The 155th Victim


WITH A few words, a Lebanese army officer destroyed, the day before yesterday, the illusion that Israel had achieved anything in this war.

At a televised Lebanese army parade that was also broadcast on Israeli TV , the officer read a prepared text to his assembled troops, who were about to be deployed along the Lebanese-Israeli border.

This is what he said in Arabic: "Today, in the name of the comprehensive will of the people, you are preparing to be deployed on the soil of the wounded South, side by side with the forces of your Resistance and your people, which have amazed the world with their steadfastness and blown to pieces the reputation of the army about which it has been said that it is invincible."

In simple language: "the comprehensive will of the people"--the will of all parts of the Lebanese public, including the Shiite community. "Side by side with the Resistance": side by side with Hizbullah. "Which have amazed the world with their steadfastness": the heroism of the Hizbullah fighters. "Blown to pieces the reputation of the army about which it has been said that it is invincible": the Israeli army.

Thus spoke a commander of the Lebanese army, the deployment of which along the border is being celebrated by the Olmert-Peretz government as a huge victory, because this army is supposed to confront Hizbullah and disarm it. Israeli commentators have created the illusion that this army would be at the disposal of the friends of the US and Israel in Beirut , such as Fuad Siniora, Saad Hariri and Walid Jumblatt.

It is no accident that this item was drowned in the deluge of TV blabber, like a stone thrown into a well. After broadcasting the item itself, no meaningful debate about it took place. It was erased from the public mind.

But not only the balloon of the redeeming Lebanese army has been punctured. The same has happened to the multi-colored second balloon that was to serve as an Israeli achievement: the deployment of the international force that would protect Israel from Hizbullah and prevent its re-armament. As the days pass, it becomes increasingly clear that this force will be, at best, a mishmash of small national units, without a clear mandate and "robust" capabilities. The commando raid carried out by our army today, in blatant violation of the cease-fire, will certainly not attract more international volunteers for the job.

So what remains of all the "achievements" of this war? A good question.

AFTER EVERY failed war, the cry for an official investigation goes up in Israel . Now there is a "trauma," much bitterness, a feeling of defeat and of a missed opportunity. Hence the demand for a strong Commission of Inquiry that will cut off the heads of those responsible.

That's what happened after the first Lebanon war, which reached its climax in the Sabra and Shatila massacre. The government refused any serious inquiry. The masses that gathered in what is now called " Rabin Square " (the mythical 400 thousand) demanded a judicial inquiry. The public mood reached boiling point and in the end the Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, gave in.

The Kahan Commission that investigated the event condemned a number of politicians and army officers for "indirect" responsibility for the massacre, even though its own factual conclusions would have justified a much stronger condemnation. But Ariel Sharon was, at least, removed from the Defense Ministry.

Before that, after the trauma of the Yom Kippur war, the government also refused to appoint a Commission of Inquiry, but public pressure forced its hand. The fate of the Agranat Committee, which included a former Chief-of-Staff and two other senior officers, was rather odd: it conducted a serious investigation, put all the blame on the military, removed from office the Chief-of-Staff, "Dado" Elazar--and acquitted the political leadership of any blame. This caused a spontaneous public uproar. In its wake, Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan--predecessors of Olmert and Peretz as Prime Minister and Minister of Defense--were forced to resign.

This time, too, the political and military leadership is trying to block any serious investigation. Amir Peretz even appointed a whitewash-committee, packed with his cronies. But public pressure is building up, and chances seem good that in the end there will be no way out but to appoint a judicial inquiry committee.

Generally, the one who appoints a commission of inquiry and sets its terms of reference predetermines its conclusions. Under Israeli law, it is the government which decides to appoint such a commission and determines its terms of reference. (As a Member of the Knesset, I voted against these paragraphs.) But the composition of the commission is determined by the President of the Supreme Court. If a commission is set up, I assume the present President of the Court, Aharon Barak, a highly respected chief justice, will appoint himself for the job.

IF INDEED such a commission is set up, what will it investigate?

The politicians and generals will try to restrict the inquiry to the technical aspects of the conduct of the war:

- Why was the army not prepared for a war against guerillas?

- Why were the land forces not sent into the field in the two first weeks?

- Did the military command believe that the war could be won by the Air Force alone?

- What was the quality of the intelligence?

- Why was nothing done to protect the rear, when the rocket threat was known?

- Why were the poor in the North left to their fate, after the well-to-do had left the area?

- Why were the reserve units not ready for the war?

- Why were the emergency arsenals empty?

- Why did the supply system not function?

- Why did the Chief-of-Staff practically depose the Chief of the Northern Command in the middle of the war?

- Why was it decided at the last moment to start a campaign that cost the lives of 33 Israeli soldiers?

The government will probably attempt to widen the investigation and to put part of the blame on its predecessors:

- Why did the Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon governments just look on when Hizbullah was growing?

- Why was nothing done as Hizbullah built up its huge stockpile of rockets?

All these are serious questions, and it is certainly necessary to clear them up. But it is more important to investigate the roots of the war:

- What made the trio Olmert-Peretz-Halutz decide to start a war only a few hours after the capture of the two soldiers?

- Was it agreed with the Americans in advance to go to war the moment a credible pretext presented itself?

- Did the Americans push Israel into the war, and, later on, demand that it go on and on as far as possible?

- Was it Condoleezza Rice who decided in fact when to start and when to stop?

- Did the US want to get us entangled with Syria ?

- Did the US use us for its campaign against Iran ?

This, too, is not enough. There are more profound and important questions.

THIS WAR has no name. Even after 33 days of fighting and six days of cease-fire, no natural name has been found. The media use a chronological name: Lebanon War II.

This way, the war in Lebanon is separated from the war in the Gaza Strip, which has been conducted simultaneously, and which is going on unabated after the cease-fire in the North. Do these two wars have a common denominator? Are they, perhaps, one and the same war?

The answer is: certainly, yes. And the proper name is: the War for the Settlements.

The war against the Palestinian people is being waged in order to keep the "settlement blocs" and annex large parts of the West Bank . The war in the North was waged, in fact, to keep the settlements on the Golan Heights .

Hizbullah grew up with the support of Syria , which controlled Lebanon at the time. Hafez al-Assad saw the return of the Golan to Syria as the aim of his life - after all, it was he who lost them in the June 1967 war, and who did not succeed in getting them back in the October 1973 war. He did not want to risk another war on the Israel-Syria border, which is so close to Damascus . Therefore, he patronized Hizbullah, so as to convince Israel that it would have no quiet as long as it refused to give the Golan back. Assad Jr. is continuing with his father's legacy.

Without the cooperation of Syria , Iran has no direct way of supplying Hizbullah with arms.

The solution is on hand: we have to remove the settlers from there, whatever the cost in wines and mineral water, and give the Golan back to its rightful owners. Ehud Barak almost did so, but, as is his wont, lost his nerve at the last moment.

It has to be said aloud: every one of the 154 Israeli dead of Lebanon War II (until the cease-fire) died for the settlers on the Golan Heights .

THE 155TH Israeli victim of this war is the "Covergence Plan"--the plan for a unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank .

Ehud Olmert was elected four months ago (hard to believe! only four months!) on the platform of Convergence, much as Amir Peretz was elected on the platform of reducing the army and carrying out far-reaching social reforms.

In the course of the war, Olmert still announced that he would implement the "Convergence." But the day before yesterday he conceded that we could forget about it.

The Convergence was to remove 60,000 settlers from where they are, but to leave the almost 400,000 settlers in the West Bank (including the Jerusalem area). Now this plan has also been buried.

What remains? No peace, no negotiations, no solution at all for the historic conflict. Just a complete deadlock for years, at least until we get rid of the duo Olmert & Peretz.

All over Israel , they are already talking about the "Next Round," the war that will at long last eliminate Hizbullah and punish it for besmirching our honor. That has become, so it seems, a self-evident matter. Even Haaretz treats it as such in its editorials.

In the South, they don't speak about the "Next Round" because the present round is endless.

To have any value whatsoever, the investigation must expose the real roots of the war and present the public with the historic choice that has become clear in this war, too: Either the settlements and an endless war, or the return of the occupied territories and peace.

Otherwise, the investigation will only provide more backing for the outlook of the Right, to wit: we only have to expose the mistakes that have been made and correct them, then we can start the next war and win.

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Uri Avnery's picture
Columns on STR: 123

Uri Avnery is a peace activist.