Posted by: Steve Coplan | October 14, 2006

Bombs away

Over brunch on Sunday, my good friend Adam came up with an explanation for the disastrous Lebanon campaign that made a lot of sense to me. Adam is a good friend because we disagree violently on most issues, but always manage to find some common ground and maintain a mutual respect for each other’s opinions. Much of the institutional (as opposed to ideological) Israeli opposition to relinquishing the occupied West Bank and Gaza has centered primarily on the need to hold the territory for security reasons. The bulk of Israel’s population is on the Sharon Plain and coast, and holding the highlands of the West Bank changes the equation in defending against a conventional force attack. The religious reason is that it’s the highlands and terraced hills of Judea and Samaria which formed the heartland of the Jewish kingdoms. The plains were inhabited by Phoenicians and a mix of other peoples.

Kadima, the party established byAriel Sharon and now led by serving PM Ehud Olmert, based its plan for disengagement on the assumption that overwhelming air superiority would compensate for the weaker defensive position created by ceding territory. Reducing the occupation footprint is both an economic issue and an internal morale issue.

This theory was put to the test in response to Hizbullah’s provocation and at the insistence of the IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz – the first chief of staff in Israel’s history with an air force background. Putting into practice the theory of overwhelming air superiority turned out to be a failure, mandating the use of ground troops without having a solid plan in place. Israel underestimated the degree to which Hizbullah had entrenched itself,  and overestimated the ability of a bombing campaign to shift support. Adam’s argument is that Olmert and Halutz should be held responsible for the death of the soldiers in Lebanon, since their planning was flawed and inadequate. I agree with him, but the more troubling issue is the clear absence of any consideration of any moral ramifications from a bombing campaign. Israel is more concerned with not showing weakness (or conversely demonstrating strength) than the possibility civilian deaths will slam the door shut on any negotiated settlement. In fact, the nature of the military response assumes that there is no alternative or parallel political solution.

There clearly needs to be a source of external pressure on Israel to revisit the fundamentals of its policies. Let’s hope George Soros gets his lobby group aimed at providing an alternative to AIPAC off the ground. (Fairly predictable debate here by the way on whether criticizing the Israeli lobby is anti-semitic.)

The failure of the Lebanon campaign is even more cause for concern, when one takes into account this report from Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker on the Bush administration’s plans to bomb Iran that were developed in close cooperation with Israel. I am almost hoping the Dems don’t perform so well so that this crazy adventure is taken off the table.

Rabbi Michael Lerner of the Network of Spiritual Progressives has this advice:

If the Democratic Party leadership (not the Kucinich’s and other relatively isolated voices, but the Nancy Pelosi’s and John Edwards’s and other centrists) were to announce immediately that launching a war in the weeks before an election (when there is no evidence that waiting for another few months would cause any serious damage to the US or to world peace) would be an impeachable offense. It would be very helpful to get moderate Republicans to speak out about the possibility of an attack on Iran in the next 3 weeks before the election being an impeachable offense.


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