May 10, 2024

Washington Post’s David Ignatius Remains Clueless About the Middle East

Photograph Source: Aude – CC BY-SA 3.0

Wars in the Middle East often end with a fuzzy ambiguity that allows both sides to claim victory. “Neither victor nor vanquished” is the phrased often used to describe these wars.

– David Ignatius, oped, Washington Post, May 7, 2024.

It’s difficult to imagine an Israeli war in the Middle East that allowed any Arab country to claim victory.  The history of the Middle East over the past 75 years has been a history of war, and the Israelis have been the overwhelming victor in each and every one of them.  Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 marked an overwhelming victory for the Israelis; it created the profound antagonisms that have marked Israeli relations with the Arab states over the past 75 years.  The United States and Israel over the years have indulged in a dialogue about a “peace process,” but Arab refugees have known neither “peace” nor “process.”

The Six-Day War in 1967 was an incredibly brief and violent conflict between Israel and its three neighbors that permanently altered the landscape of the Middle East.  The Soviet Union was partially responsible for the war, falsely telling the Syrians and the Egyptians that Israelis were concentrating troops on their border.  This was dangerous disinformation, and the Soviets never played this game again, but the damage had been done.  The Egyptians believed the report, and mobilized forces in the Sinai Peninsula.  Israel used the mobilization as a pretext to attack, and overwhelmingly defeated the armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in short order.

The October 1973 War marked a major policy and intelligence failure for Israel—Israel’s Pearl Harbor—but the results were similarly one-sided and required U.S. and Soviet diplomatic cooperation and intervention to save the Egyptian forces from virtual annihilation.  Secretary of State Henry Kissinger warned Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan that, if the Israelis continued to break the cease-fire that he had negotiated with Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin, then the United States would find a way to get food and water to the beleaguered Egyptian III Corps, the most important Corps in the Egyptian Army.  Another one-sided Israeli victory.

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 proved to be a political nightmare for Israel, but there is no question that Lebanon suffered an overwhelming military defeat.  Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization and Syrian military forces had to flee the country.  It was a dubious Israeli victory because Israeli Defense Forces remained in Lebanon for two decades.  And now Hezbollah, far more threatening than Arafat’s PLO ever was, is the major political force in Lebanon.

The official Israeli name for the operation was “Peace for Galilee,” but several Mossad intelligence analysts told me they called the campaign “Vietnamowitz” because Lebanon proved to be Israel’s “briar patch.”  The Israelis secretly informed U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig about the invasion, and he unwisely gave them a “green light,” which cost him his position at the Department of State.

Similar to the Gaza campaign, Defense Minister Ariel Sharon conducted a siege of Beirut that denied the capital city’s residents food, water, and medical supplies.  Like today’s Gazans, the residents of Beirut were trapped.  The air and artillery bombardment of Beirut was ferocious, but unlike Gaza, the Israeli cabinet instructed Sharon that he could no longer use airpower in Beirut without its consent.  Sharon was also responsible for allowing the Lebanese Phalangists to enter two Palestinian refugee camps—Sabra and Shatila—where they brutally massacred unarmed civilians.  UN and even Israeli investigative commissions condemned the actions of the Israeli military; no one should anticipate that the Israelis will do the same in the case of Gaza.

The second Lebanese War in 2006 was similarly one-sided as the Israelis targeted not only Hezbollah, but Lebanese infrastructure and such critical facilities as power plants.  The Israelis should have learned that they couldn’t destroy Hezbollah’s political influence in Lebanon with military force.  Netanyahu’s emphasis on the total destruction of Hamas points to the fact that no lessons were learned from the second war in Lebanon.  President George W. Bush, who learned nothing from his war against Iraq in 2003, was responsible for encouraging Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to continue the war.  The first Lebanese War destroyed the career of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin; the second war destroyed Olmert.  Gaza ultimately will cost Netanyahu his stewardship of Israel.

Ironically, the year 2006 was also marked by elections in Gaza that led to the political takeover by Hamas.  Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice convinced Bush that elections should be held in Gaza because they would produce a major victory for Palestinian moderates.  Impartial observers considered the election “free and fair” as Hamas won a majority of the seats in the Palestinian legislature.  American policymakers should be careful about what they wish for.

In the current war with Gaza, Ignatius believes that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “repeated insistence that he must invade Rafah is partly theatrics, to frighten Hamas into accepting a hostage release deal.”  in view of Israel’s genocidal campaign that has been marked by the total destruction of Gaza’s hospitals, schools, and libraries, it appears to be particularly obtuse to believe that Netanyahu is merely pursuing theatrics; clearly he is trying to ensure that Gaza is not habitable.

Ignatius also claims that “humanitarian assistance in Gaza has increased sharply since Israel withdrew most of its troops last month,” which will come as a shock to the Palestinians suffering from the Israeli-imposed famine in north and south Gaza.  In fact, the latest Israeli incursion in Gaza has disrupted the major entry point for humanitarian assistance in the south.  Palestinian children are already dying from malnutrition; several have arrived in the United States for medical treatment.

Unfortunately, the brokering of peace between Israel and the Arab states has never been a high priority for either side, and only the Carter administration made a real effort, largely successful, to stabilize the region.  No American soldiers were killed in the Middle East during the Carter administration.  In more recent years, American soldiers have been killed only in the Greater Middle East.

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