Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Hidden Black Iraq

The Hidden Black Iraq
By William Jelani Cobb
December 14, 2003.

Basra's more than the center of Iraq's oil industry; it's the center of a centuries-old history of African influence.

Left: A Black Iraqi Face who has seen many seasons as well as many political developments in the country during her lifetime.

Enter the words "black," "city" and "fuel" into the search engine of the American psyche and you'll conjure up the image of a Chevron station in Detroit. But add a historical element into the equation and you come up with Basra, Iraq.

In the three-card hustle of American foreign policy, the port-city of Basra is the elusive Queen. (The other two bluff cards say "Saddam Hussein" and "War on Terrorism.") Recently, Iraq's delegation to OPEC gleefully reported that 2.1 million barrels of crude oil were flowing from the Basra wells daily. The city's contemporary significance centers around its oil production; historically, though, the city was a commercial and governmental center that rivaled Baghdad for wealth and influence. It is also home to the little-discussed populations of black Iraqis.

Thirty years of black and Diaspora studies have shed light on the scale, intensity and impact of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade -- the 400-year traffic of Africans between the continent, Europe and the colonies of the alleged new world. Less attention has been paid, though, to the millennium-long slave trade that scattered African slaves throughout present-day Iraq, Turkey, Kuwait, Iran, Pakistan and India. Emerging European capitalism and the labor requirements of cash crops like sugar, cotton and tobacco drove the Trans-Atlantic trade; the Trans-Saharan trade, which flourished from the eighth century AD through the 1840s, brought African labor to the hazardous enterprises of pearl diving, date farming and the raw, brutal work of clearing Iraqi salt marshes. African boys were commonly castrated to serve as eunuch guards of royal harems. Unlike those who were enslaved in the West, however, blacks enslaved in the Arabic-speaking world also served as guards, sailors and high-ranking soldiers. In the 19th century, Basra was one of the most profitable slave ports in the region, commonly offering slave traders as much as 50% returns upon their "investments."

There has been a black presence in Basra -- present-day Southern Iraq -- as early as the 7th century, when Abu Bakra, an Ethiopian soldier who had been manumitted by the prophet Muhammad himself, settled in the city. His descendants became prominent members of Basran society. A century later, the writer Jahiz of Basra wrote an impassioned defense of black Africans -- referred to in Arabic as the Zanj -- against accusations of inferiority which had begun to take root even then.

The Zanj, who were primarily persons of East African descent, were to have a significant impact upon Iraqi history. They had been traded from ports along the African coast (Zanzibar, which is derived from the term "Zanj," was a major slave exporting center during the era) to clear salt marshes. Laboring in miserable, humid conditions, the Zanj workers dug up layers of topsoil and dragged away tons of earth to plant labor-intensive crops like sugarcane on the less saline soil below. Fed scant portions of flour, semolina and dates, they were constantly in conflict with the Iraqi slave system. Between the 7th and 9th centuries, the Zanj staged three rebellions, the largest of which occurred between 868 and 883 AD.

Led by an Iraqi poet named Ali Ibn Muhammad, the Zanj uprising of 868 galvanized thousands of black slaves who laid siege to and eventually overran the city of Basra. In short order, black soldiers in the army of the ruling Abbasid emperors based in Baghdad began to desert and swelled the ranks of the rebellion. Similar to later rebellions that created liberated "maroon" communities throughout the new world, the 15-year conflict, known as "The Revolt of the Zanj," led to the establishment of an independent Zanj capital city, minting of currency and the decade-long control of Basra -- one of the most important trade ports in the Abbasid empire. At their zenith, the Zanj armies marched upon Baghdad and got within 70 miles of the city.

The Zanj uprising was crushed in 883 by the Abbasids, but doing so required vast amounts of the empire's extensive resources. African slavery in Iraq continued to exist throughout both the Ottoman and British empires which incorporated the region into their holdings. In the mid-19th century, decades after the Trans-Atlantic trade had been (technically) outlawed, the Arab trade persisted. As historian Joseph Harris writes in his African Presence in Asia:

From Kuwait, slave parties were dispatched in small groups on land and sea to Zubair and Basra, where brokers sold slaves in their homes. The surplus was marched along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to Baghdad.

British officials during the era noted how widespread slave ownership was among the Iraqi families.

The descendants of the Zanj exist in the region today in (often self-contained) communities with names like "Zanjiabad, Iran" that hint at the history of the peoples living there. The status of these black Iraqis is little discussed -- though Iranians have written of persistent racism and stereotypes directed at the Zanj in their country. One can only wonder, though, what the addition of hundreds of oilmen will do for a black minority community living in Basra -- because word-association for the terms "oil" "money" and "slavery" yields the following results: Texas; see also: Presidential Politics.

William Jelani Cobb is a professor of history at Spelman College and editor of The Harold Cruse Reader.

Monday, February 02, 2009

"Black In Iraq"

By Mumia Abu-Jamal

Left: Salah al-Rekhayis calls himself the "Iraqi Obama" and hopes to channel President Barack Obama's good luck by becoming the first black Iraqi to win an election.

Several days ago I read an interesting article in the paper on the tiny Black community in Basra, Iraq. The piece was basically a foreign take on the impacts of the Obama election, for Black Iraqis hoped this would signal better conditions for them in the land of their ancestors.

Black people are hardly new to Iraq.

Their present population stems from slave importations from over a thousand years ago, when the city of Basra, in Iraq's southern sliver, was the seat of Mesopotamia. Africans were kidnapped into bondage, and forced to work (I kid you not) in the region's salt mines.

In the early third of the seventh century (ca. 820 C. E.), Blacks staged a powerful rebellion, which forced the government to flee. This revolution, called "The Revolt of the Zenj" by Arab historians, lasted for over 20 years. This revolution was betrayed, and the rebels were slain and some put back into bondage.

The name "Revolt of the Zenj" is so named because Blacks from the southeast coast of Africa, called "Zenjabar" by the Arabs (later Zanzibar, and today a part of Tanzania) were captured by the millions and sold into slavery throughout the Arab world.

The hundreds of thousands of Black Iraqis today are among their descendants. As such, they live lives of discrimination, poor education, under-and-unemployment and poverty.

One Basra father explained his decision to remove his daughter from school because she was teased with the term abd (Arabic for slave) by her classmates.

The father said, "it is my wish that she will read and write, but I cannot let her have these...problems."

The Black Iraqi population numbers in the thousands, not the millions. But even after a millennia and a half in Iraq, they still sing ancient songs of a distant African memory.

Left: Front cover of the book "Race for Justice: Mumia Abu-Jamal's Fight Against the Death Penalty" by Leonard Weinglass (Author) A tale of an American political prisoner

[Source: Madhani, AAmer, "Obama's Rise Inspires Arab Iraqis in Politics", USA Today, Jan. 19, 2009, 9A.; Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples (N.Y. ; Faber and Faber, 1991) ]

[col. writ. 1/25/09] (c) '09 Mumia Abu-Jamal

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hued World bodies: ICC, IJC, UN etc.

The problem with the ICC as well as those plaguing the United Nations and other such bodies involves an East West divide rather than a religious rift.

First tier nations are "immune" in these bodies or the perception is their crimes are exculpated by their power, influence and financial input into these edifices. When was the last time a first tier nation was dragged into a hall of international justice?

We continually see hued faces (like President Bashir) on our screens or newspapers. This is the central theme of opposition to the reign of these defunct and ostensibly biased global bodies in the hearts, minds and souls of the majority of the world.

A Million or so is annihilated in Iraq and the halls of the high court have a disquieting and eerie hush enveloping the entire institution. Palestinians are quartered in concentration camps for forty years and not one war crimes' charge comes to fruition. Many millions are slaughtered in Africa's mineral belt, yet the underlying Western corporate suppling of these conflicts go 'officially' unnoticed by these supposed benevolent bodies.

Until the geopolitical games that verily destroy the lives of peoples living in Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Congo etc become more than mere investment opportunities there will not be any sympathy, assent or support for world bodies that sanction and clarify these hued peoples as mere sources of resources and other such assets. Who then every so often present one of these same peoples as a token of world criminality to be paraded in front of the globe as a sign of order and world justice. Hogwash.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Brothers, to the Israeli Brothels

Right: Palestinian Flag holstered despite occupation, the spirit of freedom will never die.

Let's take an underground view at the events surrounding Egypt as far as Palestine specifically and the region in general. These points are listed besides Egypt's maneuvers and machinations to retain its most favored Arab nation status with the EU & US and continue receiving billions of dollars of aid as well as immunity from overt Israeli aggression on its soil--less surreal, subtle and secret Israeli encroachment on its sovereignty.

Foremost, Egypt founds its wavering Gaza stand partially on the pillar that espouses Israel will not be allowed to relinquish its legal responsibility as the occupying power over Gaza and dump it wholesale onto the Egyptian polity. Note that the Jews constantly put forward the contention Arabs in general and Egypt in particular shirk their responsibility to Palestinians insisting Arabs and Egypt should do more to alleviate the suffering -- the siege that Israel has imposed causing great suffering, but that's what a siege is supposed to do -- even to a point of offering Palestinians citizenship therefore, freeing them from the ravages of refugee status and their savage existence in these camps for over 60 years.

However, this explanation falls on death ears in light of Egypt's refusal to open the crossing to offer the people of Gaza a means to escape the slaughter visited upon them by the Israeli death machine. All of Gaza were hemmed in with no where to run, hide or escape as the incessant Israeli bombing continued apace unencumbered.

Another unspoken expression Egypt passively insinuates and urges to exculpate itself from charges of collusion with Israel and the west proposes that it is not helping Israel oppress the Palestinians when one considers the tunnel network on the Rafah border, which have gone unassailed by Egyptian forces when preclusions were within its power to effectuate. Why haven't the Egyptians shut down the tunnels on its side of the border when it obviously can? Good question and the better answer is obviously clear--Egypt is the victim here so to speak. The Egyptians have not totally abdicated their implicit mandate to succor Gaza. Egyptian officials have been wise to leave symbolic mechanisms for all to see in its proclamations as the defender of the Arab world. Note that official closure of Rafah is necessary as a diversionary and legal edifice against charges about the tunnels by Israel and her stooges around the world.

Moreover, the strong rebuke by some Arab sectors against supposed Egyptian resignation over Gaza serve to support the dynamic of negative-action chosen by Egypt to give a sense that it is indeed helping Gaza. Unless one believes Arabs are uninformed then there is no other purpose for these condemnations of Egypt except to offer it political camouflage and support for continued clandestine aid to Gaza--these were psychological incursions into the fray of bolstering Gaza's resistance. So Egypt would have us believe. Not really, I'm not buying it Mubarak you smell of sulfur to borrow a term from President Chavez.

Truth of the matter is there was more outrage on the part of Latin American governments than in the Arab world. Venezuela and Bolivia were early in their condemnation of the Israeli massacre and took steps to expel Jewish emissaries from their countries as "personae non gratae." While Mauritania and tiny Qatar did cut ties with Israel however, Jordan a neighbor of the Palestinians who conveniently retrieved its diplomatic corps from Israel has already returned them to the brothels of Israel.

Therefore, it is imperative to understand the relationships that nurtured such muted responses from Arab governments in the face of so much Israeli horrors visited upon the civilians of Gaza. Breaking or blocking the sources of this relationship would seem key in any correct address of this outrage.

Left: Gamal Abdel Nasser became President and declared the full independence of Egypt from the United Kingdom on June 18, 1956. His nationalization of the Suez Canal on July 26, 1956, would visit an invasion by Israel, France and Great Britain. Egypt holds the preeminent seat of Islamic teaching and learning in the world.

After the promulgation of UNSC resolution 1860, which ultimately envisioned a sort of tunnel vision and arms sanctions order against Hamas with Egypt as the nexus. Here again, Egypt was presented as the controlling factor: Having then refused international troops on its soil and refusing US & other European nations passage rights into its territorial waters to carry out munitions search and destroy missions. These Egyptian steps have left Israel with very few viable steps to augment its squeeze on Hamas leaving it to the futility of causing sonic booms over Gaza in anger. But, why does Israel and the so-called "international community" confirm so much seeming power to Egypt when the real power rests with Israel?

These may be the imminent manifestations of these Egyptian [mis]steps. Still, when one looks deeply and radically underground we continue to find Israel with complete control of Gaza's land, sea and air. While Egypt will continue to keep Rafah closed this is but a minor factor in the Israel equation of nullifying the Palestinians through mass social asphyxiation. Even if Rafah were to be opened either with a unity Palestinian force on the Gaza side or wholly Fatah administered -- since Egypt has insisted it will only open the border if Fatah returns -- Egypt would continue to limit the flow of goods in lieu of its fear of Israel dumping Gaza--Egyptian governance. There will be little change in alleviating the dire conditions of Gaza residents and providing them with the necessary products of daily life as far as the Rafah crossing is concerned will remain inadequate.

Egypt has bought into pressuring Hamas at the expense of the ordinary people of Gaza -- in effect mirroring the collective punishment policies of Israel on the people of Gaza by supposed fellow Muslims just next door.

The geopolitical milieu within which Egypt operates necessitates clever and unconventional means however, ruse and obfuscation by the Mubarak regime should not be allowed to leave a perception of feel good measures that only serve to further isolate Gaza.

That Egypt is cowering to internal pressure from the Muslim Brotherhood and cowing to antecedent fears from Hamas' stout ideology and religiosity on its border is undeniable. That Egypt is a stooge of western imperialism is without doubt. However, through the ages Palestinian will of resistance has rested on their own deep seated sense of self--none but themselves can free Palestine, in that spirit the struggle continues.

Egypt is certainly attempting to maintain a political duality involving a slither of light toward the Palestinians by allowing the tunnel network and supplementary "smuggling" trade to continue. Note that the majority of the tunnel traffic consists of ordinary goods for everyday life not arms. The other personality of Egypt seeks to project a stable and reliable western and Israeli ally, which serves them to maintain national power and international aid by offering these foreign usurpers with the power and light of the sun by sniveling at their feet at the expense of Palestinian people and their patriots.

The point here should not be to condemn Egypt as a single entity in this sordid affair on Gaza and Palestine in general. Rather we should highlight how a plethora of Arab states cling to a geopolitical western machine that serves to stymie the voice, will and life of Muslim populations. These police states are trained, armed and financially supported by the west to maintain this vile court. Egypt must be seen in the context of this regional and global endeavor by Israel and the West. From Pakistan to Iran Muslim states are targeted for either covert sabotage or overt destruction so that Israel will remain the preeminent power in the Middle East and to maintain free reign along with the West throughout the world and of course, in outer space too.

Friday, January 23, 2009

President Obama: hinging changes

President Bush's administration was full of wonderful intellectuals & prolific writers who came to government with acclaimed treatises. This accomplished litany of think tank leaders brought these writings with them to office; thereby availing heretofore unavailable intricacies of policy into the public record. (For example PNAC and its predecessor "Securing The new Realm," which featured contributors who would construct the pillars of Bush's policies)

President George W. Bush and Company neither strayed away from American values and practices, nor did they develop drastically novel standards opposed to the mainstay of American international governance. (With few deviations promulgated nationally e.g., the Patriot Act and data mining to name a couple)

The problems, which ostensibly tainted the image of the United States exemplified in torture, extraordinary rendition, preemptive wars and arrests, secret prisons, etc., arose out of the pronounced status of this paradigm -- that was spelled out to the nation and the world attempting to clarify a strategy to implement what the Bush Administration labeled a "war against terror." Arguably, the crux of the core of the Bush shift, which ventured from tradition involved the unilateral nature of its maneuvers and the clear "baldness" it featured--even if multi-lateralism was cosmetic in the past. Public relations is a vital component of managing an empire and the Bush administration failed miserably on that facet.

One can have successful preemptive wars without unilateralism but it is difficult to fight multi pronged wars without the support of influential allies. Not only does exclusivity entails the empire to bear the full brunt of economic and military outlays the nature of the lone warrior in a global village precludes sharing of vital intelligence and forging concerted effort, which are required in a fight against multi national third generational warfare. Moreover, lacking a genuine public relations depressed the will of the nation to continue support the war effort--naked patriotism and jingoism soon fade away to the rigors of everyday life even in the face of clever propaganda.

Where Bush's policies have drained the public coffers of the empire Obama's new frontier will seek the inclusion of influential and wealthy allies to take part in these costs as partners--whilch will mount a more effective front to fight insurgency.

Whether nationalist and legitimate insurgencies will be pooled into this set of adversaries is yet to be clarified by the Obama administration. To be sure, there must be a clearer definition of terrorist organizations even though, it is the specter of super powers to stymie all opposition and maintain the status quo. However, unless a trasparent demarcation is drawn between global terrorist groups with few practical or national aspirations and those that are legitimately agitating for their liberation, these groups will form linkages in order to stay the onslaught against them--often making alliances with organizations that have little in common with them excepting that the US is after them too.

Be as it may, these time tested methods are necessary tools of empire and power; Can it truly be said the US never tortured before Mr. Bush and wont again after his departure? I think not and the record incontrovertibly shows that the entire project of "atonement" undertaken by the initiatives of the Obama administration is in essence a "feel good" enterprise to reinvigorate US citizens and recapture the popularity and "myth" of its higher principles and reassert founding pledges of the US Constitution. The US is back in the business of maintaining and projecting a vigorous public relations and diplomatic corps component in securing its national interests.

I love America and admittedly have benefited from its power and the projection of its forces around the globe. These have kept me relatively safe and moderately financially secure in a world mired with oscillating dangers of myriad competition--therefore, I accept this implicit responsibility / loyalty (an existential dualism). Even so, having been born in the Caribbean island nation of X and migrating to the US at the age of ten, I know first hand the macabre side of wielding super power. Our nation has seen five empires across two centuries, including the United States, wreak havoc against our poor, humble yet proud people, among countless others across the continents.

Nevertheless, President Obama should be commended for taking the underbelly of our great country out of the limelight of world opinion and restoring it to its rightful sector of secrecy and its antecedent plausible deniability apparatus.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Myth of Israel's Strategic Genius

(AFP/Getty Images)

The myth of Israel's strategic genius
By Stephen Walt

Many supporters of Israel will not criticize its behavior, even when it is engaged in brutal and misguided operations like the recent onslaught on Gaza. In addition to their understandable reluctance to say anything that might aid Israel's enemies, this tendency is based in part on the belief that Israel's political and military leaders are exceptionally smart and thoughtful strategists who understand their threat environment and have a history of success against their adversaries. If so, then it makes little sense for outsiders to second-guess them.

This image of Israeli strategic genius has been nurtured by Israelis over the years and seems to be an article of faith among neoconservatives and other hardline supporters of Israel in the United States. It also fits nicely with the wrongheaded but still popular image of Israel as the perennial David facing a looming Arab Goliath; in this view, only brilliant strategic thinkers could have consistently overcome the supposedly formidable Arab forces arrayed against them.

The idea that Israelis possess some unique strategic acumen undoubtedly reflects a number of past military exploits, including the decisive victories in the 1948 War of Independence, the rapid conquest of the Sinai in 1956, the daredevil capture of Adolf Eichmann in 1960, the stunning Israeli triumph at the beginning of the 1967 Six Day War, and the intrepid hostage rescue at Entebbe in 1976.

These tactical achievements are part of a larger picture, however, and that picture is not a pretty one. Israel has also lost several wars in the past -- none of them decisively, of course -- and its ability to use force to achieve larger strategic objectives has declined significantly over time. This is why Israelis frequently speak of the need to restore their "deterrent"; they are aware that occasional tactical successes have not led to long-term improvements in their overall security situation. The assault on Gaza is merely the latest illustration of this worrisome tendency.

What does the record show?

Back in 1956, Israel, along with Britain and France, came up with a harebrained scheme to seize the Suez Canal and topple Nasser's regime in Egypt. (This was after an Israeli raid on an Egyptian army camp in Gaza helped convince Nasser to obtain arms from the Soviet Union). Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion initially hoped that Israel would be allowed to conquer and absorb the West Bank, parts of the Sinai, and portions of Lebanon, but Britain and France quickly scotched that idea. The subsequent attack was a military success but a strategic failure: the invaders were forced to disgorge the lands they seized while Nasser's prestige soared at home and across the Arab world, fueling radicalism and intensifying anti-Israel sentiments throughout the region. The episode led Ben-Gurion to conclude that Israel should forego additional attempts to expand its borders -- which is why he opposed taking the West Bank in 1967 -- but his successors did not follow his wise advice.

Ten years later, Israel's aggressive policies toward Syria and Jordan helped precipitate the crisis that led to the Six Day War. The governments of Egypt, Syria, the USSR and the United States also bear considerable blame for that war, though it was Israel's leaders who chose to start it, even though they recognized that their Arab foes knew they were no match for the IDF and did not intend to attack Israel. More importantly, after seizing the West Bank, Golan Heights and Gaza Strip during the war, Israeli leaders decided to start building settlements and eventually incorporate them into a "greater Israel." Thus, 1967 marks the beginning of Israel's settlements project, a decision that even someone as sympathetic to Israel as Leon Wieseltier has described as "a moral and strategic blunder of historic proportions." Remarkably, this momentous decision was never openly debated within the Israeli body politic.

With Israeli forces occupying the Sinai peninsula, Egypt launched the so-called War of Attrition in October 1968 in an attempt to get it back. The result was a draw on the battlefield and the two sides eventually reached a ceasefire agreement in August 1970. The war was a strategic setback for Israel, however, because Egypt and its Soviet patron used the ceasefire to complete a missile shield along the Suez Canal that could protect Egyptian troops if they attacked across the Canal to regain the Sinai. American and Israeli leaders did not recognize this important shift in the balance of power between Israel and Egypt and remained convinced that Egypt had no military options. As a result, they ignored Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's peace overtures and left him little choice but to use force to try to dislodge Israel from the Sinai. Israel then failed to detect Egypt and Syria's mobilization in early October 1973 and fell victim to one of the most successful surprise attacks in military history. The IDF eventually rallied and triumphed, but the costs were high in a war that might easily have been avoided.

Israel's next major misstep was the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. The invasion was the brainchild of hawkish Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, who had concocted a grandiose scheme to destroy the PLO and gain a free hand to incorporate the West Bank in "Greater Israel" and turn Jordan into "the" Palestinian state. It was a colossal strategic blunder: the PLO leadership escaped destruction and Israel’s bombardment of Beirut and its complicity in the massacres at Sabra and Shatila were widely and rightly condemned. And after initially being greeted as liberators by the Shiite population of southern Lebanon, Israel's prolonged and heavy-handed occupation helped create Hezbollah, which soon became a formidable adversary as well as an avenue for Iranian influence on Israel's northern border. Israel was unable to defeat Hezbollah and eventually withdrew its troops from Lebanon in 2000, having in effect been driven out by Hezbollah's increasingly effective resistance. Invading Lebanon not only failed to solve Israel’s problem with the Palestinians, it created a new enemy that still bedevils Israel today.

In the late 1980s, Israel helped nurture Hamas -- yes, the same organization that the IDF is bent on destroying today -- as part of its long-standing effort to undermine Yasser Arafat and Fatah and keep the Palestinians divided. This decision backfired too, because Arafat eventually recognized Israel and agreed to negotiate a two-state solution, while Hamas emerged as a new and dangerous adversary that has refused to recognize Israel's existence and to live in peace with the Jewish state.

The signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 offered an unprecedented chance to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once and for all, but Israel's leaders failed to seize the moment. Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Benjamin Netanyahu all refused to endorse the idea of a Palestinian state -- even Rabin never spoke publicly about allowing the Palestinians to have a state of their own -- and Ehud Barak's belated offer of statehood at the 2000 Camp David summit did not go far enough. As Barak's own foreign minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami, later admitted, "if I were a Palestinian, I would have rejected Camp David as well." Meanwhile, the number of settlers in the West Bank doubled during the Oslo period (1993-2001), and the Israelis built some 250 miles of connector roads in the West Bank. Palestinian leaders and U.S. officials made their own contributions to Oslo's failure, but Israel had clearly squandered what was probably the best opportunity it will ever have to negotiate a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Barak also derailed a peace treaty with Syria in early 2000 that appeared to be a done deal, at least to President Bill Clinton, who had helped fashion it. But when public opinion polls suggested that the Israeli public might not support the deal, the Israeli Prime Minister got cold feet and the talks collapsed.

More recently, U.S. and Israeli miscalculations have gone hand-in-hand. In the wake of September 11, neoconservatives in the United States, who had been pushing for war against Iraq since early 1998, helped convince President Bush to attack Iraq as part of a larger strategy of "regional transformation." Israeli officials were initially opposed to this scheme because they wanted Washington to go after Iran instead, but once they understood that Iran and Syria were next on the administration's hit list they backed the plan enthusiastically. Indeed, prominent Israelis like Ehud Barak, Benjamin Netanyahu, and then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres helped sell the war in the United States, while Prime Minister Sharon and his chief aides put pressure on Washington to make sure that Bush didn’t lose his nerve and leave Saddam standing. The result? A costly quagmire for the United States and a dramatic improvement in Iran's strategic position. Needless to say, these developments were hardly in Israel's strategic interest.

The next failed effort was then-Prime Minister Sharon's decision to unilaterally withdraw all of Israel’s settlers from the Gaza Strip in August 2005. Although Israel and its supporters in the West portrayed this move as a gesture towards peace, "unilateralism" was in fact part of a larger effort to derail the so-called Road Map, freeze the peace process, and consolidate Israeli control over the West Bank, thereby putting off the prospect of a Palestinian state "indefinitely." The withdrawal was completed successfully, but Sharon's attempt to impose peace terms on the Palestinians failed completely. Fenced in by the Israelis, the Palestinians in Gaza began firing rockets and mortars at nearby Israeli towns and then Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006. This event reflected its growing popularity in the face of Fatah’s corruption and Israel's continued occupation of the West Bank, but Jerusalem and Washington refused to accept the election results and decided instead to try to topple Hamas. This was yet another error: Hamas eventually ousted Fatah from Gaza and its popularity has continued to increase.

The Lebanon War in the summer of 2006 revealed the deficiencies of Israel's strategic thinking with particular clarity. A cross-border raid by Hezbollah provoked an Israeli offensive intended to destroy Hezbollah's large missile inventory and compel the Lebanese government to crack down on Hezbollah itself. However worthy these goals might have been, Israel's strategy was doomed to fail. Air strikes could not eliminate Hezbollah's large and well-hidden arsenal and bombing civilian areas in Lebanon merely generated more anger at Israel and raised Hezbollah's standing among the Lebanese population and in the Arab and Islamic world as well. Nor could a belated ground attack fix the problem, as the IDF could hardly accomplish in a few weeks what it had failed to do between 1982 and 2000. Plus, the Israeli offensive was poorly planned and poorly executed. It was equally foolish to think that Lebanon’s fragile central government could rein in Hezbollah; if that were possible, the governing authorities in Beirut would have done so long before. It is no surprise that the Winograd Commission (an official panel of inquiry established to examine Israel’s handling of the war) harshly criticized Israel's leaders for their various strategic errors.

Finally, a similar strategic myopia is apparent in the assault on Gaza. Israeli leaders initially said that their goal was to inflict enough damage on Hamas so it could no longer threaten Israel with rocket attacks. But they now concede that Hamas will neither be destroyed nor disarmed by their attacks, and instead say that more extensive monitoring will prevent rocket parts and other weapons from being smuggled into Gaza. This is a vain hope, however. As I write this, Hamas has not accepted a ceasefire and is still firing rockets; even if it does accept a ceasefire soon, rocket and mortar fire are bound to resume at some point in the future. On top of that, Israel's international image has taken a drubbing, Hamas is probably more popular, and moderate leaders like Mahmoud Abbas have been badly discredited. A two-state solution -- which is essential if Israel wishes to remain Jewish and democratic and to avoid becoming an apartheid state -- is farther away than ever. The IDF performed better in Gaza than it did in Lebanon, largely because Hamas is a less formidable foe than Hezbollah. But this does not matter: the war against Hamas is still a strategic failure. And to have inflicted such carnage on the Palestinians for no lasting strategic gain is especially reprehensible.

In virtually all of these episodes -- and especially those after 1982 -- Israel's superior military power was used in ways that did not improve its long-term strategic position. Given this dismal record, therefore, there is no reason to think that Israel possesses uniquely gifted strategists or a national security establishment that consistently makes smart and far-sighted choices. Indeed, what is perhaps most remarkable about Israel is how often the architects of these disasters -- Barak, Olmert, Sharon, and maybe Netanyahu -- are not banished from leadership roles but instead are given another opportunity to repeat their mistakes. Where is the accountability in the Israeli political system?

No country is immune from folly, of course, and Israel's adversaries have committed plenty of reprehensible acts and made plenty of mistakes themselves. Egypt's Nasser played with fire in 1967 and got badly burnt; King Hussein's decision to enter the Six Day War was a catastrophic blunder that cost Jordan the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Palestinian leaders badly miscalculated and committed unjustifiable and brutal acts on numerous occasions. Americans made grave mistakes in Vietnam and more recently in Iraq, the French blundered in Indochina and Algeria, the British failed at Suez and Gallipoli, and the Soviets lost badly in Afghanistan. Israel is no different than most powerful states in this regard: sometimes it does things that are admirable and wise, and at other times it pursues policies that are foolish and cruel.

The moral of this story is that there is no reason to think that Israel always has well-conceived strategies for dealing with the problems that it faces. In fact, Israel's strategic judgment seems to have declined steadily since the 1970s -- beginning with the 1982 invasion of Lebanon -- perhaps because unconditional U.S. support has helped insulate Israel from some of the costs of its actions and made it easier for Israel to indulge strategic illusions and ideological pipe-dreams. Given this reality, there is no reason for Israel's friends -- both Jewish and gentile -- to remain silent when it decides to pursue a foolish policy. And given that our "special relationship" with Israel means that the United States is invariably associated with Jerusalem's actions, Americans should not hesitate to raise their voices to criticize Israel when it is acting in ways that are not in the U.S. national interest.

Those who refuse to criticize Israel even when it acts foolishly surely think they are helping the Jewish state. They are wrong. In fact, they are false friends, because their silence, or worse, their cheerleading, merely encourages Israel to continue potentially disastrous courses of action. Israel could use some honest advice these days, and it would make eminently good sense if its closest ally were able to provide it. Ideally, this advice would come from the president, the secretary of state, and prominent members of Congress -- speaking as openly as some politicians in other democracies do. But that's unlikely to happen, because Israel's supporters make it almost impossible for Washington to do anything but reflexively back Israel's actions, whether they make sense or not. And they often do not these days.

Stephen M. Walt co-authored The Jewish Lobby with John Mearshemeir

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"Peace Offensive:" Behind bloodbath in Gaza

Foiling Another Palestinian "Peace Offensive": Behind the bloodbath in Gaza
By Norman G. Finklestein

Early speculation on the motive behind Israel’s slaughter in Gaza that began on 27 December 2008 and continued till 18 January 2009 centered on the upcoming elections in Israel. The jockeying for votes was no doubt a factor in this Sparta-like society consumed by "revenge and the thirst for blood,"[1] where killing Arabs is a sure crowd-pleaser. (Polls during the war showed that 80-90 percent of Israeli Jews supported it.)[2] But as Israeli journalist Gideon Levy pointed out on Democracy Now!, "Israel went through a very similar war…two-and-a-half years ago [in Lebanon], when there were no elections."[3] When crucial state interests are at stake, Israeli ruling elites seldom launch major operations for narrowly electoral gains. It is true that Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s decision to bomb the Iraqi OSIRAK reactor in 1981 was an electoral ploy, but the strategic stakes in the strike on Iraq were puny; contrary to widespread belief, Saddam Hussein had not embarked on a nuclear weapons program prior to the bombing.[4] The fundamental motives behind the latest Israeli attack on Gaza lie elsewhere: (1) in the need to restore Israel’s "deterrence capacity," and (2) in the threat posed by a new Palestinian "peace offensive."

Israel’s "larger concern" in the current offensive, New York Times Middle East correspondent Ethan Bronner reported, quoting Israeli sources, was to "re-establish Israeli deterrence," because "its enemies are less afraid of it than they once were, or should be."[5] Preserving its deterrence capacity has always loomed large in Israeli strategic doctrine. Indeed, it was the main impetus behind Israel’s first-strike against Egypt in June 1967 that resulted in Israel’s occupation of Gaza (and the West Bank). To justify the onslaught on Gaza, Israeli historian Benny Morris wrote that "[m]any Israelis feel that the walls…are closing in…much as they felt in early June 1967."[6] Ordinary Israelis no doubt felt threatened in June 1967, but -- as Morris surely knows -- the Israeli leadership experienced no such trepidation. After Israel threatened and laid plans to attack Syria, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser declared the Straits of Tiran closed to Israeli shipping, but Israel made almost no use of the Straits (apart from the passage of oil, of which Israel then had ample stocks) and, anyhow, Nasser did not in practice enforce the blockade, vessels passing freely through the Straits within days of his announcement. In addition, multiple U.S. intelligence agencies had concluded that the Egyptians did not intend to attack Israel and that, in the improbable case that they did, alone or in concert with other Arab countries, Israel would -- in President Lyndon Johnson’s words -- "whip the hell out of them." The head of the Mossad told senior American officials on 1 June 1967 that "there were no differences between the U.S. and the Israelis on the military intelligence picture or its interpretation."[7] The predicament for Israel was rather the growing perception in the Arab world, spurred by Nasser’s radical nationalism and climaxing in his defiant gestures in May 1967, that it would no longer have to follow Israeli orders. Thus, Divisional Commander Ariel Sharon admonished those in the Israeli cabinet hesitant to launch a first-strike that Israel was losing its "deterrence capability…our main weapon -- the fear of us."[8] Israel unleashed the June 1967 war "to restore the credibility of Israeli deterrence" (Israeli strategic analyst Zeev Maoz).[9]

The expulsion of the Israeli occupying army by Hezbollah in May 2000 posed a major new challenge to Israel’s deterrence capacity. The fact that Israel suffered a humiliating defeat, one celebrated throughout the Arab world, made another war well-nigh inevitable. Israel almost immediately began planning for the next round, and in summer 2006 found a pretext when Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers (several others were killed in the firefight) and demanded in exchange the release of Lebanese prisoners held by Israel. Although Israel unleashed the fury of its air force and geared up for a ground invasion, it suffered yet another ignominious defeat. A respected American military analyst despite being partial to Israel nonetheless concluded, "the IAF, the arm of the Israel military that had once destroyed whole air forces in a few days, not only proved unable to stop Hezbollah rocket strikes but even to do enough damage to prevent Hezbollah’s rapid recovery"; that "once ground forces did cross into Lebanon…, they failed to overtake Hezbollah strongholds, even those close to the border"; that "in terms of Israel’s objectives, the kidnapped Israeli soldiers were neither rescued nor released; Hezbollah’s rocket fire was never suppressed, not even its long-range fire…; and Israeli ground forces were badly shaken and bogged down by a well-equipped and capable foe"; and that "more troops and a massive ground invasion would indeed have produced a different outcome, but the notion that somehow that effort would have resulted in a more decisive victory over Hezbollah…has no basis in historical example or logic." The juxtaposition of several figures further highlights the magnitude of the setback: Israel deployed 30,000 troops as against 2,000 regular Hezbollah fighters and 4,000 irregular Hezbollah and non-Hezbollah fighters; Israel delivered and fired 162,000 weapons whereas Hezbollah fired 5,000 weapons (4,000 rockets and projectiles at Israel and 1,000 antitank missiles inside Lebanon).[10] Moreover, "the vast majority of the fighters who defended villages such as Ayta ash Shab, Bint Jbeil, and Maroun al-Ras were not, in fact, regular Hezbollah fighters and in some cases were not even members of Hezbollah," and "many of Hezbollah’s best and most skilled fighters never saw action, lying in wait along the Litani River with the expectation that the IDF assault would be much deeper and arrive much faster than it did."[11] Yet another indication of Israel’s reversal of fortune was that, unlike any of its previous armed conflicts, in the final stages of the 2006 war it fought not in defiance of a U.N. ceasefire resolution but in the hope of a U.N. resolution to rescue it.

After the 2006 Lebanon war Israel was itching to take on Hezbollah again, but did not yet have a military option against it. In mid-2008 Israel desperately sought to conscript the U.S. for an attack on Iran, which would also decapitate Hezbollah, and thereby humble the main challengers to its regional hegemony. Israel and its quasi-official emissaries such as Benny Morris threatened that if the U.S. did not go along "then non-conventional weaponry will have to be used," and "many innocent Iranians will die." To Israel’s chagrin and humiliation, the attack never materialized and Iran has gone its merry way, while the credibility of Israel’s capacity to terrorize slipped another notch. It was high time to find a defenseless target to annihilate. Enter Gaza, Israel’s favorite shooting gallery. Even there the feebly armed Islamic movement Hamas had defiantly resisted Israeli diktat, in June 2008 even compelling Israel to agree to a ceasefire.

During the 2006 Lebanon war Israel flattened the southern suburb of Beirut known as the Dahiya, where Hezbollah commanded much popular support. In the war’s aftermath Israeli military officers began referring to the "Dahiya strategy": "We shall pulverize the 160 Shiite villages [in Lebanon] that have turned into Shiite army bases," the IDF Northern Command Chief explained, "and we shall not show mercy when it comes to hitting the national infrastructure of a state that, in practice, is controlled by Hezbollah." In the event of hostilities, a reserve Colonel at the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies chimed in, Israel needs "to act immediately, decisively, and with force that is disproportionate….Such a response aims at inflicting damage and meting out punishment to an extent that will demand long and expensive reconstruction processes." The new strategy was to be used against all of Israel’s regional adversaries who had waxed defiant -- "the Palestinians in Gaza are all Khaled Mashaal, the Lebanese are all Nasrallah, and the Iranians are all Ahmadinejad" -- but Gaza was the prime target for this blitzkrieg-cum-bloodbath strategy. "Too bad it did not take hold immediately after the ‘disengagement’ from Gaza and the first rocket barrages," a respected Israeli columnist lamented. "Had we immediately adopted the Dahiya strategy, we would have likely spared ourselves much trouble." After a Palestinian rocket attack, Israel’s Interior Minister urged in late September 2008, "the IDF should…decide on a neighborhood in Gaza and level it."[13] And, insofar as the Dahiya strategy could not be inflicted just yet on Lebanon and Iran, it was predictably pre-tested in Gaza.

The operative plan for the Gaza bloodbath can be gleaned from authoritative statements after the war got underway: "What we have to do is act systematically with the aim of punishing all the organizations that are firing the rockets and mortars, as well as the civilians who are enabling them to fire and hide" (reserve Major-General); "After this operation there will not be one Hamas building left standing in Gaza" (Deputy IDF Chief of Staff); "Anything affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target" (IDF Spokesperson’s Office).[14] Whereas Israel killed a mere 55 Lebanese during the first two days of the 2006 war, the Israeli media exulted at Israel’s "shock and awe" (Maariv)[15] as it killed more than 300 Palestinians in the first two days of the attack on Gaza. Several days into the slaughter an informed Israeli strategic analyst observed, "The IDF, which planned to attack buildings and sites populated by hundreds of people, did not warn them in advance to leave, but intended to kill a great many of them, and succeeded."[16] Morris could barely contain his pride at "Israel’s highly efficient air assault on Hamas."[17] The Israeli columnist B. Michael was less impressed by the dispatch of helicopter gunships and jet planes "over a giant prison and firing at its people"[18] -- for example, "70…traffic cops at their graduation ceremony, young men in desperate search of a livelihood who thought they’d found it in the police and instead found death from the skies."[19]

As Israel targeted schools, mosques, hospitals, ambulances, and U.N. sanctuaries, as it slaughtered and incinerated Gaza’s defenseless civilian population (one-third of the 1,200 reported casualties were children), Israeli commentators gloated that "Gaza is to Lebanon as the second sitting for an exam is to the first -- a second chance to get it right," and that this time around Israel had "hurled [Gaza] back," not 20 years as it promised to do in Lebanon, but "into the 1940s. Electricity is available only for a few hours a day"; that "Israel regained its deterrence capabilities" because "the war in Gaza has compensated for the shortcomings of the [2006] Second Lebanon War"; and that "There is no doubt that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is upset these days….There will no longer be anyone in the Arab world who can claim that Israel is weak."[20]

New York Times foreign affairs expert Thomas Friedman joined in the chorus of hallelujahs.[21] Israel in fact won the 2006 Lebanon war, according to Friedman, because it had inflicted "substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large," thereby administering an "education" to Hezbollah: fearing the Lebanese people’s wrath, Hezbollah would "think three times next time" before defying Israel. He expressed hope that Israel was likewise "trying to ‘educate’ Hamas by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population." To justify the targeting of Lebanese civilians and civilian infrastructure Friedman asserted that Israel had no other option because "Hezbollah created a very ‘flat’ military network…deeply embedded in the local towns and villages," and that because "Hezbollah nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians…to restrain Hezbollah in the future."

Leaving aside Friedman’s hollow coinages -- what does "flat" mean? -- and leaving aside that he alleged that the killing of civilians was unavoidable but also recommends targeting civilians as a "deterrence" strategy: is it even true that Hezbollah was "embedded in," "nested among," and "intertwined" with the Lebanese civilian population? Here’s what Human Rights Watch concluded after an exhaustive investigation: "we found strong evidence that Hezbollah stored most of its rockets in bunkers and weapon storage facilities located in uninhabited fields and valleys, that in the vast majority of cases Hezbollah fighters left populated civilian areas as soon as the fighting started, and that Hezbollah fired the vast majority of its rockets from pre-prepared positions outside villages." And again, "in all but a few of the cases of civilian deaths we investigated, Hezbollah fighters had not mixed with the civilian population or taken other actions to contribute to the targeting of a particular home or vehicle by Israeli forces." Indeed, "Israel’s own firing patterns in Lebanon support the conclusion that Hezbollah fired large numbers of its rockets from tobacco fields, banana, olive and citrus groves, and more remote, unpopulated valleys."[22]

A U.S. Army War College study based largely on interviews with Israeli participants in the Lebanon war similarly found that "the key battlefields in the land campaign south of the Litani River were mostly devoid of civilians, and IDF participants consistently report little or no meaningful intermingling of Hezbollah fighters and noncombatants. Nor is there any systematic reporting of Hezbollah using civilians in the combat zone as shields." On a related note, the authors report that "the great majority of Hezbollah’s fighters wore uniforms. In fact, their equipment and clothing were remarkably similar to many state militaries’ -- desert or green fatigues, helmets, web vests, body armor, dog tags, and rank insignia."[23]

Friedman further asserted that, "rather than confronting Israel’s Army head-on," Hezbollah fired rockets at Israel’s civilian population to provoke Israeli retaliatory strikes, inevitably killing Lebanese civilians and "inflaming the Arab-Muslim street." Yet, numerous studies have shown,[24] and Israeli officials themselves conceded[25] that, during its guerrilla war against the Israeli occupying army, Hezbollah only targeted Israeli civilians after Israel targeted Lebanese civilians. In conformity with past practice Hezbollah started firing rockets toward Israeli civilian concentrations during the 2006 war only after Israel inflicted heavy casualties on Lebanese civilians, while Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah avowed that it would target Israeli civilians "as long as the enemy undertakes its aggression without limits or red lines."[26]

If Israel targeted the Lebanese civilian population and infrastructure during the 2006 war, it was not because it had no choice, and not because Hezbollah had provoked it, but because terrorizing the civilian population was a relatively cost-free method of "education," much to be preferred over fighting a real foe and suffering heavy casualties, although Hezbollah’s unexpectedly fierce resistance prevented Israel from achieving a victory on the battlefield. In the case of Gaza it was able both to "educate" the population and achieve a military victory because -- in the words of Gideon Levy -- the "fighting in Gaza" was
"war deluxe." Compared with previous wars, it is child’s play -- pilots bombing unimpeded as if on practice runs, tank and artillery soldiers shelling houses and civilians from their armored vehicles, combat engineering troops destroying entire streets in their ominous protected vehicles without facing serious opposition. A large, broad army is fighting against a helpless population and a weak, ragged organization that has fled the conflict zones and is barely putting up a fight.[27] The justification put forth by Friedman in the pages of the Times for targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure amounted to apologetics for state terrorism.[28] It might be recalled that although Hitler had stripped Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher of all his political power by 1940, and his newspaper Der St_rmer had a circulation of only some 15,000 during the war, the International Tribunal at Nuremberg nonetheless sentenced him to death for his murderous incitement.
Beyond restoring its deterrence capacity, Israel’s main goal in the Gaza slaughter was to fend off the latest threat posed by Palestinian moderation. For the past three decades the international community has consistently supported a settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict that calls for two states based on a full Israeli withdrawal to its June 1967 border, and a "just resolution" of the refugee question based on the right of return and compensation. The vote on the annual U.N. General Assembly resolution, "Peaceful Settlement of the Question of Palestine," supporting these terms for resolving the conflict in 2008 was 164 in favor, 7 against (Israel, United States, Australia, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau), and 3 abstentions. At the regional level the Arab League in March 2002 unanimously put forth a peace initiative on this basis, which it has subsequently reaffirmed. In recent times Hamas has repeatedly signaled its own acceptance of such a settlement. For example, in March 2008 Khalid Mishal, head of Hamas’s Political Bureau, stated in an interview:
There is an opportunity to deal with this conflict in a manner different than Israel and, behind it, the U.S. is dealing with it today. There is an opportunity to achieve a Palestinian national consensus on a political program based on the 1967 borders, and this is an exceptional circumstance, in which most Palestinian forces, including Hamas, accept a state on the 1967 borders….There is also an Arab consensus on this demand, and this is a historic situation. But no one is taking advantage of this opportunity. No one is moving to cooperate with this opportunity. Even this minimum that has been accepted by the Palestinians and the Arabs has been rejected by Israel and by the U.S.[29]
Israel is fully cognizant that the Hamas Charter is not an insurmountable obstacle to a two-state settlement on the June 1967 border. "[T]he Hamas leadership has recognized that its ideological goal is not attainable and will not be in the foreseeable future," a former Mossad head recently observed. "[T]hey are ready and willing to see the establishment of a Palestinian state in the temporary borders of 1967….They know that the moment a Palestinian state is established with their cooperation, they will be obligated to change the rules of the game: They will have to adopt a path that could lead them far from their original ideological goals."[30]

In addition, Hamas was "careful to maintain the ceasefire" it entered into with Israel in June 2008, according to an official Israeli publication, despite Israel’s reneging on the crucial component of the truce that it ease the economic siege of Gaza. "The lull was sporadically violated by rocket and mortar shell fire, carried out by rogue terrorist organizations," the source continues. "At the same time, the [Hamas] movement tried to enforce the terms of the arrangement on the other terrorist organizations and to prevent them from violating it."[31] Moreover, Hamas was "interested in renewing the relative calm with Israel" (Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin).[32] The Islamic movement could thus be trusted to stand by its word, making it a credible negotiating partner, while its apparent ability to extract concessions from Israel, unlike the hapless Palestinian Authority doing Israel’s bidding but getting no returns, enhanced Hamas’s stature among Palestinians. For Israel these developments constituted a veritable disaster. It could no longer justify shunning Hamas, and it would be only a matter of time before international pressure in particular from the Europeans would be exerted on it to negotiate. The prospect of an incoming U.S. administration negotiating with Iran and Hamas, and moving closer to the international consensus for settling the Israel-Palestine conflict, which some U.S. policymakers now advocate,[33] would have further highlighted Israel’s intransigence. In an alternative scenario, speculated on by Nasrallah, the incoming American administration plans to convene an international peace conference of "Americans, Israelis, Europeans and so-called Arab moderates" to impose a settlement. The one obstacle is "Palestinian resistance and the Hamas government in Gaza," and "getting rid of this stumbling block is…the true goal of the war."[34] In either case, Israel needed to provoke Hamas into breaking the truce, and then radicalize or destroy it, thereby eliminating it as a legitimate negotiating partner. It is not the first time Israel confronted such a diabolical threat -- an Arab League peace initiative, Palestinian support for a two-state settlement and a Palestinian ceasefire -- and not the first time it embarked on provocation and war to overcome it.

In the mid-1970s the PLO mainstream began supporting a two-state settlement on the June 1967 border. In addition, the PLO, headquartered in Lebanon, was strictly adhering to a truce with Israel that had been negotiated in July 1981.[35] In August 1981 Saudi Arabia unveiled, and the Arab League subsequently approved, a peace plan based on the two-state settlement.[36] Israel reacted in September 1981 by stepping up preparations to destroy the PLO.[37] In his analysis of the buildup to the 1982 Lebanon war, Israeli strategic analyst Avner Yaniv reported that Yasser Arafat was contemplating a historic compromise with the "Zionist state," whereas "all Israeli cabinets since 1967" as well as "leading mainstream doves" opposed a Palestinian state. Fearing diplomatic pressures, Israel maneuvered to sabotage the two-state settlement. It conducted punitive military raids "deliberately out of proportion" against "Palestinian and Lebanese civilians" in order to weaken "PLO moderates," strengthen the hand of Arafat’s "radical rivals," and guarantee the PLO’s "inflexibility." However, Israel eventually had to choose between a pair of stark options: "a political move leading to a historic compromise with the PLO, or preemptive military action against it." To fend off Arafat’s "peace offensive" -- Yaniv’s telling phrase -- Israel embarked on military action in June 1982. The Israeli invasion "had been preceded by more than a year of effective ceasefire with the PLO," but after murderous Israeli provocations, the last of which left as many as 200 civilians dead (including 60 occupants of a Palestinian children’s hospital), the PLO finally retaliated, causing a single Israeli casualty.[38] Although Israel used the PLO’s resumption of attacks as the pretext for its invasion, Yaniv concluded that the "raison d’être of the entire operation" was "destroying the PLO as a political force capable of claiming a Palestinian state on the West Bank."[39] It deserves passing notice that in his new history of the "peace process," Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, provides this capsule summary of the sequence of events just narrated: "In 1982, Arafat’s terrorist activities eventually provoked the Israeli government of Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon into a full-scale invasion of Lebanon."[40]

Fast forward to 2008. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni stated in early December 2008 that although Israel wanted to create a temporary period of calm with Hamas, an extended truce "harms the Israeli strategic goal, empowers Hamas, and gives the impression that Israel recognizes the movement."[41] Translation: a protracted ceasefire that enhanced Hamas’s credibility would have undermined Israel’s strategic goal of retaining control of the West Bank. As far back as March 2007 Israel had decided on attacking Hamas, and only negotiated the June truce because "the Israeli army needed time to prepare."[42] Once all the pieces were in place, Israel only lacked a pretext. On 4 November, while the American media were riveted on election day, Israel broke the ceasefire by killing seven Palestinian militants, on the flimsy excuse that Hamas was digging a tunnel to abduct Israeli soldiers, and knowing full well that its operation would provoke Hamas into hitting back. "Last week’s ‘ticking tunnel,’ dug ostensibly to facilitate the abduction of Israeli soldiers," Haaretz reported in mid-November
was not a clear and present danger: Its existence was always known and its use could have been prevented on the Israeli side, or at least the soldiers stationed beside it removed from harm’s way. It is impossible to claim that those who decided to blow up the tunnel were simply being thoughtless. The military establishment was aware of the immediate implications of the measure, as well as of the fact that the policy of "controlled entry" into a narrow area of the Strip leads to the same place: an end to the lull. That is policy -- not a tactical decision by a commander on the ground.[43]
After Hamas predictably resumed its rocket attacks "[i]n retaliation" (Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center),[44] Israel could embark on yet another murderous invasion in order to foil yet another Palestinian peace offensive.

1. Gideon Levy, "The Time of the Righteous," Haaretz (9 January 2009).

2. Ethan Bronner, "In Israel, A Consensus That Gaza War Is a Just One," New York Times (13 January 2009).

3. 29 December 2008; www.democracynow.org/2008/12/29/israeli_attacks_kill_over_310_in.

4. Richard Wilson, "Incomplete or Inaccurate Information Can Lead to Tragically Incorrect Decisions to Preempt: The example of OSIRAK," paper presented at Erice, Sicily (18 May 2007; updated 9 February 2008; www.normanfinkelstein.com/article.php?pg=11&ar=1589).

5. Ethan Bronner, "Israel Reminds Foes That It Has Teeth," New York Times (29 December 2008).

6. Benny Morris, "Why Israel Feels Threatened," New York Times (30 December 2008).

7. "Memorandum for the Record" (1 June 1967), Foreign Relations of the United States, vol. XIX, Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1967 (Washington, DC: 2004).

8. Tom Segev, 1967: Israel, the war, and the year that transformed the Middle East (New York: 2007), p. 293, my emphasis.

9. Zeev Maoz, Defending the Holy Land: A critical analysis of Israel's security and foreign policy (Ann Arbor: 2006), p. 89.

10. William Arkin, Divining Victory: Airpower in the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war (Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: 2007), pp. xxi, xxv-xxvi, 25, 54, 64, 135, 147-48.

11. Andrew Exum, Hizballah at War: A military assessment (Washington Institute for Near East Policy: December 2006), pp. 9, 11-12.

12. Benny Morris, "A Second Holocaust? The Threat to Israel" (2 May 2008; www.mideastfreedomforum.org/de/node/66).

13. Yaron London, "The Dahiya Strategy" (6 October 2008; www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3605863,00.html); Gabriel Siboni, "Disproportionate Force: Israel's concept of response in light of the Second Lebanon War," Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), 2 October 2008. Attila Somfalvi, "Sheetrit: We should level Gaza neighborhoods" (2 October 2008; www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3504922,00.html).

14. "Israeli General Says Hamas Must Not Be the Only Target in Gaza," IDF Radio, Tel Aviv, in Hebrew 0600 gmt (26 December 2008), BBC Monitoring Middle East; Tova Dadon, "Deputy Chief of Staff: Worst still ahead" (29 December 2008; http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-36466558,00.html); www.btselem.org/English/Gaza_Strip/20081231_Gaza_Letter_to_Mazuz.asp.

15. Seumas Milne, "Israel's Onslaught on Gaza is a Crime That Cannot Succeed," Guardian (30 December 2008).

16. Reuven Pedatzur, "The Mistakes of Cast Lead," Haaretz(8 January 2009).

17. Morris, "Why Israel Feels Threatened."

18. B. Michael, "Déjà Vu in Gaza" (29 December 2008; www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3646558,00.html).

19. Gideon Levy, "Twilight Zone/Trumpeting for War," Haaretz (2 January 2009).

20. Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, "Israel and Hamas Are Both Paying a Steep Price in Gaza," Haaretz (10 January 2009); Ari Shavit, "Analysis: Israel's victories in Gaza make up for its failures in Lebanon," Haaretz (12 January 2009); Guy Bechor, "A Dangerous Victory" (12 January 2009; www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3654505,00.html).

21. Thomas L. Friedman, "Israel's Goals in Gaza?," New York Times (14 January 2009).

22. Human Rights Watch, Why They Died: Civilian casualties in Lebanon during the 2006 war (New York: 2007), pp. 5, 14, 40-41, 45-46, 48, 51, 53.

23. Stephen Biddle and Jeffrey A. Friedman, The 2006 Lebanon Campaign and the Future of Warfare: Implications for army and defense policy (Carlisle, PA: 2008), pp. 43-44, 45.

24. Human Rights Watch, Civilian Pawns: Laws of war violations and the use of weapons on the Israel-Lebanon border (New York: 1996); Maoz, Defending the Holy Land, pp. 213-14, 224-25, 252; Augustus Richard Norton, Hezbollah: A short history (Princeton: 2007), pp. 77, 86.

25. Judith Palmer Harik, Hezbollah: The changing face of terrorism (London: 2004), pp. 167-68.

26. Human Rights Watch, Civilians Under Attack: Hezbollah's rocket assault on Israel in the 2006 war (New York: 2007), p. 100. HRW asserts that Hezbollah rocket attacks on Israeli civilians were not retaliatory but provides no supporting evidence.

27. Gideon Levy, "The IDF Has No Mercy for the Children in Gaza Nursery Schools," Haaretz (15 January 2009).

28. Glenn Greenwald, "Tom Friedman Offers a Perfect Definition of ‘Terrorism'" (14 January 2009; www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2009/01/14/friedman/).

29. Mouin Rabbani, "A Hamas Perspective on the Movement's Evolving Role: An interview with Khalid Mishal, Part II," Journal of Palestine Studies (Summer 2008).

30. "What Hamas Wants," Mideast Mirror (22 December 2008).

31. Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Israel Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center, The Six Months of the Lull Arrangement (December 2008), pp. 2, 6, 7.

32. "Hamas Wants Better Terms for Truce," Jerusalem Post (21 December 2008). Diskin told the Israeli cabinet that Hamas would renew the truce if Israel lifted the siege of Gaza, stopped military attacks and extended the truce to the West Bank.

33. Richard N. Haass and Martin Indyk, "Beyond Iraq: A new U.S. strategy for the Middle East," and Walter Russell Mead, "Change They Can Believe In: To make Israel safe, give Palestinians their due," in Foreign Affairs, January-February 2009.

34. Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah's Speech Delivered at the Central Ashura Council, 31 December 2008.

35. Noam Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle: the United States, Israel and the Palestinians (Boston: 1983), chaps. 3, 5.

36. Yehuda Lukacs (ed), The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: a documentary record, 1967-1990 (Cambridge: 1992), pp. 477-79.

37. Yehoshaphat Harkabi, Israel's Fateful Hour (New York: 1988), p. 101.

38. Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation: The abduction of Lebanon (New York: 1990), pp. 197, 232.

39. Avner Yaniv, Dilemmas of Security: Politics, strategy and the Israeli experience in Lebanon (Oxford: 1987), pp. 20-23, 50-54, 67-70, 87-89, 100-1, 105-6, 113, 143.

40. Martin Indyk, Innocent Abroad: An intimate account of American peace diplomacy in the Middle East (New York: 2009), p. 75.

41. Saed Bannoura, "Livni Calls for a Large Scale Military Offensive in Gaza," IMEMC & Agencies (10 December 2008; www.imemc.org/article/57960).

42. Uri Blau, "IDF Sources: Conditions not yet optimal for Gaza exit," Haaretz (8 January 2009); Barak Ravid, "Disinformation, Secrecy, and Lies: How the Gaza offensive came about," Haaretz (28 December 2008).

43. Zvi Bar'el, "Crushing the Tahadiyeh," Haaretz (16 November 2008). Cf. Uri Avnery, "The Calculations behind Israel's Slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza" (2 January 2009; www.redress.cc/palestine/uavnery20080102).

44. The Six Months of the Lull Arrangement, p. 3.