The Sanely Funny Humor Magazine

Make War As Make Nice;
Israel’s Commendable But Costly Military Tactic

Has a nation every conducted a war like the one Israel waged against Hezbollah? Instead of the usual “war is hell,” it was more like an attempt to conduct war as make nice.

Now that a cease fire is in place, fragile as it may be, let's review the tactic and how it weathered the war.

Did we hear announcements from Israel anywhere remotely near “We will destroy you to the last man”?

No, instead we heard niceties like:

"… terrorist elements ... are using you as human shields by launching rockets toward the state of Israel from your homes."

"All cars and vehicles of any type will be shelled if seen moving south of the Litani River because they will be considered suspect of transferring rockets, military ammunitions and those causing destruction.”

“You need to know that anyone moving in any type of car will put their life in danger."

Leaflets have warned of a "painful and strong" response to attacks by Hezbollah and warned the residents of three suburbs in the south of Lebanon to evacuate.

And, to make nice even more, Israel granted the Red Cross "freedom of movement" for its convoys, which have been providing aid to people in Lebanon.

Yes, many Lebanese civilians were killed – 689 at last count. But there was also a toll among the Israelis: at last, count, 36 civilians and 67 soldiers were dead. Each death is a heartrending tragedy. Yet even a make-nice war does come with some unavoidable loss of life.

During the conduct of this unprecedented war with warnings, numerous Israeli soldiers confessed that they felt the army should have hit Hezbollah harder but was held back by the government’s concern for civilian casualties.

Finally, just as the UN reached agreement on a cease-fire plan, Israel moved ahead with force.

Now the fighting seems all but over, at least, for as long as it's all but over.

Yet the initial tardiness rankled many.

Just days before the cease fire, Lt. Col. Svika Nezer, the commander of an artillery battery a few miles outside Kiryat Shemona, said his unit was only using about 20 percent of its firepower. "We could do much, much more. But the orders we get are limited."

Meanwhile, Ehud Olmert made nice without hesitation by declaring that a proposal by Lebanon to send 15,000 troops south to prevent attacks by Hezbollah is “interesting,” even though under the Lebanon’s watch the guerilla group has been able to amass an arsenal of thousands of missiles aimed at Israel. He also made nice big time by agreeing to put a larger offensive on hold to give the international community more time to work out a peace plan. But by Friday afternoon, he had finally had enough of make nice and announced that the larger offensive had begun.

Even Israeli defense minister, Amir Peretz, was in on the effort to make war while making nice, saying, “We are doing everything to allow these two efforts to complement each other .... We’ll see the military operation as having created the diplomatic climate and a new situation.”

Apparently, much of the Israeli cabinet wanted to make nice, too. Rafi Eitan, a cabinet minister, said on Israel radio, "There are diplomatic considerations. There is still a chance that an international force will arrive in the area. We have no interest in being in south Lebanon. We have an interest in peace on our borders."

To confirm the unusual facts before us, the standard parade of retired American generals appeared on CNN and Fox News, stating that Israel was prosecuting the war in a way that exceeds the requirements of the Geneva Accords and with more care to control collateral deaths than even the proudly idealistic US when it goes to war. And, by the way, did Harry Truman, generally recognized presidential hero but quintessential pragmatist, drop leaflets on Japan before we dropped the two A-Bombs?

If you still believe Israel erred on the side of violent excess, compare this indulgent kindness with what we heard from Hassan Nasrallah, the ruthless leader of Hezbollah, who, worst fear of all, may well live on to become a mistaken hero and, as such, a thorn of ever-festering magnitude in Israel’s quest for peaceful survival.

In a recent departure from his bunker to appear on TV, he threatened to turn southern Lebanon into "a graveyard" for the Israelis. "I say to the Zionists, you could come anywhere, invade, land airborne forces, enter this village or that, but I repeat, all this will cost you a high price.” Then, continuing with bravado as false as it is impractical, he said, “We will fight until the last bullet, as long as there's a grenade, as long as there's a rocket, there will still be fighting."

We suppose that this was an imposture to sound heroic to the uneducated Arab masses, who look to him simply because he is supposed to be a brave leader, while what he has led to most conspicuously is the death of many Lebanese citizens and the destruction of much of the infrastructure of the recovering country.

We can also add to his murderous manias the bonkers claim by his patron and boss in absentia, the madman of Iran, the vituperative vow to “wipe Israel off the face of the map.”

Given the above comparison, never has a nation waged a more ethically restrained war than the one in which Israel was engaged.

Yet, even in light of Israel’s unprecedented carefulness, the little state was still reviled by Arab nations and even the United Nations for its “overreaction” and “indiscriminate bombing.”

Considering the ingratitude elicited by its make nice war conduct, we find flickers of the old and sinister observation that it is better to be feared than to be loved, especially, we should add, when making war, in which case love may be unattainable.

Given the entire indecisive mishmash, Israel’s greatest general, Moshe Dyan must have been rolling in his grave and tearing at his black eye patch. If he had been in control, he would surely have planned an initial tactic other than entering Lebanon gingerly to combat Hezbollah’s on its own terms. How he would have ranted at inching across the border to battle the guerillas, entrenched in their cement bunkers on byways long booby trapped, and then marching back home to rest up, while another troop of soldiers wandered in, treading carefully among the booby traps and jack-in-the-box Hezbollah gunners and rocketeers.

We have only been curious observers of military strategy – from Caesar, at the head of 10,000 or so cohorts, patiently monitoring tribes of barbarians in excess of, we are told by him in his Gallic Wars, 100,000 persons, until he had them in a defile to our own swift and decisive thrusts of recent times. But even we can imagine that he would have planned a dramatic movement, like a breathtakingly rapid phalanx of tanks up the 20 miles to the Litani river, along the most accessible route, accomplishing the goal in perhaps less than an hour; then slicing across the narrow land to cut the guerillas in the south off and have them trapped in a pincer action as old as prehistoric combat.

Noting the hesitant conduct of the war, even the usually stoic Israeli public began to urge its government to let the army hit Hezbollah harder, so it could not threaten Israel again.

Why, even a Jewish grandmother was upset by the tentative prosecution of the war. Ehud Yaari, an Arab affairs analyst, said of his mother, who is 85: “She calls me all the time to ask me how come the army is still having a fistfight with Hezbollah in places 500 meters from the border.”

The daily paper Haaretz published a cartoon satirizing the group Peace Now, with a balding member, sporting a ponytail, saying, “It won’t end until we wipe Beirut off the map.”

And Yossi Beilin, leader of the dovish Meretz Party, went so far as to confirm that the Jewish people have the right to “a democratic and secure state.”

Of course, not every Israeli was for the war to be stepped up. Some wanted it stopped. Every Friday, anti-war activists demonstrated against it.

But recent opinion polls showed support for the war at about 80%.

Unfortunately, one of the collateral complications of Israel’s careful approach has been the steady publicity of buildings blown up and civilians killed, instead of the usual major attack and, hopefully, a swift end of the conflict.

The effort has been sort of like a dentist attempting to pull a tooth with his fingers, instead of using forceps. So he pulls a little here and there, and every time the patient winces, he stops, until he and the patient give up in sweaty despondency, and the tooth is still stuck right where it was.

Of course, there are those who are vocal critics of the gradually waged war.

Gerald M. Steinberg, director of the Program on Conflict Management at Bar-Ilan University, said, “… there is a strong sense of hesitation, of the lack of military leadership needed in times like this.”

Yuval Steinitz of Likud, who is the head of the parliamentary subcommittee for defense preparedness, exclaimed, “Doubts? That’s an understatement. People are talking of failure…. The bombardment of Israeli cities was supposed to be over after 48 hours. The fact that only now the government is ready to even start the real ground campaign is overwhelming.” Then Mr. Steinitz remembered and referred to Israeli defense doctrine since the tiny nation’s founding, which is that it must immediately take the fight “deep into enemy territory to protect its civilian rear….This didn’t happen, and against who? Hezbollah, which is the size of a Syrian division without any air defense. So what would we do against Syria?”

And, after the announcement of the weekend delay to let the UN work its way, the columnist Ari Shavit wrote in Haaretz :"You cannot lead an entire nation to war promising victory, produce humiliating defeat and remain in power."

Ben Caspit, a columnist for Maariv, agreed that it would be difficult for Olmert to stay in office: "The public in Israel will not keep silent about this month without reaching a victory or exacting an appropriate price."

And Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the conservative Likud party, is bestirring himself as he begins to take calculated potshots at the government for its management of the war, now that the smoke is clearing enough for him to develop risk-free hindsight.

But the slowness of Israel’s advance against Hezbollah was, given the flatfooted ground offensive, to be expected, much like our own difficulty in neutralizing the insurgents in Iraq. Security officials blame the delay on Hezbollah’s bunkers, which are fortified with cement, electrified, and well-stocked with weapons and food.

As if these “into the breach” complications on the Lebanese front aren’t enough, the Palestinian guerillas must still be dealt with.

The worst effect is, Israel’s hesitant assault on Hezbollah may give its other arch enemies with dire power, Syria and Iran, false confidence that they can launch an attack and actually rid themselves of the thorn in the toe of their own incompetent governance.

Insightful observers understand the provocation by Hezbollah that initiated the war was mainly motivated, not only by its admitted goal of using the kidnapped soldiers as bargaining chips to obtain the release of many of its members in Israeli jails, but also by its anxious need to justify its existence, along with the present need of Iran, its banker and arsenal, to provide a distraction from its nuclear dilemma.

In the end, Israel must do whatever it takes to survive and, if luck will allow, to live in peace with its neighbors, uncomfortable with the detente as either side may be.

Despite every ethical person’s abhorrence of war and its wages, history shows quite consistently that in this flagrantly treacherous world a nation needs, in times of treachery, leaders who are made of armor-hard and aggressive, if not outright mean, stuff.

And, remorseful as it sounds, it appears that the sudden taking of life, while terrible in itself, often, as the result of the shock it produces, prevents the loss of more life over a grueling pattern of half measures. These are terrible observatins, but what is more dangerous than to don blinders while the enemy is aiming at you?

While we are, in all our being, advocates of life, life in fact as our principal defense against death, we also know that a slow war of attrition can kill more people than a deft move that achieves a military goal suddenly.

The war, whether over now or not, will finally wane, either as a result of the UN resolution or Israel’s belated resolve to pick up the forceps and remove the inflamed molar by the name of Hezbollah.

Should peace prevail, it will be, in the remembered annals of the area, an unprecedented felicity. Not since recorded history began, some 5,000 years ago, cut in Sumerian cuneiform, has peace reigned in the persistently irate and combative region.

As for now, on the part of Israel, there is unavoidable shame at not achieving a decisive victory, apologies by Olmert and the leaders of Israel's defense forces, and blame-placing from myriad sources. There are also bound to be unforseen and perhaps dangerous sequelae, witness Nasrallah's boast, "We are today before a strategic, historic victory, without exaggeration."

For Hezbollah, considering the Lebanese civilians who have died as a reaction to its ill-considered kidnappings and the damage that has been wreaked on Lebanon’s material wealth, there must be, as painful realizations set in, a point in which the guerilla group may pay a price at the hands of its own countrymen, regardless of Nasrallah's false protestations of victory. It is unlikely, we think, that those bereaved and bludgeoned citizens will be in much of mood to make nice.

By Tom Attea

RETURN HOME