By ALEXANDER COCKBURN in Counterpunch
In contrast to the grim forecasts of many fine contributors to this site over the past days, your CounterPunch editors have been inclined to take the view that Israel’s onslaught on Gaza, appalling though the carnage has been, is not only a crime but a blunder, like the attack on Lebanon in 2006, which demonstrated Israel’s military weakness, and the corruption of its armed forces after long years of bravely tormenting unarmed Palestinian peasants at check points, sawing down their olive groves and crushing their homes with bulldozers and high explosive.
The left has a tendency to demonize its enemies in terms of proficiency in administering their dastardly onslaughts. Through this optic, the claims of the arms manufacturers are always taken at face value, whether about the effectiveness of bunker busters, or devices to detect Hamas’ Qassams. In our latest newsletter we print a long interview with Hamas’ leader in Damascus, Khaled Meshal, conducted by CounterPuncher Alya Rea, myself and others, including former US Senator James Abourezk. Meshal made a case for Israel’s decline in military effectiveness:
Meshal: Since 1948, if we want to draw a curve of Israel’s progress, do you think that this curve is still heading up, or maybe is at a plateau, or is heading down? I believe that the curve is now in descent. And today, the military might of Israel is not capable of concluding matters to Israel’s satisfaction. Since 1948, you may notice that Israel has defeated 7 armies. In ’56 they defeated Egypt. In ’67 they defeated 3 countries: Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. In ’73, the war was somewhat equal in both sides between Egypt and Israel, if not for Nixon’s airlift to Israel’s forces at that time, the map of the world would be different. In ’82 Israel defeated the PLO in Beirut.
Khaled Meshal. Photo by Alexander Cockburn. Copyright 2009.
But since ’82, 26 years ago, Israelis has not won any war. They did not defeat the Palestinian resistance, and they did not defeat the Lebanese resistance. Since that time, Israel has not expanded but has contracted. They have withdrawn from southern Lebanon and from Gaza. These are indicators that the future is not favorable to Israel. Then today Israel, with all its military capabilities – conventional and unconventional – are not enough to guarantee Israel’s security. Today, with all these capabilities, they can’t stop a simple rocket from being launched from Gaza.
Hence the big question is, can military might ensure security? Hence, we may say that when Israel refuse the Arab and the Palestinian offer, a state of Palestine on the border of 1967, Israel is losing a big opportunity. Some years down the road, a new Palestinian generation, new Arab generations, may not accept those conditions, because the balance of power may not be in Israel’s favor.
Hamas, as I remarked last week, has been greatly strengthened by the current attack and the status of President Abbas reaffirmed as a spineless collaborator with Israel; Mubarak likewise; Syria and Turkey alienated from Western designs; Hezbollah and Iran vindicated by the world condemnation of Israel’s barbarous conduct. For months Israel besieged Gaza, starving its civilian inhabitants of essential supplies with no effective international reproach. It’s hard to take dramatic photographs of an empty medicine bottle, but easy to film a bombed out girl’s dorm or a Palestinian mother weeping over the bodies of her five dead daughters, featured on the front page of the Washington Post two weeks ago. Efforts to keep reporters out of Gaza have not been entirely successful, and both UN and Red Cross workers on the ground have sent outraged reports denouncing Israel’s barbarities. They have also been fierce State Department memos from USAID workers.
As we go into the weekend, an admittedly toothless resolution in the UN calling for a ceasefire was not vetoed by the US. The UK Guardian ran a story on Friday suggesting that my view expressed last week, that there were two ways to read Obama’s initial silence about the onslaughts – which he was finally forced to break after Israel killed nearly 50 women and children trying to shelter in the UN School. The Guardian story began:
The incoming Obama administration is prepared to abandon George Bush's doctrine of isolating Hamas by establishing a channel to the Islamist organisation, sources close to the transition team say.
The move to open contacts with Hamas, which could be initiated through the US intelligence services, would represent a definitive break with the Bush presidency's ostracising of the group. The state department has designated Hamas a terrorist organisation, and in 2006 Congress passed a law banning US financial aid to the group.
The Guardian has spoken to three people with knowledge of the discussions in the Obama camp. There is no talk of Obama approving direct diplomatic negotiations with Hamas early on, but he is being urged by advisers to initiate low-level or clandestine approaches, and there is growing recognition in Washington that the policy of ostracizing Hamas is counter-productive. A tested course would be to start contacts through Hamas and the US intelligence services, similar to the secret process through which the US engaged with the PLO in the 1970s. Israel did not become aware of the contacts until much later.
One has to caution that there could be more than one reason for such a leak from the transition team – including an alert to the Israel lobby to start piling on the pressure to head off any such contacts. With men like Emanuel and “special assistant on the Middle East” Dan Kurtzer at Obama’s elbow, I imagine the Israeli embassy won’t have much difficulty in monitoring Obama’s plans, though his National Security Advisor, Jim Jones, apparently once filed a report to Condoleezza Rice with criticisms of Israel’s conduct so harsh that the whole report was hastily deep-sixed.