Ze’ev Sternhell, Leon Blum Professor of Political Science at Hebrew University, has penned another savage attack in Haaretz on the premises of the Israeli war in Lebanon. He notes that a war which began as an effort to free two kidnapped IDF soldiers and punish Hezbollah for upsetting the delicate balance in the north has somehow transformed itself into something much more ambitious and more nebulous at the same time:
Once it was clear that it [the war] was not achieving its aims, an unsuccessful military campaign was upgraded with the wave of a magic wand to the level of a war of survival. When everyone understood that a moral reason had to be found both for the dimensions of the destruction sowed in Lebanon and the killing of the civilian population there, and for the Israeli dead and wounded (nobody is even talking about the exposure of the entire civilian population in the North of Israel to enemy fire while people are kept in disgraceful conditions in bomb shelters), a war of survival was invented, which by nature must be long and exhausting.
That is how a campaign of collective punishment that was begun in haste, without proper judgment and on the basis of incorrect assessments, including promises that the army is incapable of fulfilling, turned into a war of life and death, if not some kind of second War of Independence. In the press there have even been embarrassing comparisons to the struggle against Nazism, comparisons that are not only a crude distortion of history, but disgrace the memory of the Jews who were exterminated.
The architect of this unsuccessful campaign [Ehud Olmert] has outdone himself: In order to cover up his failures, he delivered a poor man’s pseudo-Churchillian speech, and promised us more “pain, tears and blood.” There really is no limit to shamelessness…
Sternhell notes that as the campaign has bogged down the IDF’s former boastfulness about its grand military ambitions have been considerably toned down:
At the same time, the campaign’s goals have been reduced and shrunk during these three weeks. From restoring Israel’s power of deterrence, eliminating Hezbollah, and disarming it immediately — after three weeks we have arrived at the present goal, which is the dismantling of the forward outposts of Hezbollah and the deployment of an international force to defend the North of Israel from the possibility of a repeat attack.
At this point, the average citizen, who is not working day and night in the corridors of power and is not sunning himself near the generals’ command rooms, is at a loss. Is this how we are restoring the IDF’s power of deterrence? Haven’t we accomplished exactly the opposite? Hasn’t it become clear to the entire world that our “invincible” air force…failed for three weeks to end the barrage of rockets…
The Six-Day War and Yom Kippur War were wars of survival, and through them the IDF was revealed in all its greatness. The present war is the most unsuccessful we have ever had; it is much worse than the first Lebanon War, which at least was properly prepared…
It is frightening to think that those who decided to embark on the present war did not even dream of its outcome and its destructive consequences in almost every possible realm, of the political and psychological damage, the serious blow to the government’s credibility, and yes — the killing of children in vain. The cynicism being demonstrated by government spokesmen, official and otherwise, including several military correspondents, in the face of the disaster suffered by the Lebanese, amazes even someone who has long since lost many of his youthful illusions.
A voice of reason. If only someone in government were listening. But alas they’re not.
By the way, if you need a case of Twilight Zone-like ‘deja vu all over again,’ please read Nir Hasson‘s historical juxtaposition of Israeli media reports from the 1982 Lebanon war with the current one. It’s amazing how little has changed. Just a smattering of quotations from her archival portrayals of that earlier misadventure:
…The papers were full of reports from the front, which was advancing rapidly toward Beirut. IDF officers issued optimistic assessments: “The PLO network in Beirut collapsed. The central command is not functioning”; “Arafat’s deputy, Abu Jihad, was killed in a bombing attack on Beirut”; “Rumors: Arafat was also killed” (both survived). “Sharon: ‘The terrorists suffered a fatal blow.'”
Two weeks after the fighting erupted, Yaakov Erez, Ma’ariv’s political commentator, compared Lebanon to a swamp.
The perception was that a cease-fire and withdrawal from Lebanon were on the verge of happening. On June 13, one Ma’ariv commentator named the war: “The Seven-Day War.” “The IDF is racing against the clock to complete missions before a diplomatic arrangement is put in place or a cease-fire is agreed to,” Yedioth Ahronoth wrote…
The residents of the north declared that they were willing to suffer; the main thing was to eliminate the threat of Katyushas once and for all. “This is the last time we are willing to sit in shelters. We will sit here and lie on mattresses for as long as you want. Just finish off the terrorists,” one northern resident told Ma’ariv on the second day of the war.
The papers were full of pictures from the war: soldiers praying beside tanks, army convoys on the way to Lebanon.
In describing his weariness of blogging about the Israeli-Arab conflict, Aron Trauring wrote: Plus ca change, plus la meme chose. Hasson certainly proves him right in regard to the current war.