Sunday, September 30, 2007

Israel is much closer to civil war than most people realize.

Olmert and Livni have essentially committed Israel to the Geneva Accords. Unlike the tin man and the scarecrow, who ultimately achieved self-awareness because they wished to overcome their flaws, Olmert doesn't think he needs a heart and Livni doesn't think she needs a brain. They only want love and they're looking for it in all the wrong places.

When it comes to implementing whatever agreement they come to, however, they will discover they have no army behind them. The scars of the disengagement and Amona are still very raw. Sharon pulled off the disengagement because he had earned a certain amount of credit and skeptical soldiers could persuade themselves that he must have known something they didn't. Olmert has zero credit and the aftermath of the disengagement -- both the Kassams on Sderot and the shabby treatment of the expelled -- has made it clear to everybody that Sharon had nothing up his sleeve and no rabbits in his hat.

The army is now largely dependent on soldiers who are not in the thrall of the elite's suicide pact. Just go to the swearing-in ceremony of any serious combat unit and you won't need any statistical surveys to persuade you of this point. Which is why, despite rapidly declining rates of enlistment among secular soldiers, the IDF has undertaken to make openly religious and right-wing soldiers feel unwelcome. In the induction office, soldiers whose profile or appearance marks them as having suspicious politics are subjected to political interrogations. Soldiers who question politically-influenced commands in the army are harassed and released from service. Elazar Stern, head of the IDF's manpower division and a person who still has a chip on his shoulder for not having served in hesder with his fellow Netiv Meir graduates, seeks to bar hesder soldiers from the Golani and paratrooper brigades. Senior officers are trying to integrate women into combat units and one can only presume that this is for the purposes of chasing away religious soldiers.

The leftist elite hold on to power despite having become a minority by controlling the succession apparatus in crucial establishments: the press, the justice system, academia and the army. The problem is that those of their kids who stay in Israel are willing to be journalists, lawyers and professors. Soldiering is now less glamorous in those circles and they are finding that the natives who are increasingly doing the work for them are getting restless and even a bit uppity.

The situation in which a leftist elite, with dwindling investment in the future of the country, commit us to destructive policies meant to be implemented by foot soldiers who are heavily invested in the country's future, and hence to the failure of this policies, is a recipe for civil war. Olmert is the kind of craven cynic who will commit Israel to destructive policies but, rather than actually implement them, will dump the whole mess on the lap of his successors, while he joins his kids and Avrum Burg in Paris.

What then should we do? We must recognize that to allow the army to fall apart through massive insubordination is an unmitigated disaster. Rather soldiers committed to Israel's future must take a page from the left's playbook. They must declare long before the army is called upon to commit criminal folly that they will not participate. Recall Yair Tsaban and Yossi Sarid's published declaration that if the IDF is asked to expel Arabs, they'd lie down in front of the tanks and call for massive insubordination. Recall Yiftach Spector and other pilots who announced they would not abet the "occupation". These people were never subsequently put in a position where they had to make good on their threats because no politician had the guts to call their bluff. We must do the same. The army's inability to implement certain orders must be made clear sufficiently in advance such that such orders are never given.

Otherwise, God help us.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sometimes you just don’t feel like saying you’re sorry. Even if it is Erev Yom Kippur.

Yesterday I participated in a panel discussion in front of a group of American post-collegiates just beginning a six-month program in Israel. There were two other panelists, one of whom is dati and the other of whom is a professor of political science. This professor gets up and, completely off-topic, has the following inanities to declare, with no attempt at justification.
-Israel is not a democracy because “Palestinian Israelis” (i.e., Israeli Arabs) don’t have rights
-There can’t be real democracy because there is no constitution and there is no constitution because “the religious” are opposed to any constitution but “the Bible”.
-There is no peace because “the religious” prefer war to peace.

I kept telling myself to stay calm. I failed.

Just think about the scene. The guy is on a panel with two people whose dress clearly marks them as “religious”. One has been introduced as working on drafting an Israeli constitution for years and the other has been introduced as editor of a magazine devoted to finding common ground between religious and secular Israelis. The audience consists of Americans for whom this kind of trashing whole segments of the population is considered off-the-charts politically incorrect. How can someone be so blind to the situation?

Not to mention ignorant. The first constitutional proposal in Israel was written by an Orthodox Jew named Leo Cohen and was used as a working document by the Law Committee of the provisional government chaired by another Orthodox Jew, Zerach Warhaftig. It was rejected by the far-left Mapam and all subsequent proposals were blocked by Ben-Gurion.

Furthermore, for almost all the years of Israel’s existence, the Orthodox parties together numbered fewer than 20 MKs. So who prevented the other 100 MKs from passing a constitution? How many batallions did the Chazon Ish have?

In any case, I’ve spent many years at this game and never heard any serious person propose that the Bible could serve as a constitution. And I’m sure my interlocutor has never heard that from any of his “very good friends who are religious”, either.

So why do people who should know better say such stupid things and expect to get away with it?

To understand this phenomenon we need to understand that Israel was founded upon the rejection of slowly evolving cultural and quasi-political traditions in favor of central institutions designed and run by an elite leadership consisting of secular Ashkenazi leftist old-timers. Contempt for those benighted souls who didn’t get with the program has only increased as it has become more obvious that socialism and secularism haven’t brought the promised utopia.

My interlocutor, being a secular Askenazi leftist old-timer, is firmly convinced that everyone who doesn’t fit that exact description lives here on the sufferance of those who do. And if his little coterie hasn’t brought about the promised socialist utopia, well, it’s got to be somebody else’s fault. And if those annoying chnyoks, frenks and fascists are actually a bit more complex than the stereotypes that make scapegoating them possible, he’s not going to read about it in Haaretz, his only source of information.

Anyway, to get back to my story, I actually got up and said all this. I mean all of it, from off-the-charts politically incorrect and Leo Cohen right on down to the part where I pointed at him and declared him a specimen of the rapidly disappearing species secular Askenazi leftist old-timer. At which point he got up stammering that I know nothing about Israel (i.e., I’m not one of the branja) and stormed out of the room.

It’s Erev Yom Kippur, dammit, and instead of feeling contrite I feel purged. Maybe tefilla zaka will get me in the proper mood.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

According to leaks in the press, Olmert is planning to give up all of Judea and Samaria in return for empty promises from a toothless puppet. Yet there is hardly any public discussion of the topic. I’ll skip all the usual talk about the leftist press having an incentive not to rock the boat (although such talk is absolutely correct: those with good memories will recall the long lull after the disengagement was first sent up as a trial balloon). There is something deeper at work here. Public discourse on all matters related to borders, security and negotiations has been so corrupted that normal people have just begun to tune it out.

The plain fact is this: Israel faces the threat of missile attack from at least three fronts. Such an attack would be potentially devastating, orders of magnitude worse than anything we’ve experienced until now. There are only three possible ways to deal with such a threat and all have limited chances of succeeding.

The first option is pre-emption. For this to work a large number of difficult targets would need to be struck almost simultaneously and even then retaliation will be swift and hard and – regardless of who carries out the attack – would be directed against Israel.

The second option is deterrence. Deterrence is a game-theoretic idea. For it to work, two conditions are necessary. First, the enemy must perceive a real counter-threat – they must believe that the price they stand to pay for attacking us will be greater than the benefit they obtain (according to their own warped calculus). In the case of states such as Iran or Syria, the threat of nuking their capital cities might be sufficient. In the case of terrorists with unclear or no attachment to any particular territory, the threat of nuking Muslim holy sites might work. Or not. The second condition is that the threat must be credible. An opponent that is not convinced that we have both the ability and the will to carry out the threat will not be deterred.

The third option is to promote regime change. One can use covert means to encourage dissidents, but our abilities in this direction are obviously very limited.

So we’re living under the mushroom cloud with no decent options and our politicians are having pretend negotiations with pretend leaders about a pretend peace process. The one thing even they cannot pretend to be doing is addressing the actual threats that we face. At the very least, one would hope that the blather about “local” problems – unilateral withdrawals, negotiations with Abu Mazen and such – would be situated in the context of the broader regional threats.

There is precisely one rational argument in favor of some unilateral redeployment of military forces and civilians – namely, that doing so would reduce the defense burden and thus allow the military to focus on greater threats. The claim is that it is easier to defend ourselves against aggression from certain areas from outside those areas than it is from inside them. Counter-arguments that reject such claims out of hand on a priori grounds are bound to fail because the claim is not a priori wrong. It is simply not the case that maximal borders are necessarily optimal borders. And, given the choice, the preference for maximal borders over optimal borders is rooted in theology, not politics. Having said that, the fact is that, although the claim that there are areas that are better policed from the outside is not wrong a priori, it is, nevertheless, wrong in this case. Any area we withdraw from will simply open yet another front from which we will be bombarded. Moreover, since such withdrawal will be understood as a sign of weakness, our deterrence capability will be diminished (and then further diminished when we fail to respond to attacks from the vacated area). Add to this the blow to national morale that will arise from whole populations being dispossessed for no reason and, well, you get the idea.

Negotiations are another matter. There are obvious advantages to holding negotiations, provided, of course, that they are held in bad faith. First of all, a clever negotiator could at least create internecine strife among our enemies. Second, even those Americans who are actually on our side seem to be fixated on the idea that we ought to be pacifying (read: appeasing) the Palestinians so that they, the Americans, can get on with the important business of taking care of Iran and Iraq. That idea is idiotic for more reasons than I care to enumerate, but if insincere negotiations are the price we need to pay to get American help with the more substantive threats, well, we can play along with a straight face. But such posturing comes with a steep price. First – and here I return to the point from which I started – public discourse is corrupted. We talk of peace when we should be talking of victory. This corrupted discourse debilitates our morale; it robs us of properly articulated political goals and makes us feel that politics is a farce.

And worst of all, the scoundrels who climb to the top of our political pyramid are those people whose lack of any intellectual or moral compass allows them to confuse farce with reality. They begin to “see things from there that we don’t see from here”. They enter negotiations with bad faith towards our enemies and end them with bad faith towards us.

In my next post I hope to discuss the psychological roots of this phenomenon and the subtle ways in which decent people encourage it. After that I hope to discuss the systemic changes needed to permit a return to rational politics.