Monday, July 17, 2006
Apparently not content to let the U.S. do a self-immolation act in the Middle East by itself, Israel decided to set itself on fire by invading Lebanon. Burn baby burn? Like George Bush, Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, never served in a combat unit and launched military operations without thinking the matter through. In fact, Olmert reportedly never even served in the military. I raise this because there is one simple question Israel cannot answer about the current operations--what is their strategic military objective. Olmert has somehow persuaded the Israeli military to ignore strategy, think tactically, and in the process become really stupid. The events in the next several weeks will expose as myth the canard that you can secure a nation by killing terrorists. No you can't.
What about Hamas and Hezbollah?
Killing "terrorists" has a place in policy but it is not a strategic military obective. It is a tactical objective and may serve political purposes, but achieves little in terms of securing Israel. Israel is attacking targets in Lebanon like a drunken sailor in a bar fight. Flailing about, causing significant damage, hitting innocent bystanders, and generally making a mess of things. This is not the Israeli military that pulled off the brilliant and daring raid at Entebbe.They are not terrorists. They carry out terrorist attacks, but they are not terrorists. They are something far more dangerous. They are fully functioning political, social, religious, and military organizations that use terrorism tactics, but they are far more formidible than terrorist groups like Al Qaeda or the Basque Terrorist Organization. They do have the resources and the personnel to project force, sustain operations, and cannot be easily defeated. Unlike the Egyptian and Syrian armies in 1973, Hamas and Hezbollah will not easily fold and cannot be defeated in a seven day war. If that is the assumption among some Israeli military planners it is a crazy fantasy.
While most folks in the United States buy into the Hollywood storyline of poor little Israel fighting for it's survival against big, bad Muslims, the reality unfolding on our TV screens shows something else. Exodus, starring Paul Newman, is ancient history. Hamas and Hezbollah attacked military targets--kidnapping soldiers on military patrols may be an act of war and a provocation, but it is not terrorism. (And yes, Hezbollah and Hamas have carried out terrorist attacks in the past against Israeli civilians. I'm not ignoring those acts, I condemn them, but we need to understand what the dynamics are right now.) Israel is not attacking the individuals who hit their soldiers. Israel is engaged in mass punishment.
How did Israel respond? They bombed civilian targets and civilian infrastructure and have killed many civilians. Let's see if I have this right. The Arab "terrorists" attack military units, destroy at least one tank, and are therefore terrorists. Israel retaliates by launching aerial, naval, and artillery bombardments of civilian areas and they are engaging in self-defense. If we are unable to recognize the hypocrisy of this construct then we ourselves are so enveloped by propaganda and emotion that, like the Israelis, Hezbollah, and Hamas, we can't think rationally. We can only think in terms of tribalism and revenge.
Iran, meanwhile, is sitting in the catbird's seat. They have a well-trained and highly competent surrogate force in Hezbollah. Hezbollah's successful attack on Friday on an Israeli naval vessel is a reminder that Hezbollah is not a bunch of crazy kids carrying RPGs and wearing flip flops. I would be willing to wager that at least one Iranian military advisor was helping Hezbollah launch the missile that hit the Israeli ship. But Iran is doing more than simply engage in tit-for-tat. They are thinking strategically.
The events unfolding in Iraq and Lebanon are going Tehran's way. The United States is being portrayed in the world media as someone who tolerates and excuses attacks on civilian populations. The perception becomes the reality and the ability of the United States to rally support among the Russians, the Chinese, and even the French becomes more impaired. We need the international community to deal effectively with nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran. Now, we will be bogged down trying to defend Israel from an angry international community.
In the past, the United States had enough credibility on both sides and kept enough of a distance during these blood fueds so that we could intervene and prevent the fighting from escalating into a gigantic war. It appears that there is no one in the Bush Administration who can step up and intervene to calm the situation. Hell, with John Bolton and Elliot Abrams leading the charge, we are Israel's enablers.
Former Senator Fred Thompson played a U.S. Navy Admiral in then Hunt for Red October. While speaking about escalating tensions as the United States and the Soviet Union chased a renegade submarine, he said:
This business will get out of control. It will get out of control and we'll be lucky to live through it.
Those words are relevant today. Let's hope and pray they don't come to pass.