Reclaiming space Uri Avnery: Lebanon War Report A Swiss Cheese «

Reclaiming space Uri Avnery: Lebanon War Report A Swiss Cheese «

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Uri Avnery provides a peace and Israeli perspective on the consequences and failings of Israel’s Winograd Inquiry Report into last year’s war on Lebanon.

He is none too optimistic about what the findings bode for the region and this is reflective in the Report in part by how it frames a political problem in misguidedly militaristic terms.

The Report for him bespeaks of likely further belligerency against its neighbours in the near future, and the further militarisation of Israeli society and the rank corruption in the IDF.

The Report is also damning in its glaring omissions — hardly anything about the impact on Lebanon itself — and for what it says about US involvement and the Bush administration’s enablement of these monstrous events.

This is how he reads the findings; boldface emphasis is mine:

THE WINOGRAD committee of inquiry is not a part of the solution. It is a part of the problem.

Now, after the first excitement caused by the publication of the partial report has died down, it is possible to evaluate it. The conclusion is that it has done much more harm than good.

The positive side is well known. The committee has accused the three directors of the war – the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense and the Chief-of-Staff – of many faults. The committee’s favorite word is “failure”.

It is worthwhile to ponder this word. What does it say? A person “fails” when he does not fulfill his task. The nature of the task itself is not considered, but only the fact that it has not been accomplished.

The use of the word “failure” all over the report is by itself a failure of the committee. The new Hebrew word invented by the protest groups – something like “ineptocrats” – fits all of the five committee members.

IN WHAT did the three musketeers of the war leadership fail, according to the committee?

The decision to go to war was taken in haste. The war aims proclaimed by the Prime Minister were unrealistic. There was no detailed and finalized military plan. There was no orderly staff-work. The government adopted the improvised proposal of the Chief-of-Staff at it was, without alternatives being offered or requested. The Chief-of-Staff thought that he would win by bombing and shelling alone. No ground attack was planned. The reserves were not called up in time. The ground campaign got off very late. In the years before the war, the forces were not properly trained. Much equipment was missing from the emergency stores. The big ground attack, which cost the lives of so many soldiers, started only when the terms of the cease-fire were already agreed upon in the UN.

Strong medicine. What is the conclusion? That we must learn these lessons and improve our performance quickly, before we start the next war.

And indeed, a large part of the public drew precisely this conclusion: the three “ineptocrats” have to be removed, their place has to be filled by three leaders who are more responsible and “experienced”, and we should then start Lebanon War III, so as to repair the damage caused by Lebanon War II.

The army has lost its deterrent power? We shall get it back in the next war. There was no successful ground attack? We shall do better next time. In the next war, we shall penetrate deeper.

The entire problem is technical. New leaders with military experience, orderly staff-work, meticulous preparations, an army chief from the ranks of the ground forces instead of a flying commander – and then everything will be OK.

THE MOST important part of the report is the one that is not there. The report is full of holes, like the proverbial Swiss cheese.

There is no mention of the fact that this was from the start a superfluous, senseless and hopeless war.

Such an accusation would be very serious. A war causes death and destruction on both sides. It is immoral to start one unless there is a clear danger to the very existence of the state. According to the report, Lebanon War II had no specific aim. That means that this war was not forced on us by any existential necessity. Such a war is a crime.

What did the trio go to war for? In theory: in order to free the two captured soldiers. This week, Ehud Olmert admitted publicly that he knew quite well that the soldiers could not be freed by war. That means that when he decided to start the war, he blatantly lied to the people. George Bush style.

Hizbullah, too, does not present an existential danger to the State of Israel. An irritation? Yes. A provocative enemy? Absolutely. An existential danger? Surely not.

For these problems, political solutions could be found. It was clear then, as it is now, that the prisoners must be freed through a prisoner exchange deal. The Hizbullah threat can be removed only by political means, since it stems from political causes.

THE COMMITTEE accuses the government of not examining military alternatives to the Chief-of-Staff’s proposals. By the same token, the committee itself can be accused of not examining political alternatives to the government’s decision to go to war.

Hizbullah is primarily a political organization, a part of the complex reality of Lebanon. For centuries, the Shiites in South Lebanon were downtrodden by the stronger communities – the Maronites, the Sunnis and the Druze. When the Israeli army invaded Lebanon in 1982, the Shiites received them as liberators. After it became apparent that our army did not intend to go away, the Shiites started a war of liberation against them. Only then, in the course of the long and ultimately successful guerilla war, did the Shiites emerge as a major force in Lebanon. If there were justice in the world, Hizbullah would erect statues of Ariel Sharon.

In order to strengthen their position, the Shiites needed help. They got it from the Islamic Republic of Iran, the natural patron of all the Shiites in the region. But even more important was the help coming from Syria.

And why did Sunnite Syria come to the aid of the Shiite Hizbullah? Because it wanted to create a double threat: against the government in Beirut and against the government in Jerusalem.

Syria has never given up its foothold in Lebanon. In the eyes of the Syrians, Lebanon is an integral part of their homeland, which was torn from it by the French colonialists. A look at the map is sufficient to show why Lebanon is so important for Syria, both economically and militarily. Hizbullah provides Syria with a stake in the Lebanese arena.

The encouragement and support of Hizbullah as a threat against Israel is even more important for Syria. Damascus wants to regain the Golan Heights, which were conquered by Israel in 1967. This, for Syrians, is a paramount national duty, a matter of national pride, and they will not give it up for any price. They know that for now, they cannot win a war against Israel. Hizbullah offers an alternative: continual pinpricks that are intended to remind Israel that it might be worthwhile to return the Golan.

Anyone who ignores this political background and sees Hizbullah only as a military problem shows himself to be an ignoramus. It was the duty of the committee to say so clearly, instead of prattling on about “orderly staff-work” and “military alternatives”. It should have issued a red card to the three ineptocrats for not weighing the political alternative to the war: negotiations with Syria for neutralizing the Hizbullah threat by means of an Israeli-Syrian-Lebanese accord. The price would have been an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan heights.

By not doing so, the committee really said: there is no escape from Lebanon War III. But please, folks, try harder next time.

A CONSPICUOUS hole in the report concerns the international background of the war.

The part played by the United States was obvious from the first moment. Olmert would not have decided to start the war without obtaining explicit American permission. If the US had forbidden it, Olmert would not have dreamt of starting it.

George Bush had an interest in this war. He was (and is) stuck in the Iraqi morass. He is trying to put the blame on Syria. Therefore he wanted to strike a blow against Damascus. He also wanted to break the Lebanese opposition, in order to help America’s proxy in Beirut. He was sure that it would be a cakewalk for the Israeli army.

When the expected victory was late in coming, American diplomacy did everything possible to prevent a cease-fire, so as to “give time” to the Israeli army to win. That was done almost openly.

How much did the Americans dictate to Olmert the decision to start the war, to bomb Lebanon (but not the infrastructure of the Siniora government), to prolong the war and to start a ground offensive at the last moment? We don’t know. Perhaps the committee dealt with this in the secret part of the report. But without this information it is impossible to understand what happened, and therefore the report is to a large extent worthless for understanding the war.

WHAT ELSE is missing in the report? Hard to believe, but there is not a single word about the terrible suffering inflicted on the Lebanese population.

Under the influence of the Chief-of-Staff, the government agreed to a strategy that said: let’s bomb Lebanon, turn the life of the Lebanese into hell, so they will exert pressure on their government in Beirut, which will then disband Hizbullah. It was slavish imitation of the American strategy in Kosovo and Afghanistan.

This strategy killed about a thousand Lebanese, destroyed whole neighborhoods, bridges and roads, and not only in Shiite areas. From the military point of view, that was easy to do, but the political price was immense. For weeks pictures of the death and destruction wrought by Israel dominated world news. It is impossible to measure the damage done to Israel’s standing in world public opinion, damage that is irreversible and that will have lasting consequences.

All this did not interest the committee. It concerned itself only with the military side. The political side it ignored, except to remark that the Foreign Minister was not invited to the important consultations. The moral side was not mentioned at all.

Nor is the occupation mentioned. The committee ignores a fact that cries out to heaven: that an army cannot be capable of conducting a modern war when for 40 years it has been employed as a colonial police force in occupied territories. An officer who acts like a drunken Cossak against unarmed peace activists or stone-throwing children, as shown this week on television, cannot lead a company in real war. That is one of the most important lessons of Lebanon War II: the occupation has corrupted the Israeli army to the core. How can this be ignored?

THE COMMITTEE judges Olmert and Peretz as unfit because of their lack of “experience”, meaning military experience. This can lead to the conclusion that the Israeli democracy cannot rely on civilian leaders, that it needs leaders who are generals. It imposes on the country a military agenda. That may well be the most dangerous result.

This week I saw on the internet a well-done presentation by the “Reservists”, a group of embittered reserve soldiers set up to lead the protest against the three “ineptocrats”. It shows, picture after picture, many of the failures of the war, and reaches its climax with the statement that the incompetent political leadership did not allow the army to win.

The young producers of this presentation are certainly unaware of the unpleasant smell surrounding this idea, the odor of the “Dolchstoss im Ruecken” – the stab in the back of the army. Otherwise they would probably not have expressed themselves in this form, which served not so long ago as the rallying cry of German Fascism.

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Three Provocations: The method in the madness

When A Prime Minister has just lost a war, is dogged by corruption allegations and sees his popularity ratings in free fall – what can he do?

Why, he can initiate provocations.

A provocation diverts attention, generates headlines, creates the illusion of power, radiates a sense of leadership.

But a provocation is a dangerous instrument. It can cause irreversible damage.

PROVOCATION NO. 1: The northern frontier.

Along the northern border runs a fence. But not everywhere does the fence coincide exactly with the recognized border (the so-called Blue Line). For topographical reasons, some sections of the fence run a few dozen meters south of it.

That is the theory of the situation. In the course of the years, both sides have become accustomed to regarding the fence as the actual border. On the Lebanese side, the villagers farm the fields up to the fence, fields which may well be their property.

Now Ehud Olmert has decided to exploit this situation and reveal himself as a great, invincible warrior. Some explosives recently found a few yards from the Blue Line serve as a pretext. The Israeli army claims that they were put there just days ago by Hizbullah fighters disguised as goatherds. According to Hizbullah, they are old bombs that have been there since before the recent war.

Olmert sent soldiers beyond the fence to carry out a “Hissuf” (“exposure”) – one of those new Hebrew words invented by the army’s “verbal laundry” to beautify ugly things. It means the wholesale uprooting of trees, in order to improve vision and facilitate shooting. The army used the trademark weapon of the State of Israel: the armored bulldozer.

The Lebanese army sent a warning that they would open fire. When this did not have any effect, they indeed fired several salvoes over the heads of the Israeli soldiers. The Israeli army responded by firing several tank shells at the Lebanese position and lo – we have our “incident”.

The whole affair is very reminiscent of Ariel Sharon’s methods in the 60s, when he was the chief of operations of the Northern Command. Sharon became quite an expert at provoking the Syrian army in the demilitarized zones that existed on the border between the two countries at the time. Israel claimed sovereignty over these areas, while the Syrians asserted that it was a neutral zone that did not belong to either state and in which the Arab farmers, who owned the land, were allowed to tend their fields.

According to legend, the Syrians exploited their control of heights overlooking the Israeli villages in the valley below them. Again and again the evil Syrians (the Syrians were always “evil”) terrorized the helpless kibbutzim by shelling. This myth, which was believed by practically all Israelis at the time, served as a justification for the occupation of the Golan Heights and their annexation by Israel. Even now, foreign visitors are brought to an observation post on the Golan Heights and shown the defenseless Kibbutzim down below.

The truth, which has been exposed since then, was a bit different: Sharon used to instruct the Kibbutzniks to go to their shelters, and then send an armored tractor into the demilitarized zone. Predictably, the Syrians shot at it. The Israeli artillery, just waiting for its cue, then opened up a massive bombardment of the Syrian positions. There were dozens of such “incidents”.

Now the same method is being practiced by Sharon’s successor. Soldiers and bulldozers enter the area, the Lebanese shoot, the Israeli tanks shell them.

Does this provocation make any political sense? The Lebanese army answers to Fuad Siniora, the darling of the United States and the opponent of Hizbullah. In the wake of the Second Lebanon War, this army was deployed along the border, at the express demand of the Israeli government, and this was proclaimed by Olmert as a huge Israeli achievement. (Until then, the Israeli army commanders had adamantly opposed the idea of stationing Lebanese or international troops in this area, on the grounds that this would hamper their freedom of action.)

So what is the aim of this provocation? The same as with all Olmert’s recent actions: gaining popularity to survive in power, in this case by creating tension.

PROVOCATION NO. 2: The Temple Mount.

Islam has three holy cities: Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. In Mecca this week, the chiefs of Fatah and Hamas assembled in order to put an end to the mutual killing and set up a unity government. While the attention of the concerned Palestinian public was riveted there, Olmert struck in Jerusalem.

As pretext served the “Mugrabi Gate”, an entrance to the Haram-al-Sharif (“the Noble Sanctuary”), the wide plaza where the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock are located. Since this gate is higher than the Western Wall area below it, one can approach it only over a rising bridge or ramp.

The old bridge collapsed some time ago, and was replaced with a temporary structure. Now the “Israel Antiquities Authority” is destroying the temporary bridge and putting in its place – so it says – a permanent one. But the work looks much more extensive.

As could have been expected, riots broke out at once. In 1967, Israel formally annexed this area and claimed sovereignty over the entire Temple Mount. The Arabs (and the whole world) have never recognized the annexation. In practice, the Temple Mount is governed by the Islamic Waqf (religious endowment).

The Israeli government argues that the bridge is separate from the Temple Mount. The Muslims insist that the bridge is a part of it. Behind this tussle, there is a lurking Arab suspicion that the installation of the new bridge is just a cover for something else happening below the surface.

At the 2000 Camp David conference, the Israeli side made a weird-sounding proposal: to leave the area itself to the Muslims, but with Israeli sovereignty over everything beneath the surface. That reinforced the Muslim belief that the Israelis intended to dig beneath the Mount, in order to discover traces of the Jewish Temple that was destroyed by the Romans 1936 years ago. Some believed that the real intention was to cause the Islamic shrines to collapse, so a new Temple could be built in their place.

These suspicions are nurtured by the fact that most Israeli archaeologists have always been the loyal foot-soldiers of the official propaganda. Since the emergence of modern Zionism, they have been engaged in a desperate endeavor to “find” archaeological evidence for the historical truth of the stories of the Old Testament. Until now, they have gone empty-handed: there exists no archaeological proof for the exodus from Egypt, the conquest of Canaan and the kingdoms of Saul, David and Solomon. But in their eagerness to prove the unprovable (because in the opinion of the vast majority of archaeologists and historians outside Israel – and also some in Israel – the Old Testament stories are but sacred myths), the archaeologists have destroyed many strata of other periods.

But that is not the most important side of the present affair. One can argue to the end of days about the responsibility for the Mugrabi walkway or what it might be that the archaeologists are looking for. But it is impossible to doubt that this is a provocation: it was carried out like a surprise military operation, without consultation with the other side.

Nobody knew better what to expect than Olmert, who, as mayor of Jerusalem, was responsible for the killing of 85 human beings – 69 Palestinians and 16 Israelis – in a similar provocation, when he “opened” a tunnel near the Temple Mount. And everybody remembers, of course, that the Second Intifada started with the provocative “visit” to the Temple Mount by Ariel Sharon.

This is a provocation against 1.3 billion Muslims, and especially against the Arab world. It is a knife in the back of the “moderate” Mahmoud Abbas, with whom Olmert pretends to be ready to have a “dialogue” – and this at exactly the moment Abbas reached an historical agreement with Hamas for the formation of a national unity government. It is also a knife in the back of the king of Jordan, Israel’s ally, who sees himself as the traditional protector of the Temple Mount.

What for? To prove that Olmert is a strong leader, the hero of the Temple Mount, the defender of the national values, who doesn’t give a damn for world public opinion.

* * *PROVOCATION NO. 3.

After Haim Ramon was convicted of indecent conduct, the post of the Minister of Justice fell vacant. In a surprise blow, after laying down a smoke screen by dangling the names of acceptable candidates, Olmert appointed to the post a professor who is the open and vocal enemy of the Supreme Court and the Attorney General.

The Supreme Court is almost the only governmental institution in Israel which still enjoys the confidence of the great majority. The last President of the Court, Aharon Barak, once told me: “We have no troops. Our power is based solely on the confidence of the public.” Now Olmert has appointed a Minister of Justice who has been engaged for a long time and with a lot of noise in destroying this confidence. Indeed, it seems that this is his main interest in life, ever since he failed to get a close friend, a female professor, elevated to the Supreme Court.

One can see in this an effort by Olmert, a politician who is dragging behind him a long train of corruption affairs (several of which are at present under police and State Comptroller investigation), to undermine the investigators, the Attorney General and the courts. It serves also as revenge against the court that dared to convict Ramon, his friend and ally. He did not, of course, consult with anyone in the judicial system: not with the Attorney General (whose official title is “Legal Adviser of the Government”) nor with the President of the Supreme Court, Dorit Beinish, whom he cannot stand.

I am not an unreserved admirer of the Supreme Court. It is a wheel in the machinery of the occupation. It cannot be relied on in matters like the targeted assassinations, the Separation Wall, the demolition of Palestinian homes and the hundred and one other cases over which the false banner of “security” is waving. But it is the last bastion of human rights inside Israel proper.

The appointment of the new minister is an assault on Israeli democracy, and therefore no less dangerous than the other two provocations.

* * *WHAT DO the three have in common? First of all: their unilateral character. Forty years of occupation have created an occupation mentality that destroys all desire and all ability to solve problems by mutual understanding, dialogue and compromise.

Both in foreign and domestic relations, Mafia methods reign: violence, sudden blows, targeted eliminations.

When these methods are applied by a politician haunted by corruption affairs, an uninhibited war-monger who is fighting for survival by all means available – this is indeed a very dangerous situation.