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It sounds like a promo for a second rate soap opera: a 21- year old woman appears with a much older celebrity, who grabs her, forces a kiss on her and pushes his tongue into her mouth.
This scene has been occupying the attention of the Israeli public for months now, more than any other topic, except perhaps the allegation that the President of the State sexually assaulted several of his employees. The war and its consequences have been pushed aside.
The interest stems, of course, from the identity of kisser and kissee: Haim Ramon was at the time Minister of Justice and a central figure in the government; the young woman, who was identified only as H., was a lieutenant in the office of the “military secretary” of the Prime Minister, an important military-political liaison point. The fatal encounter took place at the Prime Minister’s office, shortly before a cabinet meeting.
This week, three judges–two female, one male–unanimously found Ramon guilty of an indecent act. It seems that the prosecution will not call for the maximum penalty–three years in prison–but the political career of Ramon has, so it seems, come to an end.
This might have been nothing more than a juicy piece of gossip, except for one small detail, which has hardly been mentioned: the fateful kiss took place in the room adjacent to that where a cabinet meeting was due to start, and in which it was decided to start the war in Lebanon.
A short time before that, the Chief-of-Staff, Dan Halutz, also found the time and energy for an un-warlike act: he called his broker and instructed him to sell his shares.
The background must be remembered: a few hours earlier, Hizbullah fighters had crossed the border and captured two Israeli soldiers. Two soldiers had been killed during the operation, and six more died in pursuit of the captors. Obviously the cabinet was about to decide upon a military operation in which many soldiers and civilians, Israeli and Lebanese, would lose their lives. Yet the supreme commander of the army was handling his shares and a prominent minister was handling a female soldier.
* * *
IN THE course of the 1948 war, I wrote reports of the battles from the point of view of a simple soldier. After the war, when I was collecting these reports for a book, it crossed my mind that it would be interesting to add a description of the war as seen from the point of view of the commander, who had made the decisions that affected our fate.
I approached my brigade chief, a commander highly admired by all of us, and he gave me a detailed description of the campaigns. Before my eyes, a different war unfolded. True, the place names and the battles were the same, but there was no similarity between our war, the war in which the fighters’ main concern was to survive from day to day, and the war of the high command, which moved figures on the board in an intricate game of chess with the enemy commanders. The difference between the two levels fascinated me. Perhaps it was that which helped to make the book, “In the Fields of the Philistines, 1948”, into a run-away bestseller.
All the great writers who wrote about war–from Leo Tolstoy (“War and Peace”) to Erich Maria Remarque (“All Quiet on the Western Front”) and Norman Mailer (“The Naked and the Dead”) highlighted this huge difference. The soldier crawls through the thorns, sinks into the mud and cowers in his foxhole; the commanders move arrows on the map.
For the simple soldier, and even more so for the civilian, it is difficult to penetrate the mental world of a general who decides upon an operation, knowing that there will be so and so many “casualties”, dead and wounded. But after all, that is his profession: to weigh the gains of a move against the expected losses. He receives the order to capture Hill 246 and works out a plan, which he expects will cost the lives of a hundred or so of his soldiers. While he is calculating, those hundred soldiers are horsing around, talking with their parents on the phone, trying to catch some sleep.
* * *
I AM not writing this in a philosophical or literary mood, but in order to draw attention to the unbearable lightness with which politicians and generals decide on starting a war. The shares of Halutz and the kiss of Ramon are but symptoms of this phenomenon.
The day before yesterday, Ehud Olmert appeared before the Board of Inquiry (which he had appointed himself) and described how his cabinet
decided to start the Second Lebanon War. The testimony is being kept secret, but it may be assumed that Olmert did not forget to express his condolences to the bereaved families and his hopes for the speedy recovery of the wounded. But did any of his ministers really weigh the price of the operation in human lives–on our side and on the other? Did the Chief-of-Staff, who had just disposed of his shares, raise the subject? Was the Minister of Justice, who had just enjoyed a little adventure with consequences he could not dream of, in an appropriately serious mood?
This is not a uniquely Israeli problem. Did George W. Bush and his clique of Neo-Conservatives really consider the casualties, when they decided to invade Iraq? Let’s ignore for a moment the lies they spread, the fabricated stories about “weapons of mass destruction”, the imaginary connections between Saddam and Osama and all the other falsehoods and deceptions. Let’s concentrate only on the two real aims of the war (which we exposed at the time): (a) to get their hands on the oil of Iraq and the entire region, including the Caspian, and (b) to place an American garrison in the heart of the Middle East.
If Bush had to face a Board of Inquiry in Washington DC as Olmert did in Tel-Aviv, he would certainly be asked some questions (which this column asked in real time): Did you consider how many soldiers and civilians would be killed and wounded? What led you to think that the invading army would be received with showers of flowers? Why did you believe that the Air Force would determine the issue so that the ground forces would have to play only a minor role? Did you imagine that the planned little war would still be going on three years and more later? Did you take into consideration that the Iraqi state would be blown to pieces and that the three peoples living there would soon be at each other’s throats? Did you expect that the war would strengthen Iran’s position in the Middle East? In short, did you have any idea at all of the place that you were about to invade?
Clearly, nobody with any influence in the US government raised these questions at the time. A foolish and power-drunk president, a rapacious vice-president and a cabal of arrogant and ignorant ideological fanatics decided upon an adventure whose end is not in sight even now. And afterwards the statesmen and strategists went to their elegant restaurants to enjoy sumptuous meals, while the 3000 US soldiers who have been killed up to now spent the day in blissful ignorance of what was going on at the highest level. The media and the senators, of course, were ecstatic.
* * *
IT’S NOT the past I am writing about, but the future.
At this moment, people in Washington and in Jerusalem are thinking about a war in Iran. Not if it should be started, but when and how.
If this is to be an American war, its consequences will be many times more grievous than the war in Iraq. Iran is a very hard nut. The Iranian people are united. They have a glorious national tradition, a highly developed national pride and a tough religious ideology. One can bomb their oil facilities, but it is a big country, not dependent on a sophisticated infrastructure, and it cannot be subdued by bombing alone. There will be no alternative to a military attack on the ground.
Bush is already preparing the war. This week he instructed his soldiers in Iraq to hunt down and kill all “Iranian agents” there. That is reminiscent of the infamous “Kommissarbefehl” of June 6, 1941, on the eve of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, in which Adolf Hitler ordered the summary execution of every captured political commissar of the Red Army. Since the commissars were uniformed soldiers, every commander who carried out the order became a war criminal.
It is quite certain that if the United States does go to war, the Iranian people will rally behind their government. They will draw the conclusion that everything their leaders told them about the West was true. The opposition, which has lately raised its head, will fall silent and disappear. The big-mouthed president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose wisdom is now being questioned by many of his own people, will turn overnight into a national hero. It will be a war of many years, and many thousands of American soldiers–not to mention Iranians–will fall.
President Bush may hesitate and pass the task over to Israel. Lately, Olmert has hinted that it was the Americans who pushed him into the Lebanon war. They believed that the Israeli army would defeat Hizbullah easily, and that this would help the American clients in Beirut. (A similar foolish calculation caused the Americans to give their blessing to Sharon’s First Lebanon War in 1982.)
Nowadays, our politicians and generals speak freely about the inevitable attack on Iran. The pro-Israeli lobby in the US, both Jewish and Christian, is toiling mightily to push American public opinion in this direction. All these gentlemen and ladies, in their comfortable villas far from the prospective battlefields, yearn for a war which will cost the lives of the sons and daughters–of other people.
The advocates of the war declare that it is necessary in order to prevent a “Second Holocaust”. That has already become a mantra. This week, Jacques Chirac nearly exploded it, when he expressed the self-evident: that if an Iranian nuclear bomb were launched at Israel, Israel would wipe Tehran from the face of the earth. The Iranian rulers are not mad and the “balance of terror” will do its job. But the “friends” of Israel and the USA started to pelt Chirac with verbal rocks, and he hastily retracted.
* * *
LET’S ASSUME for a moment that the Israeli Air force, with the help of the American naval forces that are now being steadily built up in the Persian Gulf, succeeds in bombing targets in Iran. What will happen then?
Iranian missiles will rain down on Tel-Aviv and Haifa. The promise of our Air Force to destroy them on the ground is worth no more than the similar promises we heard about Lebanon. In order to defend Israel, American soldiers would have to go into Iran. Israel’s account would be debited with every casualty. If Israel is, God forbid, the first to use a nuclear bomb there, the shame will last forever.
The masses of the Arab–indeed the entire Muslim world, both Sunnis and Shiites, will rally around Iran. The Sunni heads of state, who are embracing Israel now in secret, will run away in panic. We shall be left alone to face the revenge that will come sooner or later. Will we be able to rely on the heirs of Bush, who may be less reckless and more inclined to listen to world public opinion, which will inevitably blame us for this whole adventure?
Iran is not a second Iraq, neither is it Hizbullah multiplied by ten. It is an entirely different story.
But is anyone here thinking about it seriously? Will the successors of the share-selling Chief-of-Staff and the tongue-pushing minister be more thoughtful? Or will they decide upon a new military adventure with the same unbearable lightness?
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.