With Foolish Determination

In war, the gamble is not for money but for lives, and what is lost is not money but the honor of the politicians, generals and admirals.

Another chronicle of predictable damned entanglement begins. With eyes wide shut, Israel once again blunders into Lebanon's trap of fools, starting a "ground activity" it may not be able to get out of for a long and bloody time.

Using lofty platitudes only diminishes the certain danger. "The quagmire of Lebanon," as the babbling idlers on television say. "The second Lebanon war," they say. The path to the killing field is always paved with cliches.

What else can be done to avoid the calamity? I fear the die is cast, and what is undone will be difficult to undo.

It was clear from the start - or seemed to be - that a ground invasion into Lebanese territory would be strictly forbidden. Everyone swore there was no such intention. Precisely because it was so clear and agreed, it raised concern that walking in the valley of the shadow of death was only a matter of time. This is what happens, must happen, when leaders raise the expectations of the war to the sky and then they crash down to earth. When leaders are filled with self-righteousness, they run out of wisdom.

The height of expectations determines the height of the flames and once expectations are scorched, they strengthen not only the resolution, but the stupidity as well. It's a familiar process, defined as "the gambler's syndrome" - another sort of congenital brain damage caused by chromosomal disorder. The gambler bets on higher and higher stakes in the reckless hope of restoring his lost money. In war, the gamble is not for money but for lives, and what is lost is not money but the honor of the politicians, generals and admirals.

If there were no initial intention of putting troops on the ground and getting entangled in a net laid out by Hezbollah, Syria and Iran, then why set unattainable political goals as well? But domestic support or international indifference has gone to the government's head. Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz suddenly think the world that was against us is suddenly for us, and with hoorahs from home and abroad, they can't pass up the chance of a war.

But this support is like shifting sands, and a few more days of pictures of destruction and refugees will make it evaporate like smoke over Beirut. And the United States, the one in Iraq and Afghanistan, will be the only one still supporting us. The American president alone will continue to massage our backs as he massaged the chancellor's. She, incidentally, was embarrassed and angered by it.

What does American support matter anyway? Full of its own interests, the United States supported - and still supports - its hopeless war in Iraq, which is bringing disaster on America and world. With its own hands Washington has sabotaged the post-communist world's deterrent ability. It has enabled Iran, Syria and North Korea to go crazy. The crazies of the world are uniting and running amok, and among them are the Taliban, Hezbollah and Hamas.

At the beginning of the first war in Lebanon, in 1982, the United States of president Ronald Reagan and secretary of state Alexander Haig supported Ariel Sharon's moves. Shimon Peres, as opposition leader, mocked those who objected to the war, which he himself had opposed until he changed his skin. "America had given Begin and Sharon a carte blanche," he explained at the time.

So? Did the American support 24 years ago make that Lebanon war more reasonable? Will it make this war's ground expansion less idiotic? And who will pay the price of its unnecessary victims - America or Israel? And if the two wars are not alike, why are such efforts being made to stress the similarity between them?

The tragedy is Israeli, but it could be Greek. All is predestined, and there seems to be no free will and no stopping the headlong rush to disaster.

I beg of Israel's statesmen and generals: Don't try to heal the old Lebanese trauma with a new one. Don't pick at wounds that have not yet healed; don't send the soldiers into the valley of the shadow of death. You would do better to lower your expectations, as would we, so that we don't have to lower our flags to half mast.