Sunday, January 4, 2009

Gaza: Could Israel Lose?

The fifth largest army in the world, equipped with nuclear weapons and the full-backing of the most powerful empire in world history, has just invaded the Gaza Strip. It is fighting against a people in one of the poorest, most densely populated regions on the planet - and they have endured years of a total blockade of all entry points that have all but starved the people and destroyed the economy. 
It seems foregone that Israel will utterly crush Hamas and all Palestinian resistance. That's certainly the attitude of even Fatah, which had previously led the Palestinian national liberation movement. Why else capitulate so thoroughly to Israel's apartheid agenda, other than a belief that nothing else is possible but to lead an eviscerated bantustan?
But will it? Let's consider the possibility that Israel could lose their war against the Palestinian people in Gaza.


Obviously the Palestinians are outgunned. However, so were Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006 when Israel was thoroughly humiliated by failing to achieve any of its constantly changing stated objectives. Hezbollah, and the politics of anti-imperialist resistance, received a huge boost as a result of that war, which also undermined regional quisling powers like the Mubarak dictatorship and the craven Hashemite monarchy in Jordan.
And the defeat in Lebanon highlights a key point made by Alexander Cockburn at 
"The last time Israel had an effective military campaign that could be called a victory was 27 years ago, in the 1982 attack on Lebanon. Hamas has been greatly strengthened by the current attack and the status of President Abbas reaffirmed as a spineless collaborator with Israel;Mubarak likewise; Syria and Turkey alienated from Western designs; Hezbollah and Iran vindicated by the world condemnation of Israel’s barbarous conduct."
In fact, as he also argues, "Although ruthless and horrifying Israel’s onslaughts on Gaza are evidently an expression of weakness..."
Israel's leaders are thus striking against Gaza based upon a desperate need to restore Israel's deterrence and prestige, and short-term electoral calculations, rather than any real belief that they can win any lasting victory. After all, this is the third time since Israel's unilateral withdrawal that Gaza has been invaded - each time to no effect. Rather than achieving any of the stated, nebulous, goals (deja vu Lebanon, 2006), the "world isn't just watching the Israeli government commit a crime in Gaza; we are watching it self-harm."
Unless Israel is able to utterly smash Hamas - an unlikely prospect given its wide support and deep roots - all they will achieve within Palestine, besides wide-spread destruction, is more support for the resistance movement. And it may well be the case that Israel is forced to lift the siege of Gaza's economy to achieve an internationally backed ceasefire.
There is good reason to expect that this will be the case and that a further political crisis will follow inside of Israel, given Israel's record in the last three decades.
"The three last major conflicts entered into by Israel — Yom Kippur in 1973, Lebanon 1982 and Lebanon 2006 — have cost the jobs of three defence ministers, curtailed the military careers of commanders and weakened prime ministers.
"So the current Israeli leadership will have to pull off something special to survive the fallout from operation Cast Lead."
In the context where only 19 percent of Israelis supported a ground invasion and where tens of thousands have already demonstrated inside of Israel against this latest adventure, the stakes are high for the present Israeli leadership.
And the sight of the carnage being wrought by Israel is undermining it internationally as masses of people mobilize in Europe and North America - key bastions of support and money for Israel. 


The present invasion is likely weakening Israel's support base within the Jewish community for whom the Zionist state claims to speak. Already, there has been a long term decline in Jewish identification with Israel. 
Barely a majority of young Jews in a 2005 survey by the ultra-Zionist Israel Project identified themselves as "strong supporters of Israel" - part of a 20 year decline in support. And the number of Jews who defended Israel regularly was barely a third. 
This reinforces a 2008 survey by the "pro-Israel, pro-peace" J Street, which found only 8 percent of Jews in the US felt that Israel was an important enough issue to decide for whom they would vote. As well, 78 percent supported a two state solution and 76 percent supported negotiating with Hamas. This puts Jews firmly in the mainstream of American opinion on the question. 
In fact, while the Israel Project's survey states that two-thirds of American's believe that Jerusalem should stay entirely under Israel's control and that only 20 percent believe it should be divided, J Street's survey indicates that 44 percent of US Jews accept the idea of Palestinian neighbourhoods in Jerusalem falling under control of a Palestinian state. 
In addition, while 59 percent of Jews support the idea of dismantling most West Bank settlements to achieve a lasting peace, the Israel Project survey of the general US population suggests that 52 percent think Israel shouldn't have to and 70 percent believe Israel should be able to trade other land, rather than move settlers.
Now, the results of both surveys should be taken with a large grain of salt, with poll questions so tilted to the ideological bias of the organizations that commissioned them as to be scientifically laughable. But they do indicate that American Jews are not somehow especially pro-Israel - if anything they are more critical of Israel than the general population in the United States.
American Jews - and this must surely apply to Jews in the UK, Canada and around the world - are just as apt to move into political opposition to Israel as the general population. That means that mass mobilizations that erupt - like the ones involving tens and hundreds of thousands that have already happened - can undermine a key ideological foundation for Israel. This war could put Israel's position as a key military and ideological prop in the war on terror at risk.
This will be especially the case if Hamas, like Hezbollah, fights Israel to a standstill or makes the cost of the war high in terms of Israeli soldiers and the comforts of Israeli citizens and settlers. There should be no illusions that Hamas can "defeat" Israel but they can, as with all asymmetrical warfare, wear down the enemy. 
But even in the unlikely event that Israel is able to achieve a "total victory" there is still the growing danger that the Arab anger this present brutality has unleashed will destroy the American empire's already shaky hegemony in the Middle East. In Egypt there have been demonstrations involving hundreds of thousands, feeding into a pre-existing movement for labour rights and democratic change. In Lebanon Israel's slaughter will strengthen Hezbollah and other resistance organizations. The rule of Jordan's "liberal" monarchy is also being tested as the Saudi regime's regional and domestic leadership is undermined. The Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 is now truly dead - perhaps the last gasp of the two state solution and any claim by Arab leaders to be able to provide a way out of the impasse.
If these regimes begin to collapse - and Egypt's is the one to watch - it will signal the collapse of four decades of work to create a compliant network of pro-American regimes, with Egypt as the jewel in the crown. America's rulers, already frustrated with Israel's failure in Lebanon to weaken Iran, may begin to raise graver doubts about the utility of Israel's Iron Wall strategy.
Israel truly has everything to lose in this battle and very little that it can possibly gain. Fifty years should have made clear that the spirit of the Palestinians cannot be broken. And the time has passed when it would be politically possible for Israel to exterminate or totally cleanse the Palestinian population. The end game may yet be a long way off, but that it approaches shouldn't be doubted.

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