An Important Letter From Jerusalem

I received a letter today written by Shimshon Zelnicker, Director of the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, which summarizes his current personal perspective on the Lebanese war, which Israelis now refer to as "Lebanon II" .  In my view, this is an important letter.  If you are not familiar with the Van Leer Institute and wish to learn more, click here for a link to the website. A short summary of the Institute’s mission from the website:

The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute is a leading intellectual center for the interdisciplinary study and discussion of issues related to philosophy, society, culture and education. The Institute gives expression to the wide range of opinions in Israel, and takes particular pride in its role as an incubator and creative home for many of the most important civil society efforts to enhance and deepen Israeli democracy.

Founded in 1959 by the Van Leer family from the Netherlands, the Institute and its mission are based on the Van Leers’ vision of Israel as both a homeland for the Jewish people and a democratic society, predicated on justice, fairness and equality for all its residents.

The Van Leer Institute is a strong supporter of the Hand in Hand Center for Jewish Arab Education in Israel, with which I have been associated for several years.

Letter from Jerusalem

I happened to mention to a very dear friend of mine that the war now raging in the North of Israel and Lebanon is the 7th war that I’ve lived through (or fought in) as an Israeli. If I count World War II – which I experienced as a small boy in pre-1948 Israel – this is my 8th war. While we were both rather shocked by the figures, I came away from the conversation unsure of whether this extensive exposure to organized violence qualifies me, or anyone else for that matter, as an expert on war. I do feel, however, that my observer-participant role in these 7 wars allows me some comparative insights that may help shed light on this latest case.

With this minimal claim on expertise let me point out that Lebanon II (as this war has come to be described in Israel) is one of the first modern cases of a totally "privatized war”. It is a war outsourced by Iran and Syria, and carried out by Hezbollah as an independent sub-contractor. This is a pernicious aspect of Globalization that has been poorly perceived and poorly presented by the media, and one that is lost on the majority of Western liberal observers and critics of the war.

Going back to Hezbollah as a sub-contractor, it should be pointed out that it functions not as part of the nationalist (liberation) struggle of the Palestinians, but as the armed militia of the revolutionary Pan Islamist movement. It supports Hamas for its Islamist commitments and not for its contribution to Palestinian Nationalist aspirations.

The abduction of the two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah was presented by that Organization – and accepted by many Western observers – as evidence of the affinity and mutual commitment between Hezbollah and the Palestinians. In effect, Hezbollah supports Hamas’ brand of Islamic radicalism and not the milder political – and largely secular – aspirations of Palestinian Nationalism. Unlike the Fatah (and other constituent parts of the PLO), Hezbollah is not motivated by a desire for political solutions and has never offered a blue print for one. Like Hamas and the revolutionary regime in Iran it is concerned with The Truth and not with expedience.

This is fully understood by the Saudi-Egyptian-Jordanian anti-Hezbollah coalition which is predicated on the view that Hezbollah, Iran and the rest of the radical Islamic Movement (of which Syria is not a part) are not in the business of conflict containment. All three Regimes understand that for all of its nationalist rhetoric, Hezbollah and its masters are fighting Israel but are targeting the existing regional order in the Middle East and beyond.

These critical elements of the current war have been obscured in media coverage and analyses and skew our understanding of it. Among the immediate "casualties" of this partial and skewed (media) representation of the war and its underlying realities is the situation on the Israeli-Gaza border. The continuous cycle of IDF intrusion-retreat from the entire Gaza strip is hardly noticed as is the fact that Hamas after only 7 months in power has brought Palestinian society and national aspiration to the brink of total disaster.

The rift between Hamas and Fatah is deeper than ever before, and the total dependence of the Hamas Prime Minister and his Cabinet on the exile leadership in Damascus stymies any and all efforts to stop the hostilities and solve the internal crisis. Worse yet, there is the clear danger that the rift between (Hamas) Islamists and (Fatah) Nationalists may undermine the Two State Solution which is the only realistic political program in sight. This is a bleak prospect which is the result of Hezbollah strategic prompting and not of the war itself.

Unfortunately, the rhetoric issuing from Jerusalem – and the clumsy handling of the military operations themselves – only add to and exacerbate the general confusion and help divert media attention from the long term strategic meaning of the war to the humanitarian collateral aspects of the fighting. The deflection of focus is beginning to affect Israeli reactions as well. There is a growing criticism of what is seen as disproportional retaliation against civilians and civilian infra-structure in Lebanon. In addition, there are many (me included) who criticize the Olmert government (and the IDF) of imprudence and insufficient planning before entering the war.

But, as of today, there is still an overwhelming majority support of the view that self restraint and moderation are not the language that will move Hezbollah, or Hamas, to the negotiating table. I want to end my note with several points that may be particularly pertinent to observers of the Middle East who reside outside the region:

1. Hezbollah is not an existential threat to Israel although it is the immediate cause of the current fighting. The main threat is Iran, who continues to support the Hezbollah financially, to train it and to supply it with the type of destructive capacity that is designed to inflict damage on civilian populations and civilian targets. A nuclear Iran will fundamentally change the strategic realities in the region and in Europe. It is no coincidence that the abduction of the two soldiers and the shelling of Israel took place a day before the UN ultimatum to Iran has expired.

2. The displeasure with the Bush Administration and the criticism of its Iraq policies should NOT color one’s perceptions of what is happening in Lebanon. Nor should the unfortunate mistakes – or reckless conduct of the IDF that resulted in the tragic death of so many civilians – steer us away from the fact that Israel has endured 6 years of Hezbollah shelling without much, or any, response.

3. The media pre-occupation with the recent and earlier tragedies in Lebanon should not blind us to the fact that nearly one million Israelis (twice as many as Lebanese) have left their homes in Haifa and the Galilee to find shelter from the daily barrage of 100 to 200 missile fired by Hezbollah against Israel.

4. Israeli suffering, like the original and real causes of the conflict, is obscured by the media and by our humane and understandable desire to put an immediate stop to the fighting.

But will the short term gain of an early ceasefire – or even the promise of an international intervention force – help regain stability and security for Lebanese and Israeli civilian populations? I wonder.

Shimshon Zelniker

August 2006

I largely agree with the points made in this letter, but I want to point out that, in the United States, bi-partisan foreign policy experts do clearly understand that Lebanon II is a sub-contracted proxy war and that it is, indeed, Iran’s war.

As a member of the Council on Foreign Relations,, I refer interested readers to the Council’s website as an excellent resource.  It is available to the public and contains links to other publications, as well as blogs, that provide informed current analyses of this subject.

Having said that, I agree that the mainstream U.S. media in general is obscuring the implications of key elements of the political alliances and pan-Islamic undercurrents of the Lebanese conflict in its reporting.   Focus on Hezbollah’s staying power and equating the lack of their obliteration in three and a half weeks with victory misses a much larger point.  Dwelling on the human suffering and the surface asymmetry between the Israeli force and Hezbollah ignores the fundamental dislocation to the region being actively promoted and driven by the incipient nuclear-armed Iranian regime.   

I do give Anderson Cooper credit, however, for asserting on his CNN report the other night that Nasrallah and Hezbollah are "Islamic Fascists".  That is not only correct, but they are Islamic Fascists looking forward to bringing their view of "the Truth" and imposing it forcibly in the United States of America as soon as possible.

If anyone doubts that there is a much larger agenda behind Lebanon II or doubts that the radical fundamentalist Islamists have a primary goal of killing every Jew in the world on their way to global Islamic domination, I recommend that you start reading the daily translations of their public statements in their own domestic media and in their own language– this material is available from the Middle East Media Research Institute, MEMRI, at

Mr. Zelniker’s insightful letter is written by a recognized, credible advocate of interfaith dialogue, tolerance, and religious pluralism.  More moderate people need to recognize that, if your erstwhile counterpart only wants you dead, there isn’t a lot of that you can do to make that interaction more positive for yourself by talking.



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