Rattling the Cage: Regaining our faith in war

While rage and retaliation are normal, that doesn't mean it's wise to let them escalate endlessly.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
Imagine if all these kidnappings, killings and rockets had started while Israel was still bogged down in its occupation of Lebanon (1982-2000) and Gaza (1967-2005). The IDF wouldn't have been able to fight nearly as hard as it is now on either front. Israelis would have been divided, instead of being unified to the extraordinary degree they are. The mainstream Left and much of the Center would have been calling for unilateral withdrawals, or negotiations, or at least military restraint, instead of backing the government to the hilt if not demanding that it fight harder, as the great majority of Israeli "moderates" are doing today. One of the long-standing arguments for giving up occupied territory, whether by negotiation or unilaterally, is that if the Arabs were to attack afterward, Israel would no longer feel any guilt or doubt or hesitation about striking back with all its force. The Arabs would cry uncle, goes the argument, and Israel would finally have peace and quiet. It's not working, though. We got out of Lebanon and Gaza, the terrorists there went on attacking us, we hit them back ferociously, yet they're not crying uncle. So the only solution, we've decided, is to wipe them out for good. And the upshot is that the IDF is driving deeper and deeper into Lebanon, with no realistic way out. In Gaza, we're bombing and killing Palestinians - terrorists and civilians together - like we've never done before. And these are just the local fronts of the war we're preparing ourselves for. The developing consensus here is that it's only a matter of time until Israel, preferably fighting alongside the US, will have no choice but to go to war against Syria and Iran, and maybe against other Muslim enemies as well. Call it World War III or World War IV, that's what we're looking at, and more likely sooner than later - a no-choice war of survival against "Islamofascism" wherever it exists. This is not a far-fetched possibility in the slightest. This, instead, is where the logic of the present war leads: If we want to attack the "root cause" of the problem, if we want to "finish the job," we can't stop with Hizbullah, we've got to go on to Syria and Iran, and by that time who knows where else we'll have to go? YOU CAN sample this sort of opinion in just about any Israeli (or right-wing American) news media, and hear it on just about any Israeli street. And unless the war against Hizbullah ends somehow in a whopping "victory" for us, my guess is that the local sentiment for World War III or IV will continue to grow. It's almost eerie to remember, but just a little while ago, a couple of months or so, most everyone in this country and the rest of the world, too, thought Israel had finally become "pragmatic." We'd learned that the Arab territory under our control was not an asset but an albatross, so we'd begun getting rid of it. And as far as territory went, Israelis had become pragmatic, conciliatory, dovish, whatever you want to call it. But this new, cool-headed approach to territory has ended up making Israelis more hotheaded about war than they may have ever been. The withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza, followed by the attacks from Hizbullah and Palestinian terrorists, gave Israel the absolute, 100% moral justification to counterattack, even punitively and "disproportionately," which is something Israel didn't have when it was occupying those places. HOWEVER, ISRAELIS have taken this to mean they're morally justified in fighting this war wherever it leads - to Syria, Iran and the ends of the earth if necessary, to the use of nuclear weapons if necessary - no matter how many people get killed and how much devastation is done. Part of this attitude comes from simple rage. When Lebanese or Palestinian terrorists attack us while we're sitting on their land, most Israelis understand, even if only in the back of their minds, that this is not pure, black-and-white aggression, that we gave them an excuse, and that therefore we're limited in how harshly we can hit back. But when we do our part for peace, when we get out of Lebanon and Gaza, and they still come for our lives - this drives us crazy. Not only are they guilty of aggression, they've abused our good will, they've made suckers out of us. "How dare they!" is our reaction. "We'll show them!" And really, any other reaction would be abnormal. But while rage is normal, and harsh retaliation is, too, that doesn't mean it's wise to let our rages and retaliations escalate without end. ANOTHER REASON for Israeli hotheadedness is the belief that we've tried the only other possible ways of making peace - through negotiations, and through unilateral withdrawal - and they didn't work. So all that's left is limitless military force. Again, with opponents like Hizbullah and Hamas, this is a reasonable first reaction. But to also make this your last reaction, to refuse to consider any other possibility except fighting a do-or-die war, right now, against Hizbullah and whoever else may line up behind it - I'd say that's a little hasty, a little narrow-minded, and more than a little scary. Yet that's what the Israeli mentality is today. The lessons that were supposedly knocked into Israelis' heads from the 18-year-long, first Lebanon War - that force has its limits, and war, especially in that country, brings nasty surprises - have been put out of the national mind. The terrible, ongoing lesson being taught in Iraq about the danger of fighting a war to eradicate the "root cause" of Mideast violence - that, too, is escaping the attention of people around here. It's not that Israelis like war, it's that they've regained their belief in war as the only solution, as their only salvation, and this belief may be stronger in them now than it's ever been before. It comes in the wake of their belief in unilateralism, which came in the wake of their (qualified) belief in the peace process. Life in the Middle East is a bitch. Maybe it really is impossible, after all, to achieve security for more than a little while. Maybe the best we can do is manage the violence, keep it from getting out of hand, because when we try to soar too high and solve the problem permanently, all we do is crash into that many more pieces. Maybe there's no answer, and all we can do is improvise the best we can and try to keep our expectations for security realistically modest. And maybe desperate political belief - in military force, peace negotiations, unilateralism or any other tactic yet to be discovered - is the most dangerous, doomed thing to hold onto in this part of the world.