[Marxism] Uri Avnery on riding the tiger

Marvin Gandall marvgandall at videotron.ca
Sun Jul 30 06:53:55 MDT 2006

(Posted on LBO list)

In the Gunsight: Syria! or: A Nice Little War


IT IS the old story about the losing gambler: he cannot stop. He continues 
to play, in order to win his losses back. He continues to lose and continues 
to gamble, until he has lost everything: his ranch, his wife, his shirt.

The same thing happens in the biggest gamble of all: war. The leaders that 
start a war and get stuck in the mud are compelled to fight their way ever 
deeper into the mud. That is a part of the very essence of war: it is 
impossible to stop after a failure. Public opinion demands the promised 
victory. Incompetent generals need to cover up their failure. Military 
commentators and other armchair strategists demand a massive offensive. 
Cynical politicians are riding the wave. The government is carried away by 
the flood that they themselves have let loose.

That is what happened this week, following the battle of Bint-Jbeil, which 
the Arabs have already started to call proudly Nasrallahgrad. All over 
Israel the cry goes up: Get into it! Quicker! Further! Deeper!

A day after the bloody battle, the cabinet decided on a massive mobilization 
of the reserves. What for? The ministers do not know. But it does not depend 
on them anymore, nor on the generals. The political and military leadership 
is tossed about on the waves of war like a boat without a rudder.

As has been said before: it is much easier to start a war than to finish 
one. The cabinet believes that it controls the war, but in reality it is the 
war that controls them. They have mounted a tiger, and can't be sure of 
getting off without being torn to pieces.

War has its own rules. Unexpected things happen and dictate the next moves. 
And the next moves tend to be in one direction: escalation.

DAN HALUTZ, the father of this war, thought that he could eliminate 
Hizbullah by means of the Air Force, the most sophisticated, most efficient 
and the generally most-most air force in the world. A few days of massive 
pounding, thousands of tons of bombs on neighborhoods, roads, electricity 
works and ports - and that's it.

Well, that wasn't it, as it turned out. The Hizbullah rockets continued to 
land in the north of Israel, hundreds a day. The public cried out. There was 
no way round a ground operation. First, small, elite units were put in. That 
did not help. Then brigades were deployed. And now whole divisions are 

First they wanted to annihilate the Hizbullah positions along the border. 
When it was seen that that was not enough, it was decided to conquer the 
hills that dominate the border. There, the Hizbullah fighters were waiting 
and caused heavy casualties. And the rockets continued to fly.

Now the generals are convinced that there is no alternative to occupying the 
whole area up to the Litani River, about 24 km from the border, in order to 
prevent the rockets from being launched from there. Then they will find out 
that they have to reach the Awali River, 40 km inside - the famous 40 km 
which Menachem Begin talked about in 1982.

And then? The Israeli army will be extended over a large area, and 
everywhere it will be exposed to guerilla attacks, of the sort Hizbullah 
excels in. And the missiles will continue to fly.

What next? One cannot stop. Public opinion will demand more decisive moves. 
Political demagogues will shout. Commentators will grumble. The people in 
the shelters will cry out. The generals will feel the heat. One cannot keep 
tens of thousands of reserve soldiers mobilized indefinitely. It is 
impossible to prolong a situation which paralyzes a third of the country.

Everybody will clamor to storm forwards. Where to? Towards Beirut in the 
North? Or towards Damascus, in the East?

THE CABINET ministers recite in unison: No! Never ever! We shall not attack 

Perhaps some of them really don't intend to. They do not dream of a war with 
Syria. Definitely not. But the ministers only delude themselves when they 
believe that they control the war. The war controls them.

When it becomes clear that nothing is helping, that Hizbullah goes on 
fighting and the rockets continue to fly, the political and military 
leadership will face bankruptcy. They will need to pin the blame on 
somebody. On who? Well, on Assad, of course.

How is it possible that a small "terror organization", with a few thousand 
fighters altogether, goes on fighting? Where do they get the arms from? The 
finger will point towards Syria.

Even now, the army commanders assert that new rockets are flowing all the 
time from Syria to Hizbullah. True, the roads have been bombed, the bridges 
destroyed, but the arms somehow continue to arrive. The Israeli government 
demands that an international force be stationed not only along the 
Israeli-Lebanese border, but on the Lebanese-Syrian border, too. The queue 
of volunteers will not be long.

Then the generals will demand the bombing of roads and bridges inside Syria. 
For that, the Syrian Air Force will have to be neutralized. In short, a real 
war, with implications for the whole Middle East.

EHUD OLMERT and Amir Peretz did not think about that when they decided
17 days ago in haste and light heartedly, without serious debate, without 
examining other options, without calculating the risks, to attack Hizbullah. 
For politicians who do not know what war is, it was an irresistible 
temptation: there was a clear provocation by Hizbullah, international 
support was assured, what a wonderful opportunity! They would do what even 
Sharon did not dare.

Dan Halutz submitted an offer that could not be refused. A nice little war. 
Military plans were ready and well rehearsed. Certain victory. The more so, 
since on the other side there was no real enemy army, just a "terror 

How hotly the desire was burning in the hearts of Olmert and Peretz is 
attested by the fact that they did not even think about the lack of shelters 
in the Northern towns, not to mention the far-reaching economic and social 
implications. The main thing was to rush in and gather the laurels.

They had no time to think seriously about the war aim. Now they resemble 
archers who shoot their arrows at a blank sheet and then draw the rings 
around the arrow. The aims change daily: to destroy Hizbullah, to disarm 
them, to drive them out of South Lebanon, and perhaps just to "weaken" them. 
To kill Hassan Nasrallah. To bring the captured soldiers home. To extend the 
sovereignty of the Lebanese government over all of Lebanon. To establish a 
new-old Security Zone occupied by Israel. To deploy the Lebanese army and/or 
an international force along the border. To rehabilitate deterrence. To 
imprint into the consciousness of Hizbullah.
(Our generals love imprinting into consciousnesses. That is a wonderfully 
safe aim, because it cannot be measured.)

THE MORE the nice little war continues, the clearer it becomes that these 
changing aims are not realistic. The Lebanese ruling group does not 
represent anybody but a small, rich and corrupt elite. The Lebanese army 
cannot and will not fight Hizbullah. The new "security zone" will be exposed 
to guerilla attacks and the international force will not enter the area 
without the agreement of Hizbullah. And this guerilla force, Hizbullah, the 
Israeli army cannot vanquish.

That is nothing to be ashamed of. Our army is in good - or, rather, bad - 
company. The term "guerilla" ("small war") was coined in Spain, during the 
occupation of the country by Napoleon. Irregular bands of Spanish fighters 
attacked the occupiers and beat them. The same happened to the Russians in 
Afghanistan, to the French in Algeria, to the British in Palestine and a 
dozen other colonies, to the Americans in Vietnam, and is happening to them 
now in Iraq. Even assuming that Dan Halutz and Udi Adam are greater 
commanders than Napoleon and his marshals, they will not succeed where those 

When Napoleon did not know what to do next, he invaded Russia. If we don't 
stop the operation, it will lead us to war with Syria.

Condoleezza Rice's stubborn struggle against any attempt to stop the war 
shows that this is indeed the aim of the United States. From the first day 
of George Bush's presidency, the neo-cons have been calling for the 
elimination of Syria. The deeper Bush sinks into the Iraqi quagmire, the 
more he needs to divert attention with another adventure.

By the way: One day before the outbreak of this war, our Minister of 
National Infrastructures, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, took part in the 
inauguration ceremony of the big pipeline that will conduct oil from the 
huge Caspian Sea reserves to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, just next to the 
Syrian border. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline avoids Russia and passes 
through Azerbaijan and Georgia, two countries closely aligned with Israel, 
like Turkey itself. There is a plan to bring a part of the oil from there 
along the Syrian and Lebanese coast to Ashkelon, where an existing pipeline 
will conduct it to Eilat, to be exported to the Far East. Israel and Turkey 
are to secure the area for the United States.

MUST THE sliding into a war with Syria happen? Is there no alternative?

Of course there is. To stop now, at once.

When President Lyndon Johnson felt that he was sinking into the morass of 
Vietnam, he asked his friends for advice. One of them answered with five 
words: "Declare victory and get out!"

We can do that. To stop investing more and more in a losing business. To be 
satisfied with what we can get now. For example: an agreement that will move 
Hizbullah a few kilometers from the border, along which an international 
force and/or the Lebanese army will be deployed, and to exchange prisoners. 
Olmert will be able to present that as a great victory, to claim that we 
have got what we wanted, that we have taught the Arabs a lesson, that anyhow 
we had no intention of achieving more. Nasrallah will also claim a great 
victory, asserting that he has taught the Zionist Enemy a lesson it will not 
forget, that Hizbullah remains alive, strong and armed, that he has brought 
back the Lebanese prisoners.

True, it will not be much. But that is what can be done to cut losses, as 
they say in the business world.

That can happen. If Olmert is clever enough to extricate himself from the 
trap, before it closes entirely. (As folk wisdom says: a clever person is 
one that gets out of a trap that a wise one would not have got into in the 
first place.) And if Condoleezza gets orders from her boss to allow it.

ON THE 17th day of the war , we must recognize that soon we will be faced 
with a clear choice: to slide into a war with Syria, intentionally or 
unintentionally, or to get a general agreement in the North, that will 
necessarily involve also Hizbullah and Syria. At the center of such an 
agreement will be the Golan Heights.

Olmert and Peretz did not think about that in those intoxicating moments on 
July 12, when they jumped at the opportunity to start a nice little war. But 
then, were they thinking at all?

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