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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 1/7/09

"This Time" is Like Last Time, Only Worse: Israel and Gaza

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Steven Erlanger of the New York Times writes today ("For Israel, 2006 Lessons but Old Pitfalls"):

"This time, Israeli military commanders are leading from the front, not trying to direct the infantry from television screens. This time, the military has clear plans, in stages, drawn up with a year’s preparation. This time, there is no illusion about winning a war only from the air. This time, the military chief of staff has kept his silence in public, all cellphones have been confiscated from Israeli soldiers, and the international press has been kept out of the battlefield.

"In these and many other ways, Israel is applying the lessons it learned from its failed 2006 war against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon to its current war against Hamas in Gaza. But Israel’s failure in Lebanon also stemmed from a political and diplomatic inability to decide on clear objectives for the outcome of the war, and here the lessons of Lebanon have been not so well applied, according to senior Israeli military officials and political analysts."

I am reminded in reading these opening lines of the lessons learned by the US government and military from the Vietnam War: bar the press from seeing anything (those nightly news broadcasts of actual fighting and atrocities sure didn't help the war effort, let's make sure the public only sees a Nintendo version of the war with lots of really smart bombs hitting civilian-absent targets), put boots on the ground and clean up what the bombs don't wipe out, prepare carefully ahead of time and bring overwhelming force to the effort (the (Colin) Powell Doctrine), don't let the soldiers say anything, and keep press briefings under tight control as talking points only.

These things work, to an extent. If your own citizens and the world community don't see it, they aren't going to be as alarmed and they aren't going to understand as much what a war, especially this kind of war, really looks like and the terrible suffering that civilians especially endure.

The problem is that no war is simply a technical affair settled by violent means. As Clausewitz is oft-quoted as saying: War is the continuation of politics by other, violent, means. 

For Israel and its US government backers/cheerleaders, it is more than relying solely on airpower et al. It is more than an inability by Israel to decide on a clear objective and more than their political and diplomatic shortcomings. As Erlanger relates:

"[T]here has been a big improvement in the coordination of ground and air forces, in clearer instructions to military units and in the way fresh intelligence is communicated to soldiers. The reserves have had far more training in combat tactics aimed at Gaza, have better equipment and were called up early.

“'Commanders have not had their instructions changed seven times a day,' the military officer said. Further, the 'home front' defense against rockets has been improved and there has been a much stronger effort to control the message and mask Israeli intentions."

But the lesson that Israel should have learned from 2006 is the one lesson that it refuses to learn:

You can't turn a sow's ear into gold. You can't take an unjust war and make it work and silence your adversaries by murdering them wholesale, no matter how overwhelming your force, how ruthlessly you punish your enemies, how technically proficient your means, how effectively you censor what's happening on the ground.  

Erlanger: "Barak is considered a strategic genius but makes simple, fatal mistakes..."

Israel - and its backer/sponsor/subsidizer/cheerleader the US government - are making and continue to make simple, fatal mistakes - in Gaza, in Lebanon, in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

Like the proverbial Colossus (or Goliath), they have feet of clay. 

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Cal Poly Pomona Sociology Professor. Author of "Globalization and the Demolition of Society," co-editor/author (with Peter Phillips) of "Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney." National Steering Committee Member of the World Can't (more...)
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