Thomas Friedman: Buffet and Hezbollah’s Surprise War

Buffett and Hezbollah
Published: August 9, 2006

Warren Buffett. The most important thing you need to know about Israel today and how it has performed so far in the war with Hezbollah is Warren Buffett.

Say what? Well, the most talked-about story in Israel, before Hezbollah started this war, was the fact that on May 5, Mr. Buffett, the Berkshire Hathaway chairman and the world’s most successful investor, bought an 80 percent stake in the privately held Israeli precision tools company, Iscar Metalworking, for $4 billion – Mr. Buffett’s first purchase of a company outside America. According to BusinessWeek, as a result of the deal, Iscar’s owners were ‘likely to pay about $1 billion in capital gains taxes into the Israeli government’s coffers – an unexpected windfall. With the Israeli budget already running a $2 billion surplus, the government is considering slashing value-added tax by one percentage point to 15 percent.’

In May, Israeli papers were filled with pages about how cool it was that Israel had produced a cutting-edge company that Warren Buffett wanted to buy. It was being discussed everywhere, pushing the Tel Aviv stock exchange to an all-time high.

That is where Israel’s head was on the eve of this war – and it explains something I sensed when I visited Israel shortly after the fighting started. Nobody wanted this war, and nobody was prepared for it. Look closely at pictures of Israeli soldiers from Lebanon. There is no enthusiasm in their faces, and certainly no triumphalism. Their expressions tell the whole story: ‘I just don’t want to be doing this – another war with the Arabs.’

Israeli soldiers were napping when this war started – that’s why they got ambushed – for the very best reasons: They have so much more to do with their lives, and they live in a society that empowers and enables them to do it. (Unfortunately, the Buffett company is in northern Israel and had to be temporarily closed because of rocket attacks.)

Young Israelis dream of being inventors, and their role models are the Israeli innovators who made it to the Nasdaq. Hezbollah youth dream of being martyrs, and their role models are Islamic militants who made it to the Next World. Israel spent the last six years preparing for Warren Buffett, while Hezbollah spent the last six years preparing for this war.

‘Israel was not prepared for this war,’ said the Israeli political theorist Yaron Ezrahi. ‘It came upon us like the crash of a meteorite. … The whole focus of debate in the country before this war was on withdrawal.’ The Israeli Army had just taken on its own extremists, the settlers in Gaza, and removed them against their will, added Mr. Ezrahi, ‘and the country had just elected for the first time a prime minister who promised voters to unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank in return for nothing.’

In the end, Israel will do whatever it has to do to prevail. But what is so troubling for Israelis is that this war is about nothing and everything. That is, Israel got out of Lebanon, and yet Hezbollah keeps coming. It is all about Hezbollah’s need to justify its existence and Iran’s need for a distraction.

What is doubly sad is that Lebanon was getting its act together. Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister, represented a whole new type of Arab leader – one who rose to power by being a builder and an entrepreneur. He understood that Lebanon, freed of Syria, was a country whose youth had the energy and skill to compete anywhere. He thought Lebanon could again be a model of how Arabs can embrace modernity. But Mr. Hariri was murdered, allegedly by Syria, and now Lebanon’s democracy is being murdered by Hezbollah. Once again, in the Arab world, the past buries the future.

Israel mustn’t get sucked into that same grave. Israel needs to get a cease-fire and an international force into south Lebanon – and get out. Israel can’t defeat Hezbollah, it can only hurt it enough to make it think twice about ever doing this again – and it has pretty much done that. It must not destroy any more of Lebanon, which is going to still be its neighbor when the guns fall silent.

Israel wins when Warren Buffett’s company there is fully back in business – not when Nasrallah is out of business. Because that will only happen, not by war, but when Arabs wake up and realize that he is just another fraud, just another Nasser, whose strategy would condemn the flower of Arab youth – who deserve and need so much better – to another decade of making potato chips, not microchips. Nasrallah can win in the long run only if he can condemn the flower of Israel’s youth to the same fate. Don’t let it happen, Israel.

The Discussion: 17 Comments

Israel’s problem is basically that it’s a first world country living amongst barbarians from the Middle Age. They should just build a wide DMZ similar to the one dividing North and South Koreas. Let the Arabs catch up if they ever will.

August 9, 2006 @ 8:59 am | Comment

anyone deserves to live like everybody else
should everything be compliant to the law of the jungle?
one should not try to act as a beast among birds…

August 9, 2006 @ 9:46 am | Comment


August 9, 2006 @ 2:10 pm | Comment

Did Thomas Friedman actually write this article??

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a BIG fan of Friedman. But there are a couple of things that strike me as rather odd about this article.

1. “Nobody was prepared for this war”. Interesting comment, because all the news stories I’ve seen talk about how Israel felt like it had a knife against its throat (Hezbolla’s knife) and that when the two soldiers were kidnapped, it gave Istrael an excuse to “clean house”.

2. “With the Israeli budget already running a $2 billion surplus…” Are you freaking kidding me?? Somebody forward that Business Week article to Congress and the President immediately so that we can stop sending MY TAX DOLLARS to Israel.

3. “There is no enthusiasm in their (the soldiers) faces…” I’m not sure how to reconcile this statement with the story about the American kid from Philly who volunteered for the Israeli army and was recently killed. On one hand Friedman is telling me that the Israeli army is lacking enthusiasm, but on the other I’m hearing stories about American Jews who are willing (and presumably eager) to put themselves in harms way. The kid from Philly wasn’t drafted into the Israeli army and he certainly didn’t think the likelyhood of hostilities in that part of the world were low. Was the kid from Philly the only one from the US to volunteer for the Israeli army? Can we therefore assume that he was the only soldier “with enthusiasm” in the entire Israeli army? Somebody help me see the light on this one…

I’ve read better from Friedman.

August 9, 2006 @ 2:11 pm | Comment

I cannot imagine how a moderately sane blog does not have any posts reflecting similarities between Iraq war and Israel-Lebanon war. Friedman’s column is another pathetic attempt to justify a first world (Alex Au) country’s invasion over a third world country, with completely unparallel and baseless analogies. Buffet doesn’t have anything to do with this war (Tom has slid to the level of relying solely on sound-bites instead of having a substantial argument), neither do Israelis “have so much more to do with their lives, and [they] live in a society that empowers and enables them”, had they wanted to end this war it would have had been over three weeks ago, but they have ulterior motives. As Tom mentioned that Hezbollah is motivated to do anything to make it to the Next World, Israeli soldiers are also motivated to murder thousands of innocent civilians to make it from the Promised Land to the next life. A quick note on Liberman defeat, the cause is not the war in Iraq, it is the war in Lebanon, people are sick of wars, one after another, and Democrat left has sent a clear message to the rest of the party and the country. Media in US is no different from media in China, which we all here at Peking Duck are so fond of, it is covered in thick layers of naivet� which ironically is clearly apparent in Friedman’s child-like attempts in singing lulls to the napping readers here in US. The taboo of not speaking out about Israeli invasion and war crimes committed by this Israeli government does not suit the rhetoric of this blog.

August 10, 2006 @ 2:29 am | Comment

Follow up link:

August 10, 2006 @ 2:41 am | Comment

Tyler, have you been reading this blog for long? I have been openly and considerably hard on Israel for the excesses against Lebanon civilians and have said Hezbollah has won the war in terms of appearances. Just scroll down to see the posts.

August 10, 2006 @ 5:49 am | Comment

Friedman is absolutely right. There is no enthusiasm in Israel about this war because Israelis do not want war. They dream of living in peace with their neighbours and Israeli children are educated to dream of the day their country will live in peace with it’s neighbours.

The Israeli leaders can easily say “We want peace with all our Arab neighbours”

Can Nasrallah, Ahmedinejad, Assad say the same? Can they say “We want to live in peace with Israel”?

No. They can’t.

That just shows you which side is the problem.

August 13, 2006 @ 1:31 am | Comment

Friedman is absolutely right. There is no enthusiasm in Israel about this war because Israelis do not want war. They dream of living in peace with their neighbours and Israeli children are educated to dream of the day their country will live in peace with its neighbours.

The Israeli leaders can easily say “We want peace with all our Arab neighbours”

Can Nasrallah, Ahmedinejad, Assad say the same? Can they say “We want to live in peace with Israel”?

No. They can’t.

That just shows you which side is the problem.

August 13, 2006 @ 1:32 am | Comment

You must be out of your mind, or just blinded by Zionism, yes indeed i feel sorry for the American public, or rather the western public opinion, because they are hostage to the World zionism, nobody can say anything about Esrael without being dubbed Anti-semite. How could you claim That “Israel want to live in peace with their Arab neighbours”? it’s easy once you have taking their homes, schools neighberhood, cities villages and country, let’s first discuss to give back their land, then will be really true to ourself to talk about “Peace”!It’s time that Jews, and by extension Israelis, start living in realty, they are not in the first world, and they are not the guardian of western interest in the middle east, it’s time they stop killing and bombarding, it’s time to negotiate a real peace with the Palestinian and the Syrian, then only would they inspire to dream for any safe and secure future in the middle East. Be it for Warren Bufett, or any other dream to sell Potato chips to the rest of the World.

August 13, 2006 @ 10:17 pm | Comment

It is not me who’s blinded by zionism. It’s people who think Israel bombards cities and schools and just ignore the fact radical Islam is out to destroy Israel and act as though Israel one day felt bored and said hey why don’t we just go and drop a few bombs on Lebanon? that should be fun!
You forget that it all started with Hezbollah shooting missiles at Israeli towns and killing and kidnapping Israeli soldiers from what the UN declared to be Israeli territory.
Just like you say that whenever people criticize Israel they say it’s antisemitism I can say that you use conspiracy theories and all sorts of made up stories about how the west is ” hostage to the World zionism”. First the radical muslims should start using negotiations and compromise in order to achieve politcal gains instead of using suicide bombers to get that.

August 14, 2006 @ 3:33 am | Comment

Wow, it amazes me the pervasiveness of the “World Zionism” conspiracy theory. With condemnations of Israel coming from every corner of the globe and the evidence of certification of Arab propaganda by major news services. Odd that while activists–flying Hezbollah and Hamas flags in European and American streets–mourn the humanitarian catastrophe in Lebanon, Nasrallah lights up Beirut with fireworks to celebrate victory and Arabs laud their new Nasser and the restoration of their dignity.

“World Zionism” is in tatters. And it’s not at all impossible that a future American leader will sell out Israel to appease the rising bloodlust.

August 14, 2006 @ 8:10 pm | Comment

deleted – please refrain from blatant anti-Semitism. (And any other kind of anti-Semitism, be it directed at Jews or Arabs.)

August 14, 2006 @ 8:28 pm | Comment

Actually I don’t think that Israel was forced to enter this war, unles you are talking about USA pushing them to go throug it. The had a will to fight for many reasons that I am going to mention soon. What I want to say, that the act of kidnapping soldiers is not the main reason for the war. Both Hizbollah and Israel had kidnapped members from eachother across the borders before. It’s not te first time, and may be not he last time too.
The Israeli announced agenda for the war was to get the two soldiers back, and guess what, they didn’t succeed in that. But the main task was to get rid of Hizbollah, either by destroying it or forcing the Lebanese to force the Hezb to disarm. Actually it was clear from the first day of the war that destroying Hezbollah is impossible, so they started by targeting the Lebanese Infrastructure/Civilians in order to make the Lebanese people, especially those who are against the Hezb politically, to blame them for initiating the war, yet force them – through the lebanese government, perliament, etc. – to disarm. And again, Israel was damn wrong, because now many Lebanese/Arabs who were against Hizballah before, are now with them. And I don’t think that disarming Hezbullah through the 1701 resolution or any othe internal Lebanese resolution will take effect in the near future.

August 15, 2006 @ 2:14 am | Comment

sn, on re-reading your comment, I see you were being sarcastic and not anti-Semitic. Sorry about the misunderstanding.

August 16, 2006 @ 3:10 am | Comment

richard, now i must apologize. i didn’t see your last reply, so i wrote you another “urgent” email. thanks for reconsidering my post.

August 17, 2006 @ 5:18 pm | Comment

Here is what we know, objectively, about the tragic situation unfolding in the Middle East. We know that from the outset, Israeli leaders have expressed a desire and a deep will to live in coexistence with their Arab neighbors. After all, in 1948, when the State of Israel declared its independence, the Jews of Europe were still cringing from the unspeakable devastation of the Holocaust. The Jews of Israel agreed to the borders proposed by the United Nations–borders which ceded about twice as much land to the Arabs as they did to the Jews. We also know, objectively, that several Arab countries attacked Israel without provocation in that same year, seeking the annihilation of all the Jews to avoid a Jewish refugee problem. The Jews’ objective was to target Arab militias, not innocent civilians, and as a result a refugee crisis resulted because Israel did not seek the destruction of innocent Arabs.

We also know that Arab countries attacked the State of Israel without provocation once again in 1967 and 1973. We know that since Israel gained the land from 1967 (which was a DEFENSIVE war instigated WITHOUT PROVOCATION), it has given back the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, and the Gaza Strip, all in the name of peace. Additionally, Ehud Olmert, for the first time in Israel’s history, spoke of unilaterally withdrawing from the West Bank prior to the outbreak of violence with Hezbollah. There is no indication that Israel is a warmongering state that seeks the destruction of civilians; quite the contrary, Israel is a haven for all Jews seeking safety and security, and would like to see nothing more for its neighbors. The fact pattern repeatedly demonstrates that Israel is willing to negotiate in the name of peace. It also demonstrates, however, that the emergence of radical Islamist ideologies continues to be a barrier to peace. There is a reason why Israel has achieved relatively stable relations with countries such as Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey–they are the most secular and stable governments in the region.

As a Jew, I will say that it is not fair to suggest that all who oppose Israel’s policies are anti-Semitic. I myself question the conduct of the Israeli government at times, as do many of Israel’s own citizens. As an American, too, I am agitated by much that our government does, but that does not make me anti-American; quite the contrary. Still, those of you who speak of “World Zionism” or other asinine notions of Zionist conspiracies are truly anti-Semitic, or at least misinformed about the Jewish people. The story of the Jews is one of the most stirring tales of overcoming adversity in the history of the world. Imagine: a people that has been repeatedly subjected to inquisitions, pogroms, and the Holocaust survives, and has built a prosperous, modern, democratic state (albeit tiny) in the Middle East. Every single tree that exists in Israel today has been paid for by a Jew and planted by a toiling Israeli. The deserts and swamps have been transformed into the bustling skyscrapers of Tel Aviv and the peaceful Kibbutzes of Northern Israel.

As for the conflict with Hezbollah, remember: Israel’s quarrel is not with the nation of Lebanon, but rather the state-within-a-state, or Hezbollah, that has a stranglehold over tiny Lebanon, is armed by Iran, harbored by Syria, and whose sole professed objective is the destruction of the Jewish State. Why is nobody decrying the moral terpitude of the militant terrorists of Hezbollah, who intentionally launch missiles designed to incur the maximum number of civilian casualties possible from the most heavily populated civilian areas of Lebanon? Israel protects its citizens from Hezbollah’s missiles, and has long since built underground shelters and emergency routes into which its people can escape. Hezbollah does no such thing for the human shields that they shamefully use as pawns. Just because Hezbollah’s missiles have not killed as many civilians as they were intended to, that does not excuse the intent, nor eliminate the threat that they pose to the security of the entire Middle East.

Granted, U.S. policy in the Middle East has been disgraceful, and the history of exploitation of the Middle East by the West surely does not build an amicable foundation for the future. But until more Muslims around the world start to recognize the example that Israel has set in creating a peaceful, prosperous democratic state with a religious flavor, and express anger and distaste for the radical terrorist ideologies which truly disgrace their faith, no progress or understanding can be achieved. It is truly the quagmire of the Middle East– Lebanese civilians being killed by Israel’s rockets is a heartbreaking sight for any decent human being, but who is to blame? The ones who instigate conflict and applaud the destruction of human life (Hezbollah), or those who seek to defend themselves from such a threat?

August 27, 2006 @ 2:09 pm | Comment

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