A defeat for Israel

In “Sharon’s strategy” (February 2005) I wrote:

As a distant lover of Israel, I have been genuinely puzzled by its failure to produce a statesman equal to the challenges faced by the country over the past 20 years. In every area of modern life the country boasts a genius that on a per capita basis must be unrivaled. Yet on the world stage its politicians seem almost retarded.

The country has never had a public accounting for the utter disaster that was Oslo. Its politicians seem to keep the country’s citizens in the dark about the nature of its national security strategy and the actions taken to pursue it. I have previously observed that Ariel Sharon’s coalition deal to make Shimon Peres his “deputy premier” seems to me a metaphorical expression of the problem.

Symptomatic of the delusional political thinking that has brought Israel so much grief is the fact that there has as yet been no public accounting for the disaster of Oslo itself. Vital advocates of Oslo such as Peres are still respectable public figures playing significant roles and urging the same policy. It is as if Neville Chamberlain (if he had still been alive — he had the grace to die in 1940) were still advising Winston Churchill on the statesmanship of appeasement in 1942.

What about Sharon himself? He seems to have a strategy, but it is one that he does not seem to have laid open for public view and debate. As a result, its possible shortcomings have not been fully explored.

In his weekly Washington Post column, Charles Krauthammer deduces Sharon’s strategy to withdraw to defeat terrorism, thus making peace possible, by drawing Israel back to a defensible perimeter. Krauthammer voices his full-throated support of Sharon’s strategy. His column is “Israel draws the line.”

Sharon’s strategy as outlined by Krauthammer omits consideration of existing terrorist forces such as Hamas and Hezbollah (especially in Gaza) or [of] the shift in their tactics to breach a defensive perimeter. Notice the rockets that Hamas forces have used to fire over the Gaza border into settlements within Israel proper. Is it reasonable to leave Hamas in place while withdrawing Israeli forces from Gaza and making defensive or preemptive strikes more difficult? The security fence has already saved many lives and is a positive good for that reason alone. But it is by itself only a defense against suicide bombers. How does Israel’s strategic withdrawal (described by Krauthammer) fit with a long-term strategy to defeat the terrorist forces that sit cheek by jowl with Israel?

There may be excellent answers to these questions. But it seems odd to me that Krauthammer is left to articulate Sharon’s strategy more or less by inference and that obvious questions have yet to be asked of its advocates, let alone answered.

Making the necessary changes to adjust for the present circumstances, including the intervening election of Prime Minster Olmert on Sharon’s platform earlier this year, I can’t do much better than that this morning. I would add only that the outcome of the war adumbrated in the Security Council resolution adopted last night seems to reflect Prime Minister Olmert’s objectives from relatively early in the war. I reported here in “Lost” that three weeks ago I spoke over dinner with a member of Israel’s Chicago consulate who had come to the Twin Cities to meet with the editorial boards of the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press as well as supporters of Israel in the local Jewish community. In addition to the return of its soldiers, he described Israel’s objective in the war as the installation of an international force in southern Lebanon that would separate Israel and Hezbollah. Defeating Hezbollah was not part of the equation.

While their political leaders are wanting, the people of Israel are not stupid. They know that they have suffered horrible human and material loss in the war, that Hezbollah has not been vanquished, and that the day of reckoning has been put off to a time when it will have to fight again under more adverse conditions. They know that the outcome of the war represents a defeat for Israel.

To paraphrase Churchill, the brave people of Israel, who were ready to do their duty no matter what the cost, did not flinch under the strain of the past month. They know they have sustained a defeat, the consequences of which will travel far with them along their road; they know they have passed an awful milestone in their history. They know that the United Nations resolution is only the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to them — not year by year, but day by day — unless by a supreme reassertion of moral health and martial vigour, they arise again and take their stand for freedom as in the olden time.

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