Toward Another War
By Uri Avnery
21 August, 2007
Miss Calculatsia, that fashionable foreigner, the new star in Israeli
To a Hebrew ear, she sounds
like a young beauty, like "Miss Israel". But Miss-Calculatsia,
the Hebrew version of "miscalculation", is neither young nor
beautiful, nor even female: just another pretentious foreign word taking
the place of a perfectly good Hebrew one.
(In Latin, "calculus"
is a small stone. These were built into the abacus, which was used by
the Romans long before they ever dreamed of computers.)
The miscalculation spoken
of is not a beauty queen, but a queen of ugliness: a war between Israel
and Syria that may break out any minute - not because Israel wants it,
nor the Syrians, but because one side misjudges a provocative act that
will push the other into war.
Like all wars, it will be
a campaign of death and destruction, with bereavement and refugees,
suffering and misery for both sides. And nobody can foresee how it will
* * *
ALMOST EVERY day the Prime
Minister, the Minister of Defense and their minions declare that Israel
is not interested in war. Not at all. Perish the thought.
It rather reminds one of
Hamlet's comment about his unfaithful mother: "The lady doth protest
too much, methinks." The more so as Ehud Barak makes his professions
of peace while standing on the occupied Golan Heights, against a background
of noisy tanks advancing in a war-like maneuver.
The Israeli army intelligence
chiefs report that, according to their evaluation, Syria does not intend
to start a war. According to them, war does not serve any Syrian interests
at this time.
To complete the round, this
week Hassan Nasrallah declared at a Beirut mass rally that Hizbullah,
too, has no desire for war.
From "below" there
is also no pressure for war. The Israeli public is afraid of it, and
so, it seems, is the Syrian people.
So where does the daily talk
about war come from? If nobody wants it, why is there so much talk about
it? Why do the media, in Israel and throughout the world, report "tension
on the Northern border of Israel"? Why is the Israeli army frantically
conducting maneuvers on the Golan? Why are there reports about a rapid
upgrading of Syrian weaponry and the hectic building of fortifications
against Israel? Why is the Turkish government offering urgent mediation
between Israel and Syria?
All very mysterious.
* * *
IT SEEMS that the key to
this mystery is not to be found in Jerusalem or Damascus, but in Washington.
When Ehud Olmert refuses
to respond to the serenades of Bashar al-Assad, he hints that President
Bush is forbidding any contact with the Syrians. Last year, America
pushed Israel into the war in Lebanon, obstructed an early cease-fire
and, so it seemed, was interested in extending the war into Syria.
Syria belongs, of course,
to the "Axis of Evil" that exists in Bush's mind. His Arab
allies tell him, to no avail, that this is a mistake: Sunni Syria is
no natural ally of the Iranian Shiites. It needs them only because the
US is isolating it. Damascus uses the Shiite Hizbullah, so they explain,
only to exert pressure on Beirut and on Jerusalem. Logic says that it
is in the interest of the US to help make peace between Israel and Syria
in order to pry Syria loose from the Iranian embrace. But Bush does
Perhaps he is pushing Olmert
towards war with Syria in order to divert attention from his own Iraqi
fiasco, which is worsening daily. Or perhaps he is interested only in
some artificial tension, in order to bring about the fall of the Assad
regime. The main thing is to set up another Arab democracy, on the lines
of Egypt, Jordan or Saudi Arabia.
The question is: why is Israel
taking part in this game?
* * *
THE CENTRAL figure in this
play is Ehud Barak. His connection with Syria didn't start yesterday.
Eight years ago, during his short and calamitous term as Prime Minister,
he played with the idea of making peace with Syria. He negotiated with
Hafez al-Assad and - surprise, surprise - the parties arrived at the
threshold of an historic peace agreement. The Golan would have been
restored to Syria, the settlers removed, another important Arab country
would live in peace with Israel.
And then the whole thing
fell apart. The pretext was that the old Assad wanted to dip his long
feet in the waters of the Sea of Tiberias, instead of stopping a few
hundred yards away from it. But the real reason concerned the feet of
Barak himself: they got cold. He escaped at the very last minute, and
started the irresponsible adventure of Camp David.
I called him, at the time,
a "peace criminal" - a serial political offender against peace.
After failing at Camp David - because of his overweening arrogance and
appalling contempt for Arabs - he invented the mantra: "We have
no partner". So it was not he who failed, and not the conference
which he initiated without proper preparation.
No. It is the partner that
has failed. There can be no peace with the Palestinians, just as there
can be no peace with the Syrians. In the immortal saying of the ultra-ultra-rightist,
Yitzhak Shamir: "The sea is the same sea, and the Arabs are the
"We have no partner".
That mantra destroyed the Israeli peace movement and caused damage that,
it seems, can hardly be repaired.
* * *
EHUD OLMERT is keeping Barak
out of the play he is now engaged in with Mahmoud Abbas. Why present
a gift to a competitor? In revenge, Barak dismisses the idea of peace
with the Palestinians with a wave of the hand. He announces that the
idea of peace is a non-starter, because the Palestinian state would
shower Israel with missiles. What is happening today to Sderot would
happen tomorrow to Ben Gurion airport, which is only a few miles away
from the Green Line.
This means that peace can
be made only when Israel has a system that will provide an impenetrable
defense against short-range missiles. When will that happen? In a few
years. (But by then, the Palestinians will probably have more advanced
missiles, and we shall need more advanced defense systems.)
Peace in three years, or
in thirty, or in three hundred?
* * *
IN THE meantime, Olmert continues
with his games. Almost every day a colorful new balloon goes up: peace
proposals, "principles" for a peace that may come about at
some indefinite time, a theoretical "peace agreement". All
these plans have one thing in common: they don't touch reality, here
and now. They belong to a distant rosy future, while very bad things
are happening now on the ground.
It is President Bush, again,
who is pushing Olmert in this direction. As much as he wants tension
between Israel and the Syrians, he desires positive news about his "vision"
of a "peace process" between Israel and the Palestinians.
Let them float virtual "peace processes", discuss documents
for the time the Messiah will come, smile at each other, embrace. All
to prove that Bush is winning after all, his "vision" is taking
shape. That is good for Bush, good for Olmert, good for Abbas.
For whom is it not good?
For the Palestinians, who are collapsing under the yoke of the occupation.
The misery in the Gaza Strip deepens every day, as the plan unfolds
to bring about a total collapse, anarchy and the fall of Hamas. The
situation of the West Bank population is not much better. The roadblocks
are staying where they are, and so are the settlements and outposts.
The road network "for Israelis only" is getting longer, the
construction of the wall is in full swing.
The most grievous expression
of the situation in the occupied territories under Olmert and Barak
is the daily killing. Almost no day passes without a new atrocity. A
pupil is run over, his injuries are critical, he is kept at the roadblock
over an hour until he dies. The army issues a laconic statement: he
was on the list of those "forbidden to enter Israel". Five
soldiers seize a boy waiting at a bus stop and beat him to death. A
sick woman arrives at a roadblock and is detained there for no apparent
reason until she dies.
Such stories have become
routine and no longer cause a ripple. Two or three journalists do still
get upset and report them, the rest just ignore them. Senses have been
blunted. It's not news.
* * *
IT MIGHT have been expected
that somebody would get angry at the empty games of the "peace
process". After all, every thinking person knows that if Abbas
achieves no political results, Hamas will drive him out of the West
Bank as they did in Gaza, and that is supposed to frighten Israelis.
They are not frightened.
Hamas will take over? So what! All-Arabs-are-the-same.
Syria has missiles that can
reach every point in Israel. Including Tel-Aviv. Including Dimona. A
war with Syria will be no joy-ride.
So what? People don't get
upset. Barak says that there will be no war, but that perhaps there
will be war. But that would be just a slight mis-calculatsia.
Uri Avnery is
an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom.
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