Friday, June 4, 2010

On Israel. . .

There have been a lot of articles written about the most recent incident involving Israeli commandos attacking a flotilla of ships heading for Gaza in international waters, and from a variety of perspectives.  So, to add to the cacophony, I figured I should add my own two cents.

Fundamentally, the attack on the flotilla was phenomenally stupid.  Supernaturally stupid.  For the past forty years, Israel's Arab enemies have stated that Israel is an aggressive, oppressive regime that commits human rights abuses in violation of international law.  So, what does Israel do?  It attacks a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian supplies in international waters, killing several people in the process in violation of international law.  All this to prevent the people of Gaza, one of the most shit on people on Earth, from getting some form of aid.

Now, I could go on and on about the moral issues involved here.  And certainly Israel has the right to defend itself from threats.  But there's a right way, a wrong way, and a stupid way to go about it.  Israel is choosing the stupid way.  And unlike the U.S., Israel can't afford to be stupid.

The thing we have to remember is that Israel is a very small country.  Its about 8,000 square miles of territory, holding around 7.5 million people.  By contrast, San Diego County is around 4500 square miles, and has 3.5 million people.   That's tiny as far as countries go.   Because its so small, Israel's internal market cannot provide enough of a market for what goods its produces and so, Israel depends on foreign trade to survive economically.  Additionally, because its neighbors are or were hostile, Israel spends a lot on its military.  To do that, Israel depends on infusions of cash from the United States.  Israel is the number one recipient of American foreign aid, and has been for some time.

In other words, to survive and thrive, Israel needs international support.  More importantly, it needs American support.  To that end, Israel has been exceptionally skilled - it has appealed to the Jewish elites of the American left while simultaneously appealing to the Christian conservatives on the American right.  Through AIPAC, even criticizing Israel is politically risky.  It helps that several of Israels founding politicians, like Golda Meir, were Americans by birth.  But Israel was also smart about using force, unlike the recent attack on the flotilla.

As Israel becomes more and more aggressive (and it really has been aggressive), it has alienated potential allies in Europe, Russia, and the moderate Arabic World.  Moreover, it is progressively losing the support of American Jews.  If Israel were to become an international pariah, its economy would completely fall apart.

Now, this is a risk that might be worth it if Israel was facing enemies like Syria and Egypt, but its not.  In fact, Israel is at minimal risk of the kind of attacks it faced in the 1960's and 1970's, because the State actors have simply decided its not worth the effort.  Israel's military is ridiculously powerful, it has nukes, and if push came to shove, the U.S. would help out.  So, military action isn't worth the effort.

Instead, Israel is facing the Palestinians, and that's a big, big problem, because for the Palestinians, the fight is worth the effort.  These people are literally fighting for everything they have (which ain't much to begin with).  And when the Palestinians have nothing left, they commit suicide by strapping a bomb to themselves so that they can take a few Israelis with them.  I can't stress this point enough - the suicide bombers aren't just killing themselves to spread terror - they're killing themselves for the same reason people everywhere kill themselves - to put an end to their own suffering.  Sure, the terrorist organizers are exploiting the opportunity, but the opportunity was there to be exploited. 

Machiavelli wrote, and wisely I think, that the worst place for a leader to be in is to be hated by his people.  Or mathematically: Fear > Love > Hate.  The problem with hate is that it overwhelms fear.  People with hate in their hearts don't care about themselves or their families anymore.  All that matters is killing the enemy.  And the less people have, the less they have to lose, and the more likely they are to lash out.  That's what we've been seeing from the Palestinians for the past twenty years.

The attack on the flotilla was so awful because it reminded everyone of how shit-on the Palestinian people (particularly the Gazans) have it.  So they look like victims, while at the same time, are shit-on even more.  In this environment, Israel looks like assholes or worse, and the Palestinians remain in a position to be exploited by terrorists.  The whole thing is a shitstorm.

Let me end this by saying that I support the existence of Israel.  In modern history, no one has been braver than the Jewish people and the founders of Israel.  And no one kicks more ass.  But the fight that Israel is in right now isn't about bravery or asskicking, its about being smart.  Its about seeing that your enemy has something to live for, as opposed to something to die for.  To survive, Israel has to get smart - and it has to seek peace.   Otherwise, Israel will be turned into a pariah, and it will collapse.


  1. "I can't stress this point enough - the suicide bombers aren't just killing themselves to spread terror - they're killing themselves for the same reason people everywhere kill themselves - to put an end to their own suffering."

    Yup...a lot of little kids are so upset about their suffering that they strap a bomb on themselves...c'mon Jim, you know better than that.

  2. You have to separate out the suicide bombers with the guys who are encouraging the suicide bombers. The suicide bombers are committing suicide similar to the American men who "suicide by cop." Both are violent acts meant to end depression. The sociopaths are the ones who are using the resource - depressed people - to commit acts of terror. But that doesn't mean that the depressed people aren't any less depressed.