Saturday, October 28, 2023

Israel's arrogance dooms it

Nagorno Karabach

In 1993 Armenians from Nagorno Karabach aiming for independence conquered a large part of Azerbaijan. In the following years they rejected proposals that would recognize their independence in exchange for giving up most of the extra Azeri territory that they had conquered.

Azerbaijan has 10 million inhabitants and is supported by Turkey. Armenia has only 3 million inhabitants. Yet the Armenians were confident that they would be able to maintain their military dominance forever.

We know how it ended: last month all Armenians were ethnically cleansed from Nagorno Karabach.

Israel is in a very similar position and is making the same mistake. Israel has 9 million inhabitants (7 million of them Jews). Israel, Gaza and the Westbank alone together contain more than 7 million Palestinians. In addition they have the support from the the Arab world (350 million people) and the Muslim world (over 1 billion people).

Like the Armenians Israel is confident about its military superiority. But it is unlikely that it will be able to maintain that forever. It may take another 10 or 100 years but there will come a time when they are weaker than the Palestinians. And if by that time they haven’t forged some kind of compromise with them they may lose big.

In fact there is already some reason to doubt Israel’s military superiority. When Israel won the wars of 1956, 1967 and 1973 it still contained quite a few veterans from the Second World War while such veterans were absent on the other side. If a war would break out now it would face 100,000 Hezbollah fighers with battle experience from the Syrian civil war. In contrast its own fighters don’t have such experience.

Israel still has superior weapons, Hamas and Hezbollah lack an air force and air defense and Israel is supported by the US. But there is no guarantee that US support may last forever. And Israel’s Arab neighbors do have a modren army.

Israel’s atom weapon isn’t a guarantee either: there is already an Islamic nuclear bomb in Pakistan that was developed with Saudi money.

Colonial mindset

What Israel and Armenia have in common is contempt for their adversaries. They see them as some type of inferior people and believe that they will never grow up to become an equal adversary.

The way Israel treats the Palestinians is reminiscent of the way the Indians were treated in 19th century America: a pattern of never ending lies and injustices.

Similar views of a segment of the population could be found in colonial societies and apartheid South Africa. It is no coincidence that Israels system is often called apartheid.

In such a mindset the people that are seen as inferior are often described as almost animals. When they show themselves recalcitrant they are often subjected to severe punishment, as we can now see happening in Gaza. It is genuinely believed that such terror will work.

One story I have seen several times recently is how Israel bombed the houses of Hezbollah leaders during the invasion in Lebanon after Hezbollah had attacked Israel. The story always ends with the contented observation that the Hezbollah leaders later said that they wouldn’t have attacked when they had known that Israel would react so severely.

Israel is deceiving itself. The colonial powers used similar methods. Yet none was able to keep its colonies. They should also have studied the life of Shamil Basayev, one of the most infamous Chechen terrorists. He became such a radical after in 1995 eleven members of his family including his mother, his two children and a brother and sister had been killed in a Russian air raid.

We still don’t know what motivated the killings by Hamas during their invasion in Israeli territory on 7 October. It seems that a large part was killed by the ISraeli army that completely ignored the presence of Israeli citizens and resorted to heavy shelling when it reconquered some kibbutzes. Some of them may have been done by Palestinians not connected to Hamas who took the opportunity to leave Gaza and explore the area “liberated“ by their Hamas fellow Gazians. But it is a fact that Mohammed Deif, the military commander of Hamas lost his wife and daughter in an Israeli bombing in 2014.

Ethnic cleansing

One “solution“ that seems increasingly popular in Israel is the complete ethnic cleansing of Gaza whereby all its inhabitant should be driven out into Egypt. In its simplicity it is seductive. Unfortunately the US seems to support this initiative by pressuring Egypt to open its borders.

Yes, it can work. But, as the Armenians of Nagorno Karabach experienced, it can also be a template that later is used to cleanse you. When you dominate you can set a template for how the sides will relate in the future. When your message is that they cannot live in peace together as equals that may come back to haunt you.

There are several reasons to expect that the Arab world will not be happy to cooperate. They see a major precedent problem: if a cleansing of Gaza is successful it is quite likely the Westbank will be next. And even that will not be enough: biblical Israel included parts of Jordan and Southern Lebanon. And king David’s empire ran up to the Euphates. Israeli extremists will be happy to grab any excuse to start a war to annexate all these territories too. On the internet you can find images like the following:

It is unlikely that things will come that far. But it is clear that ambitious politicians will always find excuses to grab territory to please aggressive nationalists.

Peace requires that the sides recognize each other as equals. Ethnic cleansing will just move the borders but leave the conflict intact.

The alternative

The alternative is that Israel finally recognizes that the rights of the Palestinians. That will result in a two-state solution.

Israel is the product of ethnic cleansing. There is no denial possible about that. But Israel can conclude an agreement with the Palestinians (and the Arabs more in general) in which they give up their expansionist goals in exchange for the Palestinians accepting that Israel is here to stay.

As Israel is at the moment the dominant party it will be the hardest for it to make that deal. It takes a leader with a vision like Rabin. Unfortunately Israel is nowadays ruled by the opportunist Netanyahu whose only goal seems to be to stay in power.

Israel likes to paint Palestinians as terrorists who will never accept the existence of Israel. But there are lots of signals that even Hamas will accept it given a decent deal. Israel’s claim is just an excuse for not making concessions and keeping the process of grabbing Palestinian land in the Westbank going.

Of course it is possible that a small faction of the Palestians will reject the deal and keep making terrorist attacks. But Israel can deal with that and they will slowly fade away. And given that Israel contributes to their welfare rather than harms it Israel’s neighbors - including a Palestinian state - will have no reason to support such terrorism.

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