My title is of course a reference to those ringing words of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes): Hevel havalim amar Kohelet (“Folly of follies says Kohelet”). After reading today’s stinging Haaretz editorial about what we’ll soon be calling the Gaza debacle, I thought the title appropriate for today’s post.
The newspaper begins by noting the contradiction between Israel laying blame at the feet of Khaled Meshal and Syria; while also blaming those local Hamas political leaders who not even Israel claims knew about or condoned the kidnapping:
On the face of it, Israel wishes to exert increasing pressure both on Hamas’ political leadership and on the Palestinian public, in order to induce it to pressure its [military wing] leadership to release the soldier. At the same time, the government claims that Syria – or at least Khaled Meshal, who is living in Syria – holds the key. If so, what is the point of pressuring the local Palestinian leadership, which did not know of the planned attack and which, when it found out, demanded that the kidnappers take good care of their victim and return him?
A few days ago I wrote about parallels I saw between Gaza, 2006 and Lebanon, 1982. The editorial conceives of some new and very salient ones which I hadn’t thought of:
The tactic of pressuring civilians has been tried before, and more than once. The Lebanese, for example, are very familiar with the Israeli tactic of destroying power stations and infrastructure. Entire villages in south Lebanon have been terrorized, with the inhabitants fleeing in their thousands for Beirut. But what also happens under such extreme stress is that local divisions evaporate and a strong, united leadership is forged.
In the end, Israel was forced both to negotiate with Hezbollah and to withdraw from Lebanon. Now, the government appears to be airing out its Lebanon catalogue of tactics and implementing it, as though nothing has been learned since then. One may assume that the results will be similar this time around as well.
Israel also kidnapped people from Lebanon to serve as bargaining chips in dealings with the kidnappers of Israeli soldiers. Now, it is trying out this tactic on Hamas politicians. As the prime minister said in a closed meeting: “They want prisoners released? We’ll release these detainees in exchange for Shalit.” By “these detainees,” he was referring to elected Hamas officials.
The editorial writer here introduces some very telling Zionist movement history and notes parallels between it and the political points we’re scoring on behalf of imprisoned Hamas leaders in the eyes of their constituency:
The prime minister is a graduate of a movement whose leaders were once exiled [this refers to Etzel and Lehi members exiled by the British for their violent nationalist politics during the Mandate], only to return with their heads held high and in a stronger position than when they were deported. But he believes that with the Palestinians, things work differently.
As one who knows that all the Hamas activists deported by Yitzhak Rabin returned to leadership and command positions in the organization, Olmert should know that arresting leaders only strengthens them and their supporters. But this is not merely faulty reasoning; arresting people to use as bargaining chips is the act of a gang, not of a state.
The government…must return to its senses at once, be satisfied with the threats it has made, free the detained Hamas politicians and open negotiations. The issue is a soldier who must be brought home, not changing the face of the Middle East.
A gang, not a state. An uncharacteristically savage and caustic characterization by Haaretz of this government. But certainly apt. I also like the closing phrase: Forget about changing the face of the Middle East. Can there not be a clearer lesson for George Bush as well in Iraq? And could there not be a clearer message for Ariel Sharon who invaded Lebanon with grand ambitions to remake that nation so it would become a quiescent neighbor. By the time Israel left southern Lebanon with its tail between its legs, it realized that Sharon’s grand plan was based on lies and deceit and never stood a remote chance of working as its creator had hoped. If Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz are not very careful, Gaza 2006 could turn around and bite them and their political careers in much the same way as Iraq did Bush and Lebanon did Sharon.
Oh Condi, Oh George–Where are you?
In wondering what the hell the U.S. is doing while the Middle East threatens to burn, the situation reminds me of the early computer game, Where’s Waldo? Look for him in the crowd. He’s not there. Look for him here, look for him there. Not a trace. That’s pretty much the impact we’re having on some of the most dangerous developments in this part of the world since the second intifada.
Here’s how Reuters characterized our ‘muscular’ foreign policy:
The United States has privately urged Israel to be careful over its military action, worried that tough moves in Gaza will boost Palestinian support for Hamas and further escalate tensions.
A senior State Department official said on Thursday a firm message had been delivered to the Israelis,
We delivered a ‘firm message’ behind closed doors to the Israelis giving them ‘what for’ as the Brits used to say. Yes, that’s certainly going to have a dramatic and immediate impact. You see we understand Israel’s frustration. We understand how one nation can arrest fully one-third of the elected cabinet ministers and parliamentary representatives of a neighboring statelet:
Publicly the United States, Israel’s staunchest ally, has said Israel has the right to defend itself and actively seek the release of the soldier, while urging restraint on all sides.
But there is a fear among some Bush administration officials that Israel might go too far.
“The Israeli measures might not only affect innocent civilians but could build support for Hamas,” said the senior official in an interview with Reuters.
“We have told them to be careful because plainly when you have this kind of military force deployed close to civilian populations there is a very high risk of accidents and I think that can further worsen this crisis.”
Why certainly Israel has a right to defend itself and seek Shalit’s release. That’s precisely what it’s doing by telling the residents of Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya to run for their lives. And precisely what it’s doing by arresting Palestinian legislators who had nothing to do with the kidnapping. And precisely what it’s doing by bombing power plants and PA infrastructure like the Interior Ministry building. This is all certainly plainly defensive action and done with the sole purpose of winning Shalit’s release.
And when, I’d like to know, WOULD Israel go “too far” in Bush’s book? When it carpet bombs Rafah or Khan Yunis? Or when it carpet bombs Damascus to teach Assad a lesson?
Israel “runs a very high risk of accidents” when you deploy military force “close to civilian populations.” Duh, I think the U.S. would’ve already learned the IDF has no capability or interest in distinguishing between militants and civilians given the history over the past month even before the latest incursion.
The absolute torpor of the American response is breathtaking. But it gets worse:
Asked about arrests of Hamas officials and whether President George W. Bush endorsed that, White House spokesman Tony Snow replied: “We are going no further than what we’ve said, which is we are encouraging both sides to practice restraint.”
RESTRAINT?? You’re asking jailed Hamas hostages to show restraint? They’re already being restrained…in Israeli shackles. So Tony Snow can’t actually say anything meaningful in response to the outrage of arresting Palestine’s elected government. I’d like to know if the British had actually captured James and Dolly Madison during the War of 1812 and brought them to the brig in chains, whether Tony Snow still would’ve urged the U.S. to show restraint?
What’s wrong with this picture?
U.S. diplomats, in a bid to secure the release of the soldier and ease the crisis, are shuttling between the Israelis and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
There has been no U.S. contact with Hamas and Egypt is the go-between with the militant group, which the United States and others refuse to deal with until it renounces violence, recognizes Israel and accepts past agreements between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
“The Egyptians are playing the most important role of any of the outsiders and they are directly in touch with the Israelis and all the Palestinians,” said the senior State Department official.
The U.S. is talking to Israel and Abbas. Yet the kidnappers are Hamas. There’s something wrong here. Of course you have no capability of talking to the party that’s actually responsible for the kidnapping thanks to our stupid anti-Hamas policy and Aipac, which has tied the Administration’s hands on this score. So who do we rely on? The Egyptians. Instead of showing our own leadership and vision in the midst of crisis, we must take a back seat to a tinpot megalomaniac Egyptian virtual dictator who may or may not represent our best interests, but who certainly will represent his own. If I were George Bush, I’d sleep well knowing we’re in the best of hands.