The following was asked of khaverim in Israel: “Do you accept the government assertion that the current Lebanon war is a response to the border incident or do you feel that the government used the opportunity to attack and eliminate the Hezbollah threat? Does this affect your view of how the crisis should be resolved?” This is a detailed response from Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal:
My basic view is that the government — i.e., Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz — did not seriously weigh the implications of what they were getting into when they ordered a major military response to the attack on the northern border. While I think in principle that it’s extremely important for the fundamental health of Israeli society, that civilians should control the defense ministry and provide a counterpoint to the military high command, in this case, Peretz’s inexperience in military affairs was detrimental. The same could be said for Olmert — though he has had more experience in senior government positions.
It wasn’t the civilian government, but the IDF high command, which quickly placed a plan on the table to use the incident as a basis for trying to eliminate the threat of the 12,000 Hezbollah Katyusha missiles that had accumulated in Southern Lebanon. Here, in addition to Olmert and Peretz’s inexperience, we are faced with a structural and a cultural problem.
The structural problem is that Israeli prime ministers don’t have substantial alternatives to the military establishment when making decisions that potentially involve the use of serious military force. The civilian national security council, usually headed by a graduate of the security services, was supposed to fulfill that function, but it has never been taken seriously by any prime minister. We should have a situation where the head of the national security council can be consulted as to whether the proposals emanating from the IDF are the only or best alternatives. Even senior Haaretz security commentator Ze’ev Schiff, who is usually extremely protective of the military, noted (in Haaretz, Aug. 11 ) that Chief of Staff Dan Halutz’s comment that “It’s the IDF plan or nothing!” is “a strange statement for a military figure to make at a cabinet meeting.” Dr. Reuven Pedhazur, the astute security affairs commentator, has written frequently about this problem in Haaretz.
The cultural problem, since the establishment of the State of Israel, is that the government leadership has developed an excessive reliance on the use of military force to solve security problems. Given the experience of the Holocaust and the difficult neighborhood that we live in, this is perhaps understandable, but that doesn’t make it wise.
We have, as we should, a very powerful army. But we also have to cultivate diplomatic skills, which were dormant during the 2,000 years of living in an un-sovereign Diaspora, when such diplomatic skills were unnecessary. We need a powerful army to defend our right to exist, but we will only resolve our problems with the Lebanese, the Palestinians and the Syrians, via diplomatic means.
As to my view about how the crisis should be resolved: The fundamentalist Hezbollah movement is unfortunately an integral part of the Shiite component of Lebanese society. According to some estimates, the Shiites will soon (or may already) be a majority within Lebanese society; yet it should be noted that the Shiite Amal movement led by Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Beri does not agree with Hezbollah’s fundamentalist ideology. As an integral part of Lebanese society, which also has a significant social arm, Hezbollah cannot be defeated by force alone. This was one of the mistakes of the initial Israeli government policy.
Thus, we must come to an overall arrangement with the Lebanese government, which can only be achieved via the aid of the international community. The French-American-British resolution that was brought before the Security Council is a step in the right direction. It has to be followed by an immediate cease-fire in the field, to save both Israeli and Lebanese civilian and military lives – they are all human beings – to be followed by the rapid arrival of an effective international force that will separate between the IDF and Hezbollah.
This has to be followed by serious political attempts to resolve the Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. That is essential for quiet on the Israeli-Lebanese border.
As the only superpower in the post-Cold War world, it would be extremely helpful if the US were seriously engaged in the quest for a comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace. There are many building blocks for this, including UN Resolution 1559, the previous Israeli-Syrian-American negotiations, UN Resolution 242 and 338, the Oslo Accords, the Road Map, the Clinton Parameters of December 2000, the Geneva Accord of 2003 and the Arab (Saudi) peace plan. What has been missing, until recently, has been an American administration that would be ready to lead the international community in the direction of constructive conflict resolution.
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