Israel’s summer wars

“The Israelis tend to launch their wars of choice in the summer, in part because they know that European and American universities will be the primary nodes of popular opposition, and the universities are out in the summer. This war has nothing to do with captured Israeli soldiers. 

—Juan Cole at his blog, Informed Comment, July 23, 2006.

The Winograd Commission, the Israeli body established to investigate the political and military management of the war in Lebanon, released its interim report today. The material includes the minutes of a crucial Israeli General Staff meeting in the lead-up to the war. They shed new and damaging light on its conduct, and they confirm the obvious: Professor Cole is supremely well-informed about Israel’s inner workings. It’s uncanny.

Chief of Staff: Good morning. At the top of the agenda, I want us to take up a crucial issue, related to the timing of our planned operation in Lebanon. We’ve already considered several key factors: the preparedness of our troops, the situation on the ground in Lebanon, coordination with the Americans. But there’s a paramount matter that I want to revisit before we present the plan to the Cabinet. It’s the academic calendar in foreign universities.

Neutralizing anti-Israel professors has always been a key ingredient of our strategy. We all know how vastly influential they are: just think of Juan Cole, Rashid Khalidi, Norman Finkelstein. So part of our strategic doctrine in past years has been to launch operations in summer, when academics are non-operational. Even the French work harder in summer. That’s partly why two of my predecessors chose June to launch the Six-Day War and the 1982 Lebanon war.

But it’s an issue I feel we should revisit. We take a slice of our strategic doctrine from the Americans. Our own intelligence was surprised three years ago, when the Pentagon informed us that Operation Iraqi Freedom would be launched in March, smack in the middle of the academic year. All our early estimates assumed that the Americans would hold off until after the last graduation ceremonies in June.

For our discussion today, I’ve invited Gentleman C, head of Middle East 101, the Mossad unit that tracks American and European academics. I think we’d all benefit greatly from his insights in planning the timing of our operation.

Gentleman C, why don’t you give us a quick summation of your analysis?

Gentleman C: On the table before each of you, you’ll find a comprehensive study compiled by Middle East 101, looking at the academic year factor in Israel’s wars since 1948. What we’ve done is a statistical comparison of the amount of anti-Israel verbiage expended by American and European professors in all of Israel’s wars. I draw your attention to Table 8. You’ll see that in every war, our military operations have taken less incoming criticism during summer months. We call this the “Away From My Desk” effect. Professors on summer break are less likely to write op-eds and show up in the media. There aren’t any students to attend their campus teach-ins, and there’s no student press to cover them.

Bottom line is that summer remains an ideal time to launch a war. The operational readiness of academe is at its lowest.

Director of Military Intelligence: May I? I have a lot of respect for my opposites in the Mossad, and especially Middle East 101. They do fine work. And I take my beret off to their targeted character assassination of Juan Cole. If it weren’t for the Mossad’s clandestine efforts, Cole would be at Yale. As you know, it’s vitally important to keep people like Cole outside the 200-kilometer-radius security zone we try to maintain around New York City.

Chief of Staff: Here, here.

Director of Military Intelligence: That said, we in Military Intelligence don’t share the Mossad’s assessment of the “Away From My Desk” effect. It may be true that the professors manage to fire off more rounds of criticism during the academic year. But these are mostly short-range projectiles—teach-ins and classroom agitprop that don’t have a range beyond the campus. Most academics are too preoccupied during the school year to get off medium- to long-range op-eds in the New York Times or The Nation. They’re too busy preparing lectures, fixing syllabi, keeping office hours, or quashing rivals in faculty committees.

We think that during the summer, the quality and range of attacks against us actually increase. You’ve got professors with lots of time on their hands, and the more senior, tenured ones are looking for distractions from their bigger projects. In particular, we think a summer war could expose us to sustained assault by academic bloggers.

GOC Southern Command: I thought sustained blogging by a professor was pretty much tantamount to a suicide bombing.

Director of Military Intelligence: There’s ample evidence for that. But we’re talking about a group of highly ideological and thoroughly indoctrinated fanatics. They’re quite willing to sacrifice career prospects in order to advance the cause. The tenured ones, of course, think they’ve already died and gone to heaven. They spend most of the year in classrooms full of near-virgins. It’s almost impossible to deter a tenured professor.

We think the ideal time for an operation is the very first month of the fall semester, in September. This is crunch-time for professors, who’ve got to get all their courses up and running, make sure textbooks are in the stores, solve scheduling conflicts, and suck up to new deans and chairpersons. About the only thing professors manage to put on paper in September is their signatures on drop/add forms, and maybe the occasional petition.

GOC Home Front Command (with alarm): September? We’re not going to launch a war of choice right in the middle of the Jewish holidays, are we?

Gentleman C: With all due respect, I think my friend from Military Intelligence underestimates the travel factor in summer. Middle East 101 tracks the movements of professors throughout the world. The highest-caliber ones are the most likely to disappear in summer for weeks on end, on “research” trips to London or Provence. We know from intercepts, and satellite surveillance shared with us by the Americans, that a lot of them aren’t even near a library or archive. Their spouses have real jobs and need real vacations. We’ve seen major blogs shut down entirely for the better part of the summer.

Director of Military Intelligence: Maybe, but a lot of these professors travel in summer to the Middle East—Beirut, Damascus, Amman. If we launch a summer operation, they’ll suddenly become on-site resources for the media. If they have to evacuate Lebanon, that becomes a story in itself. Let’s not forget how Rashid Khalidi got started: Beirut, summer of 1982.

Gentleman C (with irritation): Well, who was it who let Khalidi escape from Beirut?

Director of Military Intelligence (raising voice): Oh? Who authorized Edward Said to make a visit to Israel? You didn’t have to be a prophet to predict the outcome of that.

Chief of Staff: Gentlemen, please, let’s not get sidetracked by past mistakes. Lord knows we’ve made plenty of them—bungling the recruitment of Joel Beinin, letting Ilan Pappe do cushy reserve duty, and the list goes on. Look, I’d like to continue this discussion all morning, but we do have other issues on the agenda, like the extent of air power we’ll need to dislodge Hezbollah. I see the Commander of the Air Force is looking at his watch. Too bad we can’t solve the campus problem with air power.

Commander of the Air Force (dryly): Don’t say can’t. We haven’t tried.

Chief of Staff: Well, I’m going to conclude this discussion. My view is that we should stick with what’s worked for us in the past. We’ll propose to go in summer. If we ever do a complete overhaul of doctrine, we can reconsider. But I think Gentleman C has made a compelling case, and the empirical data speak for themselves. Agreed?

Director of Military Intelligence: Let the minutes show that I think otherwise.

Chief of Staff: Duly noted. Oh, and by the way, Gentleman C, what’s your assessment of what Juan Cole might do when we move?

Gentleman C: There’s some debate in our shop as to whether he’ll stick to Iraq, or blog furiously about Lebanon. If he Lebanonizes his blog, it’ll be a problem for us, but it’ll take some heat off the Americans. They’ll be grateful, and we can trade on that for things we need. Like bunker-busters.

Chief of Staff: Splendid. Juan Cole might turn out to be one of our biggest assets. “The work of the righteous is done by others.” (Laughter around the table.)