Today,the war entered its fifth week. Hard to believe: our mighty army has now been fighting for 29 days against a “gang” and “terrorist organization”, as the military commanders like to describe them, and the battle has still not been decided.
Yesterday, military sources in Israel announced that 400 of the 1200 Hizbullah “terrorists” have been killed. That’s to say, a mere 1200 fighters have been standing against the tens of thousands of our soldiers, who are equipped with the most advanced weapons on earth, and hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens are still under rocket fire while our soldiers continue to be killed.
WHO? ME? Now everybody already admits that something basic has gone wrong in this war. The proof: the War of the Generals, that previously started only after the conclusion of a war, has now become public while the war is still going on.
The Chief-of-Staff, Dan Halutz, has found the culprit: Udi Adam, the chief of the Northern Command. He has practically dismissed him in the middle of the battle. That is the old ploy of the thief shouting “Stop thief!” After all, it is obvious that the person mainly to blame for the failures of the war is Halutz himself, with his foolish belief that Hizbullah could be defeated by aerial bombardment alone.
But it is not only at the top of the army that mutual accusations are flying around. The army command accuses the government, which is retaliating in kind.
On the eve of his downgrading, Udi Adam publicly accused the government of tying his hands. Meaning: the government is guilty. Ehud Olmert did not remain silent and declared that the army had not submitted any plans for widening the campaign. That’s to say: if you are incompetent, don’t blame me!
To justify himself, Olmert added a significant sentence: “From the first day of the war, the government has not refused the army a single request!” In other words, it is the Chief-of-Staff who makes policy and conducts the war, while the political leadership just rubber stamps everything that the army “requests”.
But this is a sterile debate, because it ignores the main fact, which is becoming clearer from day to day: it is altogether impossible to win this war. That’s why nothing is working as planned.
PLAN? WHAT PLAN? Years ago the military commentator of Haolam Hazeh, the magazine I was editing at the time, got fed up with the boast the our army excels in improvisation. “The ability to improvise,” he wrote, “Is just another name for our inability to plan.”
According to the reports, the Israeli army has been preparing for this war for more than three years. The last exercise took place a month before the war started and included the invasion of Lebanon by land forces. It is clear that the command did not anticipate a campaign that would last for four weeks and more. What the hell! After all, it was against a small gang of terrorists. This just confirms the dictum that even the best war plan does not survive the first day of war.
THE WAR OF THE POOR. It is quite clear that the army command’s wonderful plan did not include the defense of the rear within rocket range. There was no plan for the solution of the hundred and one problems emanating from the attack on Hizbullah: from the protection of the civilian population from thousands of missiles to the necessary economic arrangements when a third of the country’s population is living under bombardment and is paralysed.
Now the public is crying out, and soon the ministers and generals will have to try to find somebody to blame for that, too.
For this war is being fought on the backs of the weak, who cannot afford to “evacuate themselves” from the rockets’ area. The rich and well-to-do have got out long ago – in Israel as well as in Lebanon. The poor, the old, the sick and the handicapped remain in the shelters. They are the main sufferers. But that does not cause them to oppose the war. On the contrary, they are the most vociferous group in Israel demanding “to go to the end”, “to smash them”, “to wipe them out”.
That is not new, either: the weakest in society always want to feel that they belong to the strongest nation. Those who have nothing become the biggest patriots. And they are also the main victims.
Those who initiated and planned the war cynically flatter the inhabitants of the North, who are stuck there, calling them “heroes” and lauding their “wonderful steadfastness”.
UNITED CYNICS. Now the end of the killing depends on the UN.
David Ben-Gurion called it contemptuously “UNO-SHMUNO” (UM-SHMUM in Hebrew). In the 1948 war, he violated its cease-fire resolutions whenever it suited him (as a soldier I took part in some of these actions). He and all his successors over the years have violated almost all the UN decisions concerning us, arguing (not without justification) that the organization was dominated by an automatic anti-Israeli majority, consisting of the Soviet bloc and Third World countries.
Since then, the situation has changed. The Soviet bloc has collapsed and the UN has become an arm of the US State department. Kofi Annan has become a janitor and the real boss is the US delegate, John Bolton, a raving neo-con and therefore a great friend of Israel. He wants the war to go on.
The name of the American game is: to give the Israeli army more days, and perhaps more weeks, to go on with the war, to pursue the mirage of victory, while pretending to make great efforts to stop the war. It seems that Olmert has promised Bush to win after all, if given time.
The new proposals of the Beirut government have lit red lights in Jerusalem. The Lebanese government proposes to deploy 15 thousand Lebanese troops along the border, declare a cease-fire and get the Israeli troops out of Lebanon. That is exactly what the Israeli government demanded at the start of the war. But now it looks like a danger. It could stop the war without an Israeli victory.
Thus a paradoxical situation has arisen: the Israeli government is rejecting a proposal that reflects its original war aims, and instead demands the deployment of an international force, which it objected to strenuously at the start of the war. That’s what happens when you start a war without clear and achievable aims. Everything gets mixed up.
GENERALS AND COMMENTATORS. I have a proposal to solve all the problems caused by this war: to switch the generals and the commentators.
The generals have not excelled in conducting the war. But they and their comrades, the ex-generals, have proved themselves excellent commentators. They have crowded everyone else out of the studios, created a national consensus and silenced all real criticism. (Except one sort of criticism: Why do we not advance deeper into Lebanon? Why haven’t we reached the Litani? Why don’t we go beyond the Litani? Why don’t we eradicate the Lebanese villages from the face of the earth?)
On the other side, the broadcasts prove that the military commentators know exactly how to wage the war. They have forceful opinions and plenty of expert advice. They know when to advance and where, which troops to deploy and what weapons to use.
So why not let them conduct the war?
MACHOSTAN. The battery of generals that appears every evening on all TV channels in order to give a “briefing” (a.k.a. propaganda) to the nation, are all male. They bring with them a token woman, a real beauty who bears the title of “army spokesperson” and serves mostly for diversification. The commentators on TV are, of course, tough guys, and so are almost all the other speakers.
The rule of males is underlined by the fact that the Foreign Ministry is headed by a woman. Since the foundation of Israel, the Ministry of Defense has been the realm of he-men, who look with disdain upon the Foreign Office, which is always considered feeble and effete. Now, too, the Foreign Office is a sickly limb of the “defense establishment”. Tsipi Livni, who once aroused hopes, is a parrot of the army – as Condoleezza Rice is the parrot of Bush.
War is, of course, a matter for men. That’s how it was from the beginning of the human race, and perhaps even before. A tribe of baboons, for example, when faced with danger, automatically adopts a defensive formation: old males, women and children in the center, young males in a circle around them. There is only one difference between them und us: their leader is always the wisest and most experienced of the tribe.
The love of the human male for war – a phenomenon we have had the opportunity to observe from close up these last few days – is connected not only with this biological heritage. War assures the total dominance of the males over society. It also assures the total dominance of the generals over the state.
If we believed that that would change with a government headed by civilians, we were obviously wrong. The opposite is true: the civilians who pose as war-leaders are no better then the generals. A veteran general might even have learned something from his experience.
I am going now to say something I did not think I would ever utter: It is quite possible that we would not have slid into this foolish war if Ariel Sharon were in charge. Fact: he did not attack Hizbullah after the withdrawal in 2000. One attempt was enough for him. Which proves again that there is nothing so bad that something worse cannot be found.
The lust for war also explains the talking choir of the hundreds of ex-generals, who think and talk in unison in favor of the war. A cynic would say: what’s the big deal, after all it’s the army that gave them their standing in society. They are important only as long as the conflict between Israel and the Arab world continues. The conflict guarantees their status. They have no interest whatsoever in its resolution.
But the phenomenon is more profound. The army is the crucible for senior officers. It shapes their world outlook, their attitude and style. Apart from the settlers, the senior officers’ corps – in and out of uniform – is today the only ideological party in Israel and therefore has a huge influence. It can easily gobble up a thousand little functionaries like Amir Peretz before breakfast.
This is why there is no real self-criticism. At the beginning of the fifth week, the slogans are again: Forwards! To the Litani! Further! Stronger! Deeper!
URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is one of the writers featured in The Other Israel: Voices of Dissent and Refusal. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s hot new book The Politics of Anti-Semitism. He can be reached at: email@example.com.