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Jewish World Review
August 16, 2006
/ 22 Menachem-Av, 5766
Broken hearted, Israel awaits final reckoning
Yossi Klein Halevi
Jewish State's disasters self-inflicted and otherwise
However hard Ehud Olmert tries to spin it, the U.N. ceasefire is a disaster for Israel and for the war on terrorism generally. With an unprecedented green light from Washington to do whatever necessary to uproot the Iranian front line against Israel, and with a level of national unity and willingness to sacrifice unseen here since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, our leaders squandered weeks restraining the army and fighting a pretend war. Only in the two days before the ceasefire was the army finally given the go-ahead to fight a real war.
But, by then, the U.N. resolution had codified the terms of Israel's defeat. The resolution doesn't require the immediate return of our kidnapped soldiers, but does urgently place the Shebaa Farms on the international agenda as if the Lebanese jihadists fired some 4,000 rockets at the Israeli homefront over the fate of a bare mountain that the United Nations concluded in 1967 belonged not to Lebanon but Syria. Worst of all, it once again entrusts the security of Israel's northern border to the inept unifil. As one outraged TV anchor put it, Israeli towns were exposed to the worst attacks since the nation's founding, a million residents of the Galilee fled or sat in shelters for a month, more than 150 Israeli civilians and soldiers were killed along with nearly a thousand Lebanese all in order to ensure the return of U.N. peacekeepers to southern Lebanon.
This is a nation whose heart has been broken: by our failure to uproot the jihadist threat, which will return for another and far more deadly round; by the economic devastation of the Galilee and of a neighboring land we didn't want to attack; by the heroism of our soldiers and the hesitations of our politicians; by the young men buried and crippled in a war we prevented ourselves from winning; by foreign journalists who can't tell the difference between good and evil; by European leaders who equate an army that tries to avoid civilian causalities with a terrorist group that revels in them; by a United Nations that questions Israel's right to defend itself; and by growing voices on the left who question Israel's right to exist at all.
At least some of the disasters of the past weeks were self-inflicted. We forfeited the public relations battle that was, in part, Israel's to lose. How is it possible that we failed to explain the justness of a war fought against a genocidal enemy who attacked us across our U.N.-sanctioned international border? It's hard to remember now, but we began this war with the sympathy of a large part of the international community. Some Arab leaders, for the first time in the history of the Middle East conflict, actually blamed other Arabs for initiating hostilities with Israel. That response came when Israel seemed determined to defeat Hezbollah; but, as the weeks dragged on and Hezbollah appeared to be winning, moderate Arabs adjusted accordingly. They didn't switch sides because we were fighting too assertively but because we weren't fighting assertively enough.
Even before the shooting stopped, the reckoning here had already begun. There are widespread expectations of dismissals for senior military commanders who when finally given the chance to end the Hezbollah threat they had been warning about for almost 25 years couldn't implement a creative battle plan. But demands for accountability won't be confined to the army alone. Journalist Ari Shavit, who has taken on something of the role of Motti Ashkenazi the reservist soldier who led the movement to bring down the government of Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan after the Yom Kippur War wrote a front-page article in Haaretz calling for Olmert's resignation. And that is only the opening shot. Even Maariv's Ben Caspit, one of Israel's most pro-Olmert journalists, published an imaginary Olmert speech of apology to the nation. A cartoon in Maariv showed Olmert as a boy playing with a yo-yo inscribed with israel defense forces. None of Israel's wars was ever fought with greater micromanagement by a government, and no government was ever less qualified to manage a war as this one. Just as the post-Yom Kippur War period destroyed military and political careers and eventually led to the collapse of the Labor Party's hegemony, so will the post-Lebanon period end careers and perhaps even the short-lived Kadima Party experiment.
A long list of reckonings awaits the Israeli public. There's the scandal of the government's abandonment of tens of thousands of poor Israelis who lacked the means to escape the north and were confined for weeks in public shelters, their needs largely tended to by volunteers. There's the growing bitterness between Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis, many of whom supported Hezbollah in a war most Jews saw as an existential attack on the state. And there's the emergency need to resurrect the military reserves, which have been so neglected that a majority of men over 21 don't even serve anymore and those that do tend to feel like suckers.
Still, in the Jewish calendar, the summer weeks after the fast of the Ninth of Av, commemorating the destruction of the Temple, are a time of consolation. "Be consoled, be consoled, my people," we read from the Torah on the Sabbath after the fast. And so we console ourselves with the substantial achievements of the people of Israel during this month of war. First, our undiminished capacity for unity. My favorite symbol of that unity is the antiwar rapper, Muki, whose hit song during the era of Palestinian suicide bombings lamented the absence of justice for the Palestinians but who, this time, insisted that the army needs to "finish the job" against Hezbollah. Second, our middle-class children, with their cell phones, iPods, and pizza deliveries to their army bases. In intimate combat, they repeatedly bested Hezbollah fighters, even though the terrorists had the advantage of familiar terrain. This generation has given us some of Israel's most powerful images of heroism, like the soldier from a West Bank settlement and father of two young children who leaped onto a grenade to save his friends, shouting the Shema the prayer of God's oneness just before the grenade exploded. Along with the recriminations, there will be many medals of valor awarded in the coming weeks.
But the last month's fighting is only one battle in the jihadist war against Israel's homefront that began with the second intifada in September 2000. Israel won the first phase of that war, the four years of suicide bombings that lasted until 2004. Now, in the second phase, we've lost the battle against the rockets. But the qualities this heartbreak has revealed unity and sacrifice and faith in the justness of our cause will ensure our eventual victory in the next, inevitable, bitter round. Such is the nature of consolation in Israel in the summer of 2006.
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JWR contributor Yossi Klein Halevi is a foreign correspondent for The New Republic, where this appears, and senior fellow of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. Comment by clicking here.
© 2006, The New Republic