Special Report: Israel at Odds With Itself

Special Report: Israel at Odds With Itself
August 12th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Special Report: Israel at Odds With Itself

Special Report: Israel at Odds With Itself
The situation in Israel tonight has become extremely confused,
verging on the chaotic. Government ministers, like the foreign
minister and prime minister, are publicly feuding. The government
is saying that the assault into Lebanon will definitely be rolling
tonight while it has simultaneously implied that it intends to
accept the cease-fire resolution. Leaders of Israel Defense Forces
(IDF) are demanding to be unleashed while leaks from some
government members hint that they have no confidence in the
military. The media has now surged into the battle with highly
contentious columns and editorials.

There is a saying in Israel: "When the cannon roar, we fall
silent." It means that, while there is a war on, politics -- and
even public controversy -- are impermissible. That rule has clearly
collapsed. Controversy has raged inside the government and military
during wars, and some of it has been savage. But this combination
of contradictory signals from the government and increasingly open
battling is fairly unprecedented. The closest Israel has come to
this was in 1967, between the time Egypt imposed a blockade on
Israel's port of Eilat and the time Israel launched its attack on
Egypt. We would judge this as worse.

There appear to be two basic and competing schools of thought. One
argues that Israel cannot defeat Hezbollah without incurring
unacceptable losses and re-occupying parts of Lebanon, thereby
winding up in a counterinsurgency situation. The other school of
thought argues that the price of accepting a cease-fire that leaves
Hezbollah intact is much higher than the cost of war.

The interesting thing is that Olmert himself seems to embody both
views. On the one hand he is saying that the offensive is on while
at the same time asserting that he is inclined to accept the
cease-fire. In some ways, either position would be more comforting
to Israelis than the apparent vacillation. There had been a belief
that Olmert was using this as psychological warfare against
Hezbollah, but the view is now spreading that it is doing more
damage to the Israeli psyche than to Hezbollah's.

The cease-fire that appears to be on the table is rather
extraordinary. It lacks a timetable and turns over the problem of
disarming Hezbollah to the Lebanese government, which probably has
neither the means nor the appetite for the job. In the unlikely
event that this is achieved, French forces would then join the
existing U.N. force. They would have the authority to actively
suppress any breaches of the cease-fire. The argument against the
cease-fire is obvious from the Israeli point of view. Olmert's view
might be that accepting it means nothing since it has no time limit
and the disarming of Hezbollah won't happen. Therefore, it allows
Israel to accept the cease-fire without halting operations.

Hezbollah has certainly achieved an extraordinary degree of
success. It has fought IDF to a draw, with the Israelis clearly
being concerned about the price of going up against it. It has also
created an unprecedented political crisis in Israel, while its own
base remains firm. Hezbollah's strategy has worked thus far,
establishing it as the most effective force ever to confront the

The pressure on Olmert from IDF is intense. But it is also intense
politically. Benyamin Netanyahu, leader of Likud, has remained
virtually silent, holding off criticizing the government. He has
even restrained some of his colleagues. Clearly, he does not want
to destabilize the government now. Yet, at the same time, his
relative steadfastness while the government tries to sort things
out remains odd.

In looking at Israeli behavior -- which has become the most
interesting and perplexing aspect of this conflict -- we are struck
by an oddity. The Israeli leadership seems genuinely concerned
about something, and it is not clear what it is. Obviously, the
government doesn't want to take casualties, but this is not a
political problem. The Israeli public can deal with high casualties
as long as the mission -- in this case the dismantling of
Hezbollah's capabilities -- is accomplished. The normal pattern of
Israeli behavior is to be increasingly aggressive rather than
restrained, and the government is supported.

When a government becomes uncertain, it normally reverts to
established patterns. We would have expected a major invasion weeks
ago, and we did expect it. Something is holding the Israelis back
and it is not simply fear of casualties. The increasing confusion
and even paralysis of the Israeli government could be explained
simply by division and poor leadership. But we increasingly have
the feeling that there is an aspect to Israeli thinking that we do
not understand, some concern that is not apparent that is holding
them back from doing what they would normally do.

Hezbollah has fought well, but it is hard to believe that the
Israelis can't defeat them or that Israel can't take casualties.
(Interestingly enough, Iran and Hezbollah, who are aiming for an
imminent cease-fire to claim victory in this conflict, have
remained silent while the discussion of a coming cease-fire
intensifies.) As the pressure to act mounts and Israel doesn't act,
the question of what is restraining them becomes increasingly
important. We can't speculate on what their concern might be,
because we don't know it. However, Olmert is acting as if he
doesn't want to become too aggressive, and the reasoning is

When dawn comes over Lebanon, we might well find Israeli troops
attacking in their traditional fashion, and the entire debate in
Israel tonight will be of little importance. Then the question will
be whether Hezbollah can continue to resist. However, while there
are those who would argue that Israel's inability to decide clearly
on a path is simply cover for action, our view is that the
situation has gone well beyond that. Hezbollah is not being rattled
at all. The Israelis are.

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