Saturday, January 24, 2009

Taking sides in the Israel-Hamas fight

In Fall, 2006 I wrote a couple of perhaps overly long posts on the Israeli-Hizbollah War. I apply those same thoughts here to Israel's most recent war with Hamas in a much briefer fashion.

Less developed nations eventually acquire the more modern weapons of the more developed nations. This has happened throughout the history of the world. While Israel is far more technologically capable of waging war than Hamas or Hizbollah, these terrorist organizations (according to the U.S. and Israel, at least – not everyone), both of those entities have acquired a large amount of missiles, with which they can roughly target Israel at their leisure, and then quickly disappear, requiring Israel to pile up civilian deaths when it retaliates or tries to create a safety zone. The Hizbollah War was a first in history, I believe, where a technologically inferior country or group was able to sit in its own territory and attack its technologically superior enemy in its own territory. That was lost on the commentators of the world, who seemed not to have noticed. But, it’s important, particularly if you are a tiny little itsy-bitsy country. It does not matter that Lebanon and Israel are physical neighbors as technology only makes weapons go faster and farther with more accuracy and more destructive power as time goes on.

For all of Israel’s attempts to lower civilian deaths when it invades Lebanon or Gaza (and their humanitarian efforts and allowances of their enemy are probably unprecedented too), and thereby attempt to avoid the outrage of most of the world, including our other allies, they just can’t do it and wage any kind of effective war. Given the new world order which decries absolute victory by one nation over another, they are caught in this paradox – they must take civilian lives to destroy those who are attacking them from without and thereby suffer political attacks from other nations and even some in their own country, or, avoid taking civilian lives to the degree that they can’t completely defeat their enemy an thereby suffer those same groups and their enemies declaring that they have lost the war, however much destruction they cause.

The result is, Hizbollah and Hamas both continue as strong or stronger in Lebanon and Gaza even if the actual society has suffered horrifying blows to its infrastructure and quality of life. Worse, as technology progresses, they will obtain far more missiles and those they obtain in each passing year will be technologically more advanced. The day will come when Hamas, Hizbollah and perhaps their benefactor, Iran, will be able to rain missiles down upon tiny Israel with GPS precision in such a fashion that no nuclear threat or weapon superiority will allow them to survive. This is inevitable unless a new generation of missile deterrence allows Israel to shield itself from thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of missiles at a time and, I do not see that happening in time to save them. Worse, while these countries now utilize missiles which can do substantial damage when they happen to hit something, it will eventually occur to Israel’s enemies that they can cause far more damage by using many more armaments sacrificing some explosive power. One inaccurate missile which can blow a room out of a house will not be fractionally as valuable as ten smaller missiles which can at least blow a person to pieces or destroy a house. It is a calculation which is inevitable.

For this reason, one of two possibilities must come to pass. Either the day comes when a political resolution occurs, or, one side or the other must win. I think the latter is more likely and here’s why. In order to have a political resolution, you must have both sides willing to settle – this is the old partners for peace problem. Hamas and Hizbollah retain their power by their aggression and success in frustrating (and they hope one day, destroying) Israel. Therefore, as long as Hamas remains politically strong in its own tiny territory (and, I have read that it is gaining popularity in the West Bank) there is not likely to be a political resolution. Moreover, as long as Israel’s peers, Western Europe in particular, and the U.N. as an entity, continue to support Hamas (and Hizbollah) indirectly by decrying all attempts by Israel to destroy them, the political oomph from the rest of the world cannot settle this problem. Israel will not finally resolve the problem unless it has real security.

Israel’s comparative prosperity may be its own worst enemy over the long term. The energy of cultures which live in relative comfort is far quicker sapped in a long term struggle than it is with those who are used to fighting to survive. When you can have air conditioning and hang out drinking marguerites at the beach, you aren’t going to want to go have a sergeant yell at you for not shining your AK-47 and you are not going to want to shoot anyone. It was true with Rome and the so-called barbarians, it was true with us in Vietnam, and it may be true with Israel. At least, reports of the will of many Israeli’s to keep going running out seems to support the thesis.

So, how do they survive? Unfortunately, in order to do so they will have to accept inflicting a lot of death. Hiding behind its own citizenry is an effective weapon in a world where mangled children can be put on YouTube and seen around the world. By that, I do not mean that they should simply kill as many enemy civilians as possible or give up your humanity or compassion. I mean that if you are doing your best to avoid killing civilians, then you have to inure yourself as best as you can to the recriminations of your enemies, those dying, your own citizens and the world. I don't say any of this lightly. When someone steps on an ant for no reason, it is still painful to me. No people should have to live like the people do in Gaza, with their livelihoods, health and freedom controlle by someone else completely. But, you have to look at whose fault it is.

In order to put an end to constant threats, Israel’s enemies will to fight or believe that their side can win must be crushed. If we could do that with Japan, which was a tremendously formidable enemy willing for much of WWII to sacrifice anything to win, us, then Israel can do it with Hamas and Hizbollah. Admittedly, of course, Japan had a leader, the Emperor, who, in the end, had the strength to surrender before his people were destroyed. I don’t know if Hamas has that quality of leader. They have already demonstrated that they are at least outwardly inured to the death of their own (they’ve declared victory, after all, when they lost ten people for every Israeli death, and suffered billions in structural damage compared to very little for Israel – good for them).

I find some irony in my own opinion. Although it is impossible to predict what would have been if things had gone differently, I have always believed that the creation of Israel in the midst of the Muslim world was largely a mistake. Although other nations have been created on as little or worse grounds, I do not believe it has been worth it just because Jews had a homeland there a couple of thousand years ago for a brief period of time. I suppose if Israel finds peace and then continues to exist, my opinion might be considered wrong. I won’t be around to know it. Nevertheless, their nation is a settled thing at this point, and violence should not undo it. If they need violence to maintain it, that’s a sad, but necessary factor.

I also am well aware that Israel has dirty hands itself, being grossly unfair for a long time, forcing Palestinians from their homes, forcing some to leave where they lived their whole life, stealing their property, making settlements (still!) in what even they accept will be Palestinian territory, etc. I have no sympathy for the Israelis who believe it should be all theirs in the same manner many Arabs believe it should be all theirs. Settlers in the West Bank should be dragged out of their homes if need be to resolve this issue by Israeli soldiers, just as was done in Gaza. And I have tremendous sympathy for the citizens of Gaza who die, or watch their loved ones die, or have their homes destroyed. Because they support Hamas in large part, or believe that Hamas’ position on Israel is the only available solution does not in itself make them worthy of death. If not for my belief that peace efforts will not work as they did in Ireland, I would say anything is better than war. But, since I believe that more lives, mostly Palestinian will be saved by Israel fighting harder, and that they are more in the right than the wrong, I cleave to that sad, sad position.

Where is the Palestinian Gandhi or Martin Luther King? Is he dead, killed by religious extremists? Or, were I to read Arabic or Pashto, would I know? I know that there are those who advocate peace. I read about one recently, a doctor, who had made great attempts at showing Palestinians that Israelis were not monsters. He just lost three daughters in this war and isn't sure how he feels anymore. For every Palestinian killed by the much more powerful Israelis, there are weeping families and friends. And there are those who pass on information to Israel. Hamas kills them without a trial as soon as they find them, or suspect them. If Hamas, or whoever leads the Palestinians becomes a credible peace partner, I might switch my allegiance on a dime. For this reason, I had a great deal of trouble writing this and actually stopped.

Why do I want Israel to win so much when I so dislike theocracy, and Israel is a definitely a theocracy? For one thing, they are America’s staunch ally if you can get past the whole U.S. Liberty incident a half century ago. For another, they cleave to enlightenment values of freedom and democracy much more so than any of their neighbors. It is better to be a Palestinian living in Israel and disagreeing with the government than a Palestinian living under Hamas who disagrees with them. Third, as has been shown with Egypt and Jordan, if the other side wants peace, Israel wants peace. It is not so the other way around with Gaza, Hizbollah (the power in Lebanon). How doubly ironic that Fatah is now seen as the peace party.

There has been these few weeks, a slight cracking in the Muslim (because we include countries such as Iran) world, because, notably, American allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, both spoke, not in favor of Israel, but against Hamas. Naturally, they are going to come to the aid of their own nationality with money and support (hopefully, not money). It has been frequently mentioned that they did so because they really oppose Iran. This may be true, but a crack is a crack whether made by expanding ice or a jackhammer and every opportunity to walk through it shall be made.

As to the – don’t talk to them – crowd, I couldn’t disagree more. This is a mere article of faith. It is not the same as agreeing with them, giving them prestige or any of the other reasons usually put forth. You can talk to anyone without any more meaning than you are talking.

Recently, I listened to a professor talk about his book suggesting that a one state, democratic secular state. Good luck with that one. I would have no problem with it in the abstract and, I am sure, many anti-Israeli partisans would be in favor of it in this particular situation. Because, as much as that sounds like a fair and for the best, Israelis no it would be only a matter of time before they are out-populated and the country loses the character of a Jewish State. If all of the states around it weren’t already Muslim states, I’d say, who cares. But, it’s not happening anyway, so why waste time and talk about it.

Here’s my message/wish list to/for Israel. Give Obama and the world a real shot for the two state solution, because a political resolution would be a thousand times better. If that doesn’t work, empty all Palestinian lands of your settlements, stop your attempts to depopulate Jerusalem and the other property you want of Palestinians, declare the Palestinian lands free of Israel just as Jordan did with them years ago (not that any of this is going to happen either), and then, if you are attacked, with cleaner hands retaliate in the same manner the allies did in WWII, with the same goals and determination. Destroy the enemy’s capacity to fight. Only then stop. If they don't do this, they may face their own extinction.

For the new president of the United States, you will save lives in the long run if you don’t jump on the - we mustn’t let anyone really win – bandwagon. The pressure from your allies to stop any war will be intense. It is one of the things that George Bush should be given more credit for, that, because of his other failings, he will not. As for our other allies, what would you do if it was you being shelled? Give up? I have trouble hearing from them any complaints about Israel that don’t include a condemnation of Hamas (or Hizbollah – no substantial difference in my mind).


  1. Anonymous12:17 PM

    I submit Iraq throwing scud missiles at Israel during desert storm as an earlier example. Don't think the Hamas-Israel thing is the original Davey and Goliath by any stretch. See Tom Friedman's recent column on this in the NY Times. Think he nailed it well. You are a wordy little thing. Perhaps less re-hash, and more hash.

  2. Ironically, this is one of the shortest articles I've written by far.

    With Iraq comment, I would only quarrel that Iraq was not a technologically inferior force. Except for the wars, they were on there way to an atomic bomb in the mid-90s, afterwards abandoned, and had a jet fighters and all kinds of missiles. While Israel had some better stuff, they were not as different as say, Israel and Hizbollah, or, us and North Vietnam, etc. But, a fair comment and debatable. Danke.


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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .