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by Ari Shavit



In the difficult summer of 2006, the State of Israel is declaring in astonishment: They surprised us. They surprised us in a big way. They surprised us with Katyushas and they surprised us with the Al-Fajr rockets and they surprised us with the Zelzal missiles. They surprised us with anti-tank missiles. And they surprised us with the operational skill of the anti-tank squads. They surprised us with the bunkers and the camouflage. They surprised us with the command and monitoring. They surprised us with strategy, fighting ability and a fighting spirit. They surprised us with the astonishing power that a small death-army with low technology and high religious motivation can have.

However, more than they surprised us in Summer 2006 with the strength of Hezbollah, they surprised us this summer with our own weakness. They surprised us with ourselves. They surprised us with the low level of national leadership. They surprised us with scandalous strategic bumbling. They surprised us with the lack of vision, lack of creativity and lack of determination on the part of the senior military command. They surprised us with faulty intelligence and a delusionary logistical network and improper preparedness for war. They surprised us with the fact that the Israeli war machine is not what it once was. While we were celebrating it became rusty.

Generally it is not right to conduct an in-depth investigation of a wartime failure during a war. However, at the end of the most embarrassing year of Israeli defense since the establishment of the State of Israel, the Israeli government is not drawing conclusions. It is not reorganizing the system, there is no evidence of a real learning curve and it is not radiating a new ethos. On the contrary: It is adding another layer of folly onto a previous one. Its slowness to react is dangerous. Its caution is a recipe for disaster. Its attempt to prevent bloodshed is costing a great deal of bloodshed. So that now of all times, just when the forces are moving toward south Lebanon, there is no escaping the question of where we went wrong. It is so that Israel will be able to achieve a last-minute victory and so that the troops will be able to achieve their goals and so the soldiers will be able to return home safely, that we must ask already now: What happened to us? What the hell happened to us?

A simple thing happened : We were drugged by political correctness. The political correctness that has come to dominate Israeli discourse and Israeli awareness in the past generation was totally divorced from the Israeli situation. It did not have the tools to deal with the reality of an existential conflict. It did not have the tools to deal with a reality of an inter-religious and inter-cultural conflict. That is why it focused entirely on the Palestinian issue. It made the baseless assumption that the occupation is the source of evil. It assumed that it is the occupation that is preventing peace and causing unrest and perpetuating the instability.

At the same time, political correctness assumed that Israeli strength is a given. That Israel is insanely strong. Therefore, political correctness disdained any attempt to build and maintain Israeli strength. The defense budget was cut, the values of volunteerism were mocked, the concepts of heroism and fortitude became despicable. Since the Israel Defense Forces was identified as an army of occupation -- rather than as an army defending feminists and homo-lesbians from the fanaticism of the Middle East -- they had reservations about it, they shook it off and became alienated from it. After all, in the spiritual world of political correctness, power and army have become dirty words.

Any national idea was rejected because of the sanctity of the private sphere. Every cooperative ethos was dismantled in favor of the individual. Power was identified with fascism. Masculinity was publicly condemned. The pursuit of absolute justice was mixed with the pursuit of absolute pleasure and turned the reigning discourse from a discourse of commitment and enlistment to one of protest and pampering.

Another thing happened: We were poisoned with an illusion of normalcy. The State of Israel is fundamentally an abnormal state. Just because it is a Jewish state in an Arab region, and just because it is a Western country in a Muslim region, and just because it is a democratic state in a region of fanaticism and despotism, Israel is in constant tension with its surroundings. On the one hand, because of the situation in which it finds itself, Israel cannot live a life of European normalcy. On the other hand, because of its values and its structure in terms of identity, economics and culture, Israel cannot avoid being a part of European normalcy.

Therefore Israel is in a constant state of basic contradiction. The way to resolve this contradiction is to create a positive anomaly -- both ideological and ethical -- that will provide an answer to the negative anomaly in which Israel exists. There is no other way: Israel must prepare a defense envelope that will protect its internal environment from the external environment surrounding it. Life in defiance of the environment is an essential part of Israeli existence.

However, in the past generation this cruel insight has dissipated, the delusion has spread that we have overcome our problems and reached a state of tranquility, and that we can live in this place like any other nation. This illusion led to a situation where the positive Israeli anomaly gradually became blurred, and the energies devoted to maintaining the defensive shield that isolates Israel from the region and protects it from this region were drastically reduced. Weakness prevailed. Our willpower was weakened. The bubble so inebriated the Israelis that they didn't bother to surround it with a fortified wall. Therefore, the pressures of the external environment steadily increased -- with the terror of 2002 and the Qassams of 2005 and the Katyushas of 2006 -- until they penetrated deep inside the Israeli environment. Thus was created the paradox that those who wanted to believe that Israel could be totally normal were the ones who caused it to decline into a chaotic situation of total anomaly and a loss of balance.

Both political correctness and the illusion-of-normalcy spread first and foremost among the Israeli elites. The Israeli public in general has remained for the most part sober and strong. It did not err with illusions of a new Middle East. It did not turn its back on the existential imperative, the defense ethos and the IDF. Even its core values were not destroyed. Therefore, it impressively withstood both the test of terror of 2001-2003 and the test of "fire-on-the-home front" of 2006. It demonstrated an almost British fortitude and continues to do so.

On the other hand, the Israeli elites of the past 20 years have become totally divorced from reality. The capital, the media and the academic world of the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century, have blinded Israel and deprived it of its spirit. Their repeated illusions regarding the historical reality in which the Jewish state finds itself, caused Israel to make a navigational error and to lose its way. Their unending attacks, both direct and indirect, on nationalism, on militarism and on the Zionist narrative have eaten away from the inside at the tree trunk of Israeli existence, and sucked away its life force. While the general public demonstrated sobriety, determination and energy, the elites were a disappointment.

Capital brought the illusion-of-normalcy ad absurdum, and established a crushing social-economic regime here that does not suit the historical situation. The academic world promoted political correctness ad absurdum and conducted a somewhat suicidal spirit of criticism here. And the media combined the two and created a hallucinatory state of mind, which combines unbridled consumerism with false righteousness.

Instead of being constructive elites, in the past generation the Israeli elites have become dismantling elites. Each in its own area, each by its own method, dealt with the deconstruction of the Zionism enterprise. Step by step, the top 1000th percentiles abandoned the existential national effort. They stopped doing reserve duty, they stopped sending their sons to the fighting units. They mocked those officers who warned about unilateral withdrawals. They mocked those officers who warned that the emergency warehouses were emptying out and the enemies were becoming stronger. And they deceived themselves and those around them that Tel Aviv is in fact Manhattan. Money is in fact everything. And thus they bequeathed to young Israelis a legacy of values that makes it very difficult for them to attack even when the attack is fully justified. Because a country that lacks equality, that lacks justice and that lacks faith in the rightness of its path, is a country for which it is very difficult to go on the attack. It is a country for which not many are willing to kill and be killed.

And in the Middle East of the 21st century, a country whose young elites find it difficult to kill and be killed for it is a country on borrowed time. A country that cannot endure. So that what is now being revealed before our eyes, as the smoke of the Katyushas continues to rise from the Lebanese thicket, is not a failure of the IDF but a failure of the elites that turned their back on the IDF. What is being revealed now, when Israel cannot properly protect the lives of its citizens, is not problems of command and problems of tactics, but rather deep-seated problems of a society whose elites have abandoned it. It is not Major General Udi Adam or Brigadier General Gal Hirsch who are the problem, it is the Israeli spirit. A spirit that for far too long has been a spirit of stupidity. A spirit of absolute folly.

Usually, the accusation of folly is directed at battle-hungry generals and warmongering politicians. However, at the end of this war, the accusation of folly will be directed at an entire cadre of Israeli opinion-makers and social leaders who lived in a bubble and caused Israel to live in a bubble. The army will be required to put its house in order and to rebuild, but the true anger will be directed toward the elites who failed. Elites who betrayed the trust of a wise, impressive and strong nation.

However, now it is wartime. The citizens of the north are still in bomb shelters, the soldiers of the regular and standing armies are risking their lives in a war that was not properly planned or properly defined and is being conducted poorly. Therefore, what is needed now is to operate quickly, to operate while in motion, in order to strengthen the spirit of those participating in the battle. What is needed is to create immediately a new discourse that will suit the new situation. Without a new spirit and without a new language there will be no victory in the fighting. Therefore, while the war is raging we must find the spirit and we must find the language that we lost in the years preceding the war.

Israel tried with all its soul and all its might to be Athens. However in this place, in this era, there is no future for an Athens without a speck of Sparta. There is no hope for a society-of-life that does not know how to organize itself to deal with death. Therefore, after decades during which the right and the left and the center took Israeli power for granted and wastefully exploited it, now there is no escaping the need to place the renewed building of Israeli power at the top of the agenda. We are returning to the encounter with our fate; returning to what is decreed by the reality of our lives.


The English transcript was translated from the Hebrew.

If this war will end with Israel's defeat, it will then be only the prelude to the horrific war of existence that is waiting for Israel just around the corner.

Israel will survive the decisive 2nd round ONLY IF she will stop lying to herself. Only if Israeli will begin asking themselves the RIGHT QUESTIONS and NOW!

Since the Six Days War Israel did not win any war. However, in all of the last generation's wars she was never defeated. Yom Kippur War, turned almost-defeat, almost-victory when the IDF crossed the Suez Canal in the south and threatened Damascus from the north. The Lebanon War was complicated and tangled. Israel, however, brought about the removal of Arafat from Beirut and the dismantling of the PLO, the sub state he founded. The first Intifada died down just before Israel got tired of it and acquiesced to the Oslo Accord. The second Intifada was repelled before Israel got tired of it too and was tempted to disengage.

Thus far, in the four different military "engagements" -- to which one can add the War Of Attrition and the Gulf War [remember the Iraqi Scuds falling on Israel?] -- Israel arrived at some sort of stalemate that did not bring about any decisive result but allowed some sort of stable existence until the next battle or war. Therefore, the Lebanon 2nd-round war is differs from the previous one. In the Lebanon 2nd war round there is live possibility Israel will be defeated. If the large ground operation that Olmert called for and the nation stands behind it will not end up a victory. The reality that Israeli will wake up to at the end of this war will be the first defeat for Israel -- the first Israeli defeat by its enemy.

Defeat is not a Holocaust. It is not the end of it all. The French were defeated in the Indo-China War and survived; the Americans were defeated in Vietnam and prevailed. Egypt was defeated in 1967, learned the relevant lessons and came back strong on its feet, already in 1970 and for sure in 1973. However, to prevent even mottled Israeli defeat there is a need to exactly define the situation. The attempt to create an imaginative false victory does not serve Israel's national objective and national existence. On the contrary, it puts the nation to sleep, thus preventing it from mobilizing its forces and have the readiness to take on the struggle for its existence. If Israel wants to survive, she cannot continue living inside its strong military establishment panel web. She has to come out of its patriotic virtual reality studios' rating and polls and take a good look at the reality as it is. The reality is harsh but not without HOPE!

First, there is a need to characterize the immediate problem: Israel failed in the initial three stages of 2006 war; the air attacks failed, the sporadic, limited ground operations failed, and the days of continuous hesitation and the confusion after Bint Jabaal fight also failed. As a result Israel got caught standing powerless against sub-state terror organization pounding her non-stop over and over again. Israel is a nation surrounded by active enemy and enemy of might. The might of these enemies exceeds Hezbollah might. If, these past three long weeks Israel were not able to defend its sovereignty and its citizens from Hezbollah, the impression formed that Israel is a state that cannot defend itself -- it is defenseless.

This is mistaken impression. Israel is a strong nation in its core. However, in the Middle East, the mere fact a weak image is formed means defeat. The meaning of such defeat is another, soon to come war; much more difficult and terrible war than this one. Therefore, last moment attempt to "turn the dish over," and achieve a belated victory along the foreseen terrible bloodshed price is appropriate, important and imperative. In fact, those ones seeking life, stability, and perhaps even peace must be prepared to pay the dreadful price this Lebanon second round war demands so Israel does not end up defeated.

Afterwards there will be a need to characterize the immediate reasons for this immediate crisis. Why the Soccer World Cup (Mondial) summer turned to be the failing war summer? Why Israel went from economic hedonist-conceit position to a military impotency position?

The Yom Kippur war is etched in the Israeli conscious as oversight neglect. Lebanon 2nd War will be etched in the Israeli conscious as a failure. Even if, after all, Nasrallah will be, one way or another, defeated, the 2006 war revealed the fact that Israel 2006 is in a structural formation failed. For the failing structural formation not to collapse, at this very moment, while Israel is sending her sons to battle its future on the northern battlefield, there is a need to carefully and precisely assess this present situation.

The political formation failed. It failed because it devoted itself to the shallow unilateral disengagement belief without understanding the consequential danger it entails. It also failed because it did not form crushing Israeli deterrence against the Kassam rocket attacks in the south after the disengagement. It failed because it went to war hastily hastily, without properly gauging the outcome. It failed because it followed blindly the military command it did not critic, curb or focalize it. It failed because it entered Israel into a battlefield trap where one has to win the battle that could not be won.

The military formation failed too. It failed because it presumed that air force and its precision arms is the answer to Israel's basic security. It failed because ii promised that it could defeat conventional wars without blood, sweat and tears. It failed because of its complacency. It failed because of its conceit. It failed because it did not build relevant fighting ethos and did not install aggressive fighting spirit. It failed because it invested most of its resources in managing the occupation on one hand and preparations on the other hand instead of properly preparing for a WAR-real war!

The challenge of the last days of war and the long day immediately after the war is to, again, make Israel a state with recognition. To do this, one must address all the basic questions. To do this one has to do a house inspection not only in the political, military and establishment formations, but in our entire being formations.

Israel is the Jewish nation state. Israel is a free nation. Because it is a Jewish state and also a free nation, the Islam nations jealousy demands to destroy Israel. Since the 1979 Khomeini revolution in Iran the Muslin extremism is on the ascent. Therefore, the threat on Israel is real not abstract; it is existential, not territorial. The challenge Israel is facing is how to organize its existence formation in the way that she could preserve its identity and defend its independence against the Islam Tsunami rising on her.

During half a century Israel knew how to do just that. During the midst 30s to the midst 80s, when Israel stood against the secular Arab nationalism, the young Israel that was on its way knew how to adjust its values, its internal structure, and its military might to the existential challenge against which she was living daily. A balance between western culture fit in and the commitment to prevail in the Middle East was found. A balance between mobilization and freedom was found. A balance between the love to life and the willingness to die was found.

Almost miraculously Israel succeeded to make inroads between its existential internal dichotomies and even turned these dichotomies to a source of power. Just because she was aware of its exclusive fragility and weakness, Israel succeeded building effervescent and productive national existence fortified by a strong national security deterrent might. In the last twenty years this balance was lost. Internal politics shake up, Lebanon War, the Settlements, privatization, Intifada and post-Zionism caused the break down of Israel old order. New Israel order was formed. No new Israeli story was told. A present time plan to bridges the terrible gap between the Israel internal environment and the external environment inside which Israel was happening was not crystallized.

The new wealthy elite that substituted the old serving elite is of no worth or value rather is a sponger and a user. It did not provide economic well being rather personal and status well being. Therefore she did not establish second Israeli republic that will replace the distressed, absorbent and determined republic of up to the 80s. With it, it formed reality of free market that is not restraint by valid statehood. It created extremist, individualistic, and destructive capitalistic government that crumbles any national solidarity sense and greatly weakens national security. It promised peace again and again and turned its futile peace promises to an example. It turned Israel into pleasure yacht its captains are bragging drunks and its owners are corrupt drunks that cannot notice the big storm that is coming.

Now we are in the midst of the storm. The Second Lebanon War often seems like deja vu and a repeat of the past but in fact it is the gleam of the future. On our northern border Iranian Cuba was founded. If the Cuban Iran is not disarmed it will continuously and unbearably threaten Israel. From our present experience, to disarm Cuba-Iran is like a Picasso Bay of Pigs. Therefore we can assume that what we are experiencing now is only the first conflict round that will be followed by second and third conflict rounds. The issue is not the captured soldiers. The issue is the Iran's attempt to put an end to the Israeli strategic homogeny in the region. The issue is the attempt of the evil Iranian power to fight off the west from the Middle East by shaking Israel stability.

Therefore, we have to see the Second Lebanon War as the Spanish War that precedes the big battle serving as arms' experimental field. We have to understand that the Second Lebanon War leave us with the question whether we are second Czechoslovakia that buckled against evil or we are Britain that after very difficult days could stand up to evil and creating a turning point against the evil it faces. Whether it is this or that, there will not be determining end to Lebanon Second War. The shaky peace that is likely to prevail after the war ends will be only cessation. What will determine the conflict results, which will come after the cessation, is what side will use the cessation to its advantage. Which side will understand the situation fatalism and what side will smartly use it to prepare for the hour of truth that will come no matter what.

Hassan Nasrallah challenged us this summer to the deepest end. With a small, disciplined and determined army of believers he came to reprove that our democracy is rotten. "There is no hope," he said, "There is no hope for free, life loving society in the extremist Middle East. Now the challenge is laid in front of us.

Israel is misleading state. When she is aware of its inherent weakness she is able to overcome it and yet turn superpower. When she recognizes and is self absorbed of its might and superiority she weakens and is beat. Therefore it is now, especially now, because of the hard blow we absorbed in the Sin of Smugness war, we have the ability to get up from the defeat, shake ourselves up, and rise above ourselves with our hidden power. To do so we have to look straight at our destiny and ourselves.

The debate on Israel situation and the outcome must begin at once. This list proposes a glimpse few initial insights. However, the after war piercing debate must bring up the following questions: Is there a way to prevent third world war of west against Islam? Is the idea of civil order of the day and civil government in Israel was right or it was immature heart wish? Was the attack on the Israeli militarism justified or dangerous? Does the occupation and the conversion must go through new assessment? Did the occupation cause the fatigue of the IDF material and what was the Israeli nouveau riche suburban contribution? Is there a way to define Israel warfare concept that will allow young secular Israelis to defend their freedom of indulgence world from radical Muslims possible? Is there still a political way to block the Iranian threat, perhaps along peace agreement with Syria? Where did we go wrong in understanding the limitation of power? Did we overly rely on our technological and strategic superiority? What does the war mean to our ambition to be considered an enlightened nation? Western? Did we make a mistake in our American orientation and European addiction?

Ari Shavit is a writer for Ha'aretz.

"A Spirit of Absolute Folly" was published August 11, 2006 in Ha'aretz
( and "Apocalypse Later" was published August 14, 2006 in Ha'aretz.

Thanks are due Nurit Greenger for sending this in. He wrote, "For a long time I have been saying that Israel -- government and citizens -- lost its vision! No country can exist if it has not vision, especially Israel. If it lost its vision it might as well declare it is no more. Ari Shavit is tearing Israel's reality to pieces -- I guess Israel should be dismantled and then put back together again!"


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