It's all in the PR
In May 2005, my friend Lucie and I went to a 3pm showing at the October War Panorama
in Cairo. It was created to celebrate the Egyptian victory in the 1973 war against Israel. There was a huge, very empty car park and a display of several captured Israeli tanks. The Panorama itself was built to seat about 250. You get a twenty minute 'entertainment' with rousing marching music and deep-voiced American-accented commentary. The seating section spins slowly and the painted screen and life size figures stay put, or did the seating section stay put. I can't remember, but I do remember being struck by three things. 1. No expense was spared 2. We were the only audience present and 3. The staff (about 2o, box office and stewards) were very charming and the manager offered to run the show again, free of charge.
The Egyptian military success of October 1973 lasted but a few days before Ariel Sharon had the entire Third Army surrounded. So much for the Panorama in Cairo.
This reminds me of my French cousin Danielle who asked, ever so innocently, why the British insist on celebrating victories which were unquestionably French. How important is winning and how important is losing? Holding the IDF off for longer than any other Arab army is winning for Hezbollah. But at what cost? Assad might well declare a Hezbollah victory, but would he want to see his airfields, ports, military installations and communication centres bombed, and still call it a Syrian victory?
With less than a quarter of a percentage point of damage to its entire military arsenal, Israel still has by a very long way the most powerful army in the Middle East and whichever way you look at it - the Hezbollah infrastructure is decimated.
But the prize to the outright victor of this unclear, unresolvable conflict must be given to the media. Up to 10,000 world journalists, television teams, photographers and soon enough documentary film-makers will have influenced the progress and the outcome of this conflict as never before.Four reasons why will this conflict will go down in history as the best reporters' war ever?
1. Israel and Lebanon are most westernised destinations in the Middle East, and not all that far away (US excluded).
2. These are not expensive countries and
you can drink the water.
3. There is no-where else in the world where the journalists can stay in the best hotels, eat in the best restaurants, swim in the most luxurious pools and still hear bombs and missiles hitting their targets.
4. There is no-where else in the Middle East where journalists can drink in the finest bars, shop for the most fashionable labels and not be target practice for fundamentalists.Where is the next surprise coming from?
I was in the Old City of Jerusalem yesterday, accompanying an intrepid American tourist. She wanted to buy for a crucifix for her grandmother. It was only three days after the murder of Italian student
, a volunteer who had been working with Palestinian refugees and had come to visit Jerusalem. As a result, my friend and I elected to stay in the busier parts of the bazaar.
My friend had in her hand a postcard, the one with photographs of Israeli soldiers praying at the Western Wall. A shop owner looked at the card and announced with glee: "Israeli soldiers are rubbish. Did you see? Hezbollah fucked them. Hezbollah fucked the whole Israeli army." This was one happy man. He shouted at us as we walked away, so he could be heard by all his neighbours, he knew he had their support. The Old City of Jerusalem is an intimidating place to be today.
Citizens of the Arab towns and villages in the north of Israeli, who were in the main without shelters or sirens, are hugely critical of their government in this conflict. It won't take much for a pro-Hezbollah hot-head to make a murderous move, and it may take even less for the police to respond in force.
Israeli Jews, who were only just beginning to shop and eat in the Arab towns and villages after a five year haitus, are noting the publicised reactions of some Israeli Arabs and will keep away. The gap between Jews and Arabs in Israel widens and the loyalties between Israeli Arabs and Arabs beyond the green line tightens.
The Israeli government will ignore these developments at their perilQuestions I would like to ask Ehud Olmert before he packs his bags
1. Did you realise how much wall-to-wall coverage this conflict would get world wide, especially in August when there is nothing else going on? The Israel Press Office issued over 4,000 press permits for foreign media at the time of the Gaza disengagement. And it was August.
2. And with all your experience did you not know that human suffering is a good story? Human suffering over-rides theoretical rights and the wrongs - every time. Did your advisors try to estimate how many Lebanese refugees might take to the road? What were those estimates - 500, 5,000 or half a million? When the airforce dropped leaflets and told civilians to take to the road, did your advisors take into count which remaining road those civilians might take?
3. You are not an army man, with a conceptual vocabulary limited to 'advance' and 'retreat'. You have your fingers on the pulse of the most powerful and influential people in the world. You know that when Israel sneezes, a Jewish community somewhere gets bombed. You knew that it would take Israel years to build up its tourist industry again, that the flourishing economy would take a below the belt hit. Even if the IAF scored 100% direct hits, the Arab street would have gone insane with rage. Israel would have been penalised in a myriad of ways. Why did you let the military call the shots?The question I would like to ask the Chief of Staff before he packs his bags
Before the airforce bombed the power plant in Beirut, did your advisors consider where the 15,000 tons of oil would go? Why didn't you just stick to petrol stations? Jane's Post Ceasefire Observations
Unlike most of the Israeli media, I do not regard the result as any kind of military failure. Hezbollah awoke a sleeping giant, the giant flailed out, did a lot of damage but didn't quite manage to hit the mosquito. He's not a fool this giant, he's learned a hell of a lot and if he had more time to plan, he would have brought his anti-mosquito spray. He'll know for next time.
Nor do I see this cease-fire as a political failure. Political leaders always make promises they cannot keep. The public is used to it. We never had any chance of getting back the kidnapped soldiers on any terms other than the completely unacceptable ones of Hezbollah and Hamas. I find it hard to believe that there are Israelis who think otherwise. But what I do know is that it will be impossible for Hezbollah to re-arm under everyone's nose. From now its only chance would be to set up shop in Syria and start digging those tunnels again, and will Assad want that? I doubt it.
No, the real failure, the only failure which counts is that Israel has hit an all time low in the world-popularity-contest. This is a disaster for Israel and a disaster for Jews everywhere.
I would really like to know what the Israeli government intends to do about that. Come on Tsippi - don't pack just yet.