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Joseph A. Palermo

Joseph A. Palermo

Posted: December 29, 2008 08:52 PM

More Birth Pangs in the Middle East?

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While the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) call up the reserves to continue its assault against Gaza, wreaking vengeance for rocket attacks in southern Israel and killing civilians and destroying homes and shops in the process, we must ask the question: What is all this death and destruction ultimately going to accomplish for the State of Israel? Israel finds itself in a similar position the United States found itself in Vietnam: The more it flexes its military muscle the politically weaker it becomes vis-à-vis a determined, largely civilian enemy. When Condi Rice called the Lebanon war of 2006 "birth pangs of a new Middle East" she never stipulated exactly what was being birthed. There is nothing "new" in the IDF's attack on Gaza. In fact, it looks like the same old disproportionate collective punishment and macho posturing we've been seeing for last forty-one years.

In February there will be national elections in Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu and the far-right Likudniks are looking strong. Israeli politicians routinely use the Palestinians as fodder to gain domestic political advantage, as then-candidate Ariel Sharon did in September 2000 with his televised visit to the Temple Mount that sparked the al-Aqsa intifada. With one of the candidates running for Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, leading the Gaza operation as Israel's Defense Minister, the current military action has a distinctly political odor.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) will defend every action of the IDF no matter how brutal, and American politicians from both parties will fall over themselves endorsing Israel's "right to defend itself." We've seen this all before. The festering wound that is the Israel-Palestine conflict, if not healed with a nonmilitary salve, spells disaster for the long-term interests of both Israel and the United States. The American sister occupation of Iraq has strengthened the enemies of Israel by inflaming the populations of the region and leading many secular, educated Arabs who might have been designing bridges and levees to employ their engineering degrees and other skills to building the most lethal car bombs and improvised explosive devices ever made.

Gaza's 1.5 million people are not going to disappear. And although they are among the most oppressed people on Earth, the IDF is unwilling to commit genocide against them. Just enough "humanitarian aid" is allowed in to ensure the Gaza Strip doesn't become a Warsaw ghetto. This fact doesn't mean the IDF has abandoned its regional strategic objective of striking fear in the hearts of any Arab (or Persian) who might raise a sword (or a rocket) against Israel. Fear is the IDF's stock-in-trade. And it felt that sufficient amounts of it were in short supply after the inconclusive Lebanon war. But spreading fear and intimidation through military assaults that kill innocent civilians only isolates and makes a pariah out of any nation that chooses such a path.

There is simply no military solution to the conflict no matter what the IDF does in Gaza or anywhere else.

Military action, no matter how violent, "shocking," or "awe-inspiring," will not change the underlying political and demographic equation. Israel's military action in Gaza causes all sorts of problems for pro-U.S. Arab regimes. It leads people to turn on their governments and is a boon for recruiting new terrorists.

Any government can only maintain its legitimacy by at least minimally protecting its citizens from wanton attack. This is true of Israel and the United States, but it is also true of Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. Israel's military assault will only weaken Abbas and Fatah in the eyes of the Palestinian people because they were powerless to prevent it, and make it more difficult for Israel to find an "honest broker" for any "two-state solution." It will ultimately strengthen Hamas as a political force in the Palestinian Territories just as Israel's war against Lebanon ultimately strengthened Hezbollah as an actor in Lebanese politics.

Israel is confronted with the somewhat counterintuitive problem that is similar (though not exactly) to what the U.S. faced in Vietnam: The more the dominant power flexes its military muscle it undermines the more subtle goal of bolstering the indigenous political actors most likely to serve the interests of the dominant power. In other words, the more lethally effective Israel is in waging "war" the weaker its negotiating position becomes among those Palestinians most likely to strike some kind of political deal. The real "victims" of the engagement will be the secularists and moderates in both Israel and in the Palestinian Territories. Hence, if Israel "wins" in Gaza Israel "loses."

Today's news is even worst than yesterday's: five sisters killed in their beds, no "truce" pledges coming from Israeli hawk politicians, more innocent blood spilled. When does it all end and what will be the outcome? Barack Obama would be wise to stand down as he has been doing and not offer up any bellicose rhetoric of his own that might stir the passions of ethnocentric murder going on right now in Gaza. It's nothing more than a backward tribal bloodbath, but with 21st century arms (at least on the IDF's side). Israel's actions in Gaza prove once again to the world that nuclear weapons should not be in the hands of any state that behaves outside the bounds of international law as well as basic morality. Israel will emerge much weaker after this latest round of bloodletting in the eyes of the world and in its own neighborhood.


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