James Leroy Wilson's blog

Monday, August 14, 2006

Maybe They Were Just Stupid

In last Thursday's Partial Observer column, I charged Israel's leadership with either insanity or criminal motives, considering the idiotic way they were fighting their war in Lebanon. I ruled out mere stupidity - probably out of denial. I can see how a mad genius, or an evil genius, can take the leadership of a democracy. But a complete dunce?

LewRockwell.com's Monday home page contained two articles with conflicting information, or at least, interpretations, of what Israel knew of Hezbollah defense infrastructure. Uri Avnery, an Israeli, wrote that
Judging from the reactions of the commanders in the field, they clearly were completely unaware of the defense system built by Hizbullah in South Lebanon. The complex infrastructure of hidden bunkers, stocked with modern equipment and stockpiles of food and weapons was a complete surprise for the army. It was not ready for these bunkers, including those built two or three kilometers from the border.

Whereas Seymour Hersh quotes a former senior intelligence officer:
"Everybody knows that Iranian engineers have been advising Hezbollah on tunnels and underground gun emplacements. And so the Air Force went to the Israelis with some new tactics and said to them, ‘Let’s concentrate on the bombing and share what we have on Iran and what you have on Lebanon.’"

It all makes one wonder what the heck is going on. But this much was clear from both articles. Avnery writes,
[General Dan]Halutz started this war with the bluster of an Air-Force officer. He believed that it was possible to crush Hizbullah by aerial bombardment, supplemented by artillery shelling from land and sea. He believed that if he destroyed the towns, neighborhoods, roads and ports of Lebanon, the Lebanese people would rise and compel their government to remove Hizbullah. For a week he killed and devastated, until it became clear to everybody that this method achieves the opposite – strengthens Hizbullah, weakens its opponents within Lebanon and throughout the Arab world and destroys the world-wide sympathy Israel enjoyed at the beginning of the war.

And Hersh writes
In the early discussions with American officials, I was told by the Middle East expert and the government consultant, the Israelis repeatedly pointed to the war in Kosovo as an example of what Israel would try to achieve. The NATO forces commanded by U.S. Army General Wesley Clark methodically bombed and strafed not only military targets but tunnels, bridges, and roads, in Kosovo and elsewhere in Serbia, for seventy-eight days before forcing Serbian forces to withdraw from Kosovo. “Israel studied the Kosovo war as its role model,” the government consultant said. “The Israelis told Condi Rice, ‘You did it in about seventy days, but we need half of that—thirty-five days.’ ”

There are, of course, vast differences between Lebanon and Kosovo. Clark, who retired from the military in 2000 and unsuccessfully ran as a Democrat for the Presidency in 2004, took issue with the analogy: “If it’s true that the Israeli campaign is based on the American approach in Kosovo, then it missed the point. Ours was to use force to obtain a diplomatic objective—it was not about killing people.”

How could the Israeli political and military leadership so misunderstand their own neighbors? Common sense alone could have told the Israelis that the political situation in Lebanon was different than in Serbia. The slightest feeling of empathy, of "walking in their shoes" or discerning what we would do in the same situation, would have told them that the country would rally around Hezbollah.

Power causes normally ordinary people to do extremely stupid things - even - especially - when the lives and well-being of millions hang in the balance.

1 comment:

  1. In a word: "Hubris"

    We've had experience with it as well. Vietnam made us gun-shy but Iraq I, Panama, Afghanistan relieved us of the Vietnam syndrome. Now Iraq II has brought it back in spades.

    I think Israel had a similar moment when Hezbollah forced them out of Lebanon in 2000. But after a few years of Sharon's bombing the bejesus out of the Palestinians with very little resistance, they were feeling invincible again. Then reality hit them this past month.

    Neocon Maximus, Jonah Goldberg, once wrote that every 15 years or so, the USA had to find some piss ant country to throw up against the wall just to show we mean business (I paraphrased). The reality is that those piss ant countries -- and militias -- can sometimes give the big boys a reality check.