Israeli TV journalist sees lessons, progress from Hezbollah war

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The old quip notes that a postman probably won’t go for a walk on his day off.

But when Gil Tamary isn’t covering terrorism, terrorism and more terrorism as Israeli Channel 10’s Washington correspondent, he curls up in front of the TV and watches “24” — a show about terrorism.

Actually, to be fair, that was part of his job as well. When reporting American stories back to Israel, Tamary cannot live on the Bush administration’s Middle East dealings alone. And actor Jonah Lotan, who portrays Spenser Wolff on “24,” is actually an Israeli (where he’s known as Yair Lotan).

“This is the first time an Israeli has been cast in the role of an American figure. Usually Hollywood casts Israelis as terrorists or dead bodies,” Tamary says.

“Usually [on ’24’] they are killing all of their heroes, and he didn’t die. We don’t know what happened to him. Maybe next season we’ll know.”

Tamary spoke recently in San Francisco and the East Bay. His talks were sponsored by Jewish Community Federations in both the San Francisco and East Bay, the Jewish Community Relations Council, several local JCCs and synagogues.

A tall, youngish-looking man with short, spiky hair and glasses, Tamary wears a dark suit and shirt, though his wristwatch is Sunkist-orange. And while he speaks about “24” with the relish of a true fan, much of his television work (and frequent speeches around the United States) covers far graver matters.

The No. 1 question thrown his way today by Jews around the nation is basically a variant of “Did Israel win the war, lose the war or what?” Tamary’s answer leans toward the “or what.”

In a nutshell, however, he emphasizes that despite strategic and military failures, the Jewish state may be able to cash in down the road with some real, tangible gains as a result of the war.

“We need to understand that today victories like we had in the Six-Day War cannot happen anymore because the arena has changed. The battlefield is much more complex,” he said. “Today it’s not so important to declare a victory like President Bush wanted to do immediately after the first months of the Iraq War. It’s more important to win the campaign. And the campaign is not won on the battlefield but on the diplomatic front.”

For example, take a look at Hezbollah’s position on July 11 relative to today. While those who claim the terrorists won the war say it came out of the hostilities energized, Tamary points out that one-fourth of Hezbollah’s supposedly top 2,500 fighters are now dead, with hundreds more seriously injured. Its sovereignty over southern Lebanon is broken, he continues, and its Iranian masters are angered over the violent disruption of their progress in fortifying the Israeli border.

The journalist says Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora knows the flood of Lebanese and international troops hitting the nation’s south represent his first, last and only chance at establishing authority over the area.

“You know, people say [the 15,000-man Lebanese army] are not good soldiers, are not so trained and are brothers of the Hezbollah fighters. Well, it’s true. … But together with 15,000 more international troops you have 30,000 troops in a very small area. They don’t need to be the best troops in the world. The quantity becomes quality.”

As for the troops who arguably are the best in the world — the Israel Defense Forces — internal investigations by more than 50 committees are meant to explain the many battlefield failures within a period of months.

“If we do not learn our lessons fast, we will find ourselves in a very dangerous situation,” says Tamary.

The journalist sees the war against Hezbollah as a “test.” Israel’s performance on this test was not anywhere near A-level — but, once again, Tamary looks on the bright side.

“This test revealed many problems. And if they had been revealed in a larger scale war, we’d find ourselves in a completely different scenario today.”

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.