Israel Between War and Peace
Patrick Seale Al-Hayat - 10/10/08//
The violently contradictory signals coming out of Israel these days point to the troublesome -- and so far unresolved -- debate among the country's leaders about how Israel should live in the Middle East. Israel professes to want peace, yet it works tirelessly to prepare for war.
Militarily, Israel is immensely strong. Yet its sense of vulnerability is so acute that it seems unable to feel secure unless the Arabs around it are on their knees. Such contradictions suggest an advanced form of national schizophrenia.
At the heart of the debate is Israel's worry that its much-vaunted deterrent capability has been eroded by Hizballah in Lebanon, by Hamas in Gaza and by the rising power of Iran. From the creation of the state, Israel has sought - and achieved -- military domination over the entire region. The suggestion that this supremacy may not be eternal, and that new security thinking may be required, is causing painful ructions among Israel's strategic planners.
Ehud Olmert, the outgoing prime minister, personifies this mental turmoil. In a long parting interview with Yedioth Ahronot, which has attracted considerable international interest, Olmert acknowledged that Israel now had a brief opportunity - 'a time so short as to cause terrible distress' - in which to reach an historic agreement with the Palestinians and Syria.
He spelled out that this would necessarily mean an Israeli withdrawal 'from almost all the territories, if not all the territories…including in Jerusalem.' Because 'without that there will be no peace.' The goal, he said, 'was to try to reach for the first time the delineation of an exact border line between us and the Palestinians where the whole world … will say… these are Israel's borders, and these are the recognized borders of the Palestinian state.'
Olmert was equally categorical on the subject of peace with Syria: 'I want to see whether there is one serious person in the State of Israel who believes that peace can be made with the Syrians without ultimately giving up the Golan Heights.'
He also showed extraordinary candour about Iran by suggesting that the things Israel had been saying about that country - no doubt he meant its attempts to demonize and threaten it and to whip up international opinion against it -- were really symptoms of Israeli 'megalomania.' 'We are a country,' Olmert said, 'that has lost a sense of proportion about itself.'
These are admirable sentiments -- if Olmert is to be believed. But, as so often with him, his words were immediately belied by his actions. This week he hurried off to Moscow to urge President Dimitri Medvedev not to sell anti-aircraft systems to either Iran or Syria. Clearly, Israel alone in the Middle East has the right to defend itself.
At the same time, however, Israel is to take possession of America's most advanced warplane, the supersonic stealth F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in a deal, valued at over $15bn., for 25 aircraft, with an option on a further 50.
Israel will thus be the first non-NATO country to acquire this latest generation strike fighter, greatly enhancing its already overwhelming air superiority over all its neighbours. This is in addition to its 200 or so nuclear warheads, the cruise missiles on its submarines, and the rest of its formidable arsenal.
As if this were not enough, the U.S. Army has deployed - or is preparing to deploy - an advanced American radar system in the Negev, operated at least initially by American crews. It is apparently intended to allow early detection of incoming Iranian missiles - although there is no evidence that Iran has the ability, the intention or the suicidal urge to launch any such attack. The Israeli press has suggested that the real reason for the deployment of the radar system is to compensate Israel for Washington's opposition to an attack on Iran.
Has Israel given up its plans to hit Iran's nuclear facilities? Bernard Kouchner, France's foreign minister, evidently thinks not. On a visit to Israel last week, he told Haaretz that 'Israel has always said that it will not wait for the [Iranian] bomb to be ready. The Iranians know it. The whole world knows it.' The military option, however, was 'not a solution,' he added. It was 'a danger, but a possibility.' This was not the firm message against the use of force which one might have expected France to deliver.
In his interview with Yedioth Ahronot, Olmert assured Israelis that 'the strength we have today is great, and it is sufficient to face any threat.' He added, however, that 'now we have to see how we use this infrastructure of force in order to build peace and not to win a war.'
But of serious peace-making, there is as yet no sign. Tzipi Livni, the new head of the centrist Kadima party, is laboring in the bear garden of Israeli politics to form a working coalition. After playing hard to get, Labour's leader Ehud Barak now seems inclined to join her. However, to bring Shas, the Sephardi party, on board, Livni has apparently pledged not to engage in negotiations over Jerusalem with the Palestinians. At a stroke, this rules out the possibility of any agreement with them.
While Olmert speaks of the urgent need for peace, other Israelis threaten a devastating war. In an interview with Yedioth Ahronot a week ago, General Gadi Eisenkot, head of Israel's Northern Command warned: 'We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction…This is a plan that has already been authorized.'
Other hawks, such as Major General (Res.) Giora Eiland, a former head of the National Security Council, believes the Lebanese government should be told bluntly that, in the next war, Israel will destroy the Lebanese army together with Lebanon's civilian infrastructure.
Meanwhile, Mossad chief Meir Dagan continues his efforts to destabilize Israel's neighbours. Among the many operations attributed to him, the Israeli press has mentioned the preparations for the Israeli air strike in September 2007 against a Syrian military building, which the U.S. and Israel claimed was a nuclear facility; the murder in Syria of Imad Mughniyeh, a senior Hizballah operative; and the destruction near Tehran of an Iranian Revolutionary Guard convoy, which was allegedly delivering weapons to Hizballah.
This week, Yemen's President Ali Abdallah Saleh claimed that a 'terrorist cell' linked to Israeli intelligence had been dismantled. Operating under the 'slogan of Islam', six of its members had been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the 17 September attack on the American Embassy in Sanaa, which left 18 people dead.
Israel has rejected the accusation as 'ridiculous', but mobilizing the United States against 'radical Islam' - and by extension against the Arabs - has long been Israeli policy. Could this be another 'false flag' operation like the Lavon affair of 1954, when Israeli agents bombed the U.S. Information Agency libraries in Cairo and Alexandria and a British-owned theatre in order to turn the United States and Britain against Egypt's leader, Colonel Nasser?
For all Olmert's fine words, peace still seems very distant.