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Ira Sharkansky



Sleepless in Jerusalem, August 11, 2006

By Ira Sharkansky
JERUSALEM—I have not had a good night's sleep in more than five weeks. Beginning with the Hamas attack and seizure of an Israeli soldier, the Israeli entry to Gaza, and then parallel events in Lebanon, I have been watching three news programs before going to bed, and then sleeping alongside a pocket radio and earphones. I usually wake up once or twice close to the hourly news, and poke around to update myself. The IDF does much of its work at night.
It can take a while each hour to get past the naming of soldiers killed, along with the times and places of their funerals. I listen to them all. So far I have not recognized any of those who have died.
Last night we went to bed thinking we were close to a cease fire engineered by the United Nations Security Council, along with a partial settlement of Israel's basic demands. By the middle of the night, it was apparent that Israel was willing to accept what the United States had arranged, despite reservations, but Lebanon was saying no.
Meanwhile, 40,000 reservists have been equipped and are waiting along the Lebanese border. Lots of reinforcements have been sent to the Golan Heights, against the possibility that Syria may attack. Additional recruitments are underway. One of my doctoral students, an Orthodox rabbi who teaches in a religious high school and is researching the budgeting of religious education, may not do all the research he planned for the summer. He is also likely to miss his oldest son's Bar Mitzvah.
The government approved a major escalation of Israel's activity in Lebanon, but authorized the defense minister and the prime minister to decide on the implementation, depending on the possibility of diplomatic efforts. Reports are that the defense minister is anxious to move ahead, but that the prime minister is concerned about the IDF's projection that the activity will take at least a month, will cost 300 Israeli combat deaths, and will succeed in neutralizing only 70 percent of Hezbollah's missiles. In comparative terms, correcting for differences in population, 300 Israeli deaths is equivalent to 12,000 American deaths. Lots of Americans are already nervous about 2,500 deaths in Iraq.
The defense minister explained the delay. Before undertaking such an action, he wants to persuade the soldiers' parents and wives that he did all possible to give diplomacy a chance.
For those of you wanting a more heroic Israel, you are invited to take the next available plane, along with all your sons above the age of 18. Daughters can stay at home, unless they are willing to volunteer for social action in the north. There they can join female soldiers and other care givers trying to help the families that have been spending a month in bomb shelters. It will not be pleasant work. Most are too poor, old, handicapped, or otherwise incapable of finding their own way to safer places. They are traumatized and angry.
We are arguing about the arrangements the prime minister seems willing to accept. One commentary on the front page of today's Ha'aretz indicates that Olmert failed, and must leave office. Another commentary indicates that it is necessary to swallow the arrangements that fall short of initial demands. Most wars end in ways that disappoint all sides. Americans can remember Korea, Vietnam, and anticipate something other than a total victory that produces democracy in Iraq.
The fervor of Hezbollah and other Arabs can postpone Israel's internal reckoning. Those 40,000 soldiers may move forward, along with all you volunteers who come quickly. The IDF can reach deep into Lebanon, neutralize most of the rockets, and kill a lot of fighters while the air force destroys more buildings and makes more Lebanese homeless, unemployed, or worse. Then Israel and its international friends can figure out how to manage southern Lebanon, while the guerrillas keep sniping and laying their roadside bombs.
Among the curiosities was yesterday's seizure in Britain of a group of Muslims planning to bring down 6-10 airlines on their way to the United States, and the chaos produced by the closure of UK airports and the further tightening of security procedures. Now hand lotion and books, as well as fingernail clippers, will be seized by the security personnel. The reminder of what President Bush now calls "Muslim fascists" may have stiffened the American posture with respect to French efforts to serve the Arabs in the Security Council.
The events associated with the war will not end with an agreement involving the United Nations, Israel, and Lebanon. The Lebanese will have to deal with the destruction of buildings, roads, and bridges, economic loss, and the care of 600,000 to a million internal refugees. Many will return to the rubble of what used to be their homes. All that seems likely to tarnish the image of Hezbollah and its Iranian and Syrian sponsors. Even if Israel does not get everything it wants in a settlement, we can hope that its message will have a impact on those anxious to destroy us.
Meanwhile, there is a new wrinkle to IDF policy in Gaza. When it locates a building it wishes to destroy, it telephones ahead and gives nearby residents 15 minutes to leave. If there is someone inside who is on the list of bad people, it may not telephone. All this requires considerable investments in intelligence. Our sources must not only locate the bad guys, the bomb making workshops and munitions stores, but also the neighbors' telephone numbers. This may get us a point or two with humanitarians, but that might not be enough once the world notices what we have done in Gaza while all the media stars have been in Lebanon. And so far, our  intelligence has not been good enough to find the solider we would like to liberate.

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