The United States has given Israel $51.3 billion
in military grants since 1949, most of it after 1974 – more than any other country
in the post-1945 era. Israel has also received $11.2 billion in loans for military
equipment, plus $31 billion in economic grants, not to mention loan guarantees
or joint military projects. But major conditions on these military grants have
meant that 74 percent of it has remained in the U.S. to purchase American arms.
Since it creates jobs and profits in many districts, Congress is more than ready
to respond to the cajoling of the Israel lobby. This vast sum has both enabled
and forced Israel to prepare to fight an American-style war. But the
US since 1950 has failed to win any of its big wars.
In early 2005 the new chief of staff of the Israel Defense Force, Dan Halutz,
embarked on the most extensive reorganization in the history of IDF. Halutz
is an Air Force general and enamored with the doctrines that justify the ultra-modern
equipment the Americans showered upon the Israelis. Attack helicopters, unmanned
aircraft, advanced long-range intelligence and communications, and the like
were at the top of his agenda. His was merely a variation of Donald Rumsfeld’s
"shock and awe" concepts.
The 34-day war in Lebanon, starting July 12 last year, was a disastrous turning
point for Israel. Until the Eliyahu Winograd Commission, which Olmert set up
in September 2006, delivers its interim report in late April – which will cover
the first five days of the war only – and resolves these matters, we will not
know precisely the orders sent to specific units or the timing of all of the
actors, but there is already a consensus on far more important fundamentals.
But the Israelis did not lose the war because of orders given or not given to
various officers. It was a war of choice, and it was planned as an air war with
very limited ground incursions in the expectation that Israeli casualties would
be very low. Major General Herzl Sapir at the end of February said that "the
war began at our initiative and we did not take advantage of the benefits granted
to the initiator." Planning for the war began November 2005 but reached
high gear by the following March before the expected kidnapping of two IDF soldiers
– the nominal excuse for the war. There is no controversy over the fact that
it was a digitized, networked war, the first in Israel’s experience, and conformed
to Halutz’ – and American – theories of how war is fought in this high-tech
era. The US fought identical wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – and is in the process
of losing both.
What were the Israeli objectives? – war aims, if you will. While the Winograd
Commission report may clarify this question, at the very least a number of goals
are known already. Halutz wanted to "shock and awe" the Hezbollah and their
allies with Israeli power – all within a few days. There were lesser aims, such
as moving the Hezbollah rockets well away from the borders or even getting its
two kidnapped soldiers returned, but at the very least Halutz wanted to make
a critical point.
Instead, he revealed Israel’s vulnerability based, in large part, on the fact
the enemy was far better prepared, motivated, and equipped. It was the end of
a crucial myth, the harbinger of yet more bloody, but equal, armed conflicts
or a balance of power conducive to negotiations. Olmert and his generals very
likely expected to have a great victory within five days, thereby increasing
his popularity with the hawkish Jewish population that is a growing majority
of the voters, to reverse his abysmally low poll ratings, thereby saving his
political career – he received three percent popularity in a TV poll in early
There are many reasons the Israelis lost the war in Lebanon, but there is
general agreement within Israel that the war ended in disaster and the deterrent
value of the once unbeatable, super-armed IDF gravely diminished in the entire
Arab world for the first time since 1947. But the Israelis were defeated for
many of the same reasons that have caused the Americans to lose the wars in
Iraq and Afghanistan – and in Vietnam as well. Both their doctrine and equipment
were ill suited for the realities they confronted. There was no centralized
command structure to destroy but small groups, lightly armed, mobile, and decentralized,
able to harass and ultimately prevail. The Hezbollah also had highly effective
Russian anti-tank missiles, and the IDF admits that "several dozen"
tanks were put out of commission, if not destroyed, including the Merkava Mark
IV, which Israel claims in the best protected tank in the world – and which
it seeks to export. They also fired around 4,000 rockets at Israeli population
centers and the IDF could not stop this demoralizing harassment. Hezbollah bunkers
and arsenals were largely immune to air attacks, which caused the Israelis to
"stretch the target envelope" to attack densely populated areas, with
over 1,000 civilian dead. "Israel lost the war in the first three days,"
an American military expert concluded, expressing a consensus shared by many
US Air Force analysts. "If you have that kind of surprise and you have
that kind of firepower you had better win. Otherwise, you’re in for the long
The problem, though, was not merely a new Arab prowess, though changes in
their morale and fighting organizations should not be minimized. Halutz’ drastic
reorganization of the IDF since early 2005, one that was supposed to attain
the promises of all its American-supplied equipment, "caused," in
General Sapir’s words, "a terrible distortion." The IDF was an organizational
mess, demoralized as never before, and on January 17, 2007 Halutz resigned,
the first head of the IDF to voluntarily step down because of his leadership
in war. Had he not resigned he would have been fired. His successor quickly
annulled his reorganization of the IDF, which is now sorely disorganized. The
American way of warfare had failed.
The Next War
The Lebanon War is only a harbinger of Israeli
defeats to come. For the first time there is a rough equivalence in military
Technology everywhere is now moving far faster than the diplomatic and political
resources or will to control its inevitable consequences. Hezbollah has far
better and more rockets – over 10,000 short-range rockets is one figure given
– than it had a few years ago, and Israel’s military intelligence believes it
has more firepower than it had last spring, before it was attacked. Israel has
failed to convince Russia not to sell or give their highly effective anti-tank
missiles to nations or movements in the region. They fear that even Hamas will
acquire them. Syria is procuring "thousands" of advanced anti-tank
missiles from Russia, which can be fired from five kilometers away, as well
as far better rockets that can hit Israeli cities.
If the challenges of producing a realistic concept of the world that confronts
the mounting dangers and limits of military technology seriously are not resolved
soon there is nothing more than wars to look forward to. The IDF intelligence
branch does not think a war with Syria is likely in 2007; other Israeli military
commentators think that any war with Syria would produce, at best, a bloody
standoff – just like the war in Lebanon last summer. Israel has about 3,700
tanks and they are all now highly vulnerable. Its ultra-modern air arm, most
of which the US has provided, only kills people but it cannot attain victory.
The New Israel – A 'Normal' Nation
In the past, wars produced victories and more
territory for the Jews; now they will only produce disasters for everybody.
The Lebanon War proved that.
Zionism was a concoction of Viennese coffee houses, Tolstoy’s idealization
of labor, early ecological sentiment in the form of the wanderfogel that
influenced Zionism but various fascistic movements as well, militarism, and
varieties of socialism for parts of it, including bolshevism. Jews sought to
go to Palestine not only because of the Holocaust but also the changes in American
immigration laws in the first half of the 1920s. Without the vast sums the Diaspora
provided, Zionism would never have come to fruition. Every nation has its distinctive
personality reflecting its traditions, pretensions, and history’s caprices,
and in this regard Israel is no different. It exists but it is becoming increasingly
dangerous to world peace – and to itself.
Zionism always had a military ethos, imposed only in part by Arab hostility,
and from the inception of Zionism’s history its political and military leaders
were one and the same. Generals were heroes and they did well in politics. The
logic of force merged with an essentially Western, colonialist bias. Its founders
were Europeans, and it was an outpost of European culture until the globalization
of values and products made these cultural distinctions increasingly irrelevant.
It always has been a militarist society, proud of its fighters. And notwithstanding
the Cold War and the increasing flow of arms from the US, which, merged with
its élan, meant it won all its post-1947 wars until last summer, it still
retains a strong element of hysteria about the world it faced. And it is often
messianic – especially its politicians – because messianism is very much influential
among a growing portion of the religious and traditional population.
Israel has ceased being "Zionist" in the original sense of that ideology.
For the sake of ceremony it retains Zionism as a label, just as many actual
or aspiring nations have various myths which justify their claims to a national
identity. But it is a long way from the original premises, in large part because
its war with its neighbors – especially the Arabs who live in its midst or nearby
– made its military ethos dominant over everything else.
Israel today is well on its way to becoming a failed state. Were it not for
the fact that this outpost of fewer than five million Jews is a critical factor
of war and peace in a much larger and vital region it would not be important
or at all unusual. But it is terribly confused and has a very mixed identity;
the US has since the late 1960s protected it. World peace now depends on this
place, its idiosyncrasies, personality, and growing contradictions.
Israel is a profoundly divided society and its politicians are venal cynics.
Many nations – and surely the Palestinian leaders until Hamas, by default, took
over – are no different. As Shlomo Ben-Ami, the former foreign minister, describes
it, on one side there are economically disadvantaged Oriental Jews, Russian
nationalists who were motivated above all by a desire to leave the USSR (an
appreciable minority is not Jewish), and Orthodox Jews of every sort united
only by their intense dislike of "assimilationists"; on the other hand we have
secular Jews, some leftists and modernizers, more skilled and of East European
parentage who were once crucial in the formation of Zionism. There are an increasing
number of "Jerusalem-Jews," as Ben-Ami calls them, motivated to come primarily
by economic incentives, and they are bringing the Right to power more and more
often. They fear the Arabs who live in Israel. "Tel Aviv" Jews are assimilating
to a global, modernizing culture, more akin to the "normal" existence the early
Zionists preached, and they are also the emigrants out because they have high
skills. Israel now has as many people leaving as immigrate to it, and North
America alone is home to up to a million of them.
Some indications of these trends range from the banal to the tragic. There
are all varieties of punks, gays, everything. As for the ultra-Orthodox, some
have placed "curses" on those who advocate disengaging from any settlements
in the West Bank or Gaza; they will be punished by heaven. One of four ultra-Orthodox
Jews believes this is precisely why Sharon was struck with a coma. Martin van
Creveld, professor of military history at the Hebrew University and friend of
many IDF leaders, whose fame was made studying the role of morale in armies,
thinks the morale of the conscripts in the IDF is "almost to the vanishing
point; in some cases crybabies have taken the place of soldiers." "Feminism"
in the armed forces has intensified the rot, but "social developments"
have destroyed much of the army – as have officers "who stayed behind their
computers" last summer.
Never before has Israel been wracked by so many demoralizing scandals. The
president of Israel just resigned because of rape charges against him, Prime
Minister Olmert is being investigated by the comptroller’s office on four charges
of corruption, the new chief of police was once accused of accepting bribes
and fraud and his appointment has created an uproar, and other sordid cases
too numerous to cite. Israel is "stewing in its own rot," a Haaretz
writer concluded; the police, retired judge Vardi Zeiler commented after heading
a committee to investigate the state’s operation, were like Sicily and the state
was on its way to becoming a mafia-style regime.
In this anarchy wars are motivated for political reasons but now they are
lost because the society is disintegrating and – again to quote a Haaretz
writer – the government "lacks both direction and a conscience." Worse
yet, its leaders are incredibly stupid and Olmert can only be compared to Bush
in political intelligence. There is a consensus among Israeli strategists that
the Iraq War was a disaster for Israel, a geopolitical gift to Iran that will
leave Israel in ever-greater danger long after the Americans go home. "Israel
has nothing to gain from a continued American presence in Iraq," the director
of the Institute for National Security Studies of Tel Aviv University stated
last January. The US ousted the Taliban from Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein
from Iraq and created an overwhelming Iranian strategic domination. Its campaign
for democracy has brought Hamas to power in Palestine. "It's a total misreading
of reality," one Israeli expert is quoted when discussing America's role in
the region. American policies have failed and Israel has given a carte blanche
to a strategy that leaves it more isolated than ever.
Notwithstanding this consensus, on March 12th Olmert told the American Israel
Public Affairs annual conference by video link "Those who are concerned
for Israel’s security…should recognize the need for American success in Iraq
and responsible exit." "Any outcome that will not help America’s strength…would…undercut
America’s ability to deal effectively with the threat posed by the Iranian regime…."
His foreign minister was even stronger. "Stay the hell out of it,"
a Haaretz writer concluded. No group is more antiwar than American Jews,
Congress – in its own inept way – is trying to bring the war to an end, his
own strategists think the Iraq War was a disaster – and Olmert endorses Bush’s
The Syrian Option
It is in this context that the peace of the region
will or will not evolve. Olmert will do what is best for his political position
domestically, and retaining power will be his priority – no less than his predecessors
and most politicians everywhere. It is not at all promising. But for technical,
social, and morale reasons Israel will not win another war. At every level,
it has become far weaker. It can inflict frightful damage on its enemies but
it cannot change the fundamental balance of all forces that lead to victory.
Making peace with Syria would be a crucial first step for Israel, and although
the Palestinian problem would remain it would nonetheless vastly improve Israel’s
security – and disprove the Bush’s Administration’s contention until very recently
that negotiations with Syria or Iran on any Middle East question involves conceding
to evil. The Israeli press reported in great detail the secret 2004-05 Israel-Syria
negotiations, which were very advanced and involved major Syrian concessions
– especially on water and Syrian neutrality in a host of political controversies
with the Palestinians and Iranians. It also reported that Washington followed
these talks closely and that it – especially Cheney’s office – opposed bringing
them to a successful conclusion. At the end of January many important members
of Israel’s foreign policy establishment publicly urged reopening these talks.
Olmert dismissed Syria’s gestures categorically after they became public. "Don’t
even think about it" was Secretary of State Rice’s view of a treaty when
she saw Israeli officials in mid-February. But though Mossad supports the obdurate
Rice-Olmert view, military intelligence argues that Syria’s offers are sincere
and serious. Moreover, intelligence’s head warned that Syria is growing stronger
and peace was very much to Israel’s interest. He was supported by most of the
Foreign and Defense ministries, including Minister of Defense Amir Peretz. Olmert
demanded, and got, their acquiescence.
A treaty could be finalized with Syria within four to six months, Alon Liel,
former director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry who negotiated with
the Syrians, reported the Washington Times on March 7. Liel was asked
to come to the US embassy in Tel Aviv about this time and tell the entire political
staff of his talks. The reports in Haaretz, which included the draft
treaty, were by then quite definitive. Then the Knesset, Israel’s parliament,
invited Ibrahim Suleiman, Syria’s representative to the talks, to speak to the
foreign affairs and defense committees. Such invitations are very rare, not
least because Syria and Israel are legally in a state of war. But if the Syrians
and Israelis go to war again, the normally hawkish Martin van Creveld concluded
at this time, Israel "could wreak much destruction, but it could not force
a decision." In three or four years the Syrians would be ready for a protracted
war that would prove too much for Israel. After running through his bizarre
alternatives, and the state of the IDF’s morale, van Creveld concluded that
reaching a peace with Syria was very much to Israel’s interests – and that even
the Americans were coming to the position that talking to Syria and Iran (as
the Baker-Hamilton panel had recommended last December) was rational.
Syria has been attempting desperately to improve its relations with Washington,
if only to forestall some mad act on the US’ part. When Israel attacked Lebanon
last July, Elliott Abrams, in charge of the Middle East at the National Security
Council, along with other neocons in Washington, urged it to expand the war
to Syria. At the end of February Syria renewed its appeal to the US to discuss
any and all Middle East issues with it in "a serious and profound dialogue."
For over two years it has made similar attempts; Baker knew all about these.
Talking to alleged adversaries is perhaps the most fundamental point of difference
between Cheney, his neocon alliance, and Rice, and it covers North Korea, Iran,
and many other places. The debate is less the nature and goals of American foreign
policy but how to conduct it – by the application of material power and even
the threat of war versus more traditional means, such as diplomacy.
In the past several weeks, taking her cue from the Republican Establishment
in the Iraq Study Group last December, Rice has been winning points in this
debate but her successes are fragile. Cheney is a powerful, determined and cunning
man who knows how to succeed all too well with the president.
America’s overwhelming problem is Iraq and, above all, Iran, and apparently
the Bush Administration has now decided that Syria can help it in the region.
Ellen Sauerbrey, an Assistant Secretary of State, was in Damascus on March 12,
nominally to discuss refugees but she heard from the Syrians "that all
the questions are linked in the Arab region and that a comprehensive dialogue
is needed on all these questions." Syria has also mobilized the European
Union, which now favors a return of the Golan Heights to it. On March 13 the
US ambassador to Israel publicly stated a bald lie that the Americans had never
"expressed an opinion on what Israel should or should not do with regard
It is now entirely in the hands of the Olmert government whether to negotiate
Israel has ignored Washington on at least four very important issues, starting
with the Sinai campaign in 1956, and acted in its own self-interest. The Americans
were Olmert’s alibi but he can use them no more. There are other crucial issues,
such as the Saudi plan for the resolution of the Palestine question, and never
has Israel had a greater need for peace than at the present. Instead, like the
US, its head of state may be the worst in its history, motivated by short-term
political advantage and a consummate desire to retain power.
But the Syrian option is there for the taking. If there is war then the brain
drain out will accelerate and migration in will fall; demography will take over.
Israel will then become the only place in the world a Jew is in danger precisely
because he or she is a Jew. If this opportunity is lost there will eventually
be a mutually destructive war that no one will win – the Lebanon War proved
that Israel must now confront the fact that its neighbors are becoming its military
equals and US aid cannot save it.
Indeed, America’s free gifts enabled Israel to begin a war last July with illusions
identical to those that also caused the Bush Administration to embark on its