Israel's debacle, courtesy of Bush
With U.S. support, Israeli unilateralism was unfurled. The nation's security has never been so endangered, or its moral authority so tarnished.
By Sidney Blumenthal
Aug. 17, 2006 | On Monday, the day the cease-fire was imposed on Israel's war in Lebanon against Hezbollah, and just days after the London terrorists were arrested, President Bush strode to the podium at the State Department to describe global conflict in neater and tidier terms than any convoluted conspiracy theory. Almost in one breath he explained that events "from Baghdad to Beirut," and Afghanistan, and London, are linked in "a broader struggle between freedom and terror"; that far-flung terrorism is "no coincidence," caused by "a lack of freedom" -- "We saw the consequences on September the 11th, 2001" -- and that all these emanations are being combated by his administration's "forward strategy of freedom in the broader Middle East," and that "that strategy has helped bring hope to millions." If there was any doubt about "coincidence," he concluded a sequence stringing together Lebanon, Iraq and Iran by defiantly pledging, "The message of this administration is clear: America will stay on the offense against al-Qaida." Thus Bush's unified field theory of fear, if it is a theory.
Then, once again, Bush declared victory. Hezbollah, he asserted, had gained nothing from the war, but had "suffered a defeat."
At the moment that Bush was speaking an Israeli poll was released that revealed the disintegration of public opinion there about the war aims and Israeli leadership. Fifty-two percent believed that the Israeli army was unsuccessful, and 58 percent believed Israel had achieved none of its objectives. The disapproval ratings of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz skyrocketed to 62 percent and 65 percent, respectively.
The war has left Israel's invincible image shattered and moral authority tarnished, while leaving Hezbollah standing on the battlefield, its reputation burnished in the Arab street "from Baghdad to Beirut." Virtually the entire Israeli political structure has emerged from the ordeal discredited. When the war against Hezbollah ended, the war of each political and military leader against every other one began.
"You cannot lead an entire nation to war promising victory, produce humiliating defeat and remain in power," wrote Ari Shavit, a columnist for Haaretz, which published his call for the replacement of Olmert on its front page. As the political leaders accused one another of blunders, and beat their breasts in a desperate effort to survive (Olmert confessed "deficiencies"), the military commanders attacked and counterattacked. Gen. Udi Adam, head of the Israel Defense Forces Northern Command, who had been ousted as the offensive turned sour, gave a newspaper interview blaming the government for confusion and errors. Dan Halutz, the IDF chief of staff, issued an order forbidding all army personnel from giving press interviews, just as the newspapers were filled with the shocking exposé that Halutz had sold a stock portfolio within hours of learning of the Hezbollah kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers but before the Israeli government announced a response. The Knesset began an investigation. "We simply blew it," ran the headline on another column in Haaretz.
Israel's strategic debacle was a curiously warped and accelerated version of the U.S. misadventure in Iraq. It used mistaken means in pursuit of misconceived goals, producing misbegotten failure. Rather than seek the disarmament of Hezbollah, Israel sought to eliminate it permanently. If the aim had been to disarm it, in line with United Nations Resolution 1559, Israel might have initiated a diplomatic round, drawing in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, to help with the Lebanese government. But, encouraged by the Bush administration, Israel treated Lebanese sovereignty as a fiction. With U.S. support, Israeli unilateralism was unfurled. The possible consequences of anything less than stunning and complete triumph in a place where Israel had long experienced disaster were dismissed.
After having withdrawn in 2000 from its occupation of Lebanon, achieving few of the aims declared in the 1982 invasion, the Israeli government launched an air campaign that would supposedly extirpate Hezbollah. The wishful thinking behind the air campaign was similar to that of the Bush administration in its invasion of Iraq. Upon the liberators' entry into Baghdad, Vice President Cheney explained beforehand, the population would greet them with flowers. In Lebanon, the idea was that the more destruction wreaked by Israel, the more the population would blame Hezbollah. Of course, as common sense and every previous historical example should have dictated, the opposite occurred. When the air campaign obviously failed, the army was thrown into the breach, sent to relive Israel's 1982 agony. Cautions about repeating the past were ignored, and the past was repeated.