Thursday, August 31, 2006

August 31, 2006 John Wayne is Dead

The location of the secret tunnel and bunker, which Israel’s Prime Minister and the Israeli cabinet are to use in a national emergency, has been revealed. Not by a Hezbollah spy ring. Not by a Hamas terrorist cell. Not by Iran’s Islamic Jihad organization. Nope. The location was broadcast two nights ago on Israel Television’s Channel two. A pretty, young, woman, head covered signifying that she was an Orthodox Jew, stood up in front of the tractors and trucks and work crews and gave the exact spot to anyone watching TV.

The fact that many residents of the Jerusalem neighborhood where the tunnel ended already knew of its existence wasn’t the same as broadcasting the precise location throughout Israel, and to the Arab world. The excuse for the report was the controversial security fence/wall that is under construction near the bunker. The fence/wall is to one day separate Israel from the West Bank. The reporter was amazed that the new security bunker was only a few hundred meters from an Arab village that was to be included within Jerusalem and not fenced out of Israel. The fence/wall would protect the Prime Minister and the Israeli cabinet. What was the government thinking, she wanted to know.

The question, rather, is what was the reporter thinking? What were her bosses thinking? Where is the military censor in all of this? Questions like these were also raised during the Lebanon War II. Raised by those high up in the corridors of power. An Army Radio reporter happened to be near the army bivouac site in a northern kibbutz where the katyushas rockets had landed only a few minutes earlier, killing twelve Israeli soldiers and wounding a score of others. During her exuberant report she gave the exact location. Didn’t the reporter know that Hezbollah listens to the radio and has maps, critics asked a day later. Didn't she know that by reporting the precise site the reporter was essentially acting as a spotter for those aiming the rockets?

The guy asking the questions that night was Moshe Shlonsky, a respected journalist who once ran Army radio. Didn’t the reporter have an editor? What was the editor thinking? How could the army high command allow something like this to go on? Shlonsky asked.

And it did go on, day after day. Israel TV Reporters innocently stood beneath clearly visible street signs in Haifa telling the viewers, including Hezbollah, that they weren't allowed to identify the location of the explosion. Other video crews, Foreign, Isaeli and Arab, were camped out in Haifa on the promontory above the beautifully manicured Bahai Temple Gardens, ready to hone in on the incoming missiles falling on the port below. No one supervised them. No one censored them. No one bothered them.

In a recent symposium in Jerusalem, reporters gathered to discuss the issue of how the Lebanon War II was covered, and to explain themselves. One reporter complained that the Israeli Army didn’t allow the press to go into Lebanon, so he had to stay in his hotel, filming the action from the balcony. Of course, the action was only a short distance away, and he still got his story.

In the Jerusalem Post article on the symposium, the New York Times correspondent reportedly apologized for his paper. The NYT showed the bombed out Hezbollah neighborhood of Beirut, but not pictures showing that in reality almost all of Beirut was untouched and unbothered. The picture gave the false impression that Beirut looked like Berlin after the Allied bombings razed it. He admitted he should have shown the bright side of Beirut as well, to give a true picture of the situation.

Then the question of Kfar Kana comes up. The building in ruins and exaggerated, later corrected, reports of dead and injured. No one ever listened to or read the corrections. U.S. Sec. Of Defense Donald Rumsfeld complained recently that the press was distorting the war in Iraq through its one-sided coverage. He said that biased reporting that undermined the battles waged there. No one ever said Rumsfeld was loveable, or credible, but there is some substance to his complaint. The media, for lack of anything better to say or do, finds that criticism attracts more attention than compliments.

Iraq isn’t Lebanon. The US troops in Iraq are fighting bravely, and valiantly, no matter if you’re looking at the battles through a Republican or Democrat’s rose-tinted glasses. Should they be there? Is Bush off his rocker with this stuff about “Islamic Fascism?” Is it possible to “win” in Iraq? All good questions. Everyone has given the answers from Statesmen to greengrocers.

Israelis supported the US endeavor in Iraq because Saddam Hussein was a sworn enemy of Israel. He proudly displayed huge billboard-sized checks for $25,000 given to every suicide bomber’s family, paying for those who went to their death in Israel. Hussein reimbursed Palestinianw whose homes were destroyed by Israeli forces; destroyed as punishment for a son or daughter's deadly suicide bombing. Palestinians cheered Hussein as he dodged the US army; Israelis cheered when he was captured.

Israel’s armchair generals criticized the way the Iraqi war was waged, knowing that if you bypass a village filled with terrorists, as the US army did rushing from the border to Baghdad, you’re only going to have to go back and clean out the village sooner or later. These pundits claim that had the US put in sufficient force to begin with, gone village to village, house to house, working their way to Baghdad, the “resistance” they left behind wouldn’t have come up and bit them in the butt. Taking out Imam Al –Sadr would have been a top priority. Now he’s become the Iraqi Nasrallah.

The battle tactics used in Iraq were a valuable lesson to the Israelis when they faced the Hezbollah forces. Ultimately it was only the ground forces, going house to house that had any effect. But while the Americans allowed “embedded” journalists to cover the war, Israeli denied them access. Except for a few crews from Israeli TV going in with the troops towards the end of the fighting. The foreign press came at the story from the Lebanese side of the border. They drove in from Jordan, or took boats in from Cyprus, or a taxi from Damascus. The fact they came onto the battlefront from the Lebanese side influenced the way they reported the news.

Many commentators are now accusing the press that covered the Lebanon War II on the Israeli side of delving so deeply into minutiae that they lost sight not only of the truth, but good sense. With the constant pressure to deliver a story, sometimes every hour, they spouted conjecture and guesswork as credible details, just to get on the air, just to get on the radio, just to have something to write, unknowingly giving the enemy information.

The question of again empowering the Israeli censor is now on the agenda. During the 1991 Gulf War Israelis heard about the first scuds from CNN, or relatives calling from abroad who were watching CNN. Israelis were in their ‘sealed rooms’ preparing for a gas attack. Luckily it never came. Then Israel’s censors were going full blast. Nothing was reported as it happened. Once in a while the army spokesman would come on the screen with an announcement. By that time most people already knew what had happened by watching cable news. Today with the plethora of channels, and the web, keeping a story secret is nearly impossible. That’s why the censor essentially gave up.

But does that mean a reporter should go on the air with the location of a place that may save the lives of Israel’s leaders, the decision makers who have to call the shots in case the fighting gets so close that underground is the only safe place? One assumes that self-censorship has become one of the most unused journalistic practices. However, if anyone ever saw the HBO movie about CNN covering the Gulf War they quickly realize that an ambitious, sometimes cruel, journalist, could care less about the results of his report, and more about just getting a good story on the air during his time slot.

Some time back CBS eliminated its independent news division placing it under "Entertainment." News was no longer on the level of integrity practiced by Edward R. Murrow, or Walter Cronkite; now it was the pretty boys with their blow-dried hair, and the sleek women clutching Gucci bags. Most with pre-conceived notions cooked up in the New York or London home offices. Some of these reporters were recently doing weather, or modeling underwear. Now they were busy getting out the story. News was about ratings. Ratings about advertising dollars. Programming meant to keep viewers watching between soap commercials.

It was a blog site that revealed the doctored Reuters photograph of damage in Beirut. No surprise. By inclination, reporters try anything to get recognition. There’s a lot of competition these days. But perhaps it’s the blogs that are becomming the real reporters. Who knows? News organizations have sponsors and money to pay staff. Bloggers are at best well-meaning people driven like Charles Bukowski to write and report, or at worst cranks making up stuff to blow off steam and get attention.

Problem is, you’d expect a blogger to reveal the location of the Prime Minister’s secret hide-away, not a government approved news channel.

Sort of makes you wonder if the driver hasn’t been shot and a team of run-away horses isn’t pulling the stagecoach called information. Big problem, that. Clint Eastwood’s too old to be jumping onto the horse’s back and bring the team under control, and John Wayne is dead.

If, as Rumsfeld and others say, the media is as much a part of a battle as the soldiers, then someone better catch that stagecoach before it caroms over the cliff up ahead and takes us all with it.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

August 29, 2006 Winners and Losers

August 29, 2006 Winners and Losers.

Lebanon War II will probably be examined in minute detail in the coming years, as were all of Israel’s wars. A six-hour film series is under production for WGBH-PBS in the USA, which will be a sort of 24, but without Keifer Sutherland. This will be a documentary series. Each hour will be another day in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Just when you think there’s nothing more to be said about a war that happened forty years ago, up pops another in-depth look at the war, bringing out details never before seen on the screen. The new series will use the American-born Israeli historian Michael Oren’s expertise. Oren is the author of a recent book on the Six-Day War. His conclusions take some of the glitter off the performances of the great Israeli heroes like Moshe Dayan.

A panel of luminaries, a retired head of the Mossad, a retired Supreme Court judge, and an ex-Air Force General will now investigate the Government’s role in Lebanon War II. Israel’s PM Ehud Olmert said when announcing this panel, that he was not interested in appointing a full-blown commission of inquiry into all aspects of the war, including the government’s role, the army’s role, and the home-front command. This type of committee, said Olmert, would paralyze the army, and make it ineffective in a period when extreme readiness was needed. Rather, he said, the army would investigate itself, and make the proper adjustments as quickly as possible.

Olmert said that the Israeli Government’s Ombudsman’s Office would investigate the home front, and why the bomb shelters weren’t ready, and other civilian matters. He ran afoul of Ombudsman Lilienbloom, who said he doesn’t take orders from Olmert, hinting broadly that his office was independent of any government interference or pressure. Olmert reportedly was aghast at the response, since the PM’s office, said Olmert, can indeed request such an inquiry. Time will tell who gives in.

Most reasonable analysts, without a political ax to grind, or a pre-conceived position to bellow about, accepted Olmert’s proposals. Most agreed that as horrendous as the Lebanon War II was, it didn’t equate to the army’s lack of preparedness in the Yom Kippur War, or loss of life. It was a little war, that was more terrorism than battles, and not worthy of disrupting the army and the government’s valuable time needed to re-build and repair.

The inquiry will not shorten Olmert’s time in office, nor lengthen it unduly. Many politicians with their own ambition showing like a hideous tie, are doing all they can to push Olmert out of office. Others are equally impatient to see Minister of Defense Amir Peretz ousted, and see Chief of Staff Dan Halutz shown the door.

But the respected pundits say the army actually achieved surprising results in spite of all the media babble. Hezbollah leader Nasrallah’s statements two days ago were taken by many as an admission of Israel’s success in the war. Nasrallah said he’d made a mistake when he’d kidnapped the two Israeli soldiers, never expecting Israel’s “insane” response.

Many think his statements came because of the internal pressure he is facing in Lebanon. Hezbollah's Beirut neighborhood is destroyed, as are at least half of the long-range missiles. Shiites in the south who fled their homes returned to bombed out shells. Nasrallah must somehow justify himself, and he’s doing it by blaming ‘those crazy Israelis.’

The Israeli analysts think that the mere fact that the Lebanese government is sending troops into south Lebanon is a major victory in its own right. The fact that the UN is going to try to help is another plus. These same analysts point out that for now Hezbollah is no longer right on the border fence, in most places, waving their yellow flags and spitting at Israelis. Also, the thousands of Israeli troops still in Lebanon are going over the areas they patrol with a fine-tooth comb. A number of well-concealed bunkers, tunnels, and weapons caches have been uncovered, and destroyed, some only meters from the border.

Hezbollah appears to have lost some standing in Lebanon. While Hezbollah is still popular among the Shiite masses, 2/3rds of the Sunni population have said Hezbollah made a mistake starting the war. One commentator said that proof of Nasrallah’s loss was the fact that he is still hiding out in bunkers, while Israelis have returned to the light of day.

The average man in Jerusalem is still livid over the way the war was fought, and wants answers. Most agree that the army became fat and lazy. One high-ranking officer told a friend that the management side of the army, the huge bloated bureaucracy, soaked up huge sums of money that should have gone for upgrading weapons, ordering supplies, and making certain the command structure was intact. The Army’s investigation into the way the war was handled is supposed to take care of these problems. One wonders who will be investigating whom, though. If the same guys who made the mistakes are responsible for clearing up the problems, little can be expected to change.

Ex-generals, and ex-chiefs of staff, will run the Army committee, some of whom were in command when the problems began. Still, most agree at this stage it’s better to start with a low level inquiry than one that upsets the entire command structure. The army, it has been pointed out, was in the process of restructuring before the war started, and if these reforms are carried out, many of the problems should be solved.

Still, guys like Benny, a businessman in Jerusalem with extensive contacts in the media and the army, said that the government should have known what it could accomplish before they started a war. “They weren’t ready,” Benny said. Many commanders knew of the short falls in supplies, but went to war anyway. Luckily the army did okay, but Benny thought it was in spite of the confusion in orders, and indecision.

Retired General now Knesset Member Matan Vilnai, once commander of the northern front, who serves on the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said that plans the army offered to the government as operable were in fact only expectations of what could be. Each battle plan took time to put into practice, and then time to correct once the battles began. Vilnai said that because the orders kept changing, it was impossible for commanders in the field to execute plans that needed careful adjustments.

According to Vilnai even though the government blundered, the army managed to make significant success. Still, he believes the army will get to the bottom of the foul-ups. Too much money is wasted, he said. The army has all the budget it needs to get the job done, to buy new weapons, to upgrade what they have. But they’ll have to cut the fat. And about time too, he said.

Yesterday, balloons flew at the spot where Gilad Shalit was kidnapped. Yesterday was his birthday. Newspaper reports say he’s still in good health, but no one seems to know who is holding him captive. A spokesman for Hamas said yesterday that organization isn’t holding him. Another Hamas official made waves yesterday when he said that the war in Lebanon had destroyed Hamas. He said that anarchy and theft were running wild in Gaza. He claimed that it was time to talk to the Israelis, and get some order back. Perhaps this was a hint that Gilad Shalit, who Hamas denies holding, will soon be freed as part of a prisoner swap.

The other two soldiers held by Hezbollah may also soon be freed. Reverend Jesse Jackson has made an appearance in the Middle East to try to speed up the process. In the past he’d been called upon to visit Syria on diplomatic missions.

UN Sec General Kofi Anan is visiting the Middle East. He has demanded the release of the Israeli soldiers, in accordance with UN Resolution 1701. So far nothing has come of the demands. Israelis were reminded of what happens when kidnapped soldiers aren’t returned immediately. Clips were shown on Israeli TV last night of Ron Arad, an Israeli pilot who fell into Lebanese hands 18 years ago. He has not been heard from since 1988. But last night Lebanese TV aired a promo clip of an upcoming documentary on Ron Arad. Speculation is wild in Israel why the Lebanese are showing this documentary now. An Israeli producer, who helped provide some of the footage for the show, said nothing new was in the program. No new details of what happened to Arad after he was captured.

But the promo did bring back to the publics mind what happens when soldiers aren’t returned quickly. Arad reportedly is anywhere from Lebanon to Iran, from still being held prisoner, to buried in a secret grave. The saga of Ron Arad has been going on for a long time in Israel, and it is a stark reminder not only of how much Israelis honor those captured, but how deeply each soldier is revered. A ten-million dollar reward is still unclaimed for help locating Ron Arad. One only hopes that the Israel won't need the same desperate measures, and undergo the wrenching emotional trauma, because of the three Israeli soldiers still held by Hamas and Hezbollah.

Some commentators say that Israel shouldn’t have agreed to a cease-fire until Hezbollah and Hamas agreed to turn over the three Israeli prisoners. Once this prisoner issue is resolved, it will be clearer who were the winners and losers in the Lebanon War II. And like the Six-Day War, every little detail of this war will be picked over for decades to come. What Olmert’s done up to now and will do in the future will be part of Israel’s history. A history he, Peretz and Halutz want to look good in.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

August 27, 2006 Hard Water and Hot Fire

August 27, 2006

The two kidnapped Fox reporters were freed today, but the three Israeli soldiers whose capture started the Second Lebanon War are still in captivity. Analysts speculate that a prisoner exchange is in the works between Israel and Hezbollah, and will take place in a couple of weeks, although Hamas still claims they don’t know where in Gaza Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is being held. Hamas has resumed rocket attacks on Ashkelon and the Negev. Israel is still carrying out raids into Gaza aimed at stopping the rocket attacks.

The soldiers protest in front of Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office continues, although at this point analysts don’t expect it to result in the immediate resignation of the Olmert government. Pundits speculate that new elections, if they happen, won’t take place for at least six-months. These pundits are still pondering who was to blame for the ill-fated war. Some reports say it was the army’s top leadership, over-estimating the Air Force’s abilities. Lack of supplies are blamed on the logistics department, responsible for distributing food and supplies; others say that the problems were with the commanders in the field, responsible for maintaining storehouses to supply their troops.

Today’s daily newspaper Yideot Achranot had a front-page story by Ron Ben Ishai, their top military reporter, once a correspondent for Time Magazine. Ben Ishai was reporting from Beirut. The front page had his picture standing in the ruins of Dahariya, the Hezbollah neighborhood. “It’s in ruins,” reported Ben Ishai. But he said that pictures of Nasrallah were everywhere. And posters of Nasrallah and Lebanese speaker of the Parliament Nabil Beeri. Huge posters of Hezbollah fighters firing Katyushas were on billboards to and from the airport. Surprisingly, he said that outside of the Hezbollah neighborhood, Beirut was relatively untouched. People filled the streets. Cafes were open. Business was going on. Traffic jams during rush hour. And more posters of Nasrallah.

He said public ally everyone supported Nasrallah, but privately they were critical, but only behind closed doors. It was an amazing report, simply because he’s a well-known Israeli journalist. He wrote he flew in from Jordan, one assumes with a non-Israeli passport, and press pass from a foreign newspaper, maybe Time magazine. Still it was a portrait of courage.

The UNIFIL forces in Lebanon have made it clear that they wouldn’t attempt to disarm Hezbollah. So far Israeli forces are still in Lebanon, and expect to be there until relieved by UNIFIL. The French, who led the call for a cease-fire and promised it would be active in a ‘robust’ UNIFIL force, has so far sent only 200 soldiers. Last week France’s Jacques Chirac said he saw no reason for more troops. Under pressure he agreed to send another 1,600 soldiers. At best the UNIFIL force will now number about 7,000 soldiers at its maximum. UN Sec. General Kofi Anan has said he is having trouble getting other countries to commit troops. Except, Malaysia and Indonesia, both Moslem countries who have been extremely vocal in their anti-Israeli stance. Israel opposes any country’s UNIFIL participation if that country doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Israel.

Last week a couple from Tel Aviv went up to the Golan to visit relatives. A farmer took them to the border with Lebanon, and from a hilltop, looking through binoculars, the visitors reported watching Hezbollah fighters unloading truck after truck, stacking weapons, moving them into bunkers. What does this mean? Simply, that as usual, UNIFIL isn’t about to do anything dangerous, like stopping Hezbollah rearming. And probably, not stop them from firing once they get a mind to start doing that again.

The European Union doesn’t categorize Hezbollah as a ‘terrorist’ organization. Hezbollah, they point out, has 32 members in the Lebanese parliament, and two cabinet ministers in the government. Another complication is that Russia and China are resisting any sanctions against Hezbollah’s sponsor, Iran. Both Russia and China have extensive economic interests in Iran. Russia sells weapons to the Iranians for much needed cash, (weapons which found their way through Syria to Lebanon and were used by Hezbollah against the Israelis) and China is thirsty for Iranian oil. The emergence of China as a supplier of goods to the West, and as a possible democracy, has in effect placed the West in even more danger by China’s refusal to support Iranian sanctions.

These factors make it difficult to contain Hezbollah’s ambitions to Islamicize Lebanon, and keep the terrorist group from receiving more weapons from Syria and Iran.
Syria has come out firmly against a UNIFIL presence on her border with Lebanon. Israel wants this presence in place to keep Hezbollah from being resupplied with the weapons Israel’s Air Force recently destroyed. Last week Iranian and Syrian officials met yet again to bolster their friendship.

Some in Israel are talking about making diplomatic approaches to Syria, in an effort to pull Syria from Iran’s embrace. Others doubt that Syria would be a serious partner in any peace negotiations. Lately, US Sec of State Condeeleeza Rice has talked about exploring the Syrian option. Not long ago U.S. President George Bush put Syria on the list of the “Axis of Evil” nations. Given Syria’s recent actions, one wonders what has made Bashar Assad, Syria’s leader, seem more peaceful? Certainly not supplying weapons to Hezbollah, nor allowing ‘insurgents’ from Iraq to train in Syria.

This week Kofi Anan will visit Syria and Iran. Some critics in Israel see this as a mixed signal to those two countries since both were deeply involved in supplying Hezbollah with weapons, and encouraging Hezbollah to attack Israel. These critics think Anan should have purposefully ignored Syria and Iran as punishment for their support of Hezbollah.

This comes on the backdrop of unnerving reports coming out of Iran. Most Israelis believe that the closer Iran gets to a nuclear weapon, the more danger Israel is in. The Jerusalem Post ran an article over the weekend saying that Iran didn’t care if they lost half their population as long as Israel was wiped out. Yesterday Iran opened up their heavy water plant, a crucial stage in the development of a nuclear weapon.

One report in the Israeli press stated that Israel might have to strike at Iran alone.
The head of the Air Force Gen. Schedi is the son of Holocaust survivors. He has made it clear that he would do what was necessary to protect Israel from another Holocaust, by any country. He once led a formation of Israeli jets in a flyover of Auschwitz. Schedi was recently appointed as the man in charge of dealing with Iran.

Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer recently encouraged the US to bomb Iran. He thought that the Iranians were hell-bent on getting into the nuclear club and would never voluntarily stop their weapons development, no more than North Korea would give up their nuclear weapons. Krauthammer said that once a country went nuclear that put them in an exclusive group that could use their weapons as leverage. Krauthammer thought that any appeasement of the Iranians would only postpone the inevitable: that Iran would use the weapons once developed.

Krauthammer did say that the results of striking Iran would be “terrible” but not as bad if the US waited until the weapons were developed. Israeli analysts believe Iran is still a few years away from a nuclear weapon. They also believe Israel would be Iran’s first nuclear target. Thus, one doesn’t have to wonder who would suffer “terrible” results if not Israel.

This weekend, the Iranian spiritual leader Khamani, who is reportedly the man who really calls the shots in Iran, hinted that the oil weapon was one that could be used if sanctions against Iran were imposed. He also said that the war in Lebanon proved that Israel was weak, and that the U.S. couldn’t win a war, directly, or indirectly. He went on to brag that the world would soon bow down to Iran, giving her the rightful place of leadership she deserved. These words sent shivers through the world, he said, as they should. An Islamic Iran would rule the region, he said, to the cheers of those gathered for his speech.

These developments are clearly disturbing. Are they as significant as Europe in 1938, as many say, or simply a blip on the screen, until the bombastic Islamic boasts are proved groundless. Had Hitler been stopped before he gathered momentum, tens of millions would have lived, rather than die through the war run by a madman. Iran’s Achmanijad also said that Israel has nothing to fear from Iran. One is reminded of Hitler promising British Prime Minister Chamberlain he had no ambitions to take over Europe.

Also, today, Hezbollah leader Nasrallah said that there would be no “second round” of fighting with Israel, nor would he be drawn into a fight due to Israel’s violation of the cease-fire. Some analysts assume he is now turning the job of dealing with Israel over to Iran. Oh, I forgot. Iran doesn’t have anything against Israel.

Israel is beset with political scandals that affected both the Justice Minister Haim Ramon and President Moshe Katzav. Both were accused of sexual harassment of female workers. Katzav is even accused of rape. Who knows? Reading Seymour Hirsch’s 1997 book, “The Dark Side of Camelot” one wonders at how much things have changed. According to Hirsch, during the Presidency of John F. Kennedy, the press ignored his flagrant infidelities, and immorality. And avoided uncovering the blatant corruption, and duplicity.

Today every breath a politician takes is viewed and commented upon, for good or bad. Perhaps these scandals will help to clean up the Israeli government, and the way the leaders think about their responsibilities. Perhaps more thought will be given to how best serve the public, not how best to satisfy their own quest for fame, glory or pleasure. Maybe after this soul-searching, bound to come after this war, Israel will be stronger and healthier. Given that Iran is breathing fire, those Israeli knights better get their armored polished or they’ll wind up servants in the mosque, if they’re lucky; or toasted by the nuclear dragon if they’re not.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

August 24, 2006 A Walk in the Woods

August 24, 2006

The cease-fire in Lebanon is expensive. Another soldier died yesterday when his unit accidently tripped an old Israeli Army mine, placed in Lebanese soil the last time Israel had to occupy that territory. So far the French, who pushed so hard for a cease-fire and international force, haven’t sent over a serious fighting force. Neither has anyone else. So the Israelis, as expected, are stuck holding the fort.

The fever pitch to oust Prime Minister Olmert, Defense Minister Peretz, and Chief-of-Staff Halutz seems to have died down. One pundit excused their actions by saying, ‘They were given a bucket filled with holes and told to go to the well and get water.’ Now the investigations will be into who gave them the bucket, who allowed a bucket with holes to be considered as a way to carry water, and how did the holes get in the bucket in the first place? From a distance the blame seems easy to place. Closer to the facts prejudice and pre-judgment become irrelevant as the truth become clearer.

This morning during a stroll in the Jerusalem Forest, taking the family mutt, Libra, a black mixed-breed lab/pointer, for her morning constitutional, my companion and I encountered Ami and his three tiger-striped mongrel boxers, a mother and her two male off-spring. None of the dogs were leashed. When they meet the dogs usually entertain themselves chasing each other. The boxers can never catch Libra, a fleet-footed escape artist, not the barrel-chested fighter. The idea of the forest walk is that the dogs can roam free, jump and play, do their business, and then return back to the confinements of urban living. It’s a very relaxing peaceful 45-minutes for their owners as well.

Ami is a young father. Handsome, in his thirties, looks a bit like Tom Cruise. He said he’d found the mother, homeless, with the two puppies, a year ago, and took her in. He’s a nice guy. He walks the dogs every morning. Frequently his dog and Libra play together, chasing each other through the brush and bushes, dodging around the pine trees of the forest, while we chat. But Ami had been missing for a couple of weeks. This morning he explained he’d been in Lebanon.

Okay, an eye-witness to the events in Lebanon. He was attached to a tank unit. He was vague about his job, and rank. In these situations one learns not to ask questions that will only elicit an uncomfortable, probably disingenuous, answer. What about the soldier’s protest in the Rose Garden opposite the Prime Minister’s office? Was he in favor of it? He pondered the question carefully before answering. No, he didn’t think Olmert and Peretz and Halutz were to blame. The problems existed before they came to office. But there were problems with parts of the war and how it was executed.

What about the supplies, the lack of water and food and equipment? Again, the careful, thoughtful answer. No, he didn’t think that was a real problem, either. “The Army has enough uniforms,” he said, when asked about a report that only 12,000 pairs of pants were in army warehouses, when a million were needed. “And the other stuff? It was all okay, sooner or later,” he said, slowly. He didn’t talk fast. Didn’t get excited. Didn’t wave his hands and rant and rave. He talked calmly, in a low voice. He seemed the kind of guy you’d want as your officer, if you had to go into battle.

So what were the problems? What happened? “We had plans for everything,” he said. “There wasn’t anything we didn’t have a battle plan for. We were prepared. The problem was that some of the plans weren’t put into practice. Those were field decisions. Nothing to do with the government. It was all army. Those are questions that need answers. But the rest of it. No, we were ready for it.”

But what about the lack of training for Lebanon, the unpreparedness? Again, he considered the question. “The units all have been training,” he said. “Everyone knows their jobs. Some train for a war with Syria, others for a war with Iraq, some for Gaza, others for the West Bank. Some for fighting Hezbollah. No, training wasn’t the problem. It was just a few plans that didn’t get carried out the way they should have. Who knows why? But it will all come out. It always does.”

He started to walk away. I realized that while he’d been on the path many times, it wasn’t clear what he did in civilian life. “What do you do during the day, when you’re not in the army?”

“Oh, that,” he answered, with a little smile. “I’m working on my Ph.D.”

A smart soldier. What was the field, he was asked. Again the little smile. “The history of strategic planning and asymmetrical warfare.” He waved, and walked away.

“See, that’s what I mean,” my companion said. “That’s the army we have. What do they have? Fanatics out to kill us, and for what?”

Earlier in the week I met two Tzadekim, wise holy men, who were visiting Israel. They’d never consider themselves Tzadekim. It simply wouldn’t occur to them. But they were, at least this week. Two simple men who came to Israel from the United States to help out the Jewish people if they could. One of the men, let’s call him Joseph, had been in Israel for three weeks. He was an ex-Israeli, who’d moved to the USA thirty-odd years ago, but still had brothers and nephews and nieces and cousins in Tel Aviv. He’d spent the last two weeks of the war in the north giving out food. He’d raised some money, with Sam, his business partner, come over, bought two truck-loads of sandwiches and went around from border-crossing to border-crossing passing out the sandwiches to the soldiers. When the truck was empty, he refilled it and came back for more. “You’d be amazed how hungry they were,” he said. “They liked tuna the most.”

Wasn’t he concerned about his safety? “Sure,” he said. “I was scared. But we did it anyway.” This more or less matched what James Jones wrote in his little-known novel “Go To The Widow-maker.” In it Jones’ protagonist was sitting on the gunwale of a rowboat about to free-dive 100 feet. Jones, known for his work “From Here to Eternity” was a war hero himself. He said in the “Widow-maker” the problem wasn’t being afraid of diving, it was being afraid and doing it anyway. That was courage. Doing it anyway. Joseph did it anyway.

Then his partner Sam arrived in the country. The two of them rented a car and went driving around the north of Israel passing out money to institutions and people who needed it. They were both Lubavitcher Habadniks, although in their daily lives they held down good jobs and dealt with secular people. They weren’t “professional Jews.” They’d raised the money themselves, from friends, and acquaintances in the States. It wasn’t a fortune, about fifty-thousand dollars, but it was more than just ‘something.’ And they weren’t doing it for their own glory. They were doing it because it was a ‘mitzvah.’ Because things like this needed to be done. They are good examples of what the religious community stands for, at its core.

Of course, the Hebrew month of Elul began Thursday, and the count-down started to the High Holidays. It is a month when religious fervor builds all the way to Yom Kippur, broken by the two-day feast of Rosh Hashana, and then is capped off with the joyous holiday of Simchat Torah, celebrating the time when Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. During this month Slichot (prayers of forgiveness) are said by the Sephardi Jews, from the first of Elul until Yom Kippur, and by the Ashkenazi Jews from the Saturday night before Yom Kippur. It is a month to do penance for ones sins. In Jerusalem the Sephardi synagogues turn on their lights at 3:00 AM, the hour Napoleon said was when courage was tested, and the worshippers begin arriving, to say their Slichot prayers when most people are still in bed. The worshipers finish their forgiveness prayers just before sunrise, say their morning prayers, and then go to work. This grueling ritual goes on for over a month.

Hezbollah, then, doesn’t have a lock on religious observance, fervor, or devotion. Joseph and his partner Sam are both very religious. Both have beards, wear skullcaps, have ritual fringes beneath their clothing. But it is hard to imagine them putting on a vest laden with explosives and walking into a crowded market just to kill innocent Arabs just because they’re Moslems..

When the holidays come rolling around, Ami will probably leave his three dogs at home and take his family to synagogue. He might hear a sermon about repentance, and God’s will, but it’s hard to imagine the Rabbi, if there is one, calling on Ami to kill anyone who isn’t willing to become a Jew, or who is living on Jewish land. Not saying he couldn’t physically do that. He’s trained to kill. He’s a soldier. But the goal is to defend his family, his home. And then his faith.

But this is all well known. Propagandists spew out this stuff like water flowing down from Niagara Falls. What’s needed is someone to step up and some-how or another stop the fighting. This time with Hezbollah. The next time with Iran. The time after that, who knows? Jewish history is built on these battles. The Bible is filled with them. The amazing thing is that the Jewish people are still around to read them. Will what’s going on now be written down one day, and added to the lore? Or will the enemies of the Hebrew people win out, finally, destroying a people that have contributed so much to civilization?

God knows.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

August 22, 2006

August 22, 2006

People are furious in Israel. Furious and frustrated. Furious because the common consensus is that those in charge miss-handled the war. Frustrated because Israel as a country with one of the strongest armies in the world couldn’t defeat a few thousand guerrilla fighters after a month-long war which resulted in nearly 150 Israelis killed and a thousand injured. Not to mention those who still have trouble sleeping at night, or jump when they hear a loud noise. Not to mention those who will carry the scars, physical and psychological, for the rest of their lives. And especially those who came out of the war disfigured, maimed, or missing limbs.

A small group of reserve soldiers has begun demonstrating outside of the office of Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, calling for the resignation of Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, and Chief-of-Staff Dan Halutz. They claim that the war was poorly conceived and poorly executed. Reports abound of soldiers reaching their positions in Lebanon without water or food or proper equipment. Israeli generals, interviewed endlessly on TV and Radio, are now blaming the Intifada for Israel’s lack of preparedness.

One former general said that during the Yom Kippur war similar shortages were found. Soldiers arrived at the front to find their tanks didn’t have enough ammunition, fuel, gas masks, gloves for the tank crews, food and water for the troops. Within a day the shortages were overcome. Within two days the reserve troops had all found their units, and the counter-offensive against the Syrians, and the Egyptians, was in full swing.

That war was different in one crucial way, the generals say: the soldiers were well trained for combat. They’d been training for war. It took only a few days for the soldiers to hit their stride. Only a few more days to reach the outskirts of Damascus; and in the south a few days to encircle the Egyptian second army and reach a point only 101 kilometers from Cairo.

In this war a month went by and the army barely managed to move a few kilometers. The generals say it was because the army had stopped training for war. During the soldier’s reserve duty they spent their time manning roadblocks, or hunting Palestinian terrorists in urban Gaza, or the towns and cities of the West Bank. The critics now say that the soldiers had become policemen. When faced with an enemy dug into bunkers and tunnels in open areas, forced to conduct an old-fashioned battle with tanks and armored cars and manuevering on foot, the army found itself under trained, lacking the proper equipment, and the proper tools to do the job.

The public wants to know why? Who was to blame? How did this tragedy occur? These are the stories on radio and TV. Stories of soldiers who'd barely survived, asking why they'd been put in such dangerous situations without the proper intelligence, training, or weaponry. If most of the casualties were from anti-tank missiles, why continue to use tanks? If the goal of the war was simply a cease-fire, why did PM Olmert start it in the first place? These are the questions asked, and left unanswered.

PM Olmert has resisted the call for a civilian commission of inquiry, opting instead for one appointed by the Minister of Defense Amir Peretz. But only a few days after this commission was formed it was disbanded.

The way the triumvirate in power managed the war is now under scrutiny. In media interviews, and in private conversations, soldiers in the field complain they weren’t given clear orders, weren’t given clear objectives, and were finally sent on a mad 60-hour dash to the Litani, knowing that that military objective couldn’t be accomplished in the time allotted, and that the causalities would be huge. In fact approximately 16 men died in those last hours of battle, most in tanks, trying to ascend a hill that stood in the way between the Israeli troops and the Litani River. The hilltop was 100 meters high with a 400-meter ascent surrounded by other hills. The troops trying to take the hill were clear targets.

Why, the soldiers and analysts now ask, was the loss of life so important? Political commentators say the reason was that Israel wanted to stake out clear positions for the diplomatic negotiations sure to follow the cease-fire. While some question if this hilltop was worth the loss of life, others say that in any war strategic goals are always sought prior to a cease-fire.

But most complain of what was perceived as the ‘arrogance’ natural to the air force: that they could destroy Hezbollah in a matter of days; and lack of a back-up plan should that fail. More complain of the lack of co-ordination between various branches of the army; coordination that it is said would have been in place had the army been undergoing its normal training procedures during the routine one-month a year reserve duty most Israeli men do until the age of 45-50, depending on their unit and rank.

Reserve training days were cut drastically since 2000, and then those in tanks rarely trained in tanks, but rather spent their two or three weeks at checkpoints at the entrance to West Bank or Gaza towns, or carryed out search and arrest missions in those towns. Soldiers were no longer training for a war on or outside the borders, and this, pundits claim, was the fatal flaw. One that is now, reportedly, going to be corrected.

One army general, transferring from one command to another, said that the army suffered from ‘arrogance.’ And the war was a failure because of it.

Iran is now making bellicose threats that if they are attacked by anyone Israel will be hit by missiles. Israeli analysts don’t put too much credence to these claims. They say that the missiles Iran could throw at Israel are the same that Hezbollah used, that Syria has, and that Iraq used in the Gulf War. According to these analysts the effects wouldn’t be any worse than that of the Hezbollah attacks. Of course, they point out,that’s assuming the Iran doesn’t use chemical or biological weapons. As of now the pundits say Iran doesn't have a nuclear capability.

Lawrence Eagleberger, former American under Sec. Of State in the USA, said in a TV interview that the long-term threat of Iran’s nuclear program was only equaled to that of N. Korea. Both, said Eagleberger, would use their nuclear weapons to blackmail the West.

Meanwhile, the people of Israel were warned by the septuagenarian Knesset Member Rafi Eitan that Iran might well strike at the center of Israel, not the north. He advised those in Tel Aviv to clean out their bomb shelters. It wasn’t clear if he had any information, or was simply outspoken in his opinions. As a former Mossad operative and member of the government commentators assumed he had some decent sources.

The general opinion in the Israeli press, and among the people in the streets, was that Olmert’s government’s days were numbered. The complaint was that Olmert may have been more interested in his position as Prime Minister than in winning the war. This complaint may be unfair. Time will tell.

The tenuous cease-fire is still holding in the north of Israel. A soldier was seriously wounded yesterday in southern Lebanon. Thousands of Israeli regular troops are still in Lebanon, stuck, waiting for the slow-moving UNIFIL international force to arrive. Hezbollah is still armed. Some believe that rather than give up their weapons they’ll begin another war.

Three Israeli soldiers are still being held captive, two by Hezbollah, one by the Hamas terrorists in Gaza. A hundred soldiers have died since these three soldiers were captured, and the Israeli public apparently wants to know what was accomplished.

The general consensus is that Israeli soldiers showed up for battle, and fought bravely, sacrificed their lives, not only for their country, but for their families, only a few miles away. Pundits all agree that this was a just war. The Israeli reserve soldiers say they will show up to fight in the next war as well. Those interviewed say they are furious at Hezbollah for the month-long missile attacks on innocent civilians. For terrorizing the country. The rage will not simmer or dwindle, but merely be packaged and redirected so that the next time Hezbollah will be destroyed. That’s the common feeling.

The Israeli finance ministry estimates that counting the cost of the war and damage to property this month-long battle cost nearly 11 billion shekels, over $2 1/2 billion. The politicians now talk of raising taxes to find the money to re-supply the army, and rebuild the property damaged in the attacks.

Analysts say the government, no matter who runs it, will need money to order the weapons systems that were never ordered due to budgetary constraints. To send the soldiers out to train for the war to come, not act as policemen in Gaza and the West Bank. However, one commentator said, if the next war is fought as poorly as the last one, Israel won’t have to worry about paying off her debts because there might not be anyone left to sign the checks.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

July 17, 2005-Aug 6, 2006 War In Israel

July 17, 2006 Day 6, War in Israel

How're we? We're fine. Nearly a week after the war started.

My boys are out of the army. My middle son Tal was released three months ago from his tank unit. Coincidently it was the same unit that was attacked at the beginning of the conflict, when a group of Hamas terrorists snuck up behind the tank unit. He knew some of the boys, and went to a funeral. There but for the Grace of God, eh? My daughter Michal is still in the Army, but in a non-combat unit. She’s serving with Sar-El, a unit that deals with foreign tourists coming to volunteer for a few weeks with the Israeli Army.

I was in Haifa on Sunday picking up Barak's mother. She was reluctant to leave, but did anyway. I also picked up another 90-year old grandmother and brought her to Jerusalem, although she didn't want to go. "I've lived in Israel 70 years," she told me. "Sometimes it's quiet. Sometimes it's not."

Earlier in the day I'd been at the railroad yard filming the after-effects of a medium-range rocket. This one killed 8 guys repairing a train. Tore through the tin roof and splattered them. No siren sounded, just the missile through the roof. A bomb shelter was only a few meters away, but no one knew a missile was incoming, we were told. While walking to the site a siren sounded. A few minutes later I heard the missile had crashed into the sea.

The city is pretty quiet. Lots of folks evacuating to friends and relatives further south, but most staying put. Same goes on all along the north. I spoke to some friends who live in Tsfat. An American couple with nine children, who came to Israel in 1991. The woman said that shrapnel from a rocket had embedded itself in her windows. Luckily she’d recently renovated her apartment and the glass was double-glazed. But she wasn’t leaving Tsfat. Go figure people.

She and I discussed an interesting fact? During the infamous Gulf War Iraq fired 39 missiles into Israel, killing one woman, who actually died of a heart attack. As of yesterday Hezbollah had fired over 1,500, killing 30people, wounded a hundred, not counting the 3 soldiers kidnapped.

My wife's newly wed niece left the apartment she and her husband were renting in Kibbutz Amir and moved in with her parents in the Golan Heights, even though a rocket had fallen mile from their Golan farm. Barak's new nephew ran a health club at the Sport Center in Kyriat Shmona. It was closed for the duration.

A terrible tragedy that Lebanon is being pounded. A shame. I feel lousy when I see the poor people roaming around in the rubble. But, as the schoolyard kid say when the teacher breaks up the fight , 'they started it"

Pundits in Israel's press claim that Hezbollah was left alone for six-years, from 2000- until now, and, by Hezbollah and IDF numbers, now have over 10,000 missiles with ranges that could hit Ashkelon if they wanted. According to these pundits, Hezbollah is only waiting for orders from Iran.

Nasrallah reportedly thought he could snatch two soldiers, who he lured into an ambush by sending infiltrators across the boarder knowing the IDF would chase them. Last time after some shooting, Nasrallah swapped three dead Israelis he'd captured for 200 or 400 of his Hezboallah people.

This time he discovered that the rules had changed. Israel skipped over the step of giving Nasrallah what he expected, and instead gave him what he didn't expect. In return Israel was also surprised. The radar guided missile that hit a very sophisticated Israeli ship off the Lebanese coast was a shock. Bombs in Haifa were expected but also a surprise. Usually Hezbollah only hits the northern settlements. Now they're also threatening to hit Tel Aviv.

Israel is reportedly taking this opportunity to take out as much of Hezbollah's infrastructure as possible. UN Resolution 1559 called for Hezbollah to turn in their weapons. The Lebanese government was to reoccupy S. Lebanon. But the reformist government of Rafik Hariri came to a bloody end. Harriri was assassinated, as you know. Syria thinks of Lebanon as its back yard. Iran thinks of Hezbollah as it's soldiers. Can order be restored in S. Lebanon? Maybe a UN force, but the UN has proved nearly universally ineffective.

Will the ruckus spread? Depends if Iran wants it to spread. Most analysts agree this entire exchange is an Iranian plan to distract the G-8 and UN from imposing nuclear weapons inspections, the imposition of boycotts and embargos.

The idea tossed around is that Iran is making the point that they can ignite the region, and the world, anytime they want. How far will Iran go? Don't know, but if they're that ruthless then sooner or later the world's going to have to face them, or suffer the dire consequences. Now Iran and the West are fighting a war with Israel and Hezbollah as the proxies.

(Israel has performed similar tasks in the past for various US administrations. Back in the 80's then PM Yitzchak Rabin told me that Israel was the only country in the world facing Russian weapons on the battle field, essentially testing those weapons for America.)


Israel pundits also worry about a cease-fire that will only allow Hezbollah to rearm. Short of destroying Hezbollah completely, which is probably impossible, the only solution to the problem would be some sort of international force to separate the two sides. But these solutions have only been temporary, at best.

Ultimately, this is a test of the West against the raging Islamic Fundamentalism sweeping the world. Probably the “terrorism” the west thought was stateless isn’t, but rather state-sponsored but hiding behind the wisps of smoke and ghost-like terrorist groups. Hezbollah is only a fighting unit of the Iranians. Iran has threatened to strike, and in my opinion there isn’t any place in the world safe from their maniacal Islamic fervor. As I’ve said, what we’re seeing now is only Iran showing the world that they can ignite the region and the world anytime they want. And probably will. In certain ways this unpleasantness in the Middle East is only a distraction so that the G-8 meeting in St. Petersburg didn’t decide to send the issue of Iran’s nuclear program to the UN.

As for Israel, my wife is fond of quoting Israel’s leading author Amos Oz whose father fled Nazi Germany for Israel. “They didn’t want us there (in Germany), and they don’t want us here,” his father said. “They just don’t want us.”

To which I add, since they don’t want us, we might as well live where we want, and screw’em.


··

War in Israel July 20, 2006


Ninth day of the war.

Exhaustion is setting in, both physical and psychological, on the residents of the northern settlements who have been under nearly constant bombardment for over a week. Yesterday nearly 100 rockets fell on Israel. During the night Israel loosed 25 tons of bombs on a bunker believed to be the hiding place of Hezbollah leader Sheik Nasrallah and some of his top leadership. There is no report if the bombs had any effect.

After a previous attempt last week on Nasrallah’s life he showed up on Hezbollah’s Al Manara TV, subdued but very much alive. He hasn’t been seen since. Reports say that Hezbollah’s leadership is being careful, knowing Israel can track cellular phone signals, landlines, even faxes. Does this mean that Nasrallah is dead, wounded, gone? Who knows? But it’s clear that the Hezbollah resolve hasn’t slackened.

Israel has begun with limited pinpoint land incursions by commando troops. The result of these limited incursions is clear evidence why Israel doesn’t want a land war. Already a few soldiers have been killed and half-a-dozen injured in fire-fights with Hezbollah terrorists who have had six years to build bunkers, establish a rabbit warren of tunnels connecting them, plant road-side bombs, and booby-traps. Even carpet-bombing will not work. Think of the unsuccessful bombing campaign the US waged in Viet Nam for years.

I was reading a book by Leon Uris, more out of desperation at having run out of reading material, than choice. It was a newer book, I don’t remember the title, maybe “Ohara’s War” about the US Civil War. In it Uris wrote that the South entered the war knowing they’d loose, but with the intention of wearing down the North, testing if the Union had had the mettle for a long drawn out war, all the while improving the Rebel’s negotiating position at the inevitable Peace Conference.

It strikes me that the same is probably true of Hezbollah. They can’t hope to beat Israel, but they can hope to come out of the struggle far ahead of the pack of Israel haters as the leader of the Destroy Israel faction among the Arabs of the world. Even displacing Iran, who deny the extent of the Holocaust as if once they get their chance at it they won’t be looked down upon.

What drives these guys? Don’t they know they’re blowing any chance for peace? Sure they do, but Peace isn’t what they’re after. Destroying Israel, the tip of the wedge of U.S.-style Democracy, is the goal, with the US to follow soon after. Hezbollah has shown their hatred for the US in the past; just think of the two hundred US soldiers killed in an Army base in Lebanon in 1982 if you need reminding.

This is old news. We all know they want to take over the world. Not Hezbollah, exactly, but the radical Islamic Fundamentalists they’re aligned with, the Bin Ladins, and others. Remember Hezbollah is an Iranian brand of fanaticism, with Khoumeni as their spiritual guide. They are also closely aligned with the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt, who were responsible for the murder of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, a man they considered a traitor for making Peace with Israel.

So now we’re faced with fighting on the Southern border. Israeli troops back on Lebanese soil. Tricky stuff. Hezbollah fighters are shrewd, intelligent, cunning. They set ambushes, like the one that resulted in the death of three Israeli soldiers and the kidnapping of two others. This was a classic Hezbollah move, and I’m surprised the Israelis fell for it. Years ago, when I was in Lebanon doing a film for the Israeli Army, we were taught about Hezbollah’s ambush tactics. What, did the Israeli Army forget to tell the new commanders in the North?

Now Hezbollah fighters are driving their trucks into Christian areas of Beirut and launching missiles into Israel. The IDF warplanes hit a few of these trucks. The Christians complain that they’re against Hezbollah, why shoot at them. But Hezbollah saw the Christian neighborhoods were untouched by IDF bombs and decided to use the old “Human Shield” approach, hiding out amid a crowd of innocent people. Israel hit the trucks, left the buildings intact. But still, a bomb going off in your neighborhood is a teeth-rattling, bone-shaking, head-ache causing, intense fear inducing experience. No wonder the Christians complained. Does this mean Israel shouldn’t hit the Hezbollah in Christian neighborhoods? I don’t know. But in war, stuff happens.

The missile boat disaster was another example of what can happen in war. One of the world’s best missile boats was hit because they commander didn’t turn on the detection radar. Or the 8 workers killed in Haifa because the siren didn’t sound, warning them of an attack, allowing them to rush the 10 meters to their nearby bomb shelter. But as my wife’s genius uncle Lew reminds us, wars are lousy things, and people get killed, many times those who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. When the shooting starts, watch out.

The tragedy of the two small Arab boys in Nazareth killed by a Hezbollah rocket is a case in point. They were out on the street, where they’d been warned not to be, and were killed. An elderly Arab man, a veteran of Nazareth, didn’t blame Hezbollah’s leader Sheik Nasrallah, who he said wouldn’t hurt innocent people. No, he blamed Israel, for not providing bomb shelters, for not turning on the air-raid siren. Another Arab man who works for the municipality said he’d gone around warning townspeople to stay off the streets, go into shelters in their homes, but no one listened. They still don’t listen. That’s the way war is. This is my third since I’m in Israel, not counting two Intifadas. Believe me, strange things happen, like the guy killed running to his bomb shelter, or the factory in Tsfat that didn’t get destroyed even though a katyusha hit it and there was a gas leak in the building.

My wife’s newly-wed niece Sarah and her new husband Barak left their rented apartment in Kibbutz Amir near the northern Galilee town of Kyriat Shmona because of the constant bombardment. After a couple of days holed up at Sarah’s mother’s house in the Golan Heights, where on nightly walks around the Moshav they could hear the bombs falling in the Galilee, they left, back to Kibbutz Amir. But no sooner had they arrived than the rockets started falling like a hailstorm. A few fell near their apartment on the kibbutz. One hit the barn killing 22 cows. I guess cows aren’t important because the damage didn’t make the papers. So Sarah and Barak packed up and moved back to the Golan. They’re talking about coming to Jerusalem, too. Maybe for the weekend, but probably won’t. They should, though, since Jerusalem is a bubble of peace, until the suicide bombs start, away from the Kassams in the South, and Katyushas in the North.

Many other residents of the North are showing signs of wear. Days of bombings and bomb shelters are starting to take their toll. Even though Israeli entertainers are flocking to the North to entertain the residents, many Northerners have had it. They’re starting to move south. I get e-mails from synagogues asking me to volunteer to take in families from the North. What, should I tell them my mother-in-law was with us? Does that even count?

I heard of one man who took in seven Israelis from the North, including their dog. Yesterday I was in Omer, an upper-middle class town in the Negev Desert, visiting Tamar Elad Appelbaum, the Rabbi of the Magen Avraham Conservative synagogue. While I was there she received a phone call from the town’s manager making final arrangements for dozens of families from the North who were going to be guests of families in Omer. Just one other example of Israelis opening their doors to their beleaguered fellow-citizens.

Today the Army is warning people in the North to stay in doors. As of about 2:00 PM there had been hardly any rocket attacks. Highly unusual. By 8:00 PM only 40 rockets had fallen. The Army thought it was a trick to draw the Israelis to the streets, so the Hezbollah rockets could massacre them. We shall see. Maybe Nasrallah was hit. Maybe the Hezbollah fighters have run out of rockets. Sure, and maybe I’ll win the lottery. ‘Anything is possible,’ as Chaim Weizman, Israel’s first president, was fond of saying, ‘but not everything is probable.’

The wildest idea yet though is that a Peace Keeping force will come in to separate the two groups. And who has signed on to be in the force? Indonesia! A fairly radical Islamic State with leaders who have done their share of anti-Israel, anti-Jewish bashing.

Meanwhile we’re hunkering down. Watching the news on the hour, the radio always on. The topic of conversation the war, those dummies siding with Hezbollah in calling for a cease-fire, and others talking about a multi-national force, as if one has ever helped in the past. Unless a force is going to go door to door, house to house, send “tunnel-rats” down into the bunkers to kill everyone with a weapon, there’s no point in them coming. That’s the common consensus.

So my mother-in-law Leah is staying in Jerusalem, against her will but to appease her children and grandchildren. Leah says if her late husband Jonnie were alive they’d still be in Haifa. He wouldn’t have left. But he isn’t and she did. Like those in the North tired of the bomb shelters, she’s tired of not sleeping in her own bed, of not being at home. And until the situation is resolved, she’ll be with us for a while. I keep telling her, “My grandmother lived with us for 15 years.” It doesn’t help. She just looks at me, and sighs. And the war goes on.



··
July 21, 2006 Day 10

The scenes of refugees piling onto ships as they escape the mess in Lebanon are startling. Now Israel has announced it will allow a humanitarian aid corridor from Cyprus to Lebanon. 300 Lebanese have been killed since Hezbollah began this war, and over 1,000 injured.. While most of the Israeli counter-attack has been on the Hezbollah controlled Southern Beirut neighborhood,(Israel is also bombing bridges, and roads, to cut off the resupply of weapons to Hezbollah from Syria and Iran) occasionally Israeli air attacks did drift over onto other parts of Beirut. While these incidents are regretted by the Israelis, no such regrets are expressed by Hezbollah. When a Hezbollah rocket fell on an Arab town killing two young Arab children, Hezbollah’s leader Sheik Nazrallah called the boys “Shaidim.” Martyrs.

Nasrallah was a big disappointment. I’d hoped he was dead. But he appeared on Qatar’s Al Jazerra TV, obviously alive and still filled with fight after Israelis had bombed what they thought was his bunker. Nope, missed me, he said. Didn’t get my top command either. And don’t get any big ideas, I still have lots of missiles left. To top it off he warned what was going to happen to Israeli troops if they dared invade Lebanon. Big surprises in store for them. For us.

But perhaps even more telling were the responses of many Arabs in Nazareth. They blamed Israel for the deaths, not installing sirens in the city, not putting in bomb shelters, firing on Hezbollah. They did not blame Nasrallah. He wouldn’t hit Arabs, they told the cameras. Other Palestinians, in the West Bank and Jordan, also supported Hezbollah. No surprise.

What’s amazing is there are only a few thousand active Hezbollah fighters, supported by about 40 % of the Lebanese Shiite population. (the Christians, Suni and Druze are against them). Sometimes I think back to the days of the Weathermen and the SDS. A few people making a big racket, terrorizing a nation.

Recently I worked on a film about WWII. I watched hours of footage of Berlin, Cologne and other German cities reduced to rubble. The US didn’t hesitate to carpet bomb enemy cities, nor were they soundly criticized when the bombs fell on innocent Germans, if such people existed. We won’t even mention Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Now Israel is getting lambasted by Arabs, or pro-Arab westerners, who have fled Lebanon during the Israeli bombardment, hunting Hezbollah rocket launchers. Only 30 Israelis have died so far since this war began. Only thirty. The Arabs lost ten times as many. But even one Israeli life was unnecessary. Thirty is a national disaster.

Today as of about 17:20, Haifa was hit three times, a dozen rockets, scores fell across the north, this after a 36-hour respite from Hezbollah shelling. In Haifa 30 people were injured, a few seriously. One rocket crashed through the roof of a three-story apartment building and went all the way down to the first floor. Luckily none of the building’s dwellers were home. Most had left town. The other rockets hit where pedestrians were strolling downtown, causing serious damage. And remember Hezbollah fills these bombs with oversized BBs, just to make the damage to the body more drastic. My daughter’s friend, who works for the Army Spokesman’s office, said that usually when the news reports serious injuries, they mean people dead or close to it. Time will tell.

Rockets also fell across the northern border on Israelis towns from Naharyia to Pekiin and into the Afula valley. Tsfat was hit yet again. My brother-in-law Doron called from the Golan Heights. A few katyushas had fallen near his farm. A guy walked around warning them to get ready to go in the bomb shelters at a minutes notice. He wasn’t happy. “We’re tired of this,” he said. “When will they leave us alone?”

To really complicate matters Israeli soldiers were starting to get killed every day as exploratory units snuck into Lebanon. Now we’re hearing that these special units were a smoke screen to infiltrate thousands of Israeli troops into S. Lebanon who went in when the ever-present News cameras weren’t looking. So, in certain ways, the ground war has started. Do the Israelis have a plan? Let’s hope they do. But maybe they don’t have a good one. Maybe, as my brother-in-law Doron says, people are just so fed up with these wars that they never planned another one against Hezbollah. Maybe the Army planners underestimated Hezbollah. The bombing campaign was to ‘soften up’ the ground. Let’s see if stage two is more successful.

We have friends with children serving in these units. Kids whose Bar Mitzvah’s I’ve attended. Our friends are not happy to have their children at risk. But they accept the reality. If Hezbollah isn’t disarmed we all know they’ll eventually get around to using the longer range rockets, killing people in Tel Aviv, Beer Sheva, and other Israeli cities. With an estimated 13,000 rockets, they can keep firing for months and months without stopping. Eventually they’ll get down to the big rockets. Then what?

Unfortunately the only way to stop them is on the ground. Israeli boys going into the little towns and villages in the hills looking down on Israel’s northern border, and finding the arms stored in tunnels dug under homes, in closets, under floorboards. Who knows where. House to house. Street by street. Neighborhood by neighborhood, until the threat is removed. It’s gonna be bloody. But what choice is there?

I’m reminded of the adage of the Sage Rabbi Hillel, “If I am not for me, who will be? If not now, when?”

Will the diplomatic community allow it? Hey, we’ve got the U.N. Haven’t they done a great job in Darfur? In Rwanda? In Bosnia? The U.N. is based on laudable goals, but run by people, many corrupt, with vested interests frequently at odds with the West. Oh, yeah, let’s call in the U.N. My experience with them when I was working on a film for the IDF’s Film Unit, is they’re working-class guys from Nigeria or Ghana or Ireland who joined the UN because they needed a job, and income, the tax-breaks of buying duty-free cars and booze, but hide when the shooting starts.

Southern Lebanon is a quagmire, and has been since the PLO turned it into Fatahland back in the 70’s. (Ironically, much of S. Lebanon was settled by Jews at the turn of the last century, but given to Lebanon in the 1947 Armistice Agreement.) My first trip to Israel in 1970 was brought about by a PLO missile which struck a school bus in the Galilee killing Israeli children. I went to Maalot and saw the remnants of the Katyusha that was fired then. Now instead of the PLO we call them Hezbollah. It’s still people who don’t want Israel to exist, whatever you call them.

Israel has made a sort of Peace with Jordan and Egypt. Israel withdrew from Lebanon behind what even the UN recognized as Israel’s borders. Hezbollah has only hatred to fuel this fight, they have no legal right.

One day Hezbollah will be pushed back out of range. One day they’ll start using longer range rockets. One day they’ll start using dirty bombs, in Israel, in Argentina, in the USA, who knows? Meanwhile it is Israel on the front line fighting terror. More boys will die. More people will be injured. This is not a war Israel wanted, but is stuck with it. If Hezbollah isn’t stopped, Israel will be attacked every day. Sooner or later they’ll get around the nuclear missiles.

So those folks who are squeamish, join the club. Everyone I talk to in Israel is nervous. No one likes this situation, but according to the polls in Israeli papers, 90% of the people support the action Israel’s taking. But it’s like being mugged. A guy sticks a gun in your face, and you give him your money. You didn’t ask to be mugged. It just happened. What Israel is doing now is trying to drive the muggers out of the neighborhood.

··
July 23, 2006 The 12th day of war.

Over 2,200 missiles have reportedly landed in Israel since this war began, over half of them striking into the cities. A man was killed today driving in his car in Haifa.
Our family in the Golan took to the bomb shelters today. My brother-in-law Doron was called out of the fields, where he was supervising a crew picking pears. Reportedly, Hezbollah is using GPS, maps bought from Israeli traitors, and on-site intelligence, to target Israeli army bases on the Golan. It is also thought that Hezbollah is bombing the Golan in an effort to draw Israeli response against Syria, who claim the Golan as theirs, and thus open up another front in the war, raising the stakes even higher.

The Lebanese report that over 350 people have been killed so far in the fighting. That’s a terrible and senseless loss of life. But how can those loses be avoided without Israel sitting back and doing nothing while the Katyusha’s land on Israeli towns and cities?

Israel has agreed to a NATO force, like that which disarmed the fighters in Kosovo. That’s probably the best answer.

Meanwhile my wife’s mother Leah has finally realized she’s not going back to Haifa today or tomorrow, or probably not even for the next week. Her granddaughter Sarah and new husband Barak have joined us at home, displaced from their newlywed apartment in Kibbutz Amir, near Kyriat Shomona. We were all together for a nice quiet Shabbat.

Today Barak went around looking for work in Jerusalem, to no avail. I made phone calls to various friends and contacts at the Jewish Agency, and the UJA of NYC, LA, and Canada, as well as the JDC. The Jewish Agency set up programs for children in bomb shelters, day camps for kids fleeing the north in the center of the country, even a tent city near Ashkelon, (not smart given the Hamas Kassams from Gaza) but nothing has been done for to provide employment for the residents fleeing the shooting in the north.

Barak is a masseuse, runs a spa in the Sport Center near Kyriat Shmona, which closed down for the duration. They are now thinking of going back north and working in a fruit packing plant to make some money. But Doron’s wife Orna called when she came out of the bomb shelter to tell her daughter to stay in Jerusalem, so far a bubble of peace and quiet in a noisy region. Perhaps when the war is over they’ll receive government compensation for loss of income, or tax credits. Meanwhile they’re worried about paying the rent in the apartment they can’t safely live in.

A CNN report of the bombed out Hezbollah neighborhood included footage of the Hezbollah good deeds. These guys played a brilliant game of Patronage right out of the playbook of Chicago’s legendary mayor Richard J. Daley. Southern Lebanon is poor, the Shiites there discriminated against, the population uneducated. Nasrallah grew up poor and went to Iran to study with the father of Moquata Al Sadr. The elder Al Sadr was a disciple of Khoumeni, the radical Moslem cleric who led the revolution in Iran. The same Khoumeni who preached a worldwide Islamic revolution we’re facing today.

Hezbollah opened up soup kitchens, schools, medical clinics, won the hearts and minds of the Shiites in Lebanon, a country made up of Suni Moslems, Druze, and Maronite Christians, all hostile to Shiites. Hezbollah made such a hit with the Shiites that when Nasrallah finally ran for parliament he won a few seats, and I think got a cabinet post. So Nasrallah became part of the Lebanese government. Probably with money to toss around.

But we all know by now that Lebanon is run by corrupt self-interested and usually greedy warlords, either local or from Syria and Iran. The Maronite Christians controlled the ports and did a big business in stolen car parts. Along with the Christians, the Suni and Druze had a handle on the cultivation, harvesting and sale of Hash-Hish and opium. In fact, during the 1975 Civil War, precipitated by the PLO’s occupation of S. Lebanon, fighting actually stopped during the drug harvest.

Syria is part of this game. Tons of documentation proves that Syria ran a huge counterfeiting ring In the Beka Valley producing bogus $100 bills. Eventually the US mint had to start printing different bills. Syria also controls a large part of the drug trade. When I say Syria, I don’t mean that the government pays for the stuff and gets money back in taxes. According to most reports leaders of the Syrian government are partners in the illicit trade, and pay kickbacks to their cronies to allow it all to continue. If Democracy really comes to Lebanon these guys stand to take a big hit on their Swiss bank accounts. So do many of the other warlords. That’s why no one is in a hurry for Western Style Democracy.

In certain ways, I think Hezbollah may be doing them all a favor, keeping the old game of drugs, thievery, and corruption going.

But Democracy has its problems. Khoumeni came into a country where the Peacock Throne of the Shah was so opulent that the poor folks in the small villages yearned for just one diamond on the glittering throne. All they got were slaps by the vicious Savak secret police and fiery sermons from the Imam Khoumeni, exiled in Paris, via radio, then secret audio tapes, promising a better tomorrow. In those days Khoumeni was touted as a ‘moderate.’ He promised he’d bring peace and prosperity to Iran. When he took over. Khoumani kicked out the Shah, had 10,000 people killed, nationalized the oil, and imposed a lot of rules that many Iranians would like to dump, but that’s another matter.

Hezbollah got its followers the same way. These poor schnooks in the South of Lebanon got nothing from the big boys in Beirut, or anywhere else in the world. Only Nasrallah wound up getting them a piece of the pie, a lot of it donated from Iran.. He also got them back some self respect. When Israel voluntarily withdrew from S. Lebanon, leaving the Christians who supported Israel to their own druthers, he was a national hero. (By the way, I ran across one Southern Lebanese Christian, a former soldier in the Southern Lebanese Army, when I was in Buenos Aires. He was a 36-year old bellboy. He said he’d fled Lebanon, after the Israelis left, with his family to save his life. The Hezbollah would have killed him, he said.)

The answer to the problems of Lebanon and other places may lay in Athens. Athen? Sure, the birthplace of Democracy a couple of thousand years ago. Ideas, they said, were more important than the Divine Right of Kings. Equality more important than God-Given right to rule. But is the democracy we practice and preach the same as the original idea? Did the Athenians dream of a 52” wide screen High Definition TV as the goal of Democracy? Do the Lebanese leaders of today really care about the poor in the South of the country? Do they care about equality? Do we?

Ah, but Hezbollah does. The Shiite woman in S. Beirut’s Hezbollah strong hold told a CNN reporter that Nasrallah would rebuild everything. He promised he would and he keeps his world. Don’t you worry.

And if he gets killed, who will care for these people? The Lebanese Government? The USA? Israel? What did we learn from the ghetto riots in the 60’s? Everyone wants their piece of the pie. That’s it. Simple. Hezbollah gives it to them, gets support, and seats in Parliament. Take out Hezbollah, someone better have a plan to replace their “humanitarian aid” with soup kitchens and medical care, and “liberal” education for the poor, and renovations that come without religious or political strings attached. Hezbollah even has trucks that go through neighborhoods fixing windows for free. How ‘bout that?
Patronage worked in Chicago. It works in Lebanon.

If we want to insure that the nations of the world are different from Cuba, which fell under a corrupt USA supported regime to Iran, which fell under a corrupt USA supported regime, don’t fall into the hands of maniacs like Nasrallah, Khoumeni or those moderates of the world the Saudi Wahabis, who brought you the Twin Towers Massacre, then we better get our act together and start sharing the wealth, somehow. Beat Hezbollahites at their own game.

Oh, sure, we tried it in Vietnam, but what happened. We gave the money to corrupt South Vietnamese. We tried it in Iraq, in the oil for food program, and if I’m not mistaken Kofi Annan’s son was involved in some multi million dollar kickbacks.

Tricky stuff, this winning hearts and minds. But if we don’t practice Democracy the way we preach it, we’re gonna either wind up praying five times a day to Mecca or saying hello to a nuclear firestorm.

Meanwhile, friends in my neighborhood have called us announcing their sons’ call-up to their units, heading North, Ultimately they’ll fight in Lebanon, again. Five Israeli soldiers were killed last week trying to capture a tunnel network. And that’s just the first village the Israeli troops came across, but it was the one from which the original “bait” was tossed, when Hezbollah sent a raiding party into Israel and drew in the Israeli patrol, ambushing the patrol, then the rescue patrol, killing two boys, and kidnapping two others.

Hopefully, the Israeli soldiers will be able to drive the Hezbollah fighters back out of range of the border before the Peace keeping forces are imposed. Hopefully.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

··
July 24, 2006 Day 13 War 06

My wife’s niece and nephew broke camp today. Barak couldn’t sit around any longer. “I’ve been out of work for twelve days,” he said. The Sports Center near Kyriat Shmona, where he runs a spa, is closed tight as a drum. Tired of enduring the endless rockets falling around them, they came to Jerusalem for a few days. But Barak has had it. “Maybe I’ll volunteer to fight fires,” he said. Brush fires are raging in the Galilee, near Kyriat Shmona, caused by rockets exploding in the dry brush. Israel’s climate is a lot like Southern California, except we only get rain in the winter, from about December to February. (Once ever few years it snows for a day or two.)

Barak was called up to the Golan by my brother-in-law Doron, who needed help bringing in the peach harvest. Israel radio reported that so far the farmers have lost about $15 million on their crops. The war came just as the harvest season began. Doron is slightly out of range of the main rockets, and can still get to his fields. But even then he’s called back to the bomb shelters. His workers, foreigners imported from Thailand of all places, have gone to work elsewhere. He’s short-handed, so Barak and his wife Sarah are going up to help. I guess in his spare time Barak will fight the fires.

More and more of our friends’ sons, young men from elite fighting units, have been called back to do reserve duty. This worries the parents of course since boys are getting killed and wounded in this fight. Eleven more wounded today, not counting the Apache helicopter that crashed a few hours ago. The push is on to hit Tyre now. Israel has been pounding that Lebanese city for a few days. Apparently the city of 100,000 people is the main launching area for the missiles striking Haifa. Israel dropped leaflets warning the Tyre residents of air and ground strikes, telling them to leave. Reportedly the city is 75 per cent empty. If the ground forces have to go in, it’s gonna get messy. House to house fighting. Booby-traps and land mines.

Israel claims they have destroyed 2,000 missiles. Over 2,500 missiles have landed in Israel. Israel estimated Hezbollah had between 10,000 to 13,000 missiles at the start of the war. They’ve still got a lot of missiles left to shoot. Israeli sources say that Hezbollah may keep shooting for a month or more. The same sources estimate that Israel probably has a week or ten-days before the “diplomatic” efforts call a cease-fire.

A NATO force is being talked about. They would disarm Hezbollah and allow the Lebanese army to move into the South. Nice idea. Wish it would work. But the Lebanese army is about half Shiite, and support Hezbollah. Sort of like a dealer in a poker game, you deal a seven of hearts to someone with three clubs, all picture cards, “No help there,” the dealer says.

According to what we all read, Israel recognizes that there is no military solution to the problem with Hezbollah. They’re too embedded in Lebanon. A NATO like force would be good. But would they do the job, or just get out of the way when Hezbollah starts shooting? That’s what the UN has always done.

So there we were, last Friday night, my two sons, two of their friends, and my new nephew Barak, sitting on my balcony in Jerusalem, looking out at the lights of the city beyond the valley, on the next hill. “How long a period of time was there between the time of King Saul and the destruction of the Second Temple?” I asked. My boys both attended solid Jewish elementary and high schools, wore a skullcap, prayed every morning. So did their two friends. Of the four of them only one is still ‘religious.’ But they have an education. The answers ranged from 130 BCE to 180 BCE. The real answer was more like 970 BCE. Who’s counting, only eight hundred years off.

“What did you guys learn in school?” I said, flabbergasted at their ignorance. But I got over it. “Okay,” I asked, getting to the point. “How long a period, over that nearly 1,000 years of Jewish presence in Israel, back then, was there ‘Peace?’”
The answers were all over the place, hundreds of years, a few hundred years.

Surprisingly, Barak came closest. “Forty years,” he said. “Under King Solomon.”
Right enough. I think he was off by 43 years, I think even under Solomon there were wars, and only seven years of peace, but who wants to nit-pick over something no one can prove.

One of my son’s friends, who is a genius, in his last year of law school at the Hebrew University, showed what a liberal education will do to a nice Jewish boy. “I’ve got a professor who says King David and King Solomon never existed.” Beside the point, I know, but it showed what he’s learning. “Yeah,” I answered, “and I bet your teacher has his own political agenda, too.”

(Israel is divided into two educational streams, religious and non-religious, set up by Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister. BG was a reactionary, had been raised in a Yeshiva environment and didn’t think it was going to help his new country any. Today the secular Israelis are asking for more Jewish education in their schools, contrary to what BG thought. But that’s a whole other matter. It was clear, though, that the law student’s professor came from the secular wing, always looking for ways to refute his Judaism. True democracy and a Jewish state can’t really co-exist, but that too is another matter.)

“Seven years,” I said. That’s all the peace the Jews had in 1,000 years of living in Israel. “Okay, make it forty years, for Barak’s sake, since he was the only one who was even in the ballpark.. So, if they only had even forty peaceful years out of one thousand, what can we expect. (Israel at 56 has already been united 16 years longer than any time in Jewish history. The famous King Solomon united the land for only 40 years.)

So when U.S. Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice flies into the region, can we expect anything to come out of it. Even if it is a NATO force with real muscle, can we expect peace? Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2,000, and had a peaceful border for six years. We thought we’d be able to get along with Hezbollah, they thought we were suckers, as they entrenched deeply into the ground, and the government. The UN passed resolution 1559, ordering Hezbollah to turn over her arms. Sure, and Riverview is going to reopen (a famous old amusement park in Chicago, torn down decades ago.). They won’t disarm unless forced to do it.

Talk is of this NATO force, with Israel negotiating with the Lebanese government, not Hezbollah, for a Ceasefire in Lebanon, and with the Palestinian Authority’s Mohamed Abas (Abu Mazen. Abu means “father of” Mazen is his son) to quell the Hamas attacks from Gaza. (Israel pulled out of Gaza last year. Israel’s right-wingers always considered both the Gaza and Lebanese withdrawals mistakes. Maybe they were correct after all, since both places became armed camps rather quickly, and then attacked Israel from a closer proximity, just as the right-wingers warned they’d do.)

According to Israel Radio, Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who masterminded the Israeli Army withdrawal from Lebanon after a bloody 18-year occupation, has been dodging any interviews by the Israeli press, apparently not wanting to explain how his withdrawal plan wasn’t a mistake after all.

A NATO force comes in after Israel negotiates with the Lebanese Government, who no one listens to, and Abu Mazen, who no one listens to. Sounds pretty stupid to me, but what do I know?

Except, that there’s never really going to be Peace, just quiet between the wars.

My wife Alice likes me to recount an experience I had once when I was interviewing Palestinians during an Israeli election. I found this one grizzled guy in the old city of Jerusalem, a workingman, stained shirt, unshaven, in his thirties. “Israel is like the pigeon in the sky, “ he said through crooked nicotine stained teeth, “and the Arab is like the cat on the ground, watching the pigeon. Just watching the pigeon. Because the Arab knows that one day the pigeon will grow tired and come down. And then the cat will pounce.”

Quiet between wars, a time to rest, and an unwavering will to win is all that keeps us up in the air. Let’s hope we don’t get tired, ‘cause that cat is always there, waiting.


··

July 25, 2006 War in Israel day 14


A sixty-seven year old Israeli man died of a heart attack today rushing from his Haifa apartment into the building’s bomb shelter. A fifteen-year old girl from Kfar Marar near Tiberias was killed in a katyusha rocket attack. Death and destruction all around the north. Twenty Israeli residents injured when nearly 100 rockets rained down from Lebanon. Some of the rockets were the 220 mm rockets supplied by Syria. Funerals are taking place every day, burying those soldiers and civilians killed by bullets, bombs, or rockets.

The Israeli army’s getting hit hard. An Apache Longbow helicopter crashed killing the pilot and co-pilot. Two Israeli tanks were hit, one by a roadside bomb, the other by an anti-tank missile, killing two soldiers, including a Lt. Colonel. Friendly fire injured five soldiers.

Yoram Kanuk, a famous Israeli author who fought with the Palmach during Israeli’s 1948 War of Independence, said on Israel Television yesterday that war was defined by death, wounded, and destruction. He recalled that 5,000 men died in the ’48 war, ten percent of the population of about 500,000 at the time the State was founded. “People were dying like mosquitoes,” he said. “This is what you have to go through if you want a State.”

But of course that’s not so easy if one of your family, or friends, gets killed. Pundits believe that as Hezbollah is pushed further and further into a corner they’re going to try drastic measures, like bombing Tel Aviv, or using dirty bombs. Meanwhile the news reports that Hezbollah is trying to drag the Syrians into the war. The Syrian Army is reportedly on its highest level of readiness. The Saudis warn that a regional war could break out and spread throughout the Middle East.

I doubt it. The Saudis are probably worried that the war might spread to their country, and separate them from their oil. The Saudis have come up with a Peace Plan of their own, and are probably being dramatic to get the US and Israel to pay attention to their propositions. The Saudi’s are Wahabis, a radical branch of Suni Islam. Hamas in Gaza is Sunni, and probably gets financial aid from the Saudis. Hezbollah are Shiite, and aligned with the Iranian Shiites. Normally the two sects would be fighting, as they did in the Iran-Iraq war in the 80’s. Now they’re content to fight Israel. The Saudis have never been supporters or friends of Israel.

The Saudis and the Egyptians are probably being pressured by the US to get some kind of diplomatic move going. Egypt gets $2 billion a year in aid from the US. The Saudi leaders are protected on their throne by US troops. Revolutionary groups, including those who want to depose the King and the princes, have often tried to overthrow the leaders, to get closer to that oil money. So far they’ve not been successful. The CIA and reportedly also Israel’s Mossad has helped them stay in power.

So I guess we have to ignore that the Wahabi branch of Islam is one of those, sponsored by Saudi Imams, that are spreading anti-Western hatred through out the world, using Mosques from New Jersey to Indonesia, paid for by the Saudis, to do their work. It was no accident that most of the Twin Tower bombers were Saudi. Or that Bin Laden is a Saudi. But let’s give them a chance. Diplomacy may work. Can you imagine a multi-national Peace Keeping Force made up of Arabs, separating the Jews and Hezbollah? Who do you think they’d defend? Believe it or not this sort of force is one of the ideas being proposed.

Today, riding around Jerusalem was tough. Condi Rice was in town. Jerusalem isn’t a large city, about seven miles from one end to the other. In Chicago terms, from Howard Street to about Belmont, the lake to Western. In New York Manhattan terms, maybe from 125th street to about 72nd Street, the East River to Lexington Avenue. Small by any measure. The “Kryiah” or government complex, sits on the Western edge of the city. That’s where the Supreme Court building is, the three buildings that make up the government offices, the Knesset and the new Foreign Ministry complex. When a big shot like Rice is in the city the roads are closed ten minutes before the long convoy of motorcycles, bulletproof limousines and armored SUVs leave one place for another. When that happens its like coming to the railroad tracks when a train’s passing by, except this train is carrying an arsenal with dead-eyed gunmen ready to shoot an impatient driver.

Condi gave Israel a few more days to reach some sort of positive result in Lebanon. The press reported that she was at odds with US President Bush, who wanted to give Israel all the help and time they needed to finish off Hezbollah. Bush reportedly thinks, correctly in my opinion, that Hezbollah are the shock troops of the Iranians. If Hezbollah is beaten, Iran may think twice about going any further with their plans to control the Middle East.
The State Department, as is their nature, wants a cease-fire, and talks around a table, as quickly as possible. Lots of folks who can’t stomach the fact that wars lead to negotiations, but as Israel’s late Prime Minister Yizchak Rabin once said, “You don’t make peace with your friends.”

Our erstwhile masseuse Barak has started his peach picking in the Golan Heights. He was joined in the fields by his wife, Sarah. She said that she hears explosions all the time, but nothing falling near them. Even with Barak and Sarah my brother-in-law Doron was still short-handed, so my son was drafted into the work crew. He took my mother-in-law Leah up to the Golan, ending her peaceful Jerusalem sojourn. If the Golan Heights becomes a target for these longer-range rockets, we might wind up with people sleeping in the garden of our Jerusalem town-house. But my son and mother-in-law showed good sense. Leah wanted to stop in Haifa, check her apartment, empty the fridge, get some clothing, go to the post-office for her mail, on the way to the Golan Heights. She was talked out of it by her son Doron, who said that the Army closed the roads to the Golan in the afternoon. So they skipped Haifa. I wish Hezbollah would start doing the same thing.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

··
July 26, 2006 Day 15 War in Israel 06

Today is Rosh Hodesh Av, the first day of the Hebrew month of Av. According to Jewish legend both the First and Second Temples were destroyed on the 9th of Av, even though about five hundred years separated the two events. In any case even the latter of the two was nearly 2,000 years ago. Still the legend persists. Religious people believe that these 9 days are times of woe. One is prohibited from eating meat, from buying new clothing, and if purchased from wearing it until after the 9th of Av, which is a 24-hour fast day just likeYom Kippur. It is also supposed to be a bad time for Jews to have relations with Gentiles. How much of these stuff is superstition and how much practical? Who knows? But what’s clear is that these are not good times for Israel.

Nine soldiers were killed yesterday in a Hezbollah ambush. The nation of Israel mourned. TV commentators jumped in with advice and criticism. The Hezbollah looked at this as if it had defeated the same Israeli army that had itself fought successfully against the combined armies of five Arab countries (in 48-56-67-73). Israelis were angry at the Army. Some said we shouldn’t send in more ground forces, others argued for a massive call-up, overwhelming the well entrenched but essentially small weak enemy with force.

The argument continued into the night and spilled onto the morning news. The young reporters were filled with indignation at Israel’s inefficiency, but the veteran Generals called up to give their analysis had a different tale to tell. War is lousy. It hurts, but people die. One ex-General was on a Israel TV Channel 10 panel, and retold his experience as a young soldier in the famous Israeli army victory in the ’67 Six-Day War. He said they’d been fighting in Gaza and were suddenly moved to fight for the liberation of Jerusalem. He was listening to the radio and heard then Prime Minister Levi Eshkol express doubt about the army’s tactics. “My legs started to shake,” he said. Later, after the war, he learned that 99 men had died fighting for Jerusalem in the first days of the war. But Israel kept on, and won. Today Israel TV covers the war live in color all day and all night. Dramatic pictures of wounded soldiers on stretchers, white body bags of the dead lined up in front of a tank, first frighten, then anger the Israelis. Resolve turns into insecurity.

Also on the panel with the General was a professor of Arab affairs. He said that the press had it all wrong. You should have heard the two young anchorwomen let him have it, but he kept on. If you listen to Hezbollah, they’re asking for a cease-fire. If you listen to Syria, they’re calling for a cease-fire. Iran sent it’s Foreign Minister to call for a cease-fire. You don’t get it, he told these chippies, countries call for a cease-fire when they’re loosing, not winning! If Iran wanted to expand the war they wouldn’t call for a cease-fire. You people have it all wrong. Israel has them on the ropes.

Now, that was refreshing to hear. And in perspective, it seems to be true. The horrible losses in the battle were just that. Probably more troops are needed. The new Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army is the first Air Force guy in the job. He took his cue from the US and bombed ceaselessly. Like the US the strategy seemed to be limited ground forces, and heavy bombardment. Didn’t work in Iraq. I’m not a general but it seems that thinking that Diet Cola is good better for you than Classic is a fallacy. Big forces in a well-planned attack can overwhelm the enemy. Viet Nam was different, but that’s another story. What the US is doing in Iraq is sending in a policing force to quell a revolution. Israel tried the same thing. Don’t know if it’s gonna work. Probably a massive invasion will be called for. Meanwhile little by little the Israel Army is whittling away at Hezbollah.

Yesterday the Isael Air Force destroyed a six-story Hezbollah control center in Southern Lebanon.. Israel has to get to the point where Hezbollah can’t rebuild, ever, no matter what it takes. By the way, turns out one of Hezbollah’s activities is construction. Hezbollah runs some of the largest construction firms in the country. Given a chance Hezbollah will get rich rebuilding Lebanon.

This war is not good for the U.N. either. Kofi Anan was reportedly livid over the four U.N. officers killed by Israeli armaments in Southern Lebanon. One Irishman who survived complained that he notified the Israeli Army a number of times that the UN was in the building. He claims it was clearly marked, also with big U.N. on the roof. Okay, I’m sure it was. But why haven’t he UN stopped even one of the 150 missiles that fell today?

I recall working on a film once for the Israeli Army meant to educate the Israeli soldiers to the fact that the UN Force In Lebanon (UNIFIL) was not the enemy. Problem was that the terrorists frequently used the UN as a shield, literally hiding behind UN buildings while firing at Israelis. As one ex-General said today, the UN was usually good for the Arab side, but usually got in the way of Israelis doing their job. I assume this was an honest mistake on Israel’s part. Who knows? But maybe one of the UN guys was actually hiding Hezbollah fighters. Maybe more than one of the UN guys was working with Hezbollah out of ideology or pay? It’s happened before. Since the UN has not been able to enforce resolution 1559, demanding that Hezbollah disarm, what good have they been?

Ah, when Mr. Anan spoke in Rome he never once mentioned UN Resolution 1559, nor the UN failure disarming Hezbollah. When the Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora spoke, he blamed Israel for the war, claiming Israel had not withdrawn from the “Sheba Farms” area on the Lebanese border. He said, that Hezbollah was only doing what good Lebanese should do, get back Lebanese land. Mr. Siniora didn’t cite the fact that the UN General Assemble ruled that the Sheba Farms was part of Syria, not Lebanon. Nor that according to the UN Israel had withdrawn from all of Lebanon in 2000. Of course he didn’t mention 1559. Why should he? Then he’d have to admit Lebanon let Hezbollah start all of this.

Mr. Siniora earlier had the audacity to ask Israel for damages because of the war. Isn’t it funny how the world can turn things upside down, and believe that upside down is right side up? And this is the guy we’re betting on the run a fair Democratic government. Why is it the US is always supporting guys who you wouldn’t buy a used car from?

I’m reminded of that Iraqi huckster Ahmed Chalabi, who convinced the CIA that he had a huge backing in Iraq for a popular uprising. Earlier, Jordanian TV ran reports that a warrant was out for Chalabi’s arrest for bilking Jordanians who’d invested millions in a bank he’d opened. Now we have PM Siniora. I guess it’s sort of what Saul Alinksky, the great labor organizer said back in the ‘30s. “The essence of any choice is in it’s alternative.”

The battle for Bint Jabail continues. A bloody horrible battle. One of those wounded Golani fighters, recuperating in Rambam Hospital in Haifa, said he couldn’t wait to get out of the hospital and back to the battle, to his friends. He said that its easy to criticize the war from the sidelines, but harder to fight and win. But he believed Israel would win.
The radio commentators thought he was uplifting. Showed backbone.
I’m glad he was chosen.. It’s nice to hear the kids believe what they’re fighting for. Later, on the news, the Israeli General in charge of the Northern battle said the Israelis were fighting guerillas, and that Israel had switched to guerilla tactics. He said he expected the war to last a few more weeks.

My wife asked me twice, as if I know the answers, why the Air Force didn’t simply destroy the town, rather than risk Israeli lives. I’d guess that it’s easier said than done. Hundreds of buildings flattened like Hiroshima wouldn’t look good on the news, and these days the news is a real battlefront, too. When the news shows Southern Beirut we always see the same few streets where Nasrallah had his offices and headquarters. And I admit, they’re shocking to look at. The Hezbollah are brave cunning fighters. Israel reports about 250 Hezbollah have died. Their people should be proud of them. Too bad they have to use hatred to fuel their ambitions.

The poor and elderly Israelis are stuck in the North. The TV shows elderly widows alone, their help having fled the safety in the south. Some reports are of blown out windows with no one around to repair them. Others are heart-warming stories of people from Tel Aviv coming up to the northern bomb shelters with food, or entertainment. The reports are also of people who fled to Tel Aviv and now are homeless since they can’t afford to stay in a hotel any longer. Mostly when people flee, if they don’t have money, or family in the center of the country, they’re on their own.

The peach harvest continues in the north. My son is helping his uncle. His cousins Barak and Sarah are there too, gainfully employed. Back on the farm. Not their first choice. They’re all up at 4:00 am, pick until 2:00 pm. Listen to the Israeli artillery fire. Listen to the katyushas falling in the nearby Galilee. My mother-in-law is there too. Nasrallah has said he’s going to bomb beyond Haifa. He’s a man of his word. One of his deputies mentioned the coastal resort town of Netanya. So Israel is in a race; get Nasrallah before he starts using the longer-range Iranian-Syrian rockets; beat Hezbollah into submission before the delicate sensibilities of the International Community force a cease-fire; hang-on even though the costs of the war are spiraling out of control. But as Israel’s leading military commentator Zeev Shiff wrote in Haartez, Israel has no choice but to crush Hezbollah, because otherwise the real Arab armies will smell weakness and attack.

The nine days of Av were never good times. But hey, there’s only nine of them.


··

July 28, 2006 Day 17 of the war

Maj. Ro’i Klein 31, is a genuine Hero. He was one of the soldiers killed in Lebanon. When a Hezbollah fighter hurled a hand grenade into the midst of his platoon as they fought in Maroun Al Ras, Klein immediately fell on the grenade to protect his troops. According to his commanding officer, Klien’s last words to his troops, as he lay dying of his wounds, were to keep on fighting.

Can you imagine that act of bravery, that complete and utter self-sacrifice? Would you do it? Would I?

Ro’i Klein was buried on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem’s military cemetery. He’s not far from the graves of the leaders and other heroes of Israel’s struggle for survival.

Ro’i Klein left a wife and two children. He lived on the West Bank Village of Eli. He was a “settler.” For now those labels and distinctions have been dropped. Now all of Israel is one clenched fist battering Hezbollah.

He wasn’t the only death that day. Eight other soldiers were killed. All three of Israel TV’s stations ran stories about the soldiers who died. All went into the homes, interviewed the families. Families who in their sorrow still managed to express amid their tears the same thoughts Ro’i Klein had as he lay dying, “Keep on fighting.”

One of the other boys, who died, Asaf Namir, 27, had come back from Australia, where his parents had moved when he was twelve, to serve in the Army. He was due to be released from the army next Monday. He went to his commanding officer and volunteered to stay in the army. And was killed.

Another soldier, Shimon Adgah, 20, was a new immigrant from Ethiopia. Another, Captain Amichai Merchavia, 24, was a fighter in a paratrooper unit killed in Maroun Al Ras. Amichai was a young neighbor of Ro’i Klein, both came from the same village of Eli. Each story on the news was more moving than the next. Each of the nine boys was a hero to Israelis.

Eyewitness reports from soldiers in that battle at Bint Jbail, the Hezbollah stronghold in the South where Ro’i Klein was killed, say the platoon in wasn’t ambushed, but actually opened fire first. The unit was moving along the narrow streets when a Hezbollah soldier appeared, and was shot down. Immediately other Hezbollah soldiers poured out of buildings or opened fire from rooftops. Eventually the Israelis who survived the exchange fought their way to safety, suffering heavy losses. But they did manage to destroy the four missile launchers that the Hezbollah fighters were defending. Some report that Hezbollah wanted to kidnap more Israeli soldiers.

I find the fact that an entire nation mourns over these deaths very moving. That the TV stations took the time (Israel TV’s channel 1 took nearly 25-minutes of their broadcast) to cover the families of the fallen. This when battles were raging and bombs were falling. It says something about the moral fiber of the nation, and what is considered important.

The news we all watch around the world shows the Lebanese displaced from their homes. Yesterday Israel’s air force bombed a Hezbollah missile command center in the city of Tyre. The headquarters was destroyed. But where was the headquarters? In a twelve floor apartment building. Hezbollah puts their headquarters and rocket launchers in the midst of civilian populations. A clever but ruthless strategy.

Israel is hesitant to bomb civilian populations, both from an internal moral compunction, but also the higher standard the world holds Israel to. Hezbollah can hide in civilian neighborhoods, but Israel is blood-thirsty when those neighborhoods are attacked in order to stop the over 100 missiles a day from falling on Israel. (110 fell on Israel Thursday.)

Now the Syrian government, which left-wing Meretz leader Yossi Belin has said should have been attacked rather than Lebanon, is starting military maneuvers, threatening to go to war if Israel gets close to Syrian borders. Both Israel’s Prime Minister and Defense Minister have stated plainly they have no intention of attacking Syria, only Hezbollah. But the Syrians are nervous. They’re making noises of war.

So Israel had to call up three divisions of reserve soldiers. Toto prepare for a war with Syria, but also a larger ground invasion of Lebanon. As many armchair generals suggest, it would be easier to just carpet bomb Lebanon into rubble. Destroy each home, each street, each road, each bridge. Clean out an open area 25 miles across and five miles deep along the Lebanese border with Israel, where nothing moved but dust. Perhaps the Syrians would do that. After all they killed 25,000 of their own citizens in an uprising a few decades ago. Saddam Hussein would do that, he tested chemical weapons on the Kurds in his own country killing about10,000 of his own citizens. But Israel can’t do that. Israel. Like that commercial for rye bread in New York, Israel is held to a different standard.

That means that Israel has no choice but to go house to house. And try to leave the houses standing. Bomb only those targets necessary. Even then, the international news covers the sad stories in Lebanon, and they are sad, of families forced from their homes, of city councils from ten towns all meeting in one building in Beirut because their cities are being bombed. It’s horrible to think about. Most of these are innocent people. But still, over 70 per cent of them, in a recent poll, support the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers. So what does innocent really mean?

A baby is innocent. But babies tragically die in wars. In conflicts. From disease. Let’s not delve too deeply into the problems of Africa where for want of a budget, because tax dollars and aid donations are usually stolen by the African leaders, the poor villagers die of diseases prevented by simple vaccines every American kid receives for free in school. In Africa the problem is selfishness and greed, on the part of the African leaders, and the pharmaceutical companies. I laud Bill Gates and his foundation for taking on this vital but basic function that the UN and other international bodies should have taken over. I laud Warren Buffet for deciding that he’s got more than enough money, and gave away the excess. And gave it to Gates, who is like a mini-government doing what needs to be done.

But where are those selfless thoughts in Israel? Hezbollah is interested in a Holy War. They are willing to fight to go to heaven. Israelis are willing to fight just to stay alive.
Any Arab, babies included, who die in this conflict are labeled ‘shahidim’ (martyrs) by Nasrallah. (Don’t know how a baby can benefit from the 72 virgins awaiting martyrs in Arab heaven.) Jews don’t have those problems. Jews don’t have virgins awaiting them in Heaven. No enticement to die. Israelis are fighting to save their homes, to protect their families.

One assumes that Israel wouldn’t put missiles into apartment buildings of civilians. If you lived in a building with rockets stored in the basement what would you do? Ask the building residents committee to get them out! But they didn’t, or couldn’t. Many sympathetic reports state that Hezbollah has moved into these buildings, and into villages and towns, just to take advantage of the fact that Israel wouldn’t strike civilian targets. To use the innocent civilians as ‘human shields.’ But if you lived in one of these buildings when Israel started attacking Lebanon, knowing that Hezbollah had missiles in the basement, or headquarters in apartments all around you, what would you do? You’d run, fast. Or stay and take your chances in a war zone.

If Lebanon and its citizenry had stood up to Hezbollah, or even if the local building residents committees had, they wouldn’t be in this mess, and neither would Israel. When the Lebanese finally stood up to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, the Syrians retreated to the Beka Valley. But the Syrians still are strongly suspected of assassinating those who forced them back, killing anyone who didn’t agree with them. And who are the Syrians afraid of? Israel. The US. The West. Remember, Syria is strongly suspected of actively supporting the insurgency in Iraq. And just yesterday Israeli aircraft destroyed four truckloads of arms and ammunition from Damascus as they crossed into Lebanon.

The game now is ‘Who is King of the Arabs?” Yesterday Al Quida came back on the scene, when Bin Laden’s number 2, Al Zawarhiri, went on Al Jezeera TV and called for a coalition of forces with Hezbollah. This is strange of course, since Hezbollah consider themselves a national liberation organization, protecting Lebanon (even though they brought the wrath of Israel upon them by attacking Israel and kidnapping Israeli soldiers). Hezbollah considers Al Quida a stateless terror group. Isn’t self-perception is very strange?

Nasrallah jumped in to be king of the Palestinians and the Arabs, wresting that title from Hamas, who’d attacked Israel, killed Israeli soldiers, kidnapped Gilad Shalit, then hit Israel with Kassam rockets. Hamas had taken over from Al Quida, the scourge of the West. Who’d heard from Al Quida lately? But they’re back, fighting to retain the throne; talking about joining with Hezbollah. That’s a new one. Shiites and Sunnis fighting together. Iran, the state-sponsor of Hezbollah, still holds hundreds of Sunnis in prison, some linked to Al Quida. Is this a united front we should fear? Sure. I’d check twice if I was on a subway in Boston, Chicago, or New York and saw an empty package lying on a seat. Sooner or later one of these nice freedom fighter groups are going to go back to striking innocent people outside of Israel. Especially if it puts them on the throne of world opinion as the real champions of Islam.

Israel and Hezbollah have been called the proxies of the US and Iran. If that’s the case, Israel better win, or for the next act, all our women will be wearing veils, and the men will be burning a mountain of dangerous Ipods.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
··
July 31, 2006 Day 20 War in Israel


“The cease-fire won’t last,” said a guy on Fox TV this morning. Later you’ll find out whom. “I’ll tell you why. For it to last Hezbollah would have to stop firing their rockets. And Hezbollah will never stop firing their rockets.”

He was right, and wrong. At about 1:30 PM Israel time Hezbollah fired four rockets into the Galilee. The rockets landed in open areas, but started brush fires.

Israel didn’t respond with air-force strikes. As we all heard, U.S. Sec. Of State Rice extracted a promise from Israel to halt air strikes for 48-hours. In the minutia of diplomacy, it might be interesting to note that the announcement came from the U.S. Embassy, not from the Israeli. Makes it pretty clear who is pushing this.

But U.S. President George W. Bush has said that a permanent cease-fire won’t be in place until the threat of Hezbollah rockets is significantly reduced. Meanwhile, the Israelis can continue their ground operations, and hit those “Hezbollah assets” they need to hit. At the same time Israel is allowing a 24-hour window to allow the Red Cross and UN to get humanitarian aid into South Lebanon, as well as allowing more people to leave. It’s worth pointing out that the village of Kana was mostly empty when Israel bombed the ill-fated building.

The poor are the ones suffering. In the Galilee, from Kyriat Shmona to Haifa, it’s those who can’t afford to leave that are stuck in the bomb shelters, or in their apartments. One Russian immigrant family was interviewed on TV. Their son was a champion figure skater, and had been practicing at the Canada Center ice skating rink in Metulla, on the Lebanese border. But the center closed, the ice melted, the son went to Slovakia to train, and the parents were left in the bomb shelter. “We don’t have money. We were in Tel Aviv. No one there can understand what it’s like here. But we had to come back. Who could afford it,” said the skater’s mother.

The Israelis have been in the bomb-shelters for 20-days. Not all the bomb-shelters have the amenities required. Some of them don’t have toilets. Some have holes in the floor that serve as a toilet. Many of those in bomb shelters are elderly and infirm. Young mothers with infants are frantic after nearly three weeks in near confinement.

Compared to those shots of Lebanese camped in Beirut parks, these appear to be minor inconveniences. Lack of opportunities to find suitable refuge was the unfortunate fate of the two families in the Kana building. Two poor families with out the $1,000 for a taxi to Beirut, reportedly, that’s what it would have cost them. Stuck in the nearly empty village.

Yaacov, a veteran immigrant from the former Soviet Union, is the super in the office building where I rent space. His son-in-law, a medic in the Golani reserves, was called up the other day and was already in Lebanon. “I’m worried about those Israelis stuck in the bomb shelters up north,” he said. “Why do they have to be there? Why can’t someone take care of Hezbollah once and for all.” Who did he think? “I think an international force, but one with teeth, who will fight Hezbollah.”

When I asked him about the Kana attack, he said, “Hezbollah was firing rockets from that building, what did the people expect.”

So the idea of an international force comes up again. Will it be the solution? Yaacov shrugged. Jews are good at shrugging. He’s confused. He’s upset. He’s fed up.

The Israeli ground force is still building up on the border. Some are going in. The cease-fire from the air will allow them to get in where they have to be. If I were Hezbollah I’d worry what the Israelis are doing on the ground while the bombs aren’t going off. Special Ops units are all over the place. Moshe, a neighbor, is worried. His son is a career officer in a Special Ops unit. He’s been in and out of Lebanon over the last few weeks. But what you learn living in Israel, is that kids never really tell their parents where they are. The Galilee might mean a gun-battle in Lebanon. Why worry Mom and Dad?

These are stories you don’t hear about on the news. These are the stomach tightening things that parents go through in Israel. Shmulik made the mistake of telling his mother he was going into Gaza on his tank. His mother was sick with worry. Last weekend he was off on a weekend pass. He wasn’t a fierce kid. Brainy. Bright. Slight. Yet he’d been in a tank when they’d been attacked by Hamas, remember them, and had to open fire. The bright brainy kid had to shoot people. It upset him. He told his mother. She told us. Our own kids had reported similar unfortunate stories. Not pleasant. Not wanted. But they do what they have to do. These are not Hezbollah fighters breathing fire and brimstone and out to convert the world to their ideology. These are kids who were called to duty, and are doing it. And not particularly liking it. But doing it as best they can.

I wish this weren’t true. That it was only stuff to make Israel look good, but it is true. Shmulik, standing on a street corner of our quiet Jerusalem neighborhood last Shabbat, told us he was probably going up north with his unit. “Don’t tell your mother,” my wife told him. He looked at her hard, and nodded. Right. Why worry her.

Lebanon has a deathly ring to it in Israel. It’s been the killing fields for Israelis for thirty-years. And no matter what Israel does, occupy it, withdraw troops from it, bomb it, ignore it, it keeps coming back up to haunt Israel in one form or another. When a guy tells you he’s “going to Lebanon” it not the same as telling you he’s going to Miami Beach. Going to Lebanon means nightmares and fear and overcoming fear and coming out the other end, and having other people call you courageous.

This morning I saw two things on Fox TV that were inspiring. Fox is one of the few places on TV that sometimes see Israel in a good light. One analyst blamed Kofi Anan for not enforcing resolution 1559 and disarming Hezbollah. Now, said the analyst, Anan was blaming Israel for fighting with Hezbollah. Why wasn’t he even handed? The analyst asked? That’s sort of a conundrum I think.

The other analyst was the guy who made the prediction about Hezbollah. And a guy who twenty years ago was castigated at a Senate hearing when he told the Senators investigating him that he was afraid of one person, a guy who lived down the street from him in Washington. Who was the scary guy? Ossama Bin Laden. He had a house in Georgetown, and drove past this other guy’s house and made him nervous. This guy told the panel that Bin Laden had to be dealt with or there’d be trouble. He was ignored, and castigated, and pilloried for his involvement in Irangate. Who was this guy? Col. Oliver North. Now Ollie has his own TV show and said that he can’t understand why the world is criticizing Israel. It’s Hezbollah that’s the problem. Hezbollah that has to be disarmed.

Who ever thought we’d think Oliver North was right about anything?

Lastly there’s our drunken friend, the loveable Mel Gibson. I have nothing but respect for Gibson as an actor and filmmaker. He’s entertaining, believable, and charming. But when he’s drunk he’s a handful, I guess. The old joke goes you suddenly wake and Englishman in the middle of the night and he’ll sound like he’s from Brooklyn, all pretences dropped. Gibson seems to be one of those liberals who were very upset with the war in Lebanon, since when he was stopped for doing 90 in a 45, and given a Breathalyzer, he started insulting everyone around, reportedly calling them dirty Jews.

Okay, he was drunk. Nice guys say wild things when they’re drunk, and regret it in the morning. So Mel regrets it. I forgive him. He blames it on his being an alcoholic. I accept it. But there are shrinks that say that the booze strips away the pretense, like the Englishman waking up in the middle of the night. That under it all, stripped away the civility, Mel just don’t like Jews.

In that he’s got a lot of company. But at least he’s not shooting rockets, or going into the Seattle Jewish Federation and opening fire with a machine gun; or blowing up the Twin Towers because of a Zionist Plot to take over the world.

But please, don’t let him near explosives or guns when he’s drunk, and certainly not when he’s on one of his anti-Semitic binges. Who knows what he’ll do.

Mel’s doing chuva (repentance) though. He’s got a new film coming out about a Jew who suffered in the Holocaust. Do you think Hezbollah will watch it? Do you think he would if he were drunk? But at least he’s torn. Troubled. Sick. What excuse do our Arab enemies have? They don’t even drink!


··

August 1, 2006 22nd day of the War in Israel


Three Israeli soldiers were killed today in fighting in Lebanon. Reportedly they were paratroopers staked out in an apartment waiting in ambush for the Hezbollah fighters to appear. Their position was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade. Their loss saddened the country. And remind the public of the tens of thousands of soldiers entering the battlefield of Lebanon. Every night the TV news anchors recite a prayer for the soldiers in battle, and pray for the safe return of the three that were kidnapped.

The Hezbollah cessation of missiles on Israel fell off dramatically on Tuesday. Only four fell in Kyriat Shmona. Israel TV news anchor Yaacov Achimeir paused, reading that piece, and repeated “just four,” as if Israel accepted four rockets falling on its country as acceptable.

Tuesday night a few more fell in the upper Galilee. Residents of the north emerged from their bomb shelters to catch a breath of fresh air. The powers that be warned all residents to stay near their shelters. Some did. Some didn’t. Turns out it was a relatively quiet day. First one in three weeks. In Haifa the fishermen returned to the sea. All they dragged in with their nets was shrapnel from katyusha rockets.

Israel is also on high alert for suicide bombers. This is yet another front, which will be exploited as time, goes on. Israel caught one Palestinian from Hebron on a road in the north. He had an explosive belt on him. The belt was taken away, and detonated by a robot. Two other Palestinians were arrested in Haifa, stripped naked, their car ransacked. No explosives were found. The Police claim they had detailed intelligence that these men were carrying a bomb. They were arrested, and taken away for interrogation.

These incidents are part of the backdrop to the daily anxiety level of the country. In the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, a heated debate took place between the Arab and Jewish Knesset members. One Arab parliamentarian later appeared on Israel Radio and said he was not ashamed of supporting Hassan Nasrallah nor calling Israel’s Defense Minister a “War Criminal.” Another group of East Jerusalem Arabs demonstrated outside of the US Consulate in E. Jerusalem calling on Nasrallah to bomb Israel.

Democracy in action. Palestinians siding with Hezbollah. No surprise there. The Arab parliamentarian was allowed to espouse his views both in the Knesset and on the Radio. Right-wing Knesset members are livid over these Arab Knesset members and their support for Hezbollah. Pundits believe much of it is play-acting on both sides. Jews don’t vote for the Arab Knesset members. The Israeli Arabs are pro-Palestinian. If the Knesset member wants to be re-elected he has to represent his constituency. The right-wing politicians ask, ‘Where does politics end and sedition begin?’

One of the vocal anti-war Arab Knesset Members is Dr. Achmed Tibi, a physician who once practiced at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. Dr. Tibi was a close political adviser to the late Yassir Arafat. When Dr. Tibi practiced medicine at Hadassah he treated Jewish patients. Hadassah serves a large Arab and Jewish population.

These days there is a complete “seger” (closure) of Israel’s borders. West Bank Palestinian workers can’t get to their jobs in Israel. Even those with work permits. No one talks about the “Fence” these days. That’s the separation barrier going up along Israel’s border with the Palestinians. In some places it’s a five-meter high fence, in some places it’s a five-meter high cement wall (like the Berlin Wall). The purpose is to stop terrorism. Lots of talk about this wall. Will it stop terrorism? Won’t it stop terrorism?

In the US along the border with Mexico a fence is in place in certain sections. But as a rule it’s not terrorists who are sneaking in but unwanted future citizens will come in illegally. In Israel the authorities are worried that Palestinians wearing canvas belts packed with dynamite, a wish to go to heaven on their lips, will take advantage of the war and rush to Heaven and all the goodies awaiting them.

The events in Lebanon and Gaza underline the reality that the fence won’t be a huge help if the West Bank Palestinians obtain Kassam rockets. Once Hezbollah and Hamas are dealt with, through battles or diplomacy, Israel will have to face the Palestinians. Life in the Middle East is like an onion, no sooner do you peel back one layer, deal with one problem, then bingo, there’s another one. A brief cease-fire raises thoughts of all those problems exigent before the war.

Yona Yahav, Haifa’s answer to former New York Mayor Rudy Guiiliani, was on the news this morning making his case for government relief funds. Other municipalities have also made their voices heard. According to press reports, 5,500 Israeli homes have been damaged. 300,000 people from the north moved south until the trouble subsides. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be needed to get Israel back up to speed once the fighting stops.

The ground operations continue. Israel claims success in battle as governments do when they are preparing to sit down at the negotiating table. Each side will exaggerate their success.

However, reports in the Israeli press state that Hezbollah has been hit, and hit hard. Analysts say that the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah never expected Israel to bomb his prized possessions, his office buildings, his headquarters, his missile silos. All agree he still has ample supply but reportedly he was shocked by Israel’s knowledge of his arsenal and the location of his headquarters.

The press also quotes highly placed intelligence sources who claim that the Europeans, and the Arab countries, even Lebanon, want Nasrallah gone, and are willing to drag their feet until Israel gets the job done. One report states that most of the Lebanese are fed up with Nasrallah, but can’t get rid of him. The leaders of Lebanon, except for Wallid Jumblat, the outspoken Druze leader, are afraid of him, and for good reason. He’s a maniacal murderer. Its difficult to think what will happen if he stays in power. One report says he’s waiting until hostilities end so he can deal with the Lebanese who oppose him.

In the long term, analysts on the Israeli talk shows echo what the Army and government have been saying. This war will take time to win. Gone are the lightening attacks of decades ago where Israel defeated the combined might of five Arab armies in six days. Not because Israel can’t do the same thing again, against traditional armies, but because the battlefield has changed.

This is guerilla warfare, they say. Tens of thousands of troops can go in and hold a position, but it’s the special ops guys, like those killed today, that have to go in like hunting dogs, sniff out the enemy and neutralize the threat. Experts say that’s what these Army and government officials mean by ‘it takes time.’ Special ops guys have to sit in a building for a day or two; their eyes open, waiting for the enemy to appear. Stealth, patience and iron nerves. In the end they are supposed to find the enemy and take him out. Little by little. Group by group. Brick by brick, taking down the building of Terror. No lightening strikes. No quick results. Same thing in Gaza. Same thing in Iraq. In Afghanistan. As the old general said in War and Peace, “Time and patience are the two best warriors.”

In these days of Internet, Cell phones, blackberries, e-mails, faxes, MTV and impatience, who can wait? Syria and Iran are suspected of supporting terrorism but State-Sponsored terrorism is hard to prove. No one has yet released enough proof to justify an all out war against them.

So it’s the guerilla wars that are fought, like test battles. Fought over feeble excuses. These entanglements are dangerous, and costly. Look at Algeria? But in that case the Algerians wanted to shake off the shackles imposed by France. In this case Israel has withdrawn from Lebanon and Gaza, and still the guerillas keep coming. Because Israel is on Arab land. To them Israel is like the French.

The problem for the world is that to these fanatics the US are like the French, not because they occupy Teheran, or Riyadh, or Damascus, but because they exist. That alone is enough to keep Al Queda, Hamas and Hezbollah fighting. Occupation gives them an excuse to be.
.
As long as Israel exists, then the battle goes on.. (Not that over history anyone needed much of an excuse to exterminate Jews. In the 12th century Jews were slaughtered in Germany, after living there for hundreds of years, because they didn’t die in great numbers during the Black Plague. Mainly because the Jews observed kashruth, and bathed, in the Mikvah. Simple little things. But to the locals the Jews practiced witchcraft and were massacred in town after town. Reason didn’t save them.

Should Israel fall because of anti-Semitism, anti-decadent democracy, or just plain hatred, then it will be America’s turn next. And Britain, And France. And Italy, and Germany, and on and on. This is not a guerilla war that the West can afford to lose. The resultant complications are too awful to contemplate.

··
August 2, 2006 Day 22 War in Israel


By 11:00 AM sixty-seven rockets had fallen within a few minutes across Northern Israel, a dozen in Tsfat, injuring two people. Shortly after sirens sounded again in the north, in the Galilee panhandle, from Maalot to Tiberias. Commentators said that Hezbollah will come out, fire dozens of missiles at once, then retreat to their hiding places before the Israeli drones, airplanes or satellites can locate them. By the afternoon nearly200 rockets had fallen on Israel’s north, including Haifa. One man was killed in Kibbutz Saar when a rocket crashed through the roof of his apartment. Fox news reported 300 rockets.

Israel made what the army considered significant gains when they raided a hospital in Lebanon, near the Syrian border, killing a number of Hezbollah fighters, and taking five back to Israel. The Army said they’d obtained significant intelligence information, including maps, communications codes, and equipment. It was rumored that one of the men captured was a Hezbollah leader. Hezbollah claimed the Israelis were looking in vain for the two soldiers whose kidnapping ignited the war. So far an estimated 10,000 Israeli soldiers have entered Lebanon to set up a security zone, and destroy Hezbollah strongholds.

“What amazes me,” said Gabriel, as we stood talking near the neighborhood shopping center, “is the resilience of the Israeli people. I’m really proud of them. Nasrallah thought Israel would break apart under the attacks, but the opposite happened.”
He mentioned that his son, who’d recently finished his mandatory army service, was trekking in the Himalayas. “He called last night, asked if he’d received a call-up notice. I told him no, he hadn’t. Then he asked, ‘do I have to come back if I get one?’ He was willing to do that. Dad, of course, told him no. Dads’ll do that.

Another neighbor came by, a columnist for one of the papers. He agreed that Israel’s resolve was firm. But what encouraged him was George W. Bush. “He wants to finish off the Iranians before his term of office ends. He sees Iran as the root cause of what’s going on today in the world. And he seems to have the support of the G-8.” The reporter said, “Hezbollah only brought the real problems into focus. This isn’t a local conflict. Iran has to be dealt with.”

Gabriel asked, “Do you think Israel will be involved?” “Sure,” the reporter answered.

Not to stand like a drug store Indian, I had to ask something. “What about Syrian?” I asked. “Ah, Syria,” the reporter scoffed. “Take half-a-day to finish them off. Now wouldn’t that be nice.

One of the boys killed yesterday Michael Levine, 21, was from New Jersey. A good camp Ramah Pocono’s boy. He was a single soldier, which means he was alone in Israel, with no family in the country. They were coming in for the funeral. Baruch Dayan Emet.

Meanwhile Israeli villages are being hit. Some were established 120 years ago, and have been blasted before. A woman in the village manager’s office called up an Israeli radio talk show to complain that the north has been blasted with rockets, but no compensation has yet come in. She suggested that the government level a new War Tax on the people. She said that her children were in Tel Aviv. “It’s like another country. Quiet. Normal life.” Then a siren sounded while she talked. “Go into the shelter. I’ll call you later,” said the news anchor. “No need. I’ve been in the office since day one. I’ll be fine.” And she kept on, taking her chances. She was right. Nothing happened, at least during the interview.

Another friend and I went out for coffee yesterday. He told me about his son, a Baal T’Chuva (repentant Jew), who lives in a small village in the North near Tsfat. The place is closed up. Most of the people are in shelters, or have left. There’s no money for food. No work. My friend is going around raising money for the village. This irks him, somewhat, since he is vehemently anti-religious, an avowed atheist. “But it’s my son, and grandchildren. What can I do?” When I left him, he went into the bank to send money to his son.

Earlier in the morning Hamas launched a Kassam from Gaza which landed South of Ashkelon near a "sensitive" location, probably means an army base. Another landed near a kibbutz in the south. According to press reports there’s also a deal in the works to free Gilad Shalit, the dankest kidnapped at the start of the hostilities.

Akiva Eldar, a well-respected political analyst for Haaretz, said during a radio interview that Israel's cabinet yesterday corrected mistakes it had made the week before, when it decided to continue the air campaign. Prime Ministers are given a variety of scenarios, which the army has prepared for eventualities. The PM chose five, and then decided in which order they're implemented. Last week the cabinet and PM chose three, this week they chose two.

There's a popular saying in Israel, "Yesh Chel Avir, v kol ha yeter." There's the Air Force, and then all those others. The Chief of Staff may have thought the air force could solve the problems. It solved many of them. But ground forces were needed, as they always are. The US believed the same thing in Iraq. Bomb the hell out of Baghdad, then send in the troops to capture the capital. Problem was in Iraq they skipped over all those Terrorists hiding out in the villages along the way. Soon as they had the chance they came out of their apartments with RPGs and Kalachnikovs and started blasting. Big army goes after them they're like Mohammed Ali, bobbing and weaving, floating like a butterfly, stinging like a bee.

Now Israel’s going after them. But first you gotta find them. No mean trick. Ask the Americans in Iraq. You don't know the enemy's around until he kicks you in the back of the head. Israel was in Lebanon 18-years, maintaining the 25-km wide security zone, and lost men every year even when the soldiers were in bunkers. Lebanon's a quagmire. Has been since the PLO set up camp there in the 60's. If Israel means to succeed there, it will mean reoccupation of Lebanon. Sure, one day, a multi-national force might come in. But it might not. Meanwhile Israel’s stuck fighting another long tedious war with an implacable highly intelligent enemy.

Knesset member Efraim Sneh, an former General and a Labor Party member, said that Israel has fought traditional wars very well, and guerilla wars very well, but this war is a mixture of both; one in which Israel pits itself against a guerilla army but with traditional backing and infrastructure. It's a militia but one that sits in the Lebanese government. It's a small force, but one well trained and well supplied, by Iran, with the latest weapons.

The Mujahden is the model for these forces. Bin Laden drove the Russians out of Afghanistan. Hezbollah’s Nasrallah thinks he can defeat the Israelis. His backers think that once Nasrallah gets momentum other radical Islamic forces will join him, in Lebanon, in sleeper cells, and help the Islamic Revolution take over the world. Nothing less. They all recall the glorious days when Saladin ruled the world, when Mohammed turned the Mediterranean into an Islamic lake. They can taste victory. And so far they've got the giants on the ropes. America is barely hanging on in Iraq, and Israel is struggling against a scrawny but wiley enemy in Lebanon.

If it looks like they can get away with it the Iranians will complete their ambition towards nuclear weapons, and one day do what it took Hitler 12-years to accomplish, kill 6 million Jews. And do it with the push of a button. Then the Revolution will sweep the earth.

Israel’s PM said that Hezbollah’s infrastructure was wiped out, and that the over 700 ground positions have been destroyed. Olmert said that you can’t judge Hezbollah’s strength by the fact they’re still firing rockets.

Meanwhile the sun is heading towards the horizon. Tonight the fast of the 9th of Av begins, commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples, thousands of years ago. Jews read from the book of the prophet Eka, a reminder of the destruction of Jerusalem. One reaches far back in history to celebrate Jewish benchmarks. Some turn into holidays, some into days of mourning. One wonders what of the modern State of Israel will find its way into the Jewish calendar. And if Hezbollah will find their way into the Jewish history books, or if they’ll just be a blip on the radar screen of Jewish history.

Will the previous Israeli pullouts of Gaza, and from Lebanon, be remembered as landmarks of movement towards Peace, or historic mistakes? Before these hostilities Israeli politicians talked about dismantling settlements on the West Bank. In view of the rockets sent from other territory Israel evacuated, that now looks like a dream. It looks as if Israel will have to pull out of Lebanon yet again. And that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen very soon, or very fast.


··
Aug 3 2006 Day 23 War in Israel


Since this is going to be published in the New York Times I have to be more circumspect about what I write. The standards will be much more severe. The New York Times is after all the premiere newspaper in the USA. When these writing appear in that august publication, much will change.

Perception for one. No longer a crank journal from a nonentity, suddenly the thoughts carry weight and dignity. Image and perception. Published on the web through personal e-mail, the thoughts were frivolous and insignificant. Suddenly they carry import and meaning.

That’s what the war in Israel has become. Image and perception. Has Israel lost? Has Israel won? Is Hezbollah a significant player in the Middle East, or a fleck of dust on the strands of time? If Hezbollah emerges intact from this war, Israel’s image drops. Imagine an old-fashioned grocery scale, put weight on one side to balance the other. If Hezbollah has more weight, Israel gets lighter, less significant. The converse is also true.

What bothers me is not that the war has become one of perception. Analysts say wars are usually 80 percent psychology. I’d have thought it was 80 per cent ammunition. Now our soldiers fighting on the borders are pawns in a game of chess aimed not at winning but in getting the best position before the powers that be step in to stop the conflict.

How would you like to be fighting for your life knowing that all you’re doing is getting Israel a better position at the negotiating table? I’d feel cheated. I’d feel that if I wasn’t fighting to win, but only for some better diplomatic solution, I wouldn’t fight as well.
But lucky for all of us, I’m not fighting.

The kids that are on the battlefront show admirable spirit. Those in hospital say they can’t wait to get back to their friends, their comrades. To protect their homes. These kids are heroes. And those that died? At least three of those Israelis killed so far were American born. Michael Levine came from Philadelphia. Yesterday a 52-year-old kibbutznik was killed driving his bicycle to his fields. The shrapnel from a katyushas killed him. He was an immigrant, born in the USA.

Israel is made up of immigrants. Many of the boys in uniform come from the former Soviet Union. Some, like Miki Levine, from the USA. Most from families that had been in Israel a few generations. Soldiers with a sense of unity, or purpose, thinking about each other, helping each other, not thinking of the big picture. Israeli army boys are a unit, each watching the other. Bond of Brothers. Wonderful to see.

Israel reportedly has only a few more days to reach their goals. Almost everyone agrees that power and strength will not win this war. But if Israel doesn’t make significant gains in the battlefront, then Israel will be forced to accept a peace settlement that will cause more problems in the future. Israel will be forced to accept an international force not to its liking.
These are the thoughts circulating in Israel. These are the discussions on the radio, on television, in the press. These are the thoughts of Israel PM Ehud Olmert. But one wonders if these goals of perception and image aren’t things better kept quiet, behind closed doors. Why should the public know that the war is only jockeying for position, because it can’t be won?

Much has been said about the over abundance of press coverage of every katyushas that falls, ever rocket that lands, ever tank that rumbles by. Yesterday the Israeli Army’s special ops people carried out a daring raid deep into Lebanon, along the Syrian border. We’ve all seen the video. It was like watching a Tom Clancy movie, little figures moving around on a TV screen, puffs of black smoke, commentary to tell us what was happening.

It was a major accomplishment. The Chief of Staff let it be known that Israel can strike anywhere, anytime. This was a raid on a hospital taken over by Hezbollah forces. Five Hezbollah men were taken back to Israel for interrogation. But the biggest prize was those minutes on TV, around the world. Look at what Israel has done. Image and perception. As if you drive up to the bank in a new Lincoln, make sure the bank manager sees it, before asking for an extension on your loans. He’ll look at your balance sheet, at your income, and tell you that you’ve wasted money renting the Lincoln. He isn’t impressed.

If all we’re doing is fighting a war for TV, to impress the other side with our accomplishments, so that we can call a cease-fire and say we won, then I wonder at the logic of the conflict in the first place. I wonder if our erstwhile leaders haven’t lost sight of the major goals. If their public image, their place in history, their chances for reelection or kudos for the number of bombs they’ve dropped justify what is going on. I’m na├»ve. I admit it. Here all along I thought we were supposed to somehow or another kill off Hezbollah so they wouldn’t be a threat. My mistake.

Many of my friends will be angry with me for blasting the government in times of war, and they’d be right. I’m in favor of the government’s policies, like 90 per cent of the other Israelis. What bothers me is I suspect the conflict has ground down more to negotiations than battles. If that’s so, why not stop now: get the boys home before they get hurt.

But of course much as they’d like to say “We won, let’s go home,” it’s not possible. The goal is to somehow or another diminishes Hezbollah’s ability to strike at Israel’s borders and heartland. This will not be done in two days. This will not be done when the international community decides the battles are over. Because they won’t be over for a while. Israel will create a security zone in Lebanon, just like the one they left. The boys fighting today will be back doing their miluim (reserve duty) next year, and the year after that, and the year after that. And it won’t be fun.

For all the talk of a cease-fire and an international force, no one is seriously going to face Hezbollah but Israel. Thirty rockets so far today. The homeland security chief has told residents to stay in their shelters. This ain’t over yet.
The army says that fifty-percent of Hezbollah’s strength has been eroded. But Hezbollah still has thousands of missiles. Thousands. State-Sponsored Terrorism. And what’s being done about it? Israel is criticized for bombing Lebanon. CNN shows pictures of the before and after of Beirut, tsk tsking the air force’s bombing Hezbollah targets. Much more dramatic pictures than the Israeli side. But sort of skipping over the fact that Israel is trying to stop the Hezbollah from showering Israel with missiles.

Yesterday the long-range Katyushas were fired. One hit Afula, one struck near the Arab village of Jenin, forty miles from Lebanon. A narrow shallow security zone isn’t going to stop them, either. Israel’s Governor of the Bank of Israel, Stanley Fisher, a new immigrant from the highest levels of US economic circles, estimates that Israel is loosing about $250 million a week on this war.

It’s going to cost big bucks to keep our troops in Lebanon for who knows how long. Last time it was 18-years. Soon the press will blame Israel for occupying Lebanon, again, as if Israel has nothing better to do, as if occupation is a pastime Israelis engage in, like lawn blows, during their leisure time, when they get bored.

Former Sec. Of State Henry Kissenger said, ‘just because you’re paranoid, don’t mean they’re not out to get you.’ Given the several thousand Hezbollah rockets that have fallen on Israel so far; given the fact that Hamas is still firing in the south, given that both Hamas and Hezbollah are still holding Israeli soldiers, and most of all, given the fact that the Iranian government calls Israel a cancer that has to be excised from the world, there is ample room for paranoia.

Arabs are famous for over-exaggerating their successes, the numbers of Israeli tanks destroyed, the number of soldiers killed, and the numbers of Lebanese massacred by Israel. The Kana disaster is a case in point. Now the numbers of killed dropped by half. The Arab side was always good at the image and perception thing. Israel was more interested in facts on the ground, proven and provable in a scientific method.

Winston Churchill warned about Hitler for years, and forced into fighting, designed a plan to destroy the enemy. Now we’re more concerned with providing content to keep the viewers watching between commercials. George W. Bush, though, and Tony Blair, seems to get it. Like Churchill they see the big picture. They see that a Beirut building bombed to rubble is what happens to a country when it goes to war. They see that if something tough isn’t done more bombs will go off in London Subways, Spanish train stations, Twin Towers of democracy in the USA. They see that the struggle is far from over, and if the public doesn’t rise to the challenge radical Islam will take over the world, a country at a time. That’s why these guys care about Israel. It’s like watching the Spanish Civil War in 1936, with the Democrats against the Fascists. You don’t have to be a genius to see what follows the Hezbollah Israel struggle. Even if Hezbollah loses.

Tisha B’Av. The destruction of the Temples. Someone had to be watching. Had to know what was coming. Maybe no one listened. Not even the NYTimes.



··
August 3, 2006 Supplemental

Eleven Israelis died today, so far. Five in Acre, three in Maalot. Again, over 200 rockets fell. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened, again, to bomb Tel Aviv. Acre was one of the targets today. A few people just walking around got hit by the shrapnel. This has not been a good day.

The Iranian president called for the destruction of Israel. England’s premier Blair asked, “How much help is that?” Now for a surprise. The former head of Israel’s Mossad Ephraim Halevy, said on Israel radio today that Israel should only negotiate with Iran. No sense in talking to Hezbollah, since they’d only check with Iran. No one to talk to in Lebanon, since the government is sort of like the post office, passing messages from one address to another without making any decisions.

Our friend, a good soul, went to the funeral of Michael Lerner, the American immigrant who was killed in the fighting two days ago. She thought that since he was a “single soldier” with no family in Israel, she’d go to show support. She didn’t know him. “How many people at the funeral?” I asked. “A thousand she answered. Hundreds of people who didn’t know him, or never met him, came to show their support to the funeral on Mt. Herzl. A woman said, “It was the least I could do. He came from the US. We have to honor him.”

A few days before the war Michael was in Philadelphia visiting his family. He returned to Israel when he heard the war had started. His fellow soldiers told how he put his kepaw on and said the Shma when he returned.

The Israeli soldiers are doing what they’re asked to do. An Ethiopian immigrant was interviewed as he loaded the magazine of his M-16. “What, I’m going to call in sick? I’ll go. We’ll do what we need to do.” Another soldier said, “We had some injured. One killed.” He was stern-faced. “But we’ll do the job.”

Should the Israelis feel that all Arabs are bad, three of the killed today were Israeli Bedouin Arabs. When Israel TV showed up in the village, one of the middle-aged Arab men said, “Nasrallah is the devil.” A conundrum. The sirens go on. The Bedouin were killed running for shelter after the siren went off. One never knows when a rocket has your number.

“Send in three-hundred thousand troops, scour the country from south to north, until Hezbollah is wiped out.” This was said by a calm reasonable person. “Look what happened in Iraq. Underpowered attack. Too few people. Too many enemies. Gotta go and wipe them out.”

But that is not what’s going to happen. Mostly Israelis hear about the diplomatic clock ticking. A few days. A week, maybe. Maybe two. The airwaves are filled with generals and former diplomats explaining how the present battles are necessary to achieve positive achievements in the upcoming peace talks. “First you have the battles, then the sides talk. That’s the way it has always been.” This is the common thought. The main message. Other analysts criticize the way Israel delicately handled the first weeks of the war, relying on the Air Force.

Not really true, though, that only talking works. The Germans may have talked to the Allies after surrender, but they surrendered. So did the Japanese. The talking came after the victory. In this case the commentators seem to think victory is too costly. That too many lives will be lost. Sort of like Iraq all over again. Throw enough troops at the problem to keep it going, but not enough to win. If I were a soldier fighting in Lebanon knowing that a cease-fire was in the offing, would I fight hard? When you’re down thirty points in the last quarter of the game, can you really get up the strength to make up the gap? Some pundits are saying that too much talk is coming out of the government, and not enough action. Too much jockeying for position at the negotiation table, and not enough victory in the field.

Three hundred thousand Israelis are homeless. Soldiers are dying in the field. Hezbollah is still fighting. Still sending rockets. And they have lots of rockets.
How can the war be won? With the bunker busters? Didn’t work in Iraq. Israel leans heavily on the air force, as did the US. Never did get Saddam that way. Butit did drive him into a spider hole, hiding out like a common criminal. Will the same thing happen to Nasrallah?

Meanwhile the split has begun to show. PM Ehud Olmert is opting for the diplomatic track while Defence Minister Peretz
is talking about staking out a security zone.

An ex-General, once head of an elite intelligence unit, says the Lebanese have to send in troops to hold the security zone, and the UN has to disarm Hezbollah according to UN resolution 1559. The moderator of the Israeli TV show doing the interviewing called this ex-Intelligence guy an "optimist"

Maybe there is hope. Maybe the UN can come in and disarm Hezbollah. The idea knocked around was that Israel would clear out the Southern Lebanese territory, and make it safe for the UN peace-keepers, who would disarm Hezbollah. My guess is that the Israelis will be stuck in the Lebanese mud for years. Analysts criticize the Prime Minister for too much too little, when it came to the ground war. But perhaps PM Olmert was trying to save the lives of Israelis soldiers. Perhaps the Minister of Defense, Amir Peretz, has advisors who differ with Olmert’s advisors. Army will always want to fight. Politicians will always want to talk. Maybe this is good cop bad cop, for Nasrallah’s benefit.

Today was Tisha B’Av, the 24-hour fast marking the destruction of the First and Second Temples a couple of thousand years ago. In Jerusalem it passed quietly. But the religious people in Tsfat and Meron or other places in the north, didn’t have it so easy. Not only a fast; no water, no food, but the nerve-wracking sirens, and frightening bombs landing nearby.

The younger Israelis all have friends who have been called up. Close friends. Going to war. The TV shows maps of how Israel will keep a security zone of about 5 miles along the border. Israel did this once before, and were in Lebanon for 18 years. Now Hezbollah leader Nasrallah says he won’t stop firing rockets as long as Israel is in Lebanon. That’s his new excuse, as if he needs one.

The US President George W. Bush has again supported Israel. So has Tony Blair. One wonders what Winston Churchill would have to say about now? He mounted a campaign against Germany, and pounded them ruthlessly into surrender. The US was hit in Hawaii and went to war. Israel does it and gets castigated by the Press for bombing buildings in the country that started the war. Another conundrum.

If Israel didn’t think the world ran on a double standard, they do now. Most of the world’s press would rather show a blasted building in Beirut than Israelis in the hospital. If the world didn’t understand Iran’s plans for Israel, just read their lips. And then see if you can apply what their saying to Britain (remember the bombs in the subway?) Spain (remember the bombs in the train station) even Bali (remember the bomb in the disco. In Bali of all places.) And of course the Twin Towers of democracy. If the Hezbollah obduracy isn’t enough to make the world tremble, think of the damage they’ve done with their sponsor Iran. Think of the damage they plan to do.

In answer to Nasrallah’s threat of rockets in Tel Aviv, tonight Israel bombed Dahiya in Southern Beruit. The Israeli army says that if he responds by a rocket in Tel Aviv Israel will destroy whatever stands in their way. Especially in Beirut.

Tisha B’Av. One wonders if people didn’t see those destructions coming, and no one listened.




··

August 4, 2006 Day 24 War in Israel


Not many people believe that this conflict can reach a conclusion satisfactory to either side. Even within Israel the divide is beginning to surface. There are those in favor of a massive invasion, those who’d settle for just carving out a security zone, and those who think a total withdrawal is the best possible solution.

Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu has been making the round of radio talk shows and TV stations in Israel, London and the US. He is an excellent spokesman for Israel. He’s presentable, has all his hair, isn’t too old, and speaks English with an American accent. Best of all he’s positive. Even in Hebrew. “I don’t think this war needs two drivers,” he said. Bibi is also the leader of the loyal opposition, the Likud Party, formally the home of PM Ehud Olmert. “At this point in time I’m not going to criticize the management of this war. That will come later. Now we’re all in this together.”

Cabinet minister Meir Shitrit, is a member of the Kadima party, which split off from the Likud when former PM Ariel Sharon decided he didn’t like the way the party was treating him. Shitrit has been a shrewd politician, and loyal party man, no matter which party. He’s in. PM Olmert was not in favor of a ground campaign, preferring the surgical strikes from the air. Experts claim that Olmert was advised that the war would be quick, that Hezbollah would quickly cave in, that the air force would destroy the snake, or at least cut off it’s head. Didn’t happen.

Shitrit is defending Olmert’s plan, even today. He is, however, very much is own man. He was Israel’s youngest mayor. Elected to run Yavne when he was only 27. Since then he’s been in the Knesset nearly without a break, and served many Prime Ministers, in many cabinet posts. “I’m against a push to the Litani River,” he said. When asked why, he laughed. “We’ve seen that movie. We were in Lebanon for 18-years. What did it get us?
When the radio interviewer asked him if the no-fire zone wasn’t important to Israel’s safety, he said, “What? They don’t have missiles that can hit us from Beirut? What is this going to give us?”

“What about keeping Hezbollah away from the fences, so they can’t kidnap soldiers? He was asked. “I think that’s the job of the international force that will come in. Not us.”

Defense Minister Amir Peretz is a member of the left-wing Labor party. He joined Olmert in a coalition in order to keep the right-wing parties at bay. Olmert surprised everyone when he appointed Peretz, who has never held a cabinet post, much less one as powerful and complicated as the Defense Ministry.

Peretz is pushing for a move back to the Litani River, about where Israel was before they withdrew in 2000. He and Olmert are at odds over this strategy. Further to the left of Peretz is Yossi Beilin of the dovish Meretz Party. Beilin has been calling for a withdrawal and talks with whomever will talk since day four of the war. He is mostly ignored. Peretz seems to be the hawk, suddenly. Reportedly he was assured at the outset of the war that the air force would end the job quickly. So far the war has gone on longer than even the Yom Kippur war. That war ended with an imposed settlement between Egypt and Israel. Ultimately a cold Peace was established.

Hezbollah however has said it wouldn’t honor any cease-fire as long as Israeli troops were on Lebanese territory. Prof. Guy Bachar is one of those who support Peretz’s view. He believes that the only real solution to the problem was hitting the Hezbollah as hard as possible for the next week, or until a cease-fire is called. He believes Israel needs to clear the land to the Litani, prepare it for another force to come in. He’s another optimist.

An ex-Air Force intelligence General said that Israel had done a terrific job so far. The air force had destroyed the Hezbollah infrastructure. A million people were on the march in Lebanon. They felt deeply what it was to attack Israel.

Another expert said that the majority of Lebanese didn’t really support Hezbollah, and that beneath the surface they were waiting for someone to eliminate them from Lebanon. Since no one else was willing, they’re waiting for Israel to do the job.

But as happened in the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, where eventually the police realized that every demonstrator hit on the head became a radical, as if tapped with fairy dust, the same thing seems to be happening in Lebanon. The homeless masses are mad. The families of the nearly 600 dead are mad. The wounded have more than a bump on the head from a billy club.

Bibi Netanyahu defends Israel’s actions. “What do you expect? They are bombing us. So we bomb them. And if the complaints are that Israel is using too much force, someone should remind them that we’re only using a small fraction of what we could use. We are showing restraint. They just don’t know how much damage we really could inflict.”

Reuven S, a neighbor, was walking his dog in the empty lot near our homes. His dog is 15. Reuven is 57. “I remember Lebanon. I was there in ’82, as a paratrooper. What was that, 24 years ago? Now we’re back.” Did he think the invasion was a mistake? “Of course not. We have to go in there. We have to hit them. They’re bombing us. What choice do we have?” What about the homeless? “What about our homeless?” he said. “We didn’t ask for this war. It was imposed upon us.”

Most of the commentators agree that if Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah had it to do over again, he wouldn’t capture the two Israeli soldiers. He’s apparently lost his infrastructure. Suffered the loss of troops and weapons. And prestige. But these experts also agree he’s surprised Israel with the dedication of his fighters, and their courage.

Granted, all the experts agree that Hezbollah isn’t up to fighting one on one against an Israeli soldier. When the Hezbollah fighters encounter Israelis they run. The only thing they are good at is firing RPGs and anti-tank missiles, with deadly effect. The Israelis claim they’re driving Hezbollah back. Other pundits say it’s like trying to push back water with your hands. These are not the Americans facing the Chinese in Korea, where wave after wave of troops attacked the GIs. These are just local villagers, trained by the Iranians in guerilla tactics, who all think they’re Rambo. They don’t use the big fancy knife, but the RPG and Iranian supplied anti-tank weapons are just as effective.

Will an international force have the will or strength to take these guys on? Will Hezbollah be able to rebuild, get more supplies in from Syria, and reload, ready to fire again, if and when a cease-fire is ever in place?

Time will tell. Meanwhile, more soldiers are dying, again, in Lebanon. Civilians are dying in Israel. A taste for revenge is on the tongues of most Israelis. The dogs of war have been let loose and it’s not going to be so easy to get them back in the kennel.


··
Aug 6, 2006 Day 26 War in Israel


Twenty rockets fell on the northern Israeli port city of Haifa Sunday evening, killing at least three injuring at least 120 others e. The rocket scored a direct hit on a building in a crowded residential area of the city. Rescue crews worked under extremely difficult conditions to extract those trapped in the building.

Earlier in the day twelve Israeli reserve soldiers were killed when a katyusha rocket scored a freak direct hit on kibbutz Kfar Geladi. The soldiers were using an area near the kibbutz as a staging area before going into Lebanon. Reportedly the soldiers did not take shelter when the warnings came of possible incoming rockets.

Friday night Aaron and Ruti were celebrating their engagement with a group of friends on the beach near Hadera, halfway between Haifa and Tel Aviv, when they saw rockets streak through the night sky overhead. They heard three explosions. A couple of hours later Aaron and Ruti turned up at Aaron’s parent’s home in Jerusalem, far away from a possible attack. Aaron has received his call-up for reserve duty, and is scheduled to report for duty next week, to serve in Lebanon.

On Saturday morning the synagogue was peppered with young soldiers home for the weekend from Lebanon. One soldier, Shmuel, tall, handsome, muscular, serves in an elite Paratrooper unit, in Lebanon since the beginning of the war. He was given a weekend pass because he was to be married in a month, and the Army gave engaged soldiers weekend passes.

Pinchas was worried man as he sat in synagogue. His son was in a “special ops” unit, as an officer in the regular army. He was one of those creeping around with painted faces and twigs sticking out of their helmets. Pinchas didn’t look happy. “Yoni called before Shabat,” Pinchas told me. “He said he was tired.”

Moshe was not tall and muscular, but of medium height, slight of build. Yet he was in the paratrooper corps serving in Lebanon. His background was amazing. During the Intifada Moshe and his brother were walking around Machane Yehuda, the Jerusalem open air market, when a suicide bomber pushed the button on his explosive vest. Moshe and his brother ran from the blast right into another bomber waiting for those fleeing. Both were caught in the second blast. Moshe’s lung was punctured. His brother, half his arm hanging loose from the bone, managed to plug the hole in his brother’s lung with his finger until a passing doctor took over the first aid until the ambulance arrived.

In Lebanon, during the first days of the war, little Moshe was in an empty apartment with his unit, resting when Hezbollah fired a RPG into the room, killing a number of Moshe’s comrades. A week later in another apartment yet another of his comrades was killed when an RPG soared into the apartment they were holed up in, slamming into the soldier’s stomach, killing him instantly. Moshe was uninjured. Given his close calls you’d think he’d be skittish, but no, he was still ready to fight.

Rockets also fell on the Golan Heights today, on the industrial area of Katzrin. Our family wasn’t far away. Leah was no longer in Haifa, but even so the rockets were too close. A few days earlier while in a shopping center in Katzrin the siren sounded warning of a possible rocket attack. She gave up the shopping and went back to her son’s home.

Jerusalem, meanwhile, is still a bubble of peace and tranquility. However, the police and army are on high alert against possible suicide bombers. These were Hezbollah’s precision “rockets” before this war started. Fox TV reported that Bin Ladin’s son was going to Lebanon with 200 fighters to help Hezbollah. His reputation is formidable. Reportedly he specializes in insurgency, and has been active in Iraq since the US invasion. Al Queda siding with Hezbollah. The two most dangerous Terrorist groups around, although Hezbollah is much larger, more organized, and better equipped. The third member of the terrorist triumvirate is Hamas, who is facing Israel on the Gaza border.

These three terrorist groups have been responsible for thousands of deaths. They are now combined in their fight against Israel, even though in Iraq the Shiites (Hezbollah) and the Sunni (Al Queda) are at each other’s throats. However, the press sees Israel’s defending itself against these three terrorist groups as an overreaction. One reporter, on Sky News, claimed that the cause of the fighting was Israel’s illegal occupation of the Shaba Farm area, in the Golan Heights area. He ignored the fact that the UN had ruled the Shaba Farms part of Syria, not Lebanon. Why look for the truth when mistaken reporting helps fill out your preconceived notion.

Israel’s Chief of Staff Dan Halutz told the popular Israel TV Channel 2 magazine reporter Ilana Dayan that the plan of this war was to be one of low loss of soldier’s lives. This was to be a quick efficient air war. He recalled that while serving in the last Lebanese war 300 soldiers died in the first week. “We didn’t want to lose men. We adopted another plan.” But in the end the air campaign wasn’t as effective as they’d hoped, and ground troops had to go in.

3,000 rockets have fallen on the north of Israel since the beginning of the war. So far the Israeli Army claims that they’ve killed over 400 Hezbollah fighters, and destroyed most of their long-range missile launchers, but not all of them. Israel has launched “special ops” campaigns against Hezbollah positions, as far away as the Syrian border. According to the army these types of daring actions are meant to show Hezbollah the reach of the Israeli army. It has also energized Israeli troops in Lebanon.

Reportedly the Army has changed their tactics since the beginning of the war. They are now more circumspect when they attack. The first platoon of soldiers who entered Lebanon went in “standing up.” The new units are stealthy, careful, respectful of the enemy’s abilities.

A veteran journalist, who’d been covering Israel’s wars since ’67, said that during the Yom Kippur War of Oct 6, 1973, Israel was caught flat-footed. “It took a few weeks for the Army to get up to speed In this war, the Army has been mobilized for less than a week. The reserves are just beginning to arrive. Results will be forthcoming that will change the situation.”

He also quoted Henry Kissenger, who said, “When a regular army faces a guerilla army, and the regular army destroys the guerillas, it’s clear who won. But when a guerilla army faces a regular army if the guerillas don’t lose, they win.” He thought the danger was the perception of the world that if Hezbollah weren’t defeated, Israel would be perceived as having lost the war.

Ari Shavit, writing in the Haaretz weekend magazine, took the same line, but said essentially, that if Israel is perceived as losing this war, the next battle will be quick in coming. The Arab neighbors will see Israel as weak, and start supporting those against the Jewish state. Iran will be encouraged to increase its support of Hezbollah and Hamas. The threat of a radical Islamic state on Israel’s borders will increase a hundred-fold. The conclusion of both these journalists was that a cease-fire will only be temporary. Ultimately Hezbollah, emboldened by its success, will strike again, and again, and again.

Most pundits put little faith in a UNIFIL multi-national force. According to cabinet minister and former general ‘Fuad’ Ben Eliezer, UNIFIL is a joke. The best that can be hoped for, experts say, is a chance for Israel to regroup, analyze the proper response to this new style guerilla force, develop the proper defenses, then go in and get the job done, once and for all.

A few things will change. For one the much-vaunted ‘Nautilus’ system, which can detect and destroy fast incoming low-flying katyushas, will be deployed. It will take 18-months for the system, developed through a US/Israel effort, to be delivered. Similarly anti-missile and rocket systems for Israel’s tanks, that the army passed on during the “peace” of the last few years, will be deployed. Later committees will determine who let them be cut from a budget, and when.

It’s really no one’s fault. Israel was of the opinion that a large army was no longer needed, nor first class tanks and weapons, nor short-range missile systems, since no one was going to mount a war against Israel on the ground; Syria was weak, Egypt was out of it’s fighting mode, Iraq was in disarray, only Iran was on the distant horizon. The assessment was that Iran’d use long-range missiles. Israel developed the Arrow missile system to counter that type of threat.

The problem was no one seemed to be studying the Iraqi insurgency. Israel was lulled into thinking they had no serious enemy. The army was too accustomed to fighting the Palestinians, who were essentially street gangs with automatic weapons. Iran was starting to train Hamas. An Israeli political analyst said today that Hamas aspired to be Hezbollah. Israel’s army was doing what most armies do, fighting the last war, rather than finding an offense and defense to the imminent danger on its borders.. During any lull in the fighting brought about by the cease-fire, the lights will burn late in the various offices trying to figure out what went wrong, and fix it. Israel isn’t Iraq. The Israelis, unlike the Americans in Iraq, can’t withdraw without losing their homeland.