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A Nice Little War Gets Out of Hand

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Message Uri Avnery
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It is the old story about the losing gambler: he cannot stop. He continues to play, in order to win his losses back. He continues to lose and continues to gamble, until he has lost everything: his ranch, his wife, his shirt.

The same thing happens in the biggest gamble of all: war. The leaders that start a war and get stuck in the mud are compelled to fight their way ever deeper into the mud. That is a part of the very essence of war: it is impossible to stop after a failure. Public opinion demands the promised victory. Incompetent generals need to cover up their failure. Military commentators and other armchair strategists demand a massive offensive. Cynical politicians are riding the wave. The government is carried away by the flood that they themselves have let loose.

That is what happened this week, following the battle of Bint-Jbail, which the Arabs have already started to call proudly Nasrallahgrad. All over Israel the cry goes up: get into it! Quicker! Further! Deeper!

A day after the bloody battle, the cabinet decided on a massive mobilization of the reserves. What for? The ministers do not know. But it does not depend on them any more, nor on the generals. The political and military leadership is tossed about on the waves of war like a boat without a rudder.

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As has been said before: it is much easier to start a war than to finish one. The cabinet believes that it controls the war, but in reality it is the war that controls them. They have mounted a tiger, and can't be sure of getting off without being torn to pieces.

War has its own rules. Unexpected things happen and dictate the next moves. And the next moves tend to be in one direction: escalation.

Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, the father of this war, thought that he could eliminate Hezbollah by means of the air force, the most sophisticated, most efficient, and the generally most-most air force in the world. A few days of massive pounding, thousands of tons of bombs on neighborhoods, roads, electricity works and ports -" and that's it.

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Well, that wasn't it, as it turned out. The Hezbollah rockets continued to land in the north of Israel, hundreds a day. The public cried out. There was no way round a ground operation. First, small, elite units were put in. That did not help. Then brigades were deployed. And now whole divisions are demanded.

First, they wanted to annihilate the Hezbollah positions along the border. When it was seen that that was not enough, it was decided to conquer the hills that dominate the border. There, the Hezbollah fighters were waiting and caused heavy casualties. And the rockets continued to fly.

Now the generals are convinced that there is no alternative to occupying the whole area up to the Litani River, about 15 miles from the border, in order to prevent the rockets from being launched from there. Then they will find out that they have to reach the Awali River, 25 miles inside -" the famous 25 miles Menachem Begin talked about in 1982.

And then? The Israeli army will be extended over a large area, and everywhere it will be exposed to guerrilla attacks, of the sort Hezbollah excels in. And the missiles will continue to fly.

What next? One cannot stop. Public opinion will demand more decisive moves. Political demagogues will shout. Commentators will grumble. The people in the shelters will cry out. The generals will feel the heat. One cannot keep tens of thousands of reserve soldiers mobilized indefinitely. It is impossible to prolong a situation that paralyzes a third of the country.

Everybody will clamor to storm forwards. Where to? Toward Beirut in the north? Or toward Damascus, in the east?

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The cabinet ministers recite in unison: No! Never ever! We shall not attack Syria!

Perhaps some of them really don't intend to. They do not dream of a war with Syria. Definitely not. But the ministers only delude themselves when they believe that they control the war. The war controls them.

When it becomes clear that nothing is helping, that Hezbollah goes on fighting and the rockets continue to fly, the political and military leadership will face bankruptcy. They will need to pin the blame on somebody. On who? Well, on Syrian President Bashar Assad, of course.

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Uri Avnery is a longtime Israeli peace activist. Since 1948 has advocated the setting up of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In 1974, Uri Avnery was the first Israeli to establish contact with PLO leadership. In 1982 he was the first Israeli ever to meet Yassir Arafat, after crossing the lines in besieged Beirut. He served three terms in the (more...)
 

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