Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah delivered a speech last week on the 9th anniversary of the Second Lebanon War, in which he yet again declared victory, praised those who died in defense of all that was good, and chided Israel on its lack of a strategy for victory in Lebanon.
A large crowd heard Nasrallah, who was shown on a massive televisiion screen. He declared victory and the impotence of Israel from somewhere deep below the city, where he spends almost all of his time, presumably due to the vestiges of Israeli power that might get to him.
Nasrallah is right on one point, that Israel has no apparent strategy for victory in Lebanon.
Who the hell wants to conquer Lebanon and be responsible for governing a country whose authorities exist in name only?
If some Israelis dreamed of that in 1982, and long, partial, and costly occupation cured most of any such aspiration.
We can wonder when, if ever, what stands as Lebanon's government reached into the variety of religious/cultural/political communities that run their own sections of the country, when they are not fighting among themselves.
Israel doesn't aspire to victory over its numerous adversaries. Survival is the highest aspiration, and marshaling its resources in ways to respond to whatever are the current relevant threats.
There are lots of professors who teach that rational decision-making requires identifying one's problems and designing a strategy to solve them.
That's fine for lesson #1 taught to undergraduates, provided that subsequent lessons deal with the realities of problems that have no solution. And that reaction, rather than taking the initiative, is often the best way to deal with expected problems.
The list of those is long, and appears somewhere on the agendas of all serious governments. One can begin with several expressions of Christ in the New Testament, that the poor will always be with us. The list goes on to ethnic/religious/cultural conflicts in just about every developed country that get in the way of domestic tranquility, and the problems of balancing demands for economic development with concerns for the environment. Those and a few others bother Israel, with its population of about 8 million (80 percent of whom are Jews) having to contend with the enmity of a billion Muslims.
The incidence of the poor--however you wish to define them--is arguably much less in developed societies today than in the time and place where Jesus preached, but there are lots of other issues that defy anything close to solution.
Somewhere in the noise that surrounds us is the claim that Israel's most serious problem is the lack of Jewish unity. The opposite is closer to the truth. Jews' greatest strength is their chronic inclination to argue, to reach collective decision only after considerable deliberation, and to implement collective decisions partially if at all, also to the noise of complaint.
Dispute is the strength of Jews, rather than our weakness. It provides us with the humane trait to recognize disputes, to deal with them verbally, and to leave some unresolved, with few instances of political killings since the Jewish wars recorded by Josephus.
Our capacity to handle dispute is the key to understanding Israeli democracy. There is no better explanation for how a country founded by people from non-democratic backgrounds, with years of poverty, mass immigration from non-democratic places, and several wars, that managed nonetheless to create and maintain a democracy in the Middle East.
There hasn't been a solution to the basic problems of the Jews since there were Jews. One can also find a lack of agreement as to our early history, i.e., where did the Jews come from, or out of which tribes did they assemble and begin to recognize themselves as a separate people. Except to scholars, those are problems of little contemporary importance.
Israel's recent domestic agenda has featured a quarrel, more or less left vs right, about an proposal approved by the government but waiting Knesset action, concerned with the complex details of an agreement with the investors and the international company that has brought a field of natural gas to the point where it can be used by Israel and other countries in the region. There's also a squabble between the ultra-Orthodox and others about the opening of a movie theater in Jerusalem on the Sabbath. And close to the edge of Jewish-Arab violence are contending groups near a hospital in Ashkelon where physicians are monitoring an Arab prisoner, on a long hunger strike, who might become a candidate for forced feeding as he approaches death. Arab protesters demand his freedom. Israeli cynics say that Arab activists are hoping for his death and using him as the latest martyr. Jewish demonstrators are chanting that he should be allowed to die.
All those middle-range or little things a long way from the larger issues of how to deal with the Palestinians, Iran's, and the spread of Islamic radicalism throughout the Middle East.
As far as an Israeli commoner can tell from news, commentaries, and personal experience, the posture with respect to Palestinians is not to make things worse. Their leaders have rejected one reasonable proposal after another, going back to the 1930s and extending to last year.
The strategy with respect to Iran and the Islamic State appears to be wait and watch, but who really knows until there is a dramatic bulletin?
IDF acts against Palestinians only when provoked, in ways meant to persuade the most mad of the Palestinians to delay for some time until their next effort to rid the Middle East of us.
We hear that we're on the edge of a third intifada, manifest by daily attacks on Jews. So far the attacks seem to be those of inspired individuals rather than anything organized, and so far the Israeli response has been for security personnel to kill, injure, and/or capture most perpetrators.
Anyone with a better idea, that can compete with the large number of dusty proposals sitting on library shelves, is invited to respond.
The threats from Hezbollah, Iran, and the rest of Islamic extremists who all cite the destruction of Israel as among their principal reasons for existence, are beyond the capacity of this tiny country to silence absolutely.
Some would add the Obama White House to Israel's list of insoluble problems, but that is going a bit far for this note.
Getting ready for potential threats becoming real is the principal task of the IDF and other security services. They are assiduous in gathering intelligence, some of it via nefarious and other unpleasant activities, but apparently essential for this country's defense. Now we're hearing of IDF exercises directed at the possibility of dealing with threats over the border in Syria. We've also heard of air attacks on convoys bringing heavy weapons toward Lebanon, some ground actions, and continued activity of Israeli aircraft and drones here and there, cyber actions and some assassinations of Iranian nuclear personnel.
Much of what we hear on the media comes from other sources, and passes without comment from Israeli officials. It contributes to the fog of imperfect information, and our need to guess about what is happening, and what may come next.