Monday, August 28, 2006

From failure in Iraq to defeat in Gaza

By Akiva Eldar

After weeks of distress, the weekend polls finally offered a bit of comfort to Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu's depressed friends in the Bush administration and the neoconservative think tanks in Washington. Ehud Olmert disappointed them when he counted to 10 before sending soldiers into the killing fields of Lebanon. The Israel Defense Forces also failed to deliver the goods in the war against the "Axis of Evil."

But behold, the polls reveal that the nation dwelling in Zion has finally sobered up from the delusion of peace. The mortal blows absorbed by both the front lines and the home front did not make Israelis understand the limits of force. They were not, heaven forbid, dragged in the wake of those defeatist intellectuals who refuse to recognize the Middle Eastern reality and beat their pens into swords. The masses are coming home, to their Bibi, the best student in the class, the one who knows how to deal with the Arabs. And to Avigdor Lieberman as well.

The failure of the second Lebanon War, like the problematic results of the unilateral disengagement from Gaza, has many fathers, both civilian and military. They will presumably be called to account over their flawed decisions, faulty protective measures and poor provisioning. But George Bush and his people, whose policies have contributed to the deterioration of Israel's national security, will not only emerge unscathed; their Israeli branch will once again flourish on the ruins of the Galilee and be nourished by the army's failures. Yet their failed "democratization," which threatens the governmental stability of many states in the region, will bring to power a coalition that will perpetuate the occupation and legitimize transfer in the country that is (still) considered the only democracy in the Middle East.

In a lengthy article published in American Prospect Online, Flynt Leverett, who served during Bush's first term as senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council and a member of the State Department's policy planning staff, described the wonders of the president's Middle East policies. Leverett recalled that following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, countries such as Syria and Iran offered to help thwart Al-Qaida and Taliban terrorism. He and his colleagues in the State Department recommended accepting this offer, on the assumption that tactical cooperation with these countries would pave the way for persuading them to abandon terrorist activity against Israel. The quid pro quo would have been a return to a positive strategic relationship with the United States and the advancement of a credible plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But Bush and his advisers preferred to use the stick and skip the carrots. They decided to impose the democratic system on the Arab nations by force. There were no discounts and no exceptions, not even for the occupied Palestinian people or the minority Alawite government in Syria.

Dr. Leverett, who is currently a senior researcher in Washington's Brookings Institute, recalled that during one internal discussion, Bush expressed confidence that democratization would promote an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. How? "By shaping a Palestinian leadership more focused on internal governance (i.e., providing services such as collecting garbage) and less 'hung up' on final-status issues like territory, settlements, and Jerusalem."

And what happened when democratic elections brought Hamas to power? America boycotted the elected government and demanded that the Palestinian president dissolve it, for the greater glory of democratization and the stability of the Middle East.

No commission of inquiry will prevent the next Katyusha attack on Kiryat Shmona or the Qassam fire on Sderot. In the best case, if the government implements its recommendations, fewer fighters will be killed in the next war in the north and fewer civilians will be hurt in the conflict in the south. The correct way to achieve security was and remains strengthening the pragmatic Arab-Israeli coalition vis-a-vis the fanatic Arab-Iranian coalition.

This change of strategic direction will not be achieved by bringing to power the Israeli neoconservatives - people who share the American worldview that led the Middle East from failure in Iraq to defeat in Gaza. If that turns out to be the protest movement's contribution, the IDF's demand for a NIS 30 billion budget supplement must be taken seriously, in order to prepare for the war that is just around the corner.


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