Saturday, August 26, 2006

Israel's Major Malfunction

The significance of Israel's botched military incursion into Lebanon over the last 2 months has been dismissed by some pundits as deja-vu all over again, or business as usual for the middle east (the way it is destined to be). But a closer inspection beyond the pages of reveals a few striking differences from past military efforts.

First, the legendary Israel military stalwart of old seems to be lost, maybe temporarily, perhaps forever. The perceived morally superior architect of precision, daring and surgical (not to mention successful) operations such as the raid at Entebbe appears now more like the US of Iraqi fame: if a 1,000 lb bomb doesn't win their hearts and minds, try a 10,000 lb bomb. If that doesn't work, then surely a 20,000 lb one will do the trick. Show 'em how tough you are, that's the only way to win the peace, cowboy style. What it in fact now appears to have accomplished is to demonstrate to the rest of the region that it is now possible to stand up to the most powerful military force in the area, and do it convincingly. And worse, Israel is left with nothing even approaching their original stated goals in the conflict. In fact, they are more at risk as a result.

Second, after 15 long years of invasion, occupation, civil war, and massive bloodshed Lebanon was finally free of its last occupiers, Israel and Syria. Reconstruction of its infrastructure, services and utilities was nearly complete, the economy was growing, foreign investors returning and it was well on the way to reclaiming its place as a major tourist destination (Beruit was once known as the "Paris of the Middle East"). Hezbollah was waning in significance and popularity, and seemed to be going the way of the IRA. While it was still the de-facto government in the south, military operations were slowly being eclipsed by social and governing activities. In a few short weeks Israel managed to turn Hezbollah into a regional hero again, marginalize a budding Lebanese government, destroy bridges, power plants and other new infrastructure, and remind the area whom they despise, and why.

Third, Iran has now clearly emerged as the top power broker in the area. As the saying goes, "the Iraq war is over, and Iran has won!" Israel managed to underscore that for any who missed it the first time.

Fourth, by using what was clearly a grossly disproportional show of force to what should have been seen as a relatively insignificant provocation (reminds me of W's claim that he was "tired of swatting flies"), they have lost a lot of the support they once took for granted in the world. I know this was a tipping point for me. And that of course will start the cries of "anti-semitism" much as the critics of the current US administration are accused of being unpatriotic.

One of the most stunning observations has been watching (and listening to) the reaction of lefty talkers on radio and TV. One would expect a similar reaction as the one to the invasion and occupation of Iraq: you know, can't bomb your way to peace, innocent civilians, world opinion, etc.

But suddenly the lefty talkers are sounding like sound-bite righties when it comes to Israel and Lebanon. Some of the tidbits I've heard, and my commentary:

"Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, and they killed 241 marines in 1983.

Yes, and Libya killed 270 people (including 189 Americans) in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988, but we've managed to patch things up there and get American oil interests going in that country again. There are literally dozens of other examples. There is a time to move on when the environment is fertile for it. Because of our lack of understanding of the region, we use the term "terrorists" indiscriminately and without makeup and functional distinction.

"They started it.

How childish does that sound....... I've even heard some of the talkers say "what's Israel supposed to do when rockets are fired into its northern areas?" Folks, the first rockets heading south didn't launch until well after they were heading north. The initial provocating was a minor firefight between Hezbollah and the IDF. Evidence suggests that Israel has been planning this for months if not years, just waiting for a reason to excuse a preemptive strike.

"Israel has a right to defend itself.

One of my faves, a soundbite right out of Karl Rove's playbook. Of course they do, no sane person disputes that. Now that that's been established, lets talk meaningfully about the current situation and stop being sidetracked by meaningless phrases.

"At least Israel is trying to avoid civilian deaths.

A noble cause, thought their stated intentions conflict a bit with the actual results. Depending on whose numbers you use, Israel has killed 3-4 civilians per Hezbollah fighter killed, Hezbollah has killed 3-4 IDF members to every Israeli civilian killed. I realize that this can be partially explained as the situation mixes conventional forces with urban guerilla tactics. But that's the path they knowingly took, and the results are still the reality for Lebanese civilians.

I do not suggest that Israel is all wrong and Hezbollah is all right; the latter has a sinister and duplicitous past. But one should expect a higher moral standard to be set for Israel, backed by the most firepower the world has ever seen.

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