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Friday, August 4, 2006
Text: Ari Shavit calls for fundamental discussions in wake of Lebanon war

Systemic failure
By Ari Shavit Haretz Magazine 4 August 2006

[Dr. Aaron Lerner - IMRA: There is a growing probability that the survival
instincts of many Kadima MKs will lead to the break-up of the party (if at
least a third leave they can take their proportional share of all the
financial and parliamentary rights of Kadima with them) and the formation of
a new coalition government headed by Binyamin Netanyahu after the war. It
remains to be seen if this development just blows off steam or facilitates
the changes Israel needs so that the Jewish State can re-establish its
standing. Some believe that, unfortunately, the circle will only be truly
closed in a second war - a "moed bet" (re-test).]

Since the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel has not won a war. However, in all its
wars during the last generation, neither has Israel been defeated. The Yom
Kippur War turned from an almost-defeat into an almost-victory when the
Israel Defense Forces (IDF) crossed the Suez Canal in the south and
threatened Damascus in the north. The Lebanon War got tangled and
complicated but nevertheless brought about Yasser Arafat's expulsion from
Beirut and the dismantlement of the PLO sub-state he had established. The
first intifada faded before Israel wearied of it, and developed into the
Oslo peace process. The second intifada was repulsed before Israel wearied
of it, and developed into the disengagement.

So that in four different campaigns - to which we could add the War of
Attrition and the Gulf wars - Israel achieved a stalemate of one kind or
another, which was not decisive but allowed a certain stability to persist
until the next campaign. Accordingly, the second Lebanon war is different
from all its predecessors. In the second Lebanon war, there is a danger that
Israel will be defeated. If the large-scale ground move that Ehud Olmert
initiated very late does not go well, the reality to which we are liable to
awaken after the war is one of a first Israeli defeat.

A defeat is not a holocaust. It is not the end. The French were defeated in
Indochina and survived, the Americans were defeated in Vietnam and
prospered. Egypt was defeated in 1967, drew its conclusions and was back on
its feet by 1970 and certainly in 1973. However, to prevent even a
point-specific Israeli defeat, we must define the situation precisely. The
attempt to create a fake ostensible victory does not serve Israel's national
goals or national existence. On the contrary: it lulls the nation and
prevents it from mobilizing all its strength for the necessary coping with
its fate. If Israel seeks life, it cannot go on living within the gossamer
webs of a military establishment with high-powered PR. It must emerge from
the virtual-reality studio of the channels of patriotic ratings and look at
reality as it really is. The reality is hard, very hard. Very hard, but not

To begin with, the immediate problem must be defined: Israel failed in the
first three stages of the war of 2006. The air offensive failed, the limited
ground offensive failed and the days of the hesitation and confusion of
post-Bint Jbail failed. As a result, Israel was perceived to be helpless in
the face of a sub-state terrorist organization that was battering it
repeatedly without being vanquished.

Israel is a country surrounded by actual and potential enemies. The strength
of those enemies is far greater than the strength of Hezbollah. If Israel is
incapable of defending its sovereignty and its citizens against Hezbollah in
the course of three long weeks, the impression is created that it has become
a country that is not defendable. That impression is completely wrong. At
the bottom, Israel is a strong country. In the Middle East, however, the
very creation of an image of weakness means defeat. The meaning of such a
defeat is a war soon. A war that will be harder and more terrible than the
present war. Therefore, the last-minute attempt to reverse the situation and
achieve a late victory at a heavy price in blood is correct and necessary.
Precisely those who seek life, stability and perhaps even peace must be
ready to pay the terrible price that is required so that the second Lebanon
war will not end in an Israeli defeat.

Afterward the immediate reasons for the immediate crisis must be determined.
Why did this happen to us? Why did the summer of the soccer World Cup become
the summer of a faltering war? Why did Israel move in one fell swoop from a
condition of economic-hedonistic haughtiness into a condition of military

The Yom Kippur War is burned into the Israeli consciousness as a blunder.
The second Lebanon war will be burned into the Israeli consciousness as a
failure. Even if in the end Nasrallah is vanquished, one way or another, the
war of 2006 exposed the fact that the Israel of 2006 is experiencing
systemic failure. If this is not to become systemic collapse, it must be
diagnosed accurately already now, when Israel is sending its sons to fight
for its future in the battlefield of the North.

The political establishment failed. It failed in that it lent itself to the
simplistic belief in a simplistic unilateral withdrawal without
understanding its inherent dangers. It failed in that it did not create
crushing Israeli deterrence in the face of the Qassam rocket offensive in
the south after the unilateral withdrawal. It failed in that it went to war
hastily without weighing properly the war's prospects and without defining
properly its goals. It failed in that it was in thrall to the defense
establishment, which it was incapable of criticizing, restraining or
focusing. It failed in that it thrust Israel into a booby-trapped
battlefield where we must win even though it is impossible to win.

The military establishment failed. It failed in that it assumed that the Air
Force and its precision weapons provide an answer to the fundamental
problems of Israel's security. It failed in that it promised to win
conventional wars without blood, sweat and tears. It failed in complacency.
It failed in arrogance. It failed in that it did not create a relevant
combat ethos and did not instill a steadfast spirit of combat. It failed in
that it invested most of its resources in managing the occupation on the one
hand and preparing the disengagement on the other hand, without deploying
properly for an actual war.

The Israeli elites failed. The capitalists, the media and the academics of
the 21st century failed in that they bedazzled Israel and deprived it of its
spirit. Their recurrent illusions about the historical reality in which the
Jewish state exists led Israel to navigate poorly and lose its way. Their
incessant attacks - direct and indirect - on nationalism, on militarism and
on the Zionist narrative corroded the tree trunk of Israeli existence from
within and caused it to lose its vitality. While the broad Israeli public
displayed sobriety, determination and staying power in all the tests it
faced in the past decade, the elites disappointed. They imparted to Israeli
youth a flawed set of values, which makes it very difficult for them to
charge ahead when charging ahead is indisputably just. A country in which
there is no equality, no justice and no belief in the justness of its path,
is a country for which no one will charge ahead. And, in the Middle East of
the 21st century, a state for which many of its young people are not willing
to kill and be killed, is a state living on borrowed time. A state that is
not sustainable.

Thus, the challenge of the final days of the war and of the long day that
will come immediately afterward, is to turn Israel into a sustainable state
again. To that end, all the basic questions must be reopened. To that end, a
thorough housecleaning has to be done not only in the systems of the
government, the army and the establishment but in all the systems of our
life. There must be discussion and debate, clarification and clarity. The
Israeli condition must be defined, and what that condition obliges must be

Israel is the state of the Jewish people. Israel is a free country. Both
because it is a Jewish state and a free country, Islamic zealotry seeks to
destroy Israel. Since the Khomeinist revolution in Iran in 1979, Muslim
fanaticism has been on the rise. Thus the threat facing Israel is concrete
and not abstract. Existential and not territorial. The challenge it faces is
how to organize its life systems such that it can preserve its identity and
defend its freedom against the tsunami that would engulf it.

For about half a century, between the mid-1930s and the mid-1980s, Israel
was able to do this, standing up to secular Arab nationalism.
Israel-in-the-making and fledgling Israel was able to adjust its values, its
internal structure and its military strength to meet the existential
challenge it faces. The balance was found between belonging culturally to
the West and doing what was obliged by life in the East. The balance was
found between freedom and mobilization, between love of life and readiness
to die. Almost miraculously, Israel succeeded in carving a path between the
internal contradictions of its existence and even turned those
contradictions into a source of strength. Precisely because it was aware of
its fragility and its singular weaknesses, Israel was able to create a
vibrant and productive national existence that was fortified by a powerful,
deterrent national security.

In the past 20 years, that balance was lost. The political upheaval (1977),
the Lebanon War, the settlements, the privatization, the intifadas and
post-Zionism brought about the unraveling of the old Israeli order. No new
Israeli order emerged. No new Israeli story was told. No contemporary wisdom
was articulated to bridge the terrible disparity between the internal
Israeli milieu and the external milieu in which Israel has its existence.
The new elite of capital, which replaced the old elite of service, was not
value-based but exploitative. It did not see to the general good but to the
personal and class good. Thus, no second Israeli republic was founded here
to succeed the ascetic and determined republic of siege that existed until
the mid-1980s. Instead, it forged a free-market reality that is not
restrained by a valid state-oriented approach. It forged a regime of rampant
capitalism and extreme individualism that debilitates any sense of
solidarity and enervates the national immune system. It promised peace and
again promised peace and turned the empty promise of peace into a dogma. It
turned Israel into a pleasure yacht whose captains, drunk with arrogance,
and whose owners, intoxicated with corruption, have absolutely no
understanding of the great looming storm.

Now we are in the midst of the storm. The second Lebanon war sometimes looks
like a repeat of the past, but in truth it is the flash of the future. An
Iranian Cuba was established on our northern border. If the Iranian Cuba is
not disarmed, it will threaten us continuously and intolerably. However, our
present effort to disarm the Iranian Cuba looks more and more like the Bay
of Pigs fiasco.

Accordingly, we must assume that what we are now experiencing is only the
first campaign in a confrontation that will have both a second and perhaps a
third campaign. The subject on the agenda is not the abducted soldiers. The
subject is the attempt by Iran to put an end to Israel's strategic hegemony
in the region. The subject is the attempt by the powerful Iranian state of
evil to expel the West from the Middle East by undermining Israel.

This being the case, the second Lebanon war should be seen as resembling the
war in Spain in the 1930s which preceded the global conflict and served as
its testing ground. It must be understood that the question with which the
second Lebanon war leaves us is whether we are Czechoslovakia, which
collapsed in the face of evil, or whether we are Britain, which after a very
difficult period was able to cope with the evil and created a turning point
against it. One way or the other, the second Lebanon war will not be a true
end. The shaky quiet that will prevail at its conclusion will be no more
than a respite. What will determine the outcome of the confrontation that
will follow the end of the respite is which side will exploit the years
ahead to its advantage. Which side will understand their fatefulness and
make intelligent use of them in order to be prepared for the hour of truth
that will assuredly come.

This summer Hassan Nasrallah challenged us in the most profound way.
Employing a small, disciplined and determined army of believers, he set out
to hurl at us defiantly the claim that our democracy is rotten. That our
hedonism causes degeneration. That our decadence is terminal. There is no
hope, Nasrallah is saying, no hope for a free society that loves life in a
fanatic Middle East.

Now the challenge is before us. Israel is a deceptive country. When it is
aware of its inherent weakness, it is capable of overcoming it and becoming
a power. When it assumes that its might and supremacy are taken for granted,
it is weakened and takes a beating. Therefore it is precisely now, precisely
because of the hard blow we took in the war-of-the-sin-of-arrogance, we have
it in us to rise from the debacle, shake ourselves off and bring forth from
within us our latent forces. However, to do that we must look unflinchingly
at ourselves and at our fate.

What this means is that the discussion about the Israeli condition and what
it obliges must begin immediately. This brief article suggested in passing
several preliminary insights. However, the trenchant postwar discussion must
produce many more insights - complementary or conflicting. Was the idea of a
civil agenda and a civilian leadership correct or false? Was the attack on
Israeli militarism and Israeli macho-ism justified or dangerous? Does the
attitude toward the occupation and the convergence plan need to be
reassessed? Is it the occupation that caused the IDF's "metal fatigue" - or
is it Tel Aviv's hedonism? Should we treat the settlers differently now,
because they still preserve an energetic source of national vitality? On the
other hand, is it time to define a militant approach of a secular Israel
that will make it possible for young Israelis to defend their world of
freedom and pleasure against Muslim fanatics? Is there a diplomatic route to
blocking the Iranian threat, perhaps by means of a peace treaty with Syria?

In the weeks ahead Haaretz intends to float all these questions, and many
more, as part of an intensive conceptual discussion it will conduct in these

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