The Israeli/French Jewish soldier Gilad Shalit, whose capture by Palestinians in the last week of June 2006 triggered an all-out Israeli war against the mostly civilian population of Gaza, became in one night more famous than the Austrian/Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who was assassinated by the “Black Hand” or “Young Bosnia” in the last week of June 1914, and his assassination triggered the first World War. However, regardless of how much more famous one is over the other, the fact remains that both of them embody a pretext for launching bloody wars that seemed to be planned well in advance. The first lasted four years, while the prognosis for the ongoing war on Gaza is uncertain. If we are to go by Olmert’s recent words, we should brace ourselves for a long haul as the invasion “could go on indefinitely”.
In this crazy game, one is not sure whether it is better or worse that the main two political players behind this invasion are insecure amateurs. Neither Olmert nor Peretz have any experience in warfare, which is very seldom for Israel, used to being ruled by experienced military generals who have proved themselves in the handful of wars that Israel has fought. Beside their obvious inadequate military background, both leaders are politically confused to boot. Their political discourse is weak and contradictory and they face severe criticism from their opponents, friends and allies alike for their poor performance in handling the current crisis.
Peretz, who was extremely unprepared to lead the military machine of Israel, found himself also under pressure from his subordinates- the generals - who were pushing him to maintain the face of the undefeated and the fourth strongest army on the planet.
Their confusion was clear when the aims of their invasion of Gaza began to chop and change willy-nilly. In the beginning, it was declared that they wanted to free the captured soldier but then they expanded the mandate to include stopping the rockets fired at Sderot and after that they added the aim of destroying the government of Hamas. They launched this haphazard campaign with the acquiescence and blessing of the international community using the old/new slogan of security and the right of Israel to defend its citizens.
Of course, any country has the right to defend its citizens but not when they are on foreign soil fighting and terrorising others! Tell me, which Israeli citizens are being defended by Israel killing more than 80 Palestinians and injuring more than 200, the overwhelming majority of which were unarmed civilians, since the beginning of the Gaza invasion three weeks ago?
The relentless shelling and air strikes has not brought Israel a single inch closer to their declared and undeclared aim(s) of the invasion: The soldier has not been freed; an average of six kitchen-made rockets are still being fired towards Israel on a daily basis and the Hamas government is still intact and is earning more and more Palestinian, Arab and Muslim public support by the hour.
And what if this indefinite invasion will never bring the desired results? What if the soldier will continue to be held and Hamas will not collapse and the kitchen-made rockets will continue to be fired on Israel? What will happen?
Olmert and Peretz have put their careers at risk by applying the same strategy Israel has used since its creation - the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force - and they will fall down if the invasion is perceived as a failure by the Israeli public. These two hapless players are paving the way for a regional war that who knows where or when would end.
Now Hizballah has managed to capture two soldiers and kill eight others in what was described as a very well-planned and well-executed military operation on the Israeli-Lebanese border. Again the same two amateurs skipped the whole lesson learning process and plunged Israel headfirst into a war against civilians and the civilian infrastructure of Lebanon. More than 50 civilians, including 15 children were killed and more than 100 injured in the first dawn air attack.
Does Israel really believe that by bombing Beirut airport and blocking the Lebanese seafront, it will secure the release of their valued soldiers? Does it not remember its painful prisoner swap past with Hizballah? In the past 24 years, including 18 years of immense military aggression in Lebanon, in its dealings with Hizballah, Israel has only ever managed to secure the release of captured Israelis after releasing Lebanese prisoners or by exchanging body bags for body bags.
What is Israel playing at? Olmert/Peretz must think that by hurting and killing Lebanese civilians and destroying Lebanese infrastructure, the Lebanese will revolt against Hizballah. Yet it must know that this warfare will be harder and tougher than in Gaza. Hizballah is not only much more experienced than the Palestinians, but it is better supported, better equipped, it has a strong leadership and it works on their own soil. Israel must know that Hizballah can balance the terror.
By striking Lebanon, Israel is potentially triggering a domino resistance effect in the region. If resistance spreads throughout the Middle East, it will take a lot more time and effort to defuse it than they may be speculating. Moreover, it will influence the situation in many Arab countries, especially in Iraq, and will sharpen the resistance there too. This irresponsible aggression might jeopardise Americans’ designs on the region too.
Israel is like a stubborn child who refuses to see the link between playing with fire and getting its fingers burnt. It does not want to learn that violence and the use of force cannot secure the safety of its people or the State. It does not want to learn that its safety and security is inextricably linked to the safety and security of its neighbours.
Perpetrating unnecessary violence and killing innocent civilians will never bring it peace. This is a glaringly obvious lesson that Israel has doggedly ignored, which leads one to return to the long-realised conclusion that Israel simply does not want peace. A large portion of its citizens may yearn for peace, but its governments and the military system which permeates almost all aspects of society have been endorsing unabated warfare as the only means for state-survival since its creation. Keeping the region destabilised and maintaining its position as the most powerful military might in the Middle East are the only cards Israel has ever been playing. Yet the game becomes more and more costly and, like the child who plays with fire, Israel will eventually be forced to learn the lesson the hard way.
Rifat Odeh Kassis is a Palestinian human rights activist and president of Defense for Children International.