Here We Go Again

It’s obvious that war is far easier than diplomacy, and, in a way, far more effective. Rather than the slow process where each side in whatever the dispute is works out a way for each side to get pretty much but not all of what they want, or where each side can bravely pretend that’s so, you simply wipe out the other guys. Rather than a grudging win-win situation that’s probably no more than a convenient fiction anyway, you get what you want immediately. Case closed.

Unfortunately, what follows is always trouble. Those defeated, or what’s left of them, seethe with resentment – you’ve just shown the world that for all their bluster they were always powerless jerks in the first place, and wrong about everything too. Sure, the triumph of winning it all is heady, but a humiliated people are even more dangerous than a nation with a standing army, as we have found out time and time again. Come in and wreck someone’s country and they’re unlikely to thank you. George Bush found that out at that press conference in Baghdad where he stood with whoever sort of ran the place at the time to announce the new Status of Forces agreement – the plan worked out for us to come home, now that we had handed them their new and improved country. He had to duck those shoes thrown at him.

There’s a lesson there – war provides an immediate fix, but no more than that. The Treaty of Versailles ended the First World War, and a humiliated Germany spent twenty years seething and planning and rebuilding, and then started another one. Germany’s initial humiliation is what motivated Hitler – he said so explicitly – and he played that card well, motivating a nation. What happened in 1939 was inevitable.

That’s the problem. Everyone says they hate war – so many die and vast areas are devastated immediately, and whole economies are wiped out with extreme long-term misery all around – but nations persist in waging war anyway. The short-term gain is too attractive.

It’s just that no one takes the next logical step. Think about it. If, in these last two major wars and all the minor ones no one talks about, we have enraged the Muslim and Arab world, we have thus created a new generation of humiliated Muslims and Arabs seething with resentment, and we need to do something about that. If they are arming themselves and plotting dastardly things, then the logical thing to do is simply kill all Muslim and Arab children, every single one of them, everywhere. That’s beyond monstrous, but there’s a certain cold logic to it. It’s not like Hitler trying to exterminate all Jews for reasons that were never clear at all – he threw in the gypsies and the gays just for the hell of it – but killing all these children would assure our safety. It’s unlikely we’d convince very many of this new humiliated generation that we’re really wonderful people with the best way of approaching life anyone ever devised. No amount of talk – what they call soft diplomacy – is going to convince them of that. They live in ruins, among the dead, and we don’t.

We won’t kill all those children. We’d never do that, but the problem is clear. In short, diplomacy is tedious and long and you never get exactly what you want – other than avoiding war – while war gets you what you want, and then begets further war after war in an endless cycle. We are an odd species, perpetually dissatisfied or killing each other, or both. That’s just how things are, and of course that’s how they have always been between the most ancient of foes, the Israelis and the Palestinians. When Israel became an actual nation in 1947 things only got worse. They go to war with each other, then, exhausted, try diplomacy – this Accord or that – and then one side or the others decides they’ve been humiliated or they’re threatened in a dire way, and they try war again. The slow fix didn’t work – all the talk really didn’t get either side pretty much but not all of what they wanted – so they try the quick fix – they fight it out.

What’s happening in Gaza at the moment was thus inevitable. The Israelis have been building settlements there for years now, in spite of the UN resolutions saying they can’t, as that’s not their land, and in spite of our government saying, for years, that we really wish thy wouldn’t. From George Bush on we’ve been talking about a two-state solution, but the Israelis have just shrugged. The more trouble acreage they occupy – that they settle – the safer they are. Yes, this pisses off the Palestinians no end, as there is not much land left for them, but they see this as a matter of their survival. So do the evangelicals in America and the Republican Party – so they have America on their side in an unofficial but very real way. That Netanyahu fellow practically campaigned for Romney, and he and his party have always been funded by Sheldon Adelson – that Macao and Las Vegas casino billionaire who spent tens of millions on Newt Gingrich and then Mitt Romney to get them elected, and who owns one of the major newspapers in Israel. Yes, Netanyahu will have an awkward time with Obama as president for the next four years. Now it seems we won’t nuke Iran back into the Stone Age to make Israel immediately and permanently and magically safe, and get him reelected. Netanyahu made a bad bet – but not that bad a bet. He won’t get that freebie American war on Iran, where we do all the dirty work for him, but he feels free to hammer the Palestinians in Gaza now, and free to roll the troops in soon. It’s really self-defense, after all – and actually it is. Obama has called him and said do what you must – America understands.

Yeah, yeah – everyone knows Obama hates Israel and probably hates all Jews, and insults both regularly, and loves terrorists or at least pals around with them, because of his middle name or his Kenyan father or something – but that’s the imaginary invisible man in the empty chair Clint Eastwood was talking to on stage in Tampa. Sorry. Obama is no different than any other president since the somewhat reluctant Harry Truman – America supports Israel, period – end of story. Get over it.

Janine Zacharia, the former Jerusalem bureau chief of the Washington Post and now a visiting lecturer at Stanford, sums up the current state of play:

Palestinian rockets are terrorizing Israeli towns. Israeli jets are pummeling the Gaza Strip. Thousands of Israeli reservists have been called up for a possible ground invasion. Twenty-one Palestinians, among them small children, and three Israelis are dead, and the toll is sure to rise. Four years after the Israeli military unleashed a punishing attack on Gaza, Israel and Hamas are once again on the brink of war.

The fresh round of Israeli reprisals follows an uptick in attacks from militant groups in Gaza. It began last Saturday with the firing of an anti-tank missile at an Israeli army jeep that wounded four soldiers. Several days of intensive rocket fire from Gaza followed. Israel responded by assassinating Ahmed Jabari, the head of Hamas’s military wing in Gaza, and launched an air campaign to try to destroy as many weapons depots as possible.

In 2012, there’s barely been a week when at least a handful of rockets haven’t been fired from Gaza into Israel. Every month or so there is an escalation, like during one six-day period in June when 162 rockets landed in Israel. “No government would tolerate a situation where nearly a fifth of its people live under a constant barrage of rockets and missile fire,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the foreign media on Thursday as he authorized more intensive strikes in Gaza.

Quite so, and she adds this:

Netanyahu is surely right. Israel’s response to these ongoing rocket attacks is justified. But being justified isn’t the same thing as being smart. The truth is Israel has been engaged in a low-grade war with the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip for five years now, with no plan besides a misguided military strategy for how to end it.

There was no talk – Israel hasn’t really talked to the Palestinians, and certainly not to Hamas, in those five years. A five-year low-grade war was the strategy. It was hard, but it was easier, and now, in the Guardian, Simon Tisdall sees no real barriers to full war:

Past constraints on Netanyahu’s behaviour are absent this time. There is no discernible peace process – and no active US engagement (after Barack Obama’s first-term efforts were ignominiously rebuffed). The west’s favorite “moderate Arabs” are missing in action, or on the other side of the fence. Egypt’s government has condemned Israeli actions; Jordan, destabilized by the Syria chaos, is in the throes of what could be the next Arab spring uprising. Meanwhile, the imminent bid by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, for non-member UN observer status for Palestine, staunchly opposed by Israel and the US, threatens further polarization inside and outside Palestine.

Andrew Sullivan sees it this way:

It is impossible and wrong to blame Israel for self-defense against Hamas rockets with greater range and power, if not much greater accuracy, than the past. There is no defense of Hamas’s use of terrorism. Equally, the kind of ground assault that now looks inevitable is yet another iteration of the same dead end. Except, this time, for Israel, the region is shifting against it. The visit to Gaza by the Egyptian prime minister yesterday – he and Hamas’s leader together beheld the body of a Gazan boy killed by Israeli firepower yesterday – represents a tectonic shift. And the deeper regional and international isolation of Israel is pregnant with foreboding. If we see another civilian bloodbath in Gaza, four years after the last one, the failures of the Israeli government to seize the opportunity Obama offered them four years ago – indeed to treat the United States president with contempt combined with an open attempt to elect his opponent – will haunt the Jewish state. Greater Israel is as unsustainable as it appears to be inevitable. There was, and maybe still is, a ramp off this conflagration. But Netanyahu and Hamas feed off it domestically – a gruesome and ominous fact.

They are radicalizing each other. And while we finance and defend the more democratic one, we are seemingly powerless to shape or influence, let alone, dictate its policies.

The cycle continues, and gets more absurd. Hamas is apparently firing rockets at Jerusalem now. Michael Koplow is all over that:

Targeting Jerusalem is an enormous escalation and very risky, much more so than rockets toward Tel Aviv. Rocketing Tel Aviv to my mind guaranteed an eventual Israeli ground invasion, but attempting to bombard Jerusalem just exacerbates the situation to an exponential degree. Blake Hounshell tweeted earlier that Hamas firing at Jerusalem is the equivalent of scoring on your own goal, and I think that analogy is an apt one. It says to me that Hamas is getting desperate, and I think this move is going to backfire in a big way, both in terms of creating a more ferocious Israeli response and costing Hamas important points in the court of public opinion. Hamas is now acting in ways that could cause large numbers of Palestinian casualties and damage to Muslim holy sites, and I think that there will be consequences for this strategy.

Yeah, well, no one is thinking of consequences in all this – that’s for diplomats. Gregg Carlstrom, however, notes other consequences:

Netanyahu wants to declare victory after a quick military campaign. He wants to address the Israeli public over the next few days and say, we killed the Hamas leader who kidnapped our soldier, Gilad Shalit; we seriously degraded Hamas’ ability to strike at Tel Aviv; and we restored deterrence in the Gaza Strip. … Once it’s over, Netanyahu gets to play the victorious wartime prime minister.

Carlstrom does note, however, that a long ground war in Gaza would mess that up. Shalom Yerushalmi isn’t so sure:

The ballot box is likely to be dominated now by a security agenda. Israel has entered a state of existential anxiety and concern for its residents, mainly those in the south. At this time, there is no room for opposition, only patriotism. Anything that the left wing might say will be construed as criticism, and any criticism will be interpreted as an anti-national act that undermines the collective morale. Already, yesterday [Nov. 14] the leaders of the left and centrist parties made their way to the TV studios only to express positions in support of the government’s military course of action. None of them dared ask questions that could swing voters away. Silence, a war is on.

At the Daily Beast, Gershom Gorenberg wonders about that:

The initial response of the Israeli public when the Israeli Defense Force is ordered into a major offensive is to rally around the government, to see the action as essential. Later, after the deaths on both sides, after an ambiguous resolution, neither victory nor defeat, a political hangover often sets in. If regret comes this time, no one knows whether it will take less than two months or more.

Yes, quick fixes seldom work, because they’re not really quick after all, and also in the Daily Beast, Daniel Levy points out that there are other players here:

Egypt’s priority for now is a ceasefire. Other Arab and regional states in good standing with Hamas, notably Qatar (whose Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani recently visited Gaza with promises of financial assistance and investment) and Turkey (Hamas leader Khaled Mashal gave the key note address at the AK Party conference of Prime Minister Erdoğan) will themselves be keen for this crisis to be over ASAP. Their priority right now is Syria. And this Gazan escalation will already be taking the gloss off their apparent success in re-launching a unified Syrian opposition grouping in Doha last week. They are now in the uncomfortable position of having worked closely on Syria with the same Western powers (notably the U.S., Britain, France, and the EU) who have been rushing to accord legitimacy to Israel’s so-called “self-defense” action against Gaza. They know that this is music to the ears of the Assad regime and that it will be used against them, especially if more Gazan blood is spilled… they will be in no position to promote the intervention they desire in Syria while Gaza is burning.

True, but Israel is thinking of Israel, and Janine Zacharia sees that narrow vision:

To try to contain the threat, Israel has relied largely on periodic air strikes on weapons storage facilities and targeted assassinations of militants, which sometimes result in civilian casualties that radicalize the Palestinian population. It bombs the smuggling tunnels that run underground between Egypt and the Gaza Strip and are used to smuggle in civilian goods and weapons. The tunnels exist because of the strict blockade Israel enforces around the territory, choking off anything like normal commerce.

In four years, Israel’s playbook hasn’t changed. Nor did the Palestinian rockets ever truly end.

She points out what’s wrong with that. In those years the world around Israel is what has changed:

Most significantly, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who could ignore anti-Israel sentiment in his country, is gone. His successor, Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, may have more sway with Hamas, but he also has less power to resist Egyptian calls to sever ties with Israel.

Israel’s problems aren’t limited to its southern flank. The civil war in Syria is threatening to engulf Israel. Thousands of Jordanians are in the streets demanding King Abdullah’s ouster. Relations with Turkey remain frayed.

Israel is growing ever more isolated just as its regional position becomes more insecure.

It comes down to this:

To be sure, Israel will once again achieve many of its short-term tactical goals, assassinating a handful of Hamas leaders, leveling militant safe houses, and eliminating scores of Hamas military installations or weapon depots. And, in the end, Israel will be no safer, although it will surely be more alone in the world and living in a neighborhood that is less tolerant of its aggressive countermeasures. It’s time to declare Israel’s policy toward Gaza and Hamas a failure. This is not an anti-Israel statement. Rather, it is an honest acknowledgment of the facts, which are simply too numerous to avoid.

Back in the late sixties, people used to make fun of long-haired hippies with their signs covered in flowers that said “War is Not the Answer” – but they were right. It’s just that they were right for the wrong reasons. War is not the answer because in the real world of geopolitics, with shifting alliances and conflicting national interests and all leaders’ need to stay in office, along with the interplay of religion and culture, war is not a particularly good answer to much of anything. It creates far more problems than it ever solves. Its only virtue is that it’s simple – but nothing ever is.

In fact, the Atlantic’s Jeffery Goldberg notes how complex this whole Gaza situation is:

What is Israel’s long-term strategy? Short-term, I understand: No state can agree to have its civilians rocketed. But long-term, do Israeli leaders believe that they possess a military solution to their political problem in Gaza? There is no way out of this militarily. Israel is not Russia, Gaza is not Chechnya and Netanyahu isn’t Putin. Even if Israel were morally capable of acting like Russia, the world would not allow it.

So: Is the goal to empower Hamas? Some right-wingers in Israel would prefer Hamas’s empowerment, because they want to kill the idea of a two-state solution. But to those leaders who are at least verbally committed to the idea of partition, what is the plan? How do you marginalize Hamas, which seeks the destruction of Jews and the Jewish state, and empower the more moderate forces that govern the West Bank?

Maybe you talk. It’s obvious that war is far easier than diplomacy, and, in a way, far more effective – but that’s absurd. That tediously-achieved grudging win-win situation, that’s probably no more than a convenient fiction anyway, may be dissatisfying and seem equally absurd, and it certainly doesn’t feel good at all, but no one dies. It’s a thought. But war is coming anyway.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in America and Israel, Israel and the Palestinians, Israel Invades Gaza, Israel's Gaza War, Why We Fight and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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