Thursday, July 27, 2006

TODAYonline: Insecurities of the Local Bully

I've been working on my laptop for sometime and I've only been able to access my main computer since. Anyway, this has been on the backburner for sometime and I want to quickly finish it so I can move on to other things....

I'm beginning to despair if it is even possible to be objective while reporting on the entire Middle East, especially the perennial conflict/wars between Israel and its neighbours. But this article takes the cake (although not as bad as the Ridge article that I once read about the Palestinian Problem. The letter I was planning to write turned into a 3 page response) in terms of not even trying to be remotely objective.

Now, I don't deny that op-eds are by nature suppose to be subjective insofar as it reflects the columnist's opinions, BUT there is subjectivity and there is subjectivity i.e. if you don't even bother to acknowledge the arguments of the other side, then your essay/column effectively becomes polemics and unpersuasive (at least to me). This is something I've heard coined the "Bermuda Triangle Defence" i.e. when talking about some mysterious disappearance on such a day and simply ignoring (and not mentioning) the bloody hurricane in the area is simply asking to be dismissed as a conspiracy nutcase.

Anyway, here we go....

Insecurities of the local bully
It's hubris on part of Israel to think that security is a one-way street Â? its neighbours must also feel secure

And it's madness for Syria and Hizbullah and HAMAS to still believe in the destruction of the Israeli State and in their refusal to recognise the state of Israel.
AS Israel bombs Lebanon with calculated ferocity, we are reminded yet again of the wide gap between military force and security. One can be the bully on the block, and still feel insecure.

*Roll eyes* talk about ad hominen and poisoning the well. Now, I haven't read anything else by this particular writer, but I hope he turns his own view on Pakistan and Kashmir.
And yet security is what Israel has craved for since it came into existence nearly 60 years ago. The Jewish state was a haven for a traumatised community, survivors of the worst genocide in history. The founders of the state vowed that never again would they be weak and vulnerable.

At least he acknowledges the Holocaust. When one listens to PresidentAhmadinejade, one very easily sees the link between his Holocaust denial and his desire to eradicate Israel. One, naturally, hopes that it is simply polemics and that it's only a small core of people within the "Arab Street" that believe it, but when anti-semitic cartoons and sentiments are part and parcel of mainstream newspapers, one wonders to what extent is Israel the solitary party keeping the ideological conflict going on.

The difference arguably between Holocaust Denial and say the denial of the divine nature of a particular religious figure is that while both may be offensive, the first tends to lead to sentiments and arguments of genocide much more readily than the second.

To this end, they set about building a fearsome war machine that has come to be the dominant force in the region. In the process, however, they developed a siege mentality that has prevented them from engaging productively with their neighbours.

Um....has he forgotten about the massive disparity in military strength much less the Yom Kippur War which if not for a successful counterattack would have seen the joint Syrian-Egyptian army (probably the Syrian one first) within Israel (tentatively defined as pre-1967 borders) proper?

In their elusive search for security, Israeli generals and politicians sought to talk to their Arab neighbours from a position of strength. For this, they needed to obtain western military and diplomatic backing.

Um, well, that's fair enough, after all, it's madness for a small nation to bargain on it's own survival from a position of weakness. Let's not forget the geopolitics of the region. Israel is surrounded by other Arab nations, some much more unfriendly than others.

If one argues that it ought to be negotiate from a position of humility, then the instinctual response would be whether there will be recipocral action from the other warring parties.

The precedence on this matter is mixed and arguably notconducivee for this argument. The PLO was pressed into exile and on the verge of extinction before Yassar Arafat made his fateful demand/promise/plea before the UN ("Don't let this olive branch fall from my hands", great line honestly). But in the cases of land for peace i.e. with Egypt and Syria, it was only in the aftermath of a rather disastrous defeat (with some face-facing by Egypt) that this offer was even accepted.

The recentconflagrationn, on the other hand, emerged from areas where Israel had unilaterally pulled out in the hope of if not securing peace, at least some calm. That has backfired and arguably boosted the credibility of the defence hawks who argued that giving up land without any peace agreement was simply madness and handed victory to the extremist elements.
Thus, when Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal in 1956, Israel colluded enthusiastically with France and Britain in attacking Egypt. The Suez war was perceived across the Muslim world as a perfidious ganging up of western powers, and confirmed the view that Israel was, and always had been, a colonial enterprise.

Well, it is called the "tripartite aggression" for quite a fair bit of reason. But I think this short paragraph blithely glides over a fair bit of history and I should mention in passing the following:
1) The US was opposed to the entire endeavour and effectively forced the entire operation to grind to a halt
2) The French and the British were actually tilting towards the Arab nations until Nasser pulled this stunt (his speech had codewords embedded in it for the listening army to launch a surprise nationalisation).
3) In a manner of speaking, it was nationalisation only insofar as the Suez canal was located within the Egyptian borders. In some ways, it could be seen as an attack onsovereignn soil.
In a sense, the Israeli and Arab narratives have glided past each other Â? each side too intent with its own viewpoint to be receptive to the other.

This was never truer than now, as Hezbollah rockets rain down on Israeli towns, and Israeli planes range over Lebanon, raining down death and destruction.

As the tempo of violence quickens and the tide of hatred rises, it might be useful to step back and try and assess what each side really wants.

The Palestinian position is clearer than the Israeli one: While Palestinians would prefer a life without Israel, most have come to terms with their Jewish neighbour and realise they have to live with it. So the bargaining position of the mainstream is pretty straightforward: A return of Israel to its pre-1967 borders, but without all the qualifications Tel Aviv has attempted to impose.

Ah right. While we're at it, let's ignore the Camp David and Dayton Accords and the agreement between Rabin and Arafat. Let's also ignore the fact that any agreement is doomed to failure not because of the territorial line but because of the issue of the right of Palestinian refugees to return i.e. whether it should be an unlimited right (in which case, Israel will be swamped with refugees and effectively become an Arab nation) or limited (see for example the Saudi sponsored peace plan).
Israel, on the other hand, is deliberately ambiguous in spelling out what it wants, although its actions have clarified any doubts people might have harboured. Apart from all of Jerusalem, it wants to retain the major settlements it has built since 1967, and continues to expand today. And it wants to ensure that the Palestinian state that ultimately emerges would never be viable, by fragmenting it with roads connecting various settlements with each other and with Israel.

Are the policies as deliberate as this author makes it out to be? Or is it a situation where events have overtaken politics.

But quick fact, Israel deliberate faced down the settler lobby and evicted a whole group of them from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and SoutherLebanonon. Again, back to land-for-peace. No point having settlements if you can't protect then.
Clearly, such a one-sided solution would be unacceptable to any Palestinian leadership. Of course, Hamas has made Israel's task of dragging its feet easier by refusing to recognise its right to exist.

This "one-sided solution" exists only in the mind of the writer.....
For years now, Israel has used the mantra of "no partner to negotiate with" in order to avoid meaningful negotiations. The point is that you negotiate differences with adversaries, not with friends. And you do not choose your foes. So, clearly, every act of violent resistance to the occupation has been used by Tel Aviv to fend off western pressure to sit down with the Palestinians to negotiate a final border.

*Sigh*, without going into history, the PA and particularly Arafat did not show a willingness or a capability to clean up its act and try to actually govern. Neither did it make much of an effort (if it even could granted) to stop HAMAS activities. In that situation (and in light of the failed breakdown in talks), Israel together with the US engaged in a policy of isolating Arafat in the hope that someone else within the ranks could take over and prove to be a more amenable negotiating partner.

It worked, to a point. Abbas came in, but the groundswell also brought in HAMAS.

And again, the problem isn't just about the border because Israel has already shown a historical willingness to trade land for peace. Hell, they were willing to do it for a modicum of calm.

It's a security issue! Go back to history and you see that between the 6 Day War and the Yom Kippur war, Israel was under constant low-intensity attack that made it more convinced that the '67 lands needed to be held to provide a security buffer. This situation exists even today and arguably has gotten worse in light of the fail unilateral pullout.
Apart from this gross mismatch in expectations from an agreement, there is a view that somehow, Israeli security takes precedence over its neighbours. Thus, the smallest provocation has to be answered with disproportionate use of force.

Not true. You can't generally argue that an act of war constitutes "the smallest provocation" which was the case during the 6 Day War and the Yom Kippur war. Yes, I do think that in those situations, it was disproportionatete use of force, but I wouldn't argue that the provocation was slight.
There is a widespread feeling in the West, and even in some Arab countries, that the current escalation is due to Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers. In reality, when the Israelis retreated from occupied Southern Lebanon in 2000, an agreement had been worked out according to which Israel and Hezbollah would not attack civilians along the border.

Classic bait-and-switch tactics. How does an agreement not to attack civilians constitute an agreement that military target is fair game?
Military targets were not covered by the accord, and over the last six years, civilians were not deliberately targeted. But when Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers and killed several others in a daring cross-border raid, Israel retaliated against civilian targets, including the destruction of entire villages. This in turn drew return fire at Israeli civilians in the form of Hezbollah rockets.

Note three important facts.
1. As the writer admits, Hizbullah entered Israel, launching a military attack ("daring cross-border raid"?!! WTF?) on a convoy and killing some of the soldiers and capturing 2. When Israel sent two jeeps after than in a rescue bid, they were all killed.

I would think that an attack on a military target constituted an act of war, something that seems to slip the writer's mind.

2. Oddly enough, this wasn't the first time it happened and in fact there were several occasions since 2000 and the odd thing was that despite being under hawks such as Barak, Israel did not retaliate.

3. Hizbullah has never been shy to hide theiweaponryry amongst civilians. The rockets are particularlirksomeme because it allows Hizbullah to effectively become a state-within-a-state (and the only military force in that region). And they haven't been shy in boasting that it prevents Israel from attacking them everything they launch one of those "daring cross-border raids". They are a legitimate security threat and by analogy, one simply needs to mention Kashmir and India/Pakistani missiles to get an equivalent".

Or maybe it might be more accurate to talk of the Tamil Tigers?

This has been the form of past spirals of violence in the Middle East: One act triggers another, and so on. On each occasion, Israel has quickly raised the stakes, as it has done this time. But far too often, Israeli military actions have produced the opposite effect from the one their authors sought.

Selective memory and bias wot?
The one thing Israeli leaders forget in their hubris is that security is not a one-way street: Their country cannot enjoy peace unless its neighbours also feel secure. Israel has sought to build a wall to keep Palestinians out of sight, and therefore out of mind. But by tunnelling under it, Hamas showed that even a 20-foot high wall is not impregnable.

Conflation of issues no? How is Hizbullah threatened by Israel? Especially when Israel has already pulled out of SoutherLebanonon?

But with regards to the Palestinian problem, it's a good point. The security wall works to a point but only at the cost of economic deverstation to the Palestinian economy. The only problem is whether HAMAS is actually willing to work for peace and not crow about "victory" when Israel relaxes the restrictions.
Clearly, no long-term peace is possible without a political settlement. And a settlement will not be reached at gunpoint. Both in strategic and moral terms, Israelis have to come to terms with the fact that as long as they continue to occupy Palestinian land, they will have no peace.

To find true peace, Israelis have to move past the dark memories of the Holocaust, and accept the fact that they can hang on to illegally occupied land, or they can have security. They cannot simultaneously have both.

Bah, pithy platitudes are horrible and this is almost as bad as that Ridge article.

What exactly is the author asking for? There is no doubt that Israel will return to the pre '67 border if there is a willingness on the part of the other parties. Return to the Dayton accords and it's pretty clear how much was on the table (sharing oJerusalemem, final borders, right of return etc.). Arafat wanted a better deal that Rabin could not give and when the next round of negotiations came round, he faced Barak who was in no mood for compromise.

This is not a problem that can be solved handwaving much less sanctimonious pseudo-advice.

Here's to Peace.

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