Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
They Said It:
When peace comes, we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons.
Golda Meier, June 11, 1969.
OPERATION “PROTECTIVE EDGE,” AND THE FUTURE OF THE WEST.
Future generations will, we’re afraid, be unkind in their evaluation of our present epoch. The inheritance of the West, once the greatest and most noble hope for mankind, is being squandered. Arrogance, indolence, intellectual dishonesty, and good old-fashioned hatred have brought the West once more to the brink of moral collapse and consequent cultural disintegration. Meanwhile, the most powerful man in the world plays golf.
Several years ago, we read a handful of articles on the origins of the Iranian Basij, a paramilitary and ostensibly volunteer militia, which had a very special and powerful role in the Iranians’ war with Iraq. Today, we know the Basiji mostly as the “shock troops” of the Republican guard, the morality police who go around Iran looking for girls (or boys, for that matter) participating in such debauchery as wearing make-up and therefore itching for a good beating. But that was not always their role. During the war, for example, the Basiji served as useful “soldiers” in the battle against Saddam Hussein’s much better-trained, more professional army. In an April 2006 piece for The New Republic, Matthias Kuntzel, a German political scientist, described the Basiji and their ghastly role in the Iran-Iraq was as follows:
During the Iran-Iraq War, the Ayatollah Khomeini imported 500,000 small plastic keys from Taiwan. The trinkets were meant to be inspirational. After Iraq invaded in September 1980, it had quickly become clear that Iran’s forces were no match for Saddam Hussein’s professional, well-armed military. To compensate for their disadvantage, Khomeini sent Iranian children, some as young as twelve years old, to the front lines. There, they marched in formation across minefields toward the enemy, clearing a path with their bodies. Before every mission, one of the Taiwanese keys would be hung around each child’s neck. It was supposed to open the gates to paradise for them.
At one point, however, the earthly gore became a matter of concern. “In the past,” wrote the semi-official Iranian daily Ettelaat as the war raged on, “we had child-volunteers: 14-, 15-, and 16-year-olds. They went into the minefields. Their eyes saw nothing. Their ears heard nothing. And then, a few moments later, one saw clouds of dust. When the dust had settled again, there was nothing more to be seen of them. Somewhere, widely scattered in the landscape, there lay scraps of burnt flesh and pieces of bone.” Such scenes would henceforth be avoided, Ettelaat assured its readers. Before entering the minefields, the children [now] wrap themselves in blankets and they roll on the ground, so that their body parts stay together after the explosion of the mines and one can carry them to the graves.”
These children who rolled to their deaths were part of the Basiji, a mass movement created by Khomeini in 1979 and militarized after the war started in order to supplement his beleaguered army. The Basij Mostazafan – or “mobilization of the oppressed” – was essentially a volunteer militia, most of whose members were not yet 18. They went enthusiastically, and by the thousands, to their own destruction. “The young men cleared the mines with their own bodies,” one veteran of the Iran-Iraq War recalled in 2002 to the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine. “It was sometimes like a race. Even without the commander’s orders, everyone wanted to be first.” . . .
The chief combat tactic employed by the Basiji was the human wave attack, whereby barely armed children and teenagers would move continuously toward the enemy in perfectly straight rows. It did not matter whether they fell to enemy fire or detonated the mines with their bodies: The important thing was that the Basiji continue to move forward over the torn and mutilated remains of their fallen comrades, going to their deaths in wave after wave. Once a path to the Iraqi forces had been opened up, Iranian commanders would send in their more valuable and skilled Revolutionary Guard troops.
Now, we are well aware that other cultures – indeed, nearly all cultures throughout history – have used children as soldiers. The radical Islamists are not especially unique on that count. But then, soldiering is not the point here. The Basiji were not soldiers. They were expendables. Or worse still, they were celebrated, lionized, practically worshipped for what amounted to purposeful suicide.
And for the record the Basiji are not the only Islamists acclaimed for their dedication to their faith through purposeful suicide. Inded, suicide “martyrs” have become a defining characteristic of radicalism throughout the Islamic world. Kuntzel notes, for example, that the ghastly dedication to the cause exemplified by the Basiji actually “had more in common with the revolutionary ideas of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood than with Shia traditions.” And the Muslim Brotherhood, you may recall, is not only the organization whose control of Egypt the Obama administration supported, but is also the intellectual and spiritual progenitor of both Hamas and al Qaeda. Hamas is, more or less, the Palestinian branch of the Brotherhood, while al Qaeda’s current leader and longtime intellectual head, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is himself an Egyptian and a onetime Muslim Brother.
Al Qaeda, it goes without saying, trained, organized, funded, and employed the 18 most infamous and deadly suicide bombers in world history. Hamas – and other Palestinian factions as well – has employed suicide bombers to greater effect against Israel and has, for that matter, expanded its martyrdom operations beyond mere suicide bombings (more on which in a moment). All of which is to say that the “cult of death” epitomized by the Basiji is practically endemic in the Muslim world today.
Here, of course, we feel compelled to issue the usual caveats: Not all Muslims are terrorists. Indeed, only very, very few are. And not all Muslims prefer death as the means by which to promulgate their faith. Again, only very few do so.
At the same time, poll after poll after poll show that a large percentage of Muslims worldwide, and a majority in many countries, believe that suicide bombings are “often” or at least “sometimes” perfectly legitimate. As of last September, 62% of Palestinians believed that suicide bombings constitute a legitimate form of resistance. And so while most Muslims – maybe most Palestinians – may not embrace the notion of martyrdom/suicide as a first course of action against their enemies, they assuredly don’t disapprove of suicide operations. Indeed, many – and again, most Palestinians – see the intentional sacrifice of innocents and non-combatants as merely part of the struggle against Islam’s foes.
This is, we think, important to remember as we watch the unfolding events in the Middle East at present. In Israel in particular, the differences between the respective combatants could not be starker. On one side, we have a liberal democracy; a Western nation, dedicated to Western principles and to the notion that all men and women have certain rights endowed by their creator; a country in which ethnic and religious minorities are protected, and all are permitted to have a say in their governance. On the other side, we have the death cult; the people who freely elected a terrorist organization as their leaders; a terrorist organization that revels in the deaths not only of its enemies, but of its own people as well; a fascistic establishment explicitly dedicated to the slaughter of innocents and which has enshrined in its founding charter the “scripturally” based admonition that “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews, when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdullah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”
Given all of this, one might presume that choosing sides in this conflict would be easy. But then, as is often the case in the contemporary West, one would be wrong. For a variety of reasons and employing a variety of excuses, many in the West have chosen to ally themselves in the battle before us with the death cult. This will, we fear, prove a dreadful and irreversible mistake.
If you pay any attention at all to the global debate over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you will hear the arguments nearly universally distilled as follows: “Of course the Israelis have the right to defend themselves, but. . . .”
Naturally, everything that comes after the “but” undercuts everything that came before it. Of course the Israelis have the right to defend themselves . . . as long as they don’t do it too effectively; or as long as they don’t kill any civilians; or as long as they leave themselves vulnerable to future attacks; in short, as long as they make a brief show of it and then stop when others – wiser and more humane – tell them to stop.
As a general rule, the complaint most often levelled against the Israelis is that they are using “disproportionate force” against the Palestinians. Israel, you see, must be careful not to benefit from the fact that it is not an economic and technological basket case, like its Arab neighbors. Israel must not be allowed to use its advantages to end the wars it does not seek. Israel must be punished because the Palestinian leaders are far, far better at public relations than they are at war – even the asymmetrical war for which the Islamist terrorists claim to have such a propensity.
In a normal world, the argument in favor of a proportionate response would be entirely valid and would therefore be consideration for Israel and for the global community with respect to this conflict. But as we’ve said more times than we can count, this is NOT a normal world.
The proportionate response argument hinges on two factors, both of which are ridiculously deficient in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which makes it little more than a cop out, employed by those who are either unwilling or unable simply to admit that they don’t like Israel – or, more accurately, the occupants thereof.
For starters, there really is no way to tell the effects of Israel’s advantages or how they have influenced both the course of the battle and the number of casualties. There is no way of knowing, in other words, whether Israel’s force advantage is actually producing anything like the disproportionate casualties we are told it is. There are no accurate body counts. All counts are provided by Hamas, and are almost invariably accepted at face value, with no verification and no corroboration.
More to the point, those body counts are inflated not just on paper, but in reality because Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah, and most of the rest of the Palestinian leaders are terrorists and death-cultists. In a recent column decrying Israel’s excursion into Gaza, Eugene Robinson, a Pulitzer Prize winner and the voice of Inside-the-Beltway soft-leftism, insisted that Israel is “losing the moral high ground.” He wrote:
The civilian death toll in Gaza from Israel’s latest incursion is appalling. The right to self-defense is inalienable, but [BUT!] it is not free from moral constraints.
As of this writing, nearly 750 Palestinians have been killed since the Israeli assault began, including dozens of children. On Thursday, a compound housing a United Nations school — crowded with Gaza residents who had fled their homes to seek shelter — was shelled in an incident still under investigation by the Israeli Defense Forces. Palestinian officials said 15 people were killed and scores injured. . . .
Israel says it is taking great pains to avoid civilian deaths. Indeed, Israel has been warning people to leave — with leaflets, text messages and non-lethal “roof-knocking” bombs — before smashing into residential neighborhoods. It is also true that in many instances Hamas, even knowing that an attack was coming, has instructed Gazans to stay put.
I have seen no confirmed reports, however, of Hamas using force to keep people in targeted areas so they can serve as human shields — and perhaps sway world opinion by boosting the body count. When people decide they must leave their homes, they can do so. But where are these evacuees supposed to go? To the nearest school or hospital? Not if these, too, are considered legitimate targets by the Israeli armed forces.
Gazans cannot flee across the closed border with Egypt. They obviously do not have the option of escaping into Israel or sailing away across the Mediterranean Sea. Gaza’s 1.8 million people are packed into an enclave measuring 139 square miles — an area and population roughly the size of Philadelphia.
Robinson, of course, has seen no “confirmed” reports of Hamas using force to keep people in place. Apparently he has also not seen the videos shot by German journalists showing Hamas troops beating Palestinians for trying to flee their homes. Or maybe he has seen them but chooses to ignore them, since they do not meet his evidentiary tests. In any case, Robinson’s carefully worded declaration belies reality, confirmed by Hamas itself. As the Washington Free Beacon noted at the conflict’s onset, Hamas may or may not be using force to ensure civilian casualties, but that doesn’t mean it’s not using other means. To wit:
“The ministry [is] calling all our people not to deal or pay attention to the psychological warfare carried out by the occupation through rumors that broadcast across his media and delivering publications and communications on the phones of citizens, and the lack of response for each of these means, which aims to weaken the domestic front in light of great steadfastness of our people to face the aggression,” the Hamas Interior Ministry for National Security stated on Thursday in an order published in English and Arabic.
Robinson says that Israel has bombed United Nations schools, which are filled with people who “fled” their homes. Perhaps he has also seen the report in the Jerusalem Post detailing what many of us have long known about these UN schools in Gaza:
In a meeting with UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman decried that not only were rockets found in UNRWA [United Nations Relief Works Agency] schools in Gaza, but also that UNRWA then turned them over to Hamas, rather than to Israel.
UNRWA has admitted to finding Hamas rockets in their facilities on two different occasions since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge 16 days ago. It said it handed them over to local authorities “answerable to the national unity government.”
The UN schools that Israel is apparently targeting are filled with Hamas’s rockets. And they are filled with civilians. And Robinson thinks that somehow it’s Israel’s fault for hitting the civilians while aiming at the rockets. Who, does he suppose, told the civilians to hunker down in the schools, and why?
Robinson – and others, including America’s most trusted news source, comedian Jon Stewart – laments the fact that Israel warns the Palestinians to leave their homes, even though these Palestinians have nowhere to go. They cannot flee to Egypt, after all, because it too has sealed its border with Gaza.
Perhaps Robinson might ask himself why Egypt has sealed its border with Gaza. It seems strange, doesn’t it? After all, when Israel occupied this portion of the “occupied territories,” it did so after capturing it in 1967’s Six-Day War, from Egypt. And why, pray tell, would Egypt seal its border with its own former territory?
We can’t say for sure, of course, but we tend to think that the elaborate system of tunnels under the Gaza-Sinai border, used by Hamas to smuggle weapons to Gaza, to move militants to and from Gaza, and to foment unrest in Egypt in support of the Muslim Brotherhood, might have something to do with it. Much to Robinson’s surprise, we’d imagine, it turns out that Hamas is an Islamist terrorist organization – and it seeks to destabilize not only Israel, but the rest of the Middle East as well. The border between Gaza and the Sinai has been sealed off-and-on since Hamas took control of Gaza, nearly a decade ago. No one wants anything to do with Hamas, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with those dastardly Jews.
Hamas violates nearly every known convention of war. It targets civilians, including its own. It hides among non-combatants, blending in, not wearing uniforms or other identifiable markings. And it seeks death and destruction wherever possible – be it Tel Aviv, Cairo, or Gaza City. In short, Hamas wages fundamentally unjust war against Israel, and yet “proportionality” is the only standard of decency and justice in war for which Western political and intellectual leaders can muster any enthusiasm.
The second reason that these pleas for proportionality ring hollow is the fact that are they based on a willful misreading of the conditions under which the Palestinians and the Israelis coexist. When world leaders complain that Israel is employing disproportionate force against the Palestinians, they are, in fact, arguing that Israel is fighting “unjustly,” that it is disregarding the moral conditions necessary for the conduct of a “just war.”
As any schoolboy knows, the Western conception of a just war has its roots both in the Greek and Roman traditions and, more specifically, in Catholic theology; that is, in the works of Saints Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas, both of whom painstakingly addressed the moral conditions under which one may go to war (jus ad bellum) and the morality of conduct in war (jus in bello). Contemporary principles on the acceptability of the use of force – in documents as varied as the UN Charter and the Catholic catechism – are all derived to some extent or another from the tenets outlined by these two great saints and moral philosophers. And among the most notable of the conditions of just conduct in war (jus in bello) is, of course, proportionality.
As we have already seen, though, much of the proportionality argument in the conflict in question is based on an erroneous and one-sided interpretation of the conduct of the Palestinian and Israeli wars. With respect to proportionality, combatants are admonished to minimize, as much as possible, the infliction of disproportionate damage. Combatants are not forbidden from inflicting civilian casualties, and nor are they forbidden from inflicting more casualties than their enemies. Indeed, the point of war is to win, which is to say that the point is to inflict as many casualties on the enemy as possible and to proceed from war to peace. This notion that proportionality dictates that the Israelis are behaving immorally and unjustly when they fight to win is absurd. As Aquinas put it, quoting Augustine:
[I]t is necessary sometimes for a man to act otherwise for the common good, or for the good of those with whom he is fighting. Hence Augustine says (Ep. ad Marcellin. cxxxviii): “Those whom we have to punish with a kindly severity, it is necessary to handle in many ways against their will. For when we are stripping a man of the lawlessness of sin, it is good for him to be vanquished, since nothing is more hopeless than the happiness of sinners, whence arises a guilty impunity, and an evil will, like an internal enemy.”
Punish. Vanquish. Etc.
When faced with Israeli aggression, the “global community” tends to obsess over Israel’s perceived failures with respect to its management of the battlefield and to ignore entirely the motivation for the initiation of hostilities in the first place. Or to put it another way, the world obsesses over Israel’s jus in bello and ignores its jus ad bellum. World leaders grow fixated on Israel’s conduct, without really contemplating its justifications and its ultimate ends. This is self-defeating, and, we’d argue, unjust, in that it promotes temporary and self-interested cessations of hostilities over enduring and righteous peace.
Since its establishment, the modern state of Israel has been pressed, prodded, and pushed to make “peace” with its Arab neighbors, most of whom have had very little interest whatsoever in returning the favor. Since at least the 1970s, the United States has taken the lead in coercing the Israelis to live peaceably with their Palestinian neighbors, most of whom – again – have had no desire whatsoever to live in peace with Israel.
If you want to know why Israel fights and why it wages war as aggressively and determinedly as it does, you need only look at what these last four-plus decades of global meddling have earned it, namely the right to be murdered while at “peace.” Since the Israeli ground offensive began two weeks ago, the extent to which the Peace Process has brought war and volatility to Israel has become readily apparent. In her column last week, the inimitable Caroline Glick provided the details:
We have known for years that tunnels were a central component of Hamas’s logistical infrastructure. What began as the primary means of smuggling weapons, trainers and other war material from Hamas’s sponsors abroad developed rapidly into a strategic tool of offensive warfare against Israel.
As we have seen from the heavily armed Hamas commando squads that have infiltrated into Israel from tunnels since the start of the current round of warfare, the first goal of these offensive tunnels is to deploy terrorists into Israel to massacre Israelis.
But the tunnels facilitate other terror missions as well.
Israel has found tunnels with shafts rigged with bombs located directly under Israeli kindergartens. If the bombs had gone off, the buildings above would have been destroyed, taking the children down with them.
Other exposed shafts showed Hamas’s continued intense interest in hostage taking. In 2006 the terrorists who kidnapped Cpl. Gilad Schalit entered Israel and returned to Gaza through such a tunnel. Today the presence of sedatives and multiple sets of handcuffs for neutralizing hostages found in tunnel after tunnel indicate that Hamas intends to abduct several Israelis at once and spirit them back to Gaza.
In an interview with Channel 2 Monday evening, Minister Naftali Bennett spoke of a mother at Kibbutz Netiv Ha’asara who told him that her children wake her in the middle of the night and tell her that they hear digging beneath their beds.
According to Liel Leibovitz, who also addressed the question of the tunnels in his column for The Tablet, the extent of the tunnel network was simply astonishing.
Israeli troops entering Gaza last week have so far uncovered 18 tunnels used by Hamas to send armed terrorists into Israel and built using an estimated 800,000 tons of concrete.
What else might that much concrete build? Erecting Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, required 110,000 tons of concrete. Hamas, then, could’ve treated itself to seven such monstrosities and still had a few tens of thousands of tons to spare. If it wanted to build kindergartens equipped with bomb shelters, like Israel has built for the besieged citizens of Sderot, for example — after all, noted military strategists like Jon Stewart have spent last week proclaiming that Gaza’s citizens had nowhere to hide from Israel’s artillery — Hamas could have used its leftovers to whip up about two that were each as big as Giants Stadium. And that’s just 18 tunnels. Egypt, on its end, recently claimed to have destroyed an additional 1,370. That’s a lot of concrete.
Over the last couple of days, we have read a handful of columns by well-respected journalists and students of foreign affairs, all arguing the same thing, that Israel is winning the battle on the ground but losing the broader war, the war for global public support. Ronald Brownstein, writing for National Journal, put it as follows:
Netanyahu should be worried. The Israeli public should be worried. All supporters of the Jewish state should be worried—not only about the prospect of current events spiraling out of control, but also about a confluence of demographic and social trends that threaten Israel’s ability to manage the war of perceptions.
Every nation has a story. Israel’s is that Arabs have long been unwilling to negotiate with the Jewish state, and that terrorists among the Palestinians want to destroy it. For decades, three significant factors helped make this the dominant Middle East narrative. First, it’s correct, at least when applied to the dangerous minority of Palestinians. Second, elite opinion-makers, including journalists and politicians in the West, embraced and amplified the Israeli case. Finally, public opinion in the West, and particularly in the United States, firmly supported Israel.
The first factor still holds. The United States would not hesitate to respond fiercely to attacks like those of Hamas. No country would. Israel has the absolute right to defend itself, and Netanyahu stood on firm ground as he described to Wallace the motives and tactics of Hamas.
What Brownstein means here, but is too polite to say out loud, is that the West is giving up on Israel, in large part because the West has lost its capacity to distinguish right from wrong. Some in the West are weary of Israel due to simple, old-fashioned bigotry. On the fringes of the Right, the “oldest hatred,” i.e. blatant anti-Semitism, still holds sway. Others in the West tire of Israel because they fear the Islamists, the waves of Muslim immigrants to Europe who brought with them to their old hatreds and who threaten violence if Israel is not subdued. By far and away, though, most of the West’s political, journalistic, and intellectual classes resent Israel because they resent everything connected to their own Judeo-Christian heritage. The critical theorists and post-modernists have won the battle for the institutions, and in so doing won the opportunity to warp and pervert the great moral truths that were once universally understood. The clash of moral codes has taken yet another deeply disturbing turn in the progress Western Civilization.
Last week, Bill McGurn, the onetime chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush, noted the following:
[T]he case of Obama and Netanyahu is much more than a clash of personalities. It’s a conflict between two competing worldviews. And if a poll released this month by the Pew Research Center is any clue, this conflict has now become embedded in American party politics.
Pew asked a basic question: “In the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, who do you sympathize with more?”
Overall, Pew found a slim majority of Americans, 51 percent, sympathize more with Israel. But the breakdown by party is where it gets interesting:
Basically, support for Israel gets stronger as you move right, and weaker as you move left: 77 percent of conservative Republicans support Israel, against 64 percent for moderate Republicans. In sharp contrast, just 48 percent of moderate Democrats support Israel, and only 39 percent of liberal Democrats.
To slice it another way, support for Israel is a minority opinion in the Democratic Party. Pew adds that “the partisan gap in Mideast sympathies” reflected in the poll “has never been wider.”
Now, some complain the wording of the question doesn’t quite support the conclusion the party has become anti-Israel. All these Americans are saying, goes this claim, is that Palestinians are more downtrodden.
This is wishful thinking. For one thing, the Pew findings are consistent with a just-released Gallup Poll reporting that while 65 percent of Republicans say Israel’s actions against Hamas are justified, only 36 percent of Democrats do.
Throughout the rest of the West, the circumstances are likely even more dire. The Right in Europe, such as it is, is itself brazenly anti-Semitic and always has been. All of which is to say that no one in most of the allegedly enlightened world can be bothered to raise a finger to support civilization and to stand against barbarism. The Jews in Israel and elsewhere stand alone, save for a few American conservatives who still believe in traditional notions of good and evil, right and wrong.
As we noted last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a good man fighting a good war. But among world leaders, he is also a lonely man fighting for a lonely cause. The United States under the leadership of Barack Obama and the hapless John Kerry seems bound and determined this time to break tradition and to embrace the Palestinian cause rather than that of the Israelis. If Barack Obama’s America does so, it will not only be turning its back on the history of Western culture, but in the process, it will be embracing the culture of death that is contemporary radical Islam.
And if that happens, God help us all.