Jewish Journal

Painful Lessons Emerge From War in Lebanon

by Michael Berenbaum

Posted on Aug. 10, 2006 at 8:00 pm

We are now four weeks into the war in Lebanon, five weeks into the crisis in Gaza, and it is time to consider what we have learned -- if anything.

For Jews on the left, a position where I comfortably situate myself politically and morally, this was a war that should not have happened. For a generation, "land for peace" was our mantra. If the occupation had ended; if the concessions were deep enough, real enough; and the conditions for a Palestinian state viable enough, then peace would be forthcoming.

Israel has ceded land painfully and bravely; it was en route to ceding more land, not quickly enough and not boldly enough, perhaps, but ceding land, nevertheless, and in return, it received not "land for peace" but "land for war," to borrow Dennis Ross' apt phrase. Thus, one assumption of the left must be abandoned. There can be no simple equation of "land for peace."

We could have been in the fifth year of an independent Palestinian state if Yasser Arafat had been willing to make a deal with Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak; instead we are we where we are.

The second illusion is the peace process. The wise editorial writers in The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times have been pressing the United States not to endanger, not to set back the peace process, as if there were a peace process. No such process appears on the horizon; there is no light -- at least not now -- at the end of the tunnel.

Some problems can not be solved, but they can be managed, and the goal of all policy, especially U.S. policy, should be management not resolution. I have long believed that peace was illusory but that divorce was possible, and divorce meant what it means in most cases: Assets must be divided, and the two cannot live in one home and cannot share the same bed. Disengagement or realignment is not for the sake of peace but for the sake of separation, divorce so that each side can build its life independently of the other to the greatest extent possible.

Israel was justified in responding to the attacks. It had withdrawn from Lebanon, and it was attacked by Lebanon because Hezbollah did what it said it wanted to do and because the international community did not do what it said it was going to do.

Thus, all the pious calls for a cease-fire are futile. No cease-fire can be achieved until conditions on the ground are such as to permit a cease-fire. Simply put, either Hezbollah is decisively defeated and its situation becomes dire, or Israel discovers that there is no victory to be had and tries for a face-saving formula because it has been unable to achieve its strategic and military goals and must seek a way out politically.

All calls for a cease-fire may end the bloodshed temporarily for a day or an hour, but bloodshed will continue. AMCO once had a advertisement: "Pay me now or pay me later." Israeli soldiers who did not die during the past six year since the end of Lebanese occupation will have to die now.

Critics have argued that Israel's response is disproportionate, as if proportionality is a virtue. Deterrence is a virtue. When the other side is sufficiently powerful, those who do not want to die will not attack.

Many within Hezbollah may have been testing the new regime, giving Ehud Olmert and Amir Perez their "baptism by fire," or they may have misjudged the Israel response. The only proportion that counts, as Richard Cohen has so correctly noted is "zero for zero:" no attacks, no need for response.

Israel's response has been measured and therefore moral; otherwise you would have had tens of thousands dead and not hundreds, and southern Lebanon would have been leveled into one gigantic parking lot.

The extreme left has been disconcerting, ill informed and unable to make simple distinctions. One talk radio host, Randi Rhodes, has spoken of "genocide"; there might have been others She spoke without any idea of the meaning of the term or its codification in international law and by the Geneva Convention.

One group has targeted the Jews -- all the Jews whether soldiers or civilians, men, women and children. One dances when rockets fall, and by any standard to legal and moral definition of genocide, it is Hezbollah and the Iranian president who are threatening genocide, not the Israelis. Thankfully, they cannot impose it. But we should have learned a generation ago to trust threats more than promises Israel's moral critics have not directed their anger at Hezbollah, which uses its civilian population as a shield and taunts the Israelis for their morality, for their unwillingness to shed the blood of the women and children of Lebanon. I wonder what other powers would have been as restrained when rockets attack their civilians and threaten their cities.

I am old enough to remember the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis when the United States threatened nuclear conflict and imposed a blockade because of potential missiles 90 miles from our shore. No one questions the morality of such a position.

But Israel's military action is not beyond criticism on military, if not moral, terms.

The air force was ill prepared to face this new type of enemy. It promised too much, and it could not deliver. It was improperly equipped for this task. Only four weeks into the battle have ground forces been engaged, and even they are restrained by the knowledge that once genuine progress is made, pressures to halt that progress will be impossible to resist. And if it cannot prevail, it has to go back to the drawing board and learn to fight this type of war, which is the war of the future.

However competent, Israeli intelligence -- pinpoint bombing could only occur because Israeli intelligence is skilled and precise -- must be faulted, because it seems to have been surprised by the full arsenal of Hezbollah, and the military is to be faulted for not war gamming this scenario, which was predictable, especially after the events in Iraq.

Ariel Sharon is also to blamed as the situation in Lebanon was allowed to develop on his watch; perhaps more than any Israeli leader, he could not have engaged Lebanon because of the judgment of his role in the 1982 war, so the situation festered.

But a government can not respond to attack purely in anger. It must have a strategy that is achievable militarily and politically. Israel's strategy appears improvised. It should have been otherwise.

Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon six years ago gave it the capacity to respond to the political dimensions of the war in a way that it could not have had, had it been the occupying power. The same is true in Gaza. And Israel's willingness for further disengagement is the source of its national unity and of the support of Jews worldwide. This conflict has united, not divided, the Jewish people as at no time since 1982, at least for now.

Disengagement is dead, at least unilateral disengagement. But so, too, is the right's dream of a greater Israel and of domination of a hostile population. The demographic time bomb that made Israel's center and center right favor disengagement to protect a Jewish democratic state remains. So a fourth way must be found, which is not yet articulated.

If not conquest, if not withdrawal and if not disengagement and realignment, then what is the way forward?

To my friends on the right who have been telling me that we told you so, this, too, must also be a disillusioning time. Israel is in this predicament because of American weakness, because the United States has been bogged down in Iraq in a war that was begun with faulty intelligence, pursued with inadequate planning and with an inadequate commitment of U.S. troops or an inadequate sacrifice from the American people, fought for unrealizable goals and can now be characterized as a fiasco headed for disaster. It does not bode well for the confrontation that lies ahead with Iran, which has been the main beneficiary from the war in Iraq and the turmoil in Lebanon.

Israel lives in two worlds: a globalized world in which it has prospered, in which Warren Buffet invests $4 billion in its industries and Donald Trump builds his $300 million towers; and its local neighborhood, in which the cost of doing business is that from time to time, you must demonstrate -- for none to doubt -- that you are willing to kill and be willing to be killed. That is more difficult for those who live in a culture that venerates life, that celebrates life and that abhors death. But such is the price for survival with neighbors such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

Would that it were otherwise. Tracker Pixel for Entry


View our privacy policy and terms of service.