Mr. Habash was best known as the Palestinian leader who adapted modern terrorist tactics as a weapon in the conflict with Israel. From the bombing of a Jerusalem supermarket in 1969 to the simultaneous hijacking of three Western airliners to Amman, Jordan, in September 1970, [the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] stayed in the news with high-profile attacks that other Palestinian groups never seemed able to match.
“When we hijack a plane it has more effect than if we kill a hundred Israelis in battle,” he told the German magazine Der Stern in 1970. “For decades, world public opinion has been neither for nor against the Palestinians. It simply ignored us. At least the world is talking about us now.”Of interest to students and analysts is the question of whether or not Habash and the decision to resort to terror tactics helped or hurt the Palestinian cause. That's a question we'll leave asked but unanswered. For now, here are some links to various death notices and obituaries of Habash.
In September 1997, Hezbollah fighters ambushed a 16-strong unit of elite Israeli naval commandos near the coastal village of Ansarieh, midway between Sidon and Tyre. Eleven members of the squad were killed in the ambush and another died in the rescue attempt. The ambush is cited by Hezbollah as one of its top three most successful military operations between 1982 and 2000.
Shortly after the last Israeli helicopter clattered into the distance, Hezbollah fighters and local villagers were picking up the bloody remains of Israeli soldiers killed by Hezbollah’s roadside bombs. The remains included part of the head and other body parts of Sergeant Itamar Ilya, who was blown to pieces when a bomb he was carrying detonated in the fire fight.
Negotiations brokered by German and then French intelligence resulted in a swap 10 months later in which Ilya was exchanged for 60 Lebanese detainees and the corpses of 40 resistance fighters. The sergeant’s remains were handed to the International Committee for the Red Cross in a simple cold box.
But by the time the Israeli military transport plane touched down in Tel Aviv, Ilya’s remains had been transferred to a coffin draped in the Star of David flag. His coffin was carried solemnly off the plane by Israeli soldiers and was buried. The story could have ended there. But Hezbollah had another trick up its sleeve.
Using the internet, Hezbollah began posing questions on its website addressed to the Israeli public. The first queried the findings of the two Israeli inquiries into the Ansarieh debacle, which found that there had been no intelligence breach by Hezbollah. Hezbollah’s teasing questions on its website about how it could have known the Israeli commandos were coming led to public pressure on the Israeli government to convene a third commission of inquiry.
Then Hezbollah posed questions about the body parts it had returned to Israel. Hezbollah always said that the remains included body parts from two other soldiers apart from Ilya, adding it had DNA evidence. But the Israelis had kept it quiet, creating the impression to the Israeli public that the only missing soldier from Ansarieh was Ilya and that the other 11 soldiers had been buried intact.
Hezbollah posted photographs of the body parts which included five feet. “How can one man have five feet?” taunted the website. “Your army is concealing the facts. They not only disrespect your sons when they are alive by sending them to certain death, they also disrespect them after they are dead. The bodies of your sons are incomplete and mixed up with pieces of others,” the Hezbollah website said.
The propaganda ploy sparked an uproar in Israel, as a deeply embarrassed Israeli army was forced to admit that it had opened up the graves of two soldiers killed at Ansarieh to add the new body parts.
Suddenly, families of the dead soldiers were demanding autopsies and DNA tests to check that the remains in the graves were really their relatives and not a mish-mash of separate bodies.
The Ansarieh episode was a prime example of Hezbollah’s ability to blend battlefield prowess with skilful propaganda, and underlined to Israel more than any other incident that its days occupying south Lebanon were numbered.
It is true, though, that much of the blame for the IDF's poor performance in the 2006 war must fall upon the IDF's officer corps (and Israeli politicians for slashing the IDF's training budget). Complacency is the enemy of any good military, and it certainly seems as if the IDF grew too accustomed to the kind of missions they performed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories after the 2000 withdrawal from southern Lebanon. In the same way, the U.S. military officer corps in Iraq and Afghanistan is perhaps the most combat-proven officer corps in our nation's history. But operational commanders must work hard to ensure that the overall culture within the officer corps is not overrun by complacency. This is their job, as officers, commanders, and custodians of the nation's military.If you do not read anything else today, though, read the Naveh interview. Looking forward to the comments on this one!
Nufar Yishai-Karin, a clinical psychologist at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, interviewed 21 Israeli soldiers and heard confessions of frequent brutal assaults against Palestinians, aggravated by poor training and discipline. In her recently published report, co-authored by Professor Yoel Elizur, Yishai-Karin details a series of violent incidents, including the beating of a four-year-old boy by an officer.
The report, although dealing with the experience of soldiers in the 1990s, has triggered an impassioned debate in Israel, where it was published in an abbreviated form in the newspaper Haaretz last month. According to Yishai Karin: 'At one point or another of their service, the majority of the interviewees enjoyed violence. They enjoyed the violence because it broke the routine and they liked the destruction and the chaos. They also enjoyed the feeling of power in the violence and the sense of danger.'
In the words of one soldier: 'The truth? When there is chaos, I like it. That's when I enjoy it. It's like a drug. If I don't go into Rafah, and if there isn't some kind of riot once in some weeks, I go nuts.'
Another explained: 'The most important thing is that it removes the burden of the law from you. You feel that you are the law. You are the law. You are the one who decides... As though from the moment you leave the place that is called Eretz Yisrael [the Land of Israel] and go through the Erez checkpoint into the Gaza Strip, you are the law. You are God.'
The soldiers described dozens of incidents of extreme violence. One recalled an incident when a Palestinian was shot for no reason and left on the street. 'We were in a weapons carrier when this guy, around 25, passed by in the street and, just like that, for no reason - he didn't throw a stone, did nothing - bang, a bullet in the stomach, he shot him in the stomach and the guy is dying on the pavement and we keep going, apathetic. No one gave him a second look,' he said.
The soldiers developed a mentality in which they would use physical violence to deter Palestinians from abusing them. One described beating women. 'With women I have no problem. With women, one threw a clog at me and I kicked her here [pointing to the crotch], I broke everything there. She can't have children. Next time she won't throw clogs at me. When one of them [a woman] spat at me, I gave her the rifle butt in the face. She doesn't have what to spit with any more.'
Yishai-Karin found that the soldiers were exposed to violence against Palestinians from as early as their first weeks of basic training. On one occasion, the soldiers were escorting some arrested Palestinians. The arrested men were made to sit on the floor of the bus. They had been taken from their beds and were barely clothed, even though the temperature was below zero. The new recruits trampled on the Palestinians and then proceeded to beat them for the whole of the journey. They opened the bus windows and poured water on the arrested men.
The disclosure of the report in the Israeli media has occasioned a remarkable response. In letters responding to the recollections, writers have focused on both the present and past experience of Israeli soldiers to ask troubling questions that have probed the legitimacy of the actions of the Israeli Defence Forces.
The study and the reactions to it have marked a sharp change in the way Israelis regard their period of military service - particularly in the occupied territories - which has been reflected in the increasing levels of conscientious objection and draft-dodging.