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Monday, August 07, 2006

The Cold Arithmetic of Blood

Good op-ed article by Merav Arlosoroff (in normal days a finance journalist) in Ha'aretz today, following the difficult day yesterday. "A war is not an insurance policy" she write. This is something the Israeli government should be communicating to the public, instead of making irrelevant speeches about having won the war when clearly this is not the case.

The cold arithmetic of blood

By Meirav Arlosoroff

Exactly 100 years ago, Theodore Roosevelt received the Nobel Peace Prize for bringing the two sides in the Russian-Japanese war to the negotiating table. Besides the fact that the teddy bear is named after him, Roosevelt is also remembered as being an outstanding American president. A century ago, he coined one of his many famous sayings: ?Speak softly and carry a big stick."

Roosevelt's approach is not alien to Israel. The historical Mapai party adopted it, and it also inspired David Ben-Gurion when he shaped Israel's security outlook during the War of Independence, as well as during the retaliatory operations taken by the elite Unit 101 and in the Sinai campaign (in the last case, unsuccessfully). In fact, Israelis express this sentiment intuitively when declaring, quite frequently, that they won't be anyone's sucker.

Roosevelt's approach has been put to the test now, too, in the battles Israel is waging in Lebanon, which are apparently about to end. Let there be no mistake: The war in Lebanon has not been about the return of two abducted soldiers. It is a war for Israel's deterrent power. This is a war that is being waged over the question of whether Israel will be able to retain the message that having to defend its home front is taboo, and that anyone that dares to violate that taboo will pay an unbearable price.

Hezbollah is not the strategic threat posed to Israel at present. The real threat lies in Syria, which is arming itself with thousands of missiles with various and sundry warheads, and in Iran, which is only a heartbeat away from attaining nuclear weapons. The war in Lebanon, therefore, is not only a war against Hezbollah and its ability to continue to attack Israel. It is a war against Iran and Syria, which clearly have the ability to attack Israel. The only question is whether they will dare.

The achievements in Lebanon will have crucial implications vis-a-vis this question. From this point of view, the extended fighting there is not a campaign. Nor is it a war of "no alternative." It is an existential war, one of the most important ever fought by Israel. It is a war intended to ensure that the real strategic threat to Israel, the one from Iran and Syria, will be cut down to a minimum, thanks to Israel's ability to maintain its deterrence. And it is also a war that can affect the peace process with the Palestinians: Israel's ability to maintain its deterrence is the best way to convince them to come to the negotiating table, just as Israel's ability to maintain its deterrence during the Yom Kippur War prompted Egypt to sign a peace agreement with Israel.

This is an existential war and Israel should be fighting it as one. It is a war in which every possible military effort should be invested, exposing the country to the dangers of an all-out war - of soldiers being captured, of becoming embroiled in difficult battles, and of facing such perils as opening of a second front and incurring very large numbers of losses. Coping with these dangers is essential despite the fact that doing so does not guarantee achievements.

A war is not an insurance policy. Taking risks is not a sufficient condition for victory in such circumstances, but it is certainly a necessary condition - because only those who dare will succeed. Only those who are willing to dare can truly threaten the other side.

Israel cannot promise that the Hezbollah will pay an intolerable price for breaking the taboo by attacking the country's home front. It can promise to be willing to pay a very high price in order to make Hezbollah pay a far higher one. This promise could have been the basis for its deterrence.

Israel's willingness to fight to the death to protect its home front is the only way to make those considering attacking that front in the future think twice. To put it bluntly: Israel's willingness to absorb hundreds of losses can prevent the deaths of thousands, and perhaps even more, in the future. This is a cold and cruel arithmetic of blood, but it is the one that will be determined in this war. And it is doubtful whether Israel has fulfilled its part in it.


Anonymous said...

hi there,
i am an IRANIAN girl....
i read this post right now, it was very interesting.
nice to c here!!!!

Anonymous said...

Syria, much less Iran. The IDF`s 28-day long attempt to crush a 5,000-man guerilla force armed with nothing more than small arms and anti-tank missles is prima facie evidence of that! Israeli citizens should sit back and think about the spin your own news sites are putting on this war. You are still fighting and taking casualties in the same villages they said you had control of two weeks ago. And these villages are within five kilometers of your border! The warmongers in here may believe Israel could wage war with Hezbullah, Syria and Iran at the same time but your leaders know the truth.

What Israel politicians and miltary leaders want is to draw the United States into the quagmire they have created for themselves. Nothing would please them more than American bombers pounding Syrian and Iranian military and nuclear sites. If it was anyone other than George Bush leading the USA I would say there wasn`t a chance of this happening. But with this imbecile anything is possible

Sharvul said...


I think you mistake Israel's restraint (in my opinion unwarranted) with its military might.

No regular army in history was successful in winning a decisive victory against a guerrilla-like para-military enemy, especially when such enemy is making cynical use of civilians as human shields and the army is one of a democratic country. Things are very different when it comes to fighting against another regular army, such as Iran's or Syria's.

As for the US, it is true that Israel would be pleased if it joined the efforts of dealing with the rogue regimes of Assad and the ayatollahs. I believe this will inevitably happen, not now but also not in the too distant future. These regimes pose a threat not only to Israel but also to the region and to the free world.

Anonymous said...

Has Israel hesitated to kill civilians=women and children? or displace one million Lebanese?
Let`s be really realistic. Israel is facing the same type of dilemma in Lebanon that U.S faced in Vietnam. all these modern American war machines cannot target the fighters and their primitive hand-made missiles. This is a commando war, and your enemy has learned to patiently defend itself in his own familiar terrain. Don`t you wish you had to fight with comparable war machines to show them how good your U.S artilleries are, and how fast you can down their Soviet planes. Ah, Those good old days! Modern warfare! Weren`t you in a similar mess before? When was it? 1982-2000?

Sharvul said...

Anonymous - Surely you can do better than regurgitate propaganda which has been shown to be false, many times over.

To answer your questions:

1. Israel has not only hesitated to kill civilians; it has done its utmost to avoid hurting civilians. When it did, it was by mistake and the Israeli government promptly apologized for it. This, unlike the Lebanese side (i.e. Hezbollah) which deliberately targets civilians in Israel daily and, when successul, celebration breaks out in Arab and Palestinian cities. Vive la difference.

2. One million Lebanese are displaced, but so are one million Israelis. But again note the difference: the Lebanese fled after Israel warned them (radio, TV, leaflets, etc.) to move away from the war zone. The Israelis fled due to the aforementioned deliberate rocket and missile launches against Israeli cities.

Of course we're in a mess. But the mess was created by the Lebanese government who was unwilling or unable to enforce its sovereignty, implement UN resolutions by disarming the Hezbollah and stand up against Syria and Iran.

A tumour has been allowed to grow up in Lebanon and that tumour is threatening to expand and threaten the entire region. Israel is actually doing Lebanon a favour by treating this tumour.

Anonymous said...

Surely you also can do better than regurgitate propaganda which has been shown to be false, many times over. Did Israel treat this tumour last time around when Sharon was in charge? Hasn't Israel treat Palestinians the same way no matter who is in charge?

Sharvul said...


1. Yes it did. If you recall, the PLO took a boat ride out of Beirut and became mostly insignificant, until Israel decided to bring them back into the game in 1993.

2. Absolutely not. Israel talked (eventually) with Arafat and Abu Mazen; extensively so. It even proposed a peace solution that was the most any Israeli government could offer (more than what the majority of Israeli public was willing to accept). Unfortunately, it is the Palestinians that treated Israel the same over and over, i.e. refusing to accept any proposal for peace and resorting to violence instead.

The basic issue, if you get past the "surface issues" (return of refugees, Jerusalem, land, etc.), was and remains the same: an Arab acceptance of Israel's right to exist in the Middle East. The stated claim of Hezbollah, Iran and, yes, even the Palestinian charter, is the destruction of Israel. The Arab psyche has still not come to terms with the existence of the Jewish state. We can go around in circles but this is the fundamental problem.

Anonymous said...

Let me be clear about a few points:

1. Israel bears a pivotal responsibility in financing and empowering the Islamic Hamas in early 1980's to counterbalance Arafat’s Nationalist Fatah. The rest is history.

2. If Israel abides by the UN Security Council resolution 242 to withdraw the 1967 occupied lands, peace will be given a chance. The Palestinians are deprived to become an independent and homogeneous nation as long as they are controlled by Israelis, and have to cross Israeli checkpoints to reach to their towns and villages.

3. Israel follows the preemptive principle of destroying the perceived enemy 100% if it feels that the enemy has one percent chance of threatening it. The destruction of Lebanese infrastructure falls within such practice (as the op-ed indicates). The Lebanese civilians targeted by Israeli bombs are the weakest of the weak; women, children, disabled and old people who are unable to leave their villages.

4. Israel is not a secular state, and its economy and war power will not survive without the U.S. aid. Its enemies are not the Arab states (who are also mostly U.S. allies) any longer. The hatred of Arabs and Moslems has become the unifying source of Israeli
patriotism and military aggression. I am afraid that the victims have become victimizers and the international public opinion is taking notice.

Anonymous said...

Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former US national security
adviser,links the Iraq and Israel conflict and says bluntly:

"Neocon prescriptions [of use of force to try to change things unilaterally] of which Israel has its equivalents, are fatal for America and ultimately for Israel. They will totally turn the overwhelming majority of the Middle East's population against the United States. The lessons of Iraq speak for themselves. Eventually, if neocon policies continue to be pursued, the United States will be expelled from the region and that will be the beginning of the end for Israel as well."

Sharvul said...

Anonymous 1:

You post casually mentions "facts" that readers who are not familiar with the real facts might be misled into taking as truths. Examples:

1. UN resolution 242 does not call for withdrawal to 1967 borders.

2. The Palestinians never were "an independent and homogeneous nation", never in history and certainly not under Jordanian and Egyptian rule that preceded the Israeli "occupation".

3. Lebanese civilians are not "targeted" by Israeli bombs. Saying this lie many times will not make it true. On the other hand, it is the Lebanese katyusha launchers who deliberately target Israeli cities, every day.

4. Israel is a secular state (I wish it were not, but it is). Do not confuse a Jewish state with a state governed by Jewish law.

You are right about one thing though. Israel does not take chances and will strive to "destroy the enemy 100%", as you put it. You see, Israel cannot afford a second chance, as its enemies will never grant it. Throughout history, many tried to exterminate the Jewish people "100%" and that has certainly conditioned our way of thinking as a nation, for good or for bad.

Sharvul said...

Anonymous 2: I don't necessarily diasagree with Brzezinski's analysis. I do not see a bright future for Israel's existence (although mostly for other reasons, not US policy). Does he have an alternative solution though?

Avrum. said...

By shooting missiles at Israel Syria risks being hit by Israel's Atomic bombs. I am sure that, as opposed to Merav Arlozorov, the Syrians and Iranians are aware of that. Therefore their strategy is to use a guerilla force against Israel. Atomic bombs are useless against Hizballa, and so far other weapons prove only slightly better.