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.


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