Monday, July 31, 2006

More on you know what











Aluf Benn in Haaretz is a reliable source of info and analysis, so I read his latest Giving the war an image of victory, not a draw with great interest.
Borrowing from the world of soccer beloved to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the Israel Defense Forces operation in Lebanon went into overtime on Monday.

Olmert wants to take another stab at a decisive conclusion before the UN Security Council blows the final whistle. That's why he convened the cabinet on Monday to approve a wide-scale ground operation targeting villages used by Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

Olmert is fighting the battle over public opinion, both at home and abroad. He wants people to see the war as a victory, not a draw. It was this attitude that led Olmert to tell a conference of mayors on Monday that the operation is continuing despite the unfortunate deaths of dozens of Lebanese civilians in Qana Sunday.

"Israel is continuing to fight," the prime minister said. One can imagine the slogan as part of a commercial for a bank, on billboards or car bumpers. "There is no cease-fire, and there will be no cease-fire in the upcoming days," Olmert promised to the cheers of mayors in attendance. Conference participants made it clear they want the operation to continue.

Olmert read a long speech, filled with the now familiar components of his recent speeches: the reference to the fallen and captive soldiers, the appeal to the Lebanese people, the promise to win at the price of "worry, uncertainty − and yes, also pain, tears and blood." This time around, Olmert's speechwriter, Shaul Shenhav, also included a quote from Israeli poet Nathan Alterman.

The prime minister also contributed quite a few of his own words, and practiced the speech twice at his bureau before getting on stage to win public support for the next − and possibly final − phase of the Lebanon operation.

But for all the speeches, this conflict is lacking the kind of image that will help make it memorable - images like the paratroopers at the Western Wall or Ariel Sharon with a bandage around his head. What will the image of the second Lebanon war be?

Officials at the prime minister's bureau say it will be the image of soldiers in the multinational force who will deploy on the Lebanese side of the Blue Line and at the Syrian and Lebanese border crossings. It's hard to believe, but there you have it: The Israeli political elite are looking forward to the arrival of Captain Francoise of the French Foreign Legion and his comrades, who will be stationed on the border along with Lebanese army units. That hadn't crossed anyone's mind three weeks ago, and now it's the objective of the Israeli war; Olmert promised to continue fighting until the international army takes control of positions and villages that Hezbollah had been using until the war.


Unless this is part of a disinformation campaign, it seems to me it would be very difficult to spin this outcome as a "victory" for Israel. I'm also not sure how the role of Syria is brought into all of this. My own sources tell me that the Bushies are pissed-off big time at the failure of the Israelis to deliver swift victory over the Hizbollah.

Next stop: Syria?















Israeli commentator Uri Avnery is brilliant and demonstrates it once again jn A Nice Little War in which he warns that if the Israeli leaders sense that the perception is that the Hizbollah is "winning," they'll be tempted to target Syria which can be defeated by Israel in a conventional war:
When it becomes clear that nothing is helping, that Hizbullah goes on fighting and the rockets continue to fly, the political and military leadership will face bankruptcy. They will need to pin the blame on somebody. On who? Well, on Syrian President Bashar Assad, of course.

How is it possible that a small "terror organization", with a few thousand fighters altogether, goes on fighting? Where do they get the arms from? The finger will point towards Syria.

Even now, the army commanders assert that new rockets are flowing all the time from Syria to Hizbullah. True, the roads have been bombed, the bridges destroyed, but the arms somehow continue to arrive. The Israeli government demands that an international force be stationed not only along the Israeli-Lebanese border, but on the Lebanese-Syrian border, too. The queue of volunteers will not be long.

Then the generals will demand the bombing of roads and bridges inside Syria. For that, the Syrian air force will have to be neutralized. In short, a real war, with implications for the whole Middle East.

As he points out:
When Napoleon did not know what to do next, he invaded Russia. If we don't stop the operation, it will lead us to war with Syria.

Condoleezza Rice's stubborn struggle against any attempt to stop the war shows that this is indeed the aim of the United States. From the first day of George Bush's presidency, the neo-conservatives have been calling for the elimination of Syria. The deeper Bush sinks into the Iraqi quagmire, the more he needs to divert attention with another adventure.

By the way: one day before the outbreak of this war, our [Israeli] minister of national infrastructures, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, took part in the inauguration ceremony of the big pipeline that will conduct oil from the huge Caspian Sea reserves to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, just next to the Syrian border. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline avoids Russia and passes through Azerbaijan and Georgia, two countries closely aligned with Israel, like Turkey itself. There is a plan to bring a part of the oil from there along the Syrian and Lebanese coast to Ashkelon, where an existing pipeline will conduct it to Eilat, to be exported to the Far East. Israel and Turkey are to secure the area for the United States.

And he asks:
Must the sliding into a war with Syria happen? Is there no alternative?

Of course there is. To stop now, at once.

When President Lyndon Johnson felt that he was sinking into the morass of Vietnam, he asked his friends for advice. One of them answered with five words: "Declare victory and get out!"

We can do that. To stop investing more and more in a losing business. To be satisfied with what we can get now. For example, an agreement that will move Hizbullah a few kilometers from the border, along which an international force and/or the Lebanese army will be deployed, and to exchange prisoners. Olmert will be able to present that as a great victory, to claim that we have got what we wanted, that we have taught the Arabs a lesson, that anyway we had no intention of achieving more. Nasrallah will also claim a great victory, asserting that he has taught the Zionist enemy a lesson it will not forget, that Hizbullah remains alive, strong and armed, that he has brought back the Lebanese prisoners.

True, it will not be much. But that is what can be done to cut losses, as they say in the business world.

That can happen. If Olmert is clever enough to extricate himself from the trap, before it closes entirely. (As folk wisdom says: a clever person is one that gets out of a trap that a wise one would not have got into in the first place.) And if Condoleezza gets orders from her boss to allow it.

On the 17th day of the war , we must recognize that soon we will be faced with a clear choice: to slide into a war with Syria, intentionally or unintentionally, or to get a general agreement in the north, that will necessarily involve also Hizbullah and Syria. At the centre of such an agreement will be the Golan Heights.

Olmert and Peretz did not think about that in those intoxicating moments on 12 July, when they jumped at the opportunity to start a nice little war. But then, were they thinking at all?