By Michael Eilan
The mere mention of a ceasefire must have the pundit class rippling their fingers over their keyboards. It’s time to do the silly sums of who won and who lost. It’s all done on a virtual sphere that forgets that the people who really lost were those who lost their lives.
The cost of victory or defeat is borne by those who lost a love one, were maimed, lost their homes or who have to tend to a member of their family who was physically or physiologically scarred. Over the years both we and the Palestinians have developed extremely powerful social and other support mechanisms to ease the pain. It’s the strength of these support mechanisms that gives our leaders the audacity to engage in yet another round of fighting that will be judged lightly by the pundit class and much more seriously by the equally stupid class of military strategists.
Because the truth is that nobody has won a war around here for the past 45 years. The Palestinian agenda has not been served one iota by shooting rockets at Israel. That’s a fact. And the Israeli desire for security has not been advanced by a millimeter by making the Palestinians life in Gaza so miserable and insecure. That’s another fact.
I suppose one could make a small exception for the ’73 war, in which I had the bad fortune to take an active part. In military terms it ended with a clear victory for Israel; I remember being both on Egyptian and Syrian soil. But in diplomatic terms it ended with a clear victory for Egypt – but that victory would have counted for nothing were it not followed by a peace agreement that gave the Sinai back to the Egyptians. The proof of that is in that nobody counts the ’73 war as a victory for the Syrians.
My late father died shortly after the Oslo agreements. He didn’t believe they would work and we had great arguments about that. He used to say that the tragedy of the dispute was an unbridgeable gap between hypocrisy and fantasy. The Israeli operating system, he said, was oiled by hypocrisy, manifested at the time by the notion that one could have one’s cake and eat it in the West Bank. The Palestinians, on the other hand, smothered their discourse with the fantasy that one day they would be able to get rid of Israel.
Well, I’ve got news for you Abba. Things do change in the world and the Jews have become more than adept at fantasy, in fact several – like the fantasy of defending a Jewish state while making a bi-national one or pretending that there is no partner for peace, as if one chooses partners for their looks at a ball. And the Palestinians, never to be caught at a loss, have become not bad at all at hypocrisy. The fantasy of obliterating Israel has been expertly morphed into hypocrisy manipulated by Palestinian leaders to justify each side in their political stalemate. Golda Meir, the past mistress of Israeli hypocrisy, would have been proud of them.
Part of this has to do with the changing nature of warfare. Much has been written about the world of asymmetrical warfare in which a poor and weak side to a conflict can hit very hard at its rich and strong enemy and create stalemate which is promptly called victory.
This asymmetry has got, however, many faces. The first is on the number of victims, many, many more in the case of the Palestinians. Leaders claim victory and families suffer. The Palestinians can be as pleased as punch that it takes a $50,000 Iron Dome missile to shoot down a rocket that cost a few hundred dollars. But they shouldn’t crow too early. In terms of the Israeli economy, the cost of Iron Dome will be more than offset by sales of this battle-proven missile system abroad. About 80% of the output of the Israeli weapons industry is exported. And if I know anything about Israeli technology industries, the civilian spin-offs of elements like Iron Dome’s command and control system will be even more considerable. It’s not only about money. Each bout of fighting creates new and effective ways to claim advantage in the next round.
The Israelis shouldn’t be too happy either. The policy of targeted assassinations looks amazingly effective through endless loops of the Ja’abari assassination. But what’s really happening is a deepening of the foundations of a professional, meritocratic Palestinian military class in which it is the system and not the individual that really counts. That kind of system fights better, honed by structures that allow for promotion based on ability and fired by the desire to be as good as those who died. We Israelis know all about that.
The wonder of this kind of asymmetry is that it is self perpetuating. To achieve something that can be called victory by their military and political idiots, each side has to take steps that will ensure that the other side will be stronger in the next round. The public, bless it, plays its part in the game because everybody becomes a gullible cretin when the winds of war blow hard. This isn’t only about us and the Palestinians. Look at the support that Bush got for the Iraq war or Thatcher in her brilliant foray in the Falklands. Those wars were even more stupid, wrong and useless.
At the end of the day, what matters is the inconsolable pain of the families and the fear coming from the sky. Despite the hugely asymmetrical body count, cringing in the stairwell in Beersheba or Gaza isn’t that different. I got a refresher course in that very particular feeling back in 2006 because I live in the Galilee (which was the target of numerous Hezbollah missiles.) I have a mental picture of a bright kid in Gaza, whose way of coping with the fear is to become a rapid interpreter of the different kind of noises and to rapidly and obsessively tell everybody, including his terrified mother, what each noise signifies. That kid’s life is marked, like mine was.
It’s us, the gullible cretins, who allow all of this to happen. And we can’t even tell our besotted leaders that the only way to win a war around here is to pay the full and honorable price and make peace.