Wednesday, December 31, 2008

There's No Middle Ground Any More


Israel's latest air bombardment of Gaza is being felt throughout the Middle East. At a time when the status quo in the region is coming to an end and Israel's essential sponsor is beset with troubles at home and in South Asia, yet another military blunder by Ehud Olmert may be all it takes to irrevocably shift power away from moderate Arab states.

As with Olmert's misadventure into Lebanon, the Gaza air assault seems to be playing right into the hands of Iran and Syria. Recent reports indicate that the Arab Street, that is to say popular opinion in Arab states, is turning against not just Israel but also the governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia which are themselves dependent on American protection.

Olmert, who has repeatedly shown all the tactical brilliance of George Bush, doesn't seem to have any clear political plan for the conflict. If his objective is to weaken Hamas, aerial bombardment of build up areas in Gaza is likely to have just the opposite effect. Fearful of their own people, Egypt and Saudi Arabia may have no choice but to support Hamas. Gaza soon may be the least of Israel's problems if Olmert shatters the quasi-neutrality of the moderate Arab states. There'll be no middle ground any more.

It's unclear why Israel is painting itself into this corner at this point. With the lamest of lame duck presidents in the White House and American military power already frayed, some of Israel's Arab enemies are feeling less threatened, even emboldened.

American domination of the Middle East is being challenged. Russia has begun building a permanent naval base in Syria. There are reports that Iran will soon deploy the Russian-built, state of the art S-300 anti-aircraft, anti-missile air defence system that Western experts claim to be the best in the world. It's even rumoured that Russia and China are considering bringing Pakistan and Iran under the defensive umbrella of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a move that would represent a power shift of seismic proportions in the Persian Gulf.

So just what is Olmert playing at? Unguided rockets lobbed out of Gaza that kill just seven people over two years aren't an existential threat to Israel, they're barely a significant annoyance. These rockets may be Olmert's pretext for war but he must have some other, far more compelling reason to risk so much for what seems to be so little gain.

Going to war on a pretext is nothing new for Olmert. The ill-fated invasion of Lebanon was waged on a pretext. Israel and the United States had been planning that for months. Yet, despite overwhelming military superiority, Israel not only failed to destroy Hezbollah, it actually strengthened it and its acceptance and support both within Lebanon and throughout the Muslim world. In the Occupied Territories, Olmert and Bush have also been determined to drive Palestinian support away from Hamas and instead to Fatah but it's hard to imagine how this bombing will further that goal.

Could it be that in its 60-years of existence, Israel still has no clout in the region beyond its military prowess; that the only way it can influence its neighbours is by force or the threat of force? That's a fairly narrow and brittle position to be in, especially during a time of shifting power bases.

If the bottom line for Olmert is some form of capitulation by Hamas, it's hard to imagine this campaign ending well, or at all. Bunglers like Bush, Mubarak and the House of Saud have already radicalized the Arab Street. What can Olmert achieve but to stoke the fires of pan-Arab nationalism? With our backsides still hanging out in Afghanistan and Iraq, the last thing any of us need is a display of solidarity with Israel against the Palestinians. We would naturally say this is about Hamas not the Palestinian people, a distinction that, coming from Westerners, would be meaningless throughout the Muslim world.

No, it is time that we finally pull this thorn from the lion's paw. Time is running out. Israel either can't or won't settle its problems with its neighbours and the repercussions are too great and too far spread to accept the cost of that any longer.

Israel won't accept a one-state solution so a two-state solution it must be. That means rolling Israel back to the 1967 border, including removal of the 430,000 illegal Israeli settlers from the West Bank. The international community will have to step in between the Israelis and the Palestinians, probably for two or three generations at least. Yet, with plenty of aid and support from the West and affluent Arab states and a few decades of peace and prosperity, the Palestinian people will probably bury their grievances with Israel and do what every other human being wants to do - get on with their lives.

24 comments:

Doz said...

Unfortunately there is a solution other than the one which you suggest, which enjoys widespread popularity among racist nationalists in Israel. "Transfer" or "Population exchange" envisages the wholesale ethnic cleansing not only of Palestine, but of those Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. The similarity of this action to the "resettlement in the east" of Germany's Jews in an earlier war does not seem to constitute any more of a moral deterrent now than it did in 1948. If the racists settlers and their Lukid supporters win the coming election they will make Omert and Sharon look like moderates.

Anonymous said...

"So just what is Olmert playing at? Unguided rockets lobbed out of Gaza that kill just seven people over two years aren't an existential threat to Israel, they're barely a significant annoyance."

What a pigheaded and foolish comment.

Think before you write!

Sderot has been under seige for 8 years. Israel does not occupy Gaza yet Hamas lobbies mortars and rockets on a daily basis on a city of 33,000 people. How do you think that effects the people there? (barely an annoyance???)

Why don't you go and live there for a month and see if its barely an annoyance.

The Mound of Sound said...

Well Anon, the fact is that 7 dead over two years is dwarfed compared to what the Palestinians have been taking from settlers and the Israeli military - in terms of relative carnage a mere pittance.

Moreover, it's against those 7 fatalities that the death and suffering inflicted by Israel in Gaza must be measured.

Terrorism is terrorism whether it arrives from the militants' unguided rockets or aerial bombardment from Israeli strike fighters and attack helos. It just happens that one variety proves to be quite a lot more lethal than the other.

Oh well. Have a nice day.

The Mound of Sound said...

Blogger ML Johnstone is in Israel right now and reports that a number of Israeli papers are denouncing this Gaza war as a "political stunt".

"Gideon Levy at Haaretz.com has a title: The IAF, Bullies of the Clear Blue Skies.
Some Israeli commentors say:"It's not a war, it;s a POLITICAL STUNT."
Another columnist says this retaliation is about "ballots not bullets".

Perverse as it sounds - and is - it's becoming obvious that this war isn't about Hamas or its feeble rocketry. It's about Olmert salvaging his tattered reputation from the Lebanon debacle and it's about Barak and Foreign Minister Livni gaming the public in advance of the February 10 elections.

This war, with its hundreds of dead, is an obscene political stunt by a gaggle of Israeli political hacks.

Jim said...

You might want to read what your own party leader says about the situation on the Liberal Party website:

"The Liberal Party of Canada unequivocally condemns the rocket attacks launched by Hamas against Israeli civilians and calls for an immediate end to these attacks. We affirm Israel's right to defend itself against such attacks, and also its right to exist in peace and security."

No condemnation of the Israelis mentioned anywhere in his statement.

Looks like Iggy is finally bringing the party away from the looney left and back to the centre where most ordinary and average Canadians support Israel against the Hamas terrorists.

The Mound of Sound said...

Well Jim, I'm not the type who thinks I must support whatever policies my party endorses. Most, especially you rightwing nutjobs, don't grasp the merit of that independence.

This isn't about centrists supporting Israel. I don't "support" either side but I am sufficiently well informed to understand that one side has been far more barbarous than the other. Far more, chum. If you, wallowing in your blanket of abject ignorance, don't want to know the truth, please don't fault me for doing otherwise.

Have a nice day, Jim.

Anonymous said...

Well done Michael Ignatieff !!!

The integrity of the Liberal Party has been restored!

Canada must always support its allies and fellow democracies against terrorists who who kill their political opponents (by throwing them off roof tops) oppress gays and women and would like to impose jihad on our western values.

Go Iggy Go!

Anonymous said...

Well done Michael Ignatieff !!!

The integrity of the Liberal Party has been restored!

Canada must always support its allies and fellow democracies against terrorists who who kill their political opponents (by throwing them off roof tops) oppress gays and women and would like to impose jihad on our western values.

Go Iggy Go!

Jim said...

Hey Mound Of Sound, I'm a long-time Liberal member who represents the mainstream of the party, not some "right wing nutjob". I've been uncomfortable with how certain MPs within the party have become cozy with tolerating Islamic terrorists and their anti-Israel/anti-Western viewpoints over the last few years, and I'm happy that Ignatieff is bringing the party back to our proper and historical place as a defender of Israel's right to exist.

"One side has been far more barbarous"? It's not Israel's fault that they're better at putting up civilian defence bunkers to protect its citizens, and that Hamas is embedding their terrorist leaders and facilities in the same complexes as Gaza civilians live - which is the real reason why Gaza has more casualties than Israel does.

You obviously think that negotiating with Hamas, an organization that being affiliated with is illegal under Canadian law, is an option. The only option and solution for the long term is breaking Hamas and every other Islamic terrorist group once and for all.

The Mound of Sound said...

Jim, clear your mind and begin learning a bit more about this situation. We are on the wrong side of this and it mainly stems, not from Israel or the Palestinians, but from the way we've supported people like Mubarak and the Saudi royals.

Whenever movements have arisen to unseat despotic but friendly regimes in this region, we've sided with tyrants. That has, in turn, radicalized the "Arab Street."

The reason that Hamas gets democratically elected is the same reason that Hezbollah wins seats in the Lebanese legislature. They're the groups who alone are seen as standing against the status quo and standing up to those the people there see as their oppressors.

Look carefully at the 14-Israelis killed by militant rockets fired from Gaza these past seven years. The Afghan insurgents kill more Canadian soldiers with IEDs in a few months than that. Sad as each of those deaths undoubtedly is, we're talking about nations and, in that context, it's irrelevant contrasted to the 5,000 Palestinians Israel has killed in that same time frame. Unless you're racist enough to equate 5,000 dead Arabs as less relevant than 14-Israelis. If a 350-1 ratio isn't enough for you, what is?

The real reason why Gaza has more casualties is because the Israelis build better bunkers? Jim, if you're that profoundly stupid, there's no point in continuing this discussion. Look at the photos I posted today from the New York Times. Read the item I posted about the lethal blast effects of modern air to surface bombs. If you wish to be wilfully ignorant there's nothing I can tell you and nothing you can add that's of any help to anyone here.

Jim stop being so wilfully ignorant.

Grass R95 said...

If those people willfully elected internationally recognized terrorist groups into their governments as you wrote in your last comment, they knew that eventually Hamas/Hezbollah would act in the same way they have in the past and they have to bear some responsibility. You can't deal with terrorists.

I'm another Ignatieff supporter since his initial leadership run, and Liberal Party member. What Jim wrote echos what most of us think, and this is what we will be reflected in the new leader's foreign policy for the party, a return to support of Israel. Those party members who are have made excuses for Hamas or Hezbollah in the past, or have participated in pro-Hamas or Hezbollah / anti-Israel rallies, won't be tolerated anymore - the NDP might be a better home for the likes of you.

The Mound of Sound said...

Grass you need to step back and learn why the Palestinians backed Hamas, why so many Egyptians back the Islamic Brotherhood, why Shia Lebanese backed Hezbollah.

What you're seeing in the successes of Hamas and Hezbollah and others is the product of the radicalization of the "Arab Street" due to an assortment of influences, Israel's treatment of the Palestinians being just one.

Look at Mubarak for example and then discover how the Muslim Brotherhood achieved support by being the only group standing up to the dictatorship we so freely support.

The masses who support these groups aren't bloodthirsty swine or raging lunatics. They're ordinary human beings who don't see that they have any other choice that doesn't entail capitulation. In that they're a lot like you and me, Grass.

The truth is you can deal with "terrorists" just as we dealt with a gaggle of early Israeli politicians who had been murderous terrorists in their turn. Read the history of the Irgun if you don't understand this. Some of these early Israeli leaders formerly indulged in kidnapping and hanging British soldiers. That didn't stop us from dealing with them when the time came so please spare us the self-righteous drivel Grass.

Gwynne Dyer, who I think you'll agree is no bleeding-heart pinko, has written a clear assessment of how these radical groups have captured popular support in their homelands. It's important that you - and Ignatieff - and Jim grasp that because it's a reality that isn't going away anytime soon and it's a reality that won't be erased by Israeli bombs.

This isn't about making excuses for Hamas or Hezbollah it's about not wallowing in ignorance that has gotten us and Israel essentially nowhere over the past six decades.

Just because I won't embrace your naivity doesn't mean I should be shunted to the NDP as you suggest.

Since you have such a clear vision of this problem Grass, how about you give us your solution to bring lasting peace? You don't have one and neither does anyone who thinks peace can be found in the status quo or in Fatah. That's silliness bordering on stupidity.

There is only one answer and that's an imposed peace based on the '67 borders. Israel and the 430,000 settlers out of the occupied territories and an adequate demilitarized zone between Israel and the new Palestinian state pacified with a proper force of well-armed international peacekeepers mandated to shoot to kill any intruder - Israeli or Palestinian. Two generations, possibly three, would be needed but it would end with two states whose people were willing to live with each other.

By the way, butthead, I don't support Hamas or Hezbollah and I sure don't participate in their rallies either. And, as for you, maybe you ought to consider a home in the uber-right wing of the Conservatives.

Anonymous said...

The "Your either for us or against us" attitude of Grass and his urging you to end your support for the Liberals is a much better indication of who he is than his claim to be a Liberal.

Grass R95 said...

Okay there "Anonymous" (seriously, people who sign anonymous are always afraid to use any sort of moniker for themselves so they don't have to explain themselves later), whatever you say.

Those on the side of the party trying to make us a clone of the NDP and that has been antagonistic towards Israel in recent years should know that Ignatieff is bringing us back from the leftward drift that has caused the party to lose it's way, and has also killed a large chunk of the historic support we've always had from Jewish voters. The party had been staunchly pro-Israel in the immediate decades after 1948 - it's time to return back to this stance.

Scott Tribe said...

Thats not quite true, Grass.. Lloyd Axworthy supported a view of balance and proportion for the Liberals when he was the foreign minister. That's what I'd prefer to see us as a Liberal Party return to - not a Harper-lite version.

Grass R95 said...

I said in the immediate decades after 1948 (the 1950s through the 80s) - way before Axworthy's foreign affairs minister period in the mid 90s (also, if you look Axworthy's bio, he was aligned with the NDP for a period in the 1960s, so I wouldn't use him as the best example of historical Liberal view).

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Mound of Sound said...

Anon 12:56, your opinion of Axworthy is as relevant as your identity. I can guess whose water you're carrying and it's you who are the disgrace, not Axworthy.

And Grass you could indeed take Axworthy as standing for the very best of Liberal values and principles. It's just too bad you don't share them but we won't confuse you with the facts when your mind is made up already.

Reading your diatribe Grass you must think Trudeau was a real commie.

Anonymous said...

Axworthy was no role model for Liberal Foreign Ministers.

He was so anti-American.

America is Canada's most important trading partner and ally. Axworthy did not understand that.

He was a horrible Foreign Minister.

The Mound of Sound said...

Anon, your rank stupidity is breathtaking. Axworthy didn't understand that America is Canada's most important trading partner? Best you go back and smoke your weed Anon and leave the hard thinking to the grownups.

Anonymous said...

Mound.

Time to pick the NDP. PLEASE!

We don't neeed or want you.

The Mound of Sound said...

Just so you know, Anon. I don't pay much attention to Anonymice. I rank them right up there with those other A's. If you have something to say to me, try using your name. If not, enjoy your meaningless obscurity.

But if it's any comfort to you, I know "you and yours" don't need me but who cares?

Anonymous said...

Then get rid of anons.

If u can't take the heat...

The Mound of Sound said...

Good advice, Anon, I just took it. Bye, bye.