Another Hostage in Iran

By Noah Pollak

Haleh Esfandiari is the director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington, and in December of last year she traveled to Iran to visit her ailing mother. In a statement on its website, the Wilson Center “explains that”:http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=news.item&news_id=236704 in late December, “on her way to the airport to catch a flight back to Washington, the taxi in which Dr. Esfandiari was riding was stopped by three masked, knife-wielding men. They took away her baggage and handbag, including her Iranian and American passports.” Her visit to a passport office four days later instigated six weeks of interrogations. Last Monday, just over a week ago, she was arrested and taken to the notorious “Evin prison”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evin_prison, where she stands accused of being a Mossad agent, a U.S. spy, and of trying to foment revolution inside Iran — the same charges that were leveled at the American embassy staff in 1979 when it was taken hostage.

One might think that at this heady moment of entente with the Iranian regime, when American officials are “expected to meet”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/05/16/AR2007051601288.html with their Iranian counterparts in Baghdad to discuss security in Iraq, members of the media and political classes would have their diplomatic seismographs particularly attuned to the signals emanating from Iran. Yet that appears to not be the case: the Esfandiari abduction has been downplayed, and almost as appalling as the scant attention the story has received is the tepidness of the comments from those who have broached the matter.

The Washington Post’s editorial page, which can usually be relied upon for relatively sound judgment on foreign affairs, “wrote on Friday”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/05/10/AR2007051002254.html that “Arresting an Iranian American scholar is no way to win the world’s respect,” and concluded its mushy, insipid statement by boldly reemphasizing that Esfandiari’s imprisonment is causing the world to “lose respect for Iran.” One might start by noting that the question of the world’s respect for Iran was settled almost 30 years ago, when the regime held the staff of the U.S. embassy hostage for fifteen months. I’m not sure what’s more troubling: that among the editorialists of the Post there are apparently reserves of “respect” remaining for Iran, or that the same editorialists appear to believe that losing the world’s “respect” (whatever that entails) is actually a source of apprehension for the mullahs. Indeed, isn’t the ideology of the Iranian Revolution founded quite explicitly on disrespect for the West? Hasn’t the entire question of “respect” been long settled, given that for thirty years Death to America! has been a central organizing principle of the regime?

Several politicians have also weighed in, and they haven’t done any better. In a statement sure to send an ominous chill across the Iranian political establishment, Barak Obama announced that “If the Iranian government has any desire to engage the world in dialogue, it can demonstrate that desire by releasing this champion of dialogue from detention.” Haleh Esfandiari’s senators, Barbara Mikulski and Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, asked Iran to make a “gesture of goodwill” to the American people by releasing their latest hostage. Respect, dialogue, gestures of goodwill. I’ll bring my acoustic guitar and some big fluffy pillows and we can do a sing-along for Ahmadinejad.

I probably shouldn’t be so flippant. Aside from the fact that Esfandiari’s detention brings the number of American citizens being held by Iran to three, there is a deeper problem, and that is the apparent inability of American elites to grasp why the regime continues to take hostages. The Washington Post and LA Times editorials, not to mention many of the politicians who have spoken on the matter, seem to take Ahmadinejad seriously when he claims to desire the world’s respect and express their befuddlement when the mullahs do something audacious and cruel that will undermine Iran’s ability to cultivate that respect — like imprisoning a well-known, well-connected scholar.

So, let us ask: Why does Iran abduct British sailors and marines, supply weaponry to insurgents in Iraq, imprison American scholars, and take so much delight in repeatedly doing things that frighten and bewilder the western world? The answer is to be found in the Iranian conception of the significance of its revolution and its relationship to the West, especially to America. In the eyes of the revolutionaries, the overthrow of the American-backed shah in 1979 was a supreme victory, proof not only of the revolution’s divine ordination but of America’s weakness and the ease with which the great power could be disgraced (at least through its allies). Having succeeded in expelling the shah, the radicals believed that the United States should be next. And it was: the assault on the U.S. embassy in Tehran happened only nine months after Ayatollah Khomeini’s arrival in Iran.

And the hostage-takers and the government that sponsored them never paid a serious price for the ensuing fifteen-month humiliation of the United States. Iran has also never paid for its various assassinations and bombings in Europe, the murder of hundreds of American marines and French soldiers in Lebanon in 1983, the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people, its lavish funding of Hezbollah and destabilization of Lebanon, the abduction of the British sailors, its nuclear program, and so on. In other words, the Iranian regime, since the first day of its existence, has seen its every provocation go unanswered — which has perfectly reinforced its conviction that the West, and America in particular, is a brittle facade, economically powerful and technologically sophisticated but weak-willed, indecisive, risk-averse, and easily intimidated.

And so all the fretting about “respect” and “dialogue” amount to more than just comforting creations of the western imagination and impositions of a hoped-for reality. For the Iranian regime they are yet another layer of evidence vindicating a set of beliefs about America’s inability to stand up for its interests — or even for its citizens. Meanwhile, inquiry into the more plausible sources of Iran’s actions, such as the regime’s ideological contempt for America and its need to demonstrate revolutionary strength and western weakness, continues to be avoided. In 1981, after the American embassy hostages had finally been released, Iran’s chief negotiator said, “We rubbed dirt in the nose of the world’s greatest superpower.” His comrades are no doubt saying the same thing today about their newest hostage, Haleh Esfandiari.

Assad Getting Desperate, Belligerent

by Michael J. Totten

From Lebanon’s Naharnet:

Syrian President Bashar Assad has threatened to set the region on fire, from the Caspian to the Mediterranean, over differences with the United Nations regarding Lebanon’s stability.

The independent daily newspaper an-Nahar quoted well informed diplomatic circles as saying Assad made the threat last Wednesday in a telephone discussion with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

The sources, according to the paper spoke of a “heated dialogue” between Assad and Ban, during which the Syrian President “threatened to set the region on fire, from the Caspian to the Mediterranean.”

The focus of the telephone discussion was creation of the international tribunal that will try suspects in the 2005 assassination of Lebanese ex-Premier Rafik Hariri and related crimes, the report explained.

First Assad threatened to burn Lebanon. Now he’s threatening to burn the whole Middle East.

Assad truly believes a conviction against his regime in a United Nations tribunal will be the first step toward a UN-approved American-led regime-change in Syria. He has no idea that the American appetite for such an adventure is somewhere near zero, but he really is scared to death of it.

He would rather (at least threaten) to turn the region into a fireball than have his regime be accountable for murders in Lebanon under international law. Those who wish to negotiate with this man should take note.

UPDATE: See also Abu Kais, who has more time to think and write about this right now than I do.

XML Question

By Michael J. Totten

I have a question for those of you who are more techie than I am.

Is it possible for me to provide an XML feed for syndication that includes the entire text of an entry? Right now the only available feed excerpts the first sentence or so, and I don’t want to upgrade the blog (from Movable Type 2.64) if I don’t have to.


UPDATE: Fixed thanks to RG in the comments.

A Plea from Baghdad

by Michael J. Totten

From Mohammed Fadhil in the New York Daily News

It is up to us to show tyrants and murderers like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah, Syria’s Bashar Assad, and their would-be imitators who seek to control Iraq’s people and wealth that we, the people, are not their possessions. They can’t take out our humanity and they can’t force us to back down.

The world should ask them to leave our land before asking the soldiers of freedom to do so.


Those who prefer to bury their heads in the dirt today, and withdraw from this difficult fight, will be cursed forever for abandoning their duty when they were most capable.

I have nothing else to say but read the whole thing.

PJ Interview

by Michael J. Totten

Austin Bay interviewed me for Pajamas Media on his Blog Week in Review show. We talked about Iraqi Kurdistan, the violent city of Kirkuk, whether the Iraq war is lost, and Sarkozy’s victory in the French election. You can listen here.

UNIFIL, Unfulfilled

By Noah Pollak

I have a “piece up today”:http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=MmJhY2M5ZWZjOTM3NmY5MzAyMmI5MTQwNjllOTFlNjA= over at National Review Online that folks might be interested in reading.

UNIFIL Unfulfilled

The U.N. organization is ineffective and unaccountable.

By Noah Pollak

Jerusalem — Israel is abuzz with the talk of incompetence and failure. The interim report of the Winograd Commission was released last week, and it lays out, in excruciating detail, the multifaceted catastrophe that was last summer’s war against Hezbollah: the ignorance of the prime minister and defense minister concerning military matters; the appalling ineptitude of Dan Halutz, the chief of staff of the IDF, in commanding the military and advising the country’s political leadership; the absence of a preexisting plan to deal with an entirely predictable crisis; the declaration of strategic goals that were entirely divorced from the means required to achieve them; the ill-conceived, ineffective air war and the last-second, impulsive ground campaign; and the six-year history of passivity and retreat on the northern border that emboldened Hezbollah and telegraphed Israel’s lack of military readiness.

The Winograd report is sobering reading, but the fact of its existence is certainly not unusual in the Jewish state’s history. Israel’s culture of self-criticism and its ingrained lack of deference toward authority figures are some of the foundational reasons why this small country, constantly under attack, has been able to flourish in the Middle East. There is no doubt that Israel’s political landscape — and its military priorities — will be significantly altered by the fallout from the Winograd report.

But there is one institution that has quite remarkably escaped any opprobrium for its own important contribution to the outbreak of war last summer. And that is the United Nations and its edifice of Security Council resolutions, some dating back decades, that have sought to remedy the problem of Lebanon’s lawless southern region and its hospitality to terrorist organizations. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was encamped there from 1968 until it was pushed out by Israel’s 1982 invasion, and Hezbollah remains there to this day. Since it is the season for assessing failure and assigning blame, why should the U.N. escape scrutiny?

It was back in March 1978 that the first Security Council resolution was passed attempting to address the power vacuum in southern Lebanon. A week earlier, PLO terrorists had crossed into Israel and murdered 37 people in a gruesome bus attack near Tel Aviv. Israel responded with Operation Litani, an IDF incursion that pushed the PLO off Israel’s northern border. Resolutions 425 and 426 created a U.N. force that was supposed to take the IDF’s place in southern Lebanon, create a buffer zone along the border with Israel, and, in the somewhat ludicrous text of the resolution, “restore international peace and security and assist the Government of Lebanon in ensuring the return of its effective authority in the area.” UNIFIL was born.

Since then a concatenation of nearly identical UNIFIL-related resolutions has been issued by the Security Council, always with one thing in common: Events on the ground are never permitted to affect UNIFIL’s mandate. Through a combination of diplomatic foolishness and bureaucratic inertia, UNIFIL has remained impervious to any evaluation of its actual utility in bringing peace and security to southern Lebanon.

By my count, the Security Council has passed some 38 resolutions pertaining to UNIFIL, every one of which seamlessly ignores UNIFIL’s inability to accomplish its mission. If Israel last summer declared goals for itself that it didn’t have the means to accomplish, the U.N. has been doing so for thirty years. In renewing UNIFIL’s mandate in 1978, the council noted “the progress already achieved by the Force towards the establishment of peace and security in Southern Lebanon” and called “for strict respect for the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon.” In 1982 it demanded “the strict respect for Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence under the sole and exclusive authority of the Lebanese Government.” In 2000, after Israel withdrew completely from southern Lebanon, the Security Council announced that it “calls on the Government of Lebanon to ensure the return of its effective authority and presence in the south.” When that didn’t happen, the council announced its “strong support for the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon.” And so on, plagiarizing itself repeatedly, farcically declaring the same impossible goals, decade after decade. Resolution 1559, passed in 2004, is considered a watershed for Lebanon because it used stronger, more precise language to demand exactly the same things that the Security Council started demanding in 1978. But, alas, even stronger words didn’t deter Syria and Hezbollah. Five months after 1559 was approved, Lebanon’s former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, was murdered in a massive explosion in Beirut, almost certainly by Syria.

Fine, a person might say — UNIFIL is ineffective. What’s the big deal? The big deal is that UNIFIL is more than an innocuous presence. It contributes to instability along the Israeli border and to the ability of Syria and Iran to co-opt Lebanon by allowing the international community to embrace the comforting delusion that it is doing something. In reality, UNIFIL gives diplomats an excuse to do nothing about Hezbollah’s re-armament, and thus enhances the militia’s ability to thrust Lebanon and Israel into war at a time of its choosing — such as during a U.S. military strike on Iran. Moreover, UNIFIL stands as a disincentive for the Lebanese army to attempt to deploy in the area, it observes Hezbollah daily but does not collect or share intelligence on its activities, and its presence on the ground complicates Israel’s ability to engage the terrorist army in battle. (Hezbollah shrewdly built much of its military infrastructure in close proximity to UNIFIL stations.) The presence of UNIFIL certainly hasn’t prevented violence in the past: Since Operation Litani in 1978, Israel has had to strike at the PLO and then Hezbollah on numerous occasions, including air strikes in 1981, the 1982 invasion and subsequent occupation, the week-long Operation Accountability in 1993, the sixteen-day Operation Grapes of Wrath in 1996, and dozens of smaller incidents scattered in between. And over the course of this long history of terrorist provocation in southern Lebanon, the world’s diplomatic corps has maintained the self-congratulatory fantasy that more extensions of UNIFIL’s mandate will help the region.

At the conclusion of the war last summer, an enlarged UNIFIL was given the mission of ensuring the tranquility of southern Lebanon. But, nine months later, it has only enlarged the problems created by its less ambitious predecessors. The new force is feckless: afraid to confront Hezbollah, unwilling to interrupt the easy flow of arms across Lebanon, prohibited from patrolling the border with Syria, unable to make a difference. No serious observer of southern Lebanon today believes that the new, “robust” UNIFIL is doing anything that will prevent another round of warfare.

And when hostilities break out again, the world’s diplomats will have one predictable solution in mind: a cease fire, and more UNIFIL. Israel’s willingness to criticize itself sets an admirable example in how to publicly evaluate failure. It is unrealistic to think that the United Nations would follow suit with an examination of its own failures in Lebanon, but that should not stop us from asking: How much longer will this region have to suffer the Security Council’s benevolence?

“The Fragile Crescent”

By Noah Pollak

A handful of articles and essays have been published in the past couple of weeks that are worth noting.

The first is from my friend and colleague at the “Shalem Center”:http://www.shalemcenter.org.il/, Martin Kramer (and by “friend and colleague” I mean someone who I admire greatly and who probably forgets more about the Middle East in a year than I currently know). Martin spends part of the year at Harvard as an Olin Institute Senior Fellow, and on April 30th he gave a lecture there entitled “After Iraq: The Future of the United States in the Middle East.” He has now “posted an excerpt”:http://sandbox.blog-city.com/the_fragile_crescent_olin_harvard.htm of his talk on his website, and it is exemplary of Martin’s great skill in putting current events in this region into their larger historic and geopolitical context.

Martin argues that the United States, through the Iraq war, has delivered a shock to the Middle East that is “rendering parts of the political map an anachronism.” Put differently, he says, “the dissolution of the Ottoman empire has resumed.” The first cause is the Shiite revival; the second is the rise of Kurdish nationalism; and the third is the “refugee crescent.”

The choice the United States will face with greater frequency and urgency is whether or not to sustain its traditional support for that [post-Ottoman] map. Past challenges came from aggressive states encroaching on smaller ones, and aggressors could be cajoled, deterred, and punished. But transformation within states, in which the main actors are movements, insurgents, refugees, and secessionists, is another matter.

As they say, read the whole thing.

Osirak Redux?

By Noah Pollak

If you want to forage deep into the weeds of the debate surrounding Iran’s nuclear ambitions, you should read the long, detailed analysis entitled “Osirak Redux?” in the new issue of the quarterly journal “International Security”:http://bcsia.ksg.harvard.edu/publications.cfm?program=ISP&project=IS&ln=home&pb_id=14&gma=14&gmi=37. The piece, by Whitney Raas and Austin Long, attempts to answer a very important question: Is Israel capable of destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities?

“Their answer is yes”:http://bcsia.ksg.harvard.edu/publication.cfm?program=ISP&ctype=article&item_id=1719. And they arrive at that conclusion after considering the capabilities of Israel’s air force — the ranges of its aircraft and the effectiveness of the armaments they carry — the capabilities of Iran’s antiquated air force and air defense systems (“In contrast to the modern systems of the IAF, the Iranian military possesses an odd amalgamation of technologies,” the authors dryly note), the targeting requirements of the strike, Israel’s possible attack routes, refueling and airspace concerns, and aircraft attrition rates. One is left with a stark picture of the reality that for this type of mission, military technology is especially vital — and Israel has it in spades, while Iran’s defenses are comprised almost entirely of dilapidated anachronisms that predate the Carter Administration. The members of the Revolutionary Guards may have a great deal of jihadist fire in their bellies, but they’re certainly not flying F-16’s.

Having established, with a good deal of credibility in my opinion, that Israel could eliminate or at least delay for years the Iranian nuclear project, another question comes into view. And that is the following: If military action becomes necessary, should Israel carry out the strike, or should America? I don’t have the time at the moment to examine this question, but I would like to do so soon. It will likely not remain hypothetical.

Patrick Interviewed

by Michael J. Totten

Vladimir van Wilgenburg interviewed my colleague Patrick Lasswell for the Kurdish press in the Netherlands. Patrick also published the interview on his blog. They discuss Iraqi Kurdistan’s economy, honor killings, corruption, Kurdish PKK terrorists in Turkey, post-Ottoman imperialism, the hot zone in Kirkuk, and the agony of Halabja.

“Better a Thousand Israeli Invasions…”

by Michael J. Totten

The Winograd report is a damning indictment of Israeli failure and incompetence during last year’s war against Hezbollah in Lebanon. I criticized the war myself from the very beginning when it became clear the Israeli Defense Forces still had no idea how to successfully deal with the Iranian-sponsored guerilla militia in the north. Now is a good time to return to this subject.

Efraim Inbar in Middle East Quarterly zeroes in on a major part of the problem.

From the first day of the campaign, [IDF Chief of Staff Dan] Halutz advocated attacking infrastructure beyond southern Lebanon to pressure the Lebanese government to counter Hezbollah.

Just about any person living in Lebanon, whether Lebanese or international and regardless of their view of Hezbollah, could have told the Israeli government that this wouldn’t work. If Dan Halutz truly believed bombing civilian infrastructure would rally Lebanese to his side, he does not have even a basic grasp of Lebanese politics.

Lebanese have rallied around Hezbollah before when they felt themselves threatened by a common enemy, not because Hezbollah is well-liked by the majority (it isn’t) but because Hezbollah is Lebanese and Israel isn’t.

The biggest reason, though, that most Lebanese won’t side with Israel against Hezbollah is because Lebanese fear civil war more than they fear anything else. They have good reasons, too. The 1975-1990 civil war wrecked far more destruction in Lebanon than any foreign invasion.

“Better a thousand Israeli invasions than another civil war,” is a refrain I heard more than once from Lebanese who detest the very existence of Hezbollah. Israeli military and defense officials would be well advised to tattoo that phrase on their foreheads before trying again to use force inside Lebanon to alter its politics. Israelis don’t have to like this feature of Lebanese political culture, but they do need to understand that it is a feature. (Call it a bug if it makes you feel better.)

If all the non-Hezbollah Lebanese suddenly became committed Zionist agents, the Lebanese government still would not and could not disarm Hezbollah. Partly this is because Hezbollah is stronger, better armed, and better trained than the Lebanese army. Partly this is because the Lebanese army was sabotaged and degraded during Syria’s 15-year occupation. Partly this is because some of the army’s officers are Syrian-appointed stooges who take their orders from Damascus. Partly this is because the Lebanese army is an army of conscripts, many of whom are more loyal to Hezbollah than they are to the state. The Lebanese army split into separate armed forces during the last civil war and will likely do so again if there is another one.

The main reason, though, even if none of the above things were true, is because Hezbollah is the private army of vastly more powerful Syria and Iran. A significant portion of Lebanon’s people find this perfectly acceptable and will continue to do so as long as Syria and Iran are willing and able to interfere in Lebanese politics. Hezbollah could be disarmed to the last man, but that by itself would not stop Syria and Iran from replenishing the weapons stocks within a mere couple of months.

Syria and Iran must be contained at the least before Hezbollah can be neutralized.

Don’t be fooled by your atlas. Lebanon isn’t a country any more than Iraq is a country. Both are geographic abstractions held together only by common currencies, common passports, and a map. They aren’t nation states like France and New Zealand. Both Lebanon and Iraq have more than one government and feature private armies controlled by third governments.

The government in Beirut is the most democratic of all Arab governments. It is also the weakest. It cannot be expected to effectively resist Syria and Iran any more than Kuwait could have freed itself from Saddam Hussein or Costa Rica could pacify and stabilize Colombia. These are not jobs for small and weak countries, especially not for weak countries divided against themselves.

Israel’s first fatal flaw last July was the assumption that Lebanon’s problems are local and can be solved in Lebanon. The Hezbollah problem is a regional one. Think globally, act locally will get Israel nowhere.

Israel’s second fatal flaw was the decision to fight an asymmetric war, which is hard, instead of a conventional war, which is easy.

Israel fought an asymmetric war with Hezbollah for years in South Lebanon and basically lost. This, after defeating three conventional Arab armies (Syria’s, Jordan’s, and Egypt’s) in six days in 1967.

The United States has been fighting a grinding asymmetric insurgency in Iraq for several years now after easily defeating Iraq’s conventional army two times.

Western armies are good at conventional war. Western armies are bad at asymmetrical war. That means relatively weak states like Syria and Iran are well advised to fight asymmetric wars whenever possible. Western armies are well advised to fight conventional wars whenever possible.

Let’s go back to Efraim Inbar in Middle East Quarterly.

Fear of escalation clouded Olmert’s strategic judgment. On the first day of the conflict, Mossad chief Maj. Gen. Meir Dagan recommended that the Israeli air force target Syrian sites. Instead, Olmert sought to placate. Israeli leaders repeatedly said that Israel had no intention of expanding its military activities to target Syria.

Therefore Syria has no incentive whatever to make peace with Israel or stop arming and funding Hezbollah. Weak Arab dictatorships have finally discovered an effective way to wage wars against Israel (and the United States). Asymmetric proxy wars work.

Israelis allowed themselves to be suckered into an asymmetric war by Syria and Iran. Instead of weakening Syria and strengthening Lebanon, they weakened Lebanon and strengthened Syria. They would be well advised not to do it again.

Israel, understandably, doesn’t want regime change in Syria. What comes after the Baath could be worse. Very well, then. Bomb the Assad regime until Assad cries uncle. However much the Israelis don’t want regime change in Syria, the Assad regime wants regime change even less. Assad will cry uncle because he has far more to lose. If his choice is to sever his relations with Hezbollah or die, he’ll sever his relations with Hezbollah. Otherwise, why on earth should he?

Assad is making noises about peace negotiations with Israel. But he doesn’t want peace with Israel. He already has peace with Israel if peace is defined by the lack of incoming bombs. What he wants is a peace “process” because he hopes it will take the heat off his government for murdering journalists and politicians in Lebanon. If Assad suddenly finds himself under attack, he might decide a peace treaty — a real one, not a peace “process” — is something worth having.

What Does Winograd Say?

By Noah Pollak

I was going to post something about the Winograd Report, but David Horovitz, the editor in chief of the Jerusalem Post, has “written a commentary”:http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1178198606909&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FPrinter that is truly worth reading. His piece is thorough and devastating, and it emphasizes not just the headline-making individual incompetence of Ehud Olmert, Amir Peretz, and Dan Halutz, but the collective fecklessness of the Israeli political and defense establishments when it came to post-withdrawal Lebanon. Israelis will be drawing the wrong lesson from the war and from Winograd if they believe that everything would have gone better if only Olmert, Peretz, and Halutz hadn’t been so impossibly inept. The problems are much deeper.

“In its sections on the six years preceding the [2006] conflict,” Horovitz writes, “the commission tracks a process in which the IDF concedes sovereignty at the Lebanon border to Hizbullah. Nothing less. An abandonment of the elementary protection of northern Israel in the face of an extremist guerrilla army utterly committed to the defeat of Israel. … Hizbullah amassed its arsenal of missiles and rockets. It deployed along the border. And it gradually created a situation where it was able ‘to act when and how it wished, without any military response from Israel.’”

And not only did the IDF allow Hezbollah to act when and how it wished, but it turns out that the IDF did not have a response ready for the most predictable contingency on the northern border, namely a missile attack and abduction — which is exactly what happened. And the IDF did not have such a plan in part because of its own hubris and neglect of the northern front, but also because Israel’s political leaders simply had never bothered to ask for one. Horovitz: “[T]he wider appalling picture set out in Winograd [is] the extent of military unreadiness, of misassessment, of absent political-military coordination.” Olmert and Peretz are both novices in international and military affairs, but “the degree to which [they] sat, paralyzed, in thrall to the IDF and its chief of General Staff is unthinkable. And yet that was the case.”

Horovitz concludes that Winograd is “a searing indictment of fundamental incompetence at the top.” His strong language is warranted.

Welcome Noah Pollak

I’ve given my American friend and colleague Noah Pollak publishing rights on this blog. He’s an assistant editor at Azure Magazine in Jerusalem, and you may remember him as my traveling companion from some of my earlier dispatches.

Noah Pollak Mt Lebanon.jpg

Azure Magazine Assistant Editor Noah Pollak

If you haven’t yet read it, don’t miss his terrific essay Hope Over Hate about his trip to Lebanon in December.

Please give him a warm welcome and encourage him to post often.

Protesting Incompetence

By Noah Pollak

TEL AVIV — Last night, on one of the first warm evenings of the spring, at least 120,000 Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to declare their dissatisfaction with the Olmert government.


In a clever use of English, French, and Hebrew, this sign says “Olmert — Go Home.” Photo copyright Noah Pollak.

The catalyst for the event was the release, on Monday, of the “Winograd Commission’s report”:http://www.vaadatwino.org.il/pdf/press%20release%20april%2030-yd-final.pdf detailing the failures of Israel’s leadership during the war against Hezbollah last summer. (“This critique”:http://www.meforum.org/article/1686, by Efraim Inbar in the Middle East Quarterly, is also worth reading.) In Israel, there is a long and admirable history of commissions being assembled to examine military failures in painful detail. Before Winograd, as Roger Cohen “points out”:http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/05/01/news/globalist.php in the International Herald Tribune, “Golda Meir and [Moshe] Dayan were forced out by the findings of the Agranat Commission on the 1973 [Yom Kippur] war, and the Kahan Commission on the 1982 Lebanon war cost Sharon his job as minister of defense and eventually led to the resignation of [Menachem] Begin.” The findings of these inquiries are taken seriously by the public and government alike to a degree that is foreign to Americans. Can anyone imagine hundreds of thousands of people assembling on the Washington Mall to rally for the Baker-Hamilton Commission report, which appears to have only been taken seriously by the media? Does anyone even remember what Baker-Hamilton was supposed to accomplish?

The purpose of the Winograd report is much more obvious: A transparent accounting of what went wrong during the Lebanon war, for public consumption. A reckoning. But the release of the report only partially explains the size of the turnout, or its mood, which was subdued and reluctantly, rarely, boisterous. The larger undercurrent is the feeling that, despite a remarkable economic boom and the containment of Palestinian terrorism, the past year has been a dangerous example of the perils of feckless leadership. The three abducted soldiers remain in captivity; rockets from Gaza land in the Negev regularly; “Nasrallah gloats”:http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1178096594399&pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull, quite convincingly, from Lebanon; missiles and arms pour into Southern Lebanon from Syria, unimpeded by the indolent “international force” that patrols the area; and Iran races toward the realization of its nuclear ambitions. And there is another source of the worry that pervades Israel. That is the absence, in the post-Sharon era, of Israel’s founding fathers in the country’s political leadership. Almost every one of the statesmen who built this country out of stone and swamp and battle has passed on — and in this test of the new generation, in the Olmert government, Israelis are witnessing the disgraceful spectacle of leaders not only lacking in the wisdom and dedication of the founders, but who also turn out to be corrupt, ignorant of how to lead the IDF into war, and unreliable under pressure.

And so Israel falls back on its strongest asset, its people. Politicians were not permitted to speak at the protest. There was very little 1960’s pageantry to be found last night, and virtually no dumb sloganeering or vapid pacifism. This was a thoroughly middle class protest. The nation’s grown-ups arrived to announce their desire to take the state back from the ambitious dilettantes who had been mistakenly entrusted with power. The Israelis present, from the left, right, and center, wished to save the nation from unseriousness. Last night, the need for competence trumped ideology.


Photo copyright Noah Pollak.


Photo copyright Noah Pollak.


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