Sunday, January 04, 2009

MORE THOUGHTS ON THE HAMAS-ISRAEL CONFLICT

First, here's a short, interesting piece by journalist/author Jeffrey Goldberg about Nizar Rayyan, a top Hamas official killed recently in Gaza by an Israeli missile. This helps understand some of the basic issues in the Hamas-Israel conflict.

Second, I've thought a lot today about the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, and it's important to understand that this is war between two countries (assuming it's OK here to call Gaza a country). It's not a "conflict;" it's not a "military action;" for all practical purposes this is a war between two governments.

The death and injury toll of civilians in Gaza is a terrible reality of war. The toll is higher than it might otherwise be because of the population density in Gaza and the intergration of Hamas military structure within the urban areas. I believe that the Israeli military is doing it's best to avoid civilian casualties; however, a high toll is inevitable in this situation.

I've thought about the on-going U.S. and Allies war in Afghanistan against the Taliban, and the similarities of situations with the Israel-Hamas war. Al-Qaeda attacked the United States in 2001, prompting the U.S. to attack Afghanistan because the Afghan government was harboring Al-Qaeda. The initial missile and bomb attacks ("Operation Enduring Freedom") killed and wounded many (thousands) Afghan civilians, and there is still a mounting toll of casualties of Afghan civilians in this war seven years later. (Civilian casualty figures are estimated by a variety of groups and individuals; the consensus appears to be that several thousand civilians have been killed directly in the war, with uncounted numbers dying as a result of injuries and indirect causes such as disease, displacement, starvation, etc.) There have been media reports over the past year or so of incidents of civilian casualties in Afghanistan resulting from U.S. missiles/bombs - the official U.S. response has been that the incidents are under investigation.

Israel lives with self-sworn enemies next door or nearby: Hamas in Gaza; Hezbollah in Lebanon; Iran a missile flight away; and Syria. At least the first three of these have directly sworn to eliminate Israel, "wipe Israel off the map," "kill all Jews," etc. Hamas has been launching rockets and mortars into Israel for the past several years. So why does it shock people that Israel has decided to fight a direct war against Hamas in Gaza?

Finally, I have to write a bit about geopolitics. To do this, I have to step away from emotional and moral concerns and distress about people being killed and injured in this war, and look dispassionately at the politics of the situation. An article in the Sunday New York Times is a good place to start this thought process, if you want to do a bit more reading. The Israel-Hamas war has to be taken within the context of regional politics. In one view, Israel is a proxy for the United States, and Hamas is a proxy for Iran, with each proxy being supported militarily by the larger sponsor. An open war between the U.S. and Iran would plunge the world into chaos; a war betwen Israel and Hamas is much more containable. A loss by Hamas would be a major setback to Iran and it's regional ambitions; a loss by Israel would certainly shift the balance of power in the region.

I don't support war as a way to resolve conflict, although there are times when it is inevitable and necessary. The victims of war are the citizens of the fighting countries, and they are generally not the ones who decide to wage the war. The destruction and human suffering in Gaza and Israel is painful to watch from afar, and it's easy to sit here in my easy chair and opine about the situation. But I also can't sit here and ignore the one-sidedness that always seems to spring out of the woodwork when Israel is involved. I don't think for a minute that Israel has totally clean hands in this decades-old conflict - I've posted about this a number of times over the past few years. What is clear now is that Hamas has provoked the present chapter of this war, and has brought down upon it's own citizens a horrendous level of violence.

I hope the violence ends very soon. I hope that Hamas loses it's grip on Gaza and more rational people find a path towards peace. I also hope that Israel makes positive steps towards resolution of this 60 year old conflict in a way that benefits all Israelis and all Palestinians (see my previous post). I hope this doesn't turn out to be a lose-lose for everyone.

I know, I'm a dreamer, but there is no other way.

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