Monday, January 5, 2009

Gaza: Israel's Basic Choices

As long as Israel insists on being the Gaza prison warden, it has two basic choices: feed the people or fuel their anger. Sooner or later, it stands to reason that fueling their anger will result in some organization figuring out a way to make Israel pay a price it would rather not pay.

First, asymmetric warfare is becoming easier all the time. Vast resources are available to sponsor virtually anything; technology is becoming steadily easier for individuals or small groups to exploit; the intransigent nature of and marginalization of moderates in the broader conflict between the West and Islam ensure a steady supply of volunteers for Islamic resistance groups.

Second, the number and lethality of those groups is also steadily rising. As if 9/11 were not bad enough, today the situation is much worse. Iraq is an unstable mess, where everyone seems to be holding their breath until the inevitable decrease in American military power. Somalia is in chaos, with the Islamic Courts Union again seeming to offer the only hope of stability, the Ethiopian intervention having accomplished nothing, destroyed much, and provoked the rise of the violence-prone al Shabab. The Afghan conflict is not only worsening but spreading into Pakistan. Islamic militants have, since 9/11 enormously improved their strategic position.

One wonders why Tel Aviv cannot bring itself to see the long-term implications of these two rather obvious trends. But no, Tel Aviv, seeming only to understand the language of force, repeats its traditional tactics of ignoring Palestinian grievances and using the military once again to bottle up popular frustrations. And why not? Sure, in some long-term sense, time is against Israel, but on the other hand, every time it fights, it inflicts more damage than it suffers and postpones once again the arrival of that “long-term.”

Tel Aviv also gains further military support from Washington to consolidate its regional dominance, boxes in any open-minded U.S. politicians who might be thinking of sincere steps toward conflict resolution by playing the victim, and impresses Israeli voters with the importance of strengthening the garrison state. All in all, a deal any self-respecting military-industrial complex would have a very hard time resisting.

The fact that Tel Aviv cannot resist this deal, however, does not make it a good deal. By following Israeli tactics in its own larger battles, Tel Aviv’s superpower protector has become bogged down, is running out of soldiers, and has greatly dissipated its wealth. With the larger party over—though Washington has admittedly yet to recognize this, judging from its plans for “surging” into Afghanistan and its thoughtless support this week for Israeli extremism—it seems reasonable to ask how long the Tel Aviv power elite can continue to play the old game. There is, after all, an alternative…feeding the people of Gaza.

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