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Clichéd postmortems analyzing Israel’s failure to deal Hezbollah a clear defeat miss the point in blaming Prime Minister Olmert’s lack of military experience or native ineptness. The key reasons for Israel’s poor performance are deeper and far more ideological.
True, Olmert lacked the military background of certain of his predecessors. But defending a country is more an issue of strategic judgment than a question of whether or for how long a person wore fatigues. Ronald Reagan, who never saw battle, defeated the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Moreover, Olmert, a calculating man, is hardly inept or disorganized.
Rather, Israel lost – or at least did not win – the war because the core liberal-secular beliefs of its leaders made them too militarily cautious in confronting the cult of death represented by Hizbullah. Morale, more so than Merkava tanks, determines which side better understands the end game of war and accordingly musters the nerve to make the necessary sacrifices. In other words, modern guerrilla warfare is as much about ideology as F-16s, which is why Hizbullah fanaticism triumphed over Olmert’s secular mindset.
Like all thinking people, Olmert is driven by basic political and social values. While believing himself strongly committed to the security of Israel, he is also very much a product of contemporary Western culture – its notion of acceptable nationalism, its emphasis on diplomatic rather than military solutions, its distaste for military violence.
Since Olmert is not an observant Jew, his understanding of political right and wrong in a global culture is similar to that of respectable secular-minded American Jewish liberals. One group speaks and thinks in Hebrew, the other in English – but both operate under the same assumptions and reach the same conclusions in the articles penned by their academics and the reporting and editorializing in their elite newspapers and opinion journals.
(In my despair during the fighting, I amused myself by substituting Olmert with certain American Jewish liberals whose reputations are marked by a reluctance to take the battle too forcefully to the enemy, i.e., Michigan Senator Carl Levin and Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger.)
“White guilt in the West,” writes historian Shelby Steele (Wall Street Journal, August 22, 2006), prevents the Left from facing up to Islamic extremism. “The West is so terrified of being charged with its old sins of racism, imperialism, and colonialism that it makes oppression an automatic prism on the non-Western world”
How much was this endemic sense of liberal guilt responsible for Olmert’s failure to use the full force of the Israeli military? What was the relationship between his advocacy of convergence (withdrawal from parts of the West Bank from which future rocketing of Israel could take place in exchange for nothing from the other side) while battles were still underway, and his complacent use of infantry on the ground? Did he feel some doubt about the rightness of annihilating the invaders for fear of being called an oppressor?
Olmert’s ideologically liberal mindset provides a context for understanding Israel’s inability to defeat an extremist enemy with a take-no-prisoners mentality. Throughout the fighting, Olmert’s message cast doubt on the legitimacy of Israel’s cause. Given Hizbullah’s apocalyptic commitment to the mass murder of the infidel Jews, Olmert’s deliberately limited response (reminiscent of Lyndon Johnson’s defeatist “limited war” strategy in Vietnam), the case could be made that he was worn down at some level by trendy liberal support for “oppressed” peoples.
A militarily committed prime minister would never have handed over the Ministry of Defense to a union boss holding Peace Now credentials. In response to Hizbullah’s act of war, Olmert’s original puny goal was to secure four villages and a strip of territory six miles wide and 2.5 miles along the border. Instead of threatening Hizbullah’s Syrian arms supplier, Israel repeatedly made clear that it would not attack Damascus. The decision to call up reserves came only after public pressure.
Even so, Olmert’s deputy prime minister, the tiresome Shimon Peres, voted against the plan to move thousands of troops into Lebanon, arguing that Israel should rely on diplomacy, the liberals’ favorite tack for dealing with military violence. Not to be outdone, Olmert also showed his penchant for diplomacy over military force when, after a public outcry, Israel finally called up some 30,000 troops.
About the Author: Ron Rubin is professor of political science at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York. He is the author of several books including “The Unredeemed” and “Anything for a T-Shirt: Fred Lebow and the New York City Marathon, the World's Greatest Footrace.”
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At some point we need to stop simply defending and promoting Israel and start living in Israel
“We Jews are the only people who when we drop a book on the floor pick it up and kiss it.”
Though Zaide was the publisher of The Jewish Press, a big newspaper,I always remember him learning
He spent the first leg of his daylong visit to the French capital at Hyper Cacher.
Drawing Congress into the Iran nuclear debate is the last thing the White House wants.
Great leaders like Miriam and like Sarah Schenirer possess the capacity to challenge the status quo that confronts them.
Obama’s foreign policy is viewed by both liberals and conservatives as deeply flawed
Many journalists are covertly blaming the Charlie Hebdo writers themselves through self-censorship.
Why does the Times relay different motivations and narratives for jihadists in Europe and Israel?
To defeat parasites-the hosts of terrorists-we need to deny them new people, potential terrorists
Combating Amalek doesn’t mean all who disagree with you is evil-rather whom to follow and to oppose
Desperate people take what they can, seizing opportunity to advance their main goal; the Arabs don’t
For two thousand years, Jews exiled from their homeland and lacking political sovereignty were easy targets for elitist rulers on the right and the pseudo-egalitarian mob on the left. When Emancipation came and Jews exited the ghettos, Jewish self-made pitfalls were no less horrific, as many embraced the trendy “isms” of secular society only to spiritually assimilate and disappear from history. Yet despite the persecutions, on the one hand, and the enticements of some host countries’ cultures, on the other, the Jewish nation lives.
Though the ranks of single-issue pro-Israel Jewish voters (they comprise perhaps one-fourth of the Jewish electorate) have contracted as a result of mounting assimilation, those voters have nonetheless learned a lot over the past sixteen years.
Given his swaggered walk and ineloquent delivery, George W. Bush is an easy one to underestimate. But pundits and politicians do so at their own peril, cases in point being Al Gore and John Kerry, two gentlemen who like to think of themselves as high cultivated and erudite.
Having spent earlier sabbaticals here in Israel, I knew the subject of aliyah loomed as a background issue but hardly expected the untold ways it would recast itself.
At the restaurant farewell dinner, Professor Dov Zlotnick asked the dozen or so students of his forty-year-running Saturday afternoon Talmud shiur to continue their learning despite his approaching retirement to Jerusalem.
Thanks to Fred Lebow, founder of the New York City Marathon, some 500,000 Americans will run in marathons this year. In my book Anything for a T-Shirt: Fred Lebow and the New York City Marathon, the World’s Greatest Footrace (Syracuse University Press, 2004), I show how Lebow, a Holocaust survivor, changed the notion of this 26.2 mile race, which this year will be held on Sunday, Nov. 5, from a grueling, sweaty showcase for elite runners into a people’s competition.
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