Tuesday, January 20th, 2009 https://adamkhan.net/rambles/Shanghai-Europe
o, finally, we stopped yesterday; the Israeli assault of late 2008/early 2009 on Gaza is over. With it, Israel matured: we lost moral purity and made vital strategic gains.
From what I’ve received within the electronic echo chamber of pro-Israel email circulars, this assault is not seen as fundamentally different to any other response to Palestinian terror. We nod at Hamas’s savagery, fulminate against media bias, marvel at Israel’s humanity (oh, the leaflets!). Except this time it actually was a massacre. Not that Israel lined civilians against walls and mowed them down with machine guns, but the firepower was, if not legally disproportionate, definitely tactically and seemingly morally disproportionate. (Ironically, the Palestinians have cried wolf so often about Israeli massacres that when one is actually inflicted its impact is dampened.) Back in 2003, while living in the countryside outside Jerusalem, I concluded “Allah Help the Jackals” with:
Perhaps Israel is following a subconscious national strategy of the strong, in which it behaves too meekly for a decade or so, emboldens its vicious but feeble enemies until they go too far, then lashes out in a now-obviously-justifiable response and gains untold assets in the process … While Israel inhales, its own citizens must—scandalously—beware. But when it exhales, Allah help the jackals. This seems pretty irresponsible behavior, but in the two-party system that forms the heart of the modern liberal democracy, a bait-and-switch foreign policy may be inevitable until a foe learns to stay dead.
We just witnessed that exhalation; Israel crossed a Rubicon here. If the Palestinian numbers are even remotely true, we killed with full deliberation some 700 more or less defenceless people, more than ever before in Israel’s history. What are the ramifications of this?
Regarding the international news media, its morally bankrupt “cycle of violence” / “moral equivalence” / “even-handed” view of things favors the wicked. So for the first time, the media’s morality of ignorance may actually help Israel: if Israel lashed out so violently, why, the Palestinians must have been doing something very bad to cause it, and on to the next headline.
More seriously, Israel today is the only nation-state that single-handedly engages its enemies with an effective modern military. Even the United States dresses up its invasions as coalitions, at least of the willing if not the able. Call it dishonor, call it the cowardice of the herd, but this seeming brazenness sticks in much of Europe’s throat, and one could envision a general international desire if not movement to defang Israel, regardless of the justice of its cause, because having a single small powerful nation-state with enemies, able and willing to use some of its power unilaterally, just feels too destabilizing in today’s world.
Tuning in to BBC Parliament tonight I caught the end of Foreign Minister David Milliband facing questions on Gaza dripping with vilification and caustic barbs of Israel. Even discounting the frothing rage of a Clare Short and the nauseating self-congratulation of a Gerald Kaufman, there may have been behind the posturing outrage some incredulity that such a one-sided exercise of military might can still occur unilaterally within the family of civilized nations. Nobody gets to do this sort of thing alone, surely. Britain itself hasn’t had a war since the Falklands a quarter of a century ago. (The British are proud that their own struggle with the IRA did not escalate to the military level; fighter jets were never deployed over Ireland, they like to point out.)
For a less fraught but perhaps more telling illustration that Europe and the Middle East are different worlds, on Friday night we met Stephen, a Jewish English guy, who showed us pictures on Flickr of his trip to Israel. There he is on the beach, the iconic rainbow colors of the Dan Tel Aviv behind him, gleefully holding a borrowed M-16 rifle. For Europeans, army rifles are exciting whereas for Israelis they are mundane, a nuisance even, such as when you’re home from the army on the weekend and have to stash your gun somewhere safe in the house before going out. Unlike in Europe, the military is central to Israeli culture; during the rush hour in Tel Aviv what you see mostly on the train platforms are soldiers not suits.
So it was both disturbing and comforting seeing six European leaders sitting at a table next to outgoing Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert as he announced the ceasefire. Disturbing because they wanted to demonstrate to their constituencies by being in Jerusalem that they have influence on wayward Israel — which they don’t during acute times such as these — while Israel wanted to demonstrate by hosting them in Jerusalem that we are still accepted within the family of nations — which we increasingly aren’t from a European standpoint. Comforting because despite the Jewish propensity towards the role of Jonah, Israel is too powerful and well-connected to be forced to walk the plank; it’s been perceived after all as a responsible nuclear power for almost half a century! We humans are still animals, and with this assault, this willingness to lash out in public, to very graphically value her own far more than her enemy’s, Israel I believe won friends and influenced peoples. After demonstrating so graphically that it is capable of behaving unilaterally, it may no longer need to. Others — I’m thinking mainly of the Europeans — may now work more actively with Israel.
For years Israel has been trying to bring Iranian revolutionary expansionism to the top of the international agenda, but talk from Israel has brought only talk from others — fair enough. Now, the Europeans represented at this table may finally digest that Iranian arms proliferation is the root cause of this particular conflict, the main obstacle to the oft-stated goal of a just and lasting Middle East peace, and a genuine global menace. They may now actually enlist their own navies in a coalition of the willing with Israel to block Iran. In Parliament there was no objection to Milliband’s statement that the Royal Navy be used to stop Iranian arms smuggling to Hamas (even if there was a suggestion to use it to break Israel’s blockade). For Europe to be involved in a military confrontation with Iran, at least on the high seas, is a significant step. If forming an active coalition against Iran is Israel’s most urgent national goal, then the assault on Gaza may have been the most significant move in realizing that goal. It demonstrated seriousness of purpose.
Back in 2002, to Israel’s naive surprise and disappointment, the world ignored the interception of the Karine-A shipping arms from Iran to the Palestinians (the exception was US President Bush, who thereafter cut relations with Yasser Arafat). More recently in 2007, Israel’s bombing of Syria’s nascent nuclear facility was viewed as a bilateral affair between enemies. It has taken the Gaza assault to awaken the leaders of the world to the real effect that Iran’s export of jihad can have on global stability.
Finally, what of the victims of this assault on the streets and homes as well as the jihadists of Gaza? One can only commiserate and pray never again.