Sunday, 20 August 2006

Israel Arab Conflict (Debacle in Lebanon)

In the Aftermath of the Lebanon 4-Week War

1. For three decades we have been going from one debacle to another followed by mostly futile blame games and commissions of enquiries concluding always that it is the fault of individuals, the fault of others. This time it has to be different. We must face up to our collective responsibility as a country, as a nation, Government, Opposition, the political establishment and especially all factions that make up our Knesset whose existence is there to represent us, all of us:- WE THE PEOPLE. This time it has to be different because not since the 1948 War of Independence have we faced the thought of Israel’s extinction; the destruction of the only refuge of last resort, the only State that we can claim to be ours. The existential dangers we are facing are being articulated loud and clear by powerful and resourceful enemies: Hezbollah backed to the hilt by Iran and Syria. This danger however may prove to be more manageable and temporary than the bigger attritions and persistent dangers of the mobilized anti Israel, anti Jewish and anti-Semitic Arab forces backed by European public opinion and media. Facing that we seem to descend into a siege position, indeed a ghetto mentality saying: There is nothing we can do more than we have been doing and as the world hates us anyway and we have no partners for peace we have no choice but to continue with more of the same. We need to challenge this attitude. We have to distinguish between permanent matters of sheer existence as people and those changeable State’s needs for diplomatic alliances. We need now to adopt a long term strategy where even a 180 degree change of direction should not be left unexplored. But we can only do that if we stop our self-congratulatory posture post this war and grasp the fundamental changes that have been taking place relentlessly both in our region and also globally. The international landscape is witnessing the birth of new economic empires (China, Japan & India) who know little and care less for Jews and Judaism to whom Israel is just one more tiny state surrounded by countries with whom these empires’ interests are growing by the day. Our business leaders are acutely aware of that and are acting accordingly, but not our politicians who seem to continue to slumber in the old order.
2. In the aftermath of the debacle of the 4-week Lebanon War we have to ask ourselves fundamental questions. These questions need to be daring, deep and all encompassing. There is no doubt that for one century now our Arab neighbors have not accepted us. In turn we on our side ceased long ago to try to understand them. A mental curtain has descended between us and the Arabs, and that includes our own Arab citizens. We have become accustomed to view each other through a telescopic gun-barrel. One notable development has been contributing in recent years to the barrier separating us from our neighbors. Those amongst us who were born in Arab countries and understand their language, history and culture are disappearing. In contrast the Arabs are fast learning what make us the people we are. The command of Hebrew among some of their leaders, scholars and commentators is astonishing and their diligent pursuit of what is going on in Israel is envious. Some of our Arab MKs speak better Hebrew than many of their fellow Jewish MKs. And you only need to view the daily analysis in Al-Jazeera of our Hebrew dailies to put our kol Yisrael to shame.
3. However, our Arab neighbors are themselves facing acute internal problems of social strife political bankruptcy and overwhelming population explosion. The Palestinians are left to themselves and they are reveling in their infighting and delusions making it impossible to reach any accommodation with us. New Nassers and new Arafats are popping up everywhere without the Arabs asking themselves what good their old heroes did for them and what purpose the new ones serve. With this hopeless situation prevailing, it was right and practical for us to build the Security Wall and it was wise to act unilaterally to give both sides time to find a solution for coexistence. Late though Sharon was right. On the Arab side they can only accept coexistence once it dawns on them that Israel is there to stay not because of its army, not because of its history, not because of the Holocaust, but because the living 6 million Jews in Israel (more than half of whom anyway are descendents of ethnically cleansed Arab Jewish refugees) have nowhere else to go. They have no choice but to stand up and fight even if it is a war of mutual destruction with their enemies. Only this realization will convince the Arabs to seek mutually acceptable solutions.
4. On our side, our social fissures and political instabilities are creating hesitancy and lack of resolve and are sabotaging the implementation of our only available policy i.e securing ourselves unilaterally and quickly within defensible walls. These walls and new borders have to be defendable militarily and, even more importantly, acceptable in due course internationally through negotiation. We cannot solve these problems without introducing real changes in our political structures, without finding remedies to integrate our population including our minorities (Jewish and Arab) and without challenging what has come to be taken for granted in the assumptions underlying our political thinking.

Fundamental Questions
5. All the above can be summed up in the 3 basic areas: External Security, Internal Stability and Pro-active Public Relations. We need to keep analysing and articulating in order to accord with new circumstances developing as a result of previous preceding failures to deal with them. These 3 problems are interconnected and interwoven and must be dealt with and constantly reviewed in a strategic and coherent way. Successive Governments failed to deal with them as an integral whole. And at the heart of these failures is the tactical, piecemeal, fire engine response whenever a flare up erupts in any one of these three areas without any coordination between them. This approach is displayed starkly before our eyes now. Shoot first, justify later! Often Pangloss-like we assert that anything we have done is the best that could have been done. In fact the root of our failure is the lack of strategic thinking well ahead and co-ordinated overall plans backing them. The underlying reason for this sad state of affairs is not that we don’t have intelligent leaders in abundance (witness our science, medicine, business etc) but that members of our government coalitions cobbled together by unholy factional alliances, often respond with self-serving knee-jerk reactions rather than with cool calculated long term strategies. In times of crisis our Governments play too much to the media gallery, preying on the fears of the people, to the dismay of Israel’s citizens, friends and supporters. In all these cases neither we nor our sympathizers worldwide are helped by us with a well prepared ready proactive PR to understand the new realities to which we need responses. Unfortunately our fragile factions-based governments lack the steel in them to know better and to act differently. What is even worse is that our Knesset, the depository of our sovereignty, is itself paralysed and due to its structure unable to guide the Executive in time of crisis. For instance how can Netanyahu, with his mere 12 MKs, speak for a credible Opposition? Nothing will change until an Official Opposition look and act as an alternative government, the measure of a real democracy. This can only happen when a new electoral system is introduced to produce a stable Knesset and therefore stable full term governments.
6. So in the aftermath of this 4-Week War we need to ask many questions which on the face of it might look haphazard and disjointed when in fact they are interconnected and intertwined. And better to start in the overall national security sphere. Has our dependence on the USA forced us to act as their scouts shield and fire-fighter in the Middle East? Do we need to be their Hawaii in the Mediterranean? Do we need to go all the way in that direction or to pull back for our sake as much as for our American friends and allies? Identifying with every step they take is harming us without helping them. Did we let ourselves be caught in a power struggle between the Shi'a and the Sunni countries and peoples leaving ourselves to be the only element that is uniting them instead of taking advantage of their divisions? Did we try to forge new regional alliances while the peace with Egypt and Jordan still holds and our mutual defense interests with Turkey still intact? Did we keep the Gaza population in a pressure cooker waiting for it to explode? And therefore did we in this way only protect Egypt not ourselves from their militant radicalism? And likewise did we in effect by keeping our soldiers on the Jordan River protect the artificial integrity of Jordan? Is it time to let Gaza and the West Bank gravitate naturally in opposite directions one towards Egypt and the other to Jordan using both countries as bridges to slow infiltration of their exploding numbers into other Arab countries instead of imprisoning them inside the Occupied Territories? Are we wise in blocking this natural merging process instead of preventing it through controlling the Palestinian borders? Did we blunder in not welcoming the initiatives of Saudi Arabia instead of every time rejecting them out of hand? Did we distinguish between the motives credentials and methods of the Sunni Hamas from the Shi’a Hezbollah? Why not attempt direct contact with them using Fatah and Amal ? After all their memberships are the inhabitants of our borders and no battle or war will dislodge them from their homes? Recognizing us or not is semantics at this stage. Did we listen to the advice of our own friendly Arabs and more importantly the new brave voices coming from the Gulf? Did we analyze what the Knesset Arab MKs, friendly and hostile, are telling us? Are we missing the opportunity of using them as intermediaries and points of contact with the Arab world? Did we try to include them meaningfully in our delegations and representations in the international community as Israelis speaking for Israel? Did we examine the truth of the accusations by the outside world that we only know how to use force? Is our thinking governed by rigid entrenched assumptions of siege mentality (whether on the Right or on the Left) that are leading us to the same conclusions and therefore the same policies? In politics as in Academia but not in science and business we are led by fuzzy thinking that concentrates so much on trees that the sight of the wood is lost in distant drowsing mist. It is time to wake up and seek comprehensive answers. ( I shall attempt separately in a Q&A to analyze and answer these questions)

In the Aftermath of War
7. Our mismanagement of the 4-Week War is now forcing Lebanon to compromise with the leadership of Shi’a Iran in our North and our disjointed and late responses in Gaza is fostering a Sunni based Al Qaeda in the South. We lost the early opportunity of this war while the whole world was supporting us, to seek openly to sit face to face or through intermediaries with the Lebanese present government with its majority of Sunnis Christian and Druze. Instead we destroyed the ground from under its feet and repositioned it as hostage in the hands of Hezbollah and the Arab Street. With American influence and the tacit behind the scenes support of Sunni countries: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and most of the Gulf we can still find a way out of the straight jacket which within four weeks we managed to tighten around our chests. Our approach to the Iranians notwithstanding the apocalyptical pronouncements of Ahmadi-Nejad and as distinct from the Syrians was wrong from A to Z because we responded to the Iranian Government rhetoric instead of addressing ourselves to the Iranian people. We insulted the pride of the Iranian people and played into the hands of their crazy government (witness the early responses of Mofaz and Peres). We let ourselves be caught by the American approach, harming it and our American allies in the process. It is in our mutual interest to demonstrate to our neighbors and to the world that we are an independent close and loyal ally of the USA but we are not its client-state in the region. Instead of responding belligerently to Iran’s rhetoric as we did we should have lay low. We are a small country often trying to pose in super power robes. We can increase our appeal in the region to paraphrase an Old Persian dictum if we don’t stretch our legs beyond the length of our rug.
8. Iran’s leadership is merely using Israel as a proxy in its conflict with America provoking us for that purpose by Hezbollah. Instead of falling into their strategic devilish trap we should try to reach to the non Hezbollah Shi’as like Nabih Berry’s Amal Party instead of forcing it to play second fiddle to Hezbollah. Let us give credit to our enemies. They are not stupid. Iran knows that Hezbollah and not even Iran itself can defeat Israel or wipe it out. But they can use us and cause us untold damage in the process. At the moment they are interested in subjugating Lebanon to complete the Shi’a Arc stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean, and divide the Sunni North from the Sunni South. Israel is not party to their conflict with the Sunnis and what they perceive to be their Western protectors. Let the West secure its interests. Why should we sacrifice our children to pick its chestnuts from the fire? We would have been well advised to re-evaluate our position, held our nerve in the face of provocations by Ahmadi Nejad, tone down our rhetoric and refrain from direct involvement in the West’s confrontation with Iran. The present atomic Pakistani (call Bin Laden’s) Bomb constitutes more of a real danger to us if President Musharraf is suddenly assassinated than a future uncertain Iranian one. And both are far more dangerous to the West and to the Arab countries than to us. The Saudi king spelled his fear of the Iranian Bomb in no uncertain terms here in London. Why do we need to be their patsy? A limited military response for few days instead of full 4 weeks could have done the trick, spared many Israeli lives retained the mystique of our power of deterrence and invincibility. As it happened our military achievements, which are considerable but at a price, look doubtful in the eyes of the Arab and international worlds and our diplomatic failures are clearly disastrous and painfully visible.

Solutions and Policy Direction
9. Blame and lamentation will not set the clock back. So how to proceed. Olmert was right when in the midst of the war he declared that he would carry on with his plan of continued disengagement, unilaterally if a Palestinian consent was not forthcoming. He was after all elected on that very platform. By subsequently retracting it he has done a great harm to himself and to the image and future of Israel. Instead he should have defiantly repeated it and said that he wanted to accelerate it. This episode illustrates the impotence of our political system which needs urgently to reform. His retraction is more to do with internal politicking and not with the national interest. He can still salvage his reputation and emerge as a great peace leader if he would set out an even more ambitious plan now facing his opposition head on. And he should announce it and challenge Arab positions in all fronts rather than let leaks dissipate its international impact. Sharon’s decision to pull out unilaterally gained him and Israel tremendous credit. Olmert should turn a deaf ear to his internal intimidators. Frankly after the 4-Week War he has nothing to lose and everything to gain if he goes out bold and defiant. I believe the country at large would support him as indeed it unpredictably did to Sharon.
10. Israel's future survival can only be assured if we separate ourselves from the rest of the Arab World. Leaving Gaza was a first step which now should be followed immediately by a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank to within the lines agreed in the Bush/Sharon exchange of letters (of the 14th April 2004) This needs to happen quickly while Bush is still there. Abu Mazin is willing from his own perspective to cooperate. It is up to him to include Hamas and anybody else he wants to or forced into. Let us stop interfering in Palestinian politics. We have been getting nowhere assassinating this or that leader or fighting a shadowy guerrilla. Leaving them alone would eventually make them turn their attention to develop economic interests which would induce them to protect and seek to strengthen through relationship with Israelis. The most efficient way to repel katyushas is by harnessing world opinion and not taking out this or that launching pad.
11. Olmert should announce voluntarily that he will release the un-convicted Palestinian prisoners. Let us give what we save in costs to our suffering destitute in the peripheries. The narrative that these prisoners will be enemy soldiers does not wash anymore. There are millions of them all around us. Their release would add little to the hostile human sea around us. Completing the Border Wall along the above lines and in compliance with the modifications ordered by the Supreme Court will leave Israel in the best position to negotiate a final status peace treaty with the new Palestinian State. Sharon/Olmert plans are right. Negotiation and fixing final borders should come later. If left for negotiation it can take years and untold number of fatalities on both sides in the meantime. Quick action will spare internal slow and damaging strife amongst our people. This physical separation, far from antagonizing the Arabs, will pave the way for better relations with them and remove the sting and the stink of the occupation.
12. And while it is still in our control, we ought to build a separation fence in the middle of the courtyard of Al-Aqsa Mosque. This barrier will protect the Jewish worshippers of the Kothel/Western Wall in the future and avoid the constant tension often leading to violence created by Islamists during Friday prayers. Once this is done we should then proceed unilaterally to hand back the Mosque to the Palestinians together with East Jerusalem as we define it. Let Arab Al-Quds (Jerusalem in Arabic) which will anyway join with Ramallah be separated from Jewish Jerusalem. It is not as impractical as many try to characterize this separation barrier. Remember that the idea of any wall or physical separation was thought to be crazy only four years ago.
13. Sharon, by confining Arafat to Ramallah effectively moved the centre of political gravity (and its corrupting pot of gold) from Gaza to the West Bank. Resisting the building of any bridge, flyover or tunnel between Gaza and the West Bank should be the follow up to this vital move. Any Palestinians sovereign physical link crossing Israel will only stoke conflict and hostility for the future. Uniting the two parts of Palestine will result in cutting Israel in two in its most vulnerable belly from a future pincer violence simultaneously applied from Hebron and Gaza. All movements between the two parts of Palestine have to be by passports and transit or term visas. In this way the population of Gaza will be orientated and will gravitate towards Egypt while those of the West Bank will be orientated towards Jordan. That will lift the pressure off Israel. Jordan and Egypt will resist this move by us since the infiltration of Palestinians into these countries will eventually impact on their internal politics. For years we foolishly acted as border protective shields for both countries. It is time to wake up.

More Bold New Initiatives
14. That leaves the two problems of Hebron and the Golan. Here we must recognize that the Jewish enclave in Hebron will always be a vulnerable continuing festering wound. Its continued existence as it is today is an invitation for a future massacre of its Jewish population as indeed happened in the 1930s. Israel could declare, again unilaterally, that a period of its protection by the IDF, say 5 years, is to be followed by complete withdrawal. This would leave the Jewish settlers with the choice, either to relocate to Israel or if they could establish during these 5 years peaceful coexistence with the local population to remain as Israeli citizens living as residents in Palestine becoming subject, like any other foreign resident to Palestinian law. The good engendered by our unilateral declaration will help to create a new climate in Hebron. But more importantly it will challenge the Arabs’ underlying adoption of the concept of Judenrein.
15. Incidentally this would also be the best model for a solution for the Golan Heights. Here again unilaterally Israel should declare that once Syria acknowledges Israel’s claim that the international borders leave the entire shoreline of Lake Tiberias within Israel, the Golan Heights could revert to Syrian sovereignty say five years after a peace treaty and exchange of Ambassadors. Olmert should be the first to take the initiative and declare this solution. I believe the Golan Heights will soon be on the international agenda anyway so why not preempt that. It is therefore time to come up first with our own creative and bold solution which could turn the Golan into a great multi cultural tourist centre for the benefit of both countries. Such solution silly as it may sound to some diehard pessimists amongst us could catch the imagination of the international community and afford a way out of our impasse with Syria. It seeks to expose and may destroy the pernicious racist concept of Judenrein prevailing in Arab lands. We should use this powerful and evocative word, Judenrein, in this context and take pain to explain it to an ignorant world media. The mere proposal by Israel can constitute in itself a coup. The predicted negative response from Bashar El-Assad will undermine his regime and may induce the majority Sunni opposition to come forward with encouragement from outside Arab countries to support such a fair plan that restores the Golan to Syria.

Consequences of the 4-Week War
16. This is not the place to analyse our overall military planning and piecemeal execution of the 4-Week War This is the field of experts who need to knock their heads together, but not in the glare of TV studios. All the relevant questions are anyway already in the public and media domain. The one big question is yet to be thrashed out. How is it that after the failure of the “Shock and Awe” approach in Iraq and the subsequent quagmire we did not learn the lesson? Mighty America and mighty NATO never embarked on a military operation let alone a war without patient preparations. Why we could not wait for few weeks when world public opinion was with us, exerting diplomatic pressure, calling and training our reserves, revising our military plans, coordinating them with our political objectives, all before crossing the border. Hezbollah was not going to invade following the capture of the two soldiers. Frankly I cannot see how any politician, from any party, can escape the shame and blame. They need to answer the bereaved families, the orphans and the crippled amongst our heroic youth who obediently answered the call of duty often knowing full well that they were not equipped adequately to defend a policy with which they were not necessarily in total agreement on its details.
17. No less failure but with worse dire consequences of the 4-Week War is the utter collapse of our PR to project and explain our just cause to the outside world. The support for Israel has evaporated in the whole of Europe and even amongst sections of our friendly American supporters. We failed and continue to fail to put our just case may be because some of us appear to have lost faith in it. We let ourselves stand in the dock accused, instead of initiating and forcing our own agenda on our detractors. Viewing our performance on the receiving end outside Israel, examples of our utter impotence are in abundance even when the opportunity of knock-out arguments are presented to us by hostile commentators. We always reacted rather than pre-empted the defence of our operations.
18. Nasrallah stated proudly in a long interview in Al-jazeera that, way back in the 90s, he understood the need to appoint two commanders: one to fight the battle and one to care for PR always ready with photographers and crews to back him. We have witnessed his spectacular success in this field on world TV networks which has contributed to our perceived failures militarily and morally. It is not enough to declare and assert that we are a moral army. We need to explain its roots. As Secretary to the Kafr Qasim Commission appointed in the middle of the Suez War almost 50 years to the day, I know how the moral and legal basis of our soldiers’ behaviour is determined. Ben Gurion in the middle of the Suez War understood the gravity of our image abroad and the behaviour of our soldiers in the battlefield. Abba Khooshi, the famous Mayor of Haifa and a member of this Commission, told me the moment I met him that we needed to ensure that the Sword of Israel is not sullied with innocent blood. I wonder how many in Israel let alone outside Israel know this background which preceded the famous Mi Lai massacre in Vietnam and established the IDF since as an army backed by moral rectitude. Therefore the appointment of a senior Minister of Information at par with and as important as the Defence and Foreign Ministers should be made as a matter of urgency and not one day too soon.
19. With the opposition in the Knesset emasculated by the nature of our political system and with the media being so adversarial, negative and self-serving, often concentrating on trivial sensational scoops, a shroud has descended over our eyes driving us to resignation and despair. Short-term tactics are taking over and quick remedies are sought when in reality we need root and branch radical solutions; and this even while we live in days when we don't know where the next missile is going to hit us from the North or from the South. Our leaders, our academics and our TV Studio Generals are making blame and recrimination as objectives instead of concentrating on the search for solutions.
20. To have the right to speak up, accompanied by reserve Brigadier-General and MK Eliezer Cohen, I visited Galilee in the midst of the war and saw the devastation on the ground and felt the desperation of the families in shelter. I met Major Gen. Gershon, GCO Home Front Command and learnt and listened to the problems facing us from Mayor Adi Eldar who by his personal example, action and few words articulated what was happening around him in Carmiel and how we were falling short. In his mild and modest manner I sensed what Prof. Arnon Sofer has been for too long pleading with us. Our country is divided between the indulgent rich and safe centre from Gedera to Hadera and the neglected peripheries. To many inhabitants of the North, whom I had the privilege to listen to as “refugees” in Tel Aviv I felt the return of “Second Israel” we used to talk about in the 50s and 60s.
21. Two points became clear to me. First I sensed that we were back at Yom Kippur days caught napping because the early Katushas fell in the peripheries far away from Tel Aviv. The North could not understand why we had to wait for the capture of soldiers to respond. Indiscriminate firing of Katushas on civilians were enough even in International law to constitute CASUS BELLI to react. The second point they kept raising was that there was nobody in the centre of government or the Knesset to represent their different regions leaving them at the mercy of charity hand outs and family support at a time when they were hiding underground in fear. The 4-Week War has come to the regions as a wake up call. Things have to change. Fundamental structural reforms have to follow.
22. I have been watching Al Jazeera for the last 4 months and it was clear for any viewer and that must have included some viewers in Israel that Hezbollah was planning, scheming and preparing something. They were day after day analyzing our internal weaknesses, political divisions and social fissures. The weaknesses of Olmert Government at its inception and the factional nature of the Knesset were dissected ably by competent and knowledgeable commentators. That is why Nasrullah miscalculated. But he and those behind him missed one basic fact from their equation: this is that Israelis tend to forget their differences when it comes to their sheer existence simply because they have nowhere else to go. That is why it is only when we drive home to our Arab neighbors this simple truth that we might reach an accommodation and co-existence. But this can only happen when we on our side achieve a stable government, a representative Knesset and a powerful projection of our message to the world through a strong PR.
23. So now, even while licking our wounds, is the time to press ahead harder with our reform of the Knesset and Government. The President’s Commission for examining the Government and Governance of the country presided over by Prof Megidor is due to present its findings in Sept/Oct of this year. In view of our present calamitous DEBACLE, nothing could have been more timely and more relevant. Unless a clear and unified final report emerges from the Commission detailing agreed proposals for prompt implementation by the present 17th Knesset of real structural meaningful reform, the public reaction will be swift and uncompromising. The people in the regions and their supporters everywhere who suffered most and continue to suffer in the aftermath of the war for lack of direct representation will feel betrayed by an elite of academics and public figures entrusted with and given a whole year to come up with the goods. These will be perceived as caring more for their careers than their duties to the Presidency and the People. The regions and the public at large might erupt in frustration and anger in a powerful popular movement that will sweep out the present establishment of politicians that has been for too long enjoying power neglecting the trust of the real sovereign, the People of Israel.

Aharon Nathan
20th August 2006