Friday, September 08, 2006

Israeli Politics After Lebanon

Initially after the war everyone said the Israeli government will fall. The recriminations and blame were almost endless. Let us list just some of the accusations.

Hezbollah will not be kept out of the south and will not disarm .There is no effective mechanism to stop the flow of arms from Iran via Syria. The kidnapped prisoners have not been released. Our deterrence capabilities have been degraded.

The war was poorly prepared, the equipment was sub-standard, and the food and water supplies for the soldiers were inadequate. There was a shortage of ammunition that required an airlift from America.Most of the soldiers lacked proper training. 160 Israelis -one quarter of them civilians-died in the fighting.

The politicians held back for several days crippling the final push to the Litani. The reserves were not called up right away.The chief of staff, mistakenly believing that Hezbollah could be knocked out from the air, discovered too late that ground troops would be needed.

Military intelligence was inadequate. Not enough was known about the weapons or the bunkers. There was no anticipation that the Iranian anti tank missiles could penetrate the Israeli tanks. It appears that in the area of electronic warfare, the enemy was superior, which is really frightening.

Although the defense budget grew from 2002 to 2005 it didn’t grow enough and in any case the money was misspent by the generals.

Israel was attacked by 4000 Hezbollah rockets. Half a million citizens became refuges or were forced into bomb shelters. The bomb shelters were dilapidated. The emergency supplies for the north were inadequate. There were serious failures in everything related to the home front.

The Israeli politicians did not realize that the air strikes that destroyed the Lebanese infrastructure would cause the Lebanese people of all religions to focus their anger on Israel and not Hezbollah. Olmert and his advisers thought the Lebanese would turn on Nasrallah and Hezbollah.

Who is to blame? Take your pick…Olmert, Peretz, Halutz…there is more than enough incompetence to go around. They repeatedly made decisions which cost the lives of soldiers and civilians. Their biggest sin was that the initial decision to go into battle stemmed from inexperience, an aroused feeling of honor and machismo and an inability to look one step ahead. My guess it that Olmert and Co. will try to put much of the blame on the Americans… Condoleeza made me do it.

The major military lesson of the war is that a strategy that relies mostly on air power, a bad idea Israel imported from the U.S. cannot win a war against guerrillas. It remains to be seen if Israel will have the determination to increase its ground forces, and keep them properly equipped and trained. It is always politically easier to buy another weapons system.

The real political problem is that it is will take time for serious political alternatives to develop. The aftershock of the war has not set in, and it remains unclear what are the political lessons to be learnt from this defeat. Assuming that the convergence plan is dead at least for the immediate future, the Kadima party must create some more general ideology. Are they Likud light, Labor plus? In general what is the ideology of a centrist party in the present circumstances? Peretz , the head of the Labor party and the defense minister is on his way out. There are more than enough Labor Party ex-generals who will challenge his leadership at the next opportunity. Meretz is also in disarray, having split over the war. The left has to regroup and work out its position on the Iranian threat. Even Netanyahu’s Likud with its message of being even tougher on Hamas rings a bit hollow. Over 200 Palestinians have been killed in this last campaign. Hopefully it will yield some results.

There are no outstanding candidates in any of the parties. An election at this sensitive time might very well bring about a renewal of the right and far right. The anger at the conduct of the war should benefit the Likud and the far right party of Avigdor Lieberman perhaps significantly. Shas, having stayed loyal to the agenda of social welfare might pick up some votes. The religious parties might gain a seat ….maybe the Pensioner party would lose a seat or two, since they have not said a word of any import since the election. The big losers should be Labor and Kadima. The end result will be a more divided Knesset with a weakened center. I know many people will say a Netanyahu –Lieberman combo makes sense at a time of national humiliation. Those of us who believe in a social democratic Israel find a government of Likud and Israel- Is- Our- Home a bitter pill. My sense of the situation is that a majority of the Knesset would rather stick with the incompetents they know than stir the polity with a new election in the hope of finding a better government.

Tzipi Halivni, the foreign minister was not in the inner circle of geniuses who went to war after Nasrallah issued his challenge. If she would present some credible new ideas she would be a formidable challenge within Kadima to Olmert. The biggest criticism of her current performance is that she lacks a network of influential friends in the current administration. Other critics argue she was not sufficiently active during the war in presenting Israeli’s position to the various foreign chancelleries. She obviously needs some more experience.

A woman prime minister would be of great public relations value in Israel’s fight with its enemies. Israel was considered the underdog until the 1967 war. Ever since then Israel is considered by many a neo-colonial superpower while the Palestinians are the oppressed and displaced. A woman prime minister would tend to soften this image. A second benefit is that a woman Prime Minister might even help everyone, Palestinian and Israeli, Arabs and Jews to climb down from their self defeating macho cum honor posturing. It might be harder to pick a fight with a woman called Tzipi.

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