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From Miscalculations to out of Proportion Responses: Israel's War in Gaza and Lebanon (2006)

Anyone having thought the daily killing of innocent civilians going on in Iraq is enough to deter any other force from imitating the same and even worse, has been thoroughly refuted by what is happening in the Middle East July 2006.

It might be speculation but the start of the two front war of Israel with Lebanon and Gaza coincided with the G 8 meeting in Russia. The coming together of world leaders, of representatives of the most powerful industrial nations has already a history when it comes to coincidences. Last year the G 8 meeting was wiped off the front pages of every newspaper due to the London bomb blasts on 7th of July. This time it might have been a calculation by Bush and the US administration that they can rail in all others so as to give a free hand to Olmert and the Israeli government. Fore mostly it is Bush who grants Israel "the Right to defend itself" while other world leaders, in particular Chirac from France and Putin from Russia speak about a disproportionate response of Israel to the latest incursions by Hamas and Hezbollah upon Israeli territory.

Since then not that many comments have been made by world leaders. While Kuenast from the Greens in Germany criticizes Chancellor Merkel for being so silent on this issue (a similar criticism has been expressed by PASOK opposition leader Jorgios Papandreou as to what Prime Minister Karamalis failed to do until very recently, namely to issue a public statement to express how the Greek government views the events in the Middle East) and Daniel Cohn Bendit proposing that former foreign minister of Germany Joschka Fischer should be the envoy of Europe to the Middle East, Joschka Fischer broke suddenly his silence since departing German parliament for a teaching post at Princeton by saying in public how shameful it is to see so many European leaders remaining so timid as if they have nothing to say in light of the new outbreak of violence in the Middle East.

As to the top EU diplomat Solana, the official EU representative delegated to Beirut in order to report at the subsequent meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, he has not been able to muster much. Aside from showing understanding for Israel's need to defend itself Solana cautiously suggested Israel's response to the kidnapping of three of its soldiers might have been a bit out of proportion.

Another way to sum up this latest eruption of violence in the Middle East, but a violence now called 'war' by Olmert after first Hamas, then Hezbollah killed and kidnapped Israeli soldiers, one in the case of the Hamas, two in the case of Hezbollah, has been to label all of this a gross miscalculation by everyone. Alon Ben-Meir writes "as the violence in the Middle East escalates, it is hard not to conclude that every player involved directly or indirectly has badly miscalculated." 1

But if things did get out of hand, then why could it happen? There are some useful interpretations, fore mostly that after Sharon fell silent he left behind a power vacuum in Israel. It forced Olmert to assert himself as tough prime minister with no willingness to compromise or to negotiate until the Israeli soldiers are handed over. As he has just been elected as prime minister he needs to establish himself first as convincing leader in the eyes of the Israelis. Interestingly enough the Israelis stand fully behind their young government.

There is, however, still another aspect to it. Both Olmert and his defence minister have little or no direct experiences in especially military matters. This might explain the tendency to over react in order to demonstrate not only how resolute is his government, but that he is willing to apply new measures, enter a long protracted war and even return with troops not only into the Gaza but equally into Lebanon even though these are the very areas from which Sharon had pulled out Israeli forces. Sometimes the undoing of a legacy may be also a way for the Israeli government to maintain the middle of the road while answering to the criticism from the Right. The entire thing is glossed over by security concerns but closer observers of politics in Israel will surely know what differences it makes as to the unity between Israelis and their government. The extent to which Israelis back the present course even though it means many innocent civilians are victimized in Lebanon and in the Palestine territory, it says that something more general and akin to all has gripped the entire Israeli society.

That two kinds of measures prevail when it comes to safeguarding civilian life this became clear when Israeli missiles launched to assassinate some militant Hamas leaders killed instead a Palestinian family just out on the beach to enjoy the Mediterranean sun and water. Olmert apologized to Abbas when they met in Egypt as Mubarek attempted to broker some sort of solution to the international boycott of the Hamas led government within the Palestine Authority. By comparison, Olmert would never let an apology from Palestine side be sufficient if a rocket assault from their side would have killed innocent Israeli citizens. Such a rocket launch would have been met with an immediate lethal response. So given two different measures as to what Israelis consider harm to themselves and what they think is an appropriate response in order to defend themselves, the asymmetry of warfare asserts itself.

The vast discrepancy between what 'our' compared to their lives is worth defending, that has been amply demonstrated over and again by the Americans. Simply said an American life is much more valued than the 35 000 or more civilians killed in Iraq since the invasion in March 2003. But arguing with numbers of innocent people killed is something only for the press, so the comment of one Palestinian living in the Gaza strip. He thinks there are still other, more serious issues which matter but about which no one hardly talks. It has to do with the occupation having first in the Gaza and now in Lebanon the impact that no one knows any longer what shall happen next. It is not merely the problem of not knowing which is so fierce but more so the realization that nothing has any meaning anymore. It reflects the bitter fact that people who struggle with a non identity come to believe human life, one's own life, no longer counts. This obliteration of identity goes then much further than what had been the policy of Sharon who wanted to beat the Palestinians till so malleable that they would go down on their knees and beg for peace. But now Israelis see this tough occupation policy is to no avail. In comments by Israelis made it is suggested that Palestinians have linked pain with war. Consequently there is no way out from resolving conflicts but through war spreading the pain in the Middle East still further.

One convincing interpretation why the sudden outburst of violence on part of Israeli forces (and to bomb a city like Beirut during nine consecutive days is no little pounding especially of a place which has just started to recover from a long period of civil war and uncertainty with the year 2006 promising for the first time a restored confidence in the economy of the Lebanon and many expecting a stream of tourism) has been given by Etgar Keret from Israel. She published in the International Herald Tribune on Wednesday, July 19, 2006 an article under the title: "The way we war". She writes that Israelis are not only fully behind the Olmert government for waging now a two front war against all terrorists, in order to stop those rocket attacks, but they are relieved that Israeli is finally again at war. As astonishing as it may sound, the relief found in war as a kind of therapeutic measure can be seen as a special response to the kind of psychological warfare being waged as part of the 'war on terrorism'. She writes "no, it's not that we Israelis long for war or death or grief, but we do long for those 'old days'..." 'Old days'? She explains it as follows: "We long for a real war to take the place of all those exhausting years of intifada when there was no black or white, only grey, when we were confronted not by armed forces, but only by resolute young people wearing explosive belts, years when the aura of bravery ceased to exist, replaced by long lines of people waiting at our checkpoints, women about to give birth and elderly people struggling to endure the stifling heat." 2 Indeed, the relief felt by having again clear enemy pictures, by knowing whom to fight against, may explain the impunity by which Israeli forces strike down almost everything that moves and is suspicious in Lebanon and Gaza.

Fighting terrorism and fighting a war differ. Once uniformed men confront others in their uniforms war seems to have clear front lines. Uniforms mark soldiers, they obey orders and military commanders map out strategies. All are trained at different levels to fight and they differ from unarmed civilians. In that sense the return to classical war fare using planes, guns, tanks, soldiers etc. in the Middle East may be the dream of every military commander and a relief for the entire population in the belief of finally knowing who their enemy is.

That longing for classical war fare has to be linked to the explanation mentioned already above, namely that the departure of Sharon has created a power vacuum. In the absence of knowing what measured response will lead to success, fear can spread in Israel to appear again too weak in the eyes of the enemy and thereby to loose the myth of superiority gained through the years of Sharon's tough measures but which still ended in sudden surprises such as the removal of Jewish settlers from the Gaza strip. That vacuum has to be filled for no military organisation can stand for too long a time such uncertainty. It means also no one knows for sure his or her position since all organisations find themselves in transformation. Moreover always those in the military need an occasion to rise before they can get promoted. Heroes are not created in peace time, only when the country is at war then distinctions between real men and others can be made. No doubt the explosive response by Israeli's Defence Forces going well beyond the limits of self defence in order to inflict upon Lebanon a brutal collective punishment for having allowed Hezbollah to remain armed, reflects the possible existence of such volatile situation within the own military apparatus. Not only the population but also the military find it therefore a relief to be finally at war again. As if the 'good old days'...

The oddest of all contradictions of many military men and women is that all along while fighting a war they dream to do all this for the sake of the own family. Promotion means not only a higher rank and therefore higher pay, but also the possibility to gain still other things in society such as prestige and status. Moreover at the very top it was always the case that until Olmert a famous military commander would became prime minister of Israel. For who else would know better to safeguard the security of the country if not a military man with a similar sound record like Sharon?

It is an absurd contradiction that those fighting a war dream of promotion and of a better position in society, think that they can gain this by making war fare more efficient even if that means as the case now in Lebanon displacing nearly half a million people and killing by 20th of July 2006 more than 300 civilians, a disproportionate number thereof being children. To gain something not through creativity but destruction is absurd but it says something about those men and women who have allowed themselves to be transformed through hard training into killing machines. But maybe it is not here the time to reflect upon those who serve in the military or other organisations prescribed to the use of force. Nevertheless over and again there is the ethical question as posed by the Students of 1968 to pilots dropping Napalm bombs over Viet Nam, My Lai an outstanding example of killing innocent people, and which has to be posed again when civilians being killed by bombs dropped on their cars even though they had been promised a safeguarded journey out of Beirut. Killing is killing, and this President Bush seems to forget when he can chastise those wishing to uphold abortion as free choice for women as killing life but does not condemn his own decision to occupy Iraq although it has brought about the death of more than 35 000 innocent civilians and the death toll there still rising every day. How can he condemn abortion and distort the other as if a sacrifice worth while since on the way to democracy? Why no one seems to notice such stark contradictions in the ideology and rhetoric of President Bush and others who follow him down that path of destruction such as Tony Blair that is a mystery of the 21st century.

Anguish and agony mixed with fear but also hope lets now many wonder if they are be able to survive amidst the rubble Israeli bombs have left behind. How can any military man think to get promoted by way of furthering forces of destruction? Here fake heroism covers up cowardice evident in just following orders but never taking the responsibility for safeguarding all human lives into one's own hands. As said above, it is the absurdity of every person caught up in such hierarchical organisations which claim to be there for the safety and security of the own people while staking their reputation on being capable of inflicting maximum damage upon others who are said to threaten this envisioned and already enjoyed life style.

But let us face it: the main responsibility for the outbreak of this new war in the Middle East bears President Bush. He has given his full support to Olmert to defend Israel even if that means a full scale attack against the Hamas and the Hezbollah although in reality further destruction of Palestine and now of the whole Lebanon. Bush has sanctioned this as official line in the name of self defence. He considers this as being legitimate, even though it is hard to see where collective punishment of all Lebanon for housing Hezbollah falls still under the category of defending Israel's borders and sovereignty.

It should be added that the two states solution for Israelis and Palestinians existing side by side and to which Bush referred to again at the G 8 meeting, that is only sand in the eyes of everyone. Right now Palestinians cannot claim a state of their own and it is extremely doubtful if Israel will ever let that happen. For would Palestinians form an own state, any crossing by Israeli forces of an internationally recognized border would no longer be legitimate but a violation of international law. Already now what is happening in the Middle East fulfils the charge of 'crime against humanity'. Here the legal procedures against those who are directly and indirectly responsible for such atrocities should be started immediately.

There is one other thing not seen by many. Unfortunately Israel has let itself become with the invasion into Lebanon a pawn in the game being played by Bush. It is a most sinister game but rests on the simple calculation let the others do the dirty work while oneself bears no responsibility. A similar tactic is being applied by American forces in Iraq. There they let the Iraq forces bear the brunt of the sectarian violence while American troops remain out of sight, withdrawn to their sheltered and well protected camps. It is an odd twist of logic that Sharon did convince Bush to occupy Iraq as it was his calculation with America as neighbour, Israel would be safer. Since this did not work out as previously thought, America is now forcing Israel to pay the price by having to do the dirty work for US military strategists. Many say Israel's attack of Lebanon is preparing the ground for still further attacks against Syria and Iran. By willing to do the collateral damage on behalf of America, Israel is doing in reality a great disservice to itself. As world reactions are beginning to show, Israel is risking more than just alienating its last supporters in the Middle East. By going too far the state of Israel is being exposed to a new form of anti Israeli attitude. Due to the atrocities being committed but also as seen by the response of people in the Gaza and in Lebanon, everyone there seems more determined and responsive to rise to the occasions as once did Israelis in situations of great stress and peril. That will make a crucial difference in the long run both morally and politically.

There is no definite answer as to what will be the final outcome but Israel has become a frightened state determined to use the full force while not willing to listen to the outside world and therefore also not to its own people, including those of the Israeli PEACE BLOC. The latter have called upon the Europeans to respond in order to end this war. As a matter of fact, PEACE NOW made that appeal even before the outbreak of the war with Lebanon, for they see and say it openly that the Gaza strip has been transformed by Israeli occupation policy into an "open prison". 3

By not being willing to see the direct consequences of such ill conceived occupation policy, Israel does not realize this will have enormous negative effects upon its own people. Life cannot be seen solely in terms of military strength but must be justifiable according to morality and belief in sovereignty and be based as much on inner freedom as love for the neighbours. The Israeli government does not seem to anticipate the fact that all Israelis will from now have to stand up to ever sharper questions and criticisms of even the best friends abroad, but that is a fatal flaw in Israeli politics. By having chosen Bush over the friendship with the Palestinian people they made the mistake of thinking Americans are their friends when in fact there could be no worse enemy then such a friend. The American occupation of Iraq has caused such terrible havoc in the lives of Iraqis that Israeli's endorsement of that invasion is as much a mistake as was the Palestinians endorsement of Saddam Hussein when he marched into Kuwait. Since things are determined as much by the facts on the ground as what is being reflected upon the media, these moral questions linked to what kind of friendships are preferred shall not be erased by propaganda and political lies. The Americans will do everything and anything to get out of the negative headlines, even if it means using a friend like Israel to relieve the American troops in Iraq while regaining popular support at home. What shock is shall be for all in Israel once they realize that they have been left all alone to do the dirty work for America in the Middle East and to do this with the whole world just watching, unable to say anything of political substance, because just amazed that such misuse by America of a friend could be possible.

Hatto Fischer

1 http://www.zaman.com/?bl=commentary&alt=&trh=20060720&hn=34923

2 Etgar Keret, "The way we war", International Herald Tribune, Wednesday, July 19, 2006, p. 6

3 www.gush-shalom.org


This article was first published by Heritageradio 23.07.2006


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