When at a Loss, Escalate

There is an old joke about a man who goes to the doctor with a running nose (this was before the era of nasal decongestants). The doctor tells him to dress lightly and walk a few hours in the rain. The bewildered patient presses for an explanation, and the doctor adds, “I cannot treat a running nose, but if you get pneumonia — then I can give you antibiotics.”

The meaning of Israel’s attack on Syria is that the government of Israel is taking the same route as that doctor. Unable to repress the Palestinian struggle for liberation, Israel is now trying to transform it into a regional war, for which its army is better equipped. That spells more disaster for the whole Middle East, including Israel.

On Saturday, October 4, Hanadi Jaradat, 29, blew herself up in a restaurant in Haifa, killing 20 people including herself. American media, as usual, reported Jaradat’s act without context. But Jaradat, a law school graduate, was reportedly avenging the death of her brother and cousin, murdered on June 12 in Jenin by Israeli death squads, who, according to LAW Society, apparently shot them after taking them into custody.

No doubt, they, too, were butchered in retaliation for something, perhaps the suicide attack in Jerusalem on June 11, which itself was a retaliation against Israel’s attempt to murder Hamas spokesperson Rantisi, which was a response to the joint Palestinian attack on the Erez checkpoint on June 8 (involving no targeting of civilians), which itself was triggered by the continuing killing of Hamas activists, even as Abu Mazen was posing for the camera together with Bush and Sharon.

There is no evidence that Israel’s policy of assassination, even beyond the inconvenience of being a form of state terrorism, is achieving a reduction in Palestinian violence. On the contrary, the only success that can be reasonably attributed to this policy is Israel’s repeated success in sabotaging cease-fires and insuring a continuation of the intifada. But, as if the logic of retaliation were not illogical enough, Israel responded to Jaradat’s revenge by stretching the concept well beyond the border of the absurd, attacking a civilian target in Syria — a Palestinian refugee camp in Ein Saheb.

What more is needed to show that Israel’s “defense” policies are nothing but international terrorism? Let’s be clear. First, Israel attacked another country without provocation. Second, Israel attacked a civilian target in that other country. Third, even by Israel’s own admission, the target had no direct connection to the suicide attack on Saturday, and no direct connection to any future attack. It was clearly not an act of self defense.

But Israel’s madness has a context, too. Within the world view of Israel’s military junta, every problem has a military solution, and every problem that doesn’t seem to have a military solution can be transformed into one that does.

It seems obvious to most observers that Israel has no military solution to Palestinian violence. The junta refuses to contemplate a political solution, which requires a measure of justice and the ability to compromise over land. Palestinian violence continues and the impotence of killing one more “senior Hamas operative” was becoming evident even to Israelis. The Israeli public is growing disillusioned with Sharon’s government, which has just suffered two severe shocks. First, the government’s plan to get rid of Arafat ended in humiliation; it was declared illegal and unacceptable by the U.N. Second, the government was stunned by the first organized letter of protest written by conscientious objectors within the Israeli Air Force, up until this month a bastion of conformism.

The background for the decision to attack Syria is, therefore, Sharon’s beleaguered position and absence of options. By attacking Syria, Israel’s junta is hoping at the least to frighten the world, including the U.S. and Europe, and “punish” it for daring to impose limits on its use of force. The message is that Israel will react to international pressure by causing greater instability throughout the Middle East. In considering this strategy of blackmail and its ramifications, one should remember that Israel is a nuclear power that has already used threats of nuclear war to blackmail the U.S. (in 1973, as the New York Times, by “happy” coincidence, has just confirmed, http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/06/opinion/06COHE.html. A second “benefit” of the attack is that it can potentially push forward the confrontation between the U.S. and Syria, and possibly Iran. The war in Iraq has raised new hopes for getting the U.S. embroiled in war in Syria and Iran. While the U.S. is acting toward these countries with belligerence for reasons of its own, Israel is impatient. From Israel’s perspective, the U.S. needs prodding to act sooner rather than later.

Finally, the attack on Syria has a serious potential to lead to a regional war, which, compared with the unwinnable intifada, would give Israel a chance to maximize the strength of its army and perhaps win — or so the Israeli junta hopes — another reprieve from the Palestinian problem.

This importance of the last point needs to be assessed in light of the fact that Israel has used war before to defuse international pressure and avoid tackling the question of Palestinian rights. In 1956, war with Egypt put the lid on international pressure on Israel to compromise. The 1967 war was concocted just as the Palestinians were beginning to organize politically and pan-Arabism was threatening to give them international bargaining power. The 1982 war was a direct response to the danger of peace negotiations with the PLO.

Moreover, all these wars began with unprovoked and unjustified Israeli attacks on its neighboring countries — in Gaza (at the time in Egyptian hands) in 1955, in Samu (Jordan) in 1966, and in Beirut (Lebanon) in 1982. This pattern, of Israeli military provocations that create conditions for a full Israeli attack, masquerading as “preventive,” is well established. It is part of the personal memory of the current Israeli leadership (Sharon, for example, was the commander of the Gaza raid, and the architect of the Lebanon war).

Israel’s strategy of escalation is based on a good insight — that the Israeli army is best and most successful in open war. Israel has indeed won all its wars, and is likely to win the next one, too. Yet with each “victorious” war, Israel in fact grew weaker, and the justice of the Palestinian cause more obvious. The next war is unlikely to change that pattern.

Gabriel Ash was born in Romania and grew up in Israel. He lives in the United States.

Gabriel Ash encourages your comments: gash@YellowTimes.org