Something remarkable is happening within elements of the American Jewish media regarding the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Except for The Forward, and rarely Jewish Week, I don’t usually find much value in coverage of Israeli politics and the country’s relations with its Arab neighbors, including the Palestinians. I do review these publications in hopes that I’ll find something provocative and penetrating on the subject. Usually I’m disappointed. But not today.
Jewish Week’s current issue has not one but two articles which express doubt about the path Israel has chosen in Lebanon. And one of them is an editorial. I find the fact that the editor is willing to express doubts to be refreshing and heartening. It is unusual for the American Jewish community to express any doubts about Israeli policy at any time, but especially during a wartime situation.
Yes, there are the obligatory partisan pieces in this issue whose titles reveal their prejudices:
Fighting Hezbollah Time: Israel struggling to deal knockout blow before international pressure forces ceasefire
For Israelis, How Far to Go? As civilian casualties rise, country balances goal of destroying Hezbollah with fear of overkill [that one is a real laugher]
This is the unquestioning, timid Jewish press I’ve always known. But something else is also afoot there.
The editorial begins with an eye-opening quotation from Thomas Jefferson which applies a lesson that should be learned both about Lebanon and Iraq:
In 1815, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to a friend, noting that though the union over which he had presided was still struggling, he envisioned an era in which America’s might would rise unchallenged.
“Not in our day, but at no distant one,” he wrote, “we may shake a rod over the heads of all, which may make the stoutest of them tremble.
“But I hope our wisdom will grow with our power,” he added, “and teach us, that the less we use our power, the greater it will be.”
Jefferson’s words come to mind as Israel once again finds itself entangled in a conflict it did not start and which has no clear outcome…
Beyond the need to show its power, Israel’s leaders must think clearly about how best to achieve three primary goals: bring back the kidnapped soldiers; defeat or marginalize Hezbollah beyond a brief cease-fire; and stabilize the Lebanese government, which can be an ally for Israel.
Bombing the Lebanese infrastructure will not bring back the kidnapped soldiers. It may prevent Hezbollah from operating openly and receiving supplies and more rockets, but it also inflicts civilian casualties, however unintended, and turns the Lebanese people’s fear of and resentment toward Hezbollah into rage against Israel…
Our concern is that Israel not repeat the mistakes of the last war it fought in Lebanon, which began in 1982 with what seemed to be a quick, forceful and popular effort to push back the terrorists attacking Israel’s northern border, but lasted for 18 years…
Whatever actions Israel takes today must be weighed in the context of the past, and future, as well as the present. Even as it uses its military power, Israel should be pursuing a diplomatic option, one that will secure its well being by giving the struggling Lebanese government the resources and the guidance it needs to resist the pressures of Hezbollah and any other state that might be supporting it. Such an effort, backed by the might of the international community, could stabilize Lebanon and ensure a vital Lebanese-Israeli alliance.
Israel has long ago proven that it can, to paraphrase Jefferson, shake its rod and make even the stoutest of its enemies tremble. But now is the time for wisdom as well as power, an opportunity to validate Jefferson’s sentiments, proving that strength is at its peak when it is used most discriminately.
Though this is quite tame and moderate stuff by the standards of my own blog, it really is quite remarkable in the context of how much dissent and doubt the American Jewish media usually allow themselves concerning Israel.
Larry Cohler-Esses, one of Jewish Week’s editors, also wrote Experts: Force Alone Won’t Stop Hezbollah, which analyzes Israeli strategy against Hezbollah with a sharply critical eye:
…Some prominent military experts and diplomatic analysts are raising serious doubts about the ability of the campaign to achieve the goals Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert initially set for it. These include the return of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers; an end to the rain of rockets on Israel; the disarming of Hezbollah; and a pullback of the terror group’s militia from its positions on the border with Israel and the deployment of Lebanese soldiers there to exercise state control over the area.
“There’s no way you can achieve those war aims with the present pattern of use of force by Israel,” said Lt. Gen. William Odom, who directed the National Security Agency during the Reagan administration. “If they’re bombing infrastructure and doing these punishing raids into Beirut, they’re essentially going to turn Lebanon into a failed state. And if they do that, the state is certainly not going to put an army down on the border.”
Aaron David Miller, who served as a senior State Department Middle East negotiator from the administration of George H.W. Bush through that of his son, recalled earlier, similar military campaigns in South Lebanon that failed to achieve their objectives.
“Israel is now faced with a strategic reality that will be very hard to address with military means alone,” said Miller, now a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. “Unless Israel is prepared to occupy the entire country, there is no way it can destroy Hezbollah’s capability. They know it. And the longer the crisis continues, the more apparent this will be.”
William Lind, a leading theorist on non-conventional warfare and a consultant on the Marines’ bible on the topic, the Small Wars Manual, said, “The way Israel has described its war aims—destroying Hezbollah and Hamas—has guaranteed it won’t attain its objectives. They’re almost certain to come out the loser, with Hezbollah showing it can stand up to a state across a border.”
…These critics…question the fundamental efficacy of Israel’s military strategy for achieving its goals. With more than 400 Lebanese, mostly civilians, killed as a result of Israel’s bombings, and at least 29 dead on the Israeli side, the importance of effectiveness also has a moral dimension…
Critics raised multiple concerns about the ability of Israel’s bombing campaign to meet its goals. Among other things, they doubted the ability of the campaign to deeply dent Hezbollah’s supply of rockets, or its ability to obtain resupplies from Syria and Iran—its patrons—once the bombing stops.
Hezbollah does not store its rockets and weapons in armories, they noted. Instead, they are hidden in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of small homes, garages, sheds and farms over widely dispersed areas. Without Israeli soldiers on the ground able to go from door-to-door, this poses an almost insurmountable intelligence and logistical challenge that bombings are unlikely to overcome, said these critics.
Many of these critics also voiced concern that Israel’s bombing campaign—affecting millions, Shiite and non-Shiite—and the ability of Hezbollah to withstand it after the success of its cross-border raid, would only rally the Lebanese to its side, rather than isolate it.
“It shows other Muslims Hezbollah has a unique ability to stand against Israel, and Lebanese Christians that it’s a force you don’t want to cross,” said Lind. If, after this, Hezbollah simply survives, he said, “it will be a great victory.”
These articles prove that there are cracks in the foundation of the Jewish community’s normally ironclad support for Israeli policy. And all I can say is: “Thank God.” Someone is thinking for themselves rather than publishing Aipac’s cheerleading talking points. Now, if only someone at the Defense or Foreign Ministries in Israel were reading and understanding what’s being said by Diapora communities about this costly misadventure.