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ICG Risk Blog - [ Intersection of al-Nakba, The Second Lebanon War and Ehud Olmert ]

Intersection of al-Nakba, The Second Lebanon War and Ehud Olmert


Part 1: Obtuse diplomatic blunder and journalistic ignorance: US inadvertently agrees to celebrate al-Nakba, the 1948 destruction of Palestine

Rescue of Arab pride by yet another crusader

Certainly by 2000, disgust by the (Sunni) Arab street with its rulers and their collective inability to prevent or remove a Jewish state from Muslim holy ground that they turned their affection towards their (Shia) Hezbollah adversaries. Much like Hamas, which the US tries to vilify despite their commitment to graft-free infrastructure maintenance in schools, hospitals and local government, Hezbollah rose in political and military strength to the point that a tactical miscalculation by Hezbollah was met by military blunder by Israel in The Second Lebanon War:

Fueled by saturation television coverage of the destruction and suffering wrought by Israel's attacks, popular sentiment in both Shia and Sunni communities has moved strongly behind Shia Hezbollah, whose leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has become a symbol of resistance to Israeli and U.S. power, these analysts agree.

"Resistance rises above sectarianism," according to Graham Fuller, a former top Middle East analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Rand Corporation. "Sunni masses by and large are not concerned whether Iran, Syria's rulers, or Hezbollah are Shiites; they applaud them for their steadfastness and willingness to fight and even die."

 In 2006, I wrote in Hezbollah is something not seen for hundreds of years: a Muslim army that can fight

Hezbollah is something that the West has not seen in a few hundred years - a Muslim army, Persian trained, that can fight, that can acquire and employ sophisticated weaponry (albeit some systems are most likely under direct Iranian control) and employ combat operations appropriate to its condition and environment. (I would have said Arab army but Iranians, although mostly Muslim, are Persians.) I submit that Hezbollah presents a threat greater than al Qaeda if and when it elects to strike out beyond Palestine at the US and EU. In that, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's statements are not boast but fact. (The only benefit is that, unlike al Qaeda, there will be a nation state homeland to counterattack. Unfortunately, that is Iran.)...

In point of fact, Israel is losing in its conflict with Hezbollah, yet it will not have a better chance given that Hezbollah miscalculated with its POW grab and was surprised by the level of Israeli response. If Hezbollah survives with its weapons reasonably intact, Israel loses and is shown to be vulnerable as never before in its history. It is now unlikely that Israel will be able to push Hezbollah far enough away to prevent it sending missiles into Israel at will.

Unlike the close of the 1967 Six Day War, El Al Airlines is not taking out ads in the New York Times inviting tourists to "Visit Israel and see the Pyramids," nor are there jokes about Arab (Egyptian) weapons for sale, "never fired, dropped only once" or Egyptian deserters who abandoned their units to stand and fight. While "Arab Unity" is a contradiction in terms, especially so across a Sunni-Shia divide, Arabs are so thirsty for selfesteem that they can rally around Hezbollah's accomplishments. This is all the more remarkable when Lebanese whose state is being sundered in the conflict support Hezbollah's state within a state resistance against Israel.

Hezbollah did what no Arab army had done in many attempts to expel or contain Israel; it had beaten the superior foe, the IDF. Arab elation was tempered only by the fact that this victorious crusader was Shia. For Israelis it was as if their cloak of invincibility had shattered, that military business-as-usual which had sustained them since 1948 was aging.

I recommend readers start with Kober's The Second Lebanon War (Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies) as a short, accurate analysis of the conflict's military and political aspects. To understand the changes that Israel, and well as the US, must absorb, read Levine's Behind the Headlines on the Winograd Commission's Interim Report. Also useful is Kreps' The 2006 Lebanon War: Lessons Learned. For intelligence operations, see Eshel's Hezbollah's Intelligence War and Israeli Intelligence Dilemmas in Lebanon.

I describe other aspects of Israel's loss in:

I recommend against the implications from such items as the The No-Win Zone: An After-Action Report from Lebanon or Boot's The Second Lebanon War. (I respect much of what Boot writes but depart from him here.)

Olmert as crippled partner

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has the earmarks of a crippled politician, despite his refusal to resign, rising from his inept stewardship of Israel's military campaign against Hezbollah in summer 2006. The preliminary report of the Winograd Commission indicts Olmert's performance as "a serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence." (Winograd is unusually expansive, covering the period from May 2000, when the IDF exited Lebanon, to July 2006, when Hezbollah captured two IDF soldiers, followed immediately by the 12-17 July decision cycle for the military operation Change of Direction which became The Second Lebanon War:

The primary responsibility for these serious failings rests with the Prime Minister, the minister of defense [Amir Peretz] and the (outgoing) Chief of Staff [Dan Halutz]... [Had] any of them acted better - the decisions in the relevant period and the ways they were made, as well as the outcome of the war, would have been significantly better...

  • The decision to respond with an immediate, intensive military strike was not based on a detailed, comprehensive and authorized military plan, based on carefull study of the complex characteristics of the Lebanon arena...
  • [The] government did not consider the whole range of options, including that of continuing the policy of containment, or combining political and diplomatic moves with military strikes below the escalation level, or military preparations without immediage military action...
  • The support in the cabinet for this move was gained in part through ambiguity in the presentation of goals and modes of operation...
  • Some of the declared goals of the war were not clear and could not be achieved...
  • The IDF did not exhibit creativity in proposing alternative action possibilities, did not alert the political decision-makers to the discrepancy between its own scenarios and the authorized modes of action, and did not demand [early] mobilization of the reserves...
  • Even after these facts became known to the political leaders, they failed to adapt the military way of operation and its goals to the reality on the ground...

Speaking specifically of Olmert, Winograd says that the Prime Minister:

  • bears supreme and comprehensive responsibility for [the] failures in the initial decisions concerning the war stem from both his position and from his behavior, as he initiated and led the decisions which were taken...
  • made up his mind hastily, despite the fact that no detailed military plan was submitted to him and without asking for one. Also, his decision was made without close study of the complex features of the Lebanon front and of the military, political and diplomatic options available to Israel...
  • is responsible for the fact that the goals of the campaign were not set out clearly and carefully, and that there was no serious discussion of the relationships between these goals and the authorized modes of military action...
  • did not adapt his plans once it became clear that the assumptions and expectations of actions were not realistic and were not materializing.

The final Winograd report is to be released 30 January, 2008. One wonders if more US nationals were aware of Winograd that they would have asked for a similar commission here.

Impact of the Bush43-Olmert relationship on the peace process

While Bush43 embarked on his trip to the Middle East to urge on the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and press Arab states for Iranian containment, he did do to near unanimous "skepticism in the Arab world:

[Bush43's] visit to the Middle East comes amid waves of criticism and rancor from the Arab press. Newspaper columnists note the push for Middle East peace has not begun until the final year of the president's two terms in office.

Mr. Bush remains one of the least popular world leaders in Arab opinion polls, and is held personally responsible by many in the region for the destabilizing chaos in Iraq. In his tour of the region, he will have to overcome widespread skepticism about his new push toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

At the diplomatic level, Arab official ranks were more restrained:

Egyptian and other Arab officials qualify the visit as "important". They argue that it is an opportunity for the US president to demonstrate commitment to keep up the pace that he induced last November in the Middle East process upon hosting the Annapolis meeting. They also argue that the visit is an opportunity for Arab leaders to offer Bush their direct accounts of the role that the US needs to play during the remaining months of Bush's term in office to help promote peace and stability in a region that many an Arab capital blame Bush and neo-cons for its increased instability.

For Egyptian and other Arab commentators the visit is about one of two things: either to promote further isolation of Iran, since many seem to think that a US military attack on Iran is getting increasingly unlikely, if not totally excluded, or to attempt to keep up the momentum of the Palestinian-Israeli talks in order to secure some sort of a final status agreement, or a framework thereof.

Complicated by poor chemistry between Bush43 and Mubarak, this is a tall order in the face of "disturbing signs" of US-Israeli actions in the aftermath of Annapolis:

The continued "settlements expansion", the lack of US monitoring of the commitment of Palestinians and Israelis to honour the roadmap obligations, the lack "so far of serious final status negotiations" despite Palestinian-Israeli meetings and the failure to engage Hamas and to improve the situation in Gaza...

It is difficult for this analyst to envision an environment that would permit such a movement given the relationship and interdependence between Bush43 and Olmert. The pair have evolved a "deep bond... reinforced by their shared views of Israel’s security, and their own political problems in selling their approach to their respective constituencies":

Mr. Bush’s relationship with the two Israeli leaders he has known best, Mr. Sharon and Mr. Olmert, have differed in detail, if not in spirit. Mr. Bush admired Mr. Sharon as "an old warrior" who... crystallized Mr. Bush’s sympathies for Israel’s security concerns... "With Olmert, it’s completely different... They’re the same age... They both feel that most of the world is against them, which, I think, is not far from the truth."

An Israeli political historian, Michael Oren, states that "the message is very clear" that Bush43 is "a strong supporter of Israel and of its current prime minister." An Israeli analyst, Daniel Levy, goes further, saying that Bush and Olmert

had grown so close that the president was now invested in his political future, willing to visit Israel so soon after Annapolis at least in part to bolster his standing before the Winograd report on the Lebanon war is made public later this month.

If it is correct that Olmert's close relationship to Bush43 "is both a lifeline and an insurance policy, that Israel will not be pressed to sacrifice its security to satisfy the American desire for a peace treaty," then I see little chance that a meaningful peace treaty will emerge.

Meaningful means the Abdullah Plan.

As the Second Lebanon War demonstrated, the defense posture that Israel has relied upon since partition is increasingly unsustainable. The interest on the inability of the US to restore even the modest respect it held in Arab eyes prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) continues to accrue. The US is going to need friends on the street (the 'spirit' of which Napoleon spoke) and in the foreign office across the Muslim world as things could get significantly worse on a larger scale.

If US readers think that there are threats enough with Hezbollah and Hamas, they have yet to see Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood in the wings. Egypt is the most populous in the region, its economy is in tatters and there is no prognosis for improvement. Egypt's government mirrors the problems that dogged Arafat and Fatah, providing a receptive opening for an honest provider of public services whatever its political leanings. In Lebanon it was Hezbollah. In the West Bank and Gaza it was Hamas. In Egypt, it is the Muslim Brotherhood.

The potential threats of Egypt falling into unfriendly hands are real. Readers should remember that the Egypt-Israel peace treaty of 1979, a direct result of the 1978 Camp David Peace Accords, was the first peace treaty between Israel and an Arab state, largely deflating pan-Arab conflict against Israel. Readers can go here:

Where was the Abdullah Plan?

The Abdullah Plan is nowhere to be heard in Palestine, Arab or Jew, nor has it been mooted in Arab diplomatic circles during this 'next step' of the Annapolis process, yet it is the only plan that will work and actually reduce strife and combat in the Levant. My opinion is that Israel has done everything diplomatically possible to extinguish it, the Abbas/Fatah faction is too powerless to put it forward, Hamas is being economically strangled and so has other things on its mind, and a lame duck president will accept scraps in order to claim the fiction of a foreign policy legacy prior to leaving office.

Well before King Fahd became incapacitated by stroke, Prince Abdullah, nicknamed "Abdullah the Heavy," was running Saudi Arabia. This pious prince leading the Islamist side of the Saudi family had closed ranks with the secular/western side of the family under Prince Sultan to publicly restrain the clerics providing a key element of his political support. As the commander of the all important Bedu national guard, whenever King Fahd needed to tell a recalcitrant regional player how the cow eats the cabbage, Abdullah carried the message. (Sort of like sending out Sharon: 'Knock it off, this is what we're going to do.') In other words, if Abdullah said it, virtually all Arab states would fall into line. In 2002, then Crown Prince, now King, Abdullah made an offer at the Arab League summit in Beirut:

Peace is a free and voluntary choice made by two equal parties, and it cannot survive if it is based on oppression and humiliation. The peace process is based on a clear principle: land for peace. This principle is accepted by the international community as a whole, and is embodied in U.N. Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, and was adopted by the Madrid Conference in 1991. It was confirmed by the resolutions of the European Community and other regional organizations, and re-emphasized once more this month, by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1397.

It is clear in our minds, and in the minds of our brethren in Palestine, Syria and Lebanon, that the only acceptable objective of the peace process is the full Israeli withdrawal from all the occupied Arab territories, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with al-Quds al-Shareef [East Jerusalem] as its capital, and the return of refugees. Without moving toward this objective, the peace process is an exercise in futility and a play on words and a squandering of time, which perpetuates the cycle of violence...

Allow me at this point to directly address the Israeli people, to say to them that the use of violence, for more than 50 years, has only resulted in more violence and destruction, and that the Israeli people are as far as they have ever been from security and peace, notwithstanding military superiority and despite efforts to subdue and oppress...

I propose that the Arab summit put forward a clear and unanimous initiative addressed to the United Nations Security Council based on two basic issues: normal relations and security for Israel in exchange for full withdrawal from all occupied Arab territories, recognition of an independent Palestinian state with al-Quds al-Shareef [East Jerusalem] as its capital, and the return of refugees. At the same time, I appeal to all friendly countries throughout the world to support this noble humanitarian proposal, which seeks to remove the danger of destructive wars and the establishment of peace for all the inhabitants of the region, without exception.

Israel blockaged Arafat in his headquarters, preventing his attendance to the Arab summit; Egypt's Mubarak refused to attend if Arafat could not. Bush43 proceeded to support Sharon, thereby endangering a 70-year relationship with the House of Saud:

The crown prince bore a warning that Bush's apparent tolerance of Israeli military offensives against Palestinians had damaged prospects for Mideast peace. "We believe the administration could have been stronger on [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon, made it clearer to him that negotiations cannot be done under the barrel of a gun," Nail Al- Jubeir, a spokesman for the Saudi Embassy, told reporters here.

"The message is, Sharon has been acting up, and the U.S. government needs to rein him in. We cannot maintain the peace process with this stuff going on," Abdullah's spokesman said. The Israeli-Palestinian crisis dominated Bush's first face-to- face meeting with Abdullah.

"There is a lot of anger at the U.S. for what is perceived as a lack of restraining Sharon," said Adel Al-Jubeir, the foreign policy adviser to Abdullah. "The crown prince wanted to make sure the president was aware of this," the adviser said. "Allowing this problem to spiral out of control will have grave consequences for the U.S. and its interests."

Things went predictably south as the tail wagged the dog, again cementing the allegiance of the US to Israel in Arab minds. Even now, Bush43's trip is being described as nothing more than an "Exotic Gulf vacation" while his calls to embargo Iran were met with Gulf state realism that ''Iran is a neighbor; we have to deal with that." To be fair, Bush43 was said to listen in private:

According to a well placed observer, Bush listened carefully when he was briefed on building resentments and frustrations among Arabs, promising to champion the issue during his last year in office. In turn, he demanded that concerns with the putative Iranian threat, receive equal attention.

Yet I wonder how an Arab, diplomat or layman, can trust Bush43 to be impartial when:

Many [Arab] television audiences saw the hand-written note left by Bush at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, which simply stated: "God Bless Israel".

Arabs asked where was the equivalent in the Holy Land for Palestinians, especially when Born-Again Bush stopped by the Church of Nativity.

Others wondered whether they would read a similar scribble in Bahrain or Kuwait. Indeed, if Gulf rulers were especially generous with Bush, it was to sensitise him to the Arab plight, not to be reminded that Iran was a detrimental force in the region.

Uri Avnery employs the story of Esau and Jacob in a delicious send-up of Olmert saying one thing yet doing another:

Anyone who listens to him - not just at the press conference, but also on every other occasion - hears words of peace and reason: The Palestinians must have a state of their own. The "vision" must be realized while Bush is president, because Israel has never had and never will have a truer friend. The settlement outposts must be removed, as promised by us again and again. The settlements must be frozen. Etc. etc. That is the voice of Jacob. But the hands, well, they are the hands of Esau.

Having observed Israel's performance for a few decades, I must agree with the Gulf Times:

The illegal colonies Israel has planted all over the occupied territories are at the core of the struggle. A peace treaty will require that they all have to go, but in fact Israel is working hard to keep the issue as confused as possible. Rather than accepting they are all illegal settlements, Israel draws a distinction between the West Bank and the land it claims to have annexed around occupied Jerusalem.

In a grand gesture Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered a halt to construction in its colonies, but it turns out that this order does not include colonies near occupied Jerusalem, on land which Israel claims to have annexed. Work is still continuing at a site near occupied Jerusalem that Israelis call Har Homa and Palestinians call Jabal Abu Ghneim...

Stopping work on colonies is a key test of Israel's serious commitment to peace talks. The Palestinians are well aware of this. Many times in the past, when Israel has started peace talks, it has continued to build in the colonies, and then in a grand gesture stopped building and withdrawn from the colonies that it has been building during the negotiations, leaving in place those colonies which had been there for years, completely untouched and full of colonists delighted at having "outsmarted" the Palestinians again.

The Annapolis process required these core issue talks to start in November, but the continuing building in the colonies forced the Palestinians to refuse to talk... The Palestinian government should and does commit to working to stop attacks on Israel, and to bring the perpetrators to justice, but it is a very different situation from the Israeli government allowing its own workers to continue to build in the illegal colonies, while at the same time taking part in a peace process...

To achieve a permanent peace, both sides will have to recognise the other's need for a just and equitable settlement. That will need to be based on the Abdullah Plan offered by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at the 2002 Beirut Arab summit, which involves complete Israeli withdrawal in return for complete normalisation of relations with all the Arab states.

This means Israel should be ready to pull back from all colonies and go to its pre-1967 borders. The Arabs will then have to be ready to recognise Israel and move to full diplomatic relations.

The Gulf states stand ready to support this process, should it start to happen. But at present it is not likely with President Mahmoud Abbas not in control of all Palestinian territory, Olmert gravely weakened - thanks to the failure of his invasion of Lebanon - and Bush working out the last year of his term.

Scraps may be an overly optimistic term for what Bush43 and SecState Rice can achieve in 2008. I don't see the administration briefing Congress on the impact of the fall of Mubarak, and exploring ways to protect Israel going forward. Little wonder that Arab states are cynical and disbelieving in the capacity of the US to behave differently. Were I them, I would be forced to agree.

Exotic Gulf vacation for US president
By Joseph A. Kechichian
Gulf News
Published: January 17, 2008, 01:06

Democracy Activists Disappointed in Bush
Mideast Tour Seen as Failure To Revive Earlier Emphasis; Economic Woes Grow Urgent
By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, January 17, 2008; A14

Implement the Abdullah plan
By Francis Matthew
Gulf News
Published: January 17, 2008, 01:06

Hawk Quits Israeli Coalition
New York Times
Published: January 17, 2008

Bush Avoids Criticism of Mubarak
New York Times
January 17, 2008

Bush Seeks to Answer Arab Skepticism
The Associated Press
January 16, 2008; 12:59 PM

The Hands of Esau
Uri Avnery
Uri Avnery's Column

Bush Promises to Return to Israel
New York Times
January 12, 2008

Of ordinariness and occupation
By Sharmila Devi
Published: January 12 2008 02:00 | Last updated: January 12 2008 02:00

Syrian press slams Bush's 'hollow words'
"The pressure exerted by Washington on Israel is zero"
11 January 2008

Bush visits Kuwait to promote peace deal
By Terence Hunt
Associated Press
January 11, 2008

Arabic papers react to Bush tour
al Jazeera
14:39 MECCA TIME, 11:39 GMT

President Says Mideast Peace Accord Possible Within a Year
Originally Aired: January 10, 2008

Letter to George W. Bush
Gulf News
Published: January 10, 2008, 23:32

Bush Begins Peace Effort Bonded With Olmert
New York Times
January 10, 2008

Skepticism, Anger Greet Bush in Middle East
By Challiss McDonough
Voice of America (VOA)
08 January 2008

For Bush, 2008 Makes or Breaks
By Michael Moran
January 2, 2008

Final Winograd report to be published on January 30
Commission charged with probing Second Lebanon War to submit its final report end of the month. Report expected to be harsh, but not include personal recommendations
Aviram Zino
Israel News
01.06.08, 13:38

US uses Arabs to promote itself on Arabic sites
State Dept. team posts pro-US comments
DUBAI (Hayyan Nayouf,
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)
Tuesday, 18 December 2007

The Death of the RMA
By William S. Lind
On War #224
July 2, 2007

The Muslim Brotherhood for Beginners
By Jeffrey Breinholt
Counterterrorism Blog
July 2, 2007 10:24 AM

Behind the Headlines on the Winograd Commission's Interim Report
Haninah Levine
May 29, 2007

Hezbollah Reacts to Israel's Winograd Report
By Chris Zambelis
Terrorism Focus
Jamestown Foundation
Volume 4, Issue 13
May 8, 2007

The fourth dimension
The Israel-Hezbollah clash and the shape of wars to come
Armed Forces Journal
May 2007

PM Olmert on Winograd Commission Interim Report
Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
30 Apr 2007

Winograd Commission submits Interim Report
Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
30 Apr 2007

The 2006 Lebanon War: Lessons Learned
Sarah E. Kreps
Spring 2007

Israeli government chooses "The Second Lebanon War"
Sun Mar 25, 2007 5:49am EDT

Him and them
Al-Ahram Weekly
Issue No. 879
10 - 16 January 2007

The No-Win Zone: An After-Action Report from Lebanon
Daniel Byman & Steven Simon
The National Interest
Number 86, Nov./Dec. 2006

Israeli Intelligence Dilemmas in Lebanon
Assessment of the Second Lebanon War
By Col. David Eshel
Defense Update
Oct 2006 ??

Hezbollah's Intelligence War
Assessment of the Second Lebanon War
By Col. David Eshel
Defense Update
Oct 2006 ??

The Second Lebanon War
Avi Kober
Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA)
Perspectives Paper No. 22
September 28, 2006


The Second Lebanon War
It probably won't be the last.
by Max Boot
Weekly Standard
Volume 011, Issue 47
CFR Mirror

Sunni-Shia Split Fades as Israel Presses Campaign
By Jim Lobe
InterPress News
Jul 27, 2006

Al-Qaeda & the Muslim Brotherhood: United by Strategy, Divided by Tactics
By Lydia Khalil
Terrorism Monitor
Jamestown Foundation
Volume 4, Issue 6 (March 23, 2006)

WRITTEN BY Neil Docherty & Lowell Bergman
Airdate: January 25, 2005

Searching for meaning
The nakba was not just a tragic moment in the history of Palestinians, but touches the core of the struggle -- now as in the past -- for Arab dignity, identity and justice in the face of power
Azmi Bishara
Al-Ahram Weekly
Issue No. 690
13 -19 May 2004

by Sandra Sobieraj
Chicago Sun-Times
Apr 26, 2002
Original scrolled off copy not available

Cache of FindArticles copy as retrieved on Dec 4, 2007 23:27:54 GMT.

THE ARABS; In Beirut, Arab Officials Vow To Move on Saudi Peace Plan
New York Times
March 27, 2002

Saudi, in Emotional Plea to Israel, Offers 'Land for Peace' Proposal
Arab Leaders Divided
New York Times
March 27, 2002
Original URL now goes to different text
Mirrors of original are here and here.

Excerpts From Speech by Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia
New York Times
March 27, 2002

The Arab World: Society, Culture, and State
By Halim Barakat
University of California
ISBN 0520084276

Gordon Housworth

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