Last Friday I asked a top-level Israeli, a former IDF (Israel Defense Forces) elite unit man and prime-ministerial confidante, whether the assassination of Hezbollah’s Imad Mughniyeh could have been done by a Lebanese group.
He snorted at the preposterous notion. This was “way too sophisticated,” he said. “This [the car bombing] was a precisely orchestrated international operation,” and this was the “third or fourth or fifth time in a year that Israel has carried out a military operation in Syria.”
When I asked him to repeat that last part he added the word “allegedly.”
But the message, or at least the boast, was clear. So why is Israel doing this?
The man said of his colleagues: “There are a lot of [Israeli] military and cabinet people just dying for a second round with Lebanon. If given the opportunity they’ll take it,” i.e. attack Lebanon again, not in spite of “but because of” the perception that their ’06 attack failed.
Though the IDF leveled blocks and villages, dropped 4 million cluster bomblets (some of which are still exploding), and killed some 200 Hezbollah combatants and 1,000 Lebanese civilians (roughly 40 Israeli civilians were killed by Hezbollah), they apparently departed Lebanon feeling politically inadequate.
The official feeling was that they either did not destroy enough, or destroy enough of the right people and items, to avoid the embarrassing perception that they lost to Hezbollah.
So to have the option of solving this problem they’ve apparently staged a provocative assassination in hopes of goading Hezbollah into retaliating and providing a pretext for new — better — destruction that this time around will “succeed,” i.e. soothe hurt Israeli feelings.
There’ve been attempts to put this in strategic terms, as educated killers (and those who study them) prefer. ‘Israel must prove its strategic value to the United States’ (What? Washington is going to dump Israel? Hezbollah’s “victory” strengthened the Palestinians, or Lebanon, or put Israel’s existence in danger?). Or, alternatively: ‘Hezbollah must be eradicated’ (which everyone knows is impossible).
In fact, the closer you look the more it looks like leaders’ blood psychotherapy.
And the same thing goes for the publics that follow them. Olmert is in political trouble. If he doesn’t kill some Arabs soon (who or where is secondary), his governing coalition may well dissolve. The public has to feel good, too.
The problem — for the to-be-killed, and for the notion of murder law, not to mention (and few do) decency — is that the Israeli body politic is now set this way: demanding — with a few, brave, exceptions — not just daily, routine, killings of Palestinians, but periodic dramatic strikes that thrill and let them strut like hero/ victims.
It’s as if the inhabitants of a US Fox News studio had multiplied and become a nation.
It, of course, doesn’t have to be that way, but it is obviously that way now. All you have to do to see it is pick up the papers or talk to a few Israelis. (For representative quotations see Gideon Levy, “Little Ahmadinejads, Haaretz,” 10/06/2007).
Its one thing for a state to be murdering and/or oppressing others when their local public doesn’t know about it (as was largely the case when Washington was decimating Central America in the 1980s), but it’s another when the public knows about it and supports the injustices and crimes (as was the case with US whites and slavery, and in the first stages of US/Iraq, where public support seemed to turn — as it may still — on the question of whether the US was “winning”).
In the first situation, the killing policy is vulnerable. If word gets out, the public might be angry. But in the second it is more stable, and deadly, since the public knows, and asks for more.
But people and states don’t get to entirely write their own histories.
They usually interact with others.
In the case of Israel, the key interaction is with the US, their military guarantor/ mass subsidizer, and with American Jews, where, among the young, opinion appears to be slowly turning (see postings of December 7, 2007, “Imposed Hunger in Gaza. The Army in Indonesia. Questions of Logic and Activism,” and February 13, 2008, “Big Killer Takes Out Smaller One. ‘Wipe Out a Neighborhood.’ Life by Mafia Rules in the Israeli – US Domain,” particularly the plaint of Malcom Hoenlein.).
Alternatively, Palestinians and groups like Hezbollah and Hamas could join the US as important determinants, but only if they too reset their outlooks (and their willingness to kill or murder) — as some Palestinians and other Arabs at the grassroots level are now urging, cautiously — and switched to active, but non-violent, or minimally violent resistance (like the first intifada, or the Gaza wall-breaking) and stopped letting themselves be used as a “provocation-response” button that Israel can press when it wants a thrill.
ALLAN NAIRN can be reached through his blog.