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The Grand Old Duke of York

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Oh the Grand Old Duke of York
He had ten thousand men
He marched them up to the top of the hill
And he marched them down again
And when they were up they were up
And when they were down they were down
And when they were only half way up
They were neither up nor down.

Now, I know I am no military expert. I know I don’t have the full picture, and I know I am a total armchair critic. But from where I am sitting, Israel’s campaign against Hezbollah looks just like the Duke of York’s, Go, Stop, Go, Stop, Up, Down, Up and back Down again. If Israel was given a carte blanche by the USA to go get Hezbollah, they failed and have proved a weak ally for America in the war against terror. We saw poor leadership, indecisive command, no plan, and a final capitulation to a settlement that cannot and will not, in a million years, work.

The UN motion 1701 is a pathetic joke and already a dead letter. As dead as all its previous resolutions on Lebanon, 425 (1978), 426 (1978), 520 (1982), 1559 (2004), 1655 (2006), 1680 (2006) and 1697 (2006), none of which was ever adhered to. It has never ever, ever succeeded in any peacekeeping mission, in any disarmament, in any role it has been given. Its motion has already proved to be dishonest and fake. As for the French, big on talk, weak on action, remember they ran out of Lebanon when Hezbollah last said “boo” to them. And no doubt you know the shortest book in the world is the Italian Army Book of War Heroes. Anyway, they are not even empowered to disarm Hezbollah. Who will? The Lebanese Army, that ‘Dad’s Army’ of incompetents who dared not confront Hezbollah up till now, and whose only fighting men actually happen to be members of Hezbollah, themselves? Indeed the Prime Minister (who looks permanently terrified) declared that Hezbollah IS Lebanon. And it has only given significantly added status, authority, and influence to Iran and Syria in the Arab world.

The kidnapped soldiers have not been returned. Hezbollah’s pretext of Israeli occupation of the Sheba Farms was rejected by the United Nations itself, time after time, on the grounds that they belong to Syria. Just watch, now how they will do a volte-face and declare they are Lebanese. I wrote a month ago that whatever the outcome is the UN must not be left in place. And lo and behold there they and Annan are, back in, licking the backsides of the Iranians, the Syrians, and Hezbollah.

Israel has descended into materialist corruption. We knew Olmert was just a manipulative and manipulated politician (and now apparently financially suspect too), but we prayed he’d grow into the job. We believed the Israeli Army was super efficient and well informed. Now we realize it is not. Its generals are more interested in their stocks and shares. Stores were stripped and apparently robbed. Soldiers were not properly trained or briefed. Equipment was ancient compared to Hezbollah’s. Olmert and Peretz have both been reminiscent of Levi Eshkol, the non-military ditherer who followed Ben Gurion and couldn’t decide if he wanted tea or coffee so used to ask for “half and half”. Israel has had it too good, firing at stone throwers, and has taken its eye off the ball the way it did before the Yom Kippur war, except this time there was no Sharon to salvage some pride. Many of the soldiers didn’t have the fight in them and some were happy to declare to the worlds press that they just wanted to get back to the night clubs of Tel Aviv.

This is no longer a struggle with the Palestinians. It is a battle for survival with a much larger and more powerful and more fanatical foe. Perhaps the religious black hats are right that prayer and study can achieve what arms cannot. Meanwhile, there had better be a really thorough postmortem. At least an intelligent army learns from its mistakes and will be better prepared next time.

OK, that’s one way of looking at it.

The other way goes like this. Most nations agreed Israel was provoked and had a right to respond. But no one wanted to get bogged down in alien territory again. In fact OImert wisely avoided committing too many men and thus avoided too many unnecessary casualties. The losses were in the main a painful necessity that revealed a great deal about the enemy’s tactics, strongholds, and behind-the-scenes support.

Thomas L. Friedman, who knows Lebanon extremely well, argues that after the dust and the chauvinism have settled, people will ask what Hezbollah’s fanaticism has actually achieved. They may even come to realize the despicable immorality of using women and children as cover for the storage and firing of missiles (though I wouldn’t bet on it).

Israel has shown that although it suffered significantly it can still bomb its enemy states to smithereens. Only by living in underground bunkers and coming up occasionally for a hit-and-run or by using remote controlled rockets could Hezbollah put up any kind of fight. Israel’s integrity as a state has not been undermined one iota. It has lost no territory. Hezbollah has not helped the Palestinian cause. It has not helped the Lebanese and it has shown to everyone that Iran is a real and present danger that must be confronted one way or another.

Olmert indeed was a canny politician. The Duke of York was not such a fool after all. It’s better to march up and march safely back down than do a Charge of the Light Brigade. He feinted and calculated to ensure that others get involved in Lebanon more seriously and obviously than up to now. Israel can still go back in if necessary, but at least it has cleared away a significant part of the Maginot line that the Lebanese clearly encouraged Hezbollah to build.

Frankly, if this is what the world calls defeat, I’ll take it any day. The Arab leadership have always been big loudmouths pretending everything is one glorious victory for Allah after another. Meanwhile, their countries slide farther and farther back into medieval barbarism. Israel still has its lands and army intact and fewer casualties than its annual roster of traffic deaths.

And as for world opinion, or the laughable UN Human Rights hypocrites, we have known all along where we stand. We have seen the dishonest biases and faked photographs and Der Sturmer caricatures and the craven politicians before. Israel itself was founded precisely because we knew we were the only ones who would fight for our own survival, and we have. We are commanded to remember Amalek in each generation and we know as soon as one threat is over another is spawned. It has always been thus. And our enemies are both hidden and revealed, overt and covert, throughout the world.

At least Israel and by implication the Jews, are empowered. Ben Gurion was right to insist on a nuclear deterrent. If people like Vanunu had their way, we’d be defenceless in the face of Iranian nuclear power. One must not take a short-term view. The full impact of this campaign will not be realized for some time yet. We must not give in to jingoism and the natural desire to have our enemies bloodied for all to see. God and History work according to their timetables, not ours. Mistakes ? A Jewish religious response is to ask where we could have done, should have done better in the military, in social attitudes and values and to try to put things right.

Often what looks like victory turns into a defeat and vice versa. What if this campaign leads improbably towards a genuine peaceful settlement? What if the realization that rockets and missiles can fly over the securest of borders, leads to a final agreement on national integrities? What if this is the moment when everyone finally agrees that force is not the answer for ever? What if it brings an end to occupation, assassinations, checkpoints, fences and homicide bombs? Some people on both sides have tried before and failed. But as our prophets (“May they praised”–and why can’t we say it too?!!) tell us, “Out of agony springs hope.” Out of the rubble a flower may grow. Can’t we dream?

And if not, at least we live to fight (and hope) another day.

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