by Eric Silver Jerusalem Correspondent


If there is one thing Israelis have learned — from the twoand a half years of the present intifada and from all the battles that precededit over 54 years — it is that there are no surgical wars.

You can’t wage war without killing and maiming people, soldiersand civilians, whether by accident or design. Some die from friendly fire. Someare taken prisoner. And in the Middle East, the enemy fights dirty.

As United States and British forces suffered their firsttelevised setbacks this week, Israeli military commentators pointed thelessons. Not with glee but with a discernible whiff of “We could have toldyou.” And they did not flinch from saying the unsayable.

The American people, Avraham Tirosh wrote in Ma’ariv,learned about the horrible face of war.

“It got several awful examples of what awaits it,” Tiroshexplained. “Not a deluxe war, which it was perhaps mistakenly led to expect,not an easy drive to Baghdad, with the main adversary being the dust and thesand. But dead, wounded, missing, helpless captives and victims of murder.”

The mob, trampling the banks of the Tigris River on Sundayin search of American pilots, shooting into the reeds and setting them alight,Tirosh added, had never heard of the Geneva Convention.

“Nor did those who fired at the heads of captive Americansoldiers,” he wrote.  “And even if they had heard, the Geneva Convention wouldhave interested them as much as last year’s desert storm. Woe is he who fallsinto their hands.”

Writing in the same daily paper, Amir Rappaport warned:”From now on, the captives will serve as Saddam Hussein’s human shield. It iseasy to imagine a situation toward the end of the war with the Americansclosing in, when Saddam will make it clear that the moment he is attacked, thecaptives will die with him. It is very difficult to imagine what George Bushand his generals will decide if they face this terrible dilemma.”

Precisely because of situations like that, Rappaportexplained, Israel decided years ago to do everything to prevent the kidnappingof its soldiers. That was the reason, he said, why in 1994, an elite commandounit tried to rescue Nahshon Wachsman (the son of U.S. immigrants) fromcaptivity, even though the chances of success were known to be low. That was alsowhy Israel declared dead three soldiers captured by Hezbollah two and a halfyears ago, even though the Lebanese militia was still holding their bodies.

From bitter experience of what happens to POWs in Arabhands, Israel also questioned Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s rush todenounce the Iraqis as war criminals for parading prisoners before the TVcameras. Their exposure to the media, argued Yoav Ben-David, who was held andtortured by Syria for a year after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, constituted a kindof insurance policy, however limited.

“The Americans,” he suggested, “still don’t realize that theIraqis will be careful not to hurt soldiers taken prisoner, photographed andseen by the whole world. Precisely because of that, it is important that theydo not hide themselves and look away, but rather be seen as much as possible bythe camera lens and even to smile and try to look good.”

Taking a longer view, Amir Oren argued in the liberalHa’aretz that TV shots of GIs, dead, wounded and taken prisoner, the image ofbloodthirsty Iraqis, would only intensify Bush’s determination to “Shock andAwe” them — and intensify the popular support for the war.

“This will be a turning point in the campaign for bothdomestic and international legitimacy for the war,” Oren predicted. “It willnot drive Bush out of Iraq the way Syria’s capture of navigator John Goodmandrove Ronald Reagan out of Lebanon or the downed Black Hawk helicopter droveBill Clinton out of Mogadishu.”

Similarly, Alex Fishman contended in Yediot Aharonot,Israel’s biggest-selling Hebrew daily, that Uncle Sam would have to take offthe gloves.

 “The Americans want to show humanitarian warfare that iscareful about human life,” he wrote. “But they have no intention of losing thewar either. To win it, from now on, they are going to need to destroy en massethe members of the Republican Guard and anyone near them.”

As Israelis know all too well, there are no benign wars.