April 16, 2003

Israeli Militarism At War

Destroying the Iraqi tyranny, the US has demonstrated that the entire globe is now subject to American dictatorship. Not bothering to obtain even a disguise of international legitimacy from the Security Council, the two dozens of neoconservative men who are running our planet (for the sake of the weapon and oil industry) send hundreds of thousands of troops, and spend tens of billions of dollars, to liberate the Iraqis and their oil wells from their dictator, subjecting the beaten survivors to the visible hand of looting thugs, preparing the hearts for the invisible fist of Cola-Cola and McDonald's.

Israel – a beloved ally, challenging Britain for the title of the superpower's closest friend – has had great expectations from this war. Not that it was Israel's war – its favourite targets were rather Syria and Iran. Nevertheless: the Israeli junta – PM Sharon, DM Mofaz, Chief-of-Staff Ya'alon and their aides – were waiting for it eagerly.

As high priests in the cult of Militarism – Israel's secular religion – the country's leaders love wars. Every war serves as a proof for the hegemonic militaristic ideology, which considers force to be the best solution to every problem; "and if force doesn't do the job," the Israeli slogan goes, "apply more force". In the words of Minister of Construction and Housing Affe Eitam (a former General, leader of the National Orthodox party), "there is nothing more thrilling than the sight of men going to war" (Ha'aretz, 22.3.2002). So a war is always welcome, especially against a neighbouring Arab country.

However, so far the War on Iraq has been much of a disappointment for the junta. It was counting on this war on several fronts; but most of its expectations have proved wrong.

The Operative Front

The War was supposed to give the Israeli army an opportunity to show its power, to try its new toys and to restore its prestige, damaged by the daily routine of dirty occupation. On the eve of war, Israel's leaders were bargaining the terms of the country's military retaliation: doves (or hawks?) said an unconventional Iraqi attack should draw an "unprecedented" (atomic?) Israeli reaction, hawks (or doves?) insisted that an Iraqi attack of any kind should elicit an "unforgettable" Israeli blow.

Alas, Iraq kept its own word and did not attack – not "once the war starts", as we were promised at first, not "once coalition forces get to Baghdad", as we were told later, not even "once Saddam feels the wall at his back", as we were warned by desperate military "experts" just a couple of days ago. Junta members still insist that there are some "unsecured zones" in Western Iraq from where a hoped-for missile might be fired, but they probably don't believe their own words. To its great disappointment, the Israeli army was left unemployed.

The Palestinian Front

On the Palestinian front, mass deportation should have taken place if circumstances had allowed it: e.g. an Iraqi and/or large-scale Palestinian terror attack, chaos in the Middle East, collapse of neighbouring regimes etc. Again, all this did not happen. The Israeli army did exploit the war for a general rehearsal (2.4.2003), putting all men aged 15 to 40 of the Tul Karm refugee camp – about 2.000 in number – on trucks, just like during the mass deportations of 1948 and 1967, and moving them "temporarily" to another refugee camp. One aim was probably to examine the reactions of Palestinians, Israelis and the world – they all remained silent, or politely concerned. But conditions for mass deportation out of Greater Israel (a platform objective of one of Israel's coalition parties) have not materialised. Yet. Another disappointment for the junta. So we are back to business as usual: assassinations with major deadly "collateral damage", closure, siege, expanding settlements and so on.

The Home Front

On the internal front, the army tried to strengthen its hold on the Israeli citizens – those "five million disobedient soldiers", as former Israeli Army Spokesmen (and now "journalist") Oded Ben-Ami once called us all. As far as preparations for the War are concerned, the Israeli army had managed to grab responsibility (meaning: budget, manpower, prestige) for Israel's civilian population as well, in spite of several professional recommendations to give this authority to some kind of police. It is the army that gives gas-masks to the civilian population, it is the army that sets the alarm level, it the army that tells the civilians what to do.

Thus, before and during the War, Israeli citizens have constantly been given all kinds of lunatic orders, as if it were Israel, not Iraq that was about to be returned to the Stone Age: "Purchase 12 litre of mineral water per person", "Prepare a battery-run radio", "Prepare a room for sealing", "Seal a room", "Open gas masks", "Carry gas masks with you" and so on. To increase suspense, some of these orders were announced gradually: "in a few hours the army will decide whether civilians should…", manipulatively making the population listen to the Master's Voice all the time. Since the chances for an Iraqi attack were unanimously estimated by all experts (including junta members) as "almost zero", one cannot fail to see the intention to create mass panic and to curtail democratic freedom.

Remember that the Israeli army has spent some $2 billion on a supposedly hermetic anti-missile defence system, in addition to the Israeli, American and German "Patriot" missiles employed all over the country. The insistence on turning the civilians into gas-masked pawns thus has a financial motivation (multiply the price of a gas-mask by 5 million citizens to get an idea) as well as a political-psychological objective, but it also reflects the army's mistrust towards its own anti-missile protection measures.

Along the same line, the army prepared operational plans to take over all television and radio channels (including all local and foreign satellite and cable TV stations, from BBC World to Fox News) in case of emergency, practically cutting Israel from the outside world for as long as the army general in charge finds necessary. Using the new American euphemism, all Israeli citizens were to be "embedded"; in fact, it often looks like the army is eager to extend the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza to Israel itself.

Great disappointment on this front as well. Most Israelis pretty soon ignored army orders to carry gas masks everywhere (the order is still in force, by the way). Ironically, the only Israeli fatalities in this war were a mother and two children suffocated to death while sleeping in a sealed room. Quite a few children and adults were treated in hospital for unintentional use of atropine injections. Recall that during the first Gulf War, the 39 missiles fired at Israel caused just one casualty, but several people were choked to death in their gas-masks. The conclusion is inevitable: the army's instructions, both during the former Gulf War and definitely during this one, inflicted more Israeli casualties than Saddam himself.

And, on top of all that, just a few days ago the Supreme Court ruled against the army's plan to take over the media in emergency.

Disillusionment and Frustration

So in addition to its painful disillusionment, the War on Iraq left Israel's junta rather ridiculed. One junta member, former Minister (and former General) Ephraim Sneh (Labour), once praised the Israeli army as "the strongest military power between the Caspian Sea and Gibraltar". For all that military might, Israeli citizens are anything but secure. In fact, Israel probably sets a historic record in the disproportion between military might and actual security. The War on Iraq exposed once more the absurdities of Israeli militarism: billions of dollars were invested against a threat that did not materialise (and probably did not even exist), but the sense of insecurity has been intentionally nurtured even further.

The Israeli army must now feel deeply frustrated. One wonders where this dangerous sense of frustration will lead.

– Ran HaCohen

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Ran HaCohen was born in the Netherlands in 1964 and grew up in Israel. He has a B.A. in Computer Science, an M.A. in Comparative Literature and is currently working on his PhD thesis. He teaches in the Tel-Aviv University's Department of Comparative Literature. He also works as a literary translator (from German, English and Dutch), and as a literary critic for the Israeli daily Yedioth Achronoth. Mr. HaCohen's work has been published widely in Israel. "Letter from Israel" appears occasionally at Antiwar.com.

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