War is Hell

Those who are hoping that after the operation in Iraq, Israel will come under pressure from the administration in Washington to make concessions to Yasser Arafat, may be in for a disappointment.


(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on April 1, 2003.)

General William Tecumseh Sherman, commanding Union forces on their march through Georgia in the American Civil War, is known to have said, “War is hell.” To the mayor of Atlanta who was ordered by him to evacuate the population of Atlanta he wrote: “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it.” Anybody following the television coverage of the war in Iraq these past 11 days could see for themselves that war is hell, that war is cruelty. It is hell for the coalition soldiers caught in Iraqi sandstorms, being hit by friendly fire, being blown up by Iraqi suicide bombers, and it is hell for Iraqi civilians under continuous bombardment night and day, short of food and water.

Wars have changed a great deal since the American Civil War, since World War I and World War II, since Vietnam, since the wars that Israel has had to fight, it has changed even since the Gulf War 12 years ago. But if there was an expectation that modern technology with its precision weaponry would reduce war to a series of surgical strikes limited to military targets, leaving the civilian population untouched, and bringing direct contact between military forces on the ground to a minimum, it should now be clear that this was an illusion. Intelligence information on targets is not always perfect, missile guidance systems sometimes malfunction, even computerized command and control systems make mistakes, the enemy uses “human shield” tactics hiding military targets behind civilians, and the war in the final analysis is won on the ground; the infantry remains the “queen of battle.” Even modern high technology wars result in “collateral damage.” War is still hell.

As General Sherman reminded the mayor of Atlanta, you have to remember who is responsible for the war. The opponents of the coalition’s military operation in Iraq, the demonstrators on the streets in cities around the world and the Islamic fundamentalists in Umm al-Fahm who are calling on Saddam Hussein to hit Tel Aviv with his missiles, prefer to ignore the root cause of the war in Iraq. Saddam Hussein, that brutal and dangerous dictator, who began an eight-year war against Iran that caused hundreds of thousands of casualties, who invaded Kuwait, a neighboring Arab country, who has had no compunctions about using chemical warfare, who launched 39 Scud missiles against Israel during the Gulf War, endangers not only his neighbors, but the whole world. With nuclear weapons in his hands he would be holding the world hostage. Better stop him now before it is too late. That is a job that cannot be left to Dr. Blix and his UN inspectors.

Coalition forces in Iraq are coming up against the same kind of problems that the IDF has faced in combating Palestinian terrorists these past few years. Television coverage of British troops searching for Ba’ath activists in Basra could have been mistaken for pictures of the IDF conducting searches in Tul Karm or Hebron. Knocking down doors, breaking into houses, guns at the ready, roughing up some of the suspects. One would almost think they had taken some pointers from the IDF on how to combat terrorists. Now, they are also having to deal with suicide bombers and car bombs.

Those who are hoping that after the operation in Iraq, Israel will come under pressure from the administration in Washington to make concessions to Yasser Arafat, may be in for a disappointment. The experience in Iraq is likely to bring about a better understanding, and maybe even sympathy, for Israel engaged in a battle against Palestinian terror, as well as the recognition that no progress can be made toward a reconciliation with the Palestinians until this terrorism has been subdued.

Ever since 9/11 the long-standing relationship between the U.S. and Israel has become even closer, the alliance between the two countries has become even firmer. There may be a great deal of speculation regarding how the world is going to look after an American victory in Iraq, especially since the current “fog of war” tends to obscure our vision of the future, but there should be no doubt about the continued strong relationship between America and Israel.

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