the failed American Iraq enterprise and the failed Israeli war on Lebanon. In both places the problem was articulated as a 'bad' state: a rogue state in Iraq, and a state unable to live up to its international commitments in Lebanon. In both cases the solution was to use military force in order to create the old order of things: a world in which states are the only actors; a world of states playing within the (american-dominated) global order.

This shows how blind these policy-makers and generals are to today's world. An assault on the nation state will inevitably weaken it. In both cases the non-state actors emerged as real alternatives. Whatever losses Hizbullah has suffered, it stood up to the Israeli army. I think many people around the world will form their conclusions from this.

4. The optimistic side of me suggests that something good might come out of all this. The sense of shock and disillusionment in Israel can be a wake-up call: that excessive force and technological superiority do not solve problems; that the immediate preference for unilateral use of force rather than diplomatic channels does not lead very far.
My pessimistic side tells me a change is impossible as long as the Bush administration is in place.


At 4:00 AM, Blogger Electric Sadhu said...

True enough, Israel is going through a rude awakening now, but in the opposite direction of what you describe:
People don't think the problem was excessive use of force- on the contrary; most people think the IDF was too careful and hesitant, mainly with the use of ground troops.
Your hopes of adopting diplomatic channels are also, I think, unrealistic- very few think Israel should have negotiated with the Hezbollah. Indeed, there is almost no dispute over the decision to go to war. It's just the way it was managed that people criticize, and the way it was ended.
MY pessimistic side tells me that this was only an appetizer- I think we're heading towards a bigger war in the coming few months.

At 6:10 AM, Blogger mink said...

Ah yes, the old Israeli wisdom: what doesn't go with force, will go with greater force. Tested and proven (wrong) for many times, but still a favourite panacea.

From a military point of view, the main problems in this Lebanon 4.1 edition were not that not enough force was used, or indeed excessive force (from a military point of view there is no such thing as excessive force) but rather:

1. Unclear military objectives: from the very beginning which saw a war declared in two hours, to the very end, with this crazy rush to the Litany in which 33 Israeli sodiers died - for absolutely no good reason, when it was already all over - can anyone explain to me what that was about? - this campaign was not thought through. In order to 'win', or to create an impression of a military victory, it is necessary to define achievable goals.

2. Failed command and leadership - Olmert, Peretz, Halutz, of course, - but from I get from reservists accounts I read it reached well below them.

3. The Israeli reservists Army was unprepared and badly trained for this kind of fighting.

4. A gross underestimation of the adversary. Not just intelligence failure but embedded hubris within the Israeli society.

How does using 'more force' solve all these problems?

If, for example, the aim was to stop the rockets by force, rather than by cease-fire, then yes, throwing more divisions in might have helped.
I doubt if they could have stopped the launching, more likely reduce it from the humiliating level of 250 a day. But the price in Israeli soldiers lives would have been much higher. It's a lose-lose situation.

Hizbulla are probably the world's best guerrilla force today, and they were fighting on their land. This puts the Israeli army in a clear disadvantage, only exacerbated by the failures I mentioned above.

As for the 'next war', again, a favourite Israeli theme, I think it points to a misunderstanding of the situation in the region at the 21st century. The danger is not war (in the conventional sense of armies fighting each other) but the spread of chaos we currently see in Iraq to the entire Middle East. A bigger war could de-stabilize the region, which is not a Israeli interest.

At 7:48 AM, Blogger Electric Sadhu said...

I agree on each and every point. I'm just stating the common sentiment here, not my own opinion.
However, although 'more force' has been proven wrong as you say, other alternatives have been tested too with the Hezbollah, from restrain and negotiations (the Tenenbaum deal) to moderate military retaliations (e.g. last winter's response to the Rajar raid). As a result Nasrallah could feel that 'Abducting Israeli soldiers is our natural, legitimate and logical right' (12.7.06). As I told you before, the situation in which attacks had been launched every few months on the border was (and I do state my own opinion here) simply unbearable.
As for your last sentence: are you sure de-stabilizing the region is against Israeli (and American) interests? I'm not sure that's true for the next couple of years:
1. It might be the last chance to engage Iran without risking a nuclear apocalypse. Until that happens chaos is very disturbing but it's not 'an existential threat' (another favourite Israeli theme).
2. It's also the bush-admin's last mile, and I don't see him going down quietly as a 'lame duck'. As everybody knows, Gog and Magog both vote Republican.

At 11:54 AM, Blogger mink said...

'Unbearable' is a matter of definition. Annyoing? no doubt. Unjustified? Yes. Not nice? certainly. Should not be tolerated, let alone encouraged? I'm with you. But unbearable... my neighbours from upstairs can be pretty unbearable. One night they shouted at each other at 12 at night (she was apparently trying to stab him). The next morning he was playing Oasis and singing the lyrics. (puke).
This, for me, was unbearable. But since she just came out of prison, and he sounds like a gangster, and I'm a skinny mink, I didn't bomb their flat.
(It was a one off I should say, this is not Clifton Mansions, it's pretty calm here).
Unbearable depends on your possibilities and your decisions. In the 1950s these things were happening all the time. Israel retalliated but didn't star wars, becasue it couldn't affort to.

Unlike Hamas, Hizbulla has no interest in achieving long term understanding with Israel, this is true. But they operate carefully within the Lebanese political situation, trying not to cross limits. Nasralla is a very rational man; I am sometimes amazed by how much a cold-fish he is, he's more scandinavian than Middle Eastern.

So if I was Olmert (I hate thinking this way, but just for the sake of argument) the best course of action would to try and coax the Lebanese government to assume responsibility over the south, and to take away the justificaion to Hizbulla's actions. This requires a combination of force and diplomacy, a much much more delicate approach than just bombing them to submission. Getting rid of Shab'a/Har Dov is a good idea, and also trying negotiations with Syria.

And yes I think you are right, the Americans have plans for armagedon, war on Iran I think this year, this is why they've encouraged the whole thing. Scary thought. If they go ahead it will blow up in their face like everything they ever did, and unfortunately not just in their face.


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