News & Politics

The War for Israel's Survival

Israel's struggle for its own heart and soul will have more far-reaching implications than the military confrontation between Israel and the Hezbollah.
Since the war in Lebanon started, a growing number of Israeli columnists and intellectuals have described it as "a war of [national] survival," "a war for the homeland," or "the extension of the War of Independence." This is not cheap talk or empty rhetoric; these are deeply rooted beliefs. And all of these authors are absolutely right: It is a war of survival, a war for the Jewish homeland, and it does represent a continued struggle for national liberation.

But the war for survival is not really the struggle between the state of Israel, which possesses nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, hundreds of jet fighters and attack helicopters, and thousands of tanks and artillery pieces, on the one hand, and the 2,500 Hezbollah guerrillas, who possess some 10,000 rockets, on the other hand. The war for survival is not between a small and extremist organization that emerged as a result of the disastrous decision of Begin and Sharon to create a "new order" in Lebanon in 1982 and the state of Israel. The confrontation in Lebanon is a limited military engagement whose main victims are the civilian populations on both sides (Watch Rabbi Michael Lerner make a similar argument on Fox News in the video, right).

Israel's struggle for survival, the war for the Jewish homeland, and the continued struggle for national independence and self-determination is a war for the heart and soul of the Jewish state. It is a war without fire and -- so far -- without fatalities. It is waged within Israel's borders and within Jewish communities around the globe. This war will have more far-reaching implications than the military confrontation between Israel and the Hezbollah. It is a war about values, about moral standards, about courage to speak the truth even when it hurts and even when it is unpopular, and even when the guns are still releasing their deadly yield. It is a war about the future of Israel as a moral state that fights not whenever it gets the chance, but when it is absolutely necessary, and when it resorts to war, it fights against those who directly endanger it, not against civilians who are used as hostages and pawns in the military campaign.

The war for Israel's soul is a war between the few and the many. The few -- on the one side of the battlefield -- are those who dared call the war what it really is: a war of folly, of utter arrogance and stupidity. On the other side of this battlefield are deployed those who initiated the war, those who manage it and those who provide the warmongers with ideological justification for any folly and atrocity. This is a war in which the few try to demolish the holy consensus made up of people who dig out excuses for an all-out confrontation with the Hezbollah, those who advocate expansion of the war to include Syria (and perhaps Iran), and those who oppose its early termination.

The confrontation in Lebanon is a war in which political folly and blindness, military incompetence, and lack of morality and justice go hand in hand. It is a war in which Israel, the Hezbollah and the United States compete against each other on who excels in shooting itself in the foot.

The key question about this senseless struggle is how much more blood will be spilled before we return to the starting point. I believe that when we examine this absurd struggle from a historical perspective, we will realize that its military and political outcomes made little or no difference in the region. We will view this struggle as yet another chapter in the tragedies that are so abundant in the Middle East, most of which could have been averted through some creative diplomacy, political vision and foresight.

The war of values is much more crucial for Israel's image and self-respect than is the military confrontation in Lebanon. If it is decided in favor of the many who blindly rally around the flag that is carried by short-sighted people who turn policy and diplomacy into the slave of brutal militarism, then the physical destruction and the loss of human life caused to Israel by Hezbollah attacks will pale in comparison to the damage to Israel's soul.

But crises create opportunities alongside the risks and dangers that are an inherent feature of such episodes. In Israel and in Jewish communities abroad, there are people who go to the streets to demonstrate against this war of folly. There is still a free press that prints criticism of the government's policy, of the military, and of those intellectuals who kowtow folly, incompetence and immorality. There is still hope that some sane people in the Israeli government may wake up from their summer hibernation and say, "This was a terrible mistake." There is still hope that someone out there will realize that today's policy of naked force breeds Israel's enemies of tomorrow (just as our policies have been responsible for the formation of Hezbollah and Hamas).

These challenges to the holy consensus become stronger every day, and they provide a ray of hope that, despite the hugely unfavorable balance of forces in this war of values, would slowly tilt to the side of the opponents of this terrible conflict. If we have the courage to admit our mistakes and learn from them, not in order to repeat them but to fix our behavior, we may focus on devising positive and creative diplomatic solutions to this conflict instead of brute military coercion. This would be a far greater victory of the state of Israel against such enemies as Iran, the Hezbollah, Hamas and other extremists in the Arab world than anything the IDF can accomplish.
Zeev Maoz is director of the International Relations Program at UC Davis and former head of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. He is the author of "Defending the Holy Land: A Critical Analysis of Israel’s Security and Foreign Policy" (University of Michigan, 2006).