THREE weeks after the cease-fire, the political
situation in Israel may be described as one of imminent collapse.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, and Army
Chief of Staff Dan Halutz have fallen to the depths in public
opinion. A full 63% of the people think Olmert ought to resign; 74%
want Peretz's head, 54% Halutz's.
live today with a sense of failure. They search for the source of
the "lapse" (mekhdal)
– a term much used to describe the disaster of October 1973 (the
"Yom Kippur War"). A protest movement of reservists has arisen,
divided between those who demand a State Commission of Inquiry and
those who call for the resignation of the "trio": Olmert, Peretz,
Halutz. The movement is not, at this stage, political. It may easily
fall into the hands of the Right, or it may disappear.
confusion, it is well to check where the real lapse lay.
commentators, here and abroad, have maintained that the war was
planned. Perhaps they mean that Israel had a contingency plan for a
future war with Hezbollah. That is likely. But the war began as a
response to a provocation, and it did not proceed in the manner of a
calculated initiative. Israel reasoned that Hassan Nasrallah, leader
of Hezbollah, had broken the rules, and it wanted to exploit his
mistake in order to impose new ones. If the Lebanese army and
international forces do indeed take control of southern Lebanon, as
ordained by Security Council Resolution 1701, then it can claim to
have achieved this goal.
saw himself as the new Saladin. He had often boasted to the Arab
states that they don't understand Israel – that they fear it
needlessly, because the Israel of today is not that of forty years
ago. As he put it in a long interview for Lebanese TV on August 27,
neither he nor his advisers ever imagined that the July 12 action
would lead to war. Yet once war began, he again broke the rules by
unleashing some 4000 rockets.
made military decisions as if he were a state, but he is not.
He stored weapons in Lebanon, then embroiled it in war,
without authorization by the Lebanese people and without
accountability to anyone. (No one calls on him to resign.) He
exploited the prerogatives of statehood while avoiding its
responsibilities. As guerrillas, he and his colleagues hid from
Israel. But heads of state like Bashar Assad or Fuad Siniora do not
have the luxury of hiding: they must answer to the world for their
countries' actions. By hijacking Lebanon, Nasrallah managed to rouse
the ire of both the Arab leaders and the West.
also compromised its suppliers. Every rocket that was launched,
especially those that struck deep into Israel, cast a shadow
toward Iran and Syria. What responsible nation gives high-grade
weaponry to an organization that is not a nation and that is
accountable to no one? Consider Iran, in particular. The US is
seeking to curb its nuclear ambitions by imposing sanctions through
the UN, and here Iran is caught supplying weapons to Hezbollah! The
Americans can now ask in the Security Council: How can a nation that
supplies guerrillas be permitted to make the Bomb? Danny Rubenstein
(Haaretz August 31) points out that Iran also financed
Hezbollah's huge underground bunker complex in southern Lebanon. All
this expenditure was not undertaken for the sake of capturing two
soldiers. He speculates that it was part of an overall plan for
reprisal against Israel, in case the US were to attack Iran. By
using these resources prematurely, Nasrallah exposed and compromised
the Iranian strategy.
has managed to shape, for the first time, an
Israeli-American-Arab-European front. We note another "first," by
the way: Israel has invited Europe to take part in implementing the
cease-fire agreement. Until now it had confined itself to bilateral
relations with the US. The change is further evidence, if any were
needed, of the decline in American influence.
IF THERE is a State Commission of Inquiry, it will
quickly discover that the essential problem was not military. The
army never planned to defeat Hezbollah on the battlefield. In
Yediot Aharonot (August 25, 2006), pundits Nahum Barnea and
Shimon Schiffer invented a defense that Chief of Staff Halutz could
reasonably make before the Commission. In the spirit of Clausewitz
("War is the continuation of politics by other means"), their Halutz
explains that the army was merely a means for getting the
international community to establish a new order in Lebanon. They
have him say, for example: "I figured that we had to hit the
Lebanese infrastructure. If two big power stations went up in smoke,
the French would hasten to Beirut. The international community would
Schiffer present their Halutz as cool, calm and careful about
definition of goals: "I objected to defining our goal as the return
of the kidnapped soldiers. One must not set a goal one cannot
achieve. Instead, we defined the objective as the creation of
conditions for return of the soldiers. We spoke of weakening
Hezbollah, not eliminating it, not disbanding it, not stamping it
out. These words were used by government ministers, not by the
the real one now – believed air power would suffice to accomplish
these vague and limited goals. There was no intention of conquering
Lebanon. The tardy use of ground forces, among which most of the
army's losses occurred, was merely intended as a catalyst to spur
the international community into doing what it in fact did.
this is so, there was no "big failure." Why then is the country
under a cloud?
there was a big failure. Israel's deep weakness was exposed.
A country that has aroused great hatred among its neighbors for
decades can hardly afford, it thinks, to have its weakness exposed.
It needs "power of deterrence." But deterrence requires more than
perceptible destructive force; it also requires perceptible
willingness to use it. Israel proved itself willing to use part
of its destructive force: it bombed like mad. As the weeks went
on, however, and the rockets kept falling on Galilee, there was no
perceptible effect on Hezbollah's ability to disrupt Israeli life.
Clearly air power would not suffice.
Israel stuck to the air, the more evident was its weakness.
Helicopters and jets could kill while keeping above harm's way, but
forces on the ground would be another story. With this appeared the
great soft underbelly of Israel's army: its fear of battlefield
losses. Ground forces, this vital part of its destructive force, it
was not willing to use. And when finally it made a show of
use, as a ploy, in a manner ill planned and worse executed, the
Emperor turned out to be scantily dressed indeed.
then, that Israelis are under a cloud. In their reluctance to risk
death, they proved incapable of stopping a small guerrilla
organization that instills the virtues of martyrdom. In this
dangerous neighborhood, that does not look good.
reluctance to risk death derives from an irreversible breakdown in
the Israeli Jewish collective. Into this the Commission will not
inquire. To it we now turn.
ISRAELI society has undergone a major change in
certain key values. It has moved from Zionism to what is called
post-Zionism. The establishment of a Jewish state was formerly the
first priority. That is, the Jewish collective came first. This is
no longer the case. Today, individual self-realization is first.
trace the breakdown of the collective, in part, to the poisonous
victory of 1967, which eventually polarized the society. But we
would also stress the Economic Stabilization Plan of 1985. Before
this Israel had been, for Jews at least, a more or less egalitarian
state. In the 1950's, the uppermost fifth earned three times more
than the lowermost. Today, as a result of measures adopted in the
Plan, the uppermost fifth earns 21 times more. Where gaps are so
big, one cannot expect solidarity.
the economy, publicly owned companies were sold to private investors
(often for much less than their worth). Organized labor was washed
overboard by personal contracts, personnel companies and migrant
workers. Protective tariffs were reduced or eliminated.
Labor-intensive industries were ushered out to the third world,
while high-tech was ushered in. Israel, in short, was chained to the
global economy. (For more on this topic, see
98, "The Breaking of Organized Labor in Israel.")
is epitomized in the kibbutz as an institution. Strictly speaking,
hardly any kibbutzim remain. Most have been privatized. People earn
different salaries in various enterprises carved out of the original
kibbutz. A kibbutz high-school teacher, Rina Barkai, sees no decline
among kibbutzniks in willingness to serve, but notes a drop in the
willingness to take on command roles and enter the career army. "The
reason is the feeling that a person's self-actualization does not
have to take place within military service." (In Ya'ir Sheleg, "The
Bereavement Map has Changed," Haaretz August 27, 2006.)
of direction was not publicized. In 1985, no leader stood up and
announced, "Friends, until now the principles that guided us were
the sanctity of the army and social solidarity. You were first a
soldier and then a citizen. As of today, you are first a citizen and
afterwards a soldier." But this change is behind the fact that
Israel has lost its battlefield deterrence.
It is also
why the decision to call up the reserves took so long. When many
reservists, officers and plain soldiers alike, are self-realizing at
the rate of 15,000 NIS monthly (ca. $3500), or even more, the state
cannot afford to compensate them for time spent in the army.
Moreover, the motivation to leave their lucrative work for the
battlefield is minimal. Today, when an Israeli youth seeks
employment in a commercial company and the interviewer asks if he's
in the reserves, he finds himself in the awkward position of a
mother asked if she has children to care for: a positive reply may
cost him the job.
also much talk about the scarcity of Tel Avivians among the troops
in Lebanon. Tel Aviv is known as a "bubble," supposedly oblivious to
the "hard realities" faced by the rest of Israel. According to Dr.
Yagil Levy, an expert on the country's "map" of bereavement, Tel
Aviv merely symbolizes the processes that mainstream Israeli society
is undergoing. In the first Lebanon War (1982), half the fatalities
were secular Ashkenazis (Jews of European descent). In this new war
their proportion has dwindled to a quarter, while that of Mizrahis
(Jews of Middle Eastern and African descent), Soviet immigrants and
Ethiopian immigrants has risen. (In Sheleg, op. cit., Haaretz
have other things to do than create a state. If after fifty years
they still have to expend their lives in doing so, with no end in
sight, they may begin to wonder – with Meron Benvenisti in this
issue – whether the enterprise is worth it.
exposes a society's character, and this society has now been exposed
in its nakedness. There was the government's failure to take care of
its citizens in the north (not a little reminiscent of the US
government's failure during Hurricane Katrina). Should we have been
surprised? If Israel deserts its poor during peacetime, will it not
do the same in war? The well-to-do northerners fled. The poor
awaited the rockets in ill-equipped shelters, when they had them.
Most of the "rescue forces" were sent by philanthropists, who
financed part of the evacuation to hotels and campgrounds in securer
places. Any illusion that the state would care for the weak went up
with the smoke of the Katyushas.
locate the nub of the lapse on the occasion, soon after March
elections, when Peretz asked Olmert for the Finance Ministry. Olmert
replied, "I'll give you Defense." Why? Because in the Israel of
2006, the Finance Ministry is more important. Almost every IDF
general or Shin Bet officer is connected to some capitalist who,
after the officer has doffed his uniform, will appoint him as a CEO.
It was no great shock to learn, therefore, that on July 12, in the
fateful hours between the capture of the soldiers and the decision
to bomb Beirut, Army Chief Dan Halutz found time to sell
lapse, then, is a function of the fact that Israel is caught
between two worlds. Still guided by the Zionist model, it
refuses to resolve the conflicts with its neighbors. But guided by
post-Zionism, it refuses to maintain the welfare state, which aimed
for the kind of Jewish solidarity that was needed to wage those
wishful thinking here during recent years has been that the era of
warfare is over and that now we can indulge in unilateral solutions:
the withdrawal from Lebanon (2000), the disengagement from Gaza
(2005), and the "convergence" or "realignment" that did not and will
not take place in the West Bank in 2006. But unilateralism labors
beneath the false assumption that the active side can live in
affluence while the passive sinks into poverty. A real Investigative
Commission should ask why the State of Israel, and the West in
general, encourages the Arab world to remain economically backward.
Why do they cheer for the dictators of Egypt and Saudi Arabia? And
for the moguls of Lebanon, including Fuad Siniora? These corrupt
regimes, by cultivating gaps, create a hothouse for groups such as
Hezbollah. Even if the Lebanese army and the international forces
manage to restrain the latter, the problems that nourish it will
a single ray of light from this war, it is that it has sharpened the
alternatives before which Israel stands. Unilateral solutions, based
on military superiority, are no longer viable. In the end, the
country will have to decide on a direction. A peace treaty with
Syria and Lebanon will not solve the conflict at its root. The
question of questions, on which Israel has stumbled time and again,
remains that of the Palestinians. Nor is this just a matter of
occupied territory. It is a matter of long-term economic occupation
and the effects thereof. The per capita GDP in Israel today is
$24,600. In the West Bank it is $1000, in Gaza $600.
it is $3900, in Jordan $4700. These countries are nominally at peace
with Israel, but their populations have become increasingly hostile
to it and the West. A lasting solution can hardly be expected from
within the Middle East, which swings between corrupt
dictators and religious fundamentalism. As long as the gaps remain
so large, no peace can hold. A solution depends on the demise of the
global system that maintains these gaps and its replacement by a
system that can vanquish them.