While much of the world has criticized Israel
for carrying out a "disproportionate" war against Hezbollah in Lebanon,
hard-line neoconservatives have attacked the government of Prime Minister Ehud
Olmert for timidity.
As noted by diplomatic correspondent Ori Nir in this week's edition of The
Forward, the U.S.' most important Jewish newspaper, the Israeli government
and its military's chief of staff, Gen. Dan Halutz, have been subjected to unusually
harsh criticism, including the charge that, by failing to wage a more aggressive
war, they were jeopardizing Israel's long-term strategic alliance with Washington.
"[Hezbollah] is today the leading edge of an aggressive, nuclear-hungry
Iran," wrote Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer earlier
this week. "
[Olmert's] search for victory on the cheap has jeopardized
not just the Lebanon operation but America's confidence in Israel as well. The
tremulous Olmert seems not have a clue."
In particular, Krauthammer and other leading neoconservatives have assailed
Olmert for not launching a massive ground invasion from the outset which, in
their view, could have effectively crushed Hezbollah's military capabilities,
if not the organization itself.
"Hezbollah can only be destroyed by a ground campaign," wrote National
Review columnist Jonah Goldberg early in the campaign. "If Israel doesn't
launch one, it will be worse off."
Still others attacked him for failing to widen the war beyond Lebanon to Hezbollah
supporters, Iran and Syria.
"[While] Iran may be too far away for much Israeli retaliation beyond
a single strike on its nuclear weapons complex," wrote Max Boot, a Council
of Foreign Relations fellow, in the Los Angeles Times, "
is weak and next door. To secure its borders, Israel needs to hit the [President
Bashir] Assad regime."
He was joined by in that appeal by Meyrav Wurmser, director of the neoconservative
Hudson Institute Center for Middle East Policy and, significantly, the Israeli-born
spouse of David Wurmser, a top Middle East adviser of Vice President Dick Cheney.
"The bottom line is that Israel's gripe is not with Lebanon; it [is] with
Syria and Iran," she wrote in National Review online (NRO). "Given
the explosive nature of the situation, Israel ought not let its adversaries
define the battleground. Rather, it ought to carry the battle to them."
These public attacks are widely believed to reflect the positions of hard-line
neoconservatives within the administration of President George W. Bush, centered,
in particular, in Cheney's office and that of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
They have largely been confined, however, to the more extreme elements in the
neoconservative movement, particularly those most closely associated with the
right wing of Israel's opposition Likud Party.
With the exception of Krauthammer, they have strongly opposed former Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement from Gaza and have been using the ongoing
crisis there, as well as the war in Lebanon, to discredit Olmert's "convergence"
strategy his plan to dismantle many Jewish settlements in all but about 10
percent of the occupied West Bank.
More pragmatic neoconservatives, such as those clustered around Weekly Standard
editor William Kristol (who, however, called in the early days of the war for
a quick U.S. strike on Iranian nuclear facilities), have generally refrained
from second-guessing Olmert's leadership and the conduct of the war.
Instead, they have focused on framing Israel's war against Hezbollah as part
and parcel of Washington's larger "global war on terror." They have
discouraged any suggestion that Washington seek to restrain Israel in its conduct
of the war or impose a premature cease-fire, and have assailed "realist"
and State Department proposals to directly engage Syria and Iran in efforts
to stop the fighting or at least de-escalate the crises in which Israel finds
itself as "appeasement."
Even these positions, however, have not been entirely appreciated by Olmert's
government, according to Nir. He told the Voice of America (VOA) last week that
he had "ascertained for a fact" that Israel had asked the Bush administration
to use its influence with the Syrian government to gain the release of the three
soldiers abducted by Hamas and Hezbollah, but that Washington no doubt
as a result of internal neoconservative influence had declined to do
so. It was "quite a disappointment for Israel," he said.
Of the hard-line criticisms of Olmert, the most controversial has been the
charge that, by failing to prosecute the war more vigorously, his government
was undermining the administration's confidence in Israel as an effective ally
in the war on terror.
Because of Hezbollah's strategic importance to Iran, "America wants, America
needs, a decisive Hezbollah defeat," wrote Krauthammer in his Aug. 4 column,
which noted that the existence of a "fierce debate in the United States
about whether, in the post-Sept. 11 world, Israel is a net asset or liability."
"Hezbollah's unprovoked attack on July 12 provided Israel the extraordinary
opportunity to demonstrate its utility by making a major contribution to America's
war on terrorism," but Olmert's "unsteady and uncertain leadership"
had put that in question.
"The United States has gone far out on a limb to allow Israel to win.
It has counted on Israel's ability to do the job. It has been disappointed,"
according to Krauthammer, who is known to be a favorite of Cheney.
Although Krauthammer's message was particularly crude, it was echoed in part
by hard-line neoconservative editorial writers in both National Review
and the Wall Street Journal, which repeatedly called for Olmert to take
stronger action more quickly lest, as the Journal put it, "President
Bush's entire vision for the Middle East
suffer a severe setback."
"Let's face it: Nobody likes a pushover; nobody likes a weakling,"
Ariel Cohen, a neoconservative at the Heritage Foundation, told Nir. "This
is something Olmert and [Defense Minister Amir] Peretz have to think about:
how Israel is perceived not only in Europe and the Arab world, but also in the
These criticisms have provoked outrage from some quarters, particularly among
mainstream leaders in the U.S. Jewish community.
Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, told the Forward
that it was "inappropriate" for non-Israelis "who don't take
the consequences of their advice, especially when it comes to issues of life
and death, to become backstage generals, sitting in Washington or in New York,
trying to manage Israel's war."
"[Krauthammer] is one of those armchair General Pattons who rarely, if
ever, indicates that he feels pain about the loss of soldiers whether in Lebanon,
Iraq, or anywhere else," noted M.J. Rosenberg, an analyst at the Israel
Policy Forum (IPF), who strongly favors diplomatic efforts including
with Syria to end the fighting.
"Some on the right would rather blame Israel for its hesitation about
fighting than consider how much better off Israel if it didn't have to fight
at all," he wrote in his weekly newsletter.
(Inter Press Service)