Friday, November 23, 2012

Gaza & The Not So Slow Decline Of Israel

Not alone any more: Egyptian protestors in Tahrir last year
In some ways what just went down in Gaza was business as usual. Israel provoked a mini-war with Gaza killing a leading Hamas politician (who was, in fact, the chief negotiator for a long term ceasefire with Israel) after engaging in its "normal" policies of drone flights, missile strikes and, of course, economy-crippling embargoes. In the process they killed some Palestinians, primarily civilians, many of them children. The USA publicly backed every act of brutality and every lie of the Israeli government and military. Hamas, and other factions of the Palestinian resistance were hopelessly outgunned, while Abbas and the PLO were craven, irrelevant and despised by many Palestinians for being so. Most of the Israeli public cheered on the IDF and hoped for more Palestinian death and destruction.

And yet, things couldn't have been much different from one, let alone three decades ago. In the face of changes in the Middle East, not least the Arab Spring that kicked off last year, Israel is a European settler-colony in decline.

The changes are in many ways rooted in the economic developments of the Arab world that have pulled literally tens of millions of people into the cities - creating more workers, more literate people, more connected people. Turkey alone is industrializing with China-like speed, transforming the country and increasing its weight in the region. Alongside this has been a growing political awakening that received significant boosts from the two Iraq wars, the second Palestinian intifada and the indefatigability of Hizbullah in Lebanon. And the post-war, post-colonial set-ups, which often saw significant concessions to the masses by nationalist anti-colonial regimes – the Ba'ath party in Syria and Iraq, Nasser in Egypt, etc. – has been replaced by rapacious, go it alone neo-liberalism, creating resentment and class polarization.

Of course, this hasn't only affected Israel's standing as a few Arab dictators could woefully tell you - soon to be joined by Assad in Syria (I give him three months, tops). The accumulation of all those changes I indicated above were, at some point, bound to come together in an explosion. And what an explosion it has turned out to be. The Middle East is going through the kind of historic transformation that happens once in a century.

But neither has Israel been spared from this process. In many ways it had been spared from the more dramatic impacts of what was going on around it for the simple reason that it is the recipient of billions of economy boosting dollars in "foreign aid" from the USA (et al). It also receives the most advanced weaponry on the planet - often for free - from the USA. In fundamentals, Israel is a Sparta, an armed camp or, if you will, the USA's largest military base. Still, sooner or later, it was bound to catch up.

The first signs of how things were changing came from the invasion of Lebanon in 2006 (though I'm certain people could trace it back even further). Here was the IDF - an undefeated and feared military. It had launched wars before - pretty much every war, other than 1973 - and it had always won. In 2006, while it destroyed villages and neighbourhoods, and killed over 1000 people, it was forced to flee back to Israel. Hizbullah showed the whole of the Middle East (and the world) that Israel could be defeated and humiliated.

One year later Israel and the USA tried to depose Hamas in Gaza, though it had been chosen democratically in an election that was imposed upon Gaza - again, by the USA and Israel. And just as their forced election blew up in their faces, so did the attempt to foment a Fatah-led coup d'etat. Fatah was too corrupt and weak and Hamas simply drove them out of Gaza. In anger at their own stupidity and foreign policy failure, Israel imposed a near-total blockade of Gaza's economy. The idea was to put the Palestinians "on a diet" to cripple their ability to resist.

One year after that, in 2008, Israel invaded Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, wreaking wide destruction and killing over 1,000 Palestinians - again, mostly civilians. Israel's goal was to destroy Hamas - not stop rocket fire, which Hamas had effectively policed after agreeing a truce with Israel, which Israel repeatedly broke. Not only did Israel fail to dislodge Hamas, they generated an enormous amount of global criticism, which helped to create the movement to break the Gaza blockade. That movement spurred Turkey to break all ties with Israel, once its only Muslim ally in the region.

Now, here we are in 2012, still in the throes of the Arab Spring, which has deposed Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, once the region's greatest protector of the Israel/US hegemony in the Middle East. Israel is more isolated than it has perhaps ever been, with no regional friends whatsoever (though Morsi in Egypt is more moderate than his supporters and also more open to accepting the Camp David peace settlement as well - popularly hated in Egypt). This time Israel couldn't even invade Gaza. And, in proportion, as the popular voices in Israel became more shrill, with calls to wipe Gaza off the map and impose a Holocaust on the Palestinians, etc. Israel was more constrained from doing so.

Israel started this latest war by murdering Hamas' military leader and chief negotiator. And they have ended it by allowing Hamas to demonstrate that it is growing more powerful, more able to strike inside Israel. They have also agreed a ceasefire - that Israel will break, like all others - that includes an end to the blockade and the policy of targeted killings inside Gaza. Moreover, Egypt gave no commitment to stop the flow of arms into Gaza. It's no wonder that Netanyahu is being assailed from all sides. He presided over another humiliation that has left their comprador ally, Abbas, even more despised and discredited.

With this secular decline of Israel's role and power in the region, one wonders how long the Americans will continue to sponsor their favourite regional gendarme. What will be the next crisis for Israel and will it lead to its further isolation?

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