Thursday, July 03, 2008

A Knife To A Gunfight

On Wednesday three people were killed and scores wounded when Hussam Duwiyat, 30, from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Zur Baher, stole a huge tractor from the construction site where he was working and drove it into a bus and a number of cars on busy Jaffa Road in downtown Jerusalem, just past the teeming Machne Yehuda outdoor produce market..

An 20-year old soldier on leave from basic training along with a security guard from a nearby building jumped on the tractor. The security guard wrestled with the wheel piling the tractor up on a cement construction barricade, while the soldier took the guards pistol and fired three shots into Duwiyat’s head. A policeman then jumped on the tractor and fired more shots into Duwiyat. Within minutes the event was over, and Duwiyat was slumped dead in the tractor’s cabin.

Later Duwiyat’s family set up a mourner’s tent, but was told to take it down by the Border Police. PM Olmert called on the police to destroy Duwiyat’s home. TV interviews with the family and neighbors showed dismay and confusion on the faces of those interviewed.

The press continued to call Duwiyat a terrorist, but more evidence came in to contradict this claim. Duwiyat was the father of small children, and had been married to a Jewish woman. He had a police record as a rapist and a drug addict. This wasn’t the profile of a terrorist.

A few minutes before the event Diwouat was eating and joking with his fellow workers during a lunch break. One observer said that a driver had probably upset Duwiyat who lost his temper and went on a rampage in a horrendous example of simple road rage.

Pundits said it was unlikely Duwiyat was a terrorist. “Why chose the middle of the day to carry out the attack, and then have an employee in the middle of his shift do the deed?” one asked “He was mad about something,” another observer said. “He wasn’t a terrorist.”

Police investigating the matter showed no connection between Duwiyat and any Palestinian terror organizations. Later questions came in if lethal force was necessary, since the tractor was already nearly immobilized. But in anything that looks like a terrorist attack, it was an open question how far the man planned to go, or if he had other weapons at his disposal. Termination is the simplest way, said a security official.

Meanwhile, the saber rattling continues. Israel’s ex-Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz, now a cabinet minister in the government, has called on Israel to attack Iran before it is too late. An ABC-TV report showed over 100 Israeli jets in the skies over Turkey on a military exercise. Later an official Israeli source was quoted as saying the exercise was meant to test the fundamentals of a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

But other military analysts have warned that such a strike could have dire consequences. A US official said if Israel attacked Iran it would cause havoc in the region. Other Arab countries were expected to respond to the attack, even though many were not enamored with Iran or the behavior of her leaders.

One expert said such talk might encourage Iran to strike first at Israel, tossing the entire military establishment into a panic, confusing the plans for an attack, or counter-attack.
Should Iran use its long-range missiles against Israel the damage could be horrendous.

On the heels of this analysis came a speech this week by Major General (res.) Eitan Ben Eliahu, former head of the Israeli Air force from 1996 to 2,000. Ben Eiahu was speaking to the prestigious Israel Missile Defense Association. A number of highly respected former defense officials were in the audience.

Ben-Eliahu said that the old model of how Israel goes to war has had to change. In the 1950’s the concept was a preemptive strike to disrupt the enemy’s war preparations, and then a holding action until Israel achieves superiority in the air. Then a breakthrough in order to establish final lines of battle and the defeat of the enemy.

According to Ben-Eliahu, preparations for that 1950’s scenario cost the government $30 billion. However times have changed. In the (1968-1970) War of Attrition Israel lost 100 planes due to improved Arab capabilities. They’d learned how to defend against a surprise air attack, by hiding their planes underground, and using new Russian supplied anti-aircraft missiles. Because of this Israel lost 100 planes during the War of Attrition, and 277 in the Yom Kippur war, and 99 in the first Lebanon war.

The defence budget jumped up to between $35-$40 billion. Now Israel had to deal with Scud missiles. 40 were launched from Iraq during the 1991 attacks on Israel. But the threat increased in scope and danger. Now, says Ben-Eliahu, Israel has to prepare for strikes against the home front, a short warning time between the outbreak of a war and the establishment of a front, longer fighting times, and most significantly, non-conventional and nuclear weapons.

The new estimated costs to prepare for the defense of Israel are about $50 billion. Israel has to prepare for a war against Iran, Syria, Lebanon and the terrorist entities in Lebanon and Gaza. According to Ben-Eliahu Israel will have to fight on three fronts, be able to crush the enemy on one front; and to absorb and deal out punishment from long-range rockets.

In the chilling assessment Ben-Eliahu said that Israel must prepare for a war that will last for up to three-weeks. Syria and Iran, he says, might launch between 250 and 300 long-range missiles at Israel (the Shihabs and Scuds) and another 5,000 short-range missiles, mostly from Lebanon.

Israel will need at least 700 anti-missile missiles, and be ready to use ground forces to take out the short-range missiles. Ground forces must also be used, he said, if Syria enters the fray. This after a concerted aerial attack to destroy their military infrastructure. Israel will also have to go into Gaza to neutralize the rockets fired from there by Palestinian terror groups.

In the South Israel must develop more shelters for civilians and better early warning systems. But Ben Eliahu warned that above all Israel must develop methods to confront the chemical and nuclear threat.

Not exactly a cheery analysis.

This coupled with the warning that Iran might launch their own pre-emptive strike based on an assumption Israel is about to attack.

One Israeli military analyst said that if Israel is to strike, it will take place before the next U.S. President is sworn in. Some believe this is bad for Israel since Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has already shown himself to lack sufficient military experience to win a war, even with ex-Chief of Staff Ehud Barak as his Minister of Defense.

Many Israeli experts expect Barak Obama to be the next U.S. President. A recent poll in Israel showed that most Israelis don’t expect Obama to back Israel when the chips are down.

One thing is certain. If Bush gives Israel a nod, or a prod, to hit Iran, neither Israel, nor the Middle East, might ever be the same. The question is, though, even if Israel doesn’t strike first, won’t the Iranians, sooner or later, hit Israel, causing the same chain reaction as if Israel had struck first.

Iran is not without her weapons in a battle against Israel, and not all are in the sky or on the battlefield. Iran has also threatened to close the Straits of Hormuz should Israel attack, cutting off the flow of oil to the West, causing the price of gasoline to skyrocket.

But Israeli leaders like President Shimon Peres have been warning about Iran for years, even before the bombing on the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires in the 1980’s. Iran, Israeli intelligence officials believe, was behind that event.

If Israel does nothing Iran is expected to strike, if Israel strikes first, Iran is expected to strike back. In either case, unless Barak Obama is as good at persuading the Iranians and other radical Arabs to put down their weapons and accept Israel as he is swaying the Democratic and, he hopes, the American voters, then perhaps there is a chance.

Or perhaps planning to talk these people into peace is really no more than bringing a knife to a gunfight. A gunfight where the weapons are already drawn, hammer’s cocked, ready to fire.