Friday, August 04, 2006

"Systemic Failure"? - Ari Shavit on the Lebanese war (Ha'aretz)

In my previous post, Lebanon/Israel - Did the war make sense?, I juxtaposed two contradictory assessments by Ze'ev Sternhell ("The most unsuccessful war") and Yossi Melman ("A smart, successful war"). This important piece by the military & political analyst Ari Shavit, also in the left-liberal Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, offers a powerful third perspective--especially in counterpoint to Yossi Melman's analysis, though in fact it is has far more scope and depth than either of the other two. For Shavit, however the present war turns out, it should be taken as an alarming wake-up call for Israeli society as a whole.

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In the second Lebanon war, there is a danger that Israel will be defeated. If the large-scale ground move that Ehud Olmert initiated very late does not go well, the reality to which we are liable to awaken after the war is one of a first Israeli defeat. [....]

Israel failed in the first three stages of the war of 2006. The air offensive failed, the limited ground offensive failed and the days of the hesitation and confusion of post-Bint Jbail failed. As a result, Israel was perceived to be helpless in the face of a sub-state terrorist organization that was battering it repeatedly without being vanquished

Israel is a country surrounded by actual and potential enemies. The strength of those enemies is far greater than the strength of Hezbollah. If Israel is incapable of defending its sovereignty and its citizens against Hezbollah in the course of three long weeks, the impression is created that it has become a country that is not defendable. That impression is completely wrong. At the bottom, Israel is a strong country. In the Middle East, however, the very creation of an image of weakness means defeat. The meaning of such a defeat is a war soon. A war that will be harder and more terrible than the present war. Therefore, the last-minute attempt to reverse the situation and achieve a late victory at a heavy price in blood is correct and necessary. Precisely those who seek life, stability and perhaps even peace must be ready to pay the terrible price that is required so that the second Lebanon war will not end in an Israeli defeat.

Afterward the immediate reasons for the immediate crisis must be determined. Why did this happen to us? [....]

The Yom Kippur War is burned into the Israeli consciousness as a blunder. The second Lebanon war will be burned into the Israeli consciousness as a failure. Even if in the end Nasrallah is vanquished, one way or another, the war of 2006 exposed the fact that the Israel of 2006 is experiencing systemic failure. If this is not to become systemic collapse, it must be diagnosed accurately already now, when Israel is sending its sons to fight for its future in the battlefield of the North.

The political establishment failed. [....] The military establishment failed. [....] The Israeli elites failed. The capitalists, the media and the academics of the 21st century failed in that they bedazzled Israel and deprived it of its spirit. Their recurrent illusions about the historical reality in which the Jewish state exists led Israel to navigate poorly and lose its way. [....] While the broad Israeli public displayed sobriety, determination and staying power in all the tests it faced in the past decade, the elites disappointed. They imparted to Israeli youth a flawed set of values, which makes it very difficult for them to charge ahead when charging ahead is indisputably just. A country in which there is no equality, no justice and no belief in the justness of its path, is a country for which no one will charge ahead. And, in the Middle East of the 21st century, a state for which many of its young people are not willing to kill and be killed, is a state living on borrowed time. A state that is not sustainable.

Thus, the challenge of the final days of the war and of the long day that will come immediately afterward, is to turn Israel into a sustainable state again. To that end, all the basic questions must be reopened. [....]

The political upheaval (1977), the Lebanon War, the settlements, the privatization, the intifadas and post-Zionism brought about the unraveling of the old Israeli order. No new Israeli order emerged. [....] The new elite of capital, which replaced the old elite of service, was not value-based but exploitative. It did not see to the general good but to the personal and class good. Thus, no second Israeli republic was founded here to succeed the ascetic and determined republic of siege that existed until the mid-1980s. Instead, it forged a free-market reality that is not restrained by a valid state-oriented approach. It forged a regime of rampant capitalism and extreme individualism that debilitates any sense of solidarity and enervates the national immune system. It promised peace and again promised peace and turned the empty promise of peace into a dogma. It turned Israel into a pleasure yacht whose captains, drunk with arrogance, and whose owners, intoxicated with corruption, have absolutely no understanding of the great looming storm.

Now we are in the midst of the storm. The second Lebanon war sometimes looks like a repeat of the past, but in truth it is the flash of the future. [....]

This summer Hassan Nasrallah challenged us in the most profound way. Employing a small, disciplined and determined army of believers, he set out to hurl at us defiantly the claim that our democracy is rotten. That our hedonism causes degeneration. That our decadence is terminal. There is no hope, Nasrallah is saying, no hope for a free society that loves life in a fanatic Middle East.

Now the challenge is before us. Israel is a deceptive country. When it is aware of its inherent weakness, it is capable of overcoming it and becoming a power. When it assumes that its might and supremacy are taken for granted, it is weakened and takes a beating. Therefore it is precisely now, precisely because of the hard blow we took in the war-of-the-sin-of-arrogance, we have it in us to rise from the debacle, shake ourselves off and bring forth from within us our latent forces. However, to do that we must look unflinchingly at ourselves and at our fate.

What this means is that the discussion about the Israeli condition and what it obliges must begin immediately. This brief article suggested in passing several preliminary insights. However, the trenchant postwar discussion must produce many more insights - complementary or conflicting. [....] In the weeks ahead Haaretz intends to float all these questions, and many more, as part of an intensive conceptual discussion it will conduct in these pages.
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Even if Shavit's diagnosis proves to be excessively alarmist (which I think it may be) and/or one judges elements of it to be misguided (which raises a more complex range of issues), it deserves to be read fully and considered carefully

--Jeff Weintraub
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Ha'aretz
August 4, 2006
Systemic failure
By Ari Shavit

Since the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel has not won a war. However, in all its wars during the last generation, neither has Israel been defeated. The Yom Kippur War turned from an almost-defeat into an almost-victory when the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) crossed the Suez Canal in the south and threatened Damascus in the north. The Lebanon War got tangled and complicated but nevertheless brought about Yasser Arafat's expulsion from Beirut and the dismantlement of the PLO sub-state he had established. The first intifada faded before Israel wearied of it, and developed into the Oslo peace process. The second intifada was repulsed before Israel wearied of it, and developed into the disengagement.

So that in four different campaigns - to which we could add the War of Attrition and the Gulf wars - Israel achieved a stalemate of one kind or another, which was not decisive but allowed a certain stability to persist until the next campaign. Accordingly, the second Lebanon war is different from all its predecessors. In the second Lebanon war, there is a danger that Israel will be defeated. If the large-scale ground move that Ehud Olmert initiated very late does not go well, the reality to which we are liable to awaken after the war is one of a first Israeli defeat.

A defeat is not a holocaust. It is not the end. The French were defeated in Indochina and survived, the Americans were defeated in Vietnam and prospered. Egypt was defeated in 1967, drew its conclusions and was back on its feet by 1970 and certainly in 1973. However, to prevent even a point-specific Israeli defeat, we must define the situation precisely. The attempt to create a fake ostensible victory does not serve Israel's national goals or national existence. On the contrary: it lulls the nation and prevents it from mobilizing all its strength for the necessary coping with its fate. If Israel seeks life, it cannot go on living within the gossamer webs of a military establishment with high-powered PR. It must emerge from the virtual-reality studio of the channels of patriotic ratings and look at reality as it really is. The reality is hard, very hard. Very hard, but not hopeless.

To begin with, the immediate problem must be defined: Israel failed in the first three stages of the war of 2006. The air offensive failed, the limited ground offensive failed and the days of the hesitation and confusion of post-Bint Jbail failed. As a result, Israel was perceived to be helpless in the face of a sub-state terrorist organization that was battering it repeatedly without being vanquished

Israel is a country surrounded by actual and potential enemies. The strength of those enemies is far greater than the strength of Hezbollah. If Israel is incapable of defending its sovereignty and its citizens against Hezbollah in the course of three long weeks, the impression is created that it has become a country that is not defendable. That impression is completely wrong. At the bottom, Israel is a strong country. In the Middle East, however, the very creation of an image of weakness means defeat. The meaning of such a defeat is a war soon. A war that will be harder and more terrible than the present war. Therefore, the last-minute attempt to reverse the situation and achieve a late victory at a heavy price in blood is correct and necessary. Precisely those who seek life, stability and perhaps even peace must be ready to pay the terrible price that is required so that the second Lebanon war will not end in an Israeli defeat.

Afterward the immediate reasons for the immediate crisis must be determined. Why did this happen to us? Why did the summer of the soccer World Cup become the summer of a faltering war? Why did Israel move in one fell swoop from a condition of economic-hedonistic haughtiness into a condition of military impotence?

The Yom Kippur War is burned into the Israeli consciousness as a blunder. The second Lebanon war will be burned into the Israeli consciousness as a failure. Even if in the end Nasrallah is vanquished, one way or another, the war of 2006 exposed the fact that the Israel of 2006 is experiencing systemic failure. If this is not to become systemic collapse, it must be diagnosed accurately already now, when Israel is sending its sons to fight for its future in the battlefield of the North.

The political establishment failed. It failed in that it lent itself to the simplistic belief in a simplistic unilateral withdrawal without understanding its inherent dangers. It failed in that it did not create crushing Israeli deterrence in the face of the Qassam rocket offensive in the south after the unilateral withdrawal. It failed in that it went to war hastily without weighing properly the war's prospects and without defining properly its goals. It failed in that it was in thrall to the defense establishment, which it was incapable of criticizing, restraining or focusing. It failed in that it thrust Israel into a booby-trapped battlefield where we must win even though it is impossible to win.

The military establishment failed. It failed in that it assumed that the Air Force and its precision weapons provide an answer to the fundamental problems of Israel's security. It failed in that it promised to win conventional wars without blood, sweat and tears. It failed in complacency. It failed in arrogance. It failed in that it did not create a relevant combat ethos and did not instill a steadfast spirit of combat. It failed in that it invested most of its resources in managing the occupation on the one hand and preparing the disengagement on the other hand, without deploying properly for an actual war.

The Israeli elites failed. The capitalists, the media and the academics of the 21st century failed in that they bedazzled Israel and deprived it of its spirit. Their recurrent illusions about the historical reality in which the Jewish state exists led Israel to navigate poorly and lose its way. Their incessant attacks - direct and indirect - on nationalism, on militarism and on the Zionist narrative corroded the tree trunk of Israeli existence from within and caused it to lose its vitality. While the broad Israeli public displayed sobriety, determination and staying power in all the tests it faced in the past decade, the elites disappointed. They imparted to Israeli youth a flawed set of values, which makes it very difficult for them to charge ahead when charging ahead is indisputably just. A country in which there is no equality, no justice and no belief in the justness of its path, is a country for which no one will charge ahead. And, in the Middle East of the 21st century, a state for which many of its young people are not willing to kill and be killed, is a state living on borrowed time. A state that is not sustainable.

Thus, the challenge of the final days of the war and of the long day that will come immediately afterward, is to turn Israel into a sustainable state again. To that end, all the basic questions must be reopened. To that end, a thorough housecleaning has to be done not only in the systems of the government, the army and the establishment but in all the systems of our life. There must be discussion and debate, clarification and clarity. The Israeli condition must be defined, and what that condition obliges must be understood.

Israel is the state of the Jewish people. Israel is a free country. Both because it is a Jewish state and a free country, Islamic zealotry seeks to destroy Israel. Since the Khomeinist revolution in Iran in 1979, Muslim fanaticism has been on the rise. Thus the threat facing Israel is concrete and not abstract. Existential and not territorial. The challenge it faces is how to organize its life systems such that it can preserve its identity and defend its freedom against the tsunami that would engulf it.

For about half a century, between the mid-1930s and the mid-1980s, Israel was able to do this, standing up to secular Arab nationalism. Israel-in-the-making and fledgling Israel was able to adjust its values, its internal structure and its military strength to meet the existential challenge it faces. The balance was found between belonging culturally to the West and doing what was obliged by life in the East. The balance was found between freedom and mobilization, between love of life and readiness to die. Almost miraculously, Israel succeeded in carving a path between the internal contradictions of its existence and even turned those contradictions into a source of strength. Precisely because it was aware of its fragility and its singular weaknesses, Israel was able to create a vibrant and productive national existence that was fortified by a powerful, deterrent national security.

In the past 20 years, that balance was lost. The political upheaval (1977), the Lebanon War, the settlements, the privatization, the intifadas and post-Zionism brought about the unraveling of the old Israeli order. No new Israeli order emerged. No new Israeli story was told. No contemporary wisdom was articulated to bridge the terrible disparity between the internal Israeli milieu and the external milieu in which Israel has its existence. The new elite of capital, which replaced the old elite of service, was not value-based but exploitative. It did not see to the general good but to the personal and class good. Thus, no second Israeli republic was founded here to succeed the ascetic and determined republic of siege that existed until the mid-1980s. Instead, it forged a free-market reality that is not restrained by a valid state-oriented approach. It forged a regime of rampant capitalism and extreme individualism that debilitates any sense of solidarity and enervates the national immune system. It promised peace and again promised peace and turned the empty promise of peace into a dogma. It turned Israel into a pleasure yacht whose captains, drunk with arrogance, and whose owners, intoxicated with corruption, have absolutely no understanding of the great looming storm.

Now we are in the midst of the storm. The second Lebanon war sometimes looks like a repeat of the past, but in truth it is the flash of the future. An Iranian Cuba was established on our northern border. If the Iranian Cuba is not disarmed, it will threaten us continuously and intolerably. However, our present effort to disarm the Iranian Cuba looks more and more like the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

Accordingly, we must assume that what we are now experiencing is only the first campaign in a confrontation that will have both a second and perhaps a third campaign. The subject on the agenda is not the abducted soldiers. The subject is the attempt by Iran to put an end to Israel's strategic hegemony in the region. The subject is the attempt by the powerful Iranian state of evil to expel the West from the Middle East by undermining Israel.

This being the case, the second Lebanon war should be seen as resembling the war in Spain in the 1930s which preceded the global conflict and served as its testing ground. It must be understood that the question with which the second Lebanon war leaves us is whether we are Czechoslovakia, which collapsed in the face of evil, or whether we are Britain, which after a very difficult period was able to cope with the evil and created a turning point against it. One way or the other, the second Lebanon war will not be a true end. The shaky quiet that will prevail at its conclusion will be no more than a respite. What will determine the outcome of the confrontation that will follow the end of the respite is which side will exploit the years ahead to its advantage. Which side will understand their fatefulness and make intelligent use of them in order to be prepared for the hour of truth that will assuredly come.

This summer Hassan Nasrallah challenged us in the most profound way. Employing a small, disciplined and determined army of believers, he set out to hurl at us defiantly the claim that our democracy is rotten. That our hedonism causes degeneration. That our decadence is terminal. There is no hope, Nasrallah is saying, no hope for a free society that loves life in a fanatic Middle East.

Now the challenge is before us. Israel is a deceptive country. When it is aware of its inherent weakness, it is capable of overcoming it and becoming a power. When it assumes that its might and supremacy are taken for granted, it is weakened and takes a beating. Therefore it is precisely now, precisely because of the hard blow we took in the war-of-the-sin-of-arrogance, we have it in us to rise from the debacle, shake ourselves off and bring forth from within us our latent forces. However, to do that we must look unflinchingly at ourselves and at our fate.

What this means is that the discussion about the Israeli condition and what it obliges must begin immediately. This brief article suggested in passing several preliminary insights. However, the trenchant postwar discussion must produce many more insights - complementary or conflicting. Was the idea of a civil agenda and a civilian leadership correct or false? Was the attack on Israeli militarism and Israeli macho-ism justified or dangerous? Does the attitude toward the occupation and the convergence plan need to be reassessed? Is it the occupation that caused the IDF's "metal fatigue" - or is it Tel Aviv's hedonism? Should we treat the settlers differently now, because they still preserve an energetic source of national vitality? On the other hand, is it time to define a militant approach of a secular Israel that will make it possible for young Israelis to defend their world of freedom and pleasure against Muslim fanatics? Is there a diplomatic route to blocking the Iranian threat, perhaps by means of a peace treaty with Syria?

In the weeks ahead Haaretz intends to float all these questions, and many more, as part of an intensive conceptual discussion it will conduct in these pages.

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