Israel is in trouble. Its president Moshe Katsav is being investigated for allegedly raping one of his own staff members. Ehud Olmert, its Prime Minister, is accused of accepting a whopping $500,000 bribe from a building contractor and of making crony political appointments during his former tenure as Minister of Industry and Trade. Its Chief of Staff Dan Halutz was publicly attacked for using insider knowledge to profit from a share-portfolio sell-off during the hours that led up to the conflict. Defense Minister Amir Peretz, a former rose-grower, is judged incompetent. All stand accused of badly mismanaging the war. The inability of the region’s strongest military power to achieve its goals, the return of two abducted soldiers and the disarming of Hezbollah, has thrust the country into collective shock. The right says their government was indecisive and failed to use every weapon in its arsenal. The left complains the war was a conflict of choice and should never have been waged. The hawks are itching to go another round to achieve a knock-out win. Army reservists are lashing out at their generals for their ill-conceived battle orders, as well as a general lack of training and equipment. They say they were left in theater without food and water, which meant they were often forced to drink out of the troughs of farm animals or the canteens of dead Hezbollah fighters. They say they were told to roll their tanks into south Lebanon valleys only to end up as sitting ducks for fighters entrenched in their mountain fastness with armor-busting anti-tank missiles. At least one officer refused to obey orders, saying his men just weren’t ready. Told they would be fighting a rag-tag band of primitive “terrorists, they say their superiors misled them. Instead, they were faced with a highly-trained, highly-disciplined militia armed with weaponry as sophisticated as their own. Even worse, this was a militia of ghosts, hiding in bunkers, underground tunnels and caves during the day, emerging only at night to seek their prey. With grudging admiration, incredulous reservists speak of fearless Hezbollah fighters rushing toward the fire instead of fleeing from it. They talk of trees that moved and the uncanny ability of their enemy to know their every move in advance. Many ordinary Israelis are simply scared. After decades of living in a fool’s paradise when it comes to their own sense of invincibility, they have been forced to recognize their own vulnerability. After all, what use is its mythical nuclear arsenal against its own neighbors? Without warning Israel has been stripped of what it calls its deterrent value. The carefully contrived myth of Israel’s indestructibility has been shattered and its hitherto intimidated enemies know this only too well. Israeli politicians are concerned that the country’s usefulness to its mentor and benefactor the United States has been eroded. Washington provides Tel Aviv with billions in cash, loans, planes and weapons each year but if its client state can’t do the allotted job, the U.S. may stop feeding a dog whose tail can’t wag. A column in the Jerusalem Post titled “View from America: the United States prefers a winner is succinct on this point. “America took little interests in Israel as an ally, as opposed to a charity case, until after Israel won the Six-Day War in 1967, the writer points out. “If ever Israeli leaders allowed their American counterparts to think that its deterrent had diminished to the point where it ceased to be the strategic asset that it is, then the rhetoric of common values notwithstanding, woe betide the alliance. Israel’s armchair warriors are divided too. Ari Shavit writing in Ha’aretz says “today’s agenda must concern one thing: Israel’s power. There will be no peace and there will be no end to the occupation without restoring Israel’s power. Writing in the same paper Akiva Eldar slams George Bush’s policies for the “deterioration of Israel’s national security and warns ominously “the masses are coming home to their Bibi [the former rightwing Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu] the best student in the class. And while Israel is being pilloried by human rights groups that accuse it of war crimes and illegal use of cluster bombs in heavily populated civilian areas, Israelis are pillorying each other. An army medic writing on the Jerusalem Post blog says, I’ve noticed “that the combat units are populated disproportionately by soldiers/citizens from the periphery. The Tel Aviv Yuppies, the high tech sector (techno-weenies), the economic elite are all under-represented in these units. I despise them and their religious pursuit of money. This is a theme reflected throughout the Israeli press. Israelis living in the north seem to be frustrated that Tel Aviv carried on as usual during the conflict. While they whiled away more than a month in stuffy bunkers listening to the sounds of sirens and rockets, the people of Tel Aviv were enjoying summer days on the beach and discoing at night. As Israelis claw at their feeble government and at one another, the Lebanese have rarely been as unified. It is generally thought that Israel’s bombing campaign that concentrated on Lebanese infrastructure and civilian homes, including those in Christian areas, was designed to turn the country against Hezbollah. This turned out to be a massive miscalculation, which triggered the opposite effect. At one point, Hezbollah was supported by 87 percent of all Lebanese. Fleeing Shiite families were welcomed into Palestinian refugee camps and Christian homes. Church bells rang out after one of Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah’s speeches promising compensation for everyone whose home was destroyed. And whereas Israelis appear to be obsessed over the concept of winning or losing, Nasrallah realizes his victory was pyrrhic in light of the loss of so many civilians. The soft-spoken cleric told Maryam Al Bassan of New TV that he would not have ordered the kidnap of Israeli soldiers if he had known in advance this action would have led to war, and suggested that despite Israeli provocation there would be no second round. Thus, Israel finds itself in somewhat of a cleft stick. Like a wounded lion it is flaying around trying to reinstate its authority. However, instead of licking its wounds, it is turning them into suppurating sores. In the meantime, Lebanon has begun the rebuilding process, both in terms of houses and relationships. Hezbollah has handed out wads of cash for rent and furniture regardless of the recipients’ religion, while stressing the need for sectarian unity. The EU has finally got its act together and, led by France, is sending 7,000 troops to beef up Unifil, which will not be required to disarm Hezbollah. The faster they take up their duties, the quicker Israel will be deprived of an excuse to break the ceasefire. No more king of the jungle, all that the wounded lion can do is continue with its vindictive and illegal blockade of Lebanon’s shores and skies until the international community finally says enough is enough. Unfortunately, though, this saga is far from over. Perhaps led by Netanyahu, the beast may rise up again and attempt to exact retribution. Alternatively, as the Mayor of Haifa told the BBC, Israel may eventually come to terms with the new reality and reach for the olive branch proffered by all 22 members of the Arab League in 2002. Which will it be? Your guess is as good as mine.
Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Mid-East affairs and co-author of a book titled “The enemy of apathy . She can be reached through [email protected]. She wrote this commentary for The Daily Star Egypt.