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Who's to Blame?

Israel on the Slide

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

In the aftermath of the Lebanon disaster you can open up the Israeli press, particularly the Hebrew language editions, and find fierce assaults on the country’s elites from left, right and center.

The overall panorama is one of chickens of all ages coming home to roost. Small pustules highlight larger rot. Chief of staff Dan Halutz, a narcissistic bully like a mini-Patton, though without the latter’s tactical talents, took time off the morning he ordered the terror bombing of south Beirut to tell the Bank Leumi to sell his stock portfolio before the market plunged ­ which it soon did by nearly 10 per cent.

The capacity of the US armed forces to fight intelligently and effectively has been eroded ­ not necessarily a bad thing of course — by a system of graft-ridden procurement that favors expensive weapons systems validated by bogus tests. Israel’s supposed military requirements have been a particularly ripe sector of that racket and the consequences are plain to see. Israel’s receipt of batteries of Patriot missiles were no doubt hugely profitable for the parties involved in the transaction, but in defensive function entirely useless. The Patriot missile batteries stationed near Haifa and Safed, much trumpeted by the IDF played no significant role in the recent conflict.

Israel’s generals paraded on tv in resplendent uniforms even as those in northern Israel too poor to flee, found either no shelters at all (particularly in sectors inhabited by Israeli Arabs) or, in the words of Reuven Pedatzur in Ha’aretz, "sat for more than one month in stinking shelters, some of them without food or minimal conditions."

Disfigured by its "special relationship" with the US arms industry, of which the US Congress is an integral component, the IDF has been morally corrupted by years of risk-free brutalization of unarmed Palestinians, many of them children. It’s one thing to level an apartment building with a missile from a plane or crush a protester with a bulldozer or lob shells at a Palestinian family having a picnic on a beach or kidnap middle-aged and democratically elected Palestinian politicians. It’s another confront a foe, with modest but effectively deployed weaponry, prepared to fight back.

Years of racism have taken their toll too. Think of Arabs as subhuman "terrorists" and you end up making a lot of misjudgments, tactical and strategic.

Amid the first days of the "ceasefire" the Israeli press has been carrying reports not only about Halutz’s secret stock sale, but also that prime minister Ehud Olmert may have accepted a $500,000 bribe as part of a conspiracy with a building contractor; also that Justice minister Haim Ramon has resigned to battle charges of indecent assault on a female employee at a Defense ministry party; also that Israel’s President, Moshe Katsav, may face charges of rape of a female employee.

On that first pre-ceasefire weekend USA Today carried a story datelined Nabatiye by Rick Jervis headlined "Hezbollah workers rush to help victims rebuild", beginning "Two days after agreeing to a cease-fire to end 34 days of fighting with Israeli forces, Hezbollah deployed its army of social workers and engineers throughout this southern Lebanese city. They visited wrecked homes and businesses, surveyed damage, gave compensation estimates and coordinated relief efforts with city officials. ‘Hezbollah workers were here even before the bombing stopped,’said Mustafa Badreddine, 50, the mayor. ‘They have offices here. They have municipal resources. And the people trust them.’"

As corrupted as the Israeli military who shove them around, Israeli politicians have grown accustomed to thinking that any outrage on morality and reason will get a lusty cheer from the US political establishment, press and entertainment industry.

They’re right. They did get material encouragement from the Bush administration, and lusty cheers from Capitol Hill and Hollywood as congress people and some movie industry bigwigs stampeded to cheer on Israel’s onslaughts on Lebanon and Gaza while the press echoed all the nonsense about the kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers being a legitimate casus belli.

Israel has been kidnapping Lebanese for years, a hefty chunk of the 10,000 or so rotting in horrifying Israeli prisons, like the secret Facility 1391 in central Israel, worse than Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo. On June 25 Corporal Gilad Shalit was kidnapped in Gaza, prompting an escalation in Israel’s already barbaric assaults on the civilian population there. Since June 25, says the Palestinian Ministry of Detainees, Israel has kidnapped over 35 Palestinian Parliament Members and 10 cabinet Ministers. It was certainly hard to find in any US paper or newscast any reference to the fact that one day before, on 24 June, Israeli forces kidnapped two civilians in Gaza, a doctor and his brother, and sent them off to some Israeli dungeon. As Noam Chomsky remarked to an interviewer from al-Ahram, "The timing alone reveals with vivid clarity that the show of outrage over the capture of Israeli soldiers is cynical fraud, and undermines any shreds of moral legitimacy for the ensuing actions."

You can read plenty of commentary round the world, most particularly Israel, saying this recent war was a benchmark event, which could conceivably teach Israel that security is not won by unending land grabs, by spouting hokum for US consumption about the "peace process", and by terror bombing of Lebanon and Gaza. But not in the United States. Open up the Washington Post and the strategic vision on display was an utterly mad piece co-written by one of the big boosters for war on Iraq, Kenneth Pollack, a hack thinker at the Brookings Institution, now an integral part of Israeli territory with its "Saban Center for Middle East Policy" named for the fanatic Zionist billionaire Haim Saban, majority owner of Paramount Pictures, a man who handed the Democratic Party a total of $12.3 million in 2002, a $7 million component of which was the biggest single contribution ever recorded up to that time.

Silent about his own role as war promoter (his speciality was Saddam’s imaginary nuclear threat), oblivious to the lessons of disaster in Iraq, reduplicated in the war in Lebanon, Pollack and Georgetown U’s Daniel Byman called for more US troops to be sent to Iraq, to help set up "refugee collection points" ­ ie concentration camps ­ on Iraq’s eastern border and for tripwires ­ no doubt ultimately nuclear ­ to be established in expectation of war with Iran. You think Republican neocons are the only crazy ones? Not one word of mature reflection about the significance of the war temporarily suspended, against Lebanon and Hezbollah.

Thirty years ago I used to be told that liberal American Jews were aghast at the rise of the ur-neocon fanatics like Norman Podhoretz, at Commentary, whose parent outfit was and is the American Jewish Committee. Soon, such liberals used to say to me off the record, there would be a counter-attack by the forces of reason, as embodied in liberal American Jewry. There never was, at least on any effective scale. The liberal Jewish intelligentsia here has, politically, speaking, sat on its hands for decades, mouths zipped shut, when it comes to criticizing Israel. Even more effectively than America’s defense contractors they have contributed to, and indeed cheered on Israel’s corrupt rejectionism. Will this war make them change their minds? I doubt it.

Note: An earlier version of this column ran in The Nation, which went to press on Thursday.