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Monday, November 19, 2012

What the World Understand About Israel (or the United States)

A couple op-ed pieces discussing misconceptions of the Israeli-Hamas conflict (I don't say "Palestinian" because the attacks are being made by Hamas in Gaza, not by Palestinians as a whole). The misconceptions are not only of the dynamic between Israel and Hamas--that is, why a long-term settlement is unlikely--but also why Israel's response, which so inflames the rest of the world, does little or nothing to America's support for Israel.

First, Barry Rubin at PJ Media discusses the misconceptions of the conflict with Hamas, focusing on an article written Janine Zacharia, whose background in the Middle-East should provide her insights into the issue, but apparently do not. Rubin writes:
. . . the unspoken assumption of the Western media elite is that anyone who uses force, even in self-defense, ends up worse off.

It is quite reasonable to state that the campaign will not end the problem. Everyone in Israel and in Israel’s leadership and all the generals and Netanyahu know this very well. They also know that a country that does not defend itself will end up doomed, isolated, insecure, and alone.

They also know the best that can be expected given this situation is to force Hamas to deescalate for two or three years before the next round. One of the goals of the operation is to destroy the large military stockpiles — especially longer-range missiles — that Hamas has accumulated since 2009. Thus, Hamas will have to start all over again to smuggle in weapons. The next time they start a war it will be from a far weaker position than if they had not taken such losses.

Much of the Western elite no longer understands concepts which their predecessors took for granted during the last two centuries. You can go back even further than that to Joshua 7: 8-9 when Joshua prays after a military defeat:
What can I say after Israel has turned tail before its enemies? When the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land hear of this, they will turn upon us and wipe out our very name from the earth.
Zacharia, however, faithfully represents the current standpoint of the Western elite. Here is her prescription:
Israel needs a far more sophisticated, diplomatic, long-term strategic policy for dealing with Gaza and all the threats around it—from Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and perhaps Egypt. A new Israeli approach may have to include a willingness to at least try talking to Hamas, which is fighting its own internal battle against even more radical, anti-Israel groups in the Gaza Strip. It may mean putting more pressure on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, languishing in irrelevance in Ramallah, to make peace with Hamas so there can be negotiations with Israel and a permanent end to this rocket-war madness.
Rubin goes on to pick her arguments and points apart.

The crux of the matter, as Rubin lays out in more detail, is that Hamas does not desire, and has never wanted, peace. Any truces, agreements, or peace in the past has been ephemeral, designed only to stop Israeli military action, and readily broken by Hamas. There is no reason to suppose that any efforts to broker a peace this time will be different.

Rubin concludes:
In other words, what Zacharia writes — and this is common throughout Western academic, media, and governmental circles — is completely absurd. The solution not being taken up is to overthrow Hamas just like the Taliban was overthrown in Afghanistan, though even that didn’t solve the problems in the latter country.

But there is zero support in the West for bringing down Hamas. President Barack Obama helped install a pro-Hamas regime in Egypt. And the man who never pressured Abbas pressured Israel to reduce sanctions on the Gaza Strip, thus helping Hamas remain in power so it can continue firing rockets at Israel.

I do not expect the mass media to improve nor do I have any hope of educating the journalists who write this kind of thing. They are not going to change in the near or even medium-term future. Hence, they will be ignored instead.

Equally, the governments who follow this kind of line will have no effect — at least no positive effect — on regional problems. The new feature of the last few years is that the U.S. government has contributed to making things much worse.

And that’s why there will be no “permanent end” to this rocket war madness or all of the other varieties of madness that are getting worse in the region.
Walter Russell Mead's piece discusses a different misconception or misunderstanding, being, why Americans (speaking generally, and not specifically of any Administration) generally support Israel, and support actually goes up when Muslims make unprovoked attacks against Israel. Mead writes:
As Israeli airstrikes and naval shells bombarded Gaza this weekend, the world asked the question that perennially frustrates, confuses and enrages so many people across the planet: Why aren’t the Americans hating on Israel more?

. . . If anything, many of Israel’s military operations are more popular and less controversial in the United States than they are in Israel itself. This time around, President Barack Obama and his administration have issued one statement after another in support of Israel’s right to self defense, and both houses of Congress have passed resolutions in support of Jerusalem’s response.

Commentators around the world grasp at straws in seeking to explain what’s going on. Islamophobia and racism, say some. Americans just don’t care about Arab deaths and they are so blinded by their fear of Islam that they can’t see the simple realities of the conflict on the ground. Others allege that a sinister Jewish lobby controls the media and the political system through vast power of Jewish money; the poor ignorant Americans are the helpless pawns of clever Jews. Still others suggest that it is fanatical fundamentalists with their carry on flight bags packed for the Rapture who are behind American blindness to Israel’s crimes.

America is a big country with a lot of things going on, but the real force driving American support for Israeli actions in Gaza isn’t Islamophobia, Jewish conspiracies or foam-flecked religious nuts. It’s something much simpler: many though not all Americans look at war through a distinctive cultural lens....
. . . Theoreticians of “just war” say that in order for war to be justifiable, two tests must be met. You have to have a legitimate cause for war (self defense, for example, rather than grabbing land from a weaker neighbor) and you must fight the war in the right way. You must fight fair (that is, fight a just war), and you must fight nice.

One of the criteria for jus in bello (fighting nice as opposed to jus ad bellum which is about whether it is just ) is proportionality. If the other guy comes at you with a stick, you can’t pull a knife. If he’s got a knife, you can’t pull a gun. If he burned your barn, you can’t nuke his capital. Your use of force must be proportionate to the cause and to the danger.

. . . For many people around the world, this seems patently obvious: Israel has a right to respond to attacks from Hamas but it doesn’t have an unlimited right to respond to limited attacks with unlimited force. Israeli blindness to this obvious moral principle strikes many observers as evidence of hardheartedness and national moral decline, and colors their perceptions of many other Israeli policies.

The whole jus in bello argument sails right over the heads of most Americans.  The proportionality concept never went over that big here. Many Americans are instinctive Clausewitzians; Clausewitz argued that efforts to make war less cruel end up making it worse, and a lot of Americans agree. [UPDATED NOTE: Many Americans consider the classic concept of proportionality -- that the violence used must be proportional to the end sought -- as meaningless when responding to attacks on the lives of citizens because the protection of citizens from armed and planned attacks is of enough importance to justify any steps taken to ensure that the attacks end.]

From this perspective, the kind of tit-for-tat limited warfare that the advocates of just and proportionate warfare would require is a recipe for unending war: for decades of random air strikes, bombs and other raids. An endless war of limited intensity is worse, many Americans instinctively feel, than a time-limited war of unlimited ferocity. A crushing blow that brings an end to the war—like General Sherman’s march of destruction through the Confederacy in 1864-65—is ultimately kinder even to the vanquished than an endless state of desultory war.
. . . From this perspective, in which war is an elemental struggle between peoples rather than a kind of knightly duel between courtly elites, the concept of proportionality seems much less compelling. Certainly if some kind of terrorist organization were to set up missile factories across the frontier in Canada and Mexico and start attacking targets in the United States, the American people would demand that their President use all necessary force without stint or limit until the resistance had been completely, utterly and pitilessly crushed. Those Americans who share this view of war might feel sorrow at the loss of innocent life, of the children and non-combatants killed when overwhelming American power was used to take the terrorists out, but they would feel no moral guilt. The guilt would be on the shoulders of those who started the whole thing by launching the missiles.

Thus when television cameras show the bodies of children killed in an Israeli air raid, Jacksonian Americans are sorry about the loss of life, but it inspires them to hate and loathe Hamas more, rather than to be mad at Israel. They blame the irresponsible dolts who started the war for all the consequences of the war and they admire Israel’s strength and its resolve for dealing with the appalling blood lust of the unhinged loons who start a war they can’t win, and then cower behind the corpses of the children their foolishness has killed. The whole situation strengthens the widespread American belief that Palestinian hate rather than Israeli intransigence is the fundamental reason for the Middle East impasse, and the television pictures that drive much of the world away from Israel often have the effect of strengthening the bonds between Americans and the Jewish state.
(Brackets in original).

I have something I do want to emphasize about the U.S.' and Israel's targeting and use of force. Mead notes that the U.S. willingly bombed German civilians in WWII in order to break the moral of the German people. The reality is more complicated. The British also bombed the Germans. The difference is that to the British, it was more important to minimize casualties among its air corp than to keep from bombing civilian targets. Consequently, the British generally flew night raids which often missed their intended industrial targets and struck residential areas. The U.S., on the other hand, accepted higher losses among its air crews in order to fly daytime raids expressly for the purpose of minimizing German civilian casualties. This attempt to spare civilians has been a significant driver in U.S. tactics and weapons development since WWII, down to the modern "smart" weapons that allow more precise targeting of a weapons facility or arms depot. No longer is carpet bombing acceptable.

The Israelis show the same concern. They could mindlessly bomb and shell neighborhoods to rubble, but they use the same expensive precision weapons that the U.S. does, and for the same reason--minimize civilian casualties. So, yes, when I see a Palestinian child killed or wounded (assuming it isn't some fakery on the part of Hamas and a gullible media) because Hamas put a weapons depot or rocket launcher near a school or playground, I am angry with Hamas.

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