Israel and Palestine

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Articles on Israel after 2012
Israel, Hamas and human sacrifice
Why Iran should worry
Israel will strike Iran, and Palestine might benefit
Articles on Israel before 2012

  • (november 2012) Israel, Hamas and human sacrifice. A sudden surge in rockets shot towards Israel by anti-Israeli fighters in the Gaza Strip (theoretically run by Hamas) has resulted in the usual disproportionate retaliation by Israel that has killed a leader of Hamas but also scores of civilians; and Hamas has responded by launching its best rockets against Israeli cities. This comes just before an Israeli election and during negotiations for new Palestinian elections, and while Israel is trying to find good reasons to strike Iran's nuclear program after Barack Obama's reelection has reduced the chances that the USA would do so on its own.
    Both sides practice the strategy of collective punishment: kill random civilians and make life miserable in general for the civilian population in order to weaken the enemy. In 2009 Israel launched "Operation Cast", a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, that killed 1400 Gazans (in just three weeks) and reduced to rubble many of the structures (hospitals, schools, roads) that ordinary people need to get by. Similarly, when Gaza fires rockets, the goal is to disrupt the lives of ordinary Israelis, not to assassinate their political leaders.
    Both sides have basically revived the old practice of human sacrifices: whenever there is an election looming, they are more likely to randomly kill civilians of the other side in order to increase their chances of being reelected.
    Behind this little war is Iran. Israel is ready to strike Iran (See Why Iran should worry and Israel will strike Iran, and Palestine might benefit). The rocket shooters of Gaza (whether Hamas approved them or not) are simply an extension of the Iranian army. They are armed by Iran (via Sudan and a porous Sinai border), funded by Iran and commanded by Iran. It is hard to imagine that they would shoot a rocket against Israel if Iran didn't want them to. This is both a signal and a distraction: it is a signal sent by Iran to Israel that it would retaliate if Israel striked Iran, and it is a distraction because it forces Israel to deal with Gaza when it would be ready to strike Iran. So far that strategy has worked: Israel has to spend time, bombs and diplomacy on Hamas instead of focusing on Iran. And every bomb that kills innocent civilians of Gaza makes it more difficult diplomatically to drop a bomb on Iran that might kill innocents there too.
    Just like in previous occasions (the 2006 invasion of Lebanon, the 2009 invasion of Gaza) Israel is losing the public opinion war (and we'll see if this time it wins the military war, i.e. if it really stops the rockets for good). In the eyes of the international public opinion Israel looks more and more like a failed state. It used to be the other way around: a successful democratic state surrounded by mad dictators. Now Israel appears to be (and behave like) a paranoid state at best and a (nuclear-armed) killing machine at worst, surrounded by democratic revolutions launched by young men who want dignity and freedom and brandish not a sword to behead infidels but a smartphone to connect to the Internet. Israel looks terribly out of touch with the world of 2012, and a major obstacle to democratic progress in that region. (See The loser in the Arab Spring is Israel and Israel reaps what it sow).
    It also looks like the Israeli public (not just its government) are incapable of siding with modern civilization: it is unacceptable anywhere in the world (even in totalitarian regimes) that you kill five children, two men over 55 and a pregnant 19-year-old girl in order to assassinate what you consider a terrorist (the military leader of Hamas). The indifference that the Israeli population displays for the innocent victims of this air strikes makes all of us feel that the Israeli public would approve if Israel simply decided to wipe out all non-Jews from the planet in order to guarantee maximum safety to its population. We non-Jews become more and more reluctant to side with Israel feeling that all of us are considered disposable by the Israelis.
    Very few in Israel seem to realize that the root of the problem is not the terrorists, is not Iran and is certainly not the Arab Spring. The root of the problem is that a) Israel did not recognize the legitimate government elected in free elections by the people of Gaza; b) Israel has been trapping the 1.7 million people of Gaza and limiting not only their movements but even the movement of essential goods in and out of Gaza. Do this to the Israelis and you'll see how many Israeli terrorists you will create. The terrorists, the alliance with Iran and the rockets against Israel would perhaps exist anyway because of historical reasons (if you killed someone's father, it's hard to tell their children to be your friends), geopolitical reasons (Iran will meddle into Palestinian politics just like it meddles in Bahrein politics) and religious reasons (i am one who believes the politically incorrect theory that Islam is fundamentally violent, and there will always be fanatical Muslims who will engage in extreme violence in the name of their god, as they have always done from Pakistan to Iraq); but all these reasons would apply to a minority, not to a majority, if Israel was not guilty of those crimes.
    Hamas, on the other hand, benefited from the military defeat of 2009. Since then its leadership has focused on the economy, basically learning from the success of its rival Al Fatah in the West Bank. Sure enough within four years the Gaza Strip has been able to stage its own little economic boom (while the Western world was struggling with the Great Recession). This has certainly annoyed Israel, that has done everything it could to humiliate the population of Gaza and bankrupt Hamas. Israel can accept many things, but not that a terrorist group (Hamas) turns its territory into a model of economic and social development.
    Hamas has been able to impress both neighbors (the new leaders of Egypt, whose roots are also in the same pan-Arab organization, the Muslim Brotherhood), and distant friends (like Qatar, hardly a supporter of Islamic extremism), not to mention Turkey (an old enemy who became a good friend after Israel raided a Turkish ship bound for Gaza with humanitarian aid), all countries which, incidentally, happen to be allies of the USA.
    Unlike Israel, Hamas did adapt to the new world order: its main supporters used to be the unpleasant dictators of Iraq, Syria and Iran. Now that they have fallen or are falling or are out of favor in the Sunni world, Hamas has managed to find new supporters among the most moderate and democratic regimes of the region. Israel seems to have missed the flash news that Hamas has distanced itself from Syria after Syria's regime started massacring Sunnis. By distancing itself from Syria, it has indirectly begun to distance itself from Iran. It is not Hamas' fault if Iran is the only country willing to sell rockets to the Palestinians (everybody else is afraid of Israel's retaliation). Therefore Hamas buys rockets from Iran, but it is very unlikely that the Hamas leadership is keen on taking orders from Iran. This little war might have started against the will of Hamas. Then Hamas was smart enough to make it its own war for its own glory. And Israel was naive enough to turn a skirmish with Iranian-armed kids into a full-fledged war against Hamas.
    One would expect Israel to embrace the fact that Hamas cut its ties with the ruthless (and wildly anti-Israeli) regime of Syria. Instead, Israel is paranoid about the Arab democracies: after selling to the West the concept that Israel is the only democracy in the region, it now feels threatened now that the Arab countries are turning into democracies. In other words: if they are dictatorships, they are dangerous; and, if they become democracies, they are even more dangerous. That's what i call "a lose-lose proposition". That philosophy forces Israel to be even more paranoid about Hamas: it could be that many in Israel's government felt safer when Hamas was taking orders from Syria (a predictable rational enemy) than now that Hamas is not taking orders from anybody (an unpredictable irrational situation) and actually making friends with Turkey, Qatar and Egypt.
    The big loser of this mini-war is the Palestinian Authority, whose leader, Mahmoud Abbas, was hardly ever mentioned during the whole fracas. Mahmoud Abbas is the one Palestinian leader who recognized Israel and has been willing to discuss peace. In theory, Abbas was Israel's best bet to achieve a comprehensive peace and to reduce the power of Hamas and Hezbollah, the two organizations that are instead branded as "terrorists" by Israel (and that are responsible for the vast majority of the suicide attacks of the past). It is not Hamas that has outsmarted Abbas and usurped the authority of the Palestinian Authority: it is Israel that has weakened and ridiculed Abbas and the Palestinian Authority by expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Israel has turned Abbas into a pathetic powerless figure in the eyes of millions of Arabs, not only the Palestinians themselves. The Palestinian cause was almost forgotten amid the rumbling of the Syrian civil war and the repercussions of the Arab Spring. It is now Hamas with its rockets that reminds the world of the Palestinian cause, not Abbas with his diplomacy and not the Palestinian Authority with its legal international procedures. Israel has turned Hamas into the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and into one of the most respected parties in the Arab world; which is precisely what it accomplished in 2006 in Lebanon, when the Israeli invasion ended up catapulting Hezbollah into the government of that country.
    To recover some of the lost ground, Israel might squarely associate Hamas with Iran, and turn this into the beginning of an Israeli-Iranian war. The more Hamas distances itself from Iran, the more Israel finds itself criminalizing an oppressed population that has little or nothing to do with the world's problems, and fighting wars against an increasingly popular (and democratically elected) government. That would be misleading: Hamas is no longer a puppet of Iran (if it ever was). Gaza is only an Israeli problem, and increasingly a problem created by Israel with its blockade of the Gaza Strip. Instead of focusing the world's attention on the cruel and senseless Israeli blockade of a territory that voted in democratic elections against the will of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu will be tempted to focus the world's attention on the emerging Iranian power that, after thanking George W Bush for removing its two main enemies (Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan) is now trying to become a nuclear power. This is something that worries both the West and the Sunni Arabs and can unite them (the Israeli siege of Gaza divides them). Throughout the history of Islam, Shiite Iran has rarely fought the Christian countries. The historical enemies of the Shia religion are not the Christians but the Sunnis: the Sunnis are the ones who killed Mohammed's family, hijacked Islam and still occupy Mecca. Shiites and Sunnis have always killed each other at a much higher rate than Christians and Muslims killed each other. It's a civil war within Islam that never ended. The rulers of Iran are religious people. Israel might be a problem for them, but the mother of all problems for them is that Islam was hijacked by the evil Sunnis. If the Iranians get a nuclear bomb, the ayatollahs are likely to focus on the Sunni heretics who occupy holy Mecca as much as on the Jews who occupy Jerusalem (a less holy place than Mecca). That is the public-relationship war that Israel might win. The war against the children and pregnant women of Gaza will not solve any problem and in fact create more problems for an increasingly isolated state. It is ironic that the "increasingly isolated state" is Israel, not Gaza (as Israel intended when it started boycotting Hamas).
    Does Israel really think it gains anything by behaving like a ridiculous banana republic? As it is now, it's a comic situation of sociopaths blaming other sociopaths.
    (Addendum: A few days later Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, got his share of glory when the United Nations recognized Palestine as a state. Israel reacted like a vengeful old man who found his young wife in bed with another man: the following day it authorised 3,000 settler homes in the occupied West Bank and in East Jerusalem (both lands inhabited by Palestinians).
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (august 2012) Why Iran should worry. Iran's foreign minister dismissed Israeli threats of an imminent attack against its nuclear facilities because such a "stupid act" would provoke "very severe consequences." There are instead several reasons why an Israeli attack is more likely than ever. This is, in fact, a unique opportunity.
    To start with, it is always a good time for Israel when the USA is having a presidential elections: both candidates are busy boasting about their support for Israel in the hope of getting approval and money from the powerful Jewish lobby of the USA. Secondly, Iran has never been so isolated. Its only loyal ally, Syria, is in the middle of a civil war, and its regime looks unlikely to survive. If Syria, falls, Iran will have virtually no power to influence politics in Lebanon (where Hezbollah depends on supplies from Iran via Syria) and in Palestine (where Hamas depends on Syria's political support). Severing the umbelical cord between Iran and its proxy militias has greatly reduced the chances that such militias will attack Israel. Thirdly, Turkey has become again a close ally of Israel after distancing itself from the racist policies of Israel against Gaza. Fourth, all the Arab countries of the region are fed up with Iran, which they see as trying to bully everybody else and fomenting Shiite unrest all over the region: they would never say so in public, but Saudi Arabia, Jordan and so on are looking forward to a strike against Iran that would humiliate and weaken the ayatollahs, and they might have already guaranteed ways to pump oil via other routes if Iran blocks the Persian Gulf. Fifth, Iraq (the only other major Shiite nation) just got rid of the "occupation" (the USA withdrew its troops) and does not need the Iranians as a counterbalance to the USA anymore.
    Israel might even count on the stupidity of the Iranian regimes. Hit by an Israeli strike, the Iranians might be tempted to bomb a warship of the USA in the Persian Gulf, thus forcing Obama to stike back at Iran. At that point Obama might decide on a full-scale retaliation instead of just a slap on the cheek: cripple if not topple the regime once and for all.
    There used to be three factors against bombing Iran: 1. The Israeli public opinion is wildly opposed to another war; 2. Iran could disrupt the flow of oil which would cause a spike in oil prices which would cause a worldwide recession; 3. Iran might unleash terrorists worldwide against Israeli and Western targets (as it demonstrated recently in Bulgaria). Only the first one is still there.
    Don't count on the fear of adding more instability to an already unstable Middle East: Israel can easily argue that a nuclear Iran would cause much more instability than an Israeli strike to prevent Iran from going nuclear.
    An Israeli attack is more than just a calculation of costs and benefits. It's more like a "now or never" kind of decision.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (march 2012) Israel will strike Iran, and Palestine might benefit. First of all, i do not believe for a second that Iran ever had any intention of destroying Israel. I believe the Iranian regime is a very rational and pragmatic regime, one that has worked with Russia and China (both guilty of atrocities against Muslims) and whose closest ally is Syria (a Sunni country). We are always told that the enemy (whether the Soviet Union or Saddam Hussein) is an irrational demon in order to justify our own irrational behavior, but later find out that the demon's first priority was its own survival.
    That said, i also believe that Iran is indeed working on a nuclear weapon. First of all, i don't see why it shouldn't: Israel is the regional superpower because in 1956 it illegally acquired nuclear capabilities. Secondly, recent events have demonstrated that the only way to prevent a US invasion is to acquire a nuclear bomb: Saddam Hussein was attacked because he did not have one, and Qaddafi was liquidated after he surrendered his weapons of mass destruction, whereas North Korea is handled with peace negotiations, Pakistan's double games are tolerated, and India has even become a close ally of the USA. The difference in treatment is obvious: a nuclear-armed Iran would be treated with much higher deference than it is now.
    Israel views a nuclear Iran as a mortal danger. The USA views it as a destabilizing factor that would lead to an arms race in one of the most unstable regions of the world. Therefore they are both determined to stop Iran before it's too late. Israel is probably behind the campaign of assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists (and so much for accusing Iran of sponsoring terrorism) and the USA has led the campaign to isolate Iran with economic sanctions. Nonetheless, there is only one way to make sure that Iran will not succeed, and that's a bombing campaign against the nuclear facilities.
    There is now mounting pressure on Israel's prime minister to do it sooner rather than later. The coincidence of favorable circumstances might not repeat itself for many years.
    1. It is an election year in the USA, and all candidates want to please the powerful Jewish lobby, and are therefore making strong statements of support of Israel: Obama would not condemn an Israeli strike this year, but might do so if reelected for a second term, as he has consistently preferred diplomacy to warfare, and he seems convinced that diplomacy is working, albeit slowly. Once the elections are over (in november), neither Obama (if reelected) nor Romney (if he is elected) will want to jeopardize the weak economic recovery with a new war. Popular support for going to war is non-existent in the USA after the debacles in Afghanistan and Iraq.
    2. Iran's ally Syria is torn apart by a civil war, leaving Syria's proxy in Lebanon (Hezbollah) and in Gaza (Hamas) weaker than they have ever been; both are the only military organizations capable of truly inflicting pain on Israel with their rocket attacks and suicide bombers. Whichever way the Syrian civil war goes, the next regime might need anti-Israeli propaganda to shore up domestic support, while the current regime is too busy fighting the protesters to start a war against Israel or sponsor attacks by its proxies.
    3. Anti-Israeli sentiment is at a record low after the Arab Spring: the Arab masses are preoccupied with their own future, and hardly pay attention to what Israel does. Once those Arab states stabilize, they might be less tolerant towards Israeli aggression.
    4. There is strong silent support by the members of the Arab League, who view Iran as either a troublemaker (the Gulf states, who have sizable Shiite minorities or even majorities stirred by Iran's secret services) or as a dangerous rival for regional influence (Egypt, Saudi Arabia) or as a bullying neighbor (Iraq). Once Iran acquires the bomb, the richer Arab contries might simply decide to build their own bomb instead of trying to stop Iran.
    Even the consequences might not be as severe as the USA fears. Israel has learned that, when hit by a spectacular strike, Islamic dictators try to hide the event. So did Iraq's dictator Saddam Hussein when Israel destroyed its nuclear weapons plant, and so did Syria's dictator Assad when Israel destroyed its plant: those dictators don't want to admit that their government is so incapable and weak. Therefore they will rather claim that nothing happened. The Iranian regime, embarrassed that the Israeli destroyed its nuclear facilities, will probably claim that Israel struck irrelevant facilities and will insist that there were no nuclear facilities to bomb in the first place.
    The Iranian regime will need to retaliate against an illegal attack against its own territory, like any other state would do, but it's more likely to be a diplomatic effort at the United Nations, presenting itself as the victim of an unwarranted aggression, than an all-out war against Israel that would certainly end with Iran's defeat.
    Iran is not even likely to retaliate against the USA. First of all, Iran probably knows that Israel does not take orders from the USA. But, more importantly, Iran has learned first-hand from what happened to its neighbors Afghanistan and Iraq that the USA is the proverbial elephant in the china glass shop: if provoked, the USA could retaliate with devastating strikes, not Israel's surgical strikes.
    Last but not least, the one country that cannot afford a war in that region is Iran's main customer: China. China's economy has been slowing down, and might fall below what is considered the minimum to avoid social unrest if Iran starts a war in the region and the oil supply is jeopardized.
    Even some kind of economic retaliation is unlikely, because Iran is already too impoverished and restricting its exports of oil would cause additional hardship on its people. It would be a move that would probably backfire against the regime.
    Israel is probably also counting on the fact that any reaction by Iran is likely to boost the critics of the regime, and therefore increase the likelihood of new demonstrations against the regime like the ones that failed in 2009. The Iranian regime has to be very careful not to create the preconditions for its own internal downfall.
    Hence Iran will not have many options: it will probably sponsor some terrorist attacks against Israeli and Western targets. These might indeed cause severe damage, especially if Iran supplied radioactive material to the terrorists.
    The other price that Israel might have to pay is the already strained relationship with Russia. Russia is not ideologically allied with Iran, and not even too dependent on Iranian purchases of its products; but Russia has consistently been humiliated by the way the Western powers bypassed it to strike at their enemies (from Iraq's Saddam Hussein to Libya's Qaddafi) and to forge alliances with its former subjects (from Eastern Europe to Central Asia) while applying double standards (from Kosovo to Georgia) for the sole purpose of weakening Russia. Given the record of Western insults, Israel's attack on Iran will look like another strike at Russia's international reputation, which might provoke a Russian reaction such as recognition for Palestinian independence. That's the real price that Israel might pay for defanging Iran.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • Articles on Israel before 2012

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TM, ®, Copyright © 2015 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.