Student Union opens ‘hasbara’ room in effort to fill public diplomacy vacuum.
This column is being submitted on Monday morning, as Israel’s cease-fire with Hizbullah takes effect, and is based upon events up to that time.
During a recent trip to Israel, I couldn’t help but notice the dearth of fellow visitors and think of the many religiously observant American Jews who stridently demand that Israel never cede any land.
A few days ago in a Manhattan restaurant, two men at the next table were strongly criticizing Israel’s failure to send thousands of reservists deep into Lebanon.
I opposed last year’s Gaza withdrawal, and have serious concerns about the Olmert government’s performance during Israel’s war against Hizbullah. Yet it’s hard to avoid the sense that many politically right-wing American Jews want IDF soldiers to risk and sacrifice their lives while they themselves avoid taking even minimal risks for Israel.
* * *
Around ten days into the war, while I was in Israel, a friend of mine told me his boss had been called into reservist combat duty on almost no notice. According to my friend, his boss is around 40 years old, somewhat out of shape, and had not been in combat in years.
Perhaps this is a mere anecdote involving one IDF soldier, but it might also suggest troubling military complacency. Why weren’t reservists who were, in the event of war, to fight in Lebanon, given more military training so that they would be adequately prepared for battle against Hizbullah?
Further, the only previous on-the-ground fighting experience of Israel’s regular combat units (i.e., the 18-21 year olds serving their three years of army service) came against Palestinian terrorists in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.
It is understandable that in recent years combat units have primarily been trained to fight Palestinian terror. At the same time, it is legitimate to ask whether Israel was too hasty in going into a war its ground forces were not fully prepared to fight, and whether it was necessary to commence the war within hours after Hizbullah’s July 12 attack.
* * *
It is difficult to understand the lack of confidentiality with which Israel conducted the war. Anyone could turn on FOX or CNN and immediately find out exactly where soldiers were deployed and where Hizbullah’s latest barrage of rockets fell. Worse, also in real time, Israel announced what it would be doing and when.
While Israel seeks to provide free access to the media, it must never compromise the element of surprise, risk the effectiveness of military operations, or unnecessarily put soldiers in any additional jeopardy.
On the diplomatic front, the leaks emanating out of Israel were no less lamentable. Throughout last week there were constant leaks indicating that Israel was ready to accept a cease-fire, with anonymous sources “close to the Israeli government” routinely being quoted. Needless to say, that did not improve Israel’s leverage in the sensitive negotiations of ceasefire terms.
On the political front, newspaper reports included particular details of debates between various cabinet ministers, with a scorecard of who voted for what and who said what during security cabinet meetings.
As a longtime fan of the New York Jets football team, I find it disturbing – for Israel, of course – that the Jets are operated with considerably greater secrecy than is Israel at war.
* * *
Whether it’s political spin or wishful thinking, some Israelis are exaggerating the value of UN assurances to Israel.
For example, in a Wall Street Journal column last week, Michael Oren, whose military and political analysis is usually right on target, argued that even if Israel did not win a decisive military victory over Hizbullah, it could achieve “a breakthrough for Israeli diplomacy.”
In the past, Oren wrote, Israel had won its wars but lost “the subsequent diplomatic contests.” Referring to Israel’s War of Independence, Oren argued that “Israel defeated six Arab armies and yet at the end of the fighting merely achieved armistice agreements.”
Yet those armistice agreements allowed Israel to permanently retain all of the territory captured in the War of Independence, significantly more than what Israel was to receive under the 1947 UN partition plan. That was a diplomatic victory.
Next, Oren submitted that even Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War failed to achieve diplomatic gains. In fact, UN Resolution 242 did not require an unconditional Israeli withdrawal from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, Gaza, Sinai and the Golan Heights. In addition, Israel’s right to exist in “secure borders” was recognized by the UN. That too was a diplomatic victory.
Oren’s claim that Israel has been unable “to make military capital yield diplomatic dividends” ignored the peace treaty with Egypt, which was a direct result of the outcomes of the 1967 and 1973 wars. Similarly, the long-term cessation of hostilities with Jordan, culminating in a peace treaty in 1995, was a direct result of the military defeat of Jordan in 1967 and the peace agreement with Egypt.
Overstating the potential benefits of a UN resolution calling for a ceasefire between Israel and Hizbullah, Oren wrote that an international force mandated by the UN “can expel all terrorist elements” between Israel and Lebanon’s Litani River, “and enforce an international embargo on the sale and supply of arms to Hizbullah.” (In fairness to Oren, the draft resolution he described was amended in response to Arab League demands, with the actual resolution passed last Friday more favorable to Hizbullah.)
Let’s hope Oren is right, but his optimism appears naïve. Why should a force primarily comprised of troops from Europe be expected to expel Hizbullah and prevent its acquisition of arms, particularly given the EU’s refusal to designate Hizbullah as a terrorist group?
Military victory does not assure diplomatic gain, but Israel’s history shows that in the absence of a full peace treaty, it must rely on its own soldiers rather than an international force to deter and defeat the enemy. Both in the Sinai between the 1956 war until their withdrawal upon Egypt’s demand in 1967, and in Lebanon, where they have been stationed since 1978, UN forces have been ineffective at best.
About the Author: Joseph Schick is producer of “Jerusalem ’67” (www.jerusalem67.com), a narrative feature film currently in development. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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