Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Israeli press: Judicious withdrawal or racist escalation ?

Nahum Barnea wrote:
The danger at this time is that the operation will roll towards the same failures that undermined Israel in the past; first of all, the shift from a limited operation to a broad one due to inertia - the illusion that whatever cannot be achieved by force may be achieved by even more force.

There are some IDF elements – not the entire IDF – who believe that their job is to push for expanding the operation, and that this is the right move needed to defeat Hamas. Mossad Chief Meir Dagan is also pushing in that direction. He attaches great significance to an unequivocal outcome for this operation that would resonate across the Arab world.
He says the fundamental problem is the same as what speculators and gamblers face: They don't know when to stop. Militarily, he says the problem with going further is that this elevates the risk of casualties to Israeli soldiers, and the result would be to diminish, not augment, any PR sense of "accomplishment".

The Barnea piece is dated yesterday, and naturally he doesn't discuss the Jabaliya shelling of the school that killed 40. But today, a couple of journalists for Haaretz make the implicit connection between minimizing Israeli casualties and group-killing of Palestinian civilians more or less clear. The journalists write:
The incident in which some 40 Palestinian civilians were killed when Israel Defense Forces mortar shells hit an UNRWA school in the Jabalya refugee camp Tuesday surprised no one who has been following events in Gaza in recent days. Senior officers admit that the IDF has been using enormous firepower.

"For us, being cautious means being aggressive," explained one. "From the minute we entered, we've acted like we're at war. That creates enormous damage on the ground ... I just hope those who have fled the area of Gaza City in which we are operating will describe the shock. Maybe someone there will sober up before it continues."

What the officer did not say explicitly was that this is deliberate policy. Following the trauma of the war in Lebanon in 2006, the army realized that heavy IDF casualties would erode public (and especially political) support for the war and limit its ability to achieve its goals. Therefore, it is using aggressive tactics to save soldiers' lives. And the cabinet took this into account when it approved the ground operation last Friday, so it has no reason to change its mind now.
And they stress that mass civilian casualties don't seem to be having the effect they had in Lebanon 2006. They write:
Nor is it likely that Tuesday's incident, with its large number of civilian deaths, will result in an immediate cease-fire. Civilian deaths increase international pressure for a cease-fire and so the incident will probably bring the end of the war closer. Nevertheless, the Second Lebanon War continued for weeks following a similar incident at Kana.

Moreover, the situation in Gaza is slightly different than it was in Lebanon. First, until Tuesday's incident, the world appeared relatively indifferent to Palestinian civilian casualties. On Monday, 31 members of the Samouny family were killed when a shell hit their house in Gaza City; that same day, 13 members of the Al-Daiya family where killed by another Israeli bomb. Yet international media coverage of these incidents was comparatively restrained.
So the atrocities aren't an issue. Rather, the question is: Expansion of the war and calling up the reservists who have been training, in hopes of more concessions from Hamas; versus the risk of more Israeli casualties and an erosion in domestic Israeli political support for the war.

It is in that context that Barnea says better leave well enough alone and withdraw.

Aluf Benn, writing in Haaretz today, agrees with him: (Their English-language website now has an English-language piece by him called "the euphoria point" that makes the same point as Barnea): The danger now is that the government and the military will overrreach, causing the same kind of national trauma that resulted from the 2006 fiasco in Lebanon.

Ben Kaspit in Maariv (summarizing from the Arabic-language translation in AlQuds alArabi, apparently the only way for non-Hebrew readers to access things that are Hebrew-language only): If there isn't a political breakthrough giving Israel the basis for a meaningful political accomplishment, then a difficult decision is going to have to be made. Because Israel must win this war.
Radical Islam is being revived in every corner: First with Hezbullah, and now with Hamas at our southern wall with rocket capacity that almost reaches Tel Aviv. This is something that has to be eradicated at its root.
Kaspit is clearly for escalation: What would the Russians do, he asks, and the answer is what they have done in Georgia and Chechnya. And the Turks, who have been bombing Iraqi Kurdistan. Or the British, what did they do in Dresden even though it was obvious that the Germans had lost. He describes Hamas as worse than the Nazis, and as aiming for the killing of Jews generally. The Nazis were liquidated, he writes, "but Hamas, they protect them."

It's not hard to see why some articles in Haaretz and Yehdioth are made available in a language other than Hebrew, but nothing from Maariv.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hasbara for all.

"(1) Their side is in the wrong, quite independently of the fact some of what we do is wrong."

What Fat Matty Y. said was that each side commits wrong acts which we must judge independently of the other. In other words he affected a serious tone while saying nothing serious.

"(3) Our side... is however operating without any real strategy"

That seems to be the case, doesn't it?

The Manichaeism of some white Israel critics gets to be annoying. I have more sympathy for it from natives of the middle east -sympathy in the sense of understanding not agreement- because the Holocaust was a European crime not an Arab one.
Please remember that Zionism has it beginnings not only in Judaism but Germanic nationalism. And that the niggers of Europe were sent to be the white men of the middle east.

If Hamas were made up of refugees expelled from their homes by armies of the new Jewish homeland on the Rhine; if the Knesset sat in Koln, and the cathedral had been reconsecrated as a synagogue,
I'm not quite sure I'd be defending those they claimed to represent.

11:19 AM  
Anonymous CJK said...


"It's not hard to see why some articles in Haaretz and Yehdioth are made available in a language other than Hebrew, but nothing from Maariv."

Actually, no. The Israeli press works differently. It's not about the papers, but about the people writing.

Not everything written in Haaretz is liberal and "enlightened", not everything written in Maariv is fascist.

Yediot is the number-one tabloid, and generally speaking it's a stupid and very right-wing paper. However, they do publish Nachum Barnea, who is something like the doyen of Israeli commentators. And already early on in the war on Gaza, they published an excellent anti-war piece by "B. Michael", a guy who has been writing under this pseudonym for ages.

Same with Haaretz. Generally speaking, it might be relatively liberal. However, they regularly publish settler-ideologues such a Nadav Shragai. Or somebody like Ari Shavit, who likes to come across as the voice of the sound, reasonable, middle-of-the road, mainstream Israeli -- but who still very often sounds as yet another right-wing bigot.

I realize that this doesn't add anything to the points you made. I just wanted to say: With the Israeli press, it's less about the papers and more about the writers.

9:27 PM  
Blogger badger said...

Thank you CJK, I was hoping someone who reads Hebrew would chime in with some enlightenment.

I have more questions for you (you don't have to answer...)

* Is my impression correct that ynetnews (the English-language site of Yediot) and the English-language Haaretz don't carry all of what is in those papers. (every time I try to match up the AlQuds translations with those two sites I get the impression some are there and some are not).

* Is there some enterprising Hebrew-reading blogger somewhere who is putting up even short summaries of some of the stuff that doesn't get onto the English-anguage sites (including Maariv etc) that I'm not aware of. (Even a little would go a long way...)

3:44 AM  
Anonymous CJK said...

1. Yes, you're right. The translated editions are like condensed version. I guess it's for economic reasons.

2. I have no idea. There is an excellent service that translates Hebrew-language articles into English, Israel News Today. However, you need to pay to subscribe.

(Actually I don't speak Hebrew, but I lived in Israel for a few years ... hehe)

10:49 PM  
Blogger badger said...


5:51 AM  

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