Israel, Lebanon, and the Middle East: Problem of Intelligence
Frank Kaufmann, July 30, 2006
The situation in the Middle East has spun out of control. Analysts and so –called experts cannot see a way beyond the ever intensifying horrors. William Kristol, our generation’s most eloquent and greatest lover of war, said this morning “Iran and Hezbollah have won this battle…” Lost and morose, Kristol despairingly allowed, “It has been a bad two months [for the “good guys].”
When it looks as though things cannot get worse (The United Nations has said that its top officials in New York and its officers on the ground in Lebanon made numerous calls to the Israeli mission and the Israeli military to protest repeated firing on its outpost in Lebanon where four unarmed observers later ended up being killed – IHT), they do (An Israeli official said the bomb that killed 54 refugees in Qana, Lebanon, including 37 children, early Sunday hit the wrong building - reuters).
The US in 5 short years has forfeited its once elegant and glorious role as a peacemaker (only the US and the UK stood out against an immediate ceasefire at the recent Rome summit - reuters). Sunday morning news analysts even on the perfectly pro-Administration, Fox News referred to Rice’s time at the Middle East crisis summit in Rome “a flame-out,” not just once, but as the term of record throughout the Chris Wallace hour. (The Rome talks broke up after failing to reach agreement, according to CNN television. – Bloomberg) (Ms. Rice lost the public relations war. Reports of the Rome meeting uniformly painted her as isolated in one corner- NYT).
In the midst of it all President Bush was caught on an open mike in front of the world’s most powerful leaders, with a mouth full of shrimp swearing about Syria, and complaining about Kofi Annan. Bad enough? A week later President Bush was forced to apologize publicly for not notifying Tony Blair that the US was transporting bunker busters through Scotland to Israel (Israel's Justice Minister Haim Ramon said Israel was given a green light to continue attacks after the United States convinced Arab and European ministers not to call for an immediate truce at a Rome - reuters ) The news of US bomb shipments to Israel broke on the same day four UN peacekeepers were killed in Israeli air strikes on Lebanon.
Bad enough? After 17 days of Israeli sorties over southern Lebanon, Hezbollah rather than being decimated showed up by complete surprise firing Khalibar 1’s into Israel (Israel said the newer rockets have four times the range of the Katyushas, possibly putting northern Tel Aviv in range. – CBC.CA)
The magnitude, implications, and irresolvable conundrums of this ever escalating Israel-Hezbollah conflict have kept from the front pages and from proper analysis matters of enormous significance regarding the region. The July 29 deaths of 3 Marines brings the number of US military war deaths in Iraq to 2573 since the US led invasion of 2003. The day before that, 3,700 troops about to go home were stopped and held back (3,700 troops who had been planning to return home over the next two weeks probably will remain for at least the next six weeks and possibly as long as four months, this time in the most violent area of the country – Washington Post). Just weeks earlier, every public figure including President Bush spoke enthusiastically about beginning the process of troop withdrawal from Iraq. This rhetoric met a sudden and complete about face as the U.S. Central Command said that 5,000 additional troops in armored vehicles will patrol Baghdad streets, where nearly 100 civilians die each day, many of them victims of reprisal killings by death squads. In Iraq nearly 100 civilians die EVERY DAY!
The most significant matter about this horrific Israel-Hezbollah war has yet to
dominate the attention of analysts. It has to do with intelligence. Here are three invaluable observations from Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post:
1. Israel has been forced to improvise furiously on the battlefield after discovering how much it did not know about the forces Hezbollah had amassed in southern Lebanon… Israelis take intelligence deadly seriously. For them, it is a tool of survival.
2. The intelligence failures by the Israelis in Lebanon and by the Americans in Iraq are related.
3. American intelligence has done no better at predicting the course or strength of Iraq’s insurgency and the sectarian warfare that the insurgents have deliberately fanned between Iraq’s Shiites and Sunnis. Months of Bush administration happy talk about a government of national unity based on Sunni inclusion did not lead to the reduction of violence that was predicted, but to a sharp spike in Iraqi deaths and destruction instead.
Intelligence (like everything) has two dimensions, an interior impulse and an exterior manifestation. The public and political figures tend to focus on the exterior aspects of intelligence gathering even though they are of lesser importance. The exterior aspects of intelligence, (what information you gather, how, and how accurately) are only valuable if guided well by insightfulness. In fact the term “intelligence” in common parlance does NOT refer to how much you know or how accurate your information, rather to how well you think.
The fact that two of the finest militaries in history (and the nations attached to them) find themselves up to their elbows in tar babies with no end in sight, after days for one and years for the other, and countless billions poured into shocking and awe-ing, is not for the lack “a big right hand,” but for not thinking straight.
A person or state with the following views might be considered intelligent (and thier "intelligence gathering" could proceed more fruitfully):
1. Iran, Syria, and over 50 major, independent and state sponsored Islamist, and anti-Israel/US militias and “terrorist” organizations do not like the United States and do not like Israel. Bombing them will not make them change their minds.
2. The term “democracy” is not regarded as representing a virtuous social order to the intelligentsia, leaders, and rank and file of these states and these groups. Bombing them will not make them change their minds.
3. These states and groups do not uphold Christian and European conventions on how properly and “justly” to conduct war. Bombing them will not make them change their minds.
4. There are too many of them to bomb until they are all gone. Many argue that attacks on them strengthen them politically and strengthen their recruitment efforts.
It would be pleasant if we could bomb people into seeing things our way, and failing that bomb the recalcitrant ones until they are all gone. But we cannot. Good and effective strategies cannot arise from foolish and anachronistic starting points. That is bad intelligence.
Strong and effective intelligence gathering should be based in clear understanding. Better understanding as the ground of “intelligence” would help to avert occasions in which powerful and economically and militarily advanced countries make big and costly mistakes with dire and enduring repercussions.
Frank Kaufmann is the Executive Director of the Interreligious Federation for World Peace