UPDATED: Israeli Columnists Now Worried About War

By: Greg Mitchell

After nearly two weeks of relative silence about the extent of the Israeli air strikes against Lebanon, more voices of opposition are finally being heard – in both the American and Israeli press. It’s about time: The Lebanese prime minister yesterday asserted that the bombing had set his country back “50 years.” Even if it’s 10 years, that’s quite enough.

Several leading U.S. editorial pages-from the Los Angeles Times to The New York Times — have now called for restraint and/or an immediate ceasefire, although this is still the minority view. There’s a strong editorial in today’s The Sun of Baltimore that notes that Israel “can’t encourage residents to evacuate the area, bomb their fleeing cars and not expect outrage over the maimed and the dead.” Columnists Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post and Nick Kristof in The New York Times today criticize Israel’s self-defeating attacks, though the most popular liberal bloggers remain silent.

But here I’d like to focus on opinions starting to spring from the respected Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz and Haaretz.com. Two columns, one from a “hawk” and another by a “dove,” illustrate the growing unease in that country that goes beyond the fear of incoming rockets.

First the hawk. Yoel Marcus, an influential columnist for the paper, had called for a massive and unfettered response to the Hezbollah actions two weeks ago (E&P quoted at length from one of his early columns). But now he is concerned that the job is being bungled. Indeed, Israeli troops have been quoted in the press today expressing shock at the tenacity and firepower of their enemy. Marcus’s column titled “Firepower vs. Brainpower,” opens:

“Two weeks after Israel set out to defeat Hezbollah, its military achievements are pretty limited. A country that stood up to seven Arab nations in the War of Independence, a war of the ‘few against the many,’ with an army that pulverized the invading forces of three Arab nations in the span of six days, is now facing an embarrassing role reversal: a war of the ‘many against the few’ in which Israel is on the floorboards.

“Who would have believed that a guerrilla organization with a few hundred regular fighters, something like a brigade and a half, could paralyze half a country, firing off hundreds of missiles every day?”

Later he observes that “a worrying picture has begun to emerge: Instead of an army that is small but smart, we are catching glimpses of an army that is big, rich and dumb.” He then rips the military leadership, before concluding: “The conflict with Hezbollah cannot be allowed to deteriorate into a war of attrition. It must not be expanded beyond its stated goals. And the Israeli public must not be overly put to the test, lest the ‘wonderful home front’ blow up in the government’s face.”

Online surveys are notoriously unreliable, but it is of slight interest, at least, that the poll at Haaretz.com currently shows that 61% of those voting feel Israel is “losing the battle” in Lebanon.

Also at Haaretz.com is a new column by Ze’ev Maoz, a professor of political science at Tel Aviv University. Here are excerpts:

“There’s practically a holy consensus right now that the war in the North is a just war and that morality is on our side. The bitter truth must be said: this holy consensus is based on short-range selective memory, an introverted worldview, and double standards.

This war is not a just war. Israel is using excessive force without distinguishing between civilian population and enemy, whose sole purpose is extortion.

“That is not to say that morality and justice are on Hezbollah’s side. Most certainly not. But the fact that Hezbollah ‘started it’ when it kidnapped soldiers from across an international border does not even begin to tilt the scales of justice toward our side.

“Let’s start with a few facts. We invaded a sovereign state, and occupied its capital in 1982. In the process of this occupation, we dropped several tons of bombs from the air, ground and sea, while wounding and killing thousands of civilians. Approximately 14,000 civilians were killed between June and September of 1982, according to a conservative estimate. The majority of these civilians had nothing to do with the PLO, which provided the official pretext for the war.

“In Operations Accountability and Grapes of Wrath, we caused the mass flight of about 500,000 refugees from southern Lebanon on each occasion. There are no exact data on the number of casualties in these operations, but one can recall that in Operation Grapes of Wrath, we bombed a shelter in the village of Kafr Kana which killed 103 civilians. The bombing may have been accidental, but that did not make the operation any more moral.

“On July 28, 1989, we kidnapped Sheikh Obeid, and on May 12, 1994, we kidnapped Mustafa Dirani, who had captured Ron Arad. Israel held these two people and another 20-odd Lebanese detainees without trial, as ‘negotiating chips.’ That which is permissible to us is, of course, forbidden to Hezbollah….

“The number of dead in Lebanon, the vast majority comprised of civilians who have nothing to do with Hezbollah, is more than 300.

Worse yet, bombing infrastructure targets such as power stations, bridges and other civil facilities turns the entire Lebanese civilian population into a victim and hostage, even if we are not physically harming civilians. The use of bombings to achieve a diplomatic goal – namely, coercing the Lebanese government into implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1559 – is an attempt at political blackmail, and no less than the kidnapping of IDF soldiers by Hezbollah is the aim of bringing about a prisoner exchange….

“But in terms of our own national soul searching, we owe ourselves to confront the bitter truth — maybe we will win this conflict on the military field, maybe we will make some diplomatic gains, but on the moral plane, we have no advantage, and we have no special status.”

In a Wednesday column at Haaretz.com, Aluf Benn studied the “hasty decision” to launch the broad military operation in Lebanon. Amos Herel asked, as the headline put it, “Has the army failed?” In another column, Meron Benvenisti, a political scientist and former deputy major of Jersualem, wrote:

“No one can predict when the reversal will come, when all the experts will begin competing for first place in revealing the failures of the war: mistaken strategy, political dilettantism and shooting from the hip; the weakness disguised as courageous determination; the illusions, arrogance and boasting; the addiction to an impulse of revenge; the cruelty and the lack of moral inhibitions.

“But the manipulators and the self-declared heroes should not delude themselves, nor should the naive, or those who are drunk with patriotism or those who consider themselves experts: the moment will arrive more quickly than they imagine and within a short while everyone will be hiding behind the pose of ‘we told you so’ when they know which way the wind is blowing.

“That is when all the declarations, the assessments and the excuses – that could be uttered and written only in an atmosphere of lack of critical skepticism that prevails when a ‘state of war’ is declared – will be revealed. …

“Very soon everything will return to what it was before – apart from those who sacrificed their lives and those who were killed in the shellings and bombings. And the major loser will be the people of Israel who, by an unmeasured reaction to a provocation, established their position as a foreign element in the region, as the neighborhood bully, the object of impotent hatred.”

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