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Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t the brightest bulb on the Hanukkah bush, but that doesn’t explain why he concluded that he could benefit himself and Israel by launching another assault on Gaza, the third in six years.
From any remotely plausible point of view, this was a colossal mistake. It is as if resistance fighters in Gaza snookered him into it.
Perhaps they did; they seem shrewd enough, and he seems dumb enough. But “the dead weight of history” and American politics played a role too.
Israel has gotten away with murder – and worse — before; many times.
Also Netanyahu knew that he could count on influential media in the United States and other enabling countries to mislead, misinform and generally promote the Israeli line. He knew too that he has 535 profiles in pusillanimity in his pocket – 100 in the Senate, and 435 more in the House.
Therefore if it seems politically expedient, why wouldn’t he kill again? It was a win-win situation. He would benefit politically and every little bit helps advance the long-term goal he and many other Zionists share — ridding the land of Israel of all but its Jewish inhabitants.
Netanyahu may also have decided that the time is right, now that so many calamitous consequences of the Bush-Obama wars are falling due, and now that the failures (temporary or permanent) of the Arab Spring have destabilized the region.
He may have figured that, with the Near East in turmoil, powers friendly to the Hamas government in Gaza — Qatar, Turkey, Iran, Hezbollah – would be unlikely to lift a finger in Gaza’s defense; while others, hostile to Hamas, could be counted on discreetly to help Israel. This would include Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
The temptation to launch another massacre must therefore have been irresistible.
But pity the poor Bibster. Those pesky Palestinians, the ones sequestered in Gaza, snookered him good.
One would think that with so many Russians and other ex-Soviets in his government, somebody would have straightened him out. Russians know their history. They know how the Soviet Union defeated the invincible German army. They know about Napoleon. They know that the mighty don’t always prevail.
They might have told him what he didn’t learn in high school in the Philadelphia suburbs: that the side aggressed against has an advantage even when it is weaker than the aggressor – if it is willing to pay the price in casualties and suffering.
The strategy is clear: draw the enemy’s army in, then wait them out and wear them down. In a war of attrition, the side that stands its ground, that does not succumb to exhaustion, wins.
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) will not have to face a Russian winter. But a densely populated “open air prison,” amply provisioned with tunnels and full of desperate people willing to suffer anything to be free from the boot of oppression, works just as well.
What was Netanyahu thinking?
And the vaunted IDF brass; how could they not have seen the trap? Could their arrogance and their contempt for Arabs be that overweening?
Over time, primitive rockets are bound to get better, even without help from outside parties. This is not rocket science; it is common sense.
Netanyahu and the others should have realized too that, even with Hezbollah mired in the Syrian civil war, Gazans could still learn a great deal from them.
Hezbollah defeated the South Lebanon Army, Israel’s proxy, in 2000; six years later, it fought back the IDF itself. They see this as a victory, and not without reason.
Hezbollah is strong on strategy and tactics. For mastering the art of putting unguided missiles to use, and for guidance in building networks of underground tunnels under the unrelenting scrutiny of an occupying power, there is no better teacher.
Did Netanyahu and his generals think that none of this would matter? Could they have thought that in 2014 the Israelis would have as easy a go of it as they had in 2012 and 2008-9?
It is hard to believe, but it looks like they did. They let themselves be snookered into a trap.
Needless to say, the IDF will not meet its Stalingrad in Gaza or anywhere else in the Occupied Territories. The power asymmetry is too great, and when things don’t go well for Israel, the United States is always there to save the day. This has happened before – most conspicuously during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
But defeat comes in many guises. The United States hasn’t unequivocally won a war since World War II — except against Grenada and Panama. And yet the juggernaut survives, more bloated and deadly than ever.
Israel will not emerge similarly unscathed. It has already been damaged in Gaza, and there are signs of greater trouble ahead.
Hamas – and perhaps also Islamic Jihad and other resistance groups — now have rockets capable of reaching population centers in Israel. They don’t have guidance systems, but this hardly matters.
One fell about a mile away from Ben Gurion Airport. This caused international airlines to cancel flights into and out of Tel Aviv.
This concentrated the minds of Israel’s business elites. The potential blow to Israeli tourism and therefore to the Israeli economy, should a protracted shutdown become necessary, was also too obvious for the corporate media, especially the business press, to ignore.
It is a portent of things to come as Israel loses international support, and as the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement gains traction.
Inadvertently, Netanyahu gave solidarity movements around the world a powerful reminder of the power of boycotts and, especially, of sanctions. It is hard to believe that Netanyahu et. al. wanted people reminded.
It is even harder to think they would take a chance on igniting a Third Intifada. The IDF’s savage attack on a UN school where Gazans had taken shelter from Israeli bombs and mortars ignited massive solidarity protests throughout the West Bank. Do the Israelis really think that all the pent-up fury their actions cause can be contained?
A new Intifada would be a nightmare for Israel. Among other things, it could cause the Palestinian Authority (PA) to collapse. This would require the IDF to do its own policing of the lands Israel occupies, and it would force Israel to administer both the West Bank and Gaza directly – without the benefit of generous EU subsidies.
And, worst of all for Israel, it could cause Palestinian Israelis to rise up in solidarity with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza; twenty percent of the population of Israel is Palestinian.
These Palestinians are citizens of Israel theoretically; they have the right to vote and other political rights. But, by law and custom, they endure countless forms of discrimination. In “the only democracy in the Middle East,” they are second- or third-class citizens.
Israeli politicians are now clamoring to keep anyone from serving in the Knesset who will not swear fidelity to the idea of “a Jewish state.” If they get their way, it is a fair bet that, before long, Arab and other non-Zionist political parties will also be banned. This would spell the end of any semblance of real democracy in Israel.
And it would hasten the time when Israel itself, not just the Occupied Territories, becomes a full-fledged Apartheid state.
Do Netanyahu and the others really want that to happen? Do they want Israel to become an international pariah, facing – and deserving — worldwide opprobrium?
Ironically, this would make Israel what it claims to be: a state on its own in a hostile world, besieged by “existential threats.” The pretense has proven useful to the Zionist cause, but the reality would be catastrophic.
Did Hamas engineer this situation? Or do we owe that to the stupidity of Netanyahu and his colleagues? There is no either/or answer; the evidence suggests they both had a role.
In any case, the fact remains: Netanyahu and the others have led Israel into a trap. If they weren’t deliberately snookered, they might as well have been.
Whatever happens next, the one sure thing is that Palestinians will suffer horrendously – Palestinians in Gaza most of all.
Barack Obama could stop it in a Tel Aviv minute because everything Israel does, it does at the sufferance of the United States. But he won’t, and not just because he is too inclined to remain aloof. From his point of view, there is no percentage in forcing Israel to wage peace.
In any case, Obama has seen to it that the Israel-Palestine conflict now falls under John Kerry’s remit.
Thanks to Israeli intransigence and skullduggery, Kerry just might, by now, be just pissed off enough to do the right thing. Don’t count on that, however. In his heart, Kerry is still a Senator and a Democrat. In other words, he is squarely in the camp of the servile and the base.
No doubt too, he still subscribes to the idea that the Israel lobby is invincible, and therefore that political death awaits any politician who rattles its cage. This is a delusion, the emperor has no clothes; but, unlike the child in the Hans Christian Anderson fable, no American politician yet has found the courage to declare this simple truth.
Nevertheless, miracles happen; Kerry might still somehow recover his Winter Soldier self. But even were he to bolt, Palestinian suffering would go on. Netanyahu could still rely on American inertia. And, if that isn’t enough, he could count on the National Security Council to keep up America’s tradition of obeisance to the Israeli state, and complicity in its crimes.
From that quarter, Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken has so far been the most up front. The man sounds as if he gets his talking points straight from the Israeli embassy. If he is not actually on their payroll, then he is a fool; he is that blatant.
But, of course, one could say the same about nearly every pundit who gets to mouth off in mainstream media.
And so, the suffering goes on.
Nevertheless, the Palestinian people will survive.
The vast majority of Israelis these days won’t like that one bit; and neither will Americans and others who have been deluded into accepting the Israeli narrative. But it is an inexorable fact.
As a modern day Friedrich Nietzsche might say: whatever does not annihilate them, strengthens them.
And, as a modern day Martin Luther King might then add: the arc of the moral universe will, in time, swing Palestine’s way. Inasmuch as it bends towards justice, how could it not?
ANDREW LEVINE is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).