Neck-and-neck in Trouble

There seems to be a moment when any strong country, not to mention a world power, begins to choke on its own might. Israel and the U.S. are now undergoing this phase.

There seems to be a moment when any strong country, not to mention a world power, begins to choke on its own might. It is so strong, so armed to the teeth, and yet so helpless in the face of much smaller, almost primitive forces that frustration and disappointment alone feed its continued warfare, not strategy, not goals, and not prestige. Only stupefying inertia.

Two sister countries are now locked in such choke holds. The United States in Iraq, and Israel in the territories. Washington has ostensibly achieved everything it set out to in Iraq: Saddam Hussein was toppled, a new government was established by democratic elections, Iraq is no longer the strategic threat it was. And the result: total destruction. Because under the "new order" that has been set up, there is no country. It is as if someone planned its destruction so that it would, in any case, no longer be a threat.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed, millions have fled, and there is no education, legal or welfare system to speak of. The arms market is flourishing and no one can count the number of gangs, militias and terror cells freely operating there. Even Iran has been called in to help. The Americans are now talking to the heads of the militias, those terrorists who continue to cut down their victims indiscriminately. The only remaining goal in this war is to get out quickly. After more than 2,000 U.S. soldiers have been killed, they are seeking the volunteer who will be willing to take over responsibility for the turf.

About 1,000 kilometers west of Bagdhad, Israel is stuck in a matching choke hold. Here, too, ostensibly, there have been achievements: the Hamas government is not functioning, the world boycotted it, as Israel wanted, there is no dialogue with terror and no pressure to jump-start a diplomatic process. But the Israel Defense Forces computer is already on overload from the names of the operations the army is raining down on a few dozen square kilometers and a million and a half people in Gaza. They talk about the "widespread action" that is planned, and which is already being carried out. Hundreds of "senior wanted men" have been killed. Border crossings are blocked. Civilians, activists or armed men are being killed every day. It is as if the battles against the IDF and among the gangs and the organizations have been copied from Iraq.

The education and welfare systems have collapsed, and the economy is a theoretical term.

Here, too, like Iraq, they are talking about the need to find someone, a terrorist or a mafioso, who will take responsibility for Gaza. Avigdor Lieberman's proposal over the weekend did sound unrealistic: He suggested doing in Gaza what Russia did in Chechnya - finding a local hero and cutting a deal with him. It might not be long before his idea suddenly starts seeming logical.

What keeps the U.S. and Israel choking on their own power? Whirling in that centrifuge as if there was no other way? Ostensibly, it is that same need to achieve the victory, and get out. The strategic goals have been forgotten, the original conflict has been dwarfed into a gang war, and the most important question is what individual high up on the wanted list will be taken out tomorrow. Just like the head count of the Al-Qaida activists killed in Afghanistan or the number of terrorists killed in Iraq.

There is a solution to the sorry situation of the two countries. But it is a terrible one from a political point of view. In Iraq it would mean a full American withdrawal, a full confession of failure, maybe even a Republican loss in the elections, Iraq's coming under the direct influence of Iran and the division of its territory into federated districts. Perhaps it will also mean a change in policy toward Iran, to ensure that Iraq will not once again become a strategic threat.

In Israel it means returning to the convergence plan, dialogue with the Hamas government, the realization that it will not recognize Israel and making do with a truce more or less of some years' duration. In both cases it means giving up principles that seemed reasonable before the war, but are now a stumbling block to ending it.

The question now is only when the sense of choking generated by these principles will be translated into a logical policy. The U.S. has started turning blue. Israel still does not understand how tight the noose is getting.