"You and I and the Next War"
"WE ARE ready for the next war," a reserve soldier told a TV reporter
this week, on the scene of a brigade-size maneuver on the Golan Heights.
What war? Against whom? About what? This was not stated, and not even
asked. The soldier saw it as self-evident that war will break out soon,
and it seems that he did not particularly care against whom.
Politicians are used to expressing themselves more cautiously, in words
like "If, God forbid, a war should break out…" But in Israeli public
discourse, the next war is seen as a natural phenomenon, like tomorrow's
sunrise. Of course, war will break out. The only question is against whom.
AND INDEED - against whom? Perhaps Hizbullah again?
Quite possibly. In the Knesset and the media, a lively debate took place
this week about whether Hizbullah has already regained all the
capabilities it had before the Second Lebanon War, or not yet. In a
Knesset committee, there was an altercation between one of the Army
Intelligence chiefs, who vigorously insisted that this was so, and the
Minister of Defense, who voiced his opinion that Hizbullah has only the
"potential" to get there.
Hassan Nasrallah, who has a wonderful talent for driving Israelis up the
wall, poured oil on the flames by announcing, in a public speech, that
arms were flowing to him from Syria, and that he transfers them to the
south in trucks "covered with straw". Let them all know.
Our commentators reacted by declaring that "no later than this summer"
the Israeli army will be compelled to attack in Lebanon in order to
remove the danger, and, on this occasion, also to eradicate the shame
and restore to the army the "deterrent power" that was lost on the
battlefields of that unfortunate war.
OR PERHAPS Syria, this time?
That is also possible. After all, this week's brigade maneuver, the
first for a long time, was held on the Golan and obviously directed
True, the Syrians have offered peace. They are going out of their way to
tempt Israel to start negotiations.
But that is out of the question. President Bush has forbidden Israel to
take even the tiniest step in that direction. Bush is threatening Syria
with war (see below) and it is unthinkable that Israel, the loyal
camp-follower, would make peace with somebody America does not like. No,
peace with Syria is not on the cards. Forget it.
And, as the Romans did not say: "si non vis pacem, para bellum" - if you
do not want peace, prepare for war.
Preparations go well beyond training the forces on the ground. They also
have a psychological dimension. The day before yesterday, an extra-large
front page headline in Haaretz announced: "Syrian Arms Race With the
Help of Iran". The other media followed suit. It was said that Russia
was supplying Syria with huge quantities of anti-tank weapons, of the
kind that penetrated even the most advanced Israeli tanks in the recent
war. And, as if that was not enough, Russia is also providing Syria with
anti-shipping missiles that would be a real threat to our navy, and
long-range missiles that can reach every corner of Israel.
The news story puts together three countries - Syria, Russia and Iran -
which are, quite fortuitously, the three members of Bush's new "axis of
Clearly, this media campaign is being orchestrated by the army chiefs
and is connected with the maneuver. As a matter of fact, it is the first
action by the new Chief-of-Staff, Gaby Ashkenazi, who observed the
maneuver in the company of the Minister of Defense, Amir Peretz. (A
quick-witted photographer caught Peretz viewing the action through
binoculars. But the lens caps were still on, and so he obviously saw
nothing but black.)
Truth is that no danger lurks in that direction. There is not the
slightest possibility that Syria would attack Israel. The military
capabilities of Syria, even with all the Russian arms they may get, are
vastly inferior to those of the Israeli army. That is the considered
view of the entire Israeli intelligence community. If Syria rearms, it
is for defensive purposes. They are, quite justly, afraid of Israel and
the United States.
But if one wants war, what does that matter?
AND PERHAPS these are simply diversionary tactics, in order to shift
attention away from the real target of the next war - Iran?
For many months now, our media have been voicing dark warnings about
Iran almost daily. Within a few years they are going to have the
capability to carry out a "Second Holocaust", as well as the will to do
so. The picture is of a crazy country, headed by a Second Hitler, who is
prepared to have Iran annihilated if this is the price of wiping Israel
off the map.
Against such an enemy, of course, the old Hebrew adage applies: "He who
gets up to kill you, go and kill him first."
AFTER THE Six-Day War, a pacifist satire bore the title: "You and I and
the Next War". ("You" in the feminine form.) Perhaps it should be
During the last few days, a very large ad appeared in the newspapers,
signed by a group calling itself "The Reserve Soldiers" and claiming to
represent the disappointed reservists of the last war. The ad sets out
all the reasons for removing Olmert from power, and reaches its climax
with the dire warning: "He will remain on his chair and direct the next
Perhaps that is exactly what he has in mind. We never had a prime
minister mired so deeply in a quagmire of troubles. In a few weeks, the
Commission of Inquiry of the Second Lebanon War will publish its
findings. True, it was Olmert himself who appointed the commission and
handpicked its members, in order to avoid falling into the hands of a
judicial board of inquiry, whose members would have been appointed by
the Supreme Court, and who might have been much less considerate. But
even so, he may survive the findings of the commission only by the skin
of his teeth. At the same time, several corruption allegations against
him are being investigated by the police.
True, Olmert succeeded last week in appointing new police chiefs
(including a personal friend) as well as a new Minister of Justice to
his liking, but this also does not guarantee him full immunity.
In the meantime he only exemplifies an old truth: a clever person knows
how to extricate himself from a trap that a wise person would not have
fallen into in the first place.
He has no agenda. He said so himself. He is the chief of an amorphous
party, without members or institutions and without real roots in the
community. Public opinion polls show that his ratings are nearing the
bottom (only the Minister of Defense has sunk even lower.) Olmert
remains in power only because many believe that all the available
alternatives would be even worse.
A cynical Prime Minister, entrapped in such a situation, could easily be
tempted to start another military adventure, in the hope that it would
give him back his lost popularity and divert attention from his private
and political troubles. If this is the aim, it really does not matter
much against whom - Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians or Iranians. The
main thing is that it should happen as soon as possibly, preferably this
summer at the latest. What remains is to convince the public of the
presence of an existential danger, but in our country that is not too
ALL THIS reminds one, of course, of another outstanding leader - George
W. Bush. Amazing how these two find themselves in almost the same situation.
The American political system is admired by many in Israel, and from
time to time the cry goes up that it should be adopted by us, too. A
strong leader, elected fairly directly by the people, who appoints
competent ministers - what could be better?
But it seems that the American system has created a terrifying
situation: President Bush has two more years in office - and in this
time he can start any war at will, even though now the American public
has clearly shown in the congressional elections that it loathes the
Iraq war. As Commander-in-Chief of the most powerful military forces in
the world, he can widen and deepen the war in Iraq, and at the same time
start a new war against Iran or Syria.
The two houses of Congress can, in theory, stop him by cutting the
allocations for the armed forces, but most of the members of these two
august bodies are windbags who are terrified out of their wits (if they
have any) by the very thought. Any marine in Baghdad has more guts than
the whole bunch of Senators and Congressmen together. They would not
even dream of impeaching the President.
Thus, one single person can cause a world-wide catastrophe. He has no
brakes, but has a strong drive towards war: to fulfill his "vision"
(dictated to him by God Himself in private conversation) and to retouch
his image in history.
Is this practical? Well, the American army is too small to conduct
another major war on the ground. But Bush and his advisors believe that
there is no need for that. They are the successors to the American
general who in his time talked about "bombing Vietnam back to the stone
age". After all, it worked in Serbia and Afghanistan.
The neo-cons, who still reign supreme in Washington, are convinced that
a rain of many hundreds of smart bombs on all the nuclear, military,
governmental and public installations in Iran could "do the job". Their
friends in Israel will applaud, since that would relieve Israel of the
need to do something similar, if on a smaller scale.
But an American and/or Israeli adventure would be a disaster. Bombs can
devastate a country, but not a people like the Iranians. Only the
wildest imagination can foresee how the more than a billion Muslims in
scores of countries - including all our neighbors - would react to the
destruction of a Muslim country (even a Shiite one). This is playing
with fire, which may start a world-wide conflagration.
Bush and Olmert and the Next War - HELP!