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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Israel: winning battles, losing the war.


Spring is here!

As the old marching cadence goes, "what makes the grass grow?  Blood.  Blood.  Blood." 

Or, alternately, we can always hum few bars from Ween’s classic tune, "push the little daisies."

Revolutions are ugly things.  And revolutions happen because ugly things have been happening.

(Note, some of the links on this page will take you to videos and photographs of unpleasant things – consider yourself warned)

I'm sorry I haven't been updating every day, but with my limited time I often find myself having to choose between keeping up on things and writing about things.  As good as it feels to update my blog daily, there is also a value to me keeping abreast of the things I am presuming to write about.

So...A speedy Middle East overview:

At this point there are four main hotspots: Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria.

Algeria is still teetering on the brink, the events in Iraq are relatively indistinguishable from their state before the Arab Spring (I'm sorry to be so dismissive, but Iraq's problems are of a very different stripe than the rest of the Arab world).

Oman, Jordan, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia have all experienced protests, but not to the degree that their neighbors have.

Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait are all fairly quiet right now (one of the advantages of being small and rich). 

Egypt and Tunisia are pushing towards a post-autocratic future as best they can with varying degrees of success.

Iran and Lebanon have their own sort of equilibrium – both of them are seething under the surface, but not in any sort of fashion that is easy to explain to an unfamiliar observer. 

So I guess that's about where things stand right now.

Have I forgotten anything?

Oh.  Yeah.

Israel and Palestine. 

The Siamese twin arch-enemies.  Let's begin there, shall we?

As the protests and revolutions have spread throughout the middle east, Israel has been somewhat left out, which is just as well for them, given the turmoil that their own political situation is undergoing – splits in the dominant political party, controversies over military appointees, and the recent rape conviction of former president Moshe Katsav.

The most visible effects of the Arab spring in Israel have come in the form of a recent surge in mortar and grad rocket attacks on Israeli towns near the gaza border, the horrific murder of the Foegel family in the west bank settlement of Itamar, a bomb going off in Jerusalem, and Israel's military and political reactions to all of those events.

The thing is, these events aren’t actually expressions of the Arab Spring - they are instead desperate actions by groups who stand to lose influence and power in the event of a real Palestinian unity movement.  As I’ve stated before, these incidents are intended to goad Israel into a disproportionate response in order to generate support for the various militant Islamist organizations operating in Gaza. To say that they are the work of Hamas is not really accurate, but Hamas certainly stands to benefit from anything that draws attention away from themselves and catalyzes the public mood against Israel.

The degree to which Hamas fears a genuine Palestinian unity movement can be seen in the ferocity with which they lashed out against the rally in Gaza city last week – their power is slipping and they know it.

Anyway, a Palestinian unity movement would be disastrous for both Hamas and Fateh (And probably for the Israeli government as well).  So instead we get what we have seen over the past few days: a resumption of aggressive actions against Israel, and unflinching retaliation on the part of the Israeli military.  This actually creates an interesting opportunity for Israel's military industrial complex - the Iron Dome.

This is the next-generation of antimissile defense.  Radar guided antimissile missile launcher that detects rockets and shoots them out of the sky with faster rockets.

Israel is hoping to market these to other militaries, and the situation presents them with the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the units as "field-tested".  The IDF has stated that they will be moving one of the units into place over the next few days, so I guess that's something we can all look forward to watching.

Here’s The problem: with the implementation of the Iron Dome Israel may have a new weapon in their national defense arsenal, but the Palestinian people also have a new tool, the same one that has been used in Syria, Bahrain and Libya to powerful effect - the ubiquitous camera.

Watch this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=218IEpLCPrE and think about its significance.

In the same way that the events of three days ago in the Syrian town of Daraa were being viewed around the world within a matter of minutes, and the way that the brutality of Libyan protesters shot to pieces by antiaircraft guns was immediately displayed for the world to see (I'm not going to give you a link - the pictures are horrific), the consequences of each and every one of Israel's actions will be looking out of computer monitors and smart phone screens across the Middle East and around the world.

When "Cast Lead" went into action in 2008, twitter did not exist, camera phones were still something of a novelty, and Facebook was still largely the domain of college students.

In 2009, when Neda, a young Iranian girl on her way to a piano lesson in Tehran was struck by a stray police bullet during the post-election protests she was dead in less than five minutes.  As bystanders tried to help her, one stood and filmed. The video of her death was online before her body was cold.

Over the past three days more than a dozen Palestinians have died in Israeli strikes - at least four of them children.  Many more will die in the days and weeks to come. Only some of them will have had any connection to the attacks on Israel, but all of their pictures will be posted on the internet.

Of course, Israel has cell phones with cameras as well, but pictures of a missile that didn't hit anything doesn't really have the same impact as shaky handheld footage of family members pulling their children out of the rubble of their parents’ houses.

Israel is making some very bad strategic decisions right now.

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