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Trying to Make Sense of it All Print E-mail

By Jay Bushinsky
January 21, 2008

The best definition of a "vicious circle," as this state of affairs was termed when Webster's Collegiate Dictionary was published more than a half century ago and as it applies to today's deplorable situation in this part of the Middle East is the medical one: "A chain of morbid processes in which a primary disorder leads to a second which aggravates the first."

(How it was transformed in popular or academic parlance to a vicious "cycle" may derive from the quirks of regional accent or the emphasis on the repetitiveness of the process at hand.)

The case in point is the escalating violence in and around the Gaza Strip where Israel and the Palestinian Hamas regime on opposite sides of the 1949 cease fire line are locked in what looks from the outside like a tit for tat struggle destined to culminate in another regional convulsion -- especially if Hamas' main ally, the Islamic Republic of Iran, decides to rescue it from an all-out Israeli invasion.

With this in mind, it seems appropriate to do what Israeli analysts who seem to have the mentality of 19th century Central Europeans, or in popular slang, commentators of "yekke" or German-Jewish origin often recommend.  "Let's make some kind of order out of these random  developments," is the way they are won't to put it, as if this were a feasible option.

So here goes: a non-Central European attempt to do what my distinguished colleague, BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson, likes to do -- an attempt "to make sense out of it all."  The opening shot may tilt the chain reaction the wrong way in the opinion of some, but it seems to be unavoidable. Had the Palestinian (National) Authority fulfilled its primary commitment, as specified in the so-called Road Map to Middle East Peace drawn up by the U.S., UN, European Union and Russia, namely, dismantled and eliminated the terrorist infrastructure within its area of responsibility (most of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip) the proverbial circle would have been closed right then and there. 

But it did not -- either because it saw political advantage in having extremists in its midst or because it was too weak operationally to confront them. This prompted Israel's General Security Service (known here by the Hebrew acronym, "Shabak) to do the job.  Using the army and air force as its mailed fist, the "Shabak" went after the suspected ringleaders, weapons manufacturers, field commanders, missile  launchers or potential suicide bombers. 

This often entailed raids carried out in the dead of night during which there were shoot-outs that caused Palestinian casualties in dead and wounded or summary arrests and imprisonment without trial. Hamas retaliated by using front organizations such as Islamic Jihad or the Popular Resistance Committees, among others, to fire home-made Qassam missiles and most recently, Soviet-type Grad projectiles at the beleaguered Israeli city of Sderot or at Ashkelon further to the north respectively and to pepper the agricultural communities that line the Strip's eastern frontier with mortar barrages.

The inevitable injuries and/or damage from the latter enraged the people of Sderot and their sympathizers throughout Israel and forced Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's timid government (its integrity having been shattered by the way in which it conducted Second Lebanon War) to unleash the armored infantry and above all, the air force -- combat helicopters that use air-to-ground rockets for airborne assassinations and jet fighter-bombers to destroy major installations like Gaza's interior ministry or naval headquarters.

These operations often cause collateral casualties and damage, killing or wounding innocent bystanders, tragic consequences that incite ugly demonstrations against the U.S. as well as Israel and damage residential premises.  Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who not only lost the Gaza Strip to Hamas when his pro-Fatah security forces were routed and humiliated two years ago, but also failed to follow the Road Map's directives, has been left shedding (crocodile?) tears for the spilling of his people's blood and blaming Hamas for the possible loss of its chance for self-determination and statehood.

There are countless subtleties, ulterior motives and duplicities in this analysis, but the bottom line is immutable: Despite President George W. Bush's seemingly-pious vision of a Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice intrepid (though often ill-considered) diplomatic efforts to achieve it by January, 2009, the U.S. and the incumbent Israeli government are far from being in a win-win situation.

The only basis for realistic optimism is if the Hamas regime is toppled (something Rice assumes, for no apparent reason, will happen in due course), or its sanctimonious governmental sponsors in Teheran are overthrown, which is a far-fetched, but plausible development.  After all, all this is happening in the Middle East, where anything can happen. 
 

 

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