The date: July 12, 1943.
The place: Kurst, in the former Soviet Union.
The event: one of the largest armored battles in history. Some 900 Russian tanks took on and defeated 900 German tanks. Overall, in and around Kurst were approximately 6,000 in one of the largest tank-on tank battles ever waged.
Probably no one in Lebanon, in Hezbollah, or in Israel even thought about Kurst. It is history – sixty-three years, which might as well be ancient history for most people today. But Kurst was the turning point on the Eastern front, and in that sense is can be seen as contributing to the battle that began 24 days ago. (In a more fundamental sense than bullets and bombs could ever be, the current fighting started just four years after Kurst, but that’s another blog entry to come.) This one doesn’t match tank for tank or aircraft for aircraft. But is does involve the minds, hearts, and emotions of a vast number of people around the world – and therefore the attention of national leaders. To get an idea of just how varied the onlookers are, type into Google or your own favorite Internet search engine “time July 12 Israeli soldiers captured.” Some 8,770,000 different hits come up – and that is only in English with a few entries translatable into English or already in English. In the space of time this is being written, that number will undoubtedly gone up.
Interestingly, changing the query by one word – “captured” to “kidnapped” – drops the count to 6,080,000 hits. And by rearranging the terms even further to “time July 12 Hezbollah captures Israeli soldiers,” the number of site entries plunges to 2, 940,000.) Having worked in the U.S. Army’s public affairs specialty for a few years, I have a sense for “spinning” and how defeat is glossed as a win and the opponent’s win a stunning defeat.
That thought led me to recall a scene from the film “Patton.” He arrived in North Africa after the first clash of arms between U.S. and German forces in World War II. Patton sets off on an inspection tour of the battlefield. As his jeep moves down the road parallel to the coastline, Patton orders his driver to turn off the coast road and head for the shoreline. Upon arriving near the coast, he gets out of the jeep and begins walking around in a state of controlled excitement. Although he does not identify any particulars, he has an overwhelming sense that centuries earlier, men – a large number of men – fought and died where he stood. He, Patton, was there then. And in 1943, he has come back and is going to be tested again.
But perhaps the greatest irony among the notable events that transpired on July 12 occurred in 1957 when the Shi’ite Nizari Ismaili sect proclaimed the Fourth Aga Khan as their spiritual leader. According to Nizari belief, the Aga Khan is a direct descendent of The Prophet through his son-in-law Ali and daughter Fatima.
Aside from reporting the obvious military events and the spinning by both sides that they are “winning,” the western media seem thoroughly uninterested in trying to unravel the sequence of events that cascaded on July 12, 2006 in the vicinity of the Israeli-Lebanese border. Governments rightly need to focus on ending the carnage and the killing, so the press needs to dig for and preserve wherever possible the time-space particulars that were the trigger.
Keeping in mind that there is a seven hour difference between Beirut and Washington, what is indisputable?
Well, everyone agrees that the date in question is July 12, 2006.
The time of day does appear to be morning Lebanon time – specifically 0904 or 0905 Beirut time. The source is attributed to Hezbollah and can be found in BBC News online n early five hours later. By that time, other Israeli troops had already entered Lebanon, bombing had already commenced, Israeli reserves had been called up, and Hezbollah had fired its opening volleys of rockets into northern Israel.
The Hezbollah statement quoted by the BBC said its forces had “captured two Israeli soldiers at the border with occupied Palestine.” Hezbollah considers all of Israel to be occupied.
Agence-France Presse (AFP) in its reporting gave Lebanese police as the source of information that the Israelis were caught in the Lebanese border town of Aitaa al-Chaab. But the time of the AFP story is 2022 Lebanese time, and the report notes that Israeli television is already claiming that the soldiers had been in Israel when they were seized.
The Associated Press (AP) also ran the story. The AP time line as reflected in the on-line version of Forbes magazine is 0541 U.S. East coast time, which translates into 1141 Lebanese time.
So sometime between 0900 Beirut time and noon, it appears that seven Israeli soldiers were killed and two captured either “at the border with occupied Palestine,” in Aitaa al-Chaab, or just inside Israel’s northern frontier. The rapid response by IDF commandos, army helicopters, and airplanes also suggests that Israel may have been getting ready for a thrust into southern Lebanon to degrade Hezbollah’s rocket stockpiles.
With 50,000 soldiers (240,000 including all reserves), Israel defeated 280,000 troops from Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq in the 1967 six day war. In 1973, the same four Arab countries (with 800,000 military personnel) attacked Israel (400,000) on Yom Kippur. Three weeks later it was all over; Israel had crushed the foreign armies.
The bad news is that the fighting now has gone on for 24 days in Lebanon and northern Israel. If the peacemakers tactic is to avoid returning to the status quo ante, then the processes for change will have to be implemented concurrently rather than sequentially.
A ceasefire agreement linked to an exchange of prisoners and to a pull back of forces from the border by each side would come first, with a small, unarmed UN-authorized mission – ground and air – to verify the separation immediately after it occurs. When this is done, a larger UN-authorized peacekeeping force with a mandate to prevent a resumption of hostilities by either side would take up positions between the two forces, setting the stage for two parallel negotiations.
The first, convened by the UN, EU and the U.S., would involve Israel, Syria, Lebanon and through Lebanon, Hezbollah, with the Palestinian National Authority (and through it Hamas) as an observer. It would deal with the unresolved issues left over from the last Arab-Israeli war – specifically delineating borders, return of occupied and illegally annexed territory, control of the means of violence in recognized governments, disbanding of independent militias, placing limits on the forward disposition of offensive weapons and units in the proximity of international borders, and the long-term presence of UN peacekeepers with a Chapter VII mandate in a neutral buffer zone along all those borders.
The other would include as conveners the UN, U.S., EU, Russia, and China and involve Israel, the Palestinian National Authority, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iran with Iraq, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia as observers. This regional track would address not only mutual security but also rebuilding areas destroyed in the recent fighting in Gaza, Lebanon, and northern Israel.
Israel will not achieve security until it removes the oppressive conditions that it maintains on the inhabitants of Gaza and the West Bank. At the same time, the various Palestinian and other Arab militias and anti-Israeli factions will have to decide in favor of a fruitful future for their children over a future of constant warfare and want. That choice will requires the acceptance by all Islamic countries, militias, and factions of the reality of the permanent existence of Israel within the pre-1967 borders, the end of hostilities or threats of hostilities against Israel, and Israel’s recognition of an independent and economically viable Palestinian state.
As the center of three religions, the Middle East/eastern Mediterranean ought to reflect the peace and serenity of the natural world. Until that state of human relations surpasses the state of recurring discord, what the young of that region will learn are “doctrines of despair, of spiritual or political tyranny or servitude” – and death.