Welcome To The War


Mairav Zonszein, who opposes the IDF operation in Gaza, wonders if the rocket-bursting of Tel Aviv's bubble is necessary for Israel, since "maybe this means the status quo will break, because it must break":

Of course [the situation in Tel Aviv is] nothing like what Israelis are going through in the south, or remotely even close to what Gazans are going through. It’s all relative and hierarchic, and middle-high class Tel Avivians like me are near the very top of the food chart, with those in Gaza currently at the very bottom. So there’s no comparison.

But that doesn’t make the sirens followed by booms any less scary and awful. Regardless, Tel Aviv is geographically now a part of one of the local wars Israel periodically wages with one of its bordering neighbors. It is no longer immune. And as crappy as that is, maybe it’s exactly what needs to happen – that Tel Aviv now needs to also be part of this cycle of violence – that the daily routines and the bars and the nightlife and the hi-techs cannot function normally. They tell you to continue with your daily routine, but who the hell really can? And who the hell really should?

Allison Kaplan Sommer reflects on life in the new bubble: the suburbs north of Tel Aviv that remain out of the range of Gazan rockets:

Life in the bubble is clearly preferable to living in a terrifying state of war. But it is still bizarre and somewhat surreal weighing whether a routine venture into ‘the city’ for a business meeting or a scheduled shopping venture, or a yoga class is worth coping with sirens and ‘booms’. Is deciding to go ahead with the trip foolish and risky? Is deciding against leaving the ‘bubble’ cowardly and unpatriotic? As we make these crazy judgment calls and deal with these first-world problems in a third-world situation, of course, we never forget for a minute how quickly our situation can change.

(Photo: Israelis take cover at a shopping centre parking garage during a rocket attack on November 18, 2012 in Tel Aviv, Israel. By Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

Towards A Cease Fire? Ctd

Evidently not tonight:

For a glimpse at the other side, check out this gripping footage of a rocket attack interrupting a film crew in Ashkelon. Previous coverage here.

A Partner For Peace?

Nathan Brown argues that Hamas can moderate:

The most promising way to force Hamas to become more moderate is to force it to be more responsive to its own public. (As a leading Muslim Brotherhood parliamentarian in neighboring Egypt told me when I asked him whether Hamas would ever accept a two-state solution: "They will have to. Their people will make them.") And the most promising way to ensure such responsiveness is to speed up the reconciliation between the governments in the West Bank and Gaza, so that those governments can agree to hold elections rather than jealously hold on to their own fiefdoms in a fit of paranoia. But that, in turn, will require that Israel and the international community show a greater willingness to countenance Palestinian reconciliation.

Well that puts a quick end to that idea. Matt Duss fears that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas "may prove to be the most significant casualty of this episode":

He was the biggest political loser of the last Gaza war, where the perception was that he supported the attack against his rivals. Abbas’s failure to achieve any tangible goods for the Palestinians, either through now-dead negotiations with Israel or through his half-hearted efforts to upgrade Palestine’s status at the U.N., make him more irrelevant by the day. It seems likely that this latest round of war will end with Israel’s most implacable enemy still in place, and its more moderate peace-partner even more weakened.

And Yossi Klein Halevi finds that Israelis are pessimistic about the peace process:

Most Israelis would surely agree that a peace agreement with the Palestinians is far preferable to yet another round of fighting. But few Israelis, whatever their politics, blame Netanyahu for the absence of peace. There is a consensus that peace with the Palestinian national movement—or rather that half of the Palesitnian national movement represented by Mahmoud Abbas, rather than the explicitly theocratic Hamas—isn’t possible at this time. Indeed, that is precisely why the left-liberal opposition Labor Party had intended to shift its focus from the non-existent peace process to social issues. (The polls suggested this was a promising pivot: Before the latest fighting, Labor was expected to grow from an embarrassing 8 seats to 20 or more in the 120 seat Knesset.) Whether Labor will be able to plausibly keep the spotlight on domestic issues depends entirely on what now happens in Gaza.

The Mood In Israel

Dahlia Lithwick relays it:

You want to hear about what it’s like here? It’s fucking sad. Everyone I know is sad. My kids don’t care who started it and the little boys in Issawiya, the Arab village I see out my window, don’t care much either. I haven’t met a single Israeli who is happy about this. They know this fixes nothing. The one thing we learned this week is how quickly humans can come to normalize anything. But the hopelessness seeps right into your bones as well.

Towards A Cease Fire?

Ian Black explains the truce talks currently underway in Egypt:

Hamas wants a guarantee from Israel that it would end “targeted assassinations” of the kind that killed Ahmed al-Jaabari last Wednesday. It would also need pledges about opening crossing points into Egypt and Israel – effectively lifting the five year blockade. Israel is insisting at a minimum on stopping the cross-border rocket fire which has united public opinion behind Operation Defensive Pillar. Israeli casualties have been low because the weapons are inaccurate and many of them were quickly destroyed.

Any deal would include other understandings that are unlikely to be formulated explicitly or made public. Israel certainly wants the Egyptians to shut down the network of tunnels that are Gaza’s lifeline to the outside world. Food and consumer goods are one thing, but the longer-range missiles that allow Hamas or more militant groups to strike targets in Tel Aviv and elsewhere in Israel’s urban heartland are another.

Hussein Ibish says an “Egyptian-brokered deal potentially provides something for everybody”:

Israeli leaders can claim they restored deterrence, took out key militant leaders, destroyed infrastructure and demonstrated that there is a heavy price for anyone attacking Israel from Gaza. Hamas leaders can claim to have stood up to Israel, shown the Israeli public they can reach Tel Aviv, once again unfurled the banner of armed resistance, and achieved major diplomatic breakthroughs with the recent high level visits to Gaza.

Morsi can achieve the neatest trick of all: he can continue with what are effectively Mubarak-era policies—Egypt serving as a broker of cease-fires and a liaison between Hamas and Israel—while presenting the whole thing as a reassertion of Egypt’s regional leadership, and a new foreign policy that stands closer to Hamas (mainly by symbolically dispatching his prime minister to Gaza). So he can create the appearance of popular change without actually changing policies that would aggravate relations with Israel or the United States.

Wanted: An Israeli Sherman!


Walter Russell Mead claims that Americans support Israel's use of overwhelming force, even if it means more victims like those above:

Certainly if some kind of terrorist organization were to set up missile factories across the frontier in Canada and Mexico and start attacking targets in the United States, the American people would demand that their President use all necessary force without stint or limit until the resistance had been completely, utterly and pitilessly crushed. Those Americans who share this view of war might feel sorrow at the loss of innocent life, of the children and non-combatants killed when overwhelming American power was used to take the terrorists out, but they would feel no moral guilt. The guilt would be on the shoulders of those who started the whole thing by launching the missiles.

But what if the US had previously invaded and occupied part of Mexico, was populating that area with Americans, building American free-ways to build new cities, and slowly asphyxiating the native Mexican population with barbed wire, road-checks, and economic isolation? Wouldn't some of us support undoing the annexation and settlements rather than bombing the crap out of Mexico City in an unrelenting escalation? But Mead has no truck for the tradition of just warfare when it comes to Israel:

[T]he kind of tit-for-tat limited warfare that the doctrine of proportionality would require is a recipe for unending war: for decades of random air strikes, bombs and other raids. An endless war of limited intensity is worse, many Americans instinctively feel, than a time-limited war of unlimited ferocity. A crushing blow that brings an end to the war—like General Sherman’s march of destruction through the Confederacy in 1864-65—is ultimately kinder even to the vanquished than an endless state of desultory war.

So now we're talking Sherman! How many dead Arabs will satisfy Mead? Does he really want Israel to do to Gaza and the West Bank what Russia did to Chechnya? And what does "unlimited ferocity" mean? Nuking them? Or just mass death arriving from the skies? Would that really be "kinder"?

Yes, he used that word: kinder. To mean a Shermanesque march with not a smidgen of "moral guilt". We have gone through the moral looking glass. Tribalism will make you do that, if you are not careful. 

(Photo: The bodies of a children from the al-Dallu family lay draped in Palestinian and Hamas (2R) flags during the funeral of several members from the al-Dallu family in Gaza City on November 19, 2012. An Israeli missile struck a three-story building in Gaza City on November 18, killing several members of the al-Dallu family – five of them children – and two of their neighbours, medics said. Full story here.  By Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images)

Geo-Politics And Dead Babies

One of the most widely distributed photographs from the past week’s Israeli/Palestinian violence has itself become a conflict. The dead child in this photograph, an image I referred to last week, was originally reported as having been killed in an Israeli airstrike. Not so fast:

The highly publicised death of four-year-old Mohammed Sadallah appear[s] to have been the result of a misfiring home-made rocket, not a bomb dropped by Israel. The child’s death on Friday figured prominently in media coverage after Hisham Kandil, the Egyptian prime minister, was filmed lifting his dead body out of an ambulance. “The boy, the martyr, whose blood is still on my hands and clothes, is something that we cannot keep silent about,” he said, before promising to defend the Palestinian people. But experts from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights who visited the site on Saturday said they believed that the explosion was caused by a Palestinian rocket.

Max Fisher contemplates the controversy:

The mere fact that we’re [questioning the validity or spin of these photographs] shows the degree to which images of human suffering in Israel-Palestinian violence are treated as necessarily, even primarily, political; as pieces of evidence to bring before the court of global public opinion. The photos are evaluated on their political strengths and weaknesses: Is the Egyptian prime minister leaning unnaturally into the frame? Do we know for sure that the 11-month-old son of a journalist was killed [link] by an Israeli munition? Was Netanyahu’s tweet [link] too strong?

I have kept my distance from commenting on the latest spiral in this miserable conflict for the past few days. Why? Because the passion on both sides is part of a tribalism that I despise in a conflict to which all now appear to be addicted. The fusion of religion and politics is bad enough; the fusion of politics and religion and territory is the nadir of human conflict. No good can come from it. Who wants to stare into its depressing abyss?

And, alas, the activities and vile philosophy of Hamas are simply incompatible with any compromise; and the same must be said of the potential Netanyahu-Lieberman coalition this latest piece of “deterrence-enhancement” seems to be designed, in part, to elect. State assassination of other countries’ leaders is a grotesque act that sets a horrifying precedent any Western country should fear. So too is the targeting of 156690273civilians of another country by missile. I wish I could share Peter Beinart’s hope for some kind of negotiation between Israel and Hamas. But after the last four years of Netanyahu’s Cheney-esque mindset determining events, and Hamas’ and Netanyahu’s successful weakening of Abbas’s hand, all I can say is that I admire Peter’s tenacity. At least he still cares.

My ennui comes from the now obvious conclusion. With each of these incursions, Israel is even further embittering and alienating the next generation of Arabs, a generation that will likely determine the future of an increasingly democratic and populist Middle East. As time goes by, technology will also steadily increase the chances of conflict reaching within 1967-lines Israel itself. As Hamas’s and Hezbollah’s rockets gain greater range and accuracy, Israel’s relentless colonization of Palestinian land on the West Bank will encourage them further.

In other words, without diplomacy toward a two-state solution, we are looking at a lifetime of constant Israeli warfare against all of its neighbors, deeper isolation in the region (with Turkey and Egypt already fast moving away) and growing international pariah status as Greater Israel becomes more fundamentalist and less democratic. And at some point, as America’s energy revolution leaves us less and less exposed to Middle East oil, and as the national interest becomes more attuned to events in Asia and the Pacific, and as the occupation turns Israel into the South Africa of the 21st Century, the Jewish state will become a self-evident burden for America, spawning terror and conflict and anti-Americanism as far as the eye can see. If all Israel can count on then are America’s Christianists and the current GOP, if they continue to spurn American attempts to unwind the conflict by undoing the settlements, then Israelis should be genuinely afraid for their future. I sure am.

They are slowly preparing for national suicide – both in how they operate within the land they control and beyond it. Obama has tried to save them. But you cannot save those who refuse to save themselves.

(Photo: Kashmiri Lawyers set an Israeli flag on fire while holding placards during a protest against Israel and in solidarity with Palestine in the city centre on November 19, 2012 in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian administered Kashmir, India. By Yawar Nazir/Getty Images.)