Interesting Times: The next revolution

A golden opportunity to fix many things we were not ready to recognize were broken.

saul singer 88 (photo credit: )
saul singer 88
(photo credit: )
It is not at all clear that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will survive the political fallout from the war he courageously launched and badly managed. Olmert is right that a full-blown commission of inquiry into the war would be a mistake because it would become a trial more than an investigation which produces constructive results. But the three-part plan he did announce will probably prove too unwieldy, weak, and insufficiently independent to provide a credible substitute. Wars often lead to political upheavals. Politically, this war is most often compared to the debacle of 1973. That war cost many more casualties than this one, but militarily it ended with Israel having decisively routed its attackers. All the same, in 1977 it brought an end to the Labor Party's monopoly on power, unbroken from the state's founding. The current upheaval will likely produce a shift rightward. Just as the war started by Yasser Arafat in 2000 led to the previously unelectable Ariel Sharon replacing Ehud Barak, Hassan Nasrallah's war may bring Binyamin Netanyahu out of political purgatory. In scope, Nasrallah's attack on July 12 was orders of magnitude below the September 11 attack on America five years ago. But history moves in strange ways, and it could end up sparking a sea change as great as America's in the way we here look at ourselves and act in the world. The key question, however, is not who will lead us, but the direction we are taking. We now have a golden opportunity to fix many things that we, as a society, were not fully ready to recognize were broken. What will be the agenda of the coming revolution? THE FIRST STEP is to realize that while the fighting may be over for now, the war, even in a narrow sense, isn't. And it can still be won. Hizbullah, despite its bravado, is at a moment of extreme military and political vulnerability, which it will either be allowed to recover from, or not. The most important immediate objective is to prevent Syria and Iran from rearming the organization. Currently, Israel is refusing to lift the air and sea blockade of Lebanon until Lebanon stops the arms flow from Syria to Hizbullah. This is appropriate, but unlikely to be enough. Israel will likely have to give the Syrians an ultimatum, similar to the one Turkey successfully presented to them to stop their backing the PKK. The US and EU should in parallel support, or at least not oppose, Israel's position and make it clear that sanctions will be imposed on Syria and Iran if they do not comply with the new embargo created by UN Security Council Resolution 1701. Once the rearming of Hizbullah is blocked, its disarming could become feasible. While we finish this war we must prepare for - and thereby work to prevent - the next war. The IDF does not really need massive public inquiries to know what needs to be fixed: classic symptoms of a military that is beginning to "hollow out" in the wake of decades of not being tested in battle. MORE IMPORTANT than throwing more money at the defense budget, though more is probably necessary, is to shift priorities from pensions and a bloated bureaucracy to what is called "readiness": humdrum things like better armor for tanks, and more equipment and training for reservists. The war revealed no shortage of motivation and determination among our troops. Call-ups were met with a greater than 100% turnout of reservists who fully understood the necessity of the war. But the war also indicated a growing imbalance in our people's army, with casualties coming disproportionately from among the periphery of the country: kibbutzim, moshavim and settlements. In some high schools, primarily religious ones, it is assumed that almost all graduates will try to serve in the most elite and prestigious military units; in other high schools an opposite trend prevails - many of the best students attempt to minimize military service, or avoid it altogether. The only solution to such a disparity is educational. Our system does not have to brainwash kids or become a bastion of jingoism. But it does need to teach how a Jewish state came to exist and what has kept it in existence. Students need to be exposed to the rich debate over what their country should stand for now, and in the future. THIS BRINGS US to another revolution that should be provoked by this war: not only the junking of Olmert's unconditional unilateralist approach, but its replacement with another strategy. The recent war showed that we must not hand over territory that will become a launching pad for terrorism against us. It showed that we must urgently work with the US to force Egypt to prevent the smuggling of weaponry to Hamas in Gaza, which Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin has repeated warned is now trying to emulate Hizbullah's buildup. More fundamentally, we need to stop acting as if relinquishing territory is the core and perhaps sole component of our strategy to achieve peace. To do so feeds the myth that "occupation" is the crux of the conflict, rather than the Islamist/Arab refusal to accept the right of the Jewish people to a state in our land. The war demonstrated that the world's - and Israel's - basic notion of an "Arab-Israeli" or "Palestinian-Israeli" conflict needs to be revised. Hizbullah attacked, as Tony Blair put it, "not to fight for the coming into being of a Palestinian state, but for the going out of being of an Israeli state." We must lead in reenforcing the new realization that we are fighting against an axis of Islamism that regards all of Israel as "occupied territory." What is called a "conflict" is a genocidal quest for the destruction of a people and its country. The first step toward peace is for us to demand that the world stop treating our insistence on life as a provocative act, and place the blame for Islamist aggression squarely on those who engage in it - not just against us, but against all free peoples.

- Editorial Page Editor Saul Singer is author of the book, Confronting Jihad: Israel's Struggle & the World After 9/11