Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Killing of innocents and survival of the war weary

First let me say that we all abhor the killing of innocent people in military conflict. There is never a justification, never anything one can say to right the injustice of it. And this is indeed part of what Israel is doing, and has done systematically, ever since it was founded.

In Gaza and the so called West Bank where a democratically elected Palestinian government now sits impotently, the Israeli government has ruthlessly elected to repress, harass and assassinate members of the Hamas administration.

In Lebanon, where the organisation whose name means Army of God, Hizbullah, is entrenched in rural and urban areas alike, garnering local support from often poor and disempowered populations, the fury of Israeli military aggression has been unleashed with considerable force into areas, densely populated, where the Army of God has chosen to site its military infrastructure.

In both these cases they are killing Lebanese and Palestinian civilians in far greater numbers, it would seem, than are Israeli civilians being killed by any of the suicide bus bombers, cross border rocket attacks or other means of attack deployed within the borders of Israel by her enemies.

The kidnappings of Israeli soldiers by Arab guerilla organisations in protest at Israeli holding of combatant Arab prisoners, which was the original flashpoint for this whole recent eruption, has of course been forgotten by both sides and the media. Indeed those incidents can be seen now for what many feel they really were - tactical manoeuvering to precipitate conflict, by one side or the other.

This leaves us then contemplating the current manifestation of a conflict that has raged since before the very inception of the state of Israel. Much of the Arab world does not want Israel to exist. The administrations of Syria, Iran and others would happily see the whole place bulldozed into the Med. To them and their scions Israel is nothing more than the incarnation of American/Zionist foreign policy. Indeed Israel is a tool of American foreign policy, as long as the interests of the two are aligned. For they are not one and the same even though it is difficult to conceive of a political environment where their interests might not intersect. That would require the diminution of radical, and even moderately militant, Islam. In the long wave scenario of east vs west, judaeo-christian vs islam, that day is a long way off.

Killing civilians, on purpose and as part of a political strategy informed by a strongly militaristic bent, is never right. However just because one side of an equation is not moral it does not mean that it cannot be read and understood. For what is Israel to do? As a country whose raison d'etre is almost in many ways, and for the time being, simply to survive, what is it to do when threatened? In this case the aim to is to destroy Hizbullah in Lebanon so that they can no longer fire missiles and rockets into Israeli cities and settlements. This is a very hard task as the Israeli army is finding. Army of God units are merged into rural and urban Lebanon. This means that to engage in combat and kill these fighters the Israelis must attack some heavily populated areas. In addition, it would seem that a part of Israeli military doctrine is indeed informed by the belief that terrorising civilian populations is a way to weakend support for the organisations operating in the midst of those populations. Counter intuitive? It would seem to be. It is what partly informed French and American strategy in Algeria and Vietnam and still to this day drives many of the decisions made in the Whitehouse about Iraq. Even the British operations in Helmand province in Afghanistan show elements of this thinking. Of course this element of strategy has the opposite effect from the one intended. It is a mistake that history has seen repeated many times. Hearts and Minds crossed with Scorched Earth.

Israel cannot hope to have broad support from the publics of so called liberal democracies. But neither can it afford to pay heed to those voices. As always, put in the simplest way, this is about survival and survival for Israel may be the most moral choice of all.

This article and this one, both in The Guardian Newspaper, give a partial overview of recent events.

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