Shir Hever discusses the relationship of mutual admiration that has developed between Israel and Hezbollah, and that Nasrallah’s sources in the Israeli media indicate a continuing erosion of the Israeli military edge in the region
GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network, and I’m Greg Wilpert, joining you from Baltimore.
Last Sunday the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, gave a speech about how the Israeli military has gone weak and that its soldiers have lost their motivation to fight. He based his speech on reports from the Israeli media. Nasrallah mentioned that there is a dropoff among Israelis willing to serve in combat units, and that 44,000 Israelis met with psychiatrists to treat mental problems or to receive exemptions from military service. During the week, virtually every Israeli newspaper and television channel reported on Nasrallah’s speech, often praising his analytical ability and his familiarity with Israeli sources, but also challenging his conclusions.
Since the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 2006 there were no major confrontations between Hezbollah and the Israeli military. While Israeli forces were mainly busy enforcing the siege of the Gaza Strip and repressing protests of unarmed Palestinian civilians, Hezbollah has heavily engaged in the civil war in Syria. And there are reports that between 1500 and 2000 Hezbollah militants were killed in Syria. In Nasrallah’s opinion, the reason there has been no confrontation for 12 years between Hezbollah and the Israeli military is that Hezbollah has effectively deterred the state of Israel from engaging them.
Joining me now to discuss the state of the Israeli military and their relationship to Hezbollah is Shir Hever. Shir is a Real News correspondent based in Heidelberg, Germany, and his most recent book is The Privatization of Israeli Security, which was published by Pluto Press in 2017. Thanks for joining us again.
SHIR HEVER: Thanks for having me, Greg.
GREG WILPERT: So, has the state of Israel been deterred by Hezbollah? What do you say?
SHIR HEVER: I think the deterrence is traced back to the Israeli invasion of 2006. That is an invasion that has been really marked by Israeli society as very traumatic. And in fact, all of the senior Israeli politicians in general that were involved in that invasion have taken a heavy loss to their political and military careers, and most of them are now out of the public eye anymore.
And this is, in fact, an example, I think, of how the Israeli military has changed in a way very similar to what Nasrallah is saying; that when the Israeli soldiers marched into Lebanon in 2006 they expected the kind of confrontation that they’re used to in fighting against Palestinian civilians. I wouldn’t even say fighting against, because it’s more about repressing Palestinian civilians and making arrests, and so on. They were just not used to somebody firing back at them. And the soldiers then immediately stopped whenever they were sustaining fire, and took cover and asked for backup, because that’s what you do if you’re a colonialist soldier in the West Bank and Gaza. But this is not what you do if you’re invading a foreign country. And because of that their progress was very slow, and they sustained heavier casualties than the Israeli public was willing to sustain. And that was something that the Israeli government really saw as a failure. And as a result, the Israelis were indeed very cautious about inflaming another confrontation along the northern border with Lebanon.
So in that sense, Nasrallah is absolutely right. Hezbollah been successful in deterring the Israeli military. But I think it is also interesting to note that this language, to say that Hezbollah’s success in deterring the Israeli army, is directly borrowed from the Israeli vocabulary, because it is generations of Israeli generals who explained that Israel has to go on various military operations in Lebanon or elsewhere in order to deter their enemies. And now I think the tide has turned in the other direction.
GREG WILPERT: So what are the sources that Nasrallah was quoting from in the Israeli media? And do you agree that there is a drop in morale among the Israelis to serve in combat roles?
SHIR HEVER: As the main source, I think, that he was quoting is a very fascinating article that was published by [name inaudible], the chief comptroller of the Israeli military, and the man was supposed to receive complaints from soldiers and officers about things that they think are not done properly in the military. And he wrote is very unusual piece for Haaretz newspaper. Because usually these kind of soldiers and officers are not supposed to talk about what’s happening inside the military and the public. And I think the most interesting thing is the fact that he is possibly the oldest serving soldier in the Israeli military. He is now 70 years old. And that means that he has fought in four different wars that the Israeli military has been engaged in. And that gives him a perspective which no other Israeli soldier really has. The perspective is really to see the difference between how the Israeli military was structured and operated in the ’60s and ’70s, even to some extent the ’80s.
And what happened in more recent years, when the Israeli military became very spoiled and has a serious problem with discipline. And I think that yes, there is a drop in conscription. According to Israeli military sources, less than 48 percent of young Israelis actually joined the military when they turned 18. Compare that to about 80 percent in the 1980s. So a very steep drop in conscription over the years. And also when it comes to what exactly the soldiers expect from military service. How much are we willing to sacrifice, how much are they willing to put their lives at risk and for the national cause? And what his article did not mention is that there are two reasons for that. Reason number one is the neoliberal transformation of the Israeli economy. Israel has ceased to be a welfare state. And because of that, when the government says to the public you have to take care of your own fate and your own future, then of course young Israelis are saying back to the government, so why should we sacrifice our best years to the military? Why should we join the military? We will find a way to avoid military service and find a job instead, or go to university.
And the second reason that is missing is the settler-colonial nature of the Israeli society. That’s a very important point. Because the generation, his generation are the people who were the so-called pioneers of the Zionist movement, who established the state and fought for it, believing that they are creating something for themselves. The next generations, and this happens in any settler-colonial situation, such as in the United States, Canada, Australia, and so on, the future generations believe that they are entitled to this country that belongs to them, and that they are somehow at the princes that inherited that territory, and that they shouldn’t be expected to make sacrifices like their parents and grandparents did. And therefore they don’t really expect military service to be a place where they sacrifice. They expected military service to be a jumping board for a career, maybe in the high-tech sector, or to make money. And when that doesn’t happen they just leave the army.
GREG WILPERT: Just a quick question of clarification. My understanding is that Israel has a draft, that everyone is required to serve in the military. So how can it be that only 40 percent end up serving? Are the rest conscientious objectors? Or has the draft been eliminated?
SHIR HEVER: So actually, it is just a 48 percent of young Israelis who are joining the military service. And yes, you are correct. Draft is mandatory in Israel still. However, there are many ways in which young Israelis avoid military service. And there are people who receive exemptions based on religious reasons. People who have various social problems; for example, for drug abuse and so on. And women are slightly- or not slightly, but significantly- more able to use religion or even conscientious objection as a reason not to serve in the military. But I think the vast majority of Israelis who avoid military service do so by finding, by pretending to be crazy, or by speaking to a psychiatrist. Just like Nasrallah said. And in fact, even many of the ultra-orthodox, religious Jews who refuse to serve in the army for a combination of religious and political reasons, often find it easier to speak to a psychiatrist and convince a psychiatrist that they’re mentally unfit for service than to go through that official process. And as a result, really, most young Israelis are just not enlisting anymore.
GREG WILPERT: So finally, Iran supports Hezbollah, and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is virtually obsessed about Iran as a security threat to the state of Israel. So why is the Israeli government more tolerant to what it considers to be an Iranian presence on its border than it is to Palestinian resistance movements that are far less dangerous to Israeli security?
SHIR HEVER: The basis of the Israeli argument, that Hezbollah is an arm of Iran, is that if really Hezbollah was nothing more than a group of mercenaries on the payroll of the Iranian government they would not really have been able to fight so ferociously against the Israeli military. The reason they’re fighting so well, and they’re very effective, is because they are defending their home. These are still Lebanese people. And Hezbollah has been successful and popular in Lebanon. They’re not just a military force, but they’re also a political party with a lot of popular support because there much more effective in defending the Lebanese borders than the Lebanese military.
And this is something that the Israeli government is very frustrated about. And they try to delegitimize Hezbollah by saying that it is actually nothing more than a branch of Iran. But this is not the case. And we’ve seen that when the Israeli government tried to copy that kind of model that they are attributing to Iran, and just say why don’t we also have a mercenary force that we financed and will fight for us in Lebanon, or in the occupied Palestinian territory? And then these policies fail miserably. And in fact, in the year 2000, the Israeli mercenary force that was established on Lebanese soil, the South Lebanese Army, has collapsed. They were not able to fight against Hezbollah, and they were not willing, also, to die for Israeli security.
And that’s really the problem with the logic of this accusation by the Israeli government against Hezbollah. But in terms of tolerating Hezbollah, the Israeli government simply has no choice. Hezbollah is just too strong, and they’re not able to convince young Israelis that they need to sacrifice their time and put their lives at risk in a deep invasion of Lebanon to try to uproot Hezbollah, which is very deeply rooted in Lebanon. As well, on the other hand, when it comes to various Palestinian groups, the Israeli military is a bit more brave when it comes to chasing Palestinian teenagers throwing stones, and then they feel like they’re not putting their lives at risk.
But I think the Palestinians are very aware of this distinction. A lot of Palestinians are watching the Hezbollah television channel and being inspired by various resistance strategies developed by Hezbollah. And one thing that they have learned from Hezbollah is that in order to defeat the military it’s not about having a better technology, more sophisticated guns or artillery than the Israeli military has. But it is really about and willingness and a motivation to fight and to make sacrifices which now both Palestinians and Hezbollah have in abundance compared to the Israeli military.
GREG WILPERT: But unfortunately we’re going to have to leave it there for now. I was speaking to Shir Hever, Real News correspondent and author of the book The Privatization of Israeli Security. Thanks for joining us again, Shir.
SHIR HEVER: Thank you, Greg.
GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.