Rattling the Cage: Debacle by popular demand

The people can't shrug off their contribution to the war's failures and scapegoat the leadership.

By LARRY DERFNER
August 30, 2006 22:30
4 minute read.
larry derfner 88

larry derfner 88. (photo credit: )

 
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Which is the one guilty party that will not be investigated by any of these new committees for its failures in this last war? Answer - the Israeli public. Yes, I'm afraid that in a democracy the public shares the credit or blame for what its country does, but especially in a case like Operation Change of Direction, because Israelis identified with it to such an extraordinary degree. From the beginning, they as much as demanded the war, and demanded that the most far-fetched goals be set for the war - the vanquishing of Hizbullah, and Hizbullah's unconditional release of the two kidnapped IDF soldiers. They wouldn't have settled for anything less, and God help the political or military leader who would have tried to lower their expectations. From the beginning, the Israeli public marched not behind, but right alongside Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and IDF chief Dan Halutz on the glorious road to "victory." As soon as Olmert and Peretz started in with the bluster and saber-rattling - which came on Day One of the war - public opinion polls rewarded each of them with approval ratings in the vicinity of 80%. "We will win," Olmert declared, and within days bumper stickers reading "We will win" began appearing on Israeli cars. Immediately it became the slogan of the war. The media, of course, did its part. Never have I seen the Israeli media switch off its critical faculties and turn into a cheerleader for a government policy as it did in this war. The right wing, naturally, will groan that media advocacy was much more blatant for the Oslo accord and Gaza disengagement, but I think they're wrong. It's true the Israeli media tended overwhelmingly to support Oslo and disengagement, but it gave voice to dissenting views against those policies much, much more readily than it did during this war. BUT WHY was that? Because there was so much more opposition to Oslo and disengagement than there was to Operation Change of Direction. The media was only reflecting the public's wartime mood. People were saying how they couldn't remember when Am Yisrael had been that unified. So Am Yisrael can't shrug off its contribution to the war's failures and pin the whole thing on the leadership. Israelis are considered one of the most, if not the most, politically aware people in the world. They are expected to think seriously about things like war and peace, they are expected to know something about these matters, and when their country is going to war over declared objectives, Israelis are expected to ask themselves and their leaders some basic questions, such as: What are the chances of success? Has this been tried before? Everybody here knows that the IDF tried for 18 years to vanquish Hizbullah and failed. Everybody also knows that Israel never "forced" any Lebanese enemy to surrender Israeli hostages, but has gotten them back only by releasing Lebanese prisoners in return. But Israelis chose to forget this. Instead they chose to believe simply that "we will win," and thereby gave the government and IDF a free hand to go on another wild goose chase in Lebanon. IN A democracy, especially when something as fateful as war is at hand, the public has the responsibility to use its best judgment in deciding whether to support or oppose the government's policy. In Operation Change of Direction, the Israeli public dropped the ball. And no wonder - it closed its eyes. Most everyone here is now blaming not only the Olmert government, but the Sharon and Barak governments before it for allowing Hizbullah six years of peace and quiet to build up its arsenal. But were people clamoring for the IDF to "clean out" Hizbullah in those years? No, the public had no desire for another war in Lebanon, and residents of the North were content with the degree of peace and quiet that had come their way, too. Again, the reticent policy toward Hizbullah that the Barak, Sharon and Olmert governments followed was a direct reflection of Israeli public opinion, so Israelis share the responsibility for letting Hizbullah become so strong. And didn't some 75% of them support Barak's unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in the first place? If they want to complain about it now, they should first complain in front of the mirror. Even the nuts-and-bolts, bureaucratic failures of the war - the inadequate training, weaponry, equipment and battlefield rations for reserve soldiers, and inadequate preparedness for an extended missile attack on civilians - aren't entirely divorced from Israeli public behavior. Let's face it - are Israelis in general known for being big on planning and preparation? Aren't they, instead, masters of improvisation because they have no choice, having left things to the last minute? Is it really an Israeli anomaly that the bomb shelters in the North were completely neglected all these years? Or that IDF reserves were trained strictly for the battle they were currently fighting - against the Palestinians - instead of for a war against Hizbullah that might never happen? Weren't the simplest, most basic failures of Operation Change of Direction very much in character for this society? And finally, if Olmert, Peretz, Halutz and virtually every other official who had a hand in the war is now refusing to take personal responsibility for anything that went wrong, what could possibly be more Israeli than that? How is their behavior any different from what about seven million other people in this country do as a matter of course, without thinking, in any given hour? But the Israeli public will not be a subject of any of the postwar inquiries. Which means these committees are going to be pulling off an even bigger whitewash than people think. After all, seven million asses are a lot to cover.

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