Friday, January 23, 2009

Time Will Tell

The war is over in Israel, or rather, this battle has ended. There will always be another one. There always has been. The best that can be said of this one is it was run well. About 850 rockets fell on Israel; nothing like the 4,000 that Hezbollah fired at the north in 2006. Then, a million people fled their homes.

Then, the Israeli army arrived to fight Hezbollah, but they arrived with no battle plan, no water, food, and sometimes no ammunition awaiting them. This time the army had a plan they'd been drawing up for two years, extensively training troops for months.

Barak the professional soldier turned politician was an entirely different ballgame than Peretz the politician turned unqualified and thus incompetent Minister of Defense. Gabi Ashkenazi, the Chief -Of-Staff, kept his head down and did his job, rather than strutting arrogantly in front of the cameras bragging about ill-conceived and poorly executed battle-plans like his predecessor Dan Halutz. And most of all, Hamas ducked and hid when the IDF rolled into Gaza. This was a walk in the park compared to 2006.

Last night Israel Television’s Channel 10 reported that during operation Cast Lead the Israeli Navy intercepted an Iranian ship on the way to Gaza. The Navy found long-range missiles that military intelligence says were meant not for Hamas in the south but for Hezbollah in the North.

Analysts stress that Iran is seeking to replace Egypt as the leader of the Arab world. Who can blame them? Everyone wants to be the boss, the hero, the success. Politicians like Iran’s President Achminijad long for the limelight. Dictators always do. Now we have Barak Obama to confront him. Maybe that will work.

Observers of the Middle East point out that honor is one of the greatest underlying factors in the Arab-Israeli conflict. In the Israeli 1948 ‘War of Independence,’ the Arabs assembled their mightiest army to confront and defeat the 'infidels' but were soundly and astonishingly beaten back by a small force of Jews. This insult has not been forgotten.

Since then other insults have been handed to them, usually with violence. The checkpoints set up between the West Bank and Israel, and Gaza and Israel added to the problem. Arab workers, businessmen, housewives, pregnant women, were insulted on a daily basis by 18-year old IDF soldiers with guns. These Arabs, most of whom only wanted to go peacefully from point A to point B, were harassed, made to wait for hours in the sun and rain, sometimes denied passage.

Of course, with suicide bombers and dangerous terrorists on the lose, Israel had every right to do what they did. Of course sometimes the Arabs were abuses by the soldiers, but sometimes given humanitarian aid. This situation could not, and cannot be altered. The reality is that some Arabs are out to kill Jews, and the innocent Arabs, get caught up in the filter, clogging the checkpoints.

Bottom line, you've got a lot of angry, insulted Arabs. You’ve got teenagers who have seen their mothers and fathers and sisters humiliated at the checkpoints. Proud Arab men who have seen their wives insulted by Israeli teenagers with guns. Family honor is cherished by Arabs. This honor is consistently battered by Israelis.

Imagine going into work, herded into a cement enclosure, having to uncomfortably wait in a noisy crowd for an hour or two, finally glared at by young, suspicious, perhaps frightened, border guards ready to pounce as you walk, head down, staring at the ground, through the checkpoint?

Then at night, the same thing in reverse, finally reaching home, sitting down at the dinner table, facing the family as the ‘Man’, carrying the embarrassment like a heavy burden. Honor is one of the keys to the problem of the conflict, say the pundits.

Israeli author David Grossman suggests the time has come to talk. That fighting doesn’t solve the problems. Maybe the newly elected U.S. President Barak Obama understands that. Maybe giving Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran some honor will work. But maybe it is just turning over Czechoslovakia to Hitler.

You may recall British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s “Peace for our time" speech on 30 September 1938 concerning the Munich Agreement, when Chamberlain gave the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia to Adolph Hitler in an attempt to satisfy his desire for Lebensraum or "living space" for Germany. The German occupation of the Sudetenland began on the next day, 1 October.

We'll see if Obama is Roosevelt or Chamberlain. Some hope he’s Truman.

So far ‘Barry O’ as one right-wing columnist, who we shall not name, and probably shouldn’t quote, disparagingly called U.S. President Barak Obama, ‘has decided to talk to terrorists, free suspects from detention, and put pressure on Israel for a peaceful solution to the Middle East crises.’ The columnist wondered where Barak got the idea Israel has the ability to do that.

‘But we'll see,’ wrote the columnist. ‘He wants to pull out of Iraq. I doubt he'll ever get around to talking the Taliban into peace. He may be right. Or not. But now, let’s consider this: he has an Arab name, but is a proud patriotic America. He is a rock-star. He can do no wrong. He is the epitome of the 'celebrity' culture. He surrounds himself with Jewish advisors. His chief-of-staff comes from a Zionist family. The joke is he has a minyan provided for his staff.

‘Then he goes to the torture chambers set-up to catch dangerous terrorists and closes them down. He goes to Guantánamo Bay and releases, among others, a leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch from the US interrogation and holding facility in Cuba. He says he’ll close it down within a year. He stops all the trials. He will ultimately release all the prisoners.

‘Then he back off pressuring Iran. This according to some allows Iran to quickstep their nuclear program. Momar Ghadaffi, the Lybian leader, suggests Obama speak to Bin Ladin, the terrorist chieftain responsible for bombing the twin towers, and other heinous crimes.

‘Two days in office, and already some are wondering if indeed those who questioned Obama's loyalties weren't right. If perhaps this is the "Manchurian Candidate", updated, all over again?’

Sometimes the hapless bureaucrat like the Robert Redford character in ’Three Days of the Condor’ stumble onto an unpleasant truth simply by accident. Let’s hope that our right-wing columnist isn’t like that.