Sunday, October 01, 2006

When is too early too late?

Erev Yom Kippur

The Israeli Army completed its withdrawal from Lebanon on the eve of the fast of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. An estimated 9,000 UN troops are now in S. Lebanon, taking up positions near the Israel-Lebanon border.

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported that Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tzipi Livni, said that she had worked out a diplomatic solution to the Israel-Lebanon war five days after the outbreak of hostilities, but that Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert rejected her suggestion. He did not initiate diplomatic discussions until 10-days into the war, she said.

Israel’s Defense Minister Amir Peretz has warned Lebanon that Israel would not tolerate any incursions or incidents along the border, and would react to the stone throwing. Hezbollah activists taunt Israeli soldiers that patrol the Israel side of the border and Israeli farmers picking their crops in fields along the border, by spitting and throwing stones.

Israel Television showed footage of UN patrols on the Lebanese side driving past Hezbollah flags and huge posters of Sheik Nasrallah. The UN has said it will not interfere with the Hezbollah activities as long as no weapons are displayed.

The Jerusalem Post ran an article quoting an Israeli political analyst who said that even though Israel didn’t win militarily in Lebanon, it did score a major political victory. For the first time since Israel’s War in Lebanon I, over twenty-years ago, Lebanese troops are again deployed in Southern Lebanon.

This accomplishment, which Israel had been calling for even before the War in Lebanon II began, could be the beginning of a new era between the Lebanese government and Israel. There are those, however, who believe as long as Sheik Nasrallah is alive, there is no chance of a serious move for peace in the region. Israeli Cabinet Minister Faud Ben Eliezer has said that Israel should assassinate Hezbollah leader Sheik Nasrallah at the first opportunity. Ben Eliezer believes that another Hezbollah attack rocket barrage is just around the corner.

Israel however took no action against Nasrallah when he made his first public appearance since the war began. Nasrallah showed up in the Hezbollah stronghold of East Beirut and spoke to a huge rally. There was speculation in the Israeli press that an Israeli F-16 might fire a missile or drop a bomb on the speaker’s stage. Analysts said the ancillary damage would take the lives of scores of people in the audience, and that the attackt wasn’t worth the political and diplomatic fallout. Apparently these pundits were correct in their assessment because Nasrallah’s speech went off without incident.

A young Israeli asked the other day why the Palestinians started the last Intifada, in 2000? If Arafat was on the verge of peace, if prosperity was running at an all time high in the Palestinian territories, why would the Palestinians want to start a war?

The answer, according to one analyst, was that Arafat had no intention of making peace, and the entire Oslo process was simply a ploy, a Trojan horse, to rearm his men, which he did. (Israel allowed the Palestinian police force to acquire weapons as part of the peace agreement. These weapons were used on Israeli soldiers during the Intifada. And are still being used against Israelis.)

During that period Arafat wasn’t capable of making peace, even if he had wanted to. During discussions with a Palestinians journalist, we were told at the time that Arafat would have been murdered had he signed the agreement. In any case, the Palestinian source said, Israel’s then Prime Minister Ehud Barak did not have a mandate to make the peace that U.S. President Bill Clinton was pushing.

A referendum would have had to been called, and the odds of it passing were slim. Part of the peace plan, back then, was Israel turning over the entire old city of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, to the Palestinians, with Israel maintaining access and control to the Western Wall. A protest demonstration was called. Nearly 300,000 Israelis showed up, linking hands in a human chain around the old city. This message wasn’t lost on Arafat.

Arafat’s death was welcomed in Israel. It was thought that his corrupt dictatorial regime was an obstacle to any real progress in negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.
But not much has changed. Arafat’s successor Abu Mazen talks about making peace, but he no longer is in power. Talk of another withdrawal from the West Bank, similar to the unilateral withdrawal Israel executed from Gaza, is being criticized as unrealistic.

Even one of the brains behind the Oslo accords, Shimon Peres, interviewed recently in an Israeli paper, said that Israel should not return any more territory to the Palestinians, nor give up any more land in the West Bank. Peres said this would only be a recipe for disaster, and allow the Palestinians to arm themselves with rockets, like Hamas has done in Gaza, to be used against Israeli targets.

A young IDF officer who served in the West Bank said that the only reason that the Palestinians don’t fire rockets into Israel is because they don’t have them, and can’t get them. Every car and truck driving into the West Bank is thoroughly searched. The situation in Gaza is much different.

The Egyptians lightly patrol the Gaza/Egypt border. Smuggler tunnels between Gaza and Egypt abound. One was used to great effect at the beginning of the War in Lebanon II when Hamas terrorists snuck into Israel attacked an Israeli army position, killed two soldiers and kidnapped Gilad Shalit, who is still being held somewhere in Gaza.

U.S. Sec of State Condeleeza Rice has said she is coming to the Middle East in the coming weeks to attempt to bolster the chances of Palestinian Authority leader Mohamed Abbas in his attempt to replace the duly elected Palestinian Prime Minister Hamas leader Haniyeh. Hamas remains steadfast in its pronouncements that it will not recognize Israel’s right to exist.

This attitude has resulted in the cessation of aid to the Palestinians. Demonstrations have begun in Gaza over Hamas’ inability to pay government salaries. Last week the Gaza Police staged a riot demanding months of back pay. The Palestinian government always paid salaries with aid supplied by Europe and the US. This aid stopped when Hamas was elected. The US has Hamas on the list of terrorist organizations. Sec. Rice hopes to reach some diplomatic agreement with Hamas on her upcoming visit.

The question does arise, however, what is the proper risk to take diplomatically and politically when dealing with a vicious cunning dictator like Nasrallah, or Achmanejad?
Some analysts have likened both men to the Nazis. The Iranian leader has said constantly that he has no intention of giving up his nuclear ambitions. Both the Iranian and Hezbollah leaders have said that they have no intention of giving up their goal of attacking and destroying Israel.

Arafat’s death did not create any large positive changes in the Palestinian-Israeli dialogue. Hamas continues to shell Israel from territory once held by the Israeli army. Yesterday two more Kassam rockets fell in Sderot, one landed near a home, but the residents were in Synagogue.

However there are men in history who are larger than life, who do not represent the will of the people, as much as influence that will. Who rule by tyranny and deceit, by fear and guile? Men with a charismatic personality who are able to sway public opinion with a grand gesture, a well-placed phrase, or a rousing speech. Men like Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Mao, Stalin or Hitler. The individuals who steers the course of history in a direction no one else could have.

Hitler was insane, but managed to convince his followers he had Destiny on his side. Tragedy followed in Hitler’s wake. Over fifty million people died because of his deranged thinking. Some were true believers, most sheep, many lead mercilessly to the slaughter.

But what would have happened if Stalin was killed in a farming accident when he was a teenager, or Mao shot while a young solder, or Hitler assassinated in 1928 before his maniacal policies took root. Madmen who ruled, and killed, and retarded progress.

Had Hitler not gotten as far as he did historians estimate there would be twenty million Jews in the world today, not 11. All those scientists, musicians, writers, poets, and artists who perished in the Holocaust would have lived to contribute to society and humanity. To progress.

Jewish men and women have won a disproportionate number of Nobel Prizes. Had Hitler not existed, how many more would there be today; how many other cures for cancer would be helping the sick; concerts warming the heart; books bringing wisdom and knowledge? Is there a time when a bullet is really the answer to stop a madman? Most agree Hitler should have been stopped earlier. Is now too late to stop the other Hitler’s? Maybe Faud Ben Eliezer is right. Get rid of Nasrallah and maybe his entire Reich will collapse. If not, who knows, maybe he will indeed become another Hitler, someday soon.

When is too early to do something, sometimes too late after all?