Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Thoughts from Jerusalem

Mike has sent me the following analysis of thinking in Israel. He considers what the Israelis do and don't see on their TV news, national and international, and how this effects what they think. He also looks at the past experiences that have shaped their policy now:

I get Sky, CNN, FOX and BBC World on cable, which just about spans the English speaking spectrum. One of the differences between Israeli TV news and international TV news is that, perhaps not surprisingly, Israeli TV concentrates more on its domestic horror stories. This consists mainly of people looking at holes in the ground and talking on their mobile phones. We also see the victims' bloodstains and clothing, but that it is a bit more familiar from six years of suicide bombings. Then we also see vague pictures of the IDF in action: I suspect more censored than on international news.

We also get many talking heads analysing what has and will happen. Talking a lot is an Israeli curse and blessing. It relates to Israel's 'PR problem' with the rest of the world. Politicians tend to rush to the worlds' cameras to express views in broken and incoherent English. This time at least the spokespeople speak good English, but this is not as helpful as it might have been 50 years ago since many international leaders now speak good English. There is a Hebrew word 'Hasbara'. It translates equally as PR, propaganda, and explanation. Which perhaps explains why Israeli spokespeople talk too much.

Anyway, the point is that the destruction of South Lebanon and South Beirut is not seen much on Israeli TV. It's all available of course: most Israeli are competent in English, French, Arabic or Russian and have the same international TV and internet news sources as I do. Whatever, there is the beginning of a peace movement with a biggish demonstration in Tel Aviv. Not many demos in Haifa or Kiryat Shmonah though.

I have to deal with what I see happening in Lebanon. So I thought I'd try and disentangle some background. What follows may not be true: it's just some thoughts. It's also not intended to be a justification either, but may serve as a partial explanation of Israel's reasoning.

First, Israel believes (with good reason, if you listen to Nasrallah and Iran) it could be wiped off the map. This they call its existential threat, which is nothing to do with Camus and Sartre. I can't think of another country (except perhaps North Korea) which feels the same. Certainly no democracies. There are frightening parallels. There are in Israel some 6 million Jews representing about 40% of world Jewry: the same numbers as for Eastern Europe in 1940. You hear the same sentiments amongst the European chattering class: 'those Israelis (read Jews) are so unpleasant and aggressive, they deserve to be taken down a peg'. A difference, of course, is that this is being said now by left wingers not right wingers. Israel sees the leader of a neighbouring country saying that Jews are sub-human, that their country should be removed from the map.

Second, Israelis don't see the same Lebanon that the rest of the world sees. It's not a cosmopolitan country where Arab and French culture meet on the beach and in the mountains. Israelis see a country that joined in the attempt by the united Arab armies to destroy the fledgling state of Israel in 1948. Unlike Egypt and Jordan there's been no peace treaty. As I understand it, Israel and Lebanon are still in a state of war from 48. Israel's occupation from 1982 to 2000 didn't exactly bring the two countries together.

Third is the Jenin story. So some background to bring you up to speed. On March 27th 2002 there was a suicide bomber in Netanya at the Park Hotel (a couple of kilometres from my house on the Mediterranean coast, a hotel I've been to functions in). Many of those there, mostly old age pensioners celebrating the Passover festival (freedom from Egypt), died. As a result the IDF moved back into areas of the West Bank they had left under the Oslo Agreement. One place was Jenin, famous as a centre of terrorists (or militants if you are the BBC). The IDF focused on part of the Jenin refugee camp, which they closed off and entered with troops. Then the media craziness started, with accusations of Israeli atrocities. Nasser al-Kidwa, the Palestinian representative to the United Nations, said on CNN: 'there's almost a massacre now taking place in Jenin. Helicopter gun ships are throwing missiles at one square kilometre packed with almost 15,000 people in a refugee camp. This is a war crime, clear war crime, witnessed by the whole world, preventing ambulances, preventing people from being buried.' This false claim was hysterically was taken up by the world media and in the UN (the same UN representative. I think, who's headlining the BBC saying same sort of things in the Lebanon as I write). In the event the death toll was 56 Palestinians, the majority of them combatants, and 23 Israeli soldiers. Time did an extensive report on the battle and it can be read here.

So what does this story mean for the current conflict? I think two things. Firstly; Israelis now discount the stories they hear. In fact, the more hysterical the stories are the more they are discounted. They say, how do you equate accusations of deliberate mass slaughter of Lebanese with the official toll of (I think) nearly 400, half (by some estimates) Hezbollah combatants. If the Israeli Air Force wants just to kill, is it so incompetent that it keeps missing all those lines of refugee vehicles that the TV crews can find? If the entire infrastructure has been destroyed, how come the non-Shiite areas still appear to have essentials like the internet and Nasrallah can appear on TV? If there wasn't always this automatic knee jerk hostile world reaction, Israeli might be more questioning about what is happening. Secondly; through Israeli eyes, they tried to avoid harming Palestinians civilians by sending in ground troops. And as a result they not only lost 23 of their 'boys', but were vilified by the rest of the world. The conclusion then drawn was 'Why didn't the IDF just destroy this part of Jenin from the air and save the soldiers' lives?' And no-one in authority could really argue against this logic. So increasingly military strategy is to attack remotely. We see this clearly at the moment.

Fifth is that Israelis cannot handle a basic conundrum of Middle Eastern culture. Put simply, if you go forward you invite justifiable revenge attacks. If you retreat you invite attacks to take advantage of your weakness, This seems to be a no win situation. And the Lebanon situation is a classic example: since Israel left Lebanon and withdrew to the international boundary, Hezbollah has thrived. So, goes the current interpretation, you move back in, beat the sh*t out of your enemy, and then withdraw again. This shows you are strong, but allows you leave safely. Its one solution to the conundrum, I suppose. I suspect that we'll see more of this variation of disengagement in the future.

Last, and this is my private nightmare, concerns the FOX news cliché that Iran and Syria are using Hezbollah for a proxy war. One take is that Israel may be using the Lebanon as a proxy war on Syria and Iran. Are we sending a message to Syria that if you use unconventional weapons, such as poison gas, Damascus will look like South Beirut? Are we sending a message to Iran that if you continue with your nuclear weapons program that we can ruin your country like we did to Lebanon?


Petteri said...

Mike's analysis about the situation was a good one. How do I know, you might ask? Because,it didn't give clear answers but instead raised some good questions.
Creepy thoughts...maybe there is only one solution...they used to call it "the final" one?

KGS said...

Like I said, the introduction of the Shehab-3 into Syria, was a line crossed. The fact that Syria and Iran have a trigger finger in S.Lebanon kidnapping Israelis, terrorizing border towns,...is an obvious first line worth destroying.