Victory justifies nothing. No victory justifies an evil war. Quite the opposite. It just adds to the evil.
With the entry of American forces into Baghdad, opposition to the war in the US and Britain is dwindling. In other countries, too, doubts are starting to nibble away at the anti-war camp.
I find this difficult to understand.
Let's pose the question in the most provocative manner: what would have happened if Adolf Hitler had triumphed in World War II? Would this have turned his war into a just one?
Let's assume that Hitler would have indicted his enemies at the Nuremberg war crimes court: Churchill for the terrible air raid on Dresden, Truman for dropping the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Stalin for murdering millions in the Gulag camps. Would the historians have regarded this as a just war?
A war that ends with the victory of the aggressor is worse than a war that ends with their defeat. It is more destructive, both physically and morally.
On the eve of the Iraq war, world public opinion found its voice as never before. This world reaction was an immensely valuable moral victory. On it the future must be built. The flame must not be allowed to die down. It must flare up into a blaze again.
It can't be stopped. Let me repeat the Israeli joke: "It is difficult to prophesy, especially about the future."
But this time, the prophesies have come true so quickly, that even the "prophets" themselves are stunned.
After the American onslaught on Afghanistan, we said in these columns: You can't stop a military machine that has achieved such a quick and complete victory with so few losses. It will push for action again and again.
We said: the band of zealots which is in control of Washington cannot stop now, just as Napoleon and Hitler could not stop. Their inner logic will push them to attack again and again.
On the eve of the attack on Iraq we said: after this, the next targets will be Syria and Iran.
And here it comes. The shooting in Baghdad had not yet ended, while the first steps towards the attack on Syria were already being taken.
Again the same outcry: "They have chemical weapons!" (And so have the Unites States, Russia, Egypt, Israel, Britain, France and many others. Every military machine develops these weapons, even for defensive purposes.) "There is a brutal dictator out there!" "He supports terrorism!"
In a few days, we shall hear: "He butchered his own people as Saddam did with his Kurds!" (His father sure did. Assad Sr. shelled the town of Hama while bloodily putting down an Islamist rebellion.) "We must liberate the poor Syrian people from the tyrant!" And from there: "Regime change!"
It will begin with slogans, "warnings", speeches in the UN and sanctions. The most expert professionals will prepare public opinion. The American and world media (with the Israelis to the fore) will eagerly cooperate. And then the war will become "inevitable".
It already has a name: "Operation Syrian Freedom.
Americans for the Golan. There is one important difference between "Iraqi Freedom" and "Syrian Freedom".
The American attack on Iraq had many objectives: control of the oil, creation of a permanent American base in the heart of the Arab world, revenge for the failure of the father. Furthering Sharon's interests was only one objective, and as long as Sharon kept quiet, it wasn't too obvious.
The coming American attack on Syria is quite different. It does not serve any major American interest, but it does serve (and how!) the interests of Sharon.
For those who have forgotten the developments, here is a brief reminder:
In 1967, after Syrian-Egyptian threats, the Israeli army attacked Syria (after Egypt and Jordan) and conquered the Golan Heights, which until that time were known in Israel as "the Syrian Heights". Their 160 thousand inhabitants fled (they vegetate to this day as refugees in Syria.) Their land was taken over by Israeli settlers. The Likud government has officially annexed the Heights (but not the West Bank and Gaza Strip) to Israel.
From that time, the liberation of the Golan has become a central aim for Syria. According to international law, this is occupied Syrian territory. Two Israeli Prime Ministers, Yitzhaq Rabin and Ehud Barak, as much as admitted this when they agreed to return all the Golan to Syria. The negotiations broke down in each case because of an argument about a few hundred meters. Neither Rabin nor Barak was ready to allow the Assads to "wet their feet in the sea of Tiberias".
The two lions (In Arabic, Assad means lion) acted very cautiously. After the father's failed to dislodge the Israeli army in the October 1973 war, they did not use their own military again. They found a way to fight by proxy: the Lebanese Hizbullah militia has harassed the Israeli army with pinpricks. Both Assads hoped that this would help them to get the Golan back in the end. Also, some of the Palestinian pro-Syrian (i.e. anti-Arafat) organizations are based in Damascus.
Now along comes the Bush administration, under the influence of Wolfowitz, Perle & Co., and issues an ultimatum to the Syrians: give up your chemical weapons, eliminate Hizbullah, get rid of the "terrorists".
For the Syrians this means, in effect, to give up any hope of ever getting the Golan Heights back. It also means American recognition of their annexation by Israel, in contravention of all the UN resolutions and the position of every US president up to now.
Without Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, the threat of "the Eastern front" that has been haunting the Israeli military for decades will disappear. Egypt and Jordan have already signed peace treaties. Sharon will be able to concentrate all his might against the Palestinians, who will remain alone.
Moral insanity. Sometimes, the entire character of a person is encapsulated in one single word of theirs. This happened last week to Donald Rumsfeld.
The world saw the terrible pictures of what's happening in Baghdad under the eyes of the occupation forces. Baghdad was ransacked as in the days of the Mongols. The mob did not plunder only the government buildings, without which no modern society can function, but also hospitals and museums. The wounded and the sick were left without life-saving equipment and medicines. Priceless cultural treasures from the cradle of human civilization were destroyed or plundered - one of the worst cultural disasters in the history of mankind.
The absolute responsibility for this outrage, which has been going on for more than a week, day after day, falls on the occupier. That is what international law says, in agreement with common sense. It shows the total indifference of the planners of the war for the population they were about to "liberate". No provisions had been made to protect them from the anarchy that is to be expected when any regime collapses, no preparations for safeguarding vital public buildings and cultural treasures. A city of many millions was turned over to the mob.
When Rumsfeld was asked about it, the man who is responsible for this catastrophe dismissively: "When a regime falls, there is always some untidiness." Untidiness! One word that speaks volumes. About the man himself.
Pity the settlers. Years ago, my wife and I were traveling in the west of Czechoslovakia. It was a dark, bitterly cold winter night. Suddenly, Rachel's eyes were caught by a small house, at some distance from the road, where a red light picked out a small area of snow, surrounded by utter darkness. She asked me to stop the car and struggled through the deep snow to take some pictures.
While she was busy taking photos, the door of the house burst open and a disheveled woman in dressing gown and slippers came running out. "What do you want? What are you doing here?" she demanded in a panic.
Rachel explained that she was a tourist and that the beautiful sight had captured her imagination. Gradually, the woman relaxed.
"I was afraid you were Germans who wanted to reclaim the house," she apologized.
She was a Czech from another part of the country, who as a child had moved with her family in this house after the German population had been thrown out at the end of World War II. Fifty years later, she was still living in constant fear.
I was reminded of this when I read about the Iraqi-Arab settlers, who had been brought by Saddam to Kirkuk and settled there in order to Arabize the Kurdish town. Many of the Kurdish inhabitants had been driven out. A foreign journalist happened to come across some of these Arabs in the middle of nowhere. They had fled their homes in sheer panic, in fear of Kurdish revenge. They asked the foreigner to bring the American soldiers to protect them.
Food for thought for our settlers.
Uri Avnery is an Israeli journalist, peace activist and a former member of the Knesset
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