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22 December 03. Conclusions about Israel (or lack thereof)

The debate, as currently framed, is about the Right of Return. We have a large number of people who are in the West Bank and Gaza whose parents and grandparents lived in what is now Israel. They are barred from citizenship and have difficulty entering. So today's essay is about migration law again, and asks the moral question, what should the law be? I'll also discuss the government of the PA [Palestinian Authority].

Caveat: although a positive number of people who are not me refer to me as a `migration scholar', the following is basically an opinion piece. There's no math, just commentary on the moral defensibility of the components of both sides' arguments.

Immigration The immigration question divides into two subparts: restrictions on entry (based on security concerns) and restrictions on citizenship (based on political issues). But first, a few subtopics:

Pre-foundation arguments The territory in question had a Jewish majority when 1948 rolled aroud because of mass migration up to then, in which Jews from N Africa and Eastern Europe started moving in to what were once minority Jewish territories. The A-bias side concludes that this means that it's not really Jewish territory, and shouldn't be a Jewish state.

This is an entirely indefensible argument. The `character' of places change all the time, and to claim that the old character is inherently superior is the definition of xenophobia. E.g., California has gone from primarily Indian character to Spanish character to Anglo character to an increasingly Hispanic and Asian character. With every switch, the old stock complained about the new stock, even though the old stock was the new stock a generation or two before. Hispanics in the Southwest aren't even a new stock—they're a mix of the pre-Anglo Indian and Spanish stocks.

An immediate corrolary is that Israelis' arguments about maintaining Israel's `Jewish character' are equally indefensible [save for one caveat below]. It's a prime example of the invalidity and inconsistencies of these old stock/new stock arguments that one side insists on defending the Jewish character of the place today and ignoring the Arab character it had in the 1800s; while the other side harks over and over again to the Arab character the place had before the Jews moved in, while making catty comments about current attempts to preserve the current Jewish caracter.

So both sides make arguments about what the nation state on top of the land that is now called Israel should be, based upon calculations from basic principles. If anybody ever makes an argument of this sort, I suggest you take pains to ignore them, lest you start becoming dumber by association.

Israelis are racists. Having spent the entirety of the last column explaining that Middle Eastern Arabs are racists, I should point out that Jews are racists too. I remember my mother teaching me that the Hebrew phrase for shoddy craftsmanship literally translates to `Arab work', though she'd been in the States long enough to discuss it all from a third person perspective. The support of migration restrictions against Arabs still has roots in the same xenophobia that all the world's migration restrictions have.

Security concerns So Arabs are harassed at the border of Israel, just as they're harassed at the US border, because people think that they're going to enter the country to kill somebody. Before saying anything about this argument, it should be clear to you that the probability of this being true is significantly higher for Israel than for the USA. Although we have an example of people crossing the border with the sole intent of hurting Americans in September, 2001, it happens all the time in Israel. One side says it's every few months, and the other side says it's daily.

Given the problem of kids throwing rocks at Israelis, the simple solution is to just get rid of all the rocks in the region, perhaps replacing them with Nerf rocks. Similarly, the solution to people crossing the border and attacking Israelis is of course to just not let anybody cross the border.

Maintaining Jewish Character Unlike residents of the District of Columbia, Arab citizens of Israel can select a representative to vote for them in their congress (The Knesset). There are Arab members of the Knesset, probably elected by Arab citizens of Israel. Further, the Knesset is a favorite among political scientists because it gives minorities a lot of power: if party A is 49% of the vote and says Yes, party B is 49% of the vote and says No, and party C is 2% of the vote, then party C will decide the outcome. Things like this happen all the time in the Knesset. So Arabs do indeed have representation, and their elected representatives do from time to time call for, um, continued resistance against Israel (J-bias).

So what if the Right of Return were fully implemented, and everyone who could argue that their grandfather lived in Israel in 1947 could enter Israel and participate fully in elections? Then Israel would be democratically dissolved within an election or two, by people who unambiguously hate Jews. It's a counterfactual; we can't predict what would happen in this case, but I expect this would only open the door for the sort of persecution Jews had fled to Israel to avoid. As much as I'd like to subscribe to the Fluffy Bunny school of politics, which says that Middle Eastern Arabs will suddenly become really nice to Jews as soon as the Israeli government is dissolved and all the hate they'd learned as kids (J-bias; #3, 6, & 9 are my faves.) would evaporate, there's not much evidence that this'd happen.

Arguments for full franchise are the usual ones: border checks halt a lot of innocent people; if one is working in a country, one should have a say in governmental decisions which affects him/her; all restrictions of freedom of movement are suspect. These arguments all advocate for a liberalization of restrictions of Arabs entering Israel, and, unlike arguments about the Ottoman Empire, are valid and relevant. They're not getting much space in this essay only because there's nothing special about these arguments in the context of Israel, and I don't think they're particularly controversial [and also because I've blogged about them enough in the U.S. context].

The parts which are specific to the Israeli situation are those from the last two essays. Israel is the product of centuries of indifferent anti-Jew sentiment the world over, and is delightful because it shows that the world actually learned from history, setting up a safeguard to keep the parts of the past we don't want repeating from repeating. But with a concentration of Jews in one place, we have a concentration of hatred, and Israel is surrounded by people who avowedly do not want it to exist, many of whom would like to see the 5.1 million Jews in Israel exterminated.

To conclude this section: yes, the migration restrictions between the PA and Israel are racist, and often hurt people. They are also an attempt to balance the fact a majority of the population next door is openly hostile to the country it's visiting, and seeks its dissolution. A good migration policy would balance everything in the `arguments for full franchise' section with the knowledge that there is such a massive desire among people outside Israel to wipe it off the map, and would do so without racism.

Governing the PA Here are more basic principles for you:

An asshole government is still better than no government at all. This is a bit misleading: there is no such thing as no government, since if an area suddenly becomes a governmental vacuum, new governing bodies immediately get sucked into existence. Usually, we refer to these new goverments as a `mafia', but sometimes prefer other terms such as `militia' or `despot'. We in the USA spent all of grade school learning about how the government of the USA, a really good government as governments go, spontaneously formed after the Brits were ejected. We get from this that the same can easily happen elsewhere, but we have many an example where an asshole government dissolved and a benevolent government failed to spontaneously form. The expectations behind the invasion of Iraq show how deeply ingrained this particular myth is among certain segments of the USA's population, and how wrong its application can be.

Returning to the context here, the West Bank and Gaza have not had an independent government since the Ottoman Empire. Israel is the current administrator of the Palestinian Authority, whether we like that or not. For the well being of the residents of the PA, Israel should not just withdraw its forces one morning, because doing so would leave a power vacuum which will suck up assorted armed individuals to form the replacement government. [This applies to the USA in Iraq too: regardless of whether we like US troops there, if they just up and left one morning, it'd be a disaster.] Instead, Israel needs to assist in establishing a government.

`But it's not a power vacuum,' you retort, `it's got the PA.' Unfortunately, the PA is too weak a government to fend for itself. There are opposition groups, notably Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which would rather govern than the PA. The PA has no tax base, since Israel is the only frigging viable economy for a country mile. [As evidenced here.]

The next principle gives another reason why the PA has little legitimacy:

Ariel Sharon is an asshole. I do not think that it is the consensus opinion among Israelis that all Arabs are evil and should be killed. But I'm not so sure about what's going on in Ariel Sharon's head. Unfortunately, he's the president of the frigging country. On the other side is Yasser Arafat, also an ass, who has built his career on the dissolution of Israel. No reading between the lines here, that's what his PLO was explicitly founded on. Here's the PLO's charter, (A-bias document, J-bias source) and here's Article 19 from that charter: "The partition of Palestine in 1947 and the establishment of the state of Israel are entirely illegal[...]".

Sharon and Arafat have made a half-century career of trying to hurt each other, and now they both have a government. Sharon has the upper hand here—his government gives money to Arafat's government—and not surprisingly, Sharon has used this to try to score a final victory against his long-time nemesis. There aren't words to express my frustration.

The goals of the new government: If Israel grants a truly autonomous, democratic government to the PA, then that government will be oriented toward destroying Israel. The Oslo accord [here's a copy (A-bias source)] converted the PLO into the government of the PA; maintaining continuity between the PLO and the PA government is Mr. Arafat, who hasn't shown much of an about-face since the decades when he built a career out of fomenting hatred toward Israel.

And, as I like to think I proved in the last essay, the consensus view among the residents of the PA is that Israel should be destroyed, by diplomacy or by force.

So Israel has the responsibility of establishing a government which, when independent, will have as its core a desire to dissolve Israel, held by both its leaders and its constituents. You can see why Israel's representatives aren't so enthusiastic about the task.

Conclusion I'll stop there, without actually telling you what I think should be done (because I don't particularly know). But hopefully I've laid out the axes by which to measure events or proposals you read about in the news: there's the racism axis, wherein Jews hate Arabs; there's the preservation of the existence of Israel axis, wherein the rest of the world has shown a history of willingness to persecute Jews or to passively allow others to persecute them, and there's not all that much evidence of that disappearing; there's the Arabs lobbying for the dissolution of Israel axis, wherein Middle Eastern Arabic culture has a strong anti-Israel and anti-Jew flavor, and many (if not most) do not shy away from condoning violence toward Jews.

I remember Mr. Sally, my Analysis professor, getting extremely enthusiastic about calculating bounds on the volume of a certain sphere. See, the problem was that direct calculation was impossible, and the answer wasn't an exreme solution like zero or one, so you had to construct all sorts of ad hoc scaffolding to find boundaries somewhere in the middle. He loved it. The answer was somewhere between zero and one, and you had to grope around to find exactly where it was, and he revelled in it.

The rest of us are often not so comfortable when we don't have a boundary to lean against. We can't even assume symmetry and just split everything down the middle. In a situation where it is entirely impossible to ignore race, we Americans often get deer-in-the-headlights confused, because our quick 'n' easy response that all laws should be ethnicity-blind just don't apply. I emphatically do not care who started it, but Middle Eastern Arabs hate Jews, and that will not go away in the near future, even if we could train all Jews to stop hating Arabs (which is also not going to happen). As distasteful as considering race when writing policy may be, for Israel's leaders to ignore the fact that so many Middle Eastern Arabs hate Jews so passionately would be literally suicidal.

Many proposed changes which are aimed at a more egalitarian treatment of Arabs will score well on the minimizing racism axis, but badly on the preserving Israel axis, because there is such a strong consensus among Arabs that Israel should be destroyed. On the other hand, ideas which take care of the Arabs trying to kill Jews axis are invariably intermixed with a shift in the wrong direction on the Jews' racism toward Arabs axis. There is simply no policy which will give zero reign to Jewish racism, will ensure full security from Arab efforts to destroy Israel, and which will preserve Israel as a haven of no persecution against Jews. The optimum is somewhere in the middle; I wish I knew where.

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on Sunday, August 19th, michael reinhard said


I enjoyed your essay. I am unclear though. At one point you argue that Israeli restrictions on Arab immigration are racist and at another you seem to argue they are perfectly reasonable, given that the Arabs, if allowed to immigrate freely, would quickly bring the Jewish state to an end. Is it racist to oppose the effective destruction of your own state?

on Wednesday, November 5th, fearsome said

Okay I hate jews to the core. no matter how inhumane it would be, if I get to kill around 6 million Jews of Israel -its entire population, the problem would be effectively resolved. Because the world will wake up to the calamity and say 'see things have happened. lets move ahead. make peace forget the agreived. that happened in 1948. That can happen again

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20 May 04. The mechanics of martyrdom

I too am saddened by the whole thing at Rafah. Israel knew there would be lots of casualties but pressed on with their plans. I have no way of evaluating the military objective (closing off tunnels through which arms are smuggled), so all I know is that lots of people are getting killed over dumbness, and that many members of the IDF [Israeli Defense Force] are assholes.

But you knew all of that from the New York Times, which gleefully prints daily photos of Arabs with head wounds. Instead, I'm going to take the hopelessly unpopular position of questioning the protest. This is not a defense of the morality (if any) of Israeli actions, just a discussion of the logic behind it all. So, for those of you still reading, here are some basically undisputed, trying-to-be-morally-neutral, facts and my conclusions therefrom.

Arab militants are impossible to distinguish from Arab civilians. Arabs choose not to wear a big uniform that says `I'm a belligerent' when killing people. There are recent examples of Arabs of all ages and both genders who have been walking down the street and suddenly started killing people. The other side of that coin is: if there is no way to distinguish civilians from belligerents, all civilians are suspect. This makes for supremely skittish 19-year-old Israeli boys and girls with rifles, who are surrounded by people who are wholly indistinguishable from people who have tried to kill Israelis in the past. It makes you pine for the days where one side wore grey and the other wore blue.

Similarly with locations: Arab militants use family residences as the center for military operations, making their house a valid military target in the traditional sense of the word, and making the IDF wonder about every single house occupied by an Arab family.

I'm not gonna tell Arabs how to run their war, but the simple fact is that if a belligerent chooses to use guerilla tactics, he or she puts peaceful civilian neigbors under suspicion and therefore at risk.

Most protests in and around Israel go bad Either Arabs start throwing rocks (which will kill you despite their low-techness) or Jews get skittish expecting Arabs to throw rocks and start firing. I don't really know how many protests turn out peaceful, since those protests don't bleed, and therefore never lead at the NYT, but from what I do know the track record is pretty bad.

Finally, we have the above IDF operation/invasion/whatever into Rafah. After much gun- and missile-fire on both sides, they secured a position, with lots of tanks and artillery and such. Again, I'm not saying anything about whether the action was hunky-dory on any sort of moral level, just that it certainly happened a few days ago.

That sets the stage for the protest. Arab leaders got together and said, `Hey guys, let's protest the IDF by getting as close to their fortifications as we can! Bring your kids!'

From the IDF perspective, there was a too-large-for-comfort chance that this crowd of people would turn violent. Because the area was a true-and-honest war zone a day or two before, there was an inherent and obvious ambiguity in the protest. There was no way to distinguish the peaceful protesters from the people who had been firing machine-gun rounds at the IDF in the days before---a few were probably indeed the same people. There is debate as to whether any number of protesters were armed, but the debate is irrelevant: the probability that somebody in the crowd of a thousand was armed and willing approched certainty, and enough past Arab protests billed as peaceful have turned into rock- or molotov-throwing events that any promises that this time it'll be peaceful are suspect. Simply put, you do not protest a heavily armed military position---about a day after heavy fighting to secure that position---by having a thousand or so people peacefully walk as close to it as they can.

Given the setup---a newly-secured military position and a thousand people approaching it---the outcome was mechanical: there was no way that the IDF would not have fired warning shots, and in a highly populated area those warning shots were likely to hit somebody. We can debate the morality or severity or level of caution all day long, and the IDF probably wouldn't look very rosy if we did, but their actions were basically inevitable. I would never say `the Arabs had it coming' or such callousness, but the organizers and the protesters certainly saw it coming, and planned for it. There is just no way that the organizers of the protest couldn't have expected that the crowd would probably be fired upon.

Part of the planning is journalist coverage, and for this, I feel the NYT is implicated in the violence. The protest was obviously not aimed at Israelis---what, the IDF didn't know they were unpopular in Rafah? Is there some Jewish soldier going `Gee, I didn't know they hated us until that protest there!' No, the protest was aimed at you, the New York Times reader. In a mechanical fashion that complements the IDF's mechanical response, most readers look at the picture, read the headline about Israelis killing Arabs, mumble something about those fucking Israelis, and move on to the Circuits section. Like dominos, an organizer saying `Let's protest the IDF' is a few steps in an inevitable chain of logic from `let's get some pictures of our soon-to-be dying children on the cover of the Times'.

So this is how martyrdom works. The IDF response to the protest was inevitable, and journalists were on hand to record the event and put the photos on the cover of the NYT. The citizens of Rafah weighed these facts and showed up in force, with their kids.

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on Saturday, May 22nd, Ms. AC of Pasadena, CA said

Perhaps, the demonstrators at Rafah show up in force with their kids because they don't have the luxury of NOT doing so. After all, it's not as if the Rafah children have schools to go to, AP exams to stress over, and colleges to dream about. You'd have to have a strong J-bias to say that the only reason children were among the Rafah demonstrators is because the "Palestinians hate the Israelis more than they love their kids."

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24 May 04. My proposed solution to the conflicts surrounding Israel.

Return the Golan Heights to Syria, annex the West Bank to Jordan, and annex the Gaza Strip to Egypt.

1. If you look at any map of the area, you will see that this is logical: you wind up with contiguous countries whose borders basically make sense. Annexing them to Israel is evidently impossible without a huge loss of life. Having some sort of single government ruling over these three regions is simply not gonna happen, and two or three separate governments are going to be too weak to do anything.

2. This finalizes the situation. I believe that the main reason for continued violence is that both sides believe that they can gain ground. There are Jews who believe that they can achieve an Israel from sea to sea, and Arabs who believe that they can one day achieve the dissolution of Israel. By drawing firm borders with a government and an army defending all sides of those borders, the hopes of both belligerent sides are shattered. They'll have to live with immovable, fixed borders, just like the rest of the world does.

3. Israeli troops will leave the Palestinian areas. A power vacuum would be suicide for Israel, so if we want Israeli troops out of these areas they will need to be replaced by some other legitimate, external police force, and Egypt and Jordan would be the natural candidates. Even if the Israeli army does feel the need to interfere, it is still much more circumspect about sending troops to bordering countries (read: an invasion) than sending them to territories which are, in a hazy sense, a part of Israel (read: a police action).

4. The economy tends to follow the borders [see, e.g., the work of Helliwell]. The economies of these territories simply can't stand on their own. Depending on Israel is evidently too dysfunctional to work. Reworking the borders so these territories are contiguous with the surrounding Arab economies will give the PA a fighting chance to integrate into working economic systems.

5. This gives Palestinians a real live government that will represent them, so they will finally have a say in the government that rules over them. It will put them under the oversight of large governments which have the money to build an infrastructure.

6. This creates an accountable government. As it is, the Palestinian Authority is responsible for the people in these areas, and has done a famously crappy job of caring for and policing them. Part of this is that the government is underfunded, and part of this is the questionable level of motivation on the part of President Arafat and his crew to stem violence against Israel. By putting the populace under the Egyptian, Jordanian, and Syrian governments, there is a real, stable government which can be taken to task for the misbehavior of its citizens, and which has an existing police force which can take care of things without endless suspicion from the citizenry it patrols. If Egypt allows its new citizens to commit violence against Israel, Cairo can be sanctioned.

Politics and objections
Israel Historically, Israel has given up more land for peace than it's taken, so I don't think it will be the main sticking point. There is a far right which still wants to see Greater Israel, but there is a still larger population that just wants peace and an Israel that's left alone.

Security is still an issue, and the Arab states need to show a real interest in shutting down extremists (which most Arab states at least pay lip service to). For example, the Golan Heights are actually heights---a perfect place to launch rockets on Northern Israel, which (until the occupation) was a favorite hobby among Arabs. [I know absolutely nothing about military strategy or logistics, but perhaps the UN's forces can be moved from their current position (between the part of Syria occupied by Israel and the rest of Syria) to the Israeli border per se.] The Arab states would have to both show a sincere effort to police these areas and accept responsibility for terrorists within their new borders, and---more difficult---Israelis would have to trust that the Arab states are doing so.

The Arab states The PA as it stands now is a liability, with huddled masses of poor people living in an area with a crappy infrastructure and no economy. Despite endless supporting rhetoric, Egypt and Jordan have been historically disinclined to accept their poor neighbors into their countries, preferring instead to offer limited aid.

The first solution: throw political guilt at them. Public discussion is entirely focused on what Israel should or should not be doing. Egypt and Jordan are happy having it that way, because it means that they basically have no major responsibilities. But if Israel is so evil, other countries should be bending over backward to protect the PA from Israel, and annexing is the best imaginable way to do so.

A complementary solution: throw money at them. If we could find $87 billion to rebuild Iraq, we should be able to find the resources to build up and support Gaza and the West Bank with change behind the Congress's couch cushions. If the U.S.A. needs to lubricate this deal by offering a few billion along with the territories, then that's the cheapest peace we've ever bought. This also gives these countries a carrot that can be withheld if its new citizens continue to commit violence.

The Palestinians On a pragmatic level, the Palestinians can only gain from this deal. They will have a government which can defend them against any Israeli incursions, and the Israelis will have no reason to incur anymore. They will have a government which has a real live tax base (and potentially international aid) for the building of an infrastructure and an economy. In terms of day-to-day well being for Palestinians and their children, a hard border with Gaza and the West Bank on one side and Israel on the other is a hands-down victory.

The Right of Return (a digression) One thing that Palestinians lose in the deal is a chance to destroy Israel. The rock and hard place of Middle-Eastern politics are the right of return and the existence of Israel. For reasons I have discussed too much already, you can not have both simultaneously. Personally, I think Israel should continue to exist, and I am also inclined to view the right of return as a concept which has done more harm than good.

For those unfamiliar, the right of return is regarding the fact that many of the parents and grandparents of the current residents of the PA had lived in Israel in 1947. War was declared the day after Israel was founded, and Arabs either fled or were kicked out, depending on your source. Either way, they were denied the right to return after a semblance of peace was re-established.

It bears some limited similarity to the situation of three out of four of my grandparents. They were born in Romania, Russia, Poland, and what would eventually become Israel, if family lore and memory serve me correctly. In three out of four of those cases, hatred of Jews caused my grandparents to either leave or be ejected.

After the Nazi dust had settled, the world debated the best thing to do with these people who had been displaced, often to concentration camps. The final consensus was to deny Jews the right of return to Eastern Europe and Northern Africa. Perhaps it would have been possible to arrange for the Jews of 1947 to go back to their homes (which had by then been reoccupied) so that they could recoup their belongings (which had already been looted) and resume their lives among people who had learned to hate them. Instead, the world consensus was to carve out land for Jews on another continent and let them call it home. This was a moral second-best solution which still leaves a bitter aftertaste for many, but on a pragmatic scale it was better than the endless violence and misery that would have transpired if Jews were shunted back, homeless, to their old homelands.

Here, over half a century later, Israel has a solid economy, and I have no right of return to the Eastern European countries my grandparents left or were ejected from. Nobody is up in arms (literally or figuratively) about the denial of millions of Jews' right of return, because in an imperfect world, just forgetting about history is sometimes the best outcome you could ask.

The point of all that discussion about history is that I really don't care about history anymore. I don't care who was living where or how the U.N. drew borders half a century ago. In fact, to the extent that an obsession over history causes death and misery, I truly loathe history. The pragmatic thing to do is to look at the lay of the land as it is today, without resort to The Bible, maps of the Ottoman Empire, or stories about our grandparents, and ask how people can be made happier based on current conditions.

The most sure way to peace is to draw hard-and-fast borders and put an established government on all sides of those borders. Palestinians will have real live governments representing them, and both sides would no longer be able to try sliding the borders a bit to the left or right through incursions or violence. Achieving this requires three concessions: the Israeli right-wing must give up its hopes for a Greater Israel; the Arab world must give up on demands for a right of return to where things were sixty years ago; and we the observers must shift our focus from Israel's foibles to asking what the Arab states can be doing to ameliorate the situation.

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24 July 06. The n days war

[PDF version]

The war in Lebanon and Northern Israel is not the same old `Jews hate the Arabs and the Arabs hate the Jews' song, but a different matter entirely. Since many people seem to think Lebanon is being bombed over the kidnapping of two individuals, it's worth taking a look around the region to see the situation in full perspective.

First, the usual caveats: I am a Jew and my family has lived on the land that is now Israel for a century. I have family in Haifa; for those of you who don't remember the names of all those towns, that is the town that is now under occasional rocket attack by Hezbollah forces from Lebanon.

I believe I am better read than most regarding issues in the Middle East, but my authority is decidedly not in Foreign Policy. I expect you as a reader to recognize what of the below is historical statement of fact and what is informed speculation about motivations.

Let us begin our discussion of Israel with a discussion of everybody else. As you are surely aware, there are two main subsets of Islam: Sunni and Shiite. For the usual reasons that seem arbitrary to everybody who isn't involved, the two sides have been in a power struggle for a few centuries now. [Somebody tell me again why Catholic Christians and Protestant Christians bicker so much?] On the Shiite team, we primarily have Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah. On the Sunni team, we primarily have Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Hamas. Iraq used to be Sunni-run, and is now run by nobody. For your convenience, here it is in tabular form:

Shiite team Sunni team
Iran (team captain) Saudi Arabia (team captain)
Syria Jordan
Lebanon Egypt
Russia (funding) USA (funding)
Hezbollah (hired guns) Hamas (hired guns)
The United States is basically on the Sunni team. The reader is no doubt aware of the military and funding dealings between the USA and Saudi Arabia. Does the fact that Iran is on the opposing team from Saudi Arabia influence the fact that Iran is a member of the `Axis of Evil'? Who knows, but it puts the USA more strongly on the Sunni team. If you are concerned about Iran's nuclear capabilities, then for the next few months, you will be rooting for the Sunni team as well.

By the way, the USA assists Israel so it can fight Hamas, and it also assists Saudi Arabia, who funds Hamas so it can fight Israel. Hilarity ensues.

As another aside, Chechnya is on the Sunni team. That puts Russia squarely on the Shiite team, and the reader will recall the endless Iran-Iraq war, which was often cast as a Shiite-Sunni war or as a USA-Russia proxy war.

Finally, are there more nuances than those I've discussed here? Yup. Iran is as Persian as it is Muslim, Syria's government is secular and only semi-Shiite, and so on. Every last country I'm discussing has a populace that is in some ways politically divided. But we have enough to deal with, and the alliances above are well-established.

Israel's place
Both the Sunni team and the Shiite team hate Israel. Since Israel is backed by the USA, and thanks to the USA's new Christian crusade against the Islamic world, the USA is not getting much love from the Muslim on the street either. But since the USA has cash, diplomatic relations with the USA tend to be polite.

Israel's goal, as a nation, is to continue to exist. Among its populace, there is debate about the exact boundaries of Israel, which I am not going to touch here.1 But one would be hard-pressed to believe that more than a fringe in Israel wants continuing war.

This month, Israel's goal has a central focus: Iran's nukes. As above, the goals of the USA, Israel, and the Sunni team is to make sure Iran does not attain the nuclear capabilities it brags that it is close to achieving.

The invasion of Lebanon
In this context, we come to Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers (and killing of several more), enacted from within Lebanon's borders. Hezbollah's hope was a `hostage exchange' for three prisoners in Israeli jails. Israel has done many such exchanges in the past, so this expectation was not out of line. But instead, Israel responded by embarking upon its military campaign on Lebanon.

Let us cast aside any belief that Israel is doing this over two hostages. That was the excuse and no more. Rather, this is the beginning of a concerted effort against the Shiite team. Iran just recently made it clear that it was soon to be a nuclear threat, and Hezbollah's actions have been the first event since then to give Israel an opening to try to check the Shiite team.

Back up to 1981, when Iraq was the one with nuclear pretensions. In “Operation Opera”, the Israeli army sent in 14 jets, heavily damaged the relevant reactor, and literally got all the jets back in time for dinner.

Our ideal, of course, is nonviolence and peace all around. But given the realities of the world, something like Operation Opera would be the best outcome for those of us who don't want people killed but also don't want to see Iran as a nuclear power. This is especially true if we compare it with the thought of a USA invasion, since the USA has no reputation for regard for non-uniformed life, and it has a reputation from Iraq and other past wars of having no ability to deal with the sort of guerrilla warfare that the Israeli army sees literally every day.

Both Hamas and Hezbollah are military forces whose sole purpose is the destruction of Israel. This is not Jewish paranoia, but the explicit mission statements of both organizations. That is, both the Shiite and Sunni sides have hired a militia to keep rockets pointed at Israeli cities. Is it morally correct that both Sunnis and Shiites fund organizations that aim to destroy Israel? We can talk about the question of whether Israel should exist another day, but in the context here, Hamas and Hezbollah are the Sunni and Shiite teams' way of keeping Israel out of their hair.

I bet you never thought you'd read this, but Israel can be a balancing, pacifying force in the Middle East. This is not by being a common enemy to the Shiite and Sunni teams, but by demonstrating that it is capable of actions that would prevent an all-out war or major shift in balance between the two major teams. But Hezbollah's position at Israel's border makes it difficult for Israel to exert balancing forces on the Shiite team, and Hamas's position makes it difficult to exert balancing forces on the Sunni team--that's why Hezbollah and Hamas get funding.

Thus, the first step for a potential Operation Operan would be to eliminate Hezbollah's rockets in range of Israeli cities.

Politics is one of those games that is more about what could be done than what actually happens. After all, the USA had decades of cold war with Russia without a single nuclear missile being fired, and if Iran gets nukes, they won't be firing them as soon as they're assembled either. Similarly, Israel's current efforts to dislodge the Shiite team's rocket-molls does not mean that it will be bombing Iran's three known nuclear facilities by the end of the year. But by creating possibilities for Israel to take more extensive action, the diplomats have a stronger position from which to talk Iran down. This is especially the case now that the USA has blown every last resource in Iraq, and can't credibly commit to even considering such action itself.

There is some debate as to whether Lebanon wants Hezbollah operating within its borders, or is simply tolerating forces pushed upon it by its more powerful teammates. The majority opinion in Lebanon does not support Hezbollah. The other day, President Bush was caught saying “See the irony is what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's over.” Setting aside his lack of gravitas, he is absolutely correct. [See also this op-ed.] From an interview in Al Jazeera: “[...] Hezbollah is not pursuing a Lebanese agenda. Its actions serve the agenda of Syria and Iran.” However, Iran shares no borders with Israel, and Syria has a ceasefire with Israel which it has judiciously respected. As a result, Hezbollah's operations are running out of the weakest (and potentially most reluctant) member of the Shiite team.

If most of the borders in the Middle East were all erased, and we just had Israel, Shiitelandia, and Sunnilandia, Israel's attack of Shiitelandia would be harder to argue with. But there are an awful lot of borders in that little swatch of land, and in this framework, Lebanon and its people are being royally shafted--both by Syria and Iran, who put Lebanon in harm's way by funding Hezbollah's state-within-a-state, and by Israel, which is finally dropping the bombs nobody is surprised it is dropping.

Is Israel's military action “disproportionate”? I'm not happy that Lebanon is being bombed extensively, and am not going to dismiss several hundred deaths as just collateral damage. With respect to the kidnapping of two soldiers, its actions are absolutely disproportionate--but it's not about that. With respect to aggression by the government of Lebanon--the usual `Arabs hate the Jews' half of the story--it is not so out-of-scale, since Lebanon is not entirely innocent to Hezbollah's rocket attacks. But the Lebanese government is not as active in funding Hezbollah as its teammates. As the opening to a (hopefully brief) campaign to eliminate the Shiite team's nuclear aspirations, Israel's actions start to look a lot more reasonable. It may be disproportionate, but there exist many real possibilities, such as a US invasion of Iran, that would make it look piddling in comparison.


... here.1
With regards to Israel's boundaries, the relevant parties are well on their way to finally cementing the 1967 borders (in some areas, literally so). Are they the Ethical and Correct borders? I dunno, but I do know that the more people resist this political inevitability, the more deaths we'll see.

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on Thursday, July 27th, AC said

"Rather, this is the beginning of a concerted effort against the Sunni team."
You mean Shiite.

"...Iraq's three known nuclear facilities by the end of the year."
You mean Iran's.

The rest of your analysis here is pretty good. I guess the only thing I have a little difficulty seeing is how starting this war helps to keep Iran's nuclear capability in check? Knocking off a couple of crazies in hopes it will stop the big un sounds too circuitous a plan, involves too much trouble and bad press for too little gain.

on Thursday, July 27th, the author said

Thanks, AC. I'm proud of myself that I only got Shiite/Sunni and Iran/Iraq backward once.I'm also known to reverse Mississippi and Missouri.

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