Monday, January 19, 2009

Three questions

(1) How is it that the collective civilian punishment argument is rejected in the case of AQ and similar groups, but accepted when it is propounded by the Zionists?

(2) What happens when and if the physical nature of the resistance changes, and it adopts in turn this collective-punishment strategy in a more thoroughgoing manner than it has up to now?

(3) Has anyone in Israel or in Washington noticed that the supposed demonstration effect of this war in the region is the opposite of what it was supposed to be?


According to Dan Shiftan, head of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa, this was all about rockets. Rockets, he says, have been the weapon of choice for "radicals" ever since Israel successfully stopped suicide attacks with the big separation wall. Rockets, he says, have been chosen because Israel is unable to stop them short of occupying the areas where they are fired from, and Israel does not want to do that. He writes:
The war in Gaza was aimed at preventing the entrenchment of the perception that the rocket resistance in conjunction with Islamic zealotry is the ultimate weapon Israel cannot cope with. Yet we can and should prove that even though Israel has no operative solution for it, it does possess a strategic response to this challenge.

The strategic response is political willingness (in addition to military capabilities) to sow disproportional destruction and hurt the assets that are dear to those who fire rockets at Israeli population centers. The main objective is not to hit the last rocket, but rather, to enforce a fundamental change in the Muqawma's cost-benefit equation by dramatically raising the cost.

This is easily recognizable as the argument for 9/11 and all of the similar attacks against civilian populations: They purpose is "to show the political willingness (in addition to military capabilities) to sow disproportional destruction and hurt the assets that are dear to those who..." [and you can fill in the blank, for instance: "the assets that are dear to those who attack and militarily occupy Arab and Islamic lands"].

In the case of AQ and the other militant Islamic groups that adopt this approach, the argument is seen as an admission of evil--of outlaw status. In the case of Zionist Israel, the argument is seen as--what?

That is my first question: How is it that this kind of bare-faced admission of a strategy of inflicting large-scale civilian casualties is not the object of condemnation among the governments and governing elites of the West?

My second question is this: Suicide attacks brought about the Wall. Rocket attacks have brought about this policy of local collective punishment. Suppose they feel they have successfully established an armed garrison state with a Wall, surrounded by populations seething with anger and the desire for revenge. Fine. Suppose then that the "radicals" adopt to the full the Israeli/AQ "punish those dear to them" strategy and start attacking Jewish communities elsewhere in the world. What then? The Wall has been tried. Local collective punishment has been tried. Will it be a Global War on Terror, Zionist version?

My third question: This man writes:
Responsible regional regimes, which wish to avoid confrontation with Israel, can defend their policy only if they can showcase the intolerable results of such confrontation to the Arab public and its radical elites. Israel's image as helpless may force these regimes, as happened in the past, to lend their hand to provocations that cumulatively tend to escalate into war.
This is the "showcase" argument. What they are showcasing in this case is the horrible scale of the collective punishment that results from local rocket attacks, and this is supposed to constitute an argument for the Egyptian and Saudi authorities for peace and accomodation with Israel.

Mubarak does not seem to be particularly grateful. In fact the result for him is the opposite: it is pressure to "open the gates of jihad" against Israel.

So my third question is this: Given that the Gaza war with its underlying theme of collective punishment has weakened, not strengthened, Israel's allies in the region, one wonders why this effect is not being recognized by the elites in Israel or in Washington.


Blogger Mike said...

These are difficult questions you raise.

As to the first, I think that the reason that collective punishment is accepted when Israel practices it and considered unacceptable when the AQ-type practices it, is that there is generally an arbitrary commitment to the claims of sovereign nation-states over the claims of individuals and non-state-allied groups.

As to the third, I think you're expecting too much if you expect Washington to recognize the strategic error of allying with Israel when it uses collective punishment against the Gazans. Washington is as far as I can tell incredibly narrow-sighted and liable to repeat past mistakes over and over, even to the point of alienating allies in the Middle East. Only some time later, if at all, when we see a broad alliance of forces adopting the same logic of collective punishment against Israel and its allies which was used by Israel to justify its latest attacks, will Washington recognize the profoundly mistaken strategy of using collective punishment to weaken or destroy political actors (e.g. Hamas).

(As for the elites in Israel, I really don't know enough to say.)

9:09 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Just to clarify, when I was talking about "non-state-allied" groups above, I meant this to include also groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah which do receive support from states such as Syria and Iran, but the important qualifier is that these latter states are considered "rogue" and outside of the domain of Western nation-states, "illegal" regimes. Illegality here seems to be based less on respect for international law than on whether the regime or country in question obeys the imperatives coming from Washington or resists them.

9:14 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Which I guess is another way of saying that the rules or laws of war against collective punishment and so on--that these are merely tools in the toolbox of imperial policy, to be used when useful against enemies and not at other times re friends. I guess if Americans and others don't see this, it's kind of hard to see how you can expect any kind of restoration of the idea of the rule of law under Obama.

11:23 AM  
Blogger badger said...

(which is what I guess what you were saying in your first comment)

11:26 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Yes, you sum up what I said well. I wouldn't go all the way and say that international law (especially regarding torture and the distinction between combatants and noncombatants) has become totally irrelevant and just a cloak behind which the U.S. and its allies can project its interests, but it has been going more and more in this direction. This kind of trend isn't totally fixed, and it's possible that at some point in the future we may see a more multipolar international legal regime in which one power (namely, the U.S.) determines enforcement.

One other point I forgot to mention, regarding your second question. I think that if the U.N. continues to fail to be accountable for the failures of its member nations in enforcing international law (e.g. regarding collective punishment and the combatant/noncombatant distinction), the organization itself and the legal regime it's supposed to enforce will disintegrate, to the point where we see anarchy, and where any targets, anywhere, are considered legitimate (by Israel, or by the AQ-types).

For me personally, it's very disheartening to see things like vandalism in Jewish graveyards in the suburbs of Paris, German police removing an Israeli flag from a private home, rising antisemitism in Western Europe etc. I think what many people fail to recognize is that all this is to a great extent a result of any effective enforcement of international norms by the U.S. and some Western European countries when it comes to Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. Israel is certainly not doing Jews around the world a failure with their abhorrent treatment of the Palestinians or their other neighbors.

12:06 PM  
Blogger badger said...

I agree with all of that

(also fixing yr typo:

...certainly not doing Jews around the world a favor (not failure)

12:24 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Damn typos, sorry about that. Too bad the blog doesn't let me edit comments.

FYI, you should know that the LRB added a bunch of new commentators to the Gaza section.

3:49 PM  

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