Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Will the Cease Fire Hold? The US Role

The United States, as an editorial in Lebanon’s Daily Star infers, has little, if any concern for the welfare of the Lebanese. It permitted Israel to pursue its devastation of Lebanon at will and only bowed to international pressure for a cease-fire, when it was clear that continuing the war would enhance Hizbullah stature in the Middle East. Moreover, the US condones Israel’s continued sea and air blockade of Lebanon and other violations of the cease-fire. So no one in the Middle East believes the US is committed to the cease-fire any longer than it serves its tactical interests.

These interests are to block the expansion of Iranian influence and Hizbollah power in Lebanon. Their realization would give the US some traction in its struggles with pan-Islamists and Iran. However in pursuing them too aggressively, the US can damage the UNIFIL mission. It wants UNIFIL’s primary goals to be disarming Hizbullah and blocking arms shipments to it across the Syrian border. These are not specified goals for UNIFIL, under Resolution 1701. The Israelis excepted, nobody else wants to discuss them explicitly now. First, UNIFIL needs to deploy in strength and establish good working relations with the Lebanese government and army. But the Bush administration, desperate for a foreign policy achievement before the November elections, may not have the patience for that. It might loudly call for aggressive action by UNIFIL and submit a resolution to the UN Security Council saying so. Such a resolution would go nowhere, but the noise could help energize Bush’s anti-UN base to get out the vote. Unfortunately, it would also delay, possibly doom UNIFIL’s expanding its mission and its collaboration with the Lebanese government.

On the other hand, there are reasons why Bush and friends might bite their tongues. First, the neoconservatives around Bush know that Israel is not yet ready for a second round in Lebanon, much less for the war with Syria and Iran to which they hope the second round will lead. The neoconservatives also prefer to wait some months to see if Israel’s Olmert government falls, and a right-wing coalition headed by Netanyahu comes to power. That would make Israel leadership a more willing partner to their dreams. Second, the US State Department has begun some conversations with Syria to see what it wants to split from Iran. So with regard to this, rhetorical gestures or actions that force Syria to take a public stand would be counter productive. Third, the US’s undermining UNIFIL will upset Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states which see UNIFIL as protecting Lebanon against Israel. The US does need some support from these states for its political and possible military struggle against Iran.

On balance, the Bush administration has virtually no positve commitment to the cease-fire. I doubt that anyone in it particularly cares that if the cease fire breaks down and a second round ensues, Lebanon will be totally devastated and Israel will suffer damage. Indeed for the neonconservative, the cease fire is just a pause in a war they cast in theological terms as much as their enemy does. The Bush administration will give the cease-fire nominal support only because its few Arab friends in the region support it and Israel for now tolerates it. It will not, however, use its influence to have Israel observe the cease-fire, when Israel wants to violate it.
Lebanes Prime Minister Fouad Siniora rejected calls for the resignation of his government. In a move to outbid Hizbullah and Iran, he announced a goverment program that will give $33,000 apiece to families whose home Israel destroyed. (The offer is 2.75 times the $12,ooo Hizbullah is handing out.) Up to 50,000 homes might be included. In solidarity with the moderate Arab states that will help the reconstruction, he said Lebanon would be the last, not the next, Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel. If Israel wants peace, it should consider the terms in the 2002 Saudi peace initiative.

Michael Young, an editor of Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper, writes that Siniora needs to move fast on his promises to placate those many Lebanese who would like to toss out the corrupt political class as part of the reconstruction. He explains that Hizbullah supports resignation not so much to enhance its own political power but because resignation would produce a political deadlock. That would delay demands on Hizbullah to disarm as part of its political integration into Lebanon.

Veteran Middle East commentator Rami Khouri, also in the Daily Star, contends that Hizbullah has little choice now, but to devote its enegies entirely to the polital realm. It must therefore clarify its ties to Syria and Iran, shelve its pan--Islamist pretensions and get down to the seriousness of governance. Otherwise, it can find itself like its pan-Islamist double Hamas, which has brought the Palestinian cause to an apparent deadend.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Studies in Chaos Theory

Nir Rosen's book In the Belly of the Green Bird is a gripping and gritty account of the American occupaiton of Iraq, from mostly an Iraqi perspective. Rosen, who speaks Iraqi-accented Arabic, worked in Iraq as a free-lance journalist from April, 2003, soon after the invasion, to early 2005. He observed and mixed with Iraqis, interviewed insurgents as well as accompanying US army units on raids, heard and collected sermons at the major mosques in Iraq. His main tale is about how the occupation forces blew it, time after time, locale after locale. They turned the population's initial ambivalence into extreme hostility; they enabled various groups to plunge into violent, escalating conflict over the succession to power. The reasons were the same that Thomas Ricks finds in his closer study of the US operations themselves Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq: A confusion of goals, lack of security in the months following the invasion, lack of interest in the Iraqis and their welfare, cultural and linguistic ignorance, heavy handed, misinformed and frightened responses to agitation.

By the time Rosen left Iraq in 2005, nearly every Iraqi was certain that the US was encouraging violence to "divide and rule" and perpetuate its stay in Iraq. Noam Chomsky & Gilbert Achcar in their forthcoming Perilous Power: The Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy make the same argument on the basis of a fine grained looked at various moves by US officials, like Paul Bremer, that played off one Iraqi faction against another in the allocation of power.

Rosen's and the other books have takeaways that certainly belie the neo-conservatives' dream of the New Middle East and the competence of their agents.
  • A conventional army, staffed by uneducated kids and commanded by callous officers, is not the best instrument for the policing and administration that a successful "liberation" requires. On the other, as seen in the recent Israel war against Hezbollah, the use of the conventional army for policing blunts its fighting skills.
  • Almost all the Arab Iraqis Rosen met were virulently anti-Semitc and anti-Israel. They understood and demonstrated against the occupation as part of a Zionist or Jewish plot to dominate the world.
  • The insurgencies in Iraq have deep religious inspiration. Most insurgents see themselves in a dramatic struggle of the faithful against injustice and evil.
    • The Iraqi Shiites saw their struggle against the occupation as a recreation of the foundational story of Shiism -- the fight and martyrdom of Hussain against the wicked Yazid. This was the same story in which the Ayatollah Khomenei in the late 1970s, cast the Iranian people in its struggle against the Shah.
    • Some Iraqi Sunni insurgents and the foreign jihadists see themselves recreating the struggle of Muhammed and his companions against the infidels and Jewish tribes.
  • Rosen makes brilliant use of mosque sermons that he and his friends recorded as indicators of political trends among the Iraqis. Collection and analysis of sermons was an idea that some political and information scientists repeated proposed to the US Defense Department, only to be rejected each time.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Crise du Jour

Israel PM Ehud Olmert rejected calls for a state or government level commission to investigate the decision making and handling of Israel's war with Lebanon. Instead he has appointed a committee of three elderly, moderately distinguished figures to investigate the government's conduct. A similar committee will investigate the army's conduct. The second committee will probably be the one previously appointed by Defense Minister Amir Peretz. The committees will be unable to subpoena, immunize witnesses or make binding recommendations, i.e., fire anyone. Each will be under the authority of Olmert and Peretz, respectively. The Israel public and political figures on both the right and left in Israel are already screaming whitewash. The Hebrew translation of "cover your ass" has become so widespread that an abbreviation for it is already in the Israel press. The noises from the right are particularly ominous with religious nationalist leaders Effie Eitam and Zevulon Orlev talking about the army having "been stabbed in the back" and "held back from victory."

Support for the right is growing. If elections were held today, they would produce a right wing coalition with enough strength that could form a ruling coalition with the purchased additon of the religious Shas party. It would have Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister and most probably Eitam as Defense Minister. This prospect might be the only glue holding the current coalition together, since differences over policies are widening between Labor and other coalition members. Several Labor members have rejected Kadima's proposal to cut $500 million from the social, education and development budgets to help pay for the war. More Labor party members also reject Kadima's proposal of increasing the defense budget by $7 billion per year, over the next four years, to replace, add and develop weapons. Critics of the proposal say the yearly increase, about 5% of Israel's current GDP, would seriously dent economic growth in Israel. Also, the request is like the army saying "We didn't spend wisely what you already gave us; so give us more." Finally, the Labor minister of education has angered coalition member Shas with her refusal to give additional funding to that party's chain of private kindergartens. Olmert and her own party will probably overrule her, since Shas bolting the coalition would bring down the government.

In past periods of government failure, folllowing the 1973 and 1982 wars respectively, Israel eventually benefitted from the skilled leadership of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. Rabin is gone, Peres is too old and nobody of their stature is on the scene. Most Israelis know this. Their current joke about the government is the army captain who tells his battle weary soldiers: "I have good news and bad news. The good news is each of you will be getting new underwear. The bad news is each of you will get it by exchanging yours with someone else's."

Meanwhile the government of Lebanon might also be at risk. Al-Jazeera reports that Michael Auon, a Christian parliamentarian and a contender for president of Lebanon in next year's election, has called for the resignation of the government. Auon, a political ally of Hezbollah, is perhaps expressing what Hezbollah would like to say, but cannot, since it is a member of the government. Hezbollah's popularity has defintely risen among the Shi'a and even among the Sunni in Lebanon, because of its leading role in rebuilidng the south and Beirut. Leader Hasan Nasrallah may therefore think the moment is ripe to use elections to gain the leading role in Lebanon.

The thought of a Lebanon led by Nasrallah facing an Israel led by Netanyahu is enough to make a UNIFIL peacekeeper duck.

Akiva Eldar in Haaretz argues that the replacement of Israel's present government by a right-wing coalition -- the apparent demand of the growing protest movement -- would not answer Israel's security problems. A right-coalition led by Benjamin Netanyahu would surely please the American neo-conservatives around Bush. But, as Eldar observes, that is the problem. The neo-conservatives are the folks that gave the US the debacle in Iraq. As argued here, they are ideologues, for whom the pronouncement "democracy," whether ersatz or genuine, chosen or imposed, is the magical solution to everything. In Eldar's opinion, to meet the challenge of Iranian-led, pan-Islamic radicallism, Israel will need to have a pragmatically based alliance with moderate Arab states. His article cites a revelatory piece by former NSC Mideast expert Flynt Leverett in the The American Prospect. It nicely illustrates the interminable folly of Bush and his neo-conservative advisors. One vignette:
In White House meetings, I heard President Bush say confidently that democratization would even facilitate a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by shaping a Palestinian leadership more focused on internal governance (i.e., providing services such as collecting garbage) and less “hung up” on final-status issues like territory, settlements, and Jerusalem.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Nasrallah Reads Game Theory

Hassan Nasrallah often says that Hezbollah is well read in Israel and military lore. Apparently, his military readings have included Nobel laureate Tom Schelling or other game theorists on the strategic logics of conflict. Today, in an interview on Lebanese television, he said that Hezbollah was not preparing for a second round and he saw Israel why not preparing for a second round, but instead rebuilding the north. These remarks were intended as much for Israeli officials as well as the Lebanese. Nasrallah was following the guidelines for getting to a cooperative outcome in a non-zero sum game: Announce your intention to cooperate and your perception that the second player will cooperate. That way, the second player will not think you will defect because you think he will defect. This explicit move seems intended to reduce uncertainty, rather than deceive Israel, because Nasrallah also acknowledged that he had miscalculated the Israel repsonse to the capture of the IDF soldiers. A wise Israeli government would signal it had gotten the message. Unfortunately, Israelis have a long history of either demonizing the Arab, considering them irrational creatures or, at best, condescending to them. Nashrallah himself took particular offense at Israel hero Moshe Dayan's infamous remark that "I know that Arabs don't read." He emphasized in his autobiographical notes how much he read as child.

Nasrallah's strategic rationality raises questions about the meaning of rationality with regard to religiously motivated terrorism. We tend to call jihadists fanatics and irrational, regardless of the sophistication of their planning and methods. One reason we do is that jihadists suppress their own individual (or group) interests in favor of a distant ideological goal. Another reason is they ignore the humanity of anyone outside their own group. But that does mean jihadists or other fundamentalists are not rational. A psychological study in the mid-1990s compared the personal narratives of Islamic fundamentalists and moderates (in the religious sense). It found that both groups were equally adept at doing cost/ benefit analysis over choices. However the moderate group applied the calculus for choosing among competing goals as well as among the different means for reaching a chosen goal. The fundamentalists, who included Nasrallah as unnamed subject, selected their goals according to the dictates of Islam, as they saw them. Then they applied the rational calculus to select means for reaching these goals. While the moderates considered themselvess individuals with several social identities, the fundamentalists considered themselves examplars of Islam. They believed that Islam was a complete way of life, encompassing their entire being.

Nasrallah's interview today, as well as his management of Hezbollah's war, partly breaks the mold. In employing strategic rationality, he is acknowledging, at least formally, the rationality and, obliquely, the humanity of his opponent. His message indicates that he defines the current conflict with Israel as a non-zero sum game, where both parties can benefit from mutual cooperation, i.e., no second-round. Put another way, he accepts that Israel also wins in a win/ win outcome. Compare this position with that of Hitler, who allocated German resources to kill Jews, when they could have been better used in the German defense effort at the end of World War II. Nasrallah might not have abandoned his fundamentalist vision of a world dominated by Islam or his personal ambition of eliminating Israel. However, he clearly postpones their pursuit. Jihad can wait.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Can the Cease-fire Hold? UNIFIL's Role

4. UNIFIL faces three organizational challenges to its becoming a successful peacekeeping force: its strength, area of deployment and rules of engagement. The Europeans countries have now assured that the number of peacekeepers will approach, if not reach, the total of number of 16,000 (including the 2,000 already in Lebanon) envisioned by the cease fire resolution (1701). At midweek, the Ieftist Italian government of Romano Prodi committed to contributing 3,000 soldiers. This move and the adverse international opinion that had greeted France’s initial paltry offer of 200 soldiers embarrassed French President Jacques Chirac into raising his bid to 2,000. By the time UN General Secretary Kofi Annan met with the EC last Friday, other countries – Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Germany – had fallen in line. So Annan came away with commitments of 6000 - 7000 troops, with more than half to be deployed in a few weeks. The European participation is reassuring to Israel, which historically has identified more with Europe than the developing world. On the other hand, the EC believes its participation will strengthen its voice in both negotiations between Israel and Lebanon, and in any renewed “peace process” between Israel and the Palestinians. The Italian foreign minister Massimo D’Alema gave a broad hint of that. In an interview with an Israel newspaper, he said if the deployment of the UN force in Lebanon works out, an international force could also be sent to Gaza.

Annan has offers of troops from Muslim countries. He figures that he needs to take all offers and consider Muslim participation a legitimating factor. However Israel diplomats have objected to the inclusion of troops from Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh or any Muslim country that does not have diplomatic relations with Israel. More than symbolic politics is involved. Israelis strongly felt that Hezbollah’s provocation last month challenged its legitimacy, but both the government and public have been rattled by Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s repeated suggestion that Israel should be annihilated. So the issue of recognition is also one of trust at the gut level. Annan thinks he can overcome Israel’s resistance by putting leadership of the new UNIFIL in European hands, first the French for six months, then the Italians. But Israel also does not trust the French much.

How many troops are actually needed depends on the area of their deployment and mission. It the peacekeepers are assigned only to the Israel-Lebanon border, then Chirac makes sense in claiming that not more than 10,000 or so are needed to assist the Lebanese army. On this view, the peacekeepers primary job would be maintaining a buffer zone along the border, apart from the Lebanese army. They would prevent any unauthorized, armed personnel from entering the zone and disarm any who did. According to Annan, “Troops are not going in there to disarm -- let's be clear. Disarming Hezbollah cannot be done by force. It has to be political agreements among the Lebanese.” Yet, one can anticipate that even this limited mission will have points of friction with Hezbollah where weight of UNIFIL numbers at any locale would help. To wit, Hezbollah has announced that its fighters will remain in their villages in southern Lebanon and not disarm. Per an agreement with the Lebanese government, they will make not carry arms or make any public display of them. What happens if they forget?

More troops and their wider deployment are needed if their mission includes stopping arms shipments from or through Syria to Hezbollah. As a matter of sovereignty, the Lebanese government insists that such operations be at its request. At the same time, Syria has reacted coolly to the idea of the peacekeepers being deployed along its borders for that purpose and said that would be a hostile act. This response is certainly a test to see what the West can offer Syria for cooperating with the arms embargo. Movement toward any negotiation with Syria, however, will be slower than the efforts to the get the peacekeepers in place. So in the initial stages of UNIFIL operations, any troops to enforce the embargo will be deployed in small contingents near the major Lebanon-Syria border crossings. In other words, the force can get to work, even before it reaches peak strength.

To sum up: The European commitments have assured the feasibility of the peacekeeping mission. How effective can it be? That depends considerably on Lebanese government's willingness to ask its help, but everyone understands that the peacekeepers will be there can increase the government's willingness. If other things are equal, the new UNIFIL will be a mainstay for the cease-fire and enable more formal relations between Israel and Lebanon. Unfortunately, its efforts might be overtaken by confrontations between the United States and Iran, in which each will use its respective client, Israel and Hezbollah, respectively, much more deliberately than was the case last month.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Resign or Redesign

Yedioth Ahranot has the results of the latest, representative poll of the Israel public (usually means just the Jewish population). They are in line with my predictions a few days ago: A large majority wants the present leadership to resign, a sharp rise in support for the right (Likud) and extreme right (Yisrael Beitenu) , a sharp drop for the center (Kadima and Labor). Here are the main numbers.
  • Resign v. stay on: Olmert -- 63% v. 29%; Peretz -- 74% v. 20%, Halutz -- 54% v. 38%;
  • Knesset seats if elections now (present seats): Likud 20 (12), Kadima 17 (29), Labor 11 (19), Yisrael Beitenu 17 (11);
  • Choice for Prime Minister: Netanyahu -- 22%, Leiberman (YB) -- 18%, Shimon Peres -- 12%, Ehud Olmert -- 11%, Tsippi Livni -- 10%;
  • Match-up: Olmert - 29% v. Netanyahu -- 45%.
Accompanying this shift are growing public protests, led by army reservists, with distinctly right wing themes: we were misled, let down, unprotected, ill-supplied and betrayed. But unlike the Mel Gibsons of the world, the protesters cannot blame "the Jews." Maybe they should blame the Palestinians? Veteran military analyst Zev Schiff thinks the time and energy IDF spends on policing Gaza and the West Bank blunted its fighting ability. Hmm. If IDF trained the Palestinian militants, it might then have a good sparring partner in tuning up for the next big fight.

Yoram Peri, a specialist on Israel's military, op-eds in the Washington Post on Israel's frayed civil-military relationship. In the 1990s, he says, the generals were bolder than the politicians in seeking political solutions for Israel's security, particularly through negotiations with Syria. Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon turned down their proposals, which would have involved withdrawal of Israel from the Golan Heights in return for a peace treaty. The situation was reversed in the recent war, when militarily inexperienced political leaders hastily bowed to the demands of the generals, only to find later that the generals could not deliver. Uri Segei, a retired high ranking IDF general, weighed in on that point. At a Jerusalem forum, yesterday, he said IDF needs "fundamental treatments" from top to bottom, not just a few fixes: The conduct of the opening stages of the war were perplexing and its final stages were pathological. These criticisms do not daunt neoconservative Max Boot in The Los Angeles Times. Back from a junket to Israel, courtesy of the American Jewish Committee (proud sponsor of Commentary), he commands Israel to go to war against Syria. Why Syria? It supplies missiles to Hezbollah and could supply them to Hamas, it is an ally of Iran, and, above all, it is the enemy that Israel can most easily defeat through conventional means.

Do Israel generals have doctor envy? Israel military speak has become heavily medicalized. Of course, some terms like surgical strike are part of a universal military vocabulary. But IDF senior officers seemed to play doctor when they called Hezbollah a cancer that had spread beyond the red lines and that would have to be vomited out. Then last night, as noted, a retired general prescribed fundamental treatment for IDF pathologies. Maybe such talk indicates that Israelis are reverting back to more traditional Jewish choices of role models? Maybe Israeli mothers now want their children to become doctors or, at least, computer scientists, instead of generals?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Wiil the Cease Fire Hold? Lebanon's Part

[This is part 2 of a continuing essay on factors that stabilize and destabilize the current cease-fire. Part 1 is below.]
3. The Lebanese government’s primary goals are recovery from the devastation of the war and the extension of state authority to southern Lebanon. The realization of both goals depends largely on containing Hezbollah. Its provoking Israel to a second round would signal defiance of state authority, while inevitably bringing more destruction, courtesy of Israel, to Lebanon. In theory, the restraints would involve the disarming of Hezbollah, especially since it is the only movement or community in Lebanon that remains armed. In practice, the government will move gingerly to avoid a confrontation that would prematurely test its army’s strength against Hezbollah. Moreover, the recovery effort will require Hezbollah’s participation for both the funds it can get from Iran and the effective administration it can provide for reconstruction in the Shiite areas.

Suggestions like former US State Department officials Carlos Pascual and Martin Indyk’s that the US and the petro-rich Arab states freeze Hezbollah and Iran out of the reconstruction process are just plain stupid. They ignore the extent and degree of the destruction, evident in survey maps, the Amnesty International Report on Israel’s war crimes and the near one million refugees trying to return home. These and Lebanese central bank reports indicate recovery costs of ten billion dollars, so every contribution from abroad will be needed. These pundits also ignore that the Lebanese government lacks personnel who could knowledgably and honesty administer southern Lebanon. It has been decades since government officials were in charge there, and then they were as corrupt as officials elsewhere in Lebanon – which is to say, very. Pacual and Indyk’s view of Lebanon, like that of Israeli pilots in the past month, is from 20,000 feet up. Like those pilots, they have no concern for Lebanon’s welfare. They are writing for an inside-the-Beltway audience that emotionally resembles someone who secretly thrilled when her pet chased a rabbit and half destroyed the neighbor’s garden. Now, needing to mollify the outrage of the other folks on the block, she’s willing to pay some damages, thinking she’s being generous, but is not willing to take any responsibility.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has displayed considerable confidence that his government can both use and contain Hezbollah. He knows that he enjoys the backing of the non-Shiite Lebanese and of many Shiites, who prefer a pluralistic, prosperous state to a pan-Islamist future or a return of Syrian hegemony. He also believes that Hezbollah was considerably weakened in the conflict with Israel. However to prevent any confrontations from spiraling out of control, he insists that the Lebanese army rather than UNIFIL disarm Hezbollah; in other words, he will take the integration of Hezbollah into Lebanon slowly. In that scenario, he wants UNIFIL as protection from Israel rather than for Israel.

In addition to meeting pressure from Israel, which continues its sea and air blockade of Lebanon, Siniora’s government also has to face pressure from Syria. Damascus is disturbed by the prospect of the Lebanese army denying it the right to smuggle arms to Hezbollah, its remaining ally in Lebanon. In response, it has threatened to close its extensive borders with Lebanon, completing the blockade of the country. Seeking some counterweight, Siniora has made tentative peace overtures to Israel, and, were the Israel government smart -- what a counter-factual! -- it would take him up on those. It could suggest setting a time table of steps toward mutual recognition that would include turning over the Shebaa Farms area to Lebanon. Israel demurred at the inclusion of the last step as projected actions under the cease fire, on the grounds it would look like a victory for Hezbollah. But the step would look different, if it came toward the beginning of direct negotiations between Lebanon and Israel. The Lebanese would grudgingly welcome this process. As much as they dislike the Israelis, with the exception of Hezbollah, they dislike the Syrians more. And Hezbollah, for its part, could claim a victory.

On balance, Lebanon has interest and options for making the cease-fire hold and lead to more solid arrangements. For it to follow the options, its army will need better training and equipment. There is also need for the deployment of UNIFIL forces of near 10,000, with clear rules of engagement. The US, the EC and the UN have gotten the message on both counts, but now must follow through.
Just what the Israel public needs: Well before the end of the war, members of the Israel government and pundits began worrying about the situation on the "Day After" [the war ended]. As noted before, the "day after" has produced a political crisis for the government, as public disgruntlement with the mismanagement of the war rises. So the headline in the Hebrew edition of today's Haaretz caught my eye:
Pills for the "Day After" will be Sold without Prescription
I first thought the article would be on some super pain killer, but realized after a few seconds it was a report on the decision in the United States to let women buy the "Morning After Pill" over the counter.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Will the Cease-fire Hold?

[This is part 1 of a continuing essay]
Will the cease-fire hold? Can it lead to something resembling a political settlement – dare one say peace – between Israel and Lebanon? That depends to varying degrees on the actions and inactions of relevant parties to the recent war and its cease fire. In order of their importance (or ability to sink the cease fire), the parties at the national and international level are:
  1. Israel;
  2. Hezbollah ("the state within a state");
  3. Lebanon;
  4. UNIFIL;
  5. United States
  6. Iran;
  7. Syria;
  8. European countries;
  9. UN Security Council;
  10. Palestine;
  11. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other moderate Arab states.
Players at the sub-national level include the offices of the Israel prime, security and foreign ministers and the major Israel political parties, the White House and State Department in the United States, Hamas and the PLO militias among the Palestinians and, god only knows what, inside the opaque Iranian decision making process. Whew! It does not seem to me as complex as the very fluid situations in the Lebanese civil war, 1976 - 1989. What happened then on any Beirut street often depended on linkages among six or seven higher levels of conflict, plus what the local militia men had eaten in the morning. Still the list itself hints there are many opportunites to sink the cease-fire. So let’s look at how and why each of the parties could do that.

1. Israel hopes the implementation of the cease-fire will complete the job it failed to do: disarm Hezbollah, at least south of the Litani River. It also expects UNIFIL or some yet unauthorized UN force to assure the 1701 stipulated embargo on arms to Hezbollah. Fred Kaplan correctly notes that Israel broadly construes the right to defensive military measures that the cease-fire permits it. So if Israelis see little evidence in the near future that Hezbollah is being disarmed and the embargo being enforced, IDF will likely conduct an increasing number of commando and bombing raids to destroy Hezbollah armories and interdict arms shipments. These actions are highly likely to reignite a full-scale war.

The dissatisfaction of Israelis with the cease-fire and deepening political crisis tend to push government and army command toward a second round. That would, at least, postpone inquiries into the recent failures, stop splitting in the ruling coalition, and, probably, produce a better outcome for Israel. Most Israelis, however, will have problems trusting the current leaders for a second round. Moreover, US , if it wants, can assure some Israeli restraint on the frequency and focus of the ramp-up actions. That would stop the escalation short of full-scale war. Hezbollah could also take some edge off Israel through its release of the two captured Israel soldiers, a move that is now low cost for it.

2. Hezbollah and its leader Hasan Nasrallah are being celebrated throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds for having shattered the image of Israel military invincibility. Their perceived success makes it difficult for them to disarm, demobilize ideologically and assume the role of a banal political party in a convoluted Lebanese political order. Ideologically, Hezbollah is a pan-Islamic vanguard party and there little in a Lebanese national political identity to attract them. In addition, the leadership cohorts are Islamic fundamentalists in the sense of seeing themselves as exemplars of Islam and only secondarily as individuals for whom personal gains and losses matter. Finally their ability to meet the social and economic needs of their Shi'a constituency depends heavily, like their military clout, on Iran, and Iran has given no signal that it would like them to demobilize. On the contrary, it has vigorously asserted a Hezbollah right to remain armed.

These motives, however, do not mean that Nasrallah will seek to provoke Israel into another round. He knows the other Lebanese communities and even many Shiites susupect his intentions and would oppose this behavior. As Marc Lynch, who surveys Arab media discourse, reports, there is a sharp division between Lebanese and non-Lebanese on Hezbollah:
non-Lebanese commentators primarily writing about the war's impact on the Islamic movement, on Israel's power, or on the fortunes of various Arab governments; and Lebanese commentators writing about those things, but also about what is to become of Lebanon's politics. Arab and Muslim pundits applaud Hezbollah as a new champion against Israel, but Lebanese worry about its influence at home.
Nasrallah has a compromise with Lebanon's government under which his movement will neither disarm nor flaunt their arms. This "don't show, don't ask" agreement and a leading role in rebuilding Lebanon might suffice Hezbollah for a few years, unless Israel, the Lebanese army or UNIFIL presses too hard for disamament. However crunch time could also come, if the UN someday imposes sanctions on Iran for continuing to enrich uranium. Iran might then ask Hezbollah to heat up the Israel-Lebanon border, leaving Hezbollah again having to decide whether it was a national, pan-Arabist or pan-Islamist party.

[Right now a mutual wariness between Israel and Hezbollah seems to be the main reason why the cease-fire is holding. Going forward, the power and willingness of the Lebanese army and UNIFIL to police the situation in southern Lebanon will be nearly as crucial. These factors in turn depend on support from nations both outside and inside the region. The linkages will be examined tomorrow.]

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

More on machismo in high and other places: Israel police today are questioning the President of Israel Moshe Katsav about accusations that he forced a former office worker to have sex with him by threatening to fire her. The Presidency of Israel is a largely symbolic post and Katsav was not involved in the July 12, decision to go to war. However, the disrepute and possible resignation of Katsav peripherally affects the growing political crisis. If the government coalition collapses, the President might have to be involved both formally and informally in forming a new ruling coalition. The investigation of Katsav comes just a few days after the resignation of Justice Minister Haim Ramon, who was indicted for offensive sexual conduct (not quite harassment) toward a government worker.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Feel the Strain

The political crisis in Israel is deepening within the government and the public at large. The governing coalition is threatened by the refusal of Labor members of the Knesset finance committe to approve a Kadima move to cut $400 million from the current education and welfare budgets. The cuts are intended to help pay for the war, without increasing the taxes on business. A Kadima official has threatened negotiations with other (rightwing) parties to offset the implied threat of Labor's leaving the government. Within Labor itself, efforts are building to dump Amir Peretz as leader.

Generally, the situation resembles the aftermath of the Yom Kippur war (1973), which Israelis then considered at best a tie. Most Israelis are dissatisfied with the current cease fire, with their government and with army leadership. Approval ratings for Olmert, Peretz and Halutz have fallen sharply; they will be no more than 25% in the next opinion polls. Opposition inside and outside the government has apparently checked Peretz’s effort to keep the postwar inquiry at the ministerial level and narrowly focused on tactics, operations and logistics. The inquiry board that he appointed met today and promptly suspended its operations. Olmert’s effort to set up an inquiry at the governmental level, also with limited powers and scope, will likely fare no better. The public and even some government figures wants a broad investigation that looks at strategies and decision making, as well.

One guage of the public mood is an online, non-scientific poll, by Israel’s largest newspaper, the hawkish Yedioth Aharanot. Readers told who they would vote for if the elections were today. Olmert, Peretz, and Benyamin Netanyahu (Likud) each received a couple of percent; leftwing leader Yossi Bellin (Meretz) had virtually none. But both far right wing leader Avigdor Lieberman (National Union) and Ariel Sharon (Tel ha-Shomer) each had percents in the mid-40s. Not having a “none of the above” choice, I chose Sharon, because, in his present condition, he would do the least harm.

A rather muffled debate during the war was over the need to probe even more deeply into the Israeli mindset that went to war. Several writers have argued that the hasty response to launch a massive attack on Lebanon was driven more by machismo than rational calculations. Retired left-wing leader Shulamit Aloni latched onto the theme in a bitter column today. She excoriates the men in Israel’s government for their incapability to consider diplomacy before charging to war. Moreover, she says, they rejected Foreign Minister Tsippi Livni proposal to first try tough diplomatic moves, like giving Lebanon a 72 hour ultimatum to return the soldiers, because a woman proposed it.

Similar ego involvement may have biased the men’s decision to expand IDF operations on Friday, August 11, just as the Security Council was approving the cease fire. The decision makers could have taken less than what they originally wanted, by accepting the cease-fire on the spot. Or they could gamble they would improve their military situation (and their reputations) through more fighting in the days before they had to accept the cease-fire. They chose to gamble. The two more days of fighting produced no significant gains for Israel, but earned it a reputation for spite in some eyes and cost it some forty more soldiers. (Israelis Dan Kahneman and the late Amos Tversky showed the preference for the gamble over the sure loss is a common distortion of rational decision making. This result is part of their Nobel prize winning (Kahneman, 2004) research on decision making heuristics. In particular, it shows the effects of framing on decision. Since the result has been in the literature for 25 years, it is doubly disappointing that Israeli decision makers were unaware of such professionally relevant knowledge.)

Israelis also want an investigation of the failure of their external propaganda. Most still believe that in any of their conflicts, they are entitled to the world’s sympathy. When it is not forthcoming, they blame anti-Semitism, Arab oil money and their own ineffective propaganda. Hopefully, any investigation of this failure would also ask why the world no longer accepts Israel’s standard exculpation of being a victim. Unfortunately, with few exceptions like foreign minister Tsippi Livni, the government and army leaders are clueless as to how people outside the Bush administration and the US Congress think. This is an arrogance of power that Israel cannot afford. The lack of attention to media any place but in the US, is a fatal flaw when fighting a guerilla force. In such conflicts public relations victories are important. Some attention to that point might also keep army and government officials from spinning clumsy lies, for example with regard to the success of commando raids.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Getting Ready for Round Two?

Member of the Opposition Efi Eitam in the Knesset, August 14, 2006: The war is not over, the ceasefire is only a temporary recess which Nasrallah can exploit to reorganize. Our soldiers are still with their finger on the trigger in enemy territory, and therefore if we start to fight now, we can really turn into spider's web. Eitam is a leader of the National Union, a coalition of extreme right wing parties and a former leader of the National Religious Party. He is the Israeli political leader who most resembles Nasrallah. Both are "born-again" in their respective religions, but proved poor students of its texts. They each have a large number of children. Each has a Messianic complex and was a military leader. Eitam commanded the IDF troops in Lebanon during the 1990s, which faced Nasrallah's guerillas.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz at Israel cabinet meeting, August 20: The points noted as [IDF] failures along the way will be examined. We will look into them, put them on the table. Our duty is to prepare for the next round He also said, however, if a multinational force deploys in southern Lebanon and we find ourselves opposite a demilitarized area, then we have reached our goals.

Minister of National Infrastructure Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, at the same meeting, added the next round of fighting against Hizbullah could come within several months: You have to read between the lines. Hizbuallh is getting organized, the Syria army is learning lessons. We have to rehabilitate the north, the reserve forces and the army and be prepared for the next round.

Such sabre-rattling makes French liberal newspaper Le Monde nervous enough to headline in today's paper: Israel does not exclude a second round in its war with Hezbollah. The report will surely encourage France to increase its contribution to the multinational force. As if this was not sufficient evidence of Peretz's inability to understand the consequences of what he says and does, he provided more at the meeting. He complained no one had followed his suggestion at the beginning of the war of getting the Europeans ready to fund the rehabiliation of Lebanon. So now Iranian money has flowed into the vaccuum. Peretz sounds like something from Monty Python:
Peretz (or delegate) to European governments: We're about to destroy most of Lebanon's infrastructure, some cities, towns and villages in southern Lebanon and a few districts in Beirut and Balbek. Please get ready to hand out money when we're done so the Lebanese can rebuild.

European governments: Instead of doing that, how about negotiating with Hezbollah? That way, we'd save our money, the Lebanese would be spared their lives and you'd get your soldiers back.

Peretz (or delegate): No. That isn't in the script.
At the same cabinet meeting Chief of Staff Dan Halutz sounded less bellicose. He said that IDF won the match with Hezbollah on points, not by a knockout. (Note how his use of a boxing metaphor complements the idea that the Bush administration briefly regarded Israel as its Great White Hope.) Consequently, he added, Hezbollah was observing the cease fire, and other Lebanese would not tolerate actions that again threatened them. The takeaway was Hezbollah is not likely to provoke a second round or, rather, Halutz is not anxious to find in some Hezbollah activity an excuse for starting a second round. His position, incidentally, puts in question the point of the commando raid the night before, because it contradicts the official story that the raid aimed to interdict arms shipments from Syria to Hezbollah.

Chutzpah Award

In a long, rambling hodge-podge of an essay in the Washington Post, Dan Byman and Ken Pollack state the obvious: Iraq is in a civil war. Then they remind us of something less obvious: Civil wars create refugees, who flee to other countries and might destabilize them. They recommend that the US set up protected catchments for refugees inside Iraq. If this sounds like domino theory thinking, it is -- but a bit in reverse. Ken Pollack was an ardent tub thumper for invading Iraq. Like Tom Friedman and the neo-conservatives, he predicted taking out Saddam would slam-dunk lead to a democratic Iraq and a democratic Iraq would lead to democratization in other Arab countries. But nevermind that, he says in the closing paragraph of the essay:
How Iraq got to this point is now an issue for historians (and perhaps for voters in 2008); what matters today is how to move forward and prepare for the tremendous risks an Iraqi civil war poses for this critical region.
Like much of what he says, Pollack even gets this exculpation wrong. Iraq is already an issue for American voters in 2006.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Lessons Too Late for the Learning?

Anthony Cordesman, a noted strategic analyst of the Middle East, has just published a preliminary report on lessons from the Israel-Hezbollah war. The lesson are for both Israel and the US military, especially with respect to its effort in Iraq. Middle East scholar Helana Cobban and others have criticized aspects of the report, but not its main thrust: Israel failed to fully achieve any of its war aims. Per Coredesman, these included
  • destroy Hezbollah's strategic missile capabilities vs. Israel;
  • restore credible deterrence;
  • force Lebanon to be accountable for Hezbollah;
  • permanently cripple Hezbollah as a military organization;
  • force the release of the two captured soldiers.
He does not include the assassination of Hezbollah leadership, a publicly stated goal at the outset, that also was not achieved. Nevertheless, Cordesman found the Israeli army sources were relatively pleased by IDF's performance. They believe they destroyed 80% of Hezbollah's medium and long range rockets and launchers on the first two days of war, and Hezbollah learned that IDF troops would beat it in a direct engagement. They attribute any short comings to the political echelon's dithering.

Nevertheless Cordesman has a telling conclusion: If Hezbollah is crippled as a military force, it will be because of US and French diplomacy in creating an international peacekeeping force and helping the Lebanese Army move south with some effectiveness. It will not be because of IDF military action. Also on the strategic level, Cordesman suggests that much of the bombing campaign was ill-conceived because it underestimated the anger that the disproportional response would create in the Arab world. This anger will strengthen Syria and Iran while weaking moderate regimes like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

With regard to operations, Cordesman fudges on issues like the extent of Israeli intelligence failures, the deliberateness of its attacks on purely civilian targets, the disjointed Israeli decision making, the degree of success in Hezbollah's tactics, its capabilities as a fighting organization and how much Syria and Iran resupplied Hezbollah during the war. And he is plain wrong in his estimates of Israeli equipment destroyed by Hezbollah.

The report is entirely from the Israeli perspective, based on interviews and data he collected in Israel, in a research trip financed by an American Jewish organization. Given this slant, three additional points in the report are interesting:
  • No one in Israel thought the capture of the soldiers was a provocation ordered by Iran to deflect attention from the Iranian nuclear issue -- so much for that Bush theory and Halutz's belief the Hezbollah is a puppet of Iran.
  • His Israeli sources tended to have narrow outlooks and did not understand the sweep of the failures;
  • Strategy and tactics against well armed, urban based subnational groups have to be rethought, especially if "clean out and hold indefinitely" is not an option.
Steve Erlanger in The New York Times reports on an interview several days ago with an unnamed Israel senior officer that repeats the same Israeli claims in Cordesman's report. His source is most likely Halutz or his assistant Kaplinski. The officer's evident failure to have learned anything from the war, coupled with today's IDF commando raid in Lebanon, suggests IDF is keen on starting a second round in the very near future.

Friday, August 18, 2006

David Ignatius in today's Washington Post thoughtfully looks at the appropriateness of calling Hezbollah and other Islamic radical groups "Islamic Fascists." The piece has a few problems. Ignatius dervies his definition of fascism from a controversial, comparative study by the German historian Ernst Nolte, who later evolved into a Nazi apologist. He neglects to mention that "Islamic Fascism" was used by the Bush administration at the behest of the neo-conservatives. Third, although he rejects the use of "fascism" to describe all Islam, he does not ask whether this label might fit some folks closer to home. Nevertheless, his unpacking of the term shows why the neo-conservative narrative, analyzed below, uses it to label any Muslim resistance to its vision of the New Middle East. Juan Cole in his blog of August 8, question the meaningfulness (internal consistency) of the term: fascism is state-glorify, war-worshipping and racist. Islam, at least in doctrine, is none of these. It transcends state boundaries, embraces people of all races and regards war as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. These discussions are useful for me, since I grew up in a political culture where you called any power-grabbing shithead "a fascist."

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Once Upon a Time

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This is a story about the neo-conservative thought process. It is also an answer to the question in what world does George W. Bush live?

Say you have two uninteresting stories. The first about a teen age boy and girl who meet, fall fiercely in love with each other, talk all the time about their love and want to be together forever. The second story is about two families who have been feuding for several generations. Every times members of one family bump into those of the other in the city square, trouble erupts. Now put the two stories together and for interest have the boy be from one family and the girl from another. Suddenly the expectations, values and actions in each story begin to constraint or challenge those in the other. The atoms of each part of the respective stories combine into molecules of a new story. We might get a story of desperate, forbidden love in a world of violence and plans that go awry. In the hands of a good playwright, it could become a very interesting and moving play.

Hollywood has a nifty shorthand for creating or describing a new story as the meld (or interference) of two familiar ones. It is “meets,” as in “Tootsie meets Fiddler on the Roof equals Yentl,” the Barbra Streisand vehicle also known in the trade as Tootsie on the Roof. Or Romeo and Juliet meets Blackboard Jungle to get West Side Story. In his brilliant book The Political Unconscious, literary critic Frederick Jameson deepens the idea of “meets” by developing a grammar (rules and constraints) for how conflicting narratives gives rise to novels seeking to resolve or transcend the conflict. Jameson’s convincing argument is startling because the novels he analyzes are generally considered to be realistic or naturalistic, e.g., Balzac, Gissing, Conrad. Most people regards them as either simple reflections of a world “out there” or reflections mediated by the author’s approvals and disapprovals of what is in that world. The mediated case gives rise to genre like satire, melodrama. For Jameson, the conflicting narratives can be such reflections. Embedded in their respective socio-economic situations, they reflect its normative expectations, world views and notions of social identities. But the story their interaction generates is not similarly grounded. It is ideological in the sense of being the product of ideas playing against one another rather than against a perception of some reality.

Gilles Kepel’s magisterial The War for Muslim Minds suggests that a similar process produced the neo-conservatives vision of The New Middle East and the US policies needed to realize it. In the mid-1990s, Norman Podhoretz, Irving Kristol, Richard Perle and their associates, including Richard Cheney, recognized a basic conflict between the United States’ commitment to Israel’s security and to the security of Middle East oil. To secure the oil reserves, the US relied on a series of government and corporate alliances with the traditional rulers of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. The neo-conservatives, however, anticipated increasing instability of these regimes, because of their populations’ economic frustrations and susceptibility to Iran’s message of radical Islam. Moreover the neo-conservatives judged that the regime’s standard way of coping with public unrest was to direct it at Israel, but their doing so would again would be inimical to Israel’s security.

Their ideological solution story was democratizing the Middle East. There were several key beliefs that developed the story:
  • market organized, liberal democracies are the only possible outcomes of economic and social development – Fukuyama’s “end of history” theory;
  • development in the Arab world is being blocked by traditional and dictatorial rulers, most notably Saddam Hussein;
  • “smart bombs” and other precision guided munitions can enable the United States to surgically remove Saddam and his supporters, and send a message to other rulers to speed reforms;
  • Most Arabs and Muslims do not deeply care about the Palestinians, but their rulers and clergy use it to divert attention from their real interests.
The neo-conservatives story of the New Middle East has been ridiculed for being simplistic and naïve. It told of an international system composed only of states, ignored the variety in radical Islam, missed completely Saudi Arabia’s deal with Islamic fundamentalism to bolster its regime, overstated the importance of economic development and understated the accompanying social dislocation and insecurities, etc. These critiques miss the point: The neo-conservatives did not misperceive reality, they did not look at reality at all. Their story was not based on an analysis of the international terrain under some suitable model that would identify forces, trends, challenges, opportunities amid shifts in power distributions. It was the resolution of an intellectual conflict.

The New Middle East story would almost certainly have remained a cult text, except for two events: The Supreme Court awarded George W. Bush the election of 2000, and September 11, 2001. In Bush the neo-cons found a man who experienced existentially the conflict they had resolved theoretically. He had a born-again Christian’s commitment to Israel’s security and years of involvement in the oil industry. But 9/11 forced him to take action. The equation of Iraq with Islamic terrorism having already been made, the creation of The New Middle East was on its way.

So in what world does George Bush live? In that of "Once upon a time…

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Observers of the American government are well aware of the resistance of indicted, unindicted or ethically challenged public officials to resigning. They similarly know that public officials refuse to accept responsibility for their failed policies, by resigning. One need look no further than the White House and Congress. A friend assured me that such behavior has become standard in parliamentary democracies everywhere, although I think that British officials, especially cabinet ministers, still resign when their fingers are caught in the cookie jar. So it is not surprising that Israel Chief of Staff Halutz has refused to resign over what, at best, was a lapse of moral judgement -- nothing more than his usual behavior -- and perhaps a dereliction of duty. Halutz sold a stock portfolio on the eve of Israel's war with Hezbollah. His timing was perfect, coming three hours after two soldiers were captured and eight killed, and moments before he would demand from Israel's security cabinet approval for massive bombings of Lebanon. Halutz knew then he would get his way. The government owed him for having helped with the withdrawal of army and settlers from Gaza last year. Since he did not calculate that the war would be so costly to Israel, the sale was probably more a hedge than a speculation. As one comment said, If he wanted to speculate, he would have bought puts on the market.

Grotesque, but not suprising is the way senior army officers and government officials have been falling over one another to stand up for Halutz and condemn those who have problems with what he did. After all, as the government's legal advisor stated, it was not against the law: neither trading on inside information -- that applies to information about particular companies -- nor violations of conflict of interest. That law does not cover the Chief of Staff. Besides, according to his colleagues on the General Staff, Halutz has exceptional ability to concentrate on several things at once. Do they as well? Perhaps they also paused to take stock or sell it before the security cabinet met? In any case, per Halutz's order, the colleagues who praised his ambidexterity, had already cleared their remarks with the IDF spokesperson. One wonder were there officers with a different story who got no clearance.

For rightwing politicians, like Shaul Mufaz and Tshai Hanegbi, Halutz is a kindred spirit. He is as sensitive as they are to the plight of Palestinians and Lebanese civilians and to taking innocent lives in the course of assassinations and other targeted killings. Last year, they commiserated about the slight physical disturbance he reported feeling when bombing Palestinians, as a result of the plane bumping up in reaction to the release of the bomb. I am, however, surprised that Defense Minister Amir Peretz has jumped to Halutz's defense, despite their blaming each other for having fucked up the planning and conduct of the war. Peretz is head of the Labor Party, which once claimed to be a socialist party. Might it be out of role for him to insist on the rights of individual army officers to sell their stocks on the eve of a social solidarity event called war?

The religious nationalists have another problem: They love Halutz because he is a militarist, but despise his having helped uproot the settlers from the Gaza Strip last year. I think they will find a solution based on Deuteronomy 20:6 that excuses from war anyone whose orchard has not yet born fruit. Since Halutz's portfolio had apparently not realized the profit he expected, he would by analogy fall into this category. So he was doing everyone a favor by selling the stocks and joining the war.

A few other questions remain. The portfolio, valued at $30,000, is rather paltry for a high ranking public servant, even in Israel. Were there other sales or does he have foreign assets that did not need hedging? And what does the silence of PM Olmert and some other cabinet members mean? After all, they cannot have much love for Halutz's having sold them the unsound plan of winning a war through air power alone and then accusing them of vacillating when it was clear that ground troops were needed. Okay, they were amateurs, but he made them look like suckers, as well. Maybe, they do not want to pour gasoline on a fire, recognizing that the civil-military relationship in Israel is more frayed than even in 1982, when Defense Minister Sharon and Chief of Staff Eitan deceived the rest of the government about their invasion of Lebanon.

One more explanation. Maybe government officials and other would be critics recall that Halutz glories in "precision" killings achieved through aircraft launching missiles into the target's house or car. So all he needs is just one blindly loyal pilot... Farfetched? Yes, but being a critic of his, I think I'll remain anonymous until he resigns or completes his tour of duty.
The Israel post-war inquiries are beginning to play like farce or ironic tragedy, depending on one's critical predilections. Today, Tsahi Hanegbi opened a session of the Knesset's Security and Foreign Policy Committee with a complaint regarding the bad publicity that Chief of Staff Halutz received in the past day: I have the feeling that we are developing a culture of rushing to judgement, like that of the executioners in the French Revolution. That is not our culture. Mr. Hanegbi is an expert on Israeli political culture. He is about to be indicted for illegal political appointments he made while Minister of the Environment in 2001 - 2003. The charges will include fraud and breach of trust, but Negbi has refused to resign his chairmanship of the Security and Foreign Policy Committee. He is the son of Geulah Ha-cohen, the Passionara of Menahem Begin's fascoid Herut party of the 1950s and 1960s. He began his own political career 35 years ago, at the Hebrew University, by organizing rock-throwing demonstrations against Arab students.

The committee session exposed further rifts between the army and government leaders. Senior officers told the committee members that the deployment of the expanded UNIFIL force will take a long time and that Israel troops must remain in Lebanon for months. In contrast, Foreign Minister Tsippi Livni said yesterday that Israel should withdraw its troops as quickly as possible in compliance with the cease-fire resolution.

Monday, August 14, 2006

A Good Day for C.Y.A.

Israel Chief of Staff Dan Halutz disgraces IDF's tradition of strategic nimbleness. However he wasted no time today in moving to cover his ass, while Israel government leaders were busy declaring victory. He ordered all officers to refrain from talking to journalists without prior authorization by the IDF spokesperson. He claimed this step was needed to keep the enemy from getting sensitive information by monitoring interviews. His real reason is more likely a desperation to muffle insiders' criticisms of his and the General Staff's conduct of the war.

Update (Tuesday night): After this order was published, disgraced but still serving General Udi Adam of Northern Command gave an interview to Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahranot. Adam blamed the Israel government for the confusion and shortcomings of IDF ground operations in Lebanon. He said its hesitations barred an early mobilization of reserves and their timely introduction into the war. Although he also expressed dismay at Halutz's temporarily demoting him in the chain of command, he presumably cleared doing the interview with the spokesperson. In other words, he was trusted to deliver the message that Halutz wanted.

Update: Turns out Halutz also quickly covered his ass before the war began. After receiving notification of Hezbollah's killing and capture of soldiers on July 12, but before Israel responded, Halutz sold a portfolio of Israeli stocks worth about $30,000. This action does not constitute insider trading, because it was based on information about the impending general economic situation rather than a particular company. Nevertheless, some Knesset members have questioned his priorities and demanded his resignation.

Meanwhile, aides of beleagured Defense Minister Amir Peretz are trying to pin some blame for the army's lack of readiness on his predecessor Shaul Mafouz, a cabinet member from Olmert's Kadima party. They also complain about Olmert's efforts to distance himself from Peretz and place some blame on his predecessor Sharon's government. They point out that Olmert was a high ranking official in that government and so in any case share some responsibility.

Storm Warning

Results of a poll published in Israel today show Israel's generally disapprove of their leaders and the results of the war. These results sharply contrast with those of last week and indicate political turbulence ahead for Israel. 52% believe that IDF was unsuccessful in its Lebanon offensive, and 58% believe Israel achieved few if any of its objectives.
62% and 65% disapproved of Olemert's and Peretz's respective handling of the war. Only 49% gave Chief of Staff Halutz a passing grade, while 44% failed him. This is unprecedentedly low approval for a Chief of Staff.

If elections held today Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Kadima party would receive less than 20 mandates (as opposed to the 29 it received in the March elections), while Defense Minister Amir Peretz’s Labor party would receive only 12 mandates (as opposed to the 19 it obtained in the recent elections). 60% of those who voted for these parties in March report they are now undecided.

Only 6% believe the cease fire agreement is good for Israel, 38% believe it is not good, but the best that could be obtained under the circumstances. 50% believe it is not good and Israel could have gotten a better agreement.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


Today's Washington Post features an excellent article on the development and organization of Hezbollah's capabilities. At the start of the war most observers, including this writer, expected IDF to quickly rout or severely damage Hezbollah. They were surprised by its ability to withstand Israeli attacks and keep counter-punching. Knowledgable obervers and IDF high command were also surprised by Hezbollah's possession and sophisticated use of certain weapons, like anti-tank missiles. As the article points out, IDF's experience in this war was quite different from its 1982 invasion of Lebanon, when it sliced through disorganized and (informant) penetrated Palestinian forces to reach Beirut in a matter of days.

Hezbollah's relative success creates two immediate problems for IDF. First, Hezbollah will resist standing down ideologically and disarming. Second, IDF will need to learn why it had such difficulty in mastering Hezbollah. To do, it must acknowledge that it had difficulties, that its intellgence was faulty, its tactics unsuccessful and its strategies virtually non-existent. Doing that will be very hard. If Israeli general Ido Nahustan, as quoted in the article, is indicative, the General Staff is already blustering past such admissions.

Moreover Israel and its supporters need to recognize a fundamental point about IDF: for the last 30 years it has been an army of occupation, dependent as much on its spies among the Palestinians as on its own initiative. Such armies tend to rust, micro-management and incessant office politics. With regard to their operations, right wing military historian and former paratrooper Michael Orren perhaps said it best: I was trained [in the 1970s] to take out Syrian tanks. My son was trained to arrest Palestinians in their houses at 2 in the morning.


Wars have a way of wounding their opponents as well as supporters, like they injure both participants and bystanders. Uri Grossman, 20, an IDF armor corp soldier, was killed today in Lebanon. Uri was the son of David Grossman, the novelist, who with A.B. Yehoshua and Amos Oz, held a press conference last Wednesday to declare opposition to the expansion of the war. My deepest condolences to David, his family and to all the families in Israel and Lebanon who have lost children, parents, siblings, friends and neighbors.

The deaths of soldiers and civilians on the eve of a cease fire seems particularly tragic and ironic. One wonders what operations or advantage gained could possibly justify their occurence. It is especially astounding to me that Foreign Minister Tsippi Livni says she was told (and apparently accepted) that IDF's expanded operations over the past two days were intended to protect the soldiers already in Lebanon. Under what logic was there a need to send in twice as many more soldiers?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Paying the Piper

The Israel Treasury Ministry estimates that Israel's cost for the war with Hezbollah for the last month has been 23 billion Israel Shekels or $5.27 billion at today's conversion rate. The breakout for this amount is $1.6 billion for the direct military costs, $1.14 for direct and indirect damage to Israel property, $2 billion in lost productivity, and $0.5 billion in aid to first responders and local authorities. This total is about equal to the direct monthly costs of the US military effort in Iraq. (The absence of any direct American property damage associated with that effort just shows why, like the Bush administration claims, it is better we're fighting them there than here.) The total for either Israel or the US does not include the forward going costs of healing, rehabilitating and supporting those wounded in the war.

The continuing military operations and new damages, assuming the cease fire holds, will probably add another billion dollars to the total. The resulting six plus billion dollars is relatively a large enterprise for Israel. Here are some recent deals: Warren Buffet paid $4B for 80% of the Israel company Iscar, Hewlitt-Packard paid $4.5B for Mercury Interactive and SanDisk bought M-Systems, a fabless flash chip company for $1.56B. However, the largest Israel company Teva Pharmaceutical has a market capitalization of $26B and had $6.5B in sales last year.

Even without assigning cost for the near 150 Israeli dead, the war appears to have been very inefficient for Israel. Israel's declared main purpose in fighting a broad war was to destroy Hezbollah's personnel and armament. An optimistic Israeli estimate would put the number of Hezbollah fighters killed so far at 500 and the number of missiles used or destroyed at 5000. The elimination costs therefore were about $12 million per fighter or $1.2 million per missile. Israel would have done better by offerring Hezbollah fighters $2.5 million apiece (ten times his expected lifetime earnings) for retiring, plus a half-million bonus for each unfired rocket he brought to Israel. (The US Federal Witness Relocation Program might have been willing to take fighters who feared returning home.) Israel could have also gotten the Lebanese government to share in funding this buyout program. Like most Lebanese of a certain age, its members were well acquainted with the costs and inefficiencies of war.

"The past is dead," goes the Arab proverb, and that is more true in this case than most. Nevertheless, Israel decision makers might consider the buyout program the next time a flare up with Hezbollah seems imminent. Perhaps now during IDF's brief occupation of southern Lebanon, they might try it on a limited basis. Since I have no relatives who are or likely to become Hezbollah fighters, be assured I have no personal interest in such a program.

A Yellow Light

Israel would best serve its interests by scrupulously observing the cease fire, that it will agree to start at 7 AM, Monday. Even if IDF has not completed the thrust to the Litani River, it should nevertheless stop. It should also not broadly interpret "defensive actions" to mean attacks on Hezbollah that will be behind its front lines, i.e, "cleaning them out." Since the cease fire provisions on the whole are favorable to Israel, it benefits if the cease fire holds and confounds the widespread scepticism about that. Second, when the cease fire resolution is viewed in context with the Security Council's recent demand that Iran stop uranium enrichment, it is clearly another step to contain Iran. Since curbing Iran and its nuclear program are paramount Israeli goals, Israel be would unwise to split the unity of the Security Council. The pattern of violations, which Israel's General Staff contemplates, would force the US to defend these actions in response to charges by its fellow members on the Council and the Sectary General. That split would impede the Council from acting decisively with regard to Iran, should the need arise, as anticipated, on August 22. Third, a well-policed and observed cease fire can over time split Hezbollah off from Iran. During the war, Hezbollah has presented itself to other Lebanese as a national resistance fighter and tried to live down its image as irresponsible provocateur. It has verbally committed itself to acting as part of the Lebanon state. A stable Lebanese government might force it to live up to these commitments. Israel can support the stability by observing the cease fire conditions and permitting speedy resettlement of the 500,000 people who fled southern Lebanon.

The Day Before the Day After

The IDF responded to the Security Council's declaration of a cease-fire by tripling its forces in Lebanon, bringing the total up to 30,000 troops. This is both a bit surprising and bad faith. Everyone expected, on the basis of precedents and military logic, some forward movement by IDF forces already in Lebanon. US Secretary of State Rice greenlighted that with her remarks to the Security Council yesterday. However, the introduction of so many new troops signals that
  • IDF will occupy as much area in southern Lebanon as it can, until the Lebanese army and expanded UNIFIL are deployed there;
  • IDF will continue to attack Hezbollah fighters and facilities anywhere in Lebanon, even after the government accepts the cease-fire.
Even if Israel, under the cease-fire, must eventually rely on the Lebanese army and UNIFIL to contain Hezbollah, it wants to make sure that there are as few as possible Hezbollah for them to contain. However, I continue to believe that the expanded operations are more a cover your ass move by the General Staff than they are a concerted step toward a strategic victory that would warrant the use of so many troops and material. The Chief of Staff, I believe, is purposefully setting up a phoney basis for telling the Israel public "I could have won, but the government stopped me."

We might therefore get an Israeli version of the confrontation between American General Douglas MacArthur and President Harry Truman over policy in the Korean War. I'll call that a mini-MacArthur moment. Tomorrow the government will accept the cease-fire, effective as of 7 AM, Monday. But the army will continue actions that violate it. The international community will holler, the government will then order the General Staff to stop. The General Staff will find some pretext to continue the advance in defiance of government orders. And then? I have asked several students of Israel government and laws whether the Prime Minister could fire the Chief of Staff. I received several different answers but no one seemed to know. The joke now going around Israel is if Prime Minister Olmert fires Chief of Staff Halutz it will have been on Halutz's orders.

Unfortunately while this farce or constitutional crisis plays out, Israelis and Lebanese will continue to kill and be killed.

One more note on tensions in Israel's government: Josh Marshall notes that Olmert clipped Foreign Minister Tsippi Livni's wings, by denying her permission to fly to New York for the Security Council meeting. Livni, a moderate and potential rival to Olmert for leadership of Kadima party, opposed escalation early in the war. We should add that Livni is the only government leaders who now enjoys high (61%) approval by the Israel public. If the Olmert government falls, she would be the most likely candidate to put together a new one. It would not be the first time a female Foreign Minister became the Prime Minister of Israel.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Day After Starts Now

Israel government leaders have greeted the cease fire resolution with satisfaction, but most Israelis will regard the government’s acceptance of it with dismay. For them, the cease fire now, with so little of Hezbollah destroyed, represents at best a draw with a very outnumbered and outgunned enemy. Indeed, no goal that Israel set at the outset of its campaign – re-establishing Israel’s deterrence vis a vis Hezbollah, pounding it to a pulp and securing the release of the captured soldiers – was achieved. Instead, Israel must rely going forward on the Lebanese army and an international force to contain and hopefully disarm that enemy.

Israelis might have been able to accept the outcome with some equanimity if Hezbollah were a state, as they more or less swallowed the draws with Egypt and Syria in 1973. However, Hezbollah in Israeli eyes is not a state that pursues national interests, but a group of Islamic fanatics, sponsored by Iran and, like its sponsor, dedicated to the erasure of Israel and its people from the map. Because of this association, underscored by Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s diatribes against Israel over the last several months, Israeli Jews overwhelmingly supported the war as an existential struggle, i.e., a struggle of survival, against a transcendental evil. Much of the cheerleading for the war produced in Israel played upon the theme of an impending Holocaust that could now be squashed. Public intellectuals like A.B. Yehoshua initially justified Israel’s massive bombing of Lebanon in response to the soldiers’ capture as the appropriate answer to an enemy that did not want to negotiate but wanted only to kill you. This enemy is different from Palestinians, who they see more like children dominated too long by the Israeli parent and acting out demands for freedom. Hezbollah and the Iranians are adult, evil and thoroughly other. This was the sound of doves, men of the left. Those on the right were even more Biblical or clinical in demanding Hezbollah’s destruction – “a cancer that the Lebanese must vomit out,” Chief of Staff Dan Halutz put it, while prescribing bombing as the proper emetic for Lebanon.

So Israelis of all stripes are unhappy with the outcome, but they are each unhappy in their own way and with their own narrative. The narratives have the common thread of a great unhappiness with the government for the past and present and a lack of confidence in it going forward. Either Olmert and Peretz blew it by shackling army command, trusting army command, too hastily signing off on army plans, too slowly signing off, not doing enough to protect the northern settlements. Most narratives will also express unhappiness and mistrust about the army, still Israel’s central institution, as the failures of intelligence, tactics and strategies become manifest in the numerous post mortems. This mood does not portend well for the survival of the government or more basic political stability. Israel was quite polarized last year over the withdrawal from Gaza and one can expect more screaming and trauma over how to address the current crisis – the days after. The national anxieties are sure to be deepened by the certain absence of efforts to humanize the enemy and that enemy now being celebrated throughout the Middle East as a role model.

An Unclear Green Light

(This marks my return from the utopian dreams below to murky reality)

This afternoon, Olmert and Peretz gave IDF the go ahead for expanding ground operations in southern Lebanon. According to army sources, it will take the IDF divisions involved one to two weeks to reach the Litani River and another six weeks to mop up Hezbollah fighters and strongpoints in the area. The military purpose of the operations is to push Hezbollah short range rockets back from firing points where they can hit Israel, or over 20 kilometers. Accordingly, IDF troops will move beyond the Litani at some points.

The green light comes as diplomats continued negotiations for a cease-fire resolution. The major hangup appears to be Lebanon's resistance to a beefed up United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNFIL), authorized to act coercively, i.e., shoot, under Chapter 7 of the UN charter. Currently, UNIFIL is authorized to monitor, under Chapter 6, and Israelis regard it as impotent. Lebanon President Siniora says Hezbollah's rejection of an enhanced UNIFIL is the reaon for his country's rejection of the amended draft that now, per his demand, explicitly calls for Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon. So the loudly announced start of the new campaign might stiffen Siniora or the campaign itself might erode Hezbollah's refusal. Thus the advocates of the campaign argued today it was needed to assure Israel gets political gains.

The army sources also said operations could stop if an acceptable-to-Israel cease-fire were approved. That is more dubious. If the campaign is well underway, when the Security Council finally approves a cease-fire resolution, it will be hard, as hisotry shows, for the troops to stop short of their goals. For example, at the end of the 1973 war, Israel units violated cease-fires in order to improve their offensive and defensive positions versus Egypt. Russian diplomats probably recalled such precedents -- the Soviet Union threatened to send "volunteers" to stop the 1973 violations -- and sought to buy time, by proposing a 72-hour cease-fire for "humanitarian purposes."

A pause imposed from the outside might be okay, in an Israeli perspective, even if it gave Hezbollah fighters time to reorganize. Like the US going AWOL two weeks ago, the campaign creates a new situation with an uncertain future. How many more lives will it cost Israel and Lebanon? Will Syria get involved? Will Hezbollah rockets strike Tel Aviv? If they do, what will be Israel's response? Making predictions on the Middle East is a very humbling experience. Without a cease-fire resolution today, Olmert and Peretz arguably had no choice than to give the go ahead. Israel's leaders and army have lost considerable credibility in the eyes of their own people and the world. Fresh polls of Israel public opinion show approval for Olmert down to 48%, for Peretz way down at 35% and for Halutz at 40%. A sizable minority of the population oppose broadening military operations and more doubt its success. Almost everyone faults the government's efforts to protect northern Israel and its residents.

Even more disconterting for the leaders could be signs that Israel risks the loss of neo-conservative and other Americans' affections. In a Haaretz opinion piece, two neo-cons argue unless Israel knocks out Hezbollah, Washington will not see it as a dependable strategic ally and a front line player against Iran. Anything less will embolden Iran, and the Bush administration will have nothing in return for the loss of political capital in the region due to its unnuanced support of Israel These changes will lead to less rather than more US involvement in the Middle East. Conventional wisdom holds that is not good for Israel. An Israeli failure will also disenchant many ordinary Americans. They like a winner or an underdog who proves it can win in the end.

Update:The U.S., France and Britain have announced agreement on a resolution for a cease-fire that will be submitted to the Security Council later today. The resolution works around the Lebanese objection to an earlier draft, by not basing the authority of the beefed up UNIFIL on Chapter 7. However, it satisfies Israel by mandating a 16,000 person force with powers to prevent any renewal of attacks on Israel by Hezbollah and to enforce an embargo of weapons to it. It also calls for the deployment of the Lebanese army in southern Lebanon and these forces and UNIFIL are deployed. The governments of Israel and Lebanon have received copies of the resolution, but UN sources said the vote at the Security Concil will not wait upon their responses.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Putting Pieces Together Is More Important than Connecting the Dots

(I apologize if my optimism below offends anyone.)

update:The piece below proposes that Israel and Lebanon compensate each other the war damages they have suffered. Lebanon on this view is held accountable for the actions of Hezbollah. Some readers have usefully criticized the idea that it would require each side to acknowledge responsibility or blame. It is absurd to expect that. Besides calculating blame is backward looking. So I should rebrand the proposed payments as investments for peace. The respective war damages then estimate the investments that are needed for each country to regain the life and prospects it had on the eve of the conflict, given new trajectories.

With a cease-fire draft resolution in the pipeline and probably a cease fire itself to follow, the “Day After” should already look challenging to most leaders in the Israel-Hezbollah war. In Israel, Hezbollah, Lebanon, the United States, there will be scores to settle. The Israeli public might want to know why its political leaders trusted their generals, bowed to public expectations and authorized wide scale bombing of Lebanon in response to Hezbollah’s capture of two reservists. They will certainly want to know why the army could not produce the outcomes that the generals promised. The survivors in Hezbollah might want to know how Nasrallah so badly miscalculated Israel’s response to this incident. Other Lebanese might ask why their government had let Hezbollah continue for so long in its irresponsible provocations of Israel. Finally, Americans and others around the world should want to learn why the Bush administration shirked its responsibility as a superpower and failed to demand a cease-fire sooner.

Amid the recriminations, I hope some might consider mutual reparations as a right step toward a more peaceful future. One cannot and should not put a value on the over one thousand Lebanese and over one hundred Israelis that have been killed in the conflict. But one can estimate on each side the direct expenses of the war, the material damages, and the loss of future revenues and income. I propose that Israel and Lebanon compensate each other for the material damages and the foregone revenues. In saying this, I consider Lebanon responsible for Hezbollah’s action both because Hezbollah was part of the national unity government and because the national government was derelict in exercising authority over Hezbollah. One might argue that only with the Cedar revolution and Syria’s exit form could Lebanon exercise such authority in accordance with its obligations under Resolution 1559. This point might entitle Lebanon to a discount.

The reparations can be in money, kind or service. They should not cover the costs of expended and destroyed military equipment, which includes Hezbollah offices and facilities, used for the hostilities or supporting propaganda. They should also not cover the foreign currency reserve that the central banks in Israel and Lebanon used to support their local currencies during the conflict. The material damage can be evaluated as, first, the repair or replacement costs for the roads, housing, factories, farms, stores, schools and other physical facilities that were damaged, less their respective cumulative depreciation on the eve of the conflict. The evaluation also needs to include the costs for the rehabilitation and support, as long as needed, for people physically or psychologically wounded by the war. The foregone revenue would include the loss of industrial production and service sales during the conflict or as an immediate consequence of it, e.g., the loss of fall harvests in southern Lebanon and northern Israel. But these estimates should also calculate the impact that the damage, memories and lessons of the war will have on certain sectors of the respective economies. Tourism in both countries will inevitably suffer for some years. Paradoxically, Israel’s burgeoning sale of high tech military equipment might decline because such equipment had limited success in the type of war that Israel fought and that its customers will likely fight.

An international mediation board, with technical expertise, under United Nations auspices could facilitate the assessment of reparations and assure equity. This board should include representatives of Israel, Lebanon, permanent members of the Security Council and one of Hezbollah’s putative sponsors, Syria or Iran. Decisions regarding estimates of damage might be governed by a rule that each side’s aggregate estimate should not exceed the other’s or some other agreement at the outset. Both Israel and Lebanon can raise the money to pay the reparations in anyway they wish, short of bank robbery or similar illegal acts. Friends of the respective sides might willingly contribute to the reparations, if they believe these will help underwrite peace for future decades. Nevertheless, it helps for certain high profile, feel-good but vital projects be publicized to encourage contributions -- poster children for the reparations. One such effort could be an Israeli organized fund to clean up the Lebanese coast, polluted by oil as a consequence of Israel bombing the Jiyye power plant. A Lebanese fund might be directed at restoration of burned forests in northern Israel.

In addition to its direct benefits, even a mildly successful implementation of this idea could contribute in several ways to stability in the Middle East. First, it might encourage real efforts for reparations to Palestinian refugees from 1948 and 1967, and to Jews forced out of Arab countries in the 1950s. That would remove a major impediment to settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Second, since the payouts in both the Lebanon-Israel and the Israel-Palestinian cases would occur over years, it would also give each side a stake in the other’s economic development and welfare. Finally, it would publicize with excruciating clarity the costs of a war. Those figure might give politicians, generals and publics pause before turning to a military solution for a crisis.