The recent Israeli invasion of South Lebanon and it’s concurrent (if much less publicized) offensive operations in Gaza has led to a slew of articles and blog posts online critical of the Israeli military response. Just as many, if not more, have been written defending Israel’s right to war on Hizbollah and Hamas, and criticizing anyone who opposes those actions as either anti-Semitic or callously indifferent to the history and current conditions of Jews world wide, and Israelis in particular.
Frankly, the criticisms of those of us who oppose Israel’s current military adventures are misguided in my view. We are not anti-Semites who long for the destruction of Israel, nor do we view Israel as the oppressor of peace loving Arabs. We realize that Israel has legitimate security concerns which need to be addressed. The real debate in which I, for one, am attempting to engage, is over which approach is the best one to secure Israel’s future existence:
(1) The current hard-line strategy of Israel’s political leadership which advocates building walls around the Palestinian populations in Gaza and the West Bank, combined with massive military retaliation against neighboring states in which terrorist organizations reside (inevitably resulting in the destabilization of democratic Arab governments as well as thousands of civilian casualties); or
(2) A more measured approach involving diplomacy, negotiation and compromise in which Europe, the United States, Iran, the Arab states and even political groups who have terrorist elements, such as Hamas and Hizbollah, are directly engaged in an attempt to forge a framework for a lasting peace in the region.
I believe the second alternative is the one most likely to secure Israel’s continued existence in the 21st century, rather than the current use of its military might (with the unbridled support of the Bush administration) which will only continue to inflame Arab hatred of Israel, and which I believe is sowing the seeds for future attacks on Israel that may be far more devastating than the current terrorist activity. Let me explain why I believe so passionately that the best way to support Israel is to oppose its current war policy.
War No Longer Works
Israel secured it’s early existence (and increased it’s territory) through a series of wars against neighboring Arab states in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973. Although it had US support in terms of arms and other aid, those wars were primarily fought alone against multiple Arab enemies. The end result was the now famous detente with Egypt, engineered by Anwar Sadat, Jimmy Carter and a somewhat reluctant Menachem Begin. Formal peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan followed, treaties which have continued unbroken to this day despite the assassination of Sadat and the death of King Hussein in Jordan.
Although Syria never formally agreed to peace talks with Israel, a cease fire between Syrian and Israeli forces has held in place for the most part because Syria recognizes that alone it lacks the ability to meet Israeli military might on even terms. In addition, the widely known (if still officially unacknowledged) Israeli nuclear arsenal has deterred Arab states from pursuing a more aggressive policy.
Instead, what has taken the place of state to state warfare (in which Israel clearly excelled) has been terrorist activity, initially among the Palestinians of the Diaspora and in the occupied territories, and later from groups like Hizbollah which formed as a direct result of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the early ’80s. These various autonomous groups, some supported by Iran and Syria, and others (like Hamas) funded by Sunni Arabs such as the Saudis, have been the principal source of open conflict between Arabs and Israel over the last 25 years.
That conflict has been low level guerilla warfare employing terrorist actions in Israel and abroad, which despite the loss of life and anxiety it causes is not a serious threat to the existence of the State of Israel. It is, however, a political threat to whomever is the ruling party in Israel, and a breeder of extremists both among the Israelis, as well as among the Palestinians. That has been the true impact of this terrorist activity: a hardening of political views on both sides, mistrust and the willingness to employ violence to combat violence, leading to an ever increasing cycle of attacks and reprisals.
There is no question that Israel holds the upper hand in terms of military power. That advantage has proved insufficient, however, to end the terrorist activity, as Israel learned the hard way during its extended occupation of Lebanon in the 1980’s. Eventually it was forced to withdraw from Lebanon, leaving behind a political and security vacuum that was quickly filled by Syria and Hezbollah.
The only periods of protracted peace have been the result of negotiations between the Palestinian authorities and Israel’s government. Regrettably, each time those negotiations have eventually collapsed. Partly this has been the result of the political differences of the two parties, but it has also been caused by a lack of will on the part of Western governments, and in particular the United States. All too often, US policy toward Israel and the Palestinians has been schizophrenic in nature, with periods of intense pressure and activity to achieve results towards a lasting peace followed by periods of relative indifference and neglect. All of us, but especially the Palestinians and Israelis are paying the price for that neglect now.
What the failure to push diplomatic solutions has created among all parties is the belief that only military conflict can resolve the outstanding issues. In essence, the West’s failures and theirs have emboldened the most hard-line and warlike elements on the political landscape. Among the Arabs, groups such as Hamas and Hizbollah have grown in stature and influence, as have the more conservative and extremist parties in Israel. Combined with an American policy toward the Middle East which actively advocates and implements the use of military force (whether Israeli or American) to effect change in the region, and we have witnessed the creation of an ongoing crisis in the region where war, chaos and instability are now the norm, rather than the intermittent exception.
The effects of the current wars on Israel’s security
Even if Israel succeeds in eradicating Hizbollah and Hamas (something which no one is currently predicting) other groups will arise in their place. The closest historical analogy (inadequate as it is) would be Germany after World War I, where an ineffectual state, burdened by the losses suffered during the war, and the continuing occupation and oppression of portions of their territory eventually gave rise to the Nazi revolution. In short, murdering thousands of innocent Arab civilians, destroying their homes and livelihoods and weakening the more moderate elements of their societies, is bound to eventually create a far worse situation than the one presently confronting Israel.
Short of an outright campaign of genocide to eliminate the millions of Arabs on its borders (a situation in which the world community would be forced to act to prevent a real World War III from erupting), what Israel is doing now with its two pronged assault in Gaza and Lebanon will not serve its long term interests. Short term, they may be able to kill a number of Hamas terrorists, and push Hizbollah and its rocket launchers far enough back that they will be unable to reach Israeli cities, but at what cost for future generations?
Every dead Arab man woman or child only adds to the number of other Arabs who would become willing recruits to new terrorist organizations. There are 6 million Jews in Israel. How many Arabs and other Muslims around the world are there? Is it really in Israel’s long term interests to engage in what can only be seen as a reverse pogrom against their Arab neighbors, or, to adopt a Christian term, an Israeli crusade? This is not the type of war that Israel can win, as it won its wars against Arab armies in ’48 through ’73. What it will become is long term, generational blood letting with religious implications. Israel’s current aggression runs the risk that at some point Israel’s enemies will include non-state terrorist religious fanatics with nuclear capabilities who will not be deterred by Israel’s own nuclear arsenal. Already one Islamic country (indeed one of the more radical in terms of the prevailing religious beliefs among its people), Pakistan, has nukes and is building the means to produce more. How soon before some of those nukes (or nuclear material) falls into the hands of radical groups with whom elements of Pakistan’s military already sympathize.
And who would come to Israel’s defense?
Israel has become increasingly isolated diplomatically. This is not just the result of European anti-Semitism. Europe has its own large populations of Muslim immigrants to consider. Israel’s wars make it impossible for European governments to support or engage Israel diplomatically without running the risk of inflaming their own minority populations and fostering home grown terrorist attacks.
At present the United States is Israel’s only real ally in the region, but America is rapidly losing influence in the Middle East as it wastes its treasure and breaks its army on the anvil of Iraq. If war continues to spread, and gas prices continue to climb, how easy will it be for the next administration, Democratic or Republican to continue that level of support, both militarily and diplomatically. Yes, American conservatives support Israel now, but there is a strong streak of anti-Semitism and prejudice that runs through the right wing in America, and it could turn on Israel rather quickly. Indeed, the most likely scapegoat among conservatives for the failure of the Bush administration’s policies in the Middle East (other than liberals) are likely to be the Jews and Israel. A large proportion of the American public already believe that our policy in the Middle East is tied too closely to Israel. What happens when the shit really starts to fly? As US power and influence declines, and American public support for Israel weakens, Israeli security interests will suffer greatly.
The better approach to bolster Israel’s security is through diplomacy and negotiations with all relevant parties
Diplomacy is not a panacea. It is a difficult, often painful and drawn out process that is often filled with frustrations and set backs. It has one great advantage over war, however. No one dies while engaging in negotiations. The fewer people whose homes are bombed, whose family members are killed, whose nations are left in ruins, the less fewer terrorists there will be in the future.
It won’t be easy to get Hamas, Hizbollah, Israel, Iran, Syria, Egypt, Jordan and the Arab Gulf States to all sit down together to work toward a framework for peace. The obstacles are enormous. It will take the dedicated will and continuous effort of the US and its European allies for years, maybe even decades to achieve. It will require concessions that many in Israel and the United States would consider impossible to accept. But, I still contend that it is the best path to pursue if the security of Israel is what we care about. For Israel’s security is intimately tied to the security and prosperity of its Arab neighbors. War cannot provide that. War can only destroy, kill, mutilate and foster hatred, bigotry and blood lust. Only negotiations can hope to circumvent this cycle of revenge and death.
That is why I oppose the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and the extreme measures it is taking in Gaza
Peace cannot be produced from the barrel of a gun, nor can security arise from the rubble of bombed buildings and murdered babies. I do want Israel to continue to exist. It has much to offer the world and its Arab neighbors. Its people are brave, creative, intelligent and deserving of their own homeland. But unless they can come to some political accommodation with their Arab neighbors, I greatly fear for their nation’s future.