The lessons of Lebanon - I

The trauma we've undergone must serve as a driving force to bring about fundamental societal change.

bobm shelter in nahariya (photo credit: AP)
bobm shelter in nahariya
(photo credit: AP)
We've only begun debating the war with Hizbullah, how it was handled and the implications of how it ended. It's a debate that will continue to preoccupy the media, academia and the public for a long time to come. A long litany of mistakes on the military, media and diplomatic fronts have already come to light and others are yet be revealed and argued about. One shudders, for instance, at the prospect of hearing what reservists will have to say about lack of equipment and food supplies and a slew of other failures in the field. It will be difficult to believe that they're talking about the Israel Defense Forces. THE WAR refuted a number of deeply held views:
  • The belief that Israel is a military superpower and nothing can stand in our way.
  • The view on the Right that Israel is a "nation that dwells alone and will not be reckoned among the nations" has been incontrovertibly disproved. The second Lebanon War in fact demonstrated Israel's enormous dependence on the much-disparaged United Nations, as well as on world opinion - an arena we had virtually abandoned to Arab propagandists. This turnabout mandates a different kind of attitude toward public diplomacy by future Israeli governments. No other country is so dependent on external factors as Israel. • Our exclusive reliance on military might - the product of the intoxication with our imagined strength after the Six Day War - is gone. On the contrary, in view of the danger from Iran, Israel's dependence on the UN will further increase in the coming years. • On the Left, a number of firmly held views have been proven false. For example, the claim that eliminating the occupation, on its own, would resolve Israel's existential dilemmas. The occupation is harmful for lots of reasons, but hatred for Israel and opposition to our very existence is not related to the occupation - unless Haifa is viewed as "occupied territory." Defense Minister Amir Peretz was among those who long held that Israel could obtain "peace now" by offering concessions. This outlook has been dealt a major blow, leaving some on the far-Left viewing Peretz as a "war criminal." My own belief, that Nazi-like anti-Semitism was limited to the extremist Muslims, has also been proven wrong. I never imagined that a respectable Norwegian newspaper would publish an article by a well-known author that could have been at home in Der St rmer back in the 1930s. WITH THIS in mind, here are some preliminary suggestions that can drawn from events surrounding the war.
  • Israel must prepare itself for a combined attack from an almost-nuclear Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah. Preparations should include developing anti-missile missiles as well as constructing nuclear shelters.
  • The sense of shared solidarity between Israel and the Diaspora must be renewed - and not only for economic reasons.
  • Let's stop coddling entertainers and others artists who dodge the draft.
  • The way national government services are delivered in wartime needs to be re-thought. Public services, at the national level, practically collapsed during the crisis despite the fact that this was a war of choice, and that the emergency was not unexpected. Fortunately, local governments, volunteer organizations and ordinary citizens stepped into the fray. For years, we've witnessed government and the media undermining the civil service. The outcome is that the simplest decisions, the kind that any reasonable person might make in half-an-hour are dragged out or postponed indefinitely. Even worse - those with authority - ministers and bureaucrats - have become accustomed to not having to decide, in order to avoid becoming targets of criticism. Public administration is in a deep coma with civil servants resembling a huge giant whose arms have paralyzed one another. Young and talented people don't want to become part of this paralyzed body - and this comes at a time when other sectors of the economy are energetic and filled with initiative and activity. What, for example, kept the welfare and finance ministries from deciding within days of the start of the shelling on a comprehensive plan to evacuate the North; why couldn't they help those remaining in the places targeted by the Katyusha rockets? It was governmental coma that prevented it - not an act of God. Even worse, this disease has taken hold of the army too. In a country where it's become routine to cover your ass, keep your head down and wait for the courts to decide really tough policy questions, it is only natural for that outlook to filter into the IDF. It is urgent that the bureaucracy undergo a major overhaul. This was true before the war; it is even truer now. All these conclusions require moral and psychological changes, but the trauma that we have undergone must serve as a driving force to bring about a sea-change in Israeli society. The writer is president of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.