By Gideon Levy, a columnist for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz; this is an edited version of his latest article www.haaretz.com (THE GUARDIAN, 24/07/06):
This war must be stopped immediately. From the start it was unnecessary, even if its excuse was justified. Every day raises its price, taking a toll in blood that gives Israel nothing in return. This is a good time to stop because both sides can claim they won: Israel harmed Hizbullah and Hizbullah harmed Israel. History shows that no situation is better for reaching an arrangement.Israel went into the campaign on justified grounds and foul means. It claims it has declared war on Hizbullah but, in practice, it is destroying Lebanon. It has got most of what it could have out of this war. The aerial “target bank” has mostly been covered. The airforce could continue to sow destruction in the residential neighbourhoods and empty offices, dropping bombs on real or imagined bunkers, and kill innocent Lebanese, but nothing good will come of it.
Those who want to restore Israel’s deterrent capabilities have succeeded. Hizbullah and the rest of its enemies now know that Israel reacts with enormous force to any provocation. An international agreement could be achieved now, and it won’t be possible to achieve a better deal in the future.
Israel’s other goals – returning the captured soldiers and the elimination of Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah – will be more difficult to achieve if the war goes on for weeks and months. The Israeli Defence Force is asking for “two more weeks”; in two weeks it will ask for “another two weeks”. A decisive victory is not in the offing.
On the other hand, the price is skyrocketing. Every day increases international criticism of Israel – not only in the streets of the Arab world, but also in the west. Not only hundreds of thousands of Lebanese but tens of thousands of westerners fleeing from Lebanon are contributing to the depiction of Israel as a violent, crude and destructive state.
The fact that George Bush and Tony Blair are cheering Israel might be consolation for Ehud Olmert and the media in Israel, but it is not enough to persuade millions of TV viewers who see the destruction and devastation, most of which are not shown in Israel. The world sees entire neighbourhoods destroyed, thousands of refugees fleeing in panic, and hundreds of civilians dead and wounded, including many children. A lethal summer will exact a much greater price. Slowly, the cracks will open and Israel’s citizens will begin to ask why we are dying and what we are killing for.
We’ve been here before, more than once. Wars began with national approval and ended with a great crisis. When it becomes apparent that the airforce is not enough, the ground invasion will intensify. The cliche about the Lebanese quagmire will be revalidated, and when soldiers are killed, the protests will rise and divide society.
Now Israel is hoping for the elimination of Nasrallah. It is worth reminding ourselves of the dozens of people Israel assassinated in Lebanon and the territories, from Sheikh Abbas Musawi to Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, each replaced by someone new – usually more talented and dangerous than the predecessor. The goals of war should not be dictated by dark impulses, even if they come in response to the wishes and demands of the mob. The other desired goal, the return of the prisoners, will only be achieved through negotiations. Israel could have done that before the war.
Continuing the war guarantees a heavy price without any guarantee of reward. Israel must cease and desist. The president of the US can push us to continue the war, the prime minister of Britain can cheer us, but in Israel and Lebanon the blood is being spilt, the horror is intensifying, the price is rising, and it is all for naught.