Walid's Wanderings

Reflections on life, good-and-evil, family, humanity, and anything else that occurs to me, usually when I travel. Right now I am on a 6-year trip through Lebanon, the homeland I had never really lived in before.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Local Update

Thanks to everyone who wrote. One day I will have access to a broadband internet connection on which I can respond to every one of you, but with my modem I will have to confine most of my responses to this blog. What we see here is a tripling in the price of produce and some reduction in the range of terrible things that we can expect to happen - in other words some set of rules has emerged about what they are going to bombard and what they are not. For now.

Fighting the last war

History repeats itself, and nowhere more disastrously as when people in power repeatedly act as if history were going to repeat itself exactly. In military parlance, this is called "preparing to fight the last war".

It is possible, although by no means conclusive, that the current conflict will go down in the textbooks of military history as a new kind of war. Military history in general is interested in eras when a certain weapons system comes into use or goes out of use or is countered by a system that had not been able to stand up to it before. For example, Scottish leader William Wallace (Braveheart) faced British heavy cavalry with heavy infantry for the first time since the type of heavy cavalry used by the British was developed. If you remember the movie or your textbooks, the secret was in a combination of technology (steel-tipped wooden pikes at least 9 feet long, drills and discipline to enable the unmounted infantrymen to position themselves correctly in the face of charging horses, and a strategic decision to deploy sufficient numbers of this new sort of heavy infantry against the British heavy cavalry. Braveheart lost the war, but the new type of heavy infantry became the norm once again, and was used particularly well by the Swiss to maintain their neutrality and territorial integrity until modern times. Before that era, the Romans had relied on heavy infantry until their form of that weapons system was defeated by Atilla the Hun and Genghiz Khan's more advanced version of light cavalry. In that case, it was horsemen who could shoot arrows backwards at full gallop. I think these two examples are enough to give the general picture.

Because we humans like continuity, military historians still use the term "cavalry" to describe the most mobile systems, namely aircraft, and "infantry" to describe the slower systems, like tanks. And today, air supremacy is probably the most important determinant of tactical victory. With air supremacy, today's version light of heavy cavalry can withstand anything apart from enemy heavy cavalry, and can pound any other systems at an equal level of sophistication, including the light infantry of the day (surface-to-air missiles). Today's heavy cavalry can make ground advance a cakewalk, as happened in Kuwait 1991, or at the very least very easy, as happened in Afghanistan 2002.

So what am I saying about the "last war"? The Arab-Israeli conflict has been defined, at least form a military standpoint, by Israeli air supremacy. Israel destroyed Egypt's air force in 1967, secured stalemate against armored infantry in 1973, and continues to defy air-to-surface missiles as happened with Syria in Lebanon in the 80s. The only check against this superiority was international public opinion, which could in the long term disrupt the strategic supply chains of the Israeli military if it was felt that this air supremacy was being abused. The war, which political commentators have accused Hezballah of waging again, and in which concerned individuals from both sides have already instinctively started playing their roles, is the war for pubic opinion. Inflict damage on the enemy while claiming regret at having to do so, and overplay the suffering on your side. Eventually, the putatively unintentional damage causes the United States to wag its finger, and the smoke clears to another Israeli victory. Because Israel, with its rich cultural heritage of respect for god-given human rights and ingenuity in adhering to the letter of the law, is a natural at this type of war. The Arabs, with their despots, ideologues and profiteers, were only able to play the game at all because they had a lot more raw material (raw human suffering) to feed into the propaganda machine.

How is the war happening right now above my head any different? Hezballah trying to assert a new type of deterrent force, just like Braveheart's pikes. The have unsophisticated medium-range missiles, which normally are easy prey for a superior air force. They have them in large quantities and in well hidden and fortified places, and they operate within an organizational structure that amazingly combines immunity to human intelligence and responsiveness to a central command. Hence my use of the term "well-regulated militia" in my last posting. Finally, they have made the strategic decision to deploy this light infantry force as a strategic deterrent to heavy cavalry. If they do not lose to overwhelming force of numbers, Hezballah can be the first to rescue Israel from the corrupting effects of the absolute power that it has enjoyed for so long.

I explained in my last posting why Hezballah must avoid the fate of Fatah and of Hamas on the negotiating table. What they are doing right now is proving with their actions that they want to be left in peace, just like Israel claims to want to be left in peace, and that they are able to keep a promise once they make it. Unlike the repugnant and losing strategy of suicide bombing used by Hamas, Hezballah's missiles do not need a logistical window of opportunity. They could have been fired at any point in the past several years, but tellingly they were not. The message to the world is that they will only be fired in response Israeli attack. In the past, in the present and in the future. They can cause damage. They can be targeted at an individual city and sometimes with luck at individual city blocks. As long as Israel uses weapons capable of targeting a single windowpane as a battering ram against whole city blocks at a time (because the organized-militia nature of Hezballah has denied them their usual level of human intelligence), the two weapons systems are equivalent in the psychological damage that can cause, and hence a way to some sort of parity

The only price for peace is that the disguised aggression of "the last war" must stop. Israel can live in peace right now and forever, if they will only stop saying "the continued existence of the state of Israel requires that ... we keep this hilltop or that aquifer or we hold this person prisoner or we keep that border closed to commerce." The only way that this logic ever made sense was under the umbrella of unchallenged Israeli air supremacy. And the only way that Israel can have peace with her neighbors is if this logic dies the death it richly deserves.

As I said in the last posting and in the last comment, there are enough people who want to be left in peace on both sides to make this peace stick. There is a minority that wants war to extermination, and those must be and easily can be dealt with. The big problem is in those huge majorities on both sides who believe that their existence is in danger. Hezballah is communicating with their actions, as cogently as humanly possible, that they can live in peace with an Israel that does not attack them. Israel's leaders must stop fighting the last war by exaggerating existential threats. They must stop relying on the last military balance to produce peace partners to their specifications. The must have the courage to assuage real Arab fears that Israel wants complete regional dominance ("The continued existence if Israel requires that we get Kuwait oil at $10 a barrel"). They need to negotiate, long and hard, with leaders (whom I hope still exist) whose reason for negotiation is human decency and hope for the prosperity of their grandchildren, and not fear of the Israeli air force or greed for government graft in the client states they are permitted to govern.

What can I do?

I have gotten responses from dear friends from both sides of the old ideological divide, and both are still fighting the last war. The propaganda war that assumes that the only check on Israel can and will ever be American public opinion. Unfortunately, eventhe side that lost the last war is still fighting the last war with the losing weapon: lies (Israeli soldiers were captured on occupied territory), exaggerations (Lebanon's elected govenment was installed by the US) and couterproductive veiled existential threats (Israeli soldiers were captured on "occupied" territory). The message to those should be to tell the world that peace can be had for a very modest price. And that is the message to my friends who support Israel too: the price of peace is cheap but you have to spread the word that Israel must express a willingness to pay it.


  • At 17/7/06 7:43 PM, Anonymous barbara said…

    Hey Walid, I'd like to hear how you, Jetti and the kids are doing -- the more mundane, day to day stuff.

    What happened to you in the last few days? What did you see and what made you move out of town? Are you safe? How is everyone else around you doing? Are you thinking of leaving?

  • At 17/7/06 7:53 PM, Anonymous barbara said…

    Also Walid, what should we be asking our congresspersons here in the US to do?

    Thanks for keeping us posted on your thoughts.

  • At 18/7/06 4:26 PM, Blogger Walid said…

    The most urgent message is that "Israel must negotiate, first for Israel's good and second for Lebanon's" Israel has a foe who wants nothing more than to negotiate, and who is 100% able to stop 100% of all hostile acts against Israel, possibly forever, if negotiations start.

    The secondary message is "International conventions for the protection of civilian at times of war disallow the current scattershot Israeli response at very wide areas when they are unable to pinpoint the source of fire."

  • At 18/7/06 6:01 PM, Anonymous Marina said…

    People who want to be left in peace generally would do best to refrain from border raids and kidnappings.
    As for international conventions - I have not thought you such a hypocrite. Do you actually believe they allow the missiles that you mention at such length (the ones being shot at civillians, not at army bases) or the kidnappings (yes, we're back there again)? Why should Israel follow conventions in a war with an enemy that does not? It's enough that, by your own admission, Israel refrains from purposeful targeting of civilian populations located away from the missiles.

  • At 19/7/06 11:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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