2006-07-15

Israel vs Lebanon (or Syria, Iran, et al.)

In my head, the following paragraph is prerequisite for the ensuing discussion. Call it empathy for a people I consider brothers, or call it fear of being labeled an anti-Semite by hypernationalists - however you want to play it.

Israel has a right to defend herself. The actions taken by her aggressive neighbors are deplorable, and defending Israel's citizens by meeting force with force is absolutely acceptable. Imagine what the national drive for retribution would be in America if Mexico launched 600 missile attacks on Texas over a few days. Israel has just as much right to anger and retaliation as we would have. Factor in that soldiers have been kidnapped - a visceral affront almost worse than death - and their reaction is understandable.

That being said, Israel can no more accomplish her goals via this use of overwhelming force than can my pale shadow mount and impregnate a galloping rhinoceros. To veer dangerously close to the cliche, it is often repeated that a definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results each time. It strikes me that Israel has tried this approach before. The last time they took Lebanon they sent sortie after sortie to kill Yasser Arafat, knocking down a series of apartment buildings in the process. They respond to attacks on their military and civilians by attacking their enemy's infrastructure with a broad offensive. How has that worked for them in the past, I wonder? Through these tactics, they have historically strengthened their most radical enemies.

As a point of illustration, why did northern Ireland's insurgency die off? How did they get it right? What makes them so smart? Everyone knows of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, but proceeding that were necessary changes in the fabric of the people's day-to-day lives. Cribbing from Wikipedia:
Starting around 1995, a phenomenon known as the Celtic Tiger swept the country, largely due to the highly educated, low cost workforce attracting large numbers of overseas companies. From 1996, the country has had a sustainable annual growth rate of over 6% (behind only China and India), and unemployment lower than 4%. During these years, the country has been flooded with more money than the government knows what to do with...
The concomitant expansions of the middle class and diminution of the poverty class was the real key to winning that insurgency. By increasing the number of people that live a stable, comfortable life, free of the desperation that thread-bare existence engenders, the economy of Ireland organically shrank the number of people willing to kill and die for a nebulous independence. The realworld draw of consumerism bests fundamentalism every time.

Therefore, the Israeli reaction to Hamas and Hezbollah is doubly stupid. By responding so forcefully, they kill innocents, radicalizing relatives and friends. But by responding with the destruction of civilian infrastructure, they cripple the economic development that would win the war, preferring to eschew that strategic goal in favor of tactical victories. By the economic benefits of an international airport, or telecommunication links, natural market forces will raise all boats, thereby stabilizing the populace. With a stable, fat and happy life, blowing yourself up doesn't seem like such a sweet trade.

That being said, the situation is different than it was in 1982 when Israel began incubating Hezbollah from a tiny faction to a serious political movement. If I might engage in a touch of Tinkerbell-ism, Hezbollah is now a stakeholder - a bona fide member of the Lebanese government! As such, I hope they cannot easily get away with blundering into such a painful engagement and pulling the entire country with them. The culpability for damage inflicted on the populace and on the infrastructure will hopefully be assigned equally to Israel and Hezbollah, marking that group for decline. Unfortunately, that effect will last only so long, and if Israel's reaction continues down its current path, no amount of clapping will bear out our hopes.

That does not mean, however, that the outcome will be good. Radicalization of otherwise peaceful Arabs is what should be avoided, and Israel just can't seem to help herself.

1 comment:

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