Ending Israel's losing streak
A few weeks shy of the tenth anniversary of Israel's May 24, 2000 unilateral withdrawal from south Lebanon, last Friday mass-circulation daily Yediot Ahronot chose to devote its weekend news supplement to a retrospective on the event. The retrospective included a fawning five-page interview with Defense Minister Ehud Barak who ordered the withdrawal during his tenure as prime minister and defense minister. It also included a two-page spread featuring interviews with the IDF commanders who carried out the withdrawal recalling their adrenalin rushes as they retreated their forces across the border.
Nearly hidden between the two puff pieces was a little article titled "We told you so."
It featured an interview with retired far-left Knesset member Yossi Sarid who opposed the withdrawal. Sarid told Yediot that in hindsight, he's glad the withdrawal went through even though it led directly to the wars that followed. Following Sarid's self-congratulatory modesty, Yediot gave former defense minister Moshe Arens and Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau a sound bite apiece to lash out at the withdrawal. That base covered, the paper dismissed them both as "right-wingers."
ALTHOUGH UPSETTING, Yediot's treatment of the Lebanon withdrawal was not surprising. The unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon -- which was a failure on every rational level -- was a strategy concocted and championed for the better part of a decade by Yediot and its media colleagues at Israel Radio. The paper's decision to publish a ten-year anniversary retrospective two weeks early was undoubtedly an attempt to preempt and prevent any further discussion of the withdrawal.
Yediot praised the retreat as a work of operational genius because no one was wounded, kidnapped or killed during the 48-hour operation. Of course, by presenting force protection as the IDF's highest goal, the paper ignored basic strategic realities.
The fact is that the withdrawal was an operational fiasco. In its rush to the border, the IDF left behind huge quantities of sensitive equipment that Hizbullah commandeered. Israel abandoned thousands of loyal allies from the South Lebanon Army and their families to the tender mercies of Hizbullah. These were men who had fought shoulder to shoulder with the IDF since 1982. Those that managed to escape to Israel before the gates were locked were treated as unwanted dead-weight by Barak and his media flacks who couldn't be bothered with the treachery at the heart of the operation.
The withdrawal was a military defeat. It weakened Israel and strengthened Hizbullah. Without the security zone, Israel had no buffer between its civilian population and Hizbullah. For its part, Hizbullah set itself up in the IDF's abandoned fortifications and imposed its full control over south Lebanon.
Israel's strategic incoherence and incompetence in the wake of the withdrawal was showcased just four months later. When Hizbullah forces penetrated Mt. Dov and kidnapped IDF solders Benny Avraham, Omar Sawayid and Adi Avitan, Barak had no idea what to do. So he did nothing.
The soldiers were killed and Israel released hundreds of terrorists from its prisons to secure the return of their bodies four years later. Interestingly, the names Avraham, Sawayid and Avitan didn't make it into Yediot's ten year-anniversary retrospective.
The withdrawal was a regional failure. Immediately after the withdrawal, Palestinian Authority chairman Yassir Arafat ordered Fatah chief Marwan Barghouti to prepare for war. Acting on Arafat's orders, Barghouti formed the Aksa Brigades terror cells comprised of Fatah members and the Popular Resistance Committee terror network that combined Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror cells.
Four months later, after Arafat rejected Barak's offer of Palestinian statehood at Camp David in July 2000, he ordered his forces to launch the Palestinian Jihad.
Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon showed Arafat that Hizbullah commander Hassan Nasrallah was right to liken Israel to a spider web that would collapse at the slightest provocation. Lebanon taught Arafat that there was no reason to negotiate a peace with Israel. If pressed, Israel would lose the will to fight and surrender.
The withdrawal was a political failure. To justify his decision to surrender south Lebanon to Iran's Lebanese proxy force, Barak and his media flacks repeatedly presented the false claim that Hizbullah only fought Israel because Israel was in Lebanon. If the IDF were to pick up its marbles and go home, Hizbullah would naturally disband.
This historically false, intuitively nutty assertion gave credence to the false Arab-Leftist narrative which argues that Israel's size, rather than the Arab world's refusal to accept a Jewish state in the Levant, is the cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
AS HIZBULLAH'S subsequent build-up, continued aggression and eventual de facto takeover of the Lebanese government all showed, Hizbullah was not an Israeli creation. It was formed by Teheran to serve the needs of the ayatollahs. Its continued existence, strength and aggression are dictated not by Israeli actions but by Iranian interests.
So too, the wider Arab conflict with Israel predated the 1967 Six Day War and it won't end if Israel shrinks into the indefensible 1949 armistice lines. It won't end until either Israel is destroyed or the Arabs decide that they are finally willing to accept a Jewish state in their midst.
The withdrawal from Lebanon set the conditions for the 2006 war. It provided Hizbullah with the political cache in Lebanon and regionally to rearm. And it gave Shiite, non-Arab Iran unprecedented popularity among the Sunni Arab masses. Even more devastatingly, the withdrawal -- which set the course for the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza and the Olmert government's plan to unilaterally withdraw from Judea and Samaria -- discredited the one strategy that could have brought Israel a strategic victory in 2006: reassertion of Israeli control over the border area in south Lebanon.
For ten years Israel has been paying the price for the withdrawal from Lebanon. And yet even now, with Hizbullah fielding guided missiles capable of hitting Dimona and in control of Lebanese government whose military receives advanced weapons from the US, the Israeli media, led by Yediot are still presenting the withdrawal as an act of strategic genius and political courage.
CONSIDER THE following representative extract from the paper's interview with Barak.
Q: The most significant argument [against the withdrawal] is that the withdrawal is what built-up Hizbullah. That we are responsible for its increased strength.
A: That is...completely incorrect. When we left Hizbullah already had 7,000 rockets, which is nearly twice what they fired during the second Lebanon war. [In 2000] they already had rockets with sufficient range to hit the power station in Hadera. Hizbullah didn't exist when we went in [in 1982]. It was formed because we were there. Hizbullah's build-up is not a consequence of our withdrawal from Lebanon, it is the consequence of our stay in Lebanon....
"Hizbullah's biggest build-up happened six years after the withdrawal, after the Second Lebanon War. Paradoxically, that war, that hurt them badly and created a type of deterrence, after it ended Hizbullah's buildup escalated in a major way. They had 14,000 rockets in the Second Lebanon War. They fired some of them. And now they have 45,000 that cover the entire country.
"I suggest that we set aside the comforting story we tell ourselves that we supposedly built them up. We didn't build them up and there's no reason in the world to think, from everything I know about reality, that if we were in Lebanon now they would have less rockets."
So we built them up but we have to set aside the comforting fable that we built them up. They were formed because we were in Lebanon and the fact that we're not in Lebanon has no impact on their build-up.
And how did Yediot respond to Barak's pearls of strategic wisdom?
Q: You never stop talking about leadership and making courageous decisions. But you're not a commentator. You are Defense Minister and one of the most important people in the Israeli government. Ten years after the withdrawal and four years after the Second Lebanon War we again hear talk about an inevitable new round of war in the summer. Until when [will we have to fight]?"
This exchange - which is in no way unique - makes two things clear. First, Barak would rather say foolish things than acknowledge the harsh truth of his strategic misstep. Second, led by Yediot, the media prefer to portray Barak's buffoonery as courageous statecraft than acknowledge the massive cost of his failure.
THE QUESTION is why are they acting this way? From Barak's perspective, the answer is clear. Telling the truth would force him to acknowledge that his tenure as prime minister was a disaster for the country. Moreover, if Barak were ever courageous enough to acknowledge his failure, rather than listen to what he had to say, the media would shove him into the right-wing ghetto with Arens and Landau. He would lose his status as a brilliant strategist and be castigated as an ideologue.
The media's commitment to prolonging the fiction that the withdrawal was a stroke of brilliance and blocking all debate on issue stems from the fact that the withdrawal from Lebanon was a media initiative. The media introduced the foolish notion that Hizbullah only existed because Israel was in south Lebanon.
Yediot, Israel Radio and other major news organs championed the cause of an Israeli pullout from Lebanon for a decade. They portrayed EU-financed straw organizations like Four Mothers which called for the withdrawal as mass movements. They demonized IDF commanders for opposing their withdrawal plan. They stifled all voices in the North opposing the move. They castigated all politicians opposing the retreat as right-wing warmongers or conversely in the case of Sarid, as hopeless doves. And they catapulted Barak to power in 1999 after he promised them that if elected he would withdraw the IDF from Lebanon within a year of taking office.
Since the withdrawal, the media have ignored its military consequences. They pretended Hizbullah's abduction of Sawayid, Avitan and Avraham, its cross border attack in Shlomi in 2002, and its military build-up were unrelated to the withdrawal. So too, as far as the media are concerned, Hizbullah's electoral and extra-electoral takeover of the Lebanese government and its decision to initiate the Second Lebanon War were all wholly unconnected to the IDF's withdrawal.
The media have ignored the withdrawal's regional consequences. They preferred to give credence to Arafat's claim that the Palestinian terror was a popular Palestinian response to Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount in September 2000 over considering the connection between Hizbullah/Iran/Syria and the Palestinians.
They ignored the political consequences of the withdrawal. They opted to support the Arab-Leftist narrative that if Israel contracts to the 1949 armistice lines, the Palestinians will make peace. And they continued to advance this lie even after Hamas took over Gaza in the wake of the 2005 withdrawal.
When people wonder why Israel continues to blunder from defeat to retreat and can't figure out a way to assert its interests militarily or politically, they need to look no further than Yediot's ten-year anniversary celebration of the withdrawal from Lebanon. So long as the media continue to portray their ideological fantasies as journalism, no politician will dare to embrace strategic rationality.
Moral blindness in the face of evil is depravity. But in the upside-down moral universe of our world today, moral blindness has become a badge of honor. If you refuse to call evil by its name, then you are a moderate. And if you stand up to evil, you are yourself an extremist.
The embrace of moral blindness as an emblem of sophistication is nowhere more apparent than among American Jews. Take recent events on US college campuses. This week the Washington Times reported that a large and vocal group of Brandeis University students are organizing to protest the university's decision to invite Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren to give this year's commencement address.
In a Facebook initiative led by a student named Jonathan Sussman, several hundred students have joined the demand to disinvite Oren. Sussman claims that by inviting him, Brandeis is siding with "a rogue state apologist, a defender of (among other things) the war crimes and human rights abuses of the war on Gaza."
Sussman gained notoriety earlier this year when he sought to organize students to disrupt former UN ambassador Dore Gold in a debate the university hosted between Gold and Richard Goldstone. Sussman, a self-proclaimed Communist is a member of the anti-American Students for Democratic Society.
For their part, pro-Israel students have defended the administration's decision to invite Oren on technical grounds. In a dedicated Facebook page, Brandeis student Nathan Mizrachi wrote that protesting Oren is a "waste of time." While allowing that Oren is controversial, Mizrachi argued against protesting his speech by claiming, "anyone who is consistently contributing to our worldview in a dignified, widely respected manner - instead of idiots like Michael Moore or Fox News - is someone who merits our attention."
Mizrachi couldn't bring himself to argue that Brandeis was right to invite Oren. He couldn't be bothered to note that everything Sussman wrote is a lie. The most ringing endorsement of Oren's appearance that Mizrachi could muster in response to Sussman's latest attack was to say that it was a waste of time to protest his appearance and that it "would truly be a disgrace to our university," if protesters were to shout Oren down at commencement.
No offense to Mizrachi but his Facebook counteroffensive is not exactly what most people would call a particularly heroic defense of Oren, Brandeis or Israel.
Unfortunately, this is more often than not what passes as a pro-Israel message these days in the US Jewish circles. Following the example communicated by the US Jewish leadership, supporters of Israel often act as if shouting down Israel advocates is wrong only because doing so is an assault on freedom of speech. It isn't that Israel is in the right and the Palestinians are in the wrong. It isn't that Israel is a just and moral society. It isn't that the IDF fights justly and morally and only in self-defense. It isn't that the Palestinians have taken all the lands Israel has given them and transformed them into terrorist enclaves or that they democratically elected Hamas - a genocidal terrorist organization -- to lead them. It isn't that there is not now and never was a Palestinian leadership willing to accept Israel's right to exist.
It's just that it isn't right to silence Israel advocates. It's against the First Amendment. Zionists have a right to express themselves too.
But then, not all Zionists. And not too many of them. Take the Jerusalem Post's Khaled Abu Toameh for example. Abu Toameh was scheduled to speak at Tufts University last month. His talk, sponsored by Honest Reporting and CAMERA, was supposed to be held under the auspices of Tufts Friends of Israel. At the last minute, Friends of Israel cancelled his lecture. Abu Toameh was informed that the pro-Israel student group cancelled his talk as a preemptive move to avoid criticism from campus Arab groups. Tufts Hillel Director Rabbi Jeffrey Summit later wrote him claiming that the talk was cancelled due to an overabundance of pro-Israel speakers on campus.
The situation at Tufts and Brandeis, where pro-Israel students can't figure out why Israel should be defended and don't want to overload themselves with too many speakers defending Israel is downright wonderful in comparison to the situation at Berkeley. There Jewish students and faculty were galvanizing forces behind the divestment from Israel drive that passed overwhelmingly in the Berkeley student senate in March.
The divestment initiative, which called on the university administration to divest from General Electric and United Technologies for their joint projects with the IDF, was vetoed by the senate president. His veto was narrowly sustained in a later vote last week. In the meantime, the divestment drive has expanded to UC San Diego.
In an article published last month on the American Thinker website, UC Santa Cruz and UCLA professors Tammi Rossman-Benjamin and Leila Beckwith wrote that the divestment campaigns and the overwhelmingly anti-Israel atmosphere on campuses has made life extremely difficult and often frightening for Jewish students on campuses.
And yet, there has been no divestment of major Jewish donors from these institutions. There has been no demand that Hillel replace ineffective or anti-Israel administrators. There has been no demand that campuses fire professors like Berkeley Hebrew Professor Ruth Adler or Talmud Professor Daniel Boyarin who force their students to undergo anti-Zionist indoctrination in their classrooms.
Again and again, the official Jewish community and pro-Israel students' response to anti-Israel campaigns and often violent onslaughts is to mumble out a protest against their infringement on the freedom of expression. That is, for many US Jewish leaders and Jewish campus activists, the biggest problem with the Red-Green alliance of leftists and Muslims is that they deny pro-Israel students and speakers the right to express themselves.
The mendacity of the Red-Green alliance's claims against Israel, the bigotry of their increasingly open calls for Israel's destruction, their denial of the Jewish people's right to self-determination or even our right to define ourselves as a people all goes unopposed.
This is not a sustainable line of defense. This is not even the beginning of a defense - of Israel or of the rights of American Jews. But this state of affairs does explain very well why according to recent polling data, a half of American Jews under 35 would be okay with a world without Israel.
Some argue that what happens on the campuses is not important. What really matters is what happens in the grown-up world. Unfortunately, today we see that the depraved moral blindness of the classroom has brought about a situation where political leaders cannot recognize the moral depravity of the international community. And sophisticated grownups - and particularly American Jewish grownups -- cannot or will not make their leaders pay a price for their depraved support for evil.
Take Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's decision to travel to New York this week to participate in the UN's Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference. It is clear that Ahmadinejad's purpose in travelling to New York is to ensure that the conference is a circus. Ahmadinejad means to make certain that to the extent a distinction is made between Iran's nuclear weapons program and Israel's purported nuclear arsenal, the distinction will claim that whereas Israel's alleged nuclear arsenal needs to be destroyed, Iran's interest in nuclear weapons is a justified response to Israeli badness.
Apparently anticipating his move, according to the Wall Street Journal US President Barack Obama has been discussing Israel's alleged nuclear arsenal with Egypt. According to the newspaper's account, the US is discussing Egypt's demand that the Middle East become a nuclear-free zone. A senior US official claimed, "We've made a proposal to them [Egypt] that goes beyond what the US has been willing to do before."
Some US Jewish groups have called for a protest of Ahmadinejad outside the UN building. Others have called on state delegations to stage a mass walkout during his speech.
But none have attacked the administration for agreeing to the false moral equivalence between Iran's nuclear program and Israel's nuclear program. None have condemned Obama for discussing Israel's purported nuclear program at a time when Iran -- that has declared its intention to destroy Israel -- is racing towards the nuclear finish line.
Then too, the American Jewish community is silent as Obama strong arms Israel into indirect, Obama administration-mediated talks with the Palestinians. It is silent even as it is widely reported that Obama has threatened Israel that if the Jewish state builds homes for Jews in Jerusalem or refuses to accept a Palestinians state by next year, Obama will impose his own "peace plan," on Israel. That is, the American Jewish community is all but mute as Obama does to Israel what Berkeley is doing to Israel.
The fact of the matter is that defending Israel against its enemies isn't a freedom of speech issue. It is an issue of right vs. wrong. Israel is the state of the Jewish people. It is a great ally of the US. Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem were legally allocated to the Jewish people by the League of Nations Mandate in 1922 and that allocation has never been cancelled or superseded. Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and neighborhoods in united Jerusalem are not illegal. The IDF did not commit war crimes in Gaza or anywhere else. Arabs are full citizens in Israel. When Israel fights, it fights to defend itself from aggression.
The aggression launched against Israel is conducted by societies and states that refuse to recognize Israel's right to exist. It is launched by societies and states that ignore the laws of war, that refuse to respect even the most basic human rights of their own citizens let alone of Israelis. The Palestinians have yet to find even one leader who is willing to accept Israel's right to exist or the Jewish people's right to self-determination in our land.
This is the truth. This is where the defense of Israel begins. And it is the absence of this truth and this defense from the lexicon of Jewish American students and community leaders in recent years that has brought about a situation where the only reason not to attack Israel is because it is "a waste of time."
It is the absence of this truth and this defense that has enabled a situation where the President of the United States can maintain the support of the American Jewish community while allowing others to equate Israel's alleged nuclear arsenal with Iran's nuclear program, and while treating Israel as if it were the root of all the pathologies of the Arab world.
And if the truth about Israel continues to be ignored by American Jews, not only will Israel be imperiled. The sustainability of their own community -- that has embraced moral blindness in the name of moderation and sophistication -- will be called into question.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.