Wednesday, August 16, 2006

August 16, 2006 Cease-fire day 3

August 16, 2006 Cease-fire Day 3

The Lebanese government has said it would send a force to Southern Lebanon. Two divisions are already in place, with three more to be sent South tomorrow. Hezbollah has agreed to allow the forces to deploy. Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora said tonight that his army would demolish any weapons it found. This conflicts with what Hezbollah spokesmen said, that Hezbollah to essentially remain intact, rebuild, and remain in power.

Israel’s spokesmen have said that allowing Hezbollah to keep its weapons and stay in South Lebanon is an invitation to another round of fighting, the only question is when. So far there are conflicting reports of when the promised international force is to take up positions in Southern Lebanon. Some reports have said the Germans and Italians won’t appear until Hezbollah is completely disarmed. A small force of French soldiers have arrived, but not the huge force expected. Rumour is that they will arrive within ten days. The Israeli army has said they’ll stay in place until the robust force arrives. Many analysts have said that by Israeli troops remaining in the area they become targets for Hezbollah fighters.

Israel Television’s Channel 2 military reporter Roni Daniel, an officer in the army reserves, viewed the Lebanese Army’s deployment of forces to South Lebanon as a victory for Israel. If, when the war started, Israel complained that it was Lebanon’s obligation to take over Southern Lebanon from Hezbollah, that’s precisely what is happening. He viewed the agreement by the Lebanese government to send troops a signal that Hezbollah was indeed going to be replaced. The news anchor called him an ‘optimist.’

Hezbollah has meanwhile promised each person who has lost a house $10,000 in rent for the next year, as well as free furniture and appliances. Hezbollah also runs a huge construction company and is stepping in to refurbish damaged homes, and rebuild destroyed homes. These are all functions that the Lebanese government should be fulfilling. The fact that Lebanon has not disarmed Hezbollah, nor provided social services to the population means that Hezbollah has so far staged a quiet coup.

Israel is looking at the situation with concern, but in the interim the cease-fire is holding. Israelis, who had evacuated their homes for bomb shelters or to safe harbor in the south of the country, are now returning in droves. The country is digging out of the mess left by the rockets, a mess both physical and psychological.

Too much attention is being put on the insignificant aspects of the war and those who handled it. The radio and press were filled with stories of Chief of Staff Dan Halutz’s sale of all his stocks three hours before the war broke out. An investigation has been launched into who leaked the information.

Given that Halutz is a veteran Israeli warrior, former head of the Israeli Air Force, and reportedly a genius it is unlikely that one phone call to his stockbroker would have taken his attention from the management of the war. He is supposed to be a man accustomed to multi-tasking. One phone call wouldn’t have thrown off his concentration. In any case he was a better pilot than an investor: following his sale his investments all increased in value as the Israeli stock market continued to rise during the war.

The long knives are out. Politicians as expected are staking out their territory in preparations for a move to topple the government and call new elections. Most veteran analysts think this at a time when they should better be focused on helping rebuild the shattered north, resettling those displaced persons, and prepare for the next round in the battles rather than fighting for some political advantage.

One of those mentioned as a new leader, emerging from retirement, is Ehud Barak, the former Prime Minister. Barak has been conspicuously absent all during the fighting, making only rare appearances on foreign TV stations. Many blame Barak for the current mess because of his hasty withdrawal from Lebanon in 2,000, allowing Hezbollah to fill in the vacuum left by the IDF. Others expect Barak to have ample evidence why he is now the best person to run the Labor Party and why he didn’t make any mistakes in 2,000.

Benjamin Netanyahu, who lost to Barak in the 1999 elections, also thinks his time has come, again. Netanyahu has made many appearances lately, in a statesman-like fashion, hinting that if he’d been in power these disastrous rocket attacks wouldn’t have happened.

However economist point out that the massive cuts in the military budget, sometimes to the extent of canceling training for reserve soldiers, canceling the upgrading of the Merkava tanks with anti-tank missile systems, and canceling the order of the vaunted Nautilus anti-Katyusha rocket system were more the cause for the current problems than Barak’s order for the IDF to withdraw from Lebanon.

It was Netanyahu, as Finance Minister under Ariel Sharon who was responsible for these budget cuts. He also brought in Stanley Fisher, the American businessman and economist, to run the Bank of Israel. Fisher and Netanyahu saw eye to eye on the budget cuts, and Fisher advised Netanyahu even before Fisher made Aliya, moved to Israel, and took over his position at the Bank.

Some pundits mused that Fisher may have been the architect of the successful economic policies that balances Israel’s budget and put Israel on firm economic footing, but at the cost of ignoring the existential threats to Israel from her sworn enemies.

These and other facts will all be brought out, battered like a rug beaten on a clothesline, until all the dirt is floating in the air.

Much criticism has also been leveled on the media for pouncing on every rocket that fell, every shell that was sent from Israel, ever tank that was hit, every soldier that was wounded. The new reality of live television, satellite telephones, endless talk shows, have reduced war to an on-going argument among people who were not directly involved in the fighting. Some think that this minute coverage of nearly every bullet fired will ultimately make war so odious that no one will want to indulge in it.

This close scrutiny is also market driven. TV stations need to sell advertising, get ratings, to justify the salaries of those working at the networks; newspapers have advertisers, and increasing competition, and need headlines, need issues to get the publics attention. What happened in World War II? Only a few broadcasts were made, few live, then on scratchy radio, and then limited to the war effort. One is hard put to imagine the famous journalist Edward R. Murrow, who broadcast nightly from London during the Blitz, critizing the Allies. Does honesty in reporting also mean searching for headlines where none really exist? Nightly broadcasts require footage, interviews, “news”. What would pass for news on a slow day wouldn’t make it onto the line-up during a real hot “news” day. How many careers and reputations have been ruined by a hasty rush to a headline? Reporters are also looking for a place in history, for a raise, for a promotion, for a Pulitzer. Sometimes the critics, analysts and reporters are too much like Burt Lancaster in Sweet Bird of Youth.

A panel of inquiry has been formed, ex-generals and others, to check the Army’s performance during the war. Some say this is pre-mature since Israel still has troops in Lebanon, others are looking for a change in administration. Much of this impatience comes from the MTVization of the world. Everything has to happen fast, now, today, only to be forgotten tomorrow.

A month from now, if the shooting stops in Lebanon, this war will be buried beneath the next crises. Those fascinated with the daily thumping of the two sides in this conflict will be focused on yet another crisis somewhere else in the world. Unless of course the next conflict is how to disarm Iran from it’s nuclear weapons. Then the blast from the bomb that lands from Iran will be the shot quite literally heard around the world.

In Gaza Hamas and the PA sat down to talk about a national unity government. So far no one has had any positive news on the kidnapping of the three soldiers that started the war.