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Jewish World Review June 11, 2002 / 1 Tamuz, 5762

The Palestinian pyrrhic loss of 2002

By Rabbi Hillel Goldberg

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Who won the last battle in the Israel-Palestine war?
Thomas Friedman of the New York Times thinks it was a draw. Palestinians proved they could rattle Israel; Israel proved they couldn't get away with it.

Sounds like a reasonable analysis -- until you study a little history and realize that the question -- who won? -- is the wrong question.

It reveals an ignorance of history.

It diverts us from a longstanding pattern in the Arab-Zionist conflict. Arabs have been adding up their wins against the Jews ever since the beginning of the conflict in the 1880s. With all these wins, the Arabs have scored not Pyrrhic victories.

They have scored Pyrrhic losses.

A Pyrrhic victory is when you win, but the price is so high that you lost.

What I am calling a Pyrrhic loss is this: You lose, but the delusional spin you place on the loss is so positive you think you won.

With a Pyrrhic victory, you re-think. Maybe all the deaths weren't worth it. Maybe conflict shouldn't be an option. With a Pyrrhic victory, you are sobered.

With a Pyrrhic loss, you are the furthest thing from sobered. You get an emotional high. You do not re-think at all. You convince yourself that your victory was so big that you go back for more -- more punishment.

Or, you convince yourself that you really weren't punished; or, if you were, it was all the other side's fault. Pyrrhic loss excludes rational analysis of causality; it excludes self-reflection generally. It tends to the hysterical.

This is a basic pattern in the Israel-Zionist conflict. It goes back long before the State of Israel to the first modern immigration of Jews to the holy land.

They are deadly, these Pyrrhic Arab losses. Because Arabs rarely re-think their conflict with the Zionists, pyrrhic losses multiply. Wars multiply. Terrorism multiplies.

Example: Egypt's response to its defeat by Israel in the 1956 Sinai campaign.

Why was there war? Israel could no longer tolerate Egyptian terrorist murders of Israeli citizens. We have forgotten this, but Egypt was once the largest exporter of terrorism in the Middle East. To put a stop to it, Israel went to war in 1956 and conquered the entire Sinai Peninsula. Israel utterly defeated the Egyptian Army.

You'd never know this by reading the Egyptian statements at the time (see "Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East" by Michael B. Oren, just released by Oxford). Egypt's fairyland interpretation of her condition added up to a big Pyrrhic loss. Egypt believed she won, and not only that. Her "victory" proved that Egypt should and could destroy Israel altogether.

No sober re-thinking here. No facing reality. No consideration that maybe Israel is here to stay and maybe Egypt should make peace. No, nothing loomed in Egyptian eyes but the next "victory."

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Here follows the full, 1956 context -- it's needed for understanding the pattern of Arab delusion and the outcome of the recent Israeli incursions into Palestinians cities:

In 1956, France and Britain were harmed by Egypt's nationalization of the Suez Canal. The US, under Eisenhower, refused to use or sanction the use of force to re-open the canal. France contacted Britain and Israel (which suffered from Egyptian terrorism); together they hatched their own plan.

Moshe Dayan's military tactics against Egypt were so successful that Egypt didn't even put up a fight. It retreated and ran. In the end, with British and French action, three-quarters of the Suez Canal was reoccupied.

The war proved unpopular with the US, who pressured all three countries to withdraw, which they did. What, however, were the actual, enduring results of the war?

1. Israel gained unrestricted access to the canal.

2. All talk of Egypt recognizing Israel in exchange for large parts of Israeli territory ceased. "Land for peace" was not a post-1967, post-Six Day War invention. It began the minute the armistice agreements of 1949 were signed. Under those agreements, Israel had the Negev. Israel wasn't supposed to receive the Negev under the 1947 UN partition plan. Israel conquered the Negev in her ensuing War of Independence because Egypt attacked Israel and lost. Egypt thought this meant Israel had to give back the Negev!

Observe: When people today, even the most liberal Jews and Arabs, advocate "land for peace," they do not include the Negev. The most fervent peacenik today speaks only of Israel returning to her pre-1967 borders, i.e., the armistice lines under which Israel took control of the Negev.

So here's the Arab Pyrrhic loss of 1956: By refusing to recognize Israel and then sending terrorists into Israel, Egypt eventually lost a major part of her territorial designs on Israel.

Delusion is the other reason why Egypt's loss was "Pyrrhic":

1. Egypt convinced herself that she never lost. Dayan never defeated the Egyptian army . . . it merely exercised a strategic retreat! Egypt actually won. (Never mind that reality was just the opposite.)

2. Egypt defeated the imperialists, Britain and France. (Never mind that the "imperialists" reopened the canal, even to Israeli shipping.)

Because of these Egyptian delusions, it set about to plan the next war. If it won the present war (1956), imagine how big the victory in the next one would be! In what became the Six Day War of 1967, Nasser would drive Israel into the sea. (Never mind that Nasser lost his entire air force and army in two days and the entire Sinai Peninsula, including its oil fields and Gaza Strip.)

So who won the last battle in the Israel-Palestine war?

It's the wrong question because there is no reality of "loss" in the Palestinian Arab vocabulary. Each war is merely the delusional ground for the next battle.

With enough space, I could trace this pattern throughout the Zionist-Arab conflict from its very beginning. But with the 1956 Sinai Campaign as one paradigmatic example, let us sketch the pattern in 2002.

With the Israeli incursions into Palestinian cities after the Passover Massacre, the reality is that the Palestinians lost most of their terrorist capacity. But not in the Palestinian mind. It says: We won. We showed we can destroy Israel with suicide bombings. And we will win the next victory too -- we will force Israel to her knees because of her massacre in the Jenin refugee camp.

The facts say: There was no Palestinian win (damage yes, win no). And there was no massacre in Jenin. Just as in 1956, there was only this: the reality of loss versus the delusion of victory. The reality was that in 1956 Dayan defeated Egypt, but Egypt took this as a mere stage for the next "victory" (the even bigger loss of 1967). Loss vs. delusion: the pattern repeats itself in 2002. Israel severely damaged the Palestinian terrorist capacity, but Palestinians take this as a mere stage for a bigger victory next time.

With each Arab attempt to destroy Israel, and with each Israeli defeat of the attempt, Arabs do not rethink, do not say: Maybe, just maybe, the time has come to accept a Jewish presence in the Middle East. (I say, accept a Jewish presence rather than accept Israel, because long before the creation of Israel in 1948 the Arabs' delusional rejection of the Jewish presence in the holy land -- past as well as present -- was the same.)

So when we ask, "Who won the latest battle in the Israel-Palestinian conflict?" we need to define terms. Politics and military aren't the relevant terms. On that level, Israel won a lot militarily and lost a lot politically; the Palestinians lost a lot militarily and won a lot politically -- the same pattern as in 1956.

But these aren't the real terms. By the real terms, the Palestinians lost, period.

In two senses:

1. Delusion still rules their analysis. By continuing to refuse to accept Israel, Palestinians guarantee more battles -- more blood -- the greatest proportion of which is Arab blood.

2. By refusing to accept Israel with their latest resort to violence, Palestinians again damaged their territorial ambitions. Just as the 1956 war killed an Israeli "return of the Negev," the 2002 violence killed the possibility of a Palestinian state free of the threat of invasion.

Before the recent Israeli incursions, it was still possible to dream of "two states living in peace side by side." This is no longer anyone's expectation -- not that of the Israeli right or left, not that of Europe, the US or the Arab world. Now, the best that Palestinians can hope for is an independent state with an Israeli army poised to invade at the first sign of Palestinian terrorism.

That's the consequence of the delusion -- the Palestinian "Pyrrhic loss" -- of post-Passover, 2002.

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JWR contributor Rabbi Hillel Goldberg is Executive Editor of the Intermountain Jewish News. Comment by clicking here.

© 2002, Rabbi Hillel Goldberg