Gaza is now full blown. The US of A blocked the Security Council resolution…will wonders never cease? And still no word from the president to be, who’s now in D.C. and must have full knowledge of the situation. By “full knowledge” i mean the kind that you can’t read in the newspaper.
I’m either the best or worst type of commentator for this situation. I don’t have a dog in this fight. And while i can see some point to both sides being right, i mostly see both sides being terribly, terribly wrong. The more pressing issues are, as usual, buried under the weight of politics, punditry, and personal animosity.
Let’s begin with the picture. That’s photographic evidence of Israel using either artillery fired cluster munitions or white phosphorus (probably the latter) in an urban area. Hardly civilized. Almost certainly that shell was payed for with the American taxpayer monies, and may well have been manufactured right here in God’s country…at least we still have some export manufacturing sector, no? That Israel is using cluster munitions suggest one of two things: either that wanton destruction is the military plan or that Israel is not so confident in the vaunted IDF.
Robert Fisk recently wrote a scathing estimate of both sides of this conflict from a military point of view. This isn’t Southern Lebanon, and Hamas is not the same caliber of fighting force as Hezbollah. It seems unlikely that Hamas has learned any significant lessons from Hezbollah’s success. That the IDF can target Hamas leadership suggests that the organization is riddled with spies and informers. On the other hand, there have been suggestions that Hamas has spent the blockade years amassing heavy weaponry and deploying booby traps; that may be mostly bluster, but the IDF has said that much of the artillery barrage was meant to detonate planted explosives. Assuming that the IDF has seriously infiltrated Hamas, they are likely to know what awaits their forces and where it has been planted.
But none of that changes the fact that this is full blown war in very tight confines with huge numbers of civilians trapped in the crossfire. US media has made it a point to relay Israeli’s warning to Palestinian civilians that full war is on the march and they should leave the area. That same media fails to point out that there’s nowhere for civilians to go. Gaza is a walled ghetto.
Urban warfare is the most chaotic and dangerous form of conflict. Even the most highly trained and experienced forces have difficulty in full urban combat. There is reason to believe that the IDF is not the vaunted fighting force of song and legend. Fisk points out that it hasn’t won a war since 1973. It pretty well got its ass handed to it by Hezbollah in 2006, and that was in a situation where the overall superiority of the IDF should have been overwhelming. I’ve seen a fair number of pictures of Israeli tanks massed at the border. It’s an impressive sight, but the last place a tanker wants to go is down an urban street. If the opposition can take the first and last tank in a column, everything in between is trapped for a massacre.
Can Hamas manage that? Maybe not; they’re better known for shooting their guns into the air than military discipline. But the Hungarians managed it against the Red Army, and they did so without much more than Molotov cocktails.
But the IDF forces arrayed against Hamas might not be much better. It appears that a large portion of the fighting will fall to called up reservists…hardly “elite”. And once the IDF forces engage Hamas on the streets of Gaza, their air and artillery superiority may well be of zero consequence. Contrary to popular belief, most munitions are not “smart” and even the smart munitions are not so accurate as the Pentagon’s propaganda machine would lead us to believe.
Imagine an armor supported infantry unit in Gaza. Hamas manages to block at least one path of exit by destroying an Israeli tank. The ambush is sprung and IDF troops are trapped. Any call for air support at that point takes a serious risk of blowing up the IDF as well (or instead of) the Hamas fighters. The quarters are too close, and Hamas should have the advantage of knowing the area far better than the IDF.
And then, of course, there are the civilians…if they were trapped to begin with, they are further trapped by the Israeli strategy of splitting Gaza into three regions. Israel is also, and somewhat understandably by the methods of modern warfare, targeting infrastructure. Understandable though it might be, it significantly worsens the conflict’s effect on the civilian population…er, it increases “collateral damage”.
Tzipi Livni appears comfortable taking the low road, “The moment they fire we will respond with great force,” she said, “It could be that several operations are needed.” In other words, Israel is not attempting to dissuade Hamas but to crush it once and for all. Ehud Barak reinforced her point and suggested that this operation might take a while. Whether it will be successful depends on a great many variables, but the most salient variable is the very definition of success.
Does Israel actually want peace? It must surely understand that ravaging the Palestinian population will only act as a bellows on the flames of this conflict. Barak insists that Israel is not “war hungry”, but his nation’s actions make his statement questionable. Just as Hamas’s ineffective rocket attacks provoke Israel, Israel’s invasion will surely provoke Palestinian retaliation.
Unfortunately, that may be the whole point. It has been pretty solidly established that Israel founded and funded Hamas in an effort to counteract the power of the PLO. There was some sense (albeit perverted) to such an action. The PLO was effectively secular and nationalist, so it was hard to portray them as blood thirsty Islamic terrorists. Hamas was always an Islamist counterweight to the PLO, and much evidence suggests that Israel allowed the counterweight to get heavier. Now Hamas must be destroyed. It is impossible to tell if a situation like this was part of the original plan or if we’re watching blowback on a large scale. Considering the long-term recycling of Israeli power players, the former cannot be discounted…though i would surmise that the truth is a blend of the former and the latter.
Which leads us to the most unfortunate casualty of this conflict: any hope for peaceful dialogue.
Abu Yussef (Palestine Monitor) writes, “The fourth casualty, and perhaps the most tragic, is the Palestinian voice of peace and non-violence. Anyone who has devoted their time and work to teaching the merits and methods of non-violent resistance and joint dialogue have been made to look like utter fools and apologists for the ongoing horror.” [Emphasis added.] The Palestinians are being cajoled by Hamas, with the help of Israeli examples, into believing that peace is not even possible. They’re happy to paint Israel as a blood thirsty monster as much as Israel is happy to paint Hamas as an evil terrorist organization. It’s a self-perpetuating circle of violence and recrimination, proven by the actions of both sides. And it has descended, according to Yussef, to the point where Hamas has threatened to target rival politicians along with Israelis.
It becomes harder and harder to not wonder if the circle of violence is by design. The violence that begets violence forms the rationale for Israel being surrounded by enemies and for Palestine to be oppressed and attacked by its enemy. The interlocking memes keep the military aid from the US flowing…no doubt happily for those who profit from it…and the region so unstable as to necessitate a large US presence in the region (directly and by proxy). A non-violent campaign by the Palestinians would almost certainly be effective in turning world opinion firmly against Israel; consequently, Israel (and its financial patron…that would be us) has a vested interest in making sure such a campaign never gathers momentum.
It seems that the point is to perpetuate the cycle of violence. And in this the United States is complicit. We know that the Bush administration is whole-heartedly with the program. We still don’t know where the incoming Obama administration stands, but its avoidance of the issue may well mean that it will have no choice other than to be with the program by the time Obama takes office. There is good reason to believe that Israel may have timed the operation for this reason, and by not speaking immediately, Obama walked right into the trap.
We’ll have to wait and see, but it certainly appears that yet another presidential administration will pass without significant progress towards peace in the region…unless Israel manages to thoroughly decimate Hamas; in which case the President Elect will be somewhat relieved of the burden. But the most likely outcome is that everyone will lose except the most violent and war like ideologues on both sides.
*This post may already be out of date, considering the talk of cease-fire possibilities. And i am traveling and unable to make some adjustments that i would prefer to make before posting…my apologies.
Image credit: Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images
Hat tip: Russ Wellen for the Yussef quote