Thursday, August 10, 2006

Aug 10, 2006 Day 30 War in Israel

Aug 10, 2006 Day 30 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, a blog, 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 a weight on one side to balance the other. If Hezbollah has more weights, Israel gets lighter, less significant. The converse is also true.

What bothers me is that the war has become one of perception. Most analysts say winning wars are usually 80 percent psychology. I’d have thought it was 80 per cent ammunition. Now our soldiers fighting in Lebanon 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? Fifteen yesterday, forty injured. More died today. Israel TV interviewed soldiers waiting to go into Lebanon. Yesterday they were mounted up, in their vehicles, at the gate leading into Lebanon when the call came in to stand down. “We don’t know what’s going on,” said one soldier, laying on a blanket in the shade. “It’s like no one knows what’s going on. At least no one tells us.”

Avi Dichter, Israel’s Minister of Internal Security was interviewed on TV. He talked fast, droned on and on, dodging questions, giving pat political answers pulled out of some book they give politicians when they’re elected: “Sayings That Don’t Say Anything.” Dichter was once the head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s version of the FBI. His brief was to contain the Palestinian radicals in the West Bank and Gaza, and know what was going on in Lebanon.

Why didn’t the TV anchorman ask if he knew that Hezbollah had built well-concealed bunkers made of reinforced concrete, with ample storage areas for rockets and ammunition, with kitchens, toilets, bedrooms, meeting rooms, and air-conditioning? That they hid while the Israeli army came through then popped up, shot rockets, and went back in hiding. The anchorman asked something similiar. Dicther answered, that he knew of course what Hezbollah was up to but not all threats have to be dealt with at the time. Then he said that it’s possible Israel will withdraw now and go back into Lebanon in a few years if Hezbollah starts acting up again.

“Go back in?” the TV announcer asked. You haven’t accomplished anything. Yes we have, Dichter said. We’ve destroyed a significant amount of Hezbollah infrastructure. But the bottom line was clear from Dichter's statements: Israel’s getting ready to pull out. Israel’s PM Olmert seems to have decided that the means to win this battle are not within reach. Pundits think that he may be pulling back, to rearm, and go back into battle with a better plan, better weapons, and less loss to Israeli life.

In Israel the death of each soldier is like a death in the family. The TV announcers read out their names, show their pictures, have interviews with their families: crying mothers, dads holding back tears, friends embracing each other. It’s like one family, even if Israel now has over six million people. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who died. Yesterday the son of a friend went to two funerals of boys from his unit. Boys who were also his friends.

Israel’s army reportedly has at best only a few more days to reach their goals. Almost everyone now agrees that power and strength will not win this war. The experts say that 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.

Much has been said about the over abundance of press coverage of every katyushas that falls, ever rocket that lands, every tank that rumbles by on a TV screen, puffs of black smoke, commentary to tell us what was happening. Prime Minster Olmert also watches TV. He is a media maven. Some analysts have said he’s covering himself in Teflon so that when the mud gets slung around after the war it doesn’t stick to him.

At the beginning of the war Israel’s Chief of Staff let it be known that Israel can strike anywhere, anytime. Is that the point, face time? Those minutes on TV, around the world? Image and perception. One pundit made the point that if you drive up to your local bank in a new Lincoln, and make sure the bank manager sees it, before asking for an extension on your loans, he’ll still first look at your balance sheet, at your income, before telling you that you’ve wasted money renting the Lincoln.

One Israeli analyst wondered that if Israel’s leadership had only gone to war to provide footage for TV then call a cease-fire, what was the logic of the conflict in the first place? Did Israel’s leaders lose sight of the major goals? Is 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? The analyst concluded that all along he thought Israel was supposed to somehow or another kill off Hezbollah so they wouldn’t be a threat. He guessed he’d made a mistake. What bothered him was that he suspected the conflict has ground down more to negotiations than battles. If that’s so, he asked, why not stop now: get the boys home before they get hurt? Olmert may have heard him.

For all the talk of a cease-fire and an international force, no one is seriously going to face Hezbollah but Israel. 165 rockets so far today. A 27-year old Israeli Arab mother and her five-year old son killed by a direct hit on their kitchen where they were having lunch. In the long run who else but Israel will put a stop to this?

The army says that Hezbollah’s strength has been eroded. But Hezbollah still has thousands of missiles. Thousands. State-Sponsored Terrorism, since Hezbollah sits in the Lebanese government, and gets support from Syria and Iran. And what’s being done about it? Israel is criticized for bombing Lebanon. CNN shows pictures of the before and after of Beirut, Tyre, Sidon, tsk tsking the air force’s bombing Hezbollah targets. Much more dramatic pictures than on the Israeli side. But they sort of skip over the fact that Israel is trying to stop the Hezbollah from showering Israel with missiles.

And it was a Syrian 122mm missile that killed the mother and son today. Yesterday more medium-range Syrian Katyushas hit Beit Shaan. That’s a long way from the Lebanese border. Many analysts are asking what a narrow shallow security zone is going to stop?

Former Sec. Of State Henry Kissenger said, ‘just because you’re paranoid, don’t mean they’re not out to get you.’ Given the approximately 3,500 Hezbollah rockets that have fallen on Israel so far, killing over 100 people, wounding nearly 1,000; given the fact that Hamas is still firing in the south, given that both Hamas and Hezbollah are still holding Israeli soldiers captive, 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 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.

Today what the British called the prevention of a mass murder was prevented. Plans to blow up 9 airplanes in mid-air, simultaneously. The battle isn’t limited to Israel. Hezbollah and their partners are everywhere. George W. Bush, though, and Tony Blair, seems to get it. Like Churchill they see the big picture 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, especially if it appears Hezbollah won. And no, the NYTimes wasn’t approached to publish this piece. But that line did get your attention. Perception is everything. For a while you may have even thought this missive was important.