Knife in the Back
War of the Generals
The same army that took just six days to rout three big Arab armies in 1967 has not succeeded in overcoming a small "terrorist organization" in a time span that is already longer than the momentous Yom Kippur War.The day after the war will be the Day of the Long Knives.
Everybody will blame everybody else. The politicians will blame each other. The generals will blame each other. The politicians will blame the generals. And, most of all, the generals will blame the politicians.
Always, in every country and after every war, when the generals fail, the "knife in the back" legend raises its head. If only the politicians had not stopped the army just when it was on the point of achieving a glorious, crushing, historic victory.
* * *
THE SIMPLE truth is that up to now, the 22nd day of the war, not one single military target has been reached. The same army that took just six days to rout three big Arab armies in 1967 has not succeeded in overcoming a small "terrorist organization" in a time span that is already longer than the momentous Yom Kippur War. Then, the army succeeded in just 20 days in turning a stunning defeat at the beginning into a resounding military victory at the end.
In order to create an image of achievement, military spokesmen asserted yesterday that "we have succeeded in killing 200 (or 300, or 400, who is counting?) of the 1000 fighters of Hizbullah." The assertion that the entire terrifying Hizbullah consisted of one thousand fighters speaks for itself.
According to correspondents, President Bush is frustrated. The Israeli army has not "delivered the goods". Bush sent them into war believing that the powerful army, equipped with the most advanced American arms, will "finish the job" in a few days. It was supposed to eliminate Hizbullah, turn Lebanon over to the stooges of the US, weaken Iran and perhaps also open the way to "regime change" in Syria. No wonder that Bush is angry.
Ehud Olmert is even more furious. He went to war in high spirits and with a light heart, because the Air Force generals had promised to destroy Hizbullah and their rockets within a few days. Now he is stuck in the mud, and no victory in sight.
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AS USUAL with us, at the termination of the fighting (and possibly even before) the War of the Generals will start. The front lines are already emerging.
The commanders of the land army blame the Chief-of-Staff and the power-intoxicated Air Force, who promised to achieve victory all by themselves. To bomb, bomb and bomb, destroy roads, bridges, residential quarters and villages, and - finito!
The followers of the Chief-of-Staff and the other Air Force generals will blame the land forces, and especially Northern Command. Their spokesmen in the media already declare that this command is full of inept officers, who have been shunted there because the North seemed a backwater while the real action was going on in the South (Gaza) and the Center (West Bank).
There are already insinuations that the Chief of Northern Command, General Udi Adam, was appointed to his job only in homage to his father, General Kuti Adam, who was killed in the First Lebanon War.
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THE MUTUAL accusations are all quite right. This war is plastered with military failures - in the air, on land and on the sea.
They are rooted in the terrible arrogance in which we were brought up and which has become a part of our national character. It is even more typical of the army, and reaches its climax in the Air Force.
For years we have told each other that we have the most-most-most army in the world. We have convinced not only ourselves, but also Bush and the entire world. After all, we did win an astounding victory in six days in 1967. As a result, when this time the army did not win a huge victory in six days, everybody was astounded. Why, what happened?
One of the declared aims of this war was the rehabilitation of the Israeli army's deterrence power. That really has not happened.
That's because the other side of the coin of arrogance is the profound contempt for Arabs, an attitude that has already led to severe military failures in the past. It's enough to remember the Yom Kippur war. Now our soldiers are learning the hard way that the "terrorists" are highly motivated, tough fighters, not junkies dreaming of "their" virgins in Paradise.
But beyond arrogance and contempt for the opponent, there is a basic military problem: it is just impossible to win a war against guerillas. We have seen this in our 18-year stay in Lebanon. Then we drew the unavoidable conclusion and got out. True, without good sense, without an agreement with the other side. (We don't speak with terrorists, do we? - even if they are the dominant force on the ground.) But we did get out.
God knows what gave today's generals the unfounded self-confidence to believe that they would win where their predecessors failed so miserably.
And most of all: even the best army in the world cannot win a war that has no clear aims. Karl von Clausewitz, the guru of military science, pronounced that "war is nothing more than the continuation of politics by other means". Olmert and Peretz, two complete dilettantes, have turned this inside out: "War is nothing more than the continuation of the lack of policy by other means."
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MILITARY EXPERTS say that in order to succeed in war, there must be (a) a clear aim, (b) an aim that is achievable, and (c) the means necessary for achieving this aim. All these three conditions are lacking in this war. That is clearly the fault of the political leadership.
Therefore, the main blame will be laid at the feet of the twins, Olmert-Peretz. They have succumbed to the temptation of the moment and dragged the state into a war, in a decision that was hasty, unconsidered and reckless.
As Nehemia Strassler wrote in Haaretz: They could have stopped after two or three days, when all the world agreed that Hizbullah's provocation justified an Israeli response, when nobody was yet doubting the capabilities of the Israeli army. The operation would have looked sensible, sober and proportional.
But Olmert and Peretz could not stop. As greenhorns in matters of war, they did not know that the boasts of the generals cannot be relied on, that even the best military plans are not worth the paper on which they are written, that in war the unexpected must be expected, that nothing is more temporary then the glory of war. They were intoxicated by the war's popularity, egged on by a herd of fawning journalists, driven out of their minds by their own glory as War Leaders.
Olmert was roused by his own incredibly kitschy speeches, which he rehearsed with his hangers-on. Peretz, so it seems, stood in front of the mirror and already saw himself as the next Prime Minister, Mister Security, a Second Ben-Gurion.
And so, like two village idiots, to the sound of drums and bugles, they set off at the head of their March of Folly straight towards political and military failure. It is reasonable to assume that they will pay the price after the war.
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WHAT WILL come out of this whole mess?
No one talks anymore about eliminating Hizbullah or disarming it and destroying all the rockets. That has been forgotten long ago.
At the start of the war, the government furiously rejected the idea of deploying an international force of any kind along the border. The army believed that such a force would not protect Israel, but only restrict its freedom of action. Now, suddenly, the deployment of this force has become the main aim of the campaign. The army is continuing the operation solely in order to "prepare the ground for the international force", and Olmert declares that he will go on fighting until it appears on the ground. That is, of course, a sorry alibi, a ladder for getting down from the high tree. The international force can be deployed only in agreement with Hizbullah. No country will send its soldiers to a place where they would have to fight the locals. And everywhere in the area, the local Shiite inhabitants will return to their villages - including the Hizbullah underground fighters.
Further on, the force will also be totally dependent on the agreement of Hizbullah. If a bomb explodes under a bus full of French soldiers, a cry will go up in Paris: bring our sons home. That is what happened when the US Marines were bombed in Beirut.
The Germans, who shocked the world this week by opposing the call for a cease-fire, certainly will not send soldiers to the Israeli border. That's just what they need, to be obliged to shoot at Israeli soldiers.
And, most importantly, nothing will prevent Hizbullah from launching their rockets over the heads of the international force, any time they want to. What will the international force do then? Conquer all the area up to Beirut? And how will Israel respond?
Olmert wants the force to control the Lebanese-Syrian border. That, too, is illusory. That border goes around the entire West and North of Lebanon. Anybody who wants to smuggle weapons will stay away from the main roads, which will be controlled by the international soldiers. He will find hundreds of places along the border to do this. With the proper bribe, one can do anything in Lebanon.
After the war we will stand more or less in the same place we were before we started this sorry adventureTherefore, after the war, we will stand more or less in the same place we were before we started this sorry adventure, before the killing of almost a thousand Lebanese and Israelis, before the eviction from their homes of more than a million human beings, Israelis and Lebanese, before the destruction of more than a thousand homes both in Lebanon and Israel.
* * *
AFTER THE war, the enthusiasm will simmer down, the inhabitants of the North will lick their wounds and the army will start to investigate its failures. Everybody will claim that he or she was against the war from the first day on. Then the Day of Judgment will come.
The conclusion that presents itself is: kick out Olmert, send Peretz packing and sack Halutz.
In order to embark on a new course, the only one that will solve the problem: negotiations and peace with the Palestinians, the Lebanese, the Syrians. And: with Hamas and Hizbullah.
Because it's only with enemies that one makes peace.
Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is one of the writers featured in The Other Israel: Voices of Dissent and Refusal. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch's hot new book The Politics of Anti-Semitism. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
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This story was published on August 3, 2006.