Israel deports Finkelstein. Official US reaction?

Norman Finkelstein is a citizen of a powerful country (the US) whose financial, political, and military support to Israel is a vital ingredient of Israel’s security, that has also allowed Israel to maintain its policy of colonial expropriation of occupied Palestinian and Syrian land since 1967.
In the past, the Israeli government has denied entry to its national terrain– and also to the occupied territories that it completely controls– to large numbers of US citizens, many or most of them US citizens of Palestinian heritage. Others denied entry have been associated with political movements, including the commitedly nonviolent International Solidarity Movement. Those acts of discrimination have been (somewhat feebly) protested by US officials, over the years.
With today’s reported blocking of Dr. Norman Finkelstein’s entry into Israel, that country’s government has reached a new low. I am not sure what difference it should make to us as US citizens, in this context, whether Finkelstein is Jewish or not (he is), or whether he’s the child of two Holocaust survivors or not (which he is, too.) What seems clear is that Finkelstein is being discriminated against in the present instance solely on the basis of his expressed views, rather than on the basis of any evidence of past wrongdoing or planned future wrongdoing.
Finkelstein is a committed supporter of the two-state outcome to the Israel-Palestine conflict, which implies that he entirely supports Israel’s continued existence as a majority Jewish state. What he has strongly criticized are many of Israel’s actions that have inflicted considerable harm on citizens and residents of neighboring polities with the aim of trying to force these polities to bow to Israel’s will.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans have also criticized these actions. Does that mean that we will also be denied entry the next time we seek to visit Israel?
Why on earth should our government and our tax-dollars continue to prop up a regime that behaves in this notably anti-democratic way?
Richard Silverstein blogged the following last night:

    For those wishing to protest against Finkelstein’s detention, you may call, fax or e-mail:
    Minister of Interior
    2 Kaplan St., Qiryat Ben-Gurion
    P.O. Box 6158, 91061 Jerusalem
    Tel. 972-2-670-1411 / 972-2-629-4722
    Fax: 972-2-670-1628
    Telephone 1: 972-2-640-8410
    Telephone 2: 972-2-640-8409
    Fax: 972-2-640-8920
    If you are American, call the State Department’s Hotline for American Travelers: 202-647-5225. Let them know this is happening and is in violation of international law. Call your Congress member and senator NOW and advise them a U.S. citizen is being denied access to Israel.

Good advice (though technically, there’s no international law bar to Israel controlling its borders as it sees fit.) Realistically, it is probably too late now to prevent this deportation. But I think it’s important that US citizens should still make known to our own government and congressional representatives our continuing concern about Israel’s discriminatory and anti-democratic treatment of many of our fellow-citizens who seek to visit that country, and we can now add Dr. Finkelstein to the list of our examples.
My sympathies to Norman Finkelstein himself, meanwhile. I hope his treatment at Ben-Gurion was not too horribly humiliating.

Hagee, Hitler, & CUFI program

(updates in extension)
Amid revelations (pun intended) that Pastor John Hagee deems the Holocaust to have been divine retribution against the Jews, presidential candidate John McCain belatedly sees the light and has “rejected” John Hagee’s endorsement.
Hagee’s organization, Christians United for Israel, (CUFI) trumpets itself as a Christian version of the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee. CUFI’s just released program for its July 21st Washington-Israel Summit reads like an altar call to an “Amen Chorus” to sing John McCain’s favorite Beach Boys tune — “Bomb bomb bomb; Bomb, bomb Iran.”
Ironically, many of the leading CUFI speakers happen to be prominent Jewish neoconservatives, set to rally Hagee’s Christian soldiers to go marching as to yet another war. Will they still appear?
Previously quite useful to the neoconservatives, Hagee from his CUFI pulpit has been shouting for the US to launch a pre-emptive attack on Iran, even with nuclear weapons, as part of what Hagee deems “a biblically prophesied end-time confrontation with Iran, which will lead to the Rapture, Tribulation […] and [the] Second Coming of Christ.” (not to mention the suffering of a lot of “left-behind” Jews at the hand of the “anti-Christ.”)
The first two CUFI DC conventions attracted tens of thousands. As I’ve been reminded, CUFI does not necessarily march in lock step with Israel, though when they disagree, it’s usually in the direction of shrill warnings to Israel to not give up occupied/disputed territories. Advance registration for this year’s CUFI event in Washington is down sharply from last year at this time, in part over Hagee’s perceived anti-Catholic remarks
Credit Bruce Wilson for documenting what John Hagee has been saying and writing about the Jews and the Holocaust. Here’s the YouTube audio recording of an especially chilling Hagee sermon, apparently from the late 1990’s. Hagee’s “scriptural text” is Jeremiah 16, verse 15: (emphasis added in passage below)

“Behold I will bring them the Jewish people again unto their land that I gave unto their fathers” – that would be Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – “Behold I will send for many fishers and after will I send for many hunters. And they the hunters shall hunt them” – that will be the Jews – “from every mountain and from every hill and from out of the holes of the rocks.” If that doesn’t describe what Hitler did in the Holocaust… you can’t see that. So think about this – I will send fishers and I will send hunters. A fisher is someone who entices you with a bait. How many of you know who Theodore Hertzel was? How many of you don’t have a clue who he was? WOO… Sweet God! Theodore Hertzel is the father of Zionism. He was a Jew that at the turn of the 19th century said – “this land is our land, God wants us to live there”. So he went to the Jews of Europe and said, “I want you to come and join me in the land of Israel”. So few went, Hertzel went into depression. Those who came founded Israel; those who did not went through the hell of the Holocaust. Then god sent a hunter. A hunter is someone who comes with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter. And the Bible says – Jeremiah righty? – “they shall hunt them from every mountain and from every hill and out of the holes of the rocks”, meaning: there’s no place to hide. And that will be offensive to some people. Well, dear heart, be offended: I didn’t write it. Jeremiah wrote it. It was the truth and it is the truth. How did it happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said, “my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come BACK to the land of Israel”. Today Israel is back in the land and they are at Ezekiel 37 and 8. They are physically alive but they’re not spiritually alive.”

As one horrified Israel supporter friend commented to me this morning, Hagee appears to have suggested that “God sanctioned the killing of 6 million Jews in order to get his Jewish State.”
One wonders how Jewish leaders would react if Iran’s President Ahmadinejad would deem Hitler to have been God’s ruthless “hunter” and the holocaust to have been a just punishment by God.
It will be interested to see if distinguished figures like Senator Joseph Lieberman, Daniel Pipes, Frank Gaffney, and Robert Satloff will still appear on the CUFI platform with Hagee. While Lieberman last week was generally defending Hagee, it will be telling how he responds to this latest Hagee controversy.
We will watch and post anything about CUFI program “updates.”
Personal Note:

Continue reading “Hagee, Hitler, & CUFI program”

The real history of Israel’s movement controls in the OPTs

I just went to an excellent briefing that the Israeli saint (and journo) Amira Hass gave to Human Rights Watch about the background to the extremely intrusive and life-strangling system of movement controls that Israel has maintained on the 3.5 million Palestinians of the occupied territories for the past 17 years.
The central point of Hass’s briefing was to focus on the importance of a key administrative change the occupation authorities made on January 15, 1991. For the 20 years prior to that, the basic approach of the occupation authorities had been to promote the idea of “open borders” between Israel and the OPTs. (That, in line with the approach Moshe Dayan had pioneered earlier, whereby Palestinians would be encouraged to work in Israel and to satisfy themselves with some economic gains, in the hope they might forget about their national cause.)
From the early 1970s through January 1991, Hass noted, the prevailing idea was that the Palestinians of the OPTs should have freedom of movement within the West Bank and Gaza, between them and Israel, and between the two of them, as well. Thus, as she recalled– as I have, too– that during the first intifada, organizers and activists would move freely between the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and Israel.
In those days, some Palestinians, as individuals, had restraining orders that forbade them to move from their house, or their town or city. But those were exceptions, made on a name-by-name basis by the IOF.
On January 15, 1991, all that changed. Overnight, the prevailing approach was changed to one whereby Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza were prohibited from entering Israel— and even from entering occupied East Jerusalem, which Israel claimed as its own. That meant also that West Bankers could not visit Gaza, and vice versa.
At that point, only those Palestinians who could get specific, named permission from the IOF were allowed to cross those boundaries. Freedom of movement was transformed from a basic right, to a privilege granted only to a few.
At the time, Hass said, that big change wasn’t much noted because it was part of a much wider clampdown imposed on the OPTs as Israel geared up (or hunkered down?) for the First Gulf War. She said everyone simply assumed that when the war was over, the whole clampdown would be lifted. But the new system of movement controls never was lifted. Indeed, over the years that followed 1991 it was fine-tuned and extended by its IOF administrators; and later, a whole system of truly Orwellian checkpoints and movement control centers was constructed deep inside both territories, on the basis of that administrative change.
Hass noted, crucially, that that change in the movement control philosophy was enacted more than two years before the first ever Palestinian suicide bombing against a target in the West Bank, which occurred in 1993, and more than three years before the first suicide bombings against Israeli civilians inside Israel– which occurred in April 1994, in response to Baruch Goldstein’s massacre in the Hebron Mosque, as the suicide bombers and their masters described their action at the time.
She also talked a lot about the close connection between the movement control regime in the West Bank and the still-continuing Israeli settlement project there.
Another good point she made was to describe the pressure the IOF places on all the OPT’s Palestinians as the “boil the frog slowly” approach…
… On a related note, I see HRW has a new press release out today that criticizes Israel’s the tight restrictions Israel has been placing on the delivery of fuel into Gaza. The criticism is voiced in the fourth paragraph down in these terms:

    The restrictions on electricity and fuel to an effectively occupied territory amount to collective punishment of the civilian population, a serious violation of international humanitarian law. Unlawful attacks by one side to a conflict do not justify unlawful actions by the other.

I find that wording a little flimsy, though it’s better than nothing. Also, the photos they use to accompany the release are far from being the most compelling a person could have taken.
But I think the release has a more serious problem when it says this, right up near the top:

    Israel’s stated goal is to exert pressure on Hamas, the de facto authority in Gaza, to stop firing rockets indiscriminately into civilian-populated areas in Israel – attacks that constitute a serious violation of international humanitarian law. But the energy cuts have had no discernible impact on Hamas’s ability to carry out these attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians. Instead, they have had a terrible impact on civilian life in Gaza, crippling sanitation facilities and curtailing access to schools, hospitals, and other services essential for the civilian population.

I don’t believe that it is of any concern to a human rights organization whether the collective punishment that Israel has mounted against the Palestinian population has “worked” in the way the Israeli authorities stated they wanted it to, or not. Collective punishment is a deliberate attempt by one party to a conflict to entangle the civilian population of the other party in its pursuit of the conflict. And it is therefore, quite simply, illegal. Whether it “works” or not, in the way stated by its perpetrators, is immaterial to whether it is legal or not. (If HRW judged that it “worked”, would that mean that they would applaud it?)
It is fine for the press release to report on what Israel states its goal to be with the fuel-cuts and other aspects of its collective punishment. But HRW’s response to that should simply be that collective punishment of this sort is always illegal, regardless of the validity (or otherwise) of the stated goal, and regardless of the efficacy (or otherwise) of the collective punishment in question from bringing about achievement of the goal.
HRW should cut out nearly the whole of that second sentence there and move up its criticism of this illegal act. Perhaps in the following terms:

    Israel’s stated goal is to exert pressure on Hamas, the de facto authority in Gaza, to stop firing rockets indiscriminately into civilian-populated areas in Israel – attacks that constitute a serious violation of international humanitarian law. But restrictions on electricity and fuel to an occupied territory constitute collective punishment of the civilian population, a serious violation of international humanitarian law. They have had a terrible impact on civilian life in Gaza, crippling sanitation facilities and curtailing access to schools, hospitals, and other services essential for the civilian population…

So, Human Rights Watch, if illegal acts can be described as “working” in some sense, does that make them less illegal and more justifiable for you? I think you have a problem in your argument there.
Excellent, though, to have organized that informative session with Amira Hass. Thanks for that.

Ehud Barak the blocker?

Abu Mazen has been quoted as saying that a “senior figure” in the Israeli cabinet has been blocking the Israel-Hamas peace deal and he is widely thought to have been referring to Defense Minister Ehud Barak. As some possible corroborating evidence for this, note that IOF troops operating undercover killed five militants in an assassination op in the West Bank today. Of the five, four were reported as being Islamic Jihad and one with the (Fateh-linked) Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.
In the west, Ehud Barak is generally widely thought of as a relative “peacenik” among Israeli political leaders. In 1999, when he was head of the Labor Party, he was indeed elected PM on a strongly pro-peace platform. (“I will complete the negotiations with the Palestinians within 6-9 months,” etc.) He failed miserably. In fact, he was hustled at the speed of light out of being the IDF’s chief of staff into being head of Labor, and never had time to learn anything at all about politics or diplomacy along the way. Hence, the coalition that he headed in Israel fell apart in almost record time, because of his total lack of political skills. The “peace process” fell apart disastrously, too, bringing us n short order Sharon’s disastrous September 2000 visit to Al-Aqsa Mosque, the outbreak of the Second Intifada, and Sharon’s amazing trioumphant re-entry into national leadership just 17 years after the Kahan Commission had said he should be banned from high office for life.
Along the way, Barak did make what could be described as two “drive-by, quickie” attempts at peacemaking. One with Hafez al-Asad, which failed miserably because of Barak’s arrogance and duplicity (and Bill Clinton’s complicity with both those aspects of Bark’s behavior.) That failure almost certainly helped kill Hafez al-Asad. After that one failed, Barak turned those same attributes in Yasser Arafat’s direction, forcing him to the completely ill-prepared Camp David 2 summit from which both Barak and Clinton emerged vociferously and in a quite one-sided way blaming Arafat.
My best friends in the Israeli peace movement heap a lot of blame on Barak for killing the Israeli peace movement at that point. By successfully spreading the (significantly inaccurate) story that he had made Arafat a “generous offer” and that Arafat had turned it down out of hand, Barak spread the idea very broadly in Israel and the US that the Israelis had “no partner for peace” on the Palestinian side.
Israel’s Labour Party has always been a flawed vehicle for any hopes of concluding a just and sustainable peace. One problem with the party since its inception has been the extremely incestuous relationship between its leadership and that of the Israeli military. Some of the IDF’s retired generals have become voices of good sense regarding the need for peacemaking; but many more of them have not. People like Ephraim Sneh, Binyamin (“Fouad”) Ben-Eliezer, and Ehud Barak have taken into the party’s upper echelons the mindset of bulldozers and bullies. They are also very much aware of the huge interests many of their friends and former colleagues have in the success of Israel’s massive military-industrial complex.
So I’m not totally surprised now if we see Ehud Olmert being more forward-leaning on peace issues than Ehud Barak.
Let’s hope Barak gets up to no more mischief and the Israel-Hamas ceasefire deal can still be saved.

Israel’s restrictions on reporters

Thanks to McClatchy’s Dion Nissenbaum for informing all readers of the specifics of the restrictions imposed on all Israel-based reporters covering the conflict with Gaza.
Of course it is a nearly universal practice of parties to an armed conflict to restrict media coverage of many aspects of the conflict. But it is very useful for readers/consumers of the reporting that results to remain aware that there are several significant aspects of the events that we are prevented from seeing or reading about.
For example, in Dion’s list, #2 is perhaps especially important for readers to be aware of:

    2. The IDF Censor will not authorize reports of rocket hits at IDF bases and/or strategic installations.

This, in line with the Israeli authorities’ long-sustained practice of trying to describe the rocket attacks launched against it by Hamas and other groups in Gaza as being “targeted”– inasmuch as they are targeted at all– only against civilian neighborhoods.
When I was in the recent panel discussion with Daniel Levy on Capitol Hill, one of the notable things he said was that his information from Israel was that Hamas’s rockets attacks had clearly been targeted at military installations, while it was the non-Hamas organizations that had sent rockets (whether “targeted”, or more randomly, was unclear) into civilian neighborhoods.
We can note the precedent of the way the hits inside Israel from Hizbullah’s rockets were reported by the Israel-based media in the 33-day war of 2006. There, too, the reporting was overwhelmingly of civilian casualties, though I do recall some reporting of military casualties, most particularly of the numerous IDF soldiers killed while mustering in Kfar Darom. I believe the IDF censor’s rules have been tightened since then.
Regarding Hizbullah’s targeting practices in 2006, we should also note the report on this topic released last November by the Nazareth (Israel) -based Arab Association for Human Rights.
The AAHR report was based on “the testimonies of 80 Arab residents interviewed by the HRA, documenting 20 Arab communities that were hit by an estimated total of some 660 rockets, killing 14 civilians directly.” The AAHR researchers found that:

    the Arab towns and villages that suffered the most intensive attacks during the war were ones that were surrounded by military installations, either on a permanent basis or temporarily during the course of the war. These installations are located at a distance of just 0.5 – 2 kilometers by air from the civilian community; in some cases, the installations are located inside the town or village. Such short distances are within the margin of error of the rockets fired by Hizbullah. During the war, artillery fire was launched at Lebanon from many of these installations, and particularly from the temporary installations.
    The investigation also found that communities that were not surrounded by military installations, including villages close to Israel’s northern border, were not hit by rockets, or suffered a lesser degree of damage. Conversely, communities that were surrounded by military installations were hit by rockets, even when these communities were further removed from the Israeli-Lebanese border.
    During the war, Hizbullah declared on several occasions that it was targeting its rockets primarily at military installations inside Israel. Given the findings of the investigation undertaken by the HRA, there is no reason to doubt that the Arab towns and villages were hit due to their proximity to the adjacent military installations. At the very least, it may be assumed that the fact that Israel located certain military installations in or close to Arab civilian centers significantly increased the danger to which the residents of these communities were exposed; in some cases, this danger may have been realized in practice.

In the present conflict, if no Israel-based journos are allowed to report any hits on Israeli military installations, then the myth of all the Gaza Palestinian groups “targeting civilians” can be maintained.
At the very least, Israel-based journos should persistently be asking the IDF’s military briefers to give broad figures about the proportion of Palestinian rockets that fall within, say, one kilometer of a military installation, even if the censorship precludes them from reporting on any details of these hits.
If they do not do this, then surely they are simply colluding in the work of the Israeli hasbaristas in packaging the Palestinian rocketeers as being irreparably evil and inhumane. (A number of western journalists used to collude with with Israel’s hasbara efforts for many years. The phenomenon is probably less widespread now than it once was.)

Winograd: a nonsense report?

I am trying to imagine the physiological distortions the members of the Winograd wound themselves up into when they issued this crazed judgment on the decisionmaking in the last days of the 33-day war, and have been unable to:

    Winograd assailed the final, large-scale ground operation launched in the final 60 hours of the war in which dozens of IDF soldiers were killed, saying it “did not achieve any military objectives nor did it fulfill its potential.”
    “The ground operation did not reduce the Katyusha fire nor did it achieve significant accomplishments, and its role in accelerating or improving the political settlement is unclear,” said Winograd. “Also unclear is how it affected the Lebanese government and Hezbollah regarding the cease-fire.”
    “The manner in which the ground operation was conducted raises the most difficult of questions,” he continued.
    However, the panel found that the decisions that motivated the political echelons to approve the offensive were acceptable.

This is a nonsense conclusion.
That last ground assault on Lebanon not only did not realize any objectives on the ground– it also was launched after the terms of the final ceasefire had been agreed by Israel on August 11, so it did not affect the terms of the ceasefire. In addition, because it was such a tactical fiasco, it ended up delivering far from the intended final, “uber-deterrent” message. Instead it showed that the ground forces’ readiness and planning were garbage. Remember all those news pictures of the exhausted, ill-equipped, and defeated Israeli ground force troops staggering back south across the border on August 14 and 15? And it had led to those 33 quite avoidable deaths of Israeli soldiers.
Until recently, Israel has had a fairly solid reputation among the western democracies for, at least, being able to establish serious national commissions charged with investigating past mistakes. For all its shortcomings, the Kahan Commission into the the Sabra and Shatila massacres was one such body.
Now, with the recent final findings of the Or Commission into the October 2000 killings by the police of 10 or 11 Palestinian Israelis, and this latest report form the Winograd Commission, we see that even this once strong feature of Israel’s governance system has become badly degraded.
In US military and political circles, people like to talk about the importance of doing “lessons learned” exercises. In Britain, more realistically, they tend to call them “lessons identified”– since learning is yet another stage, that requires some active intelligence going in.
But in the Israel of the Winograd Commission, they don’t even want to identify the lessons to be learned from the past? Interesting, indeed.

INSS studies on 33-day war, and the next one?

The Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University has just sent me the latest edition of their “Strategic Assessment” quarterly. It contains the usual mix of good-sense realism with ideologized chauvinism that most SA editions have: maybe the mix here is about 75:25.
I was particularly interested in the two pieces on the 33-day war of 2006 (which the Israelis call “the Second Lebanon War”, conveniently forgetting the two significant engagements of 1993 and 1996 in their numbering system there.) I was reading these as a follow-up to the INSS’s book on the Second Lebanon War, which I referred to a little here, a couple of weeks ago.
The first of these pieces is by Daniel Sobelman, whom I’ve generally considered to be a fairly sober analyst. He’s looking primarily at the changes that the 33-day war (33-DW) brought about in Hizbullah’s political status within Lebanon. A crucial topic.
He starts off by, in my judgment, mis-stating something rather serious. He writes,

    Several events converged to bring twenty-nine years of Syrian hegemony in Lebanon to a finale: the string of political assassinations, the withdrawal of the Syrian military from Lebanese soil, and of course the Second Lebanon War.

I would say, instead, that the 33-DW helped to shore up a level of Syrian influence within Lebanon that prior to July 12 was at a much lower ebb than it was after August 14, 2006. And that, overwhelmingly because of the humiliation that Siniora and the rest of the determinedly anti-Syrian “March 14 forces” experienced within Lebanon during the war.
Though a serious misjudgment, that line of argument did not turn out to be the central thrust of the piece, which was more on Hizbullah’s political fortunes within Lebanon, rather than Syria’s. (And the two notably do not track exactly with each other other, though they do influence each other.)
Sobelman starts off with an interesting argument, noting that the (staunchly anti-Hizbullah) Lebanese daily An-Nahar now publishes a number of news reports that Hizbullah “undoubtedly views as sensitive from a security perspective”, and that this “reflects the profound change that has altered the country’s political climate and the rules of the game within Lebanon to the disadvantage of Hizbollah.” This is an interesting use of evidence, though it’s quite possible it doesn’t tell the whole story.
He notes, in my view correctly, that,

    public opinion in Israel seems focused on the military aspects of the Israeli campaign against Hizbollah… But today the outcome of the war must be measured not simply by the number of rockets that Hizbollah succeeded in firing into Israel for thirty-three days, or the organization’s success in rehabilitating its military capacity…

He then continues to make clear that it is the political outcome, as measured primarily by Hizbullah’s status within Lebanon’s society and polity, that is the crucial metric.
The goal of Olmert and Halutz when they launched the 33-DW was, we can recall, to destroy Hizbullah both militarily and also, if possible, politically, within Lebanon. As Sobelman readily concedes, they did not succeed in the military part of this. But I think he over-states the degree to which they succeeded in the political part.
Sobelman writes:

    In interviews granted after the two previous campaigns against Israel – “Operation Accountability” in July 1993 and “Operation Grapes of Wrath” in April 1996 – Hassan Nasrallah indicated that he measured success primarily according to Hizbollah’s ability to continue firing rockets into Israel until the end of the campaign; the success, as he saw it, in dictating the rules of the confrontation to the IDF; and the success in preventing Israel from driving a wedge between Hizbollah and the Lebanese public. From Hizbollah’s perspective and according to these parameters, the organization defeated Israel. However, in contrast to 1993 and 1996, the ceasefire of August 14, 2006 left Hizbollah much less protected than in the past. Neither Operation Accountability nor Operation Grapes of Wrath unleashed internal processes in Lebanon…

This is correct. The crucial difference was, of course, that by 2006 the Syrians had been out of Lebanon for a year already. (Which is why Sobelman was so wrong in saying in the lede graf that it was the 33-DW itself that diminished the Syrian position in Lebanon.)
So then, in December of 2006, Hizbullah and its allies from the Free Patriotic Movement launched their big street sit-in action against the Siniora government in the heart of downtown. That did not succeed, but neither was it rebuffed. Instead, it led to the political impasse in which the country has been locked ever since (and which I am about to go and experience firsthand.)
Given that the Syrians have not been militarily present in Lebanon at all since July 2005, I think the failure of the March 14 forces to impose the rest of their agenda on Lebanon– that is, its Hizbullah-disarmament part– indicates that Hizbullah did not “lose” the 33-DW at the political level in anything like as clearcut a way as Sobelman suggests.
In many other respects, though, Sobelman presents what seems like a fair and sober assessment of the balance inside Lebanon. He notes,

    While declaring that Hizbollah possesses weapons that could decide the outcome of the next war, Nasrallah made sure to point out that his statement was actually intended to prevent war. Hizbollah, which needs significant additional time to recover from the last war and rebuild the homes of its constituencies, has reached the conclusion that it should lower its profile with regard to the armed struggle against Israel.
    Much depends on regional developments. [Under-statement of the year, that! ~HC] … In any case, in recent years Hizbollah has proven that it can adapt to changing conditions, even when this has meant somewhat tempering its ideology. Today Hizbollah is again checking its limits and, as always, remaking itself. The results of this process will be determined to a great extent by the solution to the current crisis in Lebanon.

The second article in SA on Lebanon is by Amir Kulick, an analyst I haven’t encountered before. His piece is titaled The Next War with Hizbullah. I find that an intriguing subject, because I am always interested in how military planners, and strategic analysts outside of the military, learn from their experiences during war. And Kulick gives us an example of such learning which, if it is broadly replicated within the relevant government circles in Israel, foretells a much more aggressive and destructive Israeli campaign next time.
First, then, we have his assessment of Hizbullah’s military performance during the war:

    It is clear that Hizbollah’s balance statement at the end of the fighting was mixed. Politically, despite its efforts to portray the campaign as a “divine victory,” the organization incurred severe criticism at home. Furthermore, much of its military infrastructure was damaged….
    On the other hand, the organization can claim success for its operational doctrine. Its forces inflicted many losses on the IDF in local combat, and above all, Hizbollah never ceased its bombardment of the Israeli home front, even in the face of massive air activity. The organization’s logistical forecasts also proved correct, given its success in preserving a large inventory of ammunition, thereby enabling Hizbollah soldiers to hit Israel with large numbers of rockets during every stage of the fighting (an average of 150-200 rockets per day were fired). From the organization’s perspective, these actions both brought about an end to the fighting and severely shook the “Zionist entity.” From this vantage, the operational balance was positive.
    At the same time, a number of weak points in Hizbollah’s operational preparations surfaced…

Kulick then looks at the changes that he believes Hizbullah’s military has made in order to (a) correct deficiencies it identified during the 33-DW, and (b) deal with the new constraints placed on its freedom of action by UNIFIL’s broader deployment within Lebanon and other present realities– though his judgment is that “the deployment of Lebanese and UNIFIL forces in southern Lebanon has had relatively little effect on Hizbollah’s military deployment and recovery of its military capabilities.”
Kulick does, certainly, give Hizbullah the credit of being a smart, learning organization. (As does Sobelman.) He also concedes that it, “in effect represents most Shiites in Lebanon” and that this “gives it a reliable political and social base, beyond the purely military sphere.”
He predicts that Israel’s

    next campaign with Hizbollah is expected to resemble the previous one to some degree: missile bombardment of the Israeli home front, a heavy Israeli air response, and possibly a more extensive [Israeli] ground operation than in the past.

Personally, I am not so sure of that. In my estimation, Hizbullah’s leaders are inventive and their organization strong and disciplined. They might do something very different indeed– including, refusing to play to Israel’s military strengths by refusing to fight militarily at all… Who knows?
Anyway, Kulick evidently has high hopes in the IDF being a learning organization, too; and he lays out how he believes the IDF can innovate in all the key dimensions of warfare, in the “next” war against Hizbullah. This is where his article becomes very scary indeed….
Okay, I just made and uploaded a table in which I compiled the operational prescriptions Kulick listed at the end of his article, and my comments on those prescriptions. So you’ll need to go and read them there.
I confess, that before I examined them closely, I found these prescriptions to be– as I noted above– “scary.” But on closer examination they look highly unrealistic. They suffer from these key shortcomings:

    1. Above all, Kulick fails to define the political-strategic end-state that the war he describes– which in his view, should include the insertion of sizeable ground forces into Lebanon, as well as stand-off actions– should aim at. But surely, what the past five years have shown us is that, if countries do indeed intend to use forces overseas, then the key stricture of the Powell Doctrine regarding the necessity of having an Exit Strategy is more important than ever. Kulick says nothing about this! All he seems intent on is suppressing or destroying Hizbullah’s military capacity completely. Okay… but then what??
    2. Also, as subsidiary point to this, if the IDF has been successful in– as Kulick urges– identifying and “neutralizing” (i.e., in IDF parlance, killing and destroying) Hizbullah’s command and control structures, then how does the termination of the conflict get negotiated? An even worse form of quagmire looms herein.
    3. Finally, Kulick’s plan requires the IDF to raise and maintain sizeable and very capable ground forces as well as, presumably, doing everything else it has been doing in past years: maintaining up-to-the minute air superiority, building a nuclear-armed navy, spending millions of person-hours running the movement control system in the West Bank, terrorizing Gaza, etc etc. Where will it find the recruits/reservists willing to sustain this kind of commitment? There was a reason the ground forces performed so poorly in the 33-DW. Mainly, it was because they hadn’t done any serious operational training for many years. Kulisk’s plan would require Israel to revert once again to being a highly militarized helot state carrying a huge manpower burden in its military. Do Israelis want that? How many years (or decades) would this have to continue? And why should Israelis even consider doing this, if the outcome is– wait for it!– yet another lengthy and debilitating quagmire in Lebanon like the one that followed the 1982 invasion??

Well, I hope I’ve made my point there…
My larger point is that my reading of all these recent INSS materials has confirmed and strengthened my judgment that the 2006 chapter of the IDF’s decades-long saga of experience in Lebanon has now proved that, in that theater, military force alone is less capable than ever of bringing about politico-strategic achievements of any lasting value.
There has to be a better way in which Israel can deal with the threats its people face from across their northern border. And guess what, there is! It is called “a comprehensive negotiated resolution of all the remaining strands of Israel’s longstanding conflict with its Arab neighbors.” (As I urged most recently, in this CSM contribution.)
And yes, that certainly includes a final peace agreement with both Syria and Lebanon, as well as the Palestinians.
The Syrians are certainly eager to resume the negotiations for such an agreement; and I am just about certain that once Syria is engaged in this way, all the Lebanese parties– including Hizbullah— will follow along in its slipstream.
The Syrians went to Annapolis in November 2007. Before that, they engaged in serious and ultimately very constructive negotiations with Israel in 1991-96, which came close to reaching a final agreement in January 1996.
So why doesn’t Olmert seize the opportunity to re-engage with them now? And why do Israelis in general still engage in the delusion that there must somewhere be a “military quick fix” to all their problems with their neighbors? And why does the US government just let Israel maintain this belligerent and anti-humane position towards its neighbors, while the US continues to shovel money and political support into Israel?
I don’t really know the answer to those rhetorical questions. What I do know is that the lessons of the 33-DW– as of the US’s strategic failures in Iraq and Afghanisation– are all well worth studying.

Israeli strategic analysts on the 33-day war

I had a 3-hour-plus bus-ride this afternoon from Charlottesville to Washington DC, so I had a good chance to read the weighty study titled The Second Lebanon War: Strategic Perspectives that my friends at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies (formerly the Jaffee Center) mailed to me. One of the co-editors in Shlomo Bron, whose previous work has usually seemed to me to be pretty clear-eyed, forward-looking, and non-ideological. And taken as a whole this latest volume lives up to his reputation.
The INSS’s decision to publish the report now is notable because the Winograd Commission, which is Israel’s official commission of enquiry into the leadership shortcomings revealed during the war, recently indicated that it has postponed publication of its final, definitive report, for a second time. The report, which is now expected to be made public “within a few weeks”, is also expected to have broad political repurcussions inside Israel, most likely including stepped-up efforts to bring down PM Ehud Olmert.
In the INSS book I was delighted, first of all, to see that basically, the key judgments made by its authors about what the war was about, and what its outcome was, tracked almost exactly with the judgments I made in this article on the topic, that I wrote in September 2006 and that appeared in the Nov-Dec 2006 issue of Boston Review. (Note to BR editors!! Please can you get the typo in that sub-title fixed!!)
Here’s what I wrote there:

    A careful examination of the course of the war reveals that, at its core, it was about two central issues: reestablishing the credibility of each side’s deterrent power and achieving dominance over the government of Lebanon.
    Both sides won the first contest. The ceasefire that went into effect August 14 has proved remarkably robust. Given that no outside force has been in a position to compel compliance, that robustness must reflect the reemergence of an effective system of mutual deterrence.
    In the second contest, however, Nasrallah has emerged the clear winner. Indeed, not only did Olmert fail completely in his bid to persuade Beirut to crack down on Hizbullah, but the destructive power that the Israeli air force unleashed upon Lebanon significantly strengthened Hizbullah’s political position.

Of course, the authors represented in the INSS volume, nearly all of whom are retired luminaries from the apex of Israel’s national-security, military, and intelligence bodies, have access to a lot more firsthand information than I could ever dream of amassing. And some of what they share here is very helpful indeed in rounding out our picture of what happened during the war. I found the contribution by Giora Romm (former deputy chief of the Israeli Air Force) particularly informative.
For example, on p.50 he spelled out that, “The Israel Defense Forces was the entity that proposed the list of political goals to the government.” Interesting, huh? (On p.29, Giora Eiland, who had been head of the National Security Council under Sharon, made clear that, “In the government meeting held on July 12, 2006, immediately after news of the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hizbollah, the IDF presented its recommendations. Government ministers were placed in a situation where they had only two options: either approve or reject the military’s proposal. Non-approval meant not doing anything, something which on that day was perceived as
impossible. The outcome was clear…”)
Anyway, Romm also presented what seems to be a verbatim version of this list of goals. Here it is:

    1. To distance Hizbollah from the border with Israel.
    2. To strike a significant blow against Hizbollah’s military capability and status, and thereby put an end to terrorism originating from Lebanon.
    3. To strengthen the deterrence vis-à-vis Hizbollah and the entire region.
    4. To correct the prevailing system in Lebanon, based on an effective enforcement mechanism that is supported by international involvement (this was later changed to “have the Lebanese government use the Lebanese army to impose its sovereignty over its entire
    5. To foster auspicious conditions for freeing the kidnapped IDF soldiers.
    6. To accomplish these ends while keeping Syria out of the war.

Romm also gives more information than I have ever seen pulled together before about the sheer volume of the IAF’s operations during the war. He writes (pp.53-4):

    1. The total number of sorties during the fighting was only slightly fewer than in the Yom Kippur War.
    2. The total number of attack missions flown during the fighting was greater than in the Yom Kippur War.
    3. The total number of combat helicopter missions flown was double the number flown in the first Lebanon war [1982], Operation Accountability [Lebanon again, 1993], and Operation Grapes of Wrath [Lebanon yet again, 1996] combined.
    4. The air force depleted its supply of certain types of armaments, resulting in a need for immediate stocks from overseas. [Oh, guess where from!]

But here’s the thing. Even with this massive rate of operations sustained over 33 days, Romm is quite frank in admitting that the IAF was still quite unable to destroy all the rockets Hizbullah had ready to fire against Israel, from South Lebanon. Indeed, he writes that, “The marginal effectiveness of the air force combat missions declined steeply as the fighting progressed.” The IAF was able to take out all or nearly all of Hizbullah’s long- and medium-range rockets. It was the short-range, Katyusha rockets that were stored and ready to use in the zone very close to Lebanon’s southern border that they couldn’t destroy. That was because these rockets have a very short “exposure time”– plus, their launchers are light and agile and easy to move around and/or hide.
On p.52, Romm presents what is presumably the IDF’s official count of how many Katyushas were fired against Israel on each day of the war. The daily average was probably a little over 100. What is notable from this chart is also that (1) There were indeed two days– July 31 and August 1– when Hizbullah fired no rockets; (there was an attempt at a humanitarian ceasefire in that period. Hizbullah kept to it. Israel did not.) Also, (2) There was apparently no rocket-firing after the Resolution 1701 ceasefire finally went into effect at dawn on August 14, but on the 13th, Huzbullah ramped up a sizeable “last salvo” of 250 rockets– presumably as a way to hammering home the “deterrent message” it wanted to send to Israelis, very similar to the hard-hitting one that the IDF tried to deliver to the Lebanese people in the last 48 hours before the ceasefire went into effect.
What that record also shows quite clearly is that throughout the whole war, and until and after its end, Hizbullah’s command-and-control systems continued in operation, essentially undented by the assault Israel had launched against them. (Several of the authors remark on that fact.)
In Appendix 2, Yiftah Shapir writes that the Israeli police reported that a total of 3,970 rockets landed on Israel during the war. On p.223, he adds that 52 “home front people” were killed by these rockets. A total of 2,412 “home front casualties” were reported, of which 1,318 were cases of clinical shock.
… Well, there is a lot more fascinating material in the book, but I’m afraid I don’t have time to tell you about it all right now. Still, because the full text is available (as a PDF) there online, you can go and read it yourselves, and we can carry on discussing it here.
Bottom line: Raw military superiority just ain’t as effective now as it used to be. Hey, friends in Israel, maybe negotiating workable final peace agreements with all your neighbors would be a better way to proceed??

Post-Annapolis score: Israel/Cheney – 1; World – 0?

Yesterday, US Ambassador to the UN Zal Khalilzad was humiliatingly forced by the powers-that-be in Washington to withdraw the text of a draft resolution he had presented to the Security Council less than 24 hours previously, that would have expressed the SC’s support for the Nov. 27th Annapolis peace meeting.
Colum Lynch’s reporting in the WaPo linked to there makes very clear:

    (1) that Khalilzad had had the approval of Secretary Rice before he presented the draft Thursday evening (contrary to some of the other reports on the incident); and
    (2) that Khalilzad told Lynch that Israeli PM Olmert and other Israeli leaders had become “very upset” when they saw the text of Thursday’s draft.

Israeli governments have for many years strongly– though by no means always successfully– resisted all attempts to have the UN play any role at all in brokering or monitoring peace agreements between it and its neighbors. (That, despite the fact that Israel’s birth certificate as a state in the modern world came from the UN’s Partition Plan of 1947.) The draft that Khalilzad presented Thursday merely “endorsed” the Israeli-Palestinian statement concluded at Annapolis– which allocated a clear leadership role in the follow-opn diplomacy to the US, and not the UN. But even having the UNSC say anything at all about Annapolis was apparently too much for Olmert and Co. to bear.
Khalilzad was forced to fly to Washington DC on Friday, presumably to get a dressing-down from people higher up in the administration for his “presumption” in having presented the pro-Annapolis draft to the SC. My reading of this matter is that only someone politically weightier than Rice could have forced her and Khalilzad to back down on this matter. To me, that means Cheney.
What a humiliating fiasco for Khalilzad, Rice, and US diplomacy in general.
Especially since in Tunis, yesterday– and this was presumably before Khalilzad’s about-face– PA Pres. Mahmoud Abbas had told a press conference, “I must say that we felt the seriousness of the U.S. administration… Among the signals about the U.S. seriousness, there is a draft submitted by the U.S. to the U.N Security Council to endorse the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.”
And China Daily reported from New York that,

    Ambassador Nassir Al-Nasser of Qatar, the only Arab member on the Security Council, said Thursday “we are happy with the language as it is” in the US draft resolution. “I am happy that the council is dealing with this issue,” he said. “For me, this is the main thing.”

So, as I wrote in the headline, the immediate score in this affair looks like:

    Israel/Cheney – 1; World – 0

However, if the Bush administration’s handling of the post-Annapolis diplomacy continues in this inept and extremely one-sided vein, the longer-term score on this important aspect of global diplomacy will probably turn out to be more like:

    US – 0; World – 188

(Or however many countries there are in the whole of the non-US world.)
As I discussed in this Nov. 27 JWN post, the shifting balance among the world’s great powers– that is, the US’s decline from the Uberpower-hood it enjoyed in the 1990s– is an important backdrop to the post-Annapolis peace diplomacy. And the post-Annapolis diplomacy will meanwhile itself be contributing to the shifts in the global power power balance. Especially if the Bush administration keeps shooting itself in the diplomatic foot in this most recent, jejune, and damaging-to-everyone way.
(I have an op-ed on the broad Annapolis-in-global-politics theme that will be in The Christian Science Monitor on Monday. Too bad I finalized the text before this latest Khalilzad fiasco got reported.)
What I have specifically been looking at, in general, is the balance in the post-Annapolis diplomacy between the role of the US and that of the rest of the “Quartet”: Russia, the EU, and the UN. Worryingly, from my perspective, the text of the “Joint Understanding” that Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas agreed to at Annapolis gives the US a specified, special role monitoring both sides’ implementation of the 2002 “Road Map” dealing with interim issues, and spells out that satisfactory– from the US standpoint– implementation of the Road Map is a precondition of implementation of the final peace agreement that the two sides are supposed to conclude before the end of 2008.
(So actually, maybe not having the whole of the UNSC sign off on Annapolis in a formal way may not be such a bad thing?)
I see, too, that lapdoggish as ever, the Quartet’s so-called “special envoy to the PA” Tony Blair has been telling HaAretz and others that he “no longer believes that ‘land for peace,’ in and of itself, is sufficient”, and that,

    “There won’t be a Palestinian state unless it is coherently governed and run, and anyone who tells you different is misleading you.”

What on earth kind of neo-imperial arrogance is this?
Of course we all want the Palestinian state to be as well-run, as democratic, and accountable as possible. But to make this a pre-condition for national independence? This is Shcharansky-ism run wild!
Also, Blair is really not a good person to speak about these things, since in the run-up to the January 2006 Palestinian elections he was the one who covertly despatched a small team of Labour Party campaign advisers to Ramallah to try to salvage Fateh’s already-failing election campaign. That was a quite unwarranted (and therefore kept-hidden) intervention into Palestinian politics, and therefore a violation of democratic norms in Palestine.
Also, as we know, he has been a strong supporter of the mass-punishment policies sustained against the Palestinian people after they held their elections and he and George W. Bush didn’t like the outcome…
So much for yesterday’s man. Meanwhile, if you’re as interested as I am in the shifting global balance question, go back and look at all three pages of that China Daily report I linked to above in connection with the reporting on Qatar’s reaction. That is some pretty thorough and wide-ranging reporting– and in English, too. Even though the architecture of the article, the way it’s published on the web, is definitely sub-optimal: it’s impossible to bring up the whole text on a single, clean “print” page…
The Chinese are evidently watching what is happening on this issue pretty closely. Plus, they have been investing heavily and quite effectively in upgrading their English-language web presence. US commentators who mock China’s supposed weakness in the realm of soft power often don’t have a clue what they’re talking about.
Interesting times we live in.

Israeli precedent in France/Algeria?

I went to an interesting discussion today. It was led by the Franco-Israeli writer Sylvain Cypel, who was talking about his recent book Walled: Israeli Society at an Impasse.
I asked him about the state of the Israeli peace movement these days, wondering aloud if it is really in such chaos and disarray as it seems to be.
His answer was interesting. He said that the essential issue that Israelis and all others need to focus on is the need to end the occupation, rather than “peace” as such. And he recalled how, growing up in France in the 1950s, those on the French left for long time had a main slogan regarding Algeria that was “peace in Algeria,” and didn’t make too much impact with that. But then, he said, in around 1959, they switched their slogan to “Withdraw from Algeria”, and that was when the political system inside France really started to shift on the issue.
So I thought about that quite a bit afterwards. It is true, isn’t it, that everyone right across the political claims that their goal is “peace” between Israel and its neighbors. Including those who specifically negate the idea that this peace needs a robust territorial basis, such as for example, those who argue that what’s needed is a “peace for peace” deal, rather than a “land for peace” deal.
Cypel argued that what is required, first and foremost, is a clear Israeli statement that it will withdraw from the lands occupied in 1967, and then on the basis of that the modalities of the withdrawal, including the possibility of balanced adjustments in the final border, and the nature of the post-withdrawal relationship can all be effectively negotiated. But, he stressed, they should be negotiated in the context of a clear prior Israeli commitment to withdraw. Which is what international law requires of Israel, anyway.
(By the way, this is a principle that needs to be applied in the case of the US’s current occupation of Iraq, as well.)
On a broadly related note, when I went to the panel discussion with the Anglo-Israeli peace activist Daniel Levy yesterday, one of the most striking things he said was that it is quite unreasonable to ask the occupied people to provide assurances for the security of the occupiers and even for the settlers from the occupying country.
He also said that making “absolute security” for Israel a firm precondition for the conduct or completion of any final-peace talks– as the Annapolis process currently does, with its references to the really damaging “Road Map”– is a recipe for sure failure. “How can the Palestinians assure the security of Israelis? They don’t have a state, they don’t have anything!”
Parenthetically, I’d add that the PA is quite unable to assure the security of Palestinians, so how can anyone demand that they assure the security of Israelis, as well?
Levy’s bottom line was that completion and implementation of the final-status Palestinian-Israeli agreement simply cannot be held hostage to conditions placed on either side in the arena of interim measures.
This is what I’ve been arguing for the past 14 years. Since Oslo. It’s a crazy idea, and one that gratuitously gives the whole peace negotiation over as a hostage to hardliners on either side who, when they want to torpedo it, have merely to launch yet another escalation or provocation.
Today, by the way, Cypel reminded us that the first terrorist event after Oslo was that undertaken by the American-Israeli settler extremist Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 worshipers in Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque, and wounded 150 more, during his February 1994 rampage there.