“Israel is doomed,” said a friend of mine some months ago, returning to the U.S. after a trip to Israel. I asked him why, and my friend, who spent twenty years working at a high level in the Pentagon, answered, “They’ve put in an Air Force man as chief of the General Staff.”
He was talking about Dan Halutz, appointed chief of the General Staff of the IDF in February of this year.
My friend began his stint in the Pentagon in the middle Sixties, as one of Robert McNamara’s “whiz kids”. He’d spent long years listening to Air Force generals expounding the virtues of air power, and how their bombers would wipe out the Viet Cong, without the need for any ground forces.
Those bombers never did wipe out the Viet Cong, though they destroyed vast forests while other USAF planes drenched the ground cover with poisons that plague Vietnamese and Americans to this day.
A generation later the next cohort of US Air Force Generals said that air power was all that was needed to subdue any resistance in Iraq. They claimed that the attack in the spring of 2003 would begin with Operation Shock and Awe, and victory would be swift and total.
Air force generals are like that. The bloodiest battles of their lives are fought against navy admirals, army generals and marine generals over money. To persuade the politicians to give them the money requires incessant boasting about the glories of air power.
The trouble is that history shows air power doesn’t win wars, or even battles. The best known example is the bombing of Germany by the Americans and the British in World War Two. The plan, as advanced by Britain’s Arthur “Bomber” Harris, was to kill a million Germans and paralyze industrial production. Harris began his career with the British bombing campaigns in Mesopotamia in the 1920s, then Palestine, against the Great Rising, in the 1930s.
The Allies’ bombs killed many Germans, though not a million. But as postwar investigators headed by the late J.K. Galbraith found, war production actually increased. The bombs stiffened German morale and loathing of the enemy.
Galbraith’s investigations failed to dent the myth of air power. America’s most famous Air force general in the postwar period was Curt LeMay, headed of America’s nuclear air fleet, the Strategic Air Command. In World War Two he had overseen the firebombing of Tokyo. It was LeMay who boasted to President John Kennedy that his planes could “reduce the Soviet Union to a smoldering, irradiated ruin in three hours.”
Dan Halutz is in the LeMay tradition, a brutish lout. He raised a storm when he was asked what feelings, what moral tremors he might have had about the dropping of a one-ton bomb in a house in Gaza. Halutz’s jaunty reply was to the effect that all he felt was “a slight tremor in the wing of the airplane.”
Writing about Halutz, and that particular remark, the Israeli columnist Gideon Levy wrote in Ha’aretz on February 28, “Halutz faithfully represents the policy in recent years of the air force and the Israel Defense Forces, which no longer has a place for moral statements in our war on terror. According to this policy, dropping heavy bombs on a house is a legitimate and just means, and killing innocent civilians, including children, does not at all resemble Palestinian terror.”
That one-ton bomb killed many civilians. Levy continued, “Anyone who saw the ruined apartment houses also knew that the IDF and the air force lied brazenly when they initially tried to publicize the claim that there were only “huts” on the site of the bombing; that it was impossible to know that people were living in them. The real moral image of the air force is reflected from among the ruins in the Daraj neighborhood more than all the statements of its commander.”
So the brazen thug Halutz got the big job, just at the moment the Israeli high command was firming up plans for its long planned onslaught on Lebanon. It was Halutz who sold Olmert and Peretz on the fantasy of swift and devastating air force raids finishing off Hezbollah.
Since then Halutz has efficiently united all Lebanese in loathing of Israel, while being an effective propagandist for Hezbollah. What better recruiter of sympathy for Lebanon than Halutz screaming “we’re going to turn Lebanon back into what it was 20 years ago,” and threatening to blow up a 10-floor building for every missile.
By the second day in August Halutz’s bombardment had achieved the extraordinary feat of prompting the Maronite Catholic patriarch – the spiritual leader of the most pro-Western populace – to assemble Lebanon’s religious leaders — Shiite and Sunni Muslims and various Christian confessions. The group issued a joint statement of solidarity, condemning the Israeli “aggression” and hailing “the resistance, mainly led by Hezbollah, which represents one of the sections of society.”
All Halutz knows how to do is to bomb defenseless targets. This ability does not require brain power or skill in political analysis.
Napoleon said he wanted lucky generals under his command. Hezbollah is lucky in the Israeli military commander it faces, even though Lebanon bleeds.