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Salbe: The Daily Briefing - After The Lebanon War

Sol Salbe: The Daily Briefing


Middle East News Service

[For the benefit of new people: I write a weekly Middle East round-up (usually on Fridays) for The Daily Briefing – a service I rely upon for a fair bit of my own non-ME reading. The introduction below is by TDB editor Wayne Sanderson – Sol Salbe.]

Introduction: Robert Fisk and John Pilger have both done good, sometimes even great work. Both are also passionate barrow-pushers, who too often fall into the trap of making the facts fit their thesis, a bad failing in any journalist. For that reason, TDB has linked to both infrequently. Interested to read in Sol Salbe's Middle East round-up, link below, that he feels the same way, and he provides some recent examples from their coverage of the Israel-Hezbollah war.

Yes, after some sick leave, and a break following the end of Israel’s second Lebanon war, Sol Salbe is back. Sol says this column is just scratching the surface (TBD wishes that all media were this "shallow") and says there may be another later in the week, with no promise made on that score.

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Nothing in Israel’s second Lebanon war seems to have worked according to plan. Quite apart from the various military and social aspects, the post-war period does not seem to follow the pattern either. While there have been some demonstrations, nothing like the post 1973 movement against the government seems to have evolved. Israelis perceive major failures in their government and security forces on both occasions. But that’s where the similarities end.

There is no question that the level of human losses alone was a shock to the system. A quick balance sheet will help visualise why Israelis perceived that they have lost the war. By the time of the ceasefire Israel lost 117 soldiers and 39 civilians. By way of a comparison Australia lost 500 soldiers in Vietnam in seven years. With approximately three times Israel’s population Israel’s losses are equivalent to about 360 soldiers and 120 civilian in the spate of 33 days. (Of course the total Israelis losses are on par with the monthly Palestinian losses in recent months but that’s a comparison that unfortunately few seem interested enough to make.)

But a balance sheet needs to compare losses with gains. The killing of over a thousand non-combatant Lebanese and the destruction of Lebanon’s infrastructure and a substantial part of the housing stock in section of Beirut and southern Lebanon are not a gain for Israel. Neither is the increased hatred to Israel by not only the Shiites but other sections of the Lebanese population. In terms of Israel’s stated war aims, its two prisoners have not been returned. [And when they will be returned it will be as part of the prisoner exchange – something Hezbollah offered in the first place.] Hezbollah has not been disarmed and both the Lebanese government and the new UNIFIL force have already stated that they will not disarm Hezbollah. In terms of the war third aim of restoring Israel’s deterrent powers the result is even worse. Hezbollah has proven itself as a credible military force that can stop the IDF in its tracks. The combined resources of the intelligence services and the vaunted air force could get the organisation’s Al Manar television station off the air. Israel is now seen as definitely having less of a deterrent power than before.

So the majority of Israelis and Lebanese agree on the result of the war but in Israel no significant protest movement has developed. Robert Rosenberg of Ariga explained why in his daily message:

“That ignorance about history is typical of the protests underway, which have still not managed to come up with a unified message. The protesters include combine angry reservists upset they were not properly equipped for battle or given what they say were confused commands, relatives of soldiers killed in accidents and friendly fire, and 'orangers' -- settler politicians who anyway wanted to bring down the government because of its now defunct unilateral West Bank withdrawal plan and wanted vengeance against chief of staff Halutz for his role in leading the disengagement from Gaza. Nobody is protesting the fact the government jumped into war within hours of the kidnapping of the two soldiers, without any substantive debate, or apparently any thought devoted to what it wanted to accomplish.”

What is even more surprising has been the lack of new revelations about the war coming out in the two weeks since the ceasefire came into affect. It’s not that the Israeli media has been slack, the papers are full of investigative reports, analysis and comments, but nothing major has been disclosed. Ma’ariv did expose the way in which the Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz, managed to find time to call his broker and sell his entire share portfolio before the war started. But no other story seems to have hit the headlines in the same way. In fact the London Sunday Times seems to be the first one with substantial new revelations. Their 27 August article “Humbling of the supertroops shatters Israeli army morale”is today’s top recommend reading. Here is a taste, describing what happened on the very first night of the war:

“Just before midnight, the order ‘Fire!’ — given by the squadron leader — could be heard in the Tel Aviv bunker. Within moments the first Hezbollah missile and launcher were blown up. Thirty-nine tense minutes later the squadron leader’s voice was heard again: ‘Fifty-four launchers have been destroyed. Returning to base.’

“Halutz smiled with relief and called Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, who was enjoying a cigar as he waited by a secure red phone at his residence in Jerusalem.

“‘All the long-range rockets have been destroyed,’ Halutz announced proudly. After a short pause, he added four words that have since haunted him: ‘We’ve won the war.’”

In a breaking news story this morning’s Haaretz reports: “Hezbollah would not have abducted two Israel Defense Forces soldiers on July 12 had it known that the action would lead to war in Lebanon, the leader of the militant group, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, said in an interview televised Sunday.”

Credibility

One by-product of the war has been the loss of credibility of many of the protagonists, their supporters and the media. The supporters on both sides mirrored each other in willing to believe just about anything about their opponents. This was so much the case that outrageous send-up articles were being taken for good coin. Among Israel’s supporters some people were willing to believe that Mel Gibson was arrested on terrorism charges. Among Israel’s opponents many were willing to believe that CEO of Starbucks would send a letter out saying that a certain amount of each cup of coffee goes to Israel.

The record of the IDF spokesperson’s office and that of some of Israel’s leading lights is probably worthy of a column on its own. Sufficient to say that Israel’s credibility has not enhanced in recent weeks.

Some sections of the media have also suffered severe dents to their credibility. Again this something that deserves a whole column, if not somebody’s future Ph D. But for the time being I want to look at two cases on the pro-Lebanese side. One is Robert Fisk who in the opinion of the undersigned simply relied too often on material coming from Hezbollah and its supporters. Here is an example: “They wrote the names of the dead children on their plastic shrouds. ‘Mehdi Hashem, aged seven ­ Qana,’ was written in felt pen on the bag in which the little boy's body lay. ‘Hussein al-Mohamed, aged 12 ­ Qana’, ‘Abbas al-Shalhoub, aged one ­ Qana.' And when the Lebanese soldier went to pick up Abbas's little body, it bounced on his shoulder as the boy might have done on his father's shoulder on Saturday. In all, there were 56 corpses brought to the Tyre government hospital and other surgeries, and 34 of them were children. When they ran out of plastic bags, they wrapped the small corpses in carpets. Their hair was matted with dust, most had blood running from their noses.” This sounds like an eye witness account. But we now know that all that the figure of 56 was an estimate that fortunately turned out to be wrong. All sources, Hezbollah included, accept the Red Cross’s figure of 28 dead including 19 children. So Fisk’s report does not seem genuine. Ironically the corollary of Fisk’s high reputation was such that disparaging comments were directed at Haaretz by sections of the Israeli peace movement for publishing the Red Cross’s figure. [Fisk dropped several other obvious clangers during the war. It is a real pity because it means that we cannot take his good material for good coin.]

Another reporter who should know better is John Pilger. His is a weekly column and he should simply check his information better. Quote: “Unlike [Blair], the Israelis at least are honest. ‘We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population,’ said Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. Half a century later, Ariel Sharon said, ‘It is the duty of Israeli leaders to explain to public opinion... that there can be no Zionism, colonisation or Jewish state without the eviction of the Arabs and the expropriation of their lands.’”

The first of these quotes is a documented fake. While I have not given the same attention to the second one, the fact that I wasn’t able to track it down to reliable source suggest that it too the product of someone’s fertile imagination. What a terrible way to destroy one’s own (otherwise valid) case.

But then again bias is in the eye of the beholder. Today’s last example tells you better than I ever could, exactly what some people think is biased. Make up your own mind about this item from the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs.

Anti-Israeli Bias in the European Parliament
and Other European Union Institutions
An Interview with Rijk van Dam

About 20 percent of the Members of the European Parliament are friends of Israel. Another 20 percent are clear friends of the Palestinian people, while the remaining 60 percent like to sit on the fence.

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[The independent Middle East News Service concentrates on providing alternative information chiefly from Israeli sources. It is sponsored by the Australian Jewish Democratic Society. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the AJDS. These are expressed in its own statements]

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