Israel's dominance may be going into slow reversal
By Rami G. Khouri (Beirut) Daily Star staff Saturday, December 30, 2006
By most measures, it would seem the Israelis are winning the
Palestinian-Israeli war. They control and colonize Arab lands, enjoy
military superiority and total American support, and unilaterally define
most diplomatic parameters of the conflict. Yet this may be a mistaken
assessment: The Palestinians and Arabs are perhaps starting to win some
battles, while Israel is losing some of its dominance. Seven events in the
past five months seem to lend credence to this view.
The first was Hizbullah's ability to fight Israel for 34 days this summer,
and on the 34th day to keep firing hundreds of rockets into Israeli
territory. Morality and political consequences aside, this reflected a truly
historic combination of political will, technical military proficiency, and
a capacity to remain shielded from Israeli, Western and Arab spies and
infiltrators. No Arab party had ever crossed this threshold in the
century-long conflict with Zionism and Israel.
The second event was Israel's (and Washington's) having to accept the August
cease-fire resolution at the United Nations, after the United States had
given Israel weeks of extra warfare to hit Hizbullah. A determined Arab
group forced Israel and the US to accept a political resolution instead of
military victory, and the cease-fire resolution included measures that
Israel had previously always rejected - addressing the occupied Shebaa Farms
area in the context of the Israel-Lebanon conflict, rather than as occupied
Syrian land, and specifying the return or exchange of Israeli and Lebanese
Israel quietly dropped its previous position that the two Israeli soldiers
snatched by Hizbullah on July 12 had to be returned unconditionally. The
stationing of over 20,000 Lebanese and international troops in Southern
Lebanon has long been an Israeli demand, but also came at a price: limiting
Israel's scope of action in Lebanon and its overflights.
The third noteworthy development was Israel's accepting a cease-fire with
the Palestinians in Gaza in late November, after it had said that it would
not end its attacks and would do anything required to retrieve Israeli
soldier Gilad Shalit, whom Palestinian guerrillas had snatched from an
Israeli Army post on the Gaza-Israel border. The juxtaposition of events in
Lebanon and Gaza this summer was powerfully telling. Israel's once vaunted
military prowess and frightening deterrence failed to stop Lebanese and
Palestinian fighters from abducting three of its soldiers from border areas.
Israel's subsequent severe, savage military attacks and mass punishment of
civilian populations failed to make the Arabs cough up the soldiers. Weeks
or months later, Israel swallowed its words, put away its ultimatums and
threats, and accepted cease-fires in both cases.
The fourth important recent development is that Israel has been unable to
stop the firing of rudimentary Qassam rockets into its southern region by
Palestinian militants. Israeli military might and intelligence
capabilities - along with killing some 400 Palestinians since June - have
not stopped determined young men from firing these rockets into Israel.
The fifth striking incident occurred in early November, when Israel had
pinned down a group of Palestinian fighters in a
mosque in Beit Hanun in northern Gaza, expecting them to surrender or be
killed. Instead, over 200 Palestinian women broke through the siege, swarmed
the mosque, and provided cover for the young fighters to escape, with two
women being killed and a dozen injured. Battle lines that had been defined
by Israeli troops fighting a handful of Palestinian youths were transformed
into the Israeli Army's finding itself helpless - and defeated - in the face
of the Palestinian civilian population.
The sixth incident happened in mid-November, when the Israeli Army
telephoned the home of a Palestinian militant in Jabaliya refugee camp in
Gaza and warned the inhabitants to leave the three-story residential
building because it was going to be destroyed. Instead of fleeing as they
had usually done, hundreds of civilians swarmed into the residence, stood on
the rooftop, and dared the Israelis to kill them all. Faced with civilians
who no longer feared death, the mighty Israeli killing machine and its
befuddled political leaders suddenly became much less impressive - for they
had lost much of their capacity to intimidate.
The seventh incident, earlier this week, was Israeli Prime Minister Ehud
Olmert's meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, where it was
announced that Israel would release $100 million of withheld Palestinian tax
revenues and remove some checkpoints in the West Bank. Reversing his
previous refusal to make such gestures or meet with the Palestinians before
Shalit was released, Olmert met, talked and made concessions to the
Palestinians with Shalit nowhere in sight.
History will clarify if these events indeed signify a change in the military
or political balance of power in Arab-Israeli confrontations. We must hope
for now that the trend these events signify will open the eyes and brains of
Arab and Israeli leaders who have relied mainly on military force to achieve
their goals, and instead propel them toward negotiations as a more effective
and humane route to achieving their rights, and living a normal life in
peace, security and mutual recognition.
Rami G. Khouri writes a regular commentary for THE DAILY STAR.