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Israel's Broken Heart

Israel's Broken Heart

A long list of reckonings awaits the Israeli public.


Editor's Note: is apolitical. When there is an existential threat to the Jewish nation, we believe that regardless of political affiliation -- left, right or center – it is our duty to sound the alarm. In this vein, we offer the following article as food for thought, and invite readers to share their views in the comment section below.

However hard Ehud Olmert tries to spin it, the U.N. ceasefire that began yesterday is a disaster for Israel and for the war on terrorism generally. With an unprecedented green light from Washington to do whatever necessary to uproot Iranian front line against Israel, and with a level of national unity and willingness sacrifice unseen here since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, our leaders squandered weeks restraining the army and fighting a pretend war. Only in the two days before the ceasefire was the army finally given the go-ahead to fight a real war.

But, by then, the U.N. resolution had codified the terms of Israel's defeat. The resolution doesn't require the immediate return of our kidnapped soldiers, but does urgently place the Shebaa Farms on the international agenda--as if the Lebanese jihadists fired some 4,000 rockets at the Israeli homefront over the fate of a bare mountain that the United Nations concluded in 1967 belonged not to Lebanon but Syria. Worst of all, it once again entrusts the security of Israel's northern border to the inept UNIFIL. As one outraged TV anchor put it, Israeli towns were exposed to the worst attacks since the nation's founding, a million residents of the Galilee fled or sat in shelters for a month, more than 150 Israeli civilians and soldiers were killed along with nearly a thousand Lebanese -- all in order to ensure the return of U.N. peacekeepers to southern Lebanon.

This is a nation whose heart has been broken: by our failure to uproot the jihadist threat, which will return for another and far more deadly round; by the economic devastation of the Galilee and of a neighboring land we didn't want to attack; by the heroism of our soldiers and the hesitations of our politicians; by the young men buried and crippled in a war we prevented ourselves from winning; by foreign journalists who can't tell the difference between good and evil; by European leaders who equate an army that tries to avoid civilian causalities with a terrorist group that revels in them; by a United Nations that questions Israel's right to defend itself; and by growing voices on the left who question Israel's right to exist at all.

At least some of the disasters of the past weeks were self-inflicted. We forfeited the public relations battle that was, in part, Israel's to lose. How is it possible that we failed to explain the justness of a war fought against a genocidal enemy who attacked us across our U.N.-sanctioned international border? It's hard to remember now, but we began this war with the sympathy of a large part of the international community. Some Arab leaders, for the first time in the history of the Middle East conflict, actually blamed other Arabs for initiating hostilities with Israel. That response came when Israel seemed determined to defeat Hezbollah; but, as the weeks dragged on and Hezbollah appeared to be winning, moderate Arabs adjusted accordingly. They didn't switch sides because we were fighting too assertively but because we weren't fighting assertively enough.

Even before the shooting stopped, the reckoning here had already begun. There are widespread expectations of dismissals for senior military commanders who -- when finally given the chance to end the Hezbollah threat they had been warning about for almost 25 years -- couldn't implement a creative battle plan. But demands for accountability won't be confined to the army alone. Journalist Ari Shavit, who has taken on something of the role of Motti Ashkenazi -- the reservist soldier who led the movement to bring down the government of Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan after the Yom Kippur War -- wrote a front-page article in Haaretz calling for Olmert's resignation. And that is only the opening shot. Even Maariv's Ben Caspit, one of Israel's most pro-Olmert journalists, published an imaginary Olmert speech of apology to the nation. A cartoon in Maariv showed Olmert as a boy playing with a yo-yo inscribed with ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES. None of Israel's wars was ever fought with greater micromanagement by a government, and no government was ever less qualified to manage a war as this one. Just as the post-Yom Kippur War period destroyed military and political careers and eventually led to the collapse of the Labor Party's hegemony, so will the post-Lebanon period end careers and perhaps even the short-lived Kadima Party experiment.

A long list of reckonings awaits the Israeli public. There's the scandal of the government's abandonment of tens of thousands of poor Israelis who lacked the means to escape the north and were confined for weeks in public shelters, their needs largely tended to by volunteers. There's the growing bitterness between Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis, many of whom supported Hezbollah in a war most Jews saw as an existential attack on the state. And there's the emergency need to resurrect the military reserves, which have been so neglected that a majority of men over 21 don't even serve anymore and those that do tend to feel like suckers.

Still, in the Jewish calendar, the summer weeks after the fast of the Ninth of Av, commemorating the destruction of the Temple, are a time of consolation. "Be consoled, be consoled, my people," we read from the Torah on the Sabbath after the fast. And so we console ourselves with the substantial achievements of the people of Israel during this month of war. First, our undiminished capacity for unity. My favorite symbol of that unity is the antiwar rapper, Muki, whose hit song during the era of Palestinian suicide bombings lamented the absence of justice for the Palestinians but who, this time, insisted that the army needs to "finish the job" against Hezbollah.

Second, our middle-class children, with their cell phones, iPods, and pizza deliveries to their army bases. In intimate combat, they repeatedly bested Hezbollah fighters, even though the terrorists had the advantage of familiar terrain. This generation has given us some of Israel's most powerful images of heroism, like the soldier from a West Bank settlement and father of two young children who leaped onto a grenade to save his friends, shouting the Shema -- the prayer of God's oneness -- just before the grenade exploded. Along with the recriminations, there will be many medals of valor awarded in the coming weeks.

But the last month's fighting is only one battle in the jihadist war against Israel's homefront that began with the second intifada in September 2000. Israel won the first phase of that war, the four years of suicide bombings that lasted until 2004. Now, in the second phase, we've lost the battle against the rockets. But the qualities this heartbreak has revealed -- unity and sacrifice and faith in the justness of our cause -- will ensure our eventual victory in the next, inevitable, bitter round. Such is the nature of consolation in Israel in the summer of 2006.

August 19, 2006

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Visitor Comments: 45

(45) Pamela Shapiro, July 21, 2007 10:54 PM

Agree with Roxane Betzing

Roxane Betzing could not have said it better, though I would add one very important word to her statement, as I've indicated below in capital letters (this is HER quote, with my caps added: She said, "Halevi is right on. Ashamed in the US of Bush Administration's failure to back Israel with more than words; for caving in to the the impotent (AND ANTI-SEMITIC) UN; for wasting what could have been so different."

(44) Anonymous, August 26, 2006 12:00 AM

Israel's broken heart

I have an observation which may not be unqiue however, because I've not seen anyone share this opinion, I thought I'd share it here. Whenever I read how observers and participants detail how this recent war was mishandled, I am unsettled and perplexed. Could it be that this war was not in mishandled but was instead, expertly handled? How can I say this? Consider that even BEFORE the outset of this war, right from the outset, your current leadership publically stated it was FOR the giving up of the Golan Heights -- and the implementation of the Convergence Plan. What better way is there to convince the public to accept this plan than by orchestrataing a war which illustrates that Israel is incapable of protecting and defending herself and her lands? If the public can be convinced that Israel can no longer defend herself, then, wouldn’t this same public see the wisdom of giving over the Golan Heights without a fight? Once everyone can see that Israel doesn’t stand a chance of winning , isn't it so much easier to just give over the Golan Heights, NOW, instead of later? Could it be that this war was not mishandled but was instead brilliantly managed ? Deliberately losing this war, might just be a rather brilliant strategy, because it enhances the probability that the public will see the wisdom of accepting the Convergence plan, doesn’t it? So, please resist this dissection of the multiple "errors" of this war, and instead see these apparent "errors" as being what they are: a brilliant strategy aimed at garnering greater public acceptace of the Convergence Plan.Blessings, Allison

(43) quetzal, August 26, 2006 12:00 AM

the battle may have been lost,

but there still is a war to win. Do not dispair.

(42) Tutu, August 25, 2006 12:00 AM

A Nation to be proud of....

I salute the Israeli Nation and the brave, benevolent and friendly jewish people. I pray for peace

(41) Roxane Betzing, August 25, 2006 12:00 AM

Halevi is right on

Ashamed in the US of Bush Administration's failure to back Israel with more than words; for caving in to the the impotent UN; for wasting what could have been so different.

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