Haaretz journalist, Gideon Levy, has written a stunning and lucid account of the lessons he believes Israel should learn from the failed Lebanon war. His is definitely a contrarian approach and not shared by the majority of Israelis. But all movements and ideas which challenge conventional national wisdom begin as minority opinions and gradually move to the mainstream. One can only hope this will happen in Levy’s case. And as the title of the smash Israeli vintage pop hit says: Lu Y’hi (“If [only] it could be”).
The failure in this little war might teach us an important lesson for the future, and maybe influence us to change our ways and language, the language we speak to our neighbors with violence and force. The axiom that “Israel cannot allow itself a defeat on the battlefield” has already been exposed as a nonsensical cliche: Failure might not only help Israel greatly but, as a bonus, it might teach the Americans the important lesson that there is no point in pushing Israel into military adventures.
Maybe now, this war will also bring us back down to reality, where military force is only military force, and cannot guarantee everything. After all, we are constantly scoring “victories” and “achievements” against the Palestinians. And what comes of them? Deterrence? Have the Palestinians given up their dreams to be free people in their own country?
The IDF’s failure against Hezbollah is not a fateful defeat. Israel killed and absorbed casualties, but its existence or any part of its territory were not endangered for a moment. Our favorite phrase, “an existential war” is nothing more than another expression of the ridiculous pathos of this war, which from the start was a cursed war of choice.
In the above paragraph, Levy is debunking a powerful myth that is seared into the consciousness of almost all Israelis: “our first defeat will be our last.” An acquaintance with whom I used to be close, made aliya to Israel and holds relatively mainstream (right of center) views. But on the issue of Iran and Islamic ‘extremism’ he is implacable. Iran is Nazi Germany. Ditto Nasrallah and Hezbollah. The sooner we get the war (against Iran) over the better. Islamofascists are “not human.” To the charge that he had turned racist somewhere over the past 20 years, he demurred. He’s not racist at all. You can see the uphill battle that Levy will have to wage.
In this passage, Levy spins a horrifying scenario as to what might’ve happened had the IDF won a quick, smashing victory against Hezbollah:
It is not difficult to imagine what would have happened if Hezbollah had been defeated within a few days from the air, as promised from the start by the bragging of the heads of the IDF. The success would have made us insane. The U.S. would have pushed us into a military clash with Syria and, drunk with victory, we might have been tempted. Iran might have been next. At the same time we would have dealt with the Palestinians: What went so easily in Lebanon, we would have been convinced, would be easily implemented from Jenin to Rafah. The result would have been an attempt to solve the Palestinian problem at its root by pounding, erasing, bombing and shelling.
The most important lesson for Israel to draw from this misadventure is that its power has limits and that it must try new approaches other than purely military solutions:
Maybe all that won’t happen now because we have discovered first-hand that the IDF’s power is much more limited than we thought and were told. Our deterrent capacity might now work in the opposite direction. Israel, hopefully, will think twice before going into another dangerous military adventure. That is comforting news. On the other hand, it is true that there is the danger the IDF will want to restore its lost honor on the backs of the helpless Palestinians. It didn’t work in Bint Jbail, so we’ll show them in Nablus.
However, if we internalize the concept whereby what does not work by force will not work with more force, this war could bring us to the negotiating table. Seared by failure, maybe the IDF will be less enthusiastic to rush into battle. It is possible the political echelon will now understand that the response to the dangers facing Israel is not to be found in using more and more force; that the real response to the legitimate and just demands of the Palestinians is not another dozen Operation Defensive Shields, but in respecting their rights; that the real response to the Syrian threat is returning the Golan to its rightful owners, without delay; and that the response to the Iranian danger is dulling the hatred toward us in the Arab and Muslim world.
If indeed the war ends as it is ending, maybe more Israelis will ask themselves what we are killing and being killed for, what did we pound and get pounded for, and maybe they will understand that it was once again all for naught. Maybe the achievement of this war will be that the failure will be seared deeply into the consciousness, and Israel will take a new route, less violent and less bullying, because of the failure.
There does not appear to be any hope that the IDF officer corps can absorb any such lessons. And there is little hope that those Israeli politicians who represent such views can win a national election. So it leaves us quite uncertain about when and how sanity can return to Israeli policy toward its neighbors.
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