Jewish Sightseeing HomePage Jewish Sightseeing
  2006-07-20-Escalating warfare
Writers Directory

Ira Sharkansky



Historians may ask: 'Was this a
new war or the same old one?, July 20, 2006

By Ira Sharkansky
JERUSALEM —Historians will quarrel whether this is a separate, stand-alone war in the record of Israeli-Arab conflicts, or part of the intafada that has raged since 2000. On the one hand, it deserves a name of its own. It represents the greatest incidence of civilian property damage in Israel since the 1948 War of Independence. On the other hand, Hezbollah's justification for its initial attack was to relieve Israeli pressure on the Palestinians, and to produce the release of Palestinian prisoners. In recent days we have heard of Hezbollah instructions to its Palestinian allies to send suicide bombers into Israeli cities. Optimists say that this is a sign of Hezbollah's suffering from Israeli pressure. Israeli security forces have nipped several bombers on their way to targets, and have increased their own pressure on several locations in the West Bank.
From this perspective, operations in Lebanon and Gaza are part of the same old war that the Palestinians call Intafada al-Aqsa.
On the third hand is the interpretation that the whole purpose of the attack on Israeli territory by Hezbollah was engineered by the principle source of its theology, weaponry, and money in Iran, in order to distract the attention of the United States and others from their campaign against Iran's development of nuclear weapons. It is possible to add to this view that the Hamas attack on Israeli forces that began the operation in Gaza (and was a link in the explanation of the Hezbollah attack from Lebanon) came in response to prompting from Syria, which was concerned to distract American attention on it  for aiding the fighting in Iraq.
Iran is not a prominent ally of Hamas, but Syria is; and Syria is an important way station in the flow of aid from Iran to Hezbollah. In recent days Israeli forces have destroyed overland shipments of munitions from Syria to Lebanon. It is getting difficult to perceive the end of the operation in Lebanon without an attack on the sources of the aid in Syria.
The missile attacks on Israel from Lebanon are not a surprise. We have known for years about the thousands of rockets aimed at us. We are arguing if we should have taken those out earlier; if it was wise to rely on mutual threat to keep them from being fired; and if Israel could have ever taken them out without a serious provocation or without the kind of damage we are currently suffering.
We also know that Syria has lots of missiles pointed at Israel, with longer range and larger warheads than those in Lebanon. Currently I am operating in my airy study with its great view over the desert with the Mountains of Moab and Amman in the distance. If the Syrian front heats up I may be working in the windowless bomb shelter four levels down.
There are some who say that it is meaningless to fix the boundaries of one or another conflict. None of us is likely to live long enough to see it end, but one day historians will be writing about the 100+ year war between Israelis and Arabs, which those who lived it divided into chapters according to prominent adversaries and locations.
Newt Gingrich has been talking about World War III emerging from the current chapter. That sounds like a war of civilizations that will ratchet up from somebody's attack on Iran's nuclear facilities (and/or North Korea's), and a wave of suicide attacks in Europe and North America beyond the defensive capacity of those who are concerned about keeping fingernail clippers out of airliners. By then we will all be in the basement, hoping for safety.
If all the details and prospects are too complicated, remember that it is the good guys against the bad guys, and we are the good guys.

Sharkansky is an emeritus member of the political science department at Hebrew University in Jerusalem