Yves Shefner in Israel at War 2006

Life in Haifa and north of Israel during the 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Day 15 - Are we at the front of a religious world-war?

July 26th, 2006. 23:18

I managed to catch up on some sleep this afternoon and woke up to watch a few of the really excellent Israeli news shows. They go into much more depth, intellectually and emotionally, than the major networks. I was really saddened to learn that we lost nine boys today in the heaviest day of fighting so far. Probably they are from the Golani brigade, Israel's elite fighting unit. Generally, they are among are best men. Many more soldiers were wounded.

Today over 150 missles were fired on the north - the most ever in spite of intense Israeli fire for two weeks. Somewhere between 10 and 20 fell in Haifa and suburbs. There are some injured, but no dead. We woke up this morning to promises by Nasrallah that he would fire missiles even south of Haifa. Iran's president Ahmedinejad told the press that this war was the beginning of the end for Israel. I started to worry (not very rationally) for Yarden. Chances are that missiles that can reach Tel Aviv from Lebanon will be shot down before they get there. They also have bunkers in Tel Aviv and will have more time to get there than we do in Haifa.

A lot of people are dismayed at how hard the battle on the ground is turning out to be, while others are wondering why our initial entry into southern Lebanon seems so tentative. Israel has overwhelming military force and manpower and yet is not using it. Instead of a few thousand, we could be sending in 50,000 or 250,000. Instead of just a couple of towns, we could be flushing all of southern Lebanon at once. It's not like the international community and the US will give us all the time we need.

I would like to give the IDF and the government the benefit of the doubt and say that they are building the model for attacking Hezbollah from their experience in Bint Jbeil. Normally, Israeli military strategy has been to strike very quickly and deeply into enemy territory, cutting communications, surrounding or passing towns and villages allong the way, but not occcupying them. The effect of this strategy, developed by Moshe Dayan in Israel's war of independence, is to cause panic and confusion in the enemy. However, what the IDF is doing now, is clearing out the territory of terrorists. Perhaps, it feels it needs to do this in order to clear the way for multinational peacekeeping troops to take over the buffer zone.

Channel 1, the state TV channel, had a forum of academics and retired generals discussing the situation and have thrown a whole new light on the war for me. At least concentrated the different diffuse lights into a much clearer one.

Critically, the whole world is watching us. In 2000, when Israel decided to unliaterlly withdraw, Hezbollah declared vitory as the only arab force to ever defeat Israel and liberate southern Lebanon. Iran is watching us very carefully now. Hezbollah only needs to hold on for a couple of weeks in order to declare another victory against us. This will be a tremendous recruiting draw, not only to Hezbollah but for a new and energized Jihad (Holy War) from the whole Islamic world. They will start flowing into Lebanon from all corners of the 52 muslim nations to liberate Jerusalem.

Iran and Syria are also watching very closely our resolve and success in fighting Hezbollah. Aside from the immediate rocket attacks which are threatening the north and the ones that are still continuing in the south (from Gaza). One retired general stated very clearly that Iran has declared defacto war on Israel (through their prozy Hezbollah) and, as its president has declared a few times, with the intention to wipe us off the map and we have no choice but to recognize this fact.

Unlike Hezbollah, Israel must clear out Hezbollah completely from the territory in order to declare a victory. From this point of view, Israel has no other choice but to win this war and do so very decisively. The problem, as we know from Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, is that such a war may be impossible to win.

Not reacting, or simlpy reacting mildly to the attack and kidnapping by Hezbollah is also not an option. Like appeasing Hitler, it would have the same dangerous consequences, emboldening and encourage Iran even further.

It is currently suspected by Israel that Nasrallah is commanding the war from a bunker in the basement of the Iranian embassy in Beirut. If we can confirm this with solid evidence, Israel will be sorely pressed to bomb the Iranian embassy in order to kill Nasrallah. Since an Embassy is considered to be the sovereign territory of the nation that operates it, it would be considered a direct attack on Iran itself. The generals feel that fighting Iran directly would give Israel the advantage by making use of Israel's superior traditional military force. This would open a third front (Gaza is the second) with Syria and Iran, a powerfull enemy with a huge arsenal of more powerful and more accurate long-range Scud missiles.

This point of view is a very dangerous one - but hard to ignore if you remember that in our enemies' eyes, we have no right to be here at all. Israel is at risk of finding itself at the very front of a religious world-war fighting for its very existence and as a proxy for the US and perhaps the rest of the west if they ever wake up to the truth of religious extremism. Religious wars are the worst and bloodiest kind, and must be avoided at all costs.

The US, being mired in Iraq and Afghanistan have emboldened Iran and Syria - they know that if Israel decides to attack them, we are going it alone. They have been accused of wanting Israel to fight their war with Iran, but given their economic interests and reliance on foreign oil, of which Iran is a major producer, I really believe they want this fight to be limited to Lebanon only. They could also lose some valuable allies.

What about our partners in peace Jordan and Egypt? I know they blame Hezbollah for this and now doubt believe Iran is behind it all. Egyptian and Jordanian media report having been caught off-guard with this war and have not known how to frame it and what vocabulary to use. They are taking the official line which is not to call it a war. The main stations like Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya have incensed many of their viewers by putting Israeli politicians on the air, even though one interviewr said it was hard for him to resist the temptation to "scream, "sut up you liar!" :-) Nasrallah, has asked the leaders of the rest of the Muslim world to simply stay out of the battle and not fight them. They are in a very difficult position. They have their own extremist elements to fight in their own countries and need to walk a fine line between them and their own secular intersts. A war with Iran and its rhetoric could seriously destabilize them, risking that they too could fall into chaos or radical muslim control.

The Palestinians are watching and learning too. Nasrallah has grown to be very popular among the Palestinians. They are waving flags and holding demonstration in support of Hezbollah. At the beginning of the conflict, seeing the strength of Israeli repraisal for the kidnapping, they started coming up with proposals for releasing the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, that they captured. Now that we are having a tough time, those moderate tones have stopped. Hamas already received support and training fom Hezbollah, and has found itself in Palestinian government, much like Hezbollah. The success of Hezbollah would push them even further towards the unholy Shia Hezbollah/Syria/Iran alliance.

On the other hand, Yossi Beilin, leader of our leftist pacifist wing, was on hand to sensibly remind us that what Israel is fighting for, will eventually be the best negotiated settlement we can get and that unliateral pull-out, without negotiation - whether from Lebanon or Gaz - is a mistake. But he always says that. When you don't have a partner in peace, everything you do, whether pulling out or staying, is unilateral. On the other hand, the Israeli generals, while I would never characterize as war-hungry, nevertheless see solutions in terms of military victories.

It's hard, in the midst of battle, to re-frame one's political point of view. Beilin has always been the voice of moderation and compromise. The problem is there is no one who wants to sit down and compromise with us. Another problem, is that sitting down with Hezbollah, would be another victory for them, giving them even more legitimacy and power. It's like quicksand, if you step in it you sink, if you struggle, you sink faster. The only thing that can save you is a branch or vine to hang on to - and in this situation, it means changing the rules of engagement and taking a whole new approach in order to avoid the forces that really do see their fate in a religious world war. It means a concerted effort on the part of the rest of the world in order to win the hearts and minds of the muslim world. Besides all-out global religious war, that really is the only solution.

Shalom,

Yves

1 Comments:

At 27 July, 2006 05:28, Blogger metz said...

I am no great thinker when it comes to complex political and religous issues but I am pretty convinced that no external power can effectively "win hearts and minds." I do agree with the US's underlying strategic premise that increased globalization - specifically access to mass media, the internet, forgiegn travel, and such - will eventually lead to a "freer" democratic, secular society but getting there (as they are learning from Iraq and other Middle East exposures) is not a walk in the park.

Unfortunately, a significant number of current "societies" are determined to stop any form of globalization. Some - like China - do so for political reasons and others (mostly but not exclusively Islamic) for religous reasons. Egypt and Lebenon seem to be almost opposite outcomes of this globalization pressure, with Egypt retaining (albeit strained at times) a national identity which tolerates religious and cultural diversity in order to progress in the modern (globalized) world and Lebenon - in essence - dividing itself up into several Lebenons - each with its own goals and asperations, only some of which embrace the modern world.

All that thinking on my part - right or wrong - has led me to beleive that it is only the majority of the Islamic world community who can step up to the challenge of how to reconcile the effects of globalization and it's inherent influences (both good and bad) on their members. No external force can convince Hamas or Hezbollah that the UN had the right or power on 29th November 1947 to create a plan for the partition of Palestine, let alone any subsequent action by any party thereafter. So, in answer to your question, I'd say "Yes" until such time as the Islamic community takes action to "win hearts and minds" to join the modern world, and de-fang their fundamentalist sectors who wish to retain their view of the world as it was in the Middle Ages.

 

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