August 28, 2006
Can politicians set up an inquiry of themselves?

Fighting a war is messy and unsatisfying. Figuring out what went wrong is also likely to be messy and unsatisfying.

Widespread is the feeling that Israel's military did not perform well enough in what is being called Lebanon 2. Also problematic was the performance of military and civilian personnel with responsibility for the home front. Residents of the northern region suffered more than a month of bombardment without well planned or executed efforts to evacuate them to safe areas, and to care for the basic needs of those who remained.

What to do now that it is over, or least while there is a pause until the next round of fighting?

There are two principal options available in Israeli law and practice. One is a Commission of Inquiry authorized by the government, whose members are appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, chaired by a justice, and with wide ranging powers of inquiry. Another is a Committee also authorized by the government, but with members, a focus, and powers defined by the government.

The first option has the advantage of being selected by a distinguished figure who is not himself the target of inquiry. Its disadvantage is that its focus is likely to be legalistic (i.e., to what extent participants followed the rules). Past practice is that such an inquiry will take a while, perhaps a year or longer, and will cause the people being investigated to spend the time with their lawyers, defending themselves, and perhaps accusing others. In the present setting, the greatest danger is that such an inquiry will work against the changes necessary in the military.

The second option of a committee appointed by the government is likely to be quicker, more substantive in its focus than legalistic, with a greater concern to find problems and suggest how they might be fixed, rather than assign blame. The prime disadvantage is that it is appointed by the officials who are among the targets of the inquiry. It may have limited powers of inquiry. It is subject to the charge that it will produce the solutions desired by those who appointed it, and whitewashing the politicians who had a role in the problems being investigated.

The context for the present choice includes several groups of reservists who came home and set up protest organizations, along with a good government movement that has jumped on a bandwagon that looks promising. So far these noise-makers have not trigged a mass movement. A number of them insist on the instant resignation of prime minister, defense minister, and the highest ranking general. There is a smell of soldiers coming back from the battlefield and wanting to change the government. So far no sergeant or colonel has emerged to offer himself as the next national leader, and that is not likely here. If there is something that unites these movements, as well as opposition members of the Knesset, is a demand for a Commission of Inquiry appointed by the chief justice, capable of criticizing ranking politicians and military people, and deciding that some or all must resign.

As soon as the fighting ended, the defense minister established a committee to investigate the military, but not himself. He selected as its chairman a former military commander who was one of his advisors during the war. The criticism of this effort was widespread, and the committee disbanded itself after about 36 hours.

Now the prime minister has offered a cadre of committees, with distinguished figures to investigate the military, and the government. He is asking the State Comptroller to investigate the care of the home front. This is a more impressive assemblage than that chosen by the defense minister; its mandate is wider; and the prime minister can produce a majority in the cabinet to approve his selections.

The prime minister would be on sturdier ground if he had not announced his program12 hours after being named in a State Comptroller's report for a transparent kind of political patronage, perhaps involving criminal offense, during a previous incarnation when he was minister of trade and industry. This was not the first time that a State Comptroller had targeted Ehud Olmert for impropriety. Also in his background is a lead article in Ha'aretz weekend magazine during the recent election campaign. It spread over 12 pages, was headlined, "Prime Minister of Lack of Evidence," and detailed numerous cases where Olmert was accused and investigated, but ended with no charges brought, the case closed, or dismissed for lack of evidence. The article described Olmert's "friends" among individuals on the fringes of politics, business, law, and organized crime.

After the election, it was not thought wise, and in retrospect even less wise, for Olmert to appoint Amir Peretz as defense minister. Peretz had no significant military expertise, and Israel was not in a period of peace when the army's principal task was parading and polishing its equipment. But naming Peretz as defense minister was politically convenient. The appointment added to the impression that Olmert's skill is playing according to what is politically convenient, close to but perhaps not over the boundaries of the improper.

Olmert and Peretz, and Dan Halutz, the chief of the general staff, did not produce a disaster in this war. They brought the fighting to Hezbollah, ended it with a relatively small number of Israeli casualties, and produced enough damage in Lebanon and among Hezbollah as to bring that organization to a point of significant weakness. Somewhat out of the media spotlight, they have been managing a severe response to Hamas and other violent organizations in Gaza and the West Bank. In recent days, leading figures of both Hezbollah and Hamas have articulated something other than dramatic proclamations of victory. They note that they erred in their most recent attacks on Israel, and that Israel's response rendered their own aggression not worthwhile ways of attaining their objectives.

There are, and will be loud squawks among those who want Israeli heads to roll. The less than heroic victory, and a number of detailed problems apparent in the management of the fighting and the defense of the home front provide attractive causes of protest. Among the problems was a dithering of what to do, militarily. It seems to have been associated with the lack of military experience of both the prime minister and the defense minister. One hears convincing criticism that they did not ask the right questions, or decide clearly when they were getting different recommendations from military and intelligence sources.

One of the committees now appointed seems likely to propose a beefed up national security staff, to help the government decide in the face of uncertainty.

This sounds like a good idea, but it hides an irony. Thirty years ago the inquiry after the Yom Kippur War decided that the government had been misled by too much unity in sources of intelligence. Better to have multiple organizations, each capable of reaching its own recommendations. Now we may get another organ to help the government deal with ambiguities coming from separate sources of advice. This will add to the decision time, and will be unlikely to produce clarity in situations that seem destined to be unclear and uncertain. It seems better to recognize the ambiguities and ambivalences that come from the grey area of military intelligence, and to assure that either the prime minister or the defense minister has enough professional experience to probe the sources, ask appropriate questions, and make choices in the time frames required by circumstances.

The clock is ticking. Some commentators count the votes in the cabinet in favor of Olmert's committees, and say that it is a done deal. Others say that it is crafted to protect Olmert and other key players, and will not survive the criticism.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:42 PM
August 24, 2006
Sex in the Holy Land

Israel is not only a beleaguered country, with violence, heroic soldiers, sacrifice, and great weather. There is also sex.

The minor event concerns (former) Justice Minister Haim Ramon, who resigned when charged with sexual harassment. The details include a soldierette who asked to be photographed with him, and a French kiss said to be against her wishes. He says it was a trivial event that lasted only a few seconds. She emerged from the embrace in shock, and complained to some ranking officials who were nearby. Although only he and she were in the room at the time, the people she cried to immediately afterward are serving as key sources in the police file. Initially several commentators and female Knesset Members came to the defense of the Justice Minister. They said the recently strengthened law against sexual harassment was meant to deal with weightier events, and that the person charged had no reputation as a harasser. A day later the second point came into question, as another woman told of being on the receiving end of unwanted attention. So far no date has been set for the beginning of a trial. He wants quick judicial action. The way things happen here, it can take a while longer.

More awesome are the stories about President Moshe Kazav. He is currently enduring his second day of several hours of police questioning. The stories are that his sexual appetites are so well known that female employees of the presidency warn newcomers and trade stories about encounters with him. Journalists report that his reputation goes back to the time when he had middle- and minor ministerial posts in transportation and tourism. If so, why was he chosen as president? Perhaps because Knesset members who choose among candidates preferred playing games of party one-upsmanship rather than considering what problems might be hidden in each candidate's closet.

Today's cartoon in Ha'aretz shows a miserable Kazav complaining of a headache, while his well-padded wife is about to give him another whap on the head with a frying pan.

Also in the air, but so far less exciting, and less well established, are claims that the president has tilted in his discretion in requests for pardons of criminal offenses in favor of certain claimants. Maybe in exchange for money.

Every person is innocent until proven guilty, but . . . .

The stories that reach the media are most likely leaked by the police. It is not a nice thing they do, but it is part of the political culture. We hear that the president threatened to fire employees, and to assure that they could not work elsewhere, unless they complied with his requests. The words "serious harassment," "rape," and "sodomy" appear in the reports. The president is said to have juggled affairs with two employees at the same time. One who thought she was the prime focus of his attention (despite saying that he forced himself on her) was said to have become jealous when she discovered the competition, and took her revenge by beginning an affair with a male employee of the presidency.

This may be juicier than the Clinton White House, if not in the same league as the Kennedy White House.

Kazav reached the headlines and the cartoons immediately before the increased violence in Gaza and then the war in Lebanon. The president began the inquiries when he told the attorney general that a female employee was threatening blackmail. A day or so later he recanted. By then it was too late. The investigative bureaucracy was underway, and journalists felt free to let go with the stories they had been sitting on for years. Commentators predicted that the president would resign within a month, but the wars provided him a respite.

Why did the president raise an issue that seemed bound to generate charges against him? Why was he chosen as president? One commentator has said that he is the first person chosen to be president on the basis of being nothing more than a political operator. His predecessors were politically active, but they offered something more by way of a distinctive career.

The cloud remained on Kazav despite the recess of attention during the war. We did not hear much about his war efforts, but now there are reports that he and his wife paid memorial visits to more than 70 families of those who died. (This is standard presidential behavior. It says something about Israel's culture. We do not read that the Bushies, or even their representatives, express any personal involvement with individual Americans who have lost loved ones in the national defense.)

Now the fighting in the north is small stuff, and no one is yet paying attention to Gaza. So the president and his problems are back in the headlines and the cartoons. Formally there is another year left in his term.

We are also concerned about the protests of reservists who have returned to civilian life; demands that they and others are making for the resignation of the prime minister, defense minister, and chief of the military general staff; and various options about commissions of inquiry. But compared to sex in high places, it is all small change.

There is already a short list of presidential possibilities. Speculation is that the Knesset will be choosing among them soon after the holidays (i.e., by October), if not before.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 07:16 AM
August 20, 2006
Reasons for depression

One can argue about who won the war in Lebanon. Alongside Hezbollah's claims of victory, widely echoed among Arabs and Muslims, was the location of the fighting and Israeli troops on Hezbollah territory. And the prime claimant of victory is making his statements from somewhere in hiding, most likely a Damascus basement.

Putting that aside, Israelis are widely disenchanted with their own performance. Organized protests are growing. Polls differ as to whether it is the defense minister, the prime minister, or the IDF chief of staff, or perhaps all of them who must give up their jobs. Today there is a march of angry reservists to the prime minister's office. Complaints focus on the miserable performance of logistics (units sent to battle without enough food, water, ammunition, communications, updated maps or soldier-fired missiles), a lack of detailed intelligence about enemy positions, and confused leadership at the level of fighting units.

This week the politicians seem to have given in to the pressure for formal inquiries, and they are arguing about the appropriate mechanism: what kind of inquiry, with what powers, mandates, and key personnel. "Save my own ass" is the prominent theme. Last week the defense minister announced a distinguished committee to investigate the military. As head of the committee, he named a former commander of the IDF who had given him advice during the war. No one expects this charade to move very far toward a credible explanation or repair of the faults. The performance of the defense minister and his office are outside the mandates of this inquiry. The minister himself is claiming that the military did not inform him about the missiles that Hezbollah could fire on Israel. Not only does the military deny the charge, but any reader of Israeli newspapers over the last few years should have known about them.

The great danger from all of this is that key figures will spend the next few months with their lawyers, preparing testimony before one inquiry or another, and defending themselves against charges of incompetence. Hopefully someone else will be minding the store, filing the shelves with the equipment not supplied to the soldiers this time, replacing what they used, refreshing maps and other kinds of intelligence, training reservists and regular troops for the next likely encounter, and preparing the officers for what they must do.

The foreign minister also has to answer some charges. Why did she beat the drums so loudly in favor of a United Nations resolution that seems to have been bankrupt from the beginning?. Israel stopped fighting without achieving (or having the hope of achieving) any of its proclaimed war aims: the return of soldiers whose capture was the ostensible cause of the war; the disarming of Hezbollah and removing it from southern Lebanon. The Lebanese army has moved to the border area, alongside a reinforced United Nations cadre, so far with 50 new troops with lots of countries arguing who else will send their soldiers to make up the 15,000 promised. Both the Lebanese army and the United Nations force have indicated with that they will not disarm or otherwise tangle with Hezbollah. Reports are that the troops need Hezbollah permission before they enter a village. Beside well photographed convoys and parades, we cannot expect anything from these forces.

Among the materials used against Israel were anti-tank missiles manufactured in Russia and night fighting goggles from Britain. The foreign ministry is making its polite inquiries. So far we hear that Russia sold the missiles to Syria on condition that they not be passed on to Hezbollah, and that Russia is angry about Israeli protests. The British are saying something about having sold night vision equipment to Iran for the purpose of dealing with drug smugglers, and that there is no proof that Iran transferred the equipment to Hezbollah.

International media, the United Nations, and the European Union are making a big deal about the war damage in Lebanon and the need for international organizations to provide financial assistance. What about the damage in Israel? That will be left to the Israeli government and overseas Jews. The Iranians are paying. Shiites who claimed to have suffered loss are getting $12,000 in cash. That will help recruit another generation of martyrs. Every time you fill up, you add a bit to the war chest.

We do not know the future, but we should know the relevant questions: Will Hezbollah satisfy itself with proclamations of victory, or begin upgrading itself for the next round of fighting? Will Israel satisfy itself with blaming one or another politician or military commander, or begin dealing with the most obvious problems and preparing itself for the next round of fighting? And what about Iran's nuclear program? Will Europe, the United States, and Israel continue to rely on diplomatic pressure via the United Nations, and--at most--half-hearted and easily evaded economic sanctions?

I am neither happy nor optimistic. If I could locate a place with better weather than Jerusalem . . . .

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:19 PM
August 14, 2006
When the soldiers stop fighting, the politicians begin

No Israeli is talking about the most recent month of fighting as "the war to end all wars."

Dissatisfaction is wide spread, wall to wall, encompassing all points of the political compass. There seems no one who is defending the prime minister and the defense minister, except the prime minister and the defense minister. A Knesset member of a right wing party expressed it artfully: Olmert sounded like Churchill at the beginning of the war, and Chamberlain at the end of the war.

The common theme from the right is that the government did not allow the military to do its job. From the left we hear that the war did enormous damage to Israelis, especially the poor of the north; that there is now not enough resources to meet the country's social needs, and that the large number of deaths and injuries were not justified by the degree of security achieved by the government's conduct of the war. We hear from the left and the right that Israel lost the war.

Ranking generals are saying, not always anonymously, that the government failed in its timidity. Ranking politicians are saying that the military did not deliver the goods. At a critical point toward the end of the fighting the prime minister proclaimed that his government had never turned down a plan presented by the military. Then he accepted a plan to move forcefully with a greatly augmented force on the ground, but delayed the implementation of the plan for several days. When he and his defense minister gave the go ahead, the military had less than three days to do what they had not done in a month. Among the criticisms is that the last offensive cost the lives of more than 30 Israeli soldiers, and did not accomplish anything of significance.

Reservists returning from Lebanon have circulated at least one petition against government policy, and are saying that they did not have enough equipment of the right kind; were not trained for this kind of war; and found themselves hindered by a cease fire before they could do what they felt necessary.

If all this is not enough, the large cadre of retired generals and colonels, commentators with a bit of military training, and others without the foggiest idea are filling the columns, the air time of radio and television. There are also the blossoming blogs of Israelis and overseas Jews and non-Jews fascinated by our problems and our sins. I am part of this, separated from the mass only by an exaggerated sense of wisdom and modesty.

Lots of voices are calling for the government to resign and a national election. So far the government coalition has enough votes to maintain itself in office. No obvious opposition candidate has appeared from the critics within the government, the parliamentary opposition, or all the voices of complaint from outside the Knesset.

It is not only Israeli decision-makers who are being broiled. The Bush administration is said to have provided considerable support, but also to have turned against us when it counted most. Perhaps it could not stand the pressure of civilian casualties. Perhaps it felt it necessary to demonstrate a commitment to an international effort. Perhaps it had decided that the Israeli army could not deliver a dramatic, quick, and heroic victory. Whatever the reason, it lent its weight to an international chorus that saddled Israel with the appearance of an agreement that may serve as no more than a fig leaf for the rearmament of Hezbollah and preparation for the next round in this war. Bush's claim to be bringing peace in our time is no more convincing here than in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Against this cacophony of shrill criticism, Hassan Nasrallah is declaring victory. He is cheering on the stream of refugees returning to southern Lebanon, and promising that his people will rebuild their homes and villages without demanding that they stand in line and ask favors of government bureaucrats. He is also refusing to honor the international agreement that southern Lebanon be cleaned of armed personnel not part of the Lebanese army. Nasrallah repeats that he is the only effective defense of Lebanon. It is highly likely that numerous Hezbollah fighters are included in the reverse flood of refugees, and that the cars and trucks have weapons and ammunition somewhere among the personal belongings piled along with the women and children.

It is appropriate to warn myself and those bothering to read this blather that it is too early to decide who is right in all of this noise. Self-interested columnists, politicians, and retired military personnel are saying "we told you so."

Government officials are saying that the United Nations and the government of Lebanon have in place a mechanism to assure peace. It is their chance. If they do not do the job, Israel will have to do it!

Meanwhile, Israeli refugees are streaming back to their homes in the north. The government is promising reconstruction of the damage, and people being interviewed say that they want to work, to have their children begin school in two weeks, and to begin the fall football schedule on time.

We will have to see if this is--or is not--the last of the Israeli-Lebanese wars. Lebanon is likely to boil internally, especially if Nasrallah cannot wave a magic wand and rebuild all that the IDF destroyed. We can hope that the Israeli military will get the resources, and have the incentive to prepare better against the possibility that there will be another chapter. Still waiting is the Israeli-Palestinian front. The IDF has been active in Gaza and the West Bank while the world's attention has been focused on Lebanon. If the United States and its few allies can deal with the Islamic threats from Iran, Britain, France, and the rest of Western Europe, as well as outposts in numerous Americans cities, there may actually be peace in our time. But I am not counting on any of this.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:10 PM
David Grossman

David Grossman is one of the best known, most widely translated Israeli authors. He has published impressionistic books based on numerous conversations with Palestinians (Yellow Wind) and Israeli Arabs (Present Absentees), as well as numerous novels. For some days, now, Varda has been working her way through a book he published in 1986: Look under "Love." Grossman has long been known as an advocate of accommodation with Palestinians, as well as a better deal for Israeli Arabs.

Last week he appeared along with Amos Oz and A. B. Yeshua, and urged that Israel accept the proposal then being offered by the Lebanese government. At the time, the presentation bothered me. I reminded myself that these widely known intellectuals had every right to express themselves. Yet they were exploiting their reputations as popular writers to add weight to their political views. Next would be well known surgeons, musicians, and football players pounding us from the left or right, or a little of both. If we liked their medicine, music, or play on the field, we should think like them about the difficult national issues. Next up would be a resurrected Frank Sinatra. He was as well known as any of them, and he--or his friends in his name--had contributed money to Israel. It was in the Frank Sinatra cafeteria where a number of students, including a student in my workshop, were killed in July, 2002.

Grossman is also one of the regulars who walk around Mt Aytan on Saturday afternoon. He is a counter-clockwise walker. We are usually clockwise walkers. We pass one another toward the end of our walk and the beginning of his. Each of us says Shalom. We have never paused to talk. We recognize him, but he does not know who we are, except that we are usually at the same place about the same time each week.

This past Saturday we did not see him. It was a day of hard fighting in Lebanon. His son was in the thick of things. The Grossman's learned on Sunday morning that he had been killed.

The father has paid his dues. He can say what he wants about the war.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 06:36 AM
August 10, 2006
Still waiting

I have not had a good night's sleep in more than five weeks. Beginning with the Hamas attack and seizure of an Israeli soldier, the Israeli entry to Gaza, and then parallel events in Lebanon, I have been watching three news programs before going to bed, and then sleeping alongside a pocket radio and earphones. I usually wake up once or twice close to the hourly news, and poke around to update myself. The IDF does much of its work at night.

It can take a while each hour to get past the naming of soldiers killed, along with the times and places of their funerals. I listen to them all. So far I have not recognized any of those who have died.

Last night we went to bed thinking we were close to a cease fire engineered by the United Nations Security Council, along with a partial settlement of Israel's basic demands. By the middle of the night, it was apparent that Israel was willing to accept what the United States had arranged, despite reservations, but Lebanon was saying no.

Meanwhile, 40,000 reservists have been equipped and are waiting along the Lebanese border. Lots of reinforcements have been sent to the Golan Heights, against the possibility that Syria may attack. Additional recruitments are underway. One of my doctoral students, an Orthodox rabbi who teaches in a religious high school and is researching the budgeting of religious education, may not do all the research he planned for the summer. He is also likely to miss his oldest son's Bar Mitzvah.

The government approved a major escalation of Israel's activity in Lebanon, but authorized the defense minister and the prime minister to decide on the implementation, depending on the possibility of diplomatic efforts. Reports are that the defense minister is anxious to move ahead, but that the prime minister is concerned about the IDF's projection that the activity will take at least a month, will cost 300 Israeli combat deaths, and will succeed in neutralizing only 70 percent of Hezbollah's missiles. In comparative terms, correcting for differences in population, 300 Israeli deaths is equivalent to 12,000 American deaths. Lots of Americans are already nervous about 2,500 deaths in Iraq.

The defense minister explained the delay. Before undertaking such an action, he wants to persuade the soldiers' parents and wives that he did all possible to give diplomacy a chance.

For those of you wanting a more heroic Israel, you are invited to take the next available plane, along with all your sons above the age of 18. Daughters can stay at home, unless they are willing to volunteer for social action in the north. There they can join female soldiers and other care givers trying to help the families that have been spending a month in bomb shelters. It will not be pleasant work. Most are too poor, old, handicapped, or otherwise incapable of finding their own way to safer places. They are traumatized and angry.

We are arguing about the arrangements the prime minister seems willing to accept. One commentary on the front page of today's Ha'aretz indicates that Olmert failed, and must leave office. Another commentary indicates that it is necessary to swallow the arrangements that fall short of initial demands. Most wars end in ways that disappoint all sides. Americans can remember Korea, Vietnam, and anticipate something other than a total victory that produces democracy in Iraq.

The fervor of Hezbollah and other Arabs can postpone Israel's internal reckoning. Those 40,000 soldiers may move forward, along with all you volunteers who come quickly. The IDF can reach deep into Lebanon, neutralize most of the rockets, and kill a lot of fighters while the air force destroys more buildings and makes more Lebanese homeless, unemployed, or worse. Then Israel and its international friends can figure out how to manage southern Lebanon, while the guerrillas keep sniping and laying their roadside bombs.

Among the curiosities was yesterday's seizure in Britain of a group of Muslims planning to bring down 6-10 airlines on their way to the United States, the chaos produced by the closure of UK airports and the further tightening of security procedures. Now hand lotion and books, as well as fingernail clippers, will be seized by the security personnel. The reminder of what President Bush now calls "Muslim fascists" may have stiffened the American posture with respect to French efforts to serve the Arabs in the Security Council.

The events associated with the war will not end with an agreement involving the United Nations, Israel, and Lebanon. The Lebanese will have to deal with the destruction of buildings, roads, and bridges, economic loss, and the care of 600,000 to a million internal refugees. Many will return to the rubble of what used to be their homes. All that seems likely to tarnish the image of Hezbollah and its Iranian and Syrian sponsors. Even if Israel does not get everything it wants in a settlement, we can hope that its message will have a impact on those anxious to destroy us.

There is a new wrinkle to IDF policy in Gaza. When it locate a building it wishes to destroy, it telephones ahead and gives nearby residents 15 minutes to leave. If there is someone inside who is on the list of bad people, it may not telephone. All this requires considerable investments in intelligence. Our sources must not only locate the bad guys, the bomb making workshops and munitions stores, but also the neighbors' telephone numbers. This may get us a point or two with humanitarians, but that might not be enough once the world notices what we have done in Gaza while all the media stars have been in Lebanon. And so far, our intelligence has not be good enough to find the solider we would like to liberate.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:15 PM
August 09, 2006

It is easier to fight someone else's war than one's own.

Henry Kissinger lectures that it is necessary to define clear goals, and says that he has not heard them from Israel this time.

What about the removal of a military threat from Hezbollah? Not clear enough? I do not recall Kissinger's accomplishment in Vietnam being as impressive as promised by a chain of presidents from Kennedy through Johnson, Nixon, and Ford.

Charles Krauthheimer has expressed what is said to be a view widely felt in the Bush administration: that Israel has been disappointing in its failure to pursue a ground war more aggressively and effectively.

Perhaps the Bush record in Afghanistan and Iraq stands as a better model. If Krauthammer will volunteer himself or his son for one of the fighting units, the IDF may reconsider its policy, to date, of moving slowly and carefully.

The Russians are complaining about violations of international law. Their actions in Chechnya and elsewhere in the Caucasus are hardly more free of bloodshed. Their assertions against "terror" do not stand up well against the discovery of their high tech weapons that reached Hezbollah via Syria and/or Iran. Their representatives responded angrily to Israeli queries.

Israelis also complain. A few say that we should not have entered Lebanon at all, and a fair number say that we should be wary of entering deeply and exposing our troops and their supply lines to constant harassment. A larger number are demanding a more aggressive posture. The prime minister has come under attack for dithering, and being too concerned about the Israeli casualties likely to come from a more extensive ground war. There is also criticism of the IDF's excessive concern for collateral damage. A number of retired generals as well as some politicians are saying that Israel should play by the same rules as Hezbollah. If that occurs, the Lebanese better dig themselves some deeper cellars.

Yesterday the head of the IDF replaced the general who had commanded the ground forces in Lebanon. It is conventional to see this as signaling a different emphasis. There are as many as two more divisions waiting on a government decision to enter Lebanon. A non-representative group of 11,000 responding to an internet survey are voting 76 to 24 in favor of widening the Israeli offensive. We are tired of the Hezbollah rockets killing civilians and destroying buildings. The government is moving poor residents, unable to care for themselves, out of Kiryat Shmona.

Israel does not aspire to win this war in the same sense that the allies smashed the Germans and Japanese in World War II. It will probably end when one side signals that it has reached the limit of its desire to absorb damage, and will accept some demands of the stronger side.

As I read the Israelis, they are not likely to issue a signal like that. If Syria and Iran stay out of direct involvement, the signal may come sooner or later from Hezbollah. Yet they are religious fanatics. They show signs of fighting until the last Lebanese bridge falls, the last power station dims, and the last humanitarian organization says that it cannot reach its clients.

They are signs of Hezbollah weakening. It does not show up in a lessening of the rockets they are firing, but in the incidence of their casualties. Many of their best trained fighters may already be dead. One group, along with its rockets, fell into Israeli hands after they had fallen asleep in their bunker. It cannot be pleasant for small groups to be under the constant pressure of a sizable army that sends troops to fight around the clock.

The United Nations is trying to ring the bell. The French, Russians, Americans, and Arabs are arguing as to how much their insistence on a cease fire and what comes next must take account of Lebanese sensitivities. The Israeli government sat for 6 hours. At the end, nine ministers voted to escalate; two abstained on account of a concern for going too far; and one abstained because the decision was not aggressive enough.

We are hoping that the young men of our family and others will return home safely. I doubt that we will see them this weekend.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 06:43 AM
August 04, 2006
Are we close or far from the end?

Israel is reestablishing the security zone in southern Lebanon that it gave up in a spirit of frustration and a hope for peace in June, 2000. The hope dimmed three months later with the start of Intafada al-Aqsa, which is another chapter in the same story. We have not heard much lately from the former general and prime minister, Ehud Barak, who gloried in the exit from Lebanon. Reports are that the "four mothers" who led the campaign to leave Lebanon are now three, or maybe two, or one. One has left the country, and one may have changed her mind. One of the others, now a grandmother, has joined a movement calling itself "Waking up on time," and is demonstrating against this war.

Other reports are that voices in the American administration are critical of the Israeli army for not moving quickly enough against Hezbollah. The news from the fighting reminds me of the Japanese in the South Pacific, who would rather die than surrender, and the Viet Cong, who kept coming. Israel has restricted itself with a concern for civilian casualties and the niceties of what it defines as acceptable warfare. Notice that you have not seen pictures of enemy positions cleaned out with flame throwers, or villages being liberated with napalm. The IDF is moving slowly due to the limitations, and a concern for its own casualties. It may be inconvenient for George and Condoleezza, but not for those whose relatives, friends, and neighbors are doing the work.

The government of Malaysia has volunteered to send 1,000 troops to an international force. The offer came in the context of a meeting that involved the president of Iran, and yet another statement that the destruction of Israel would settle issues in the Middle East. If there is any wisdom in the United Nations, the Malaysians will go somewhere else, or stay home.

If Condoleezza achieves her aspiration of discovering a formulation for an early cease fire, we may really be in the shit. Hezbollah will declare victory, overlooking what its actions have caused to Lebanon, claiming to be the defensive shield of that country and the first Arabs to have stopped the IDF. None of that will be true, but who knows truth in this post-modern world?

Israel appreciates the support it has gotten from George W. Bush, Tony Blair and a few others, but the help can dribble away via a concern for disproportionate responses and a desire to preserve one of the Arab darlings, i.e., the somewhat anti-Syrian prime minister of Lebanon. Those mentoring him are less inclined to mention the pro-Syrian president of that country and the pro-Syrian chair of its parliament.

The great problem in the region is that Americans cannot read its map. They confused Iraq with Iran. The country attacked with all its power and good will was a monster, but impotent outside of itself. Its greatest sin in recent years was viciousness against its own citizens, especially Shiites. How many Americans would still define that as a problem?

Those looking for weapons of mass destruction chose the wrong country. They have been coming from Iran in the form of Islamic fanatics reinforced with oil revenue and Shiite death wishes. If the authorities in charge of those lovely people are allowed to continue with their nuclear program, it will be a good time to age quickly and die a natural death.

Meanwhile, a couple of thousand "improved" katushas and other missiles have been fired at our cities. They are "improved" by having their warheads filled with metal balls and other nastiness meant to spread civilian destruction beyond that done by the explosion and the shrapnel of the metal casing. It should not be difficult to accuse those fighters of violating the laws of war, and including in the charge the governments of Syria and Iran that supplied and trained them. Justice demands a wider war. Those in charge may decide that we have gone far enough. Still loose are all those Muslim fanatics. We can hope that they will see what we have done to Lebanon, and choose some other place to liberate.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:29 PM