Archive for the ‘Palestine’ Category

Here’s an interesting scientific paper about Palestinians and Israeli settlers. The experiments asked each group questions intended to judge how willing they were to compromise. Then, they asked the questions again, but threw in a side-offer, for example of economic aid or third-power security guarantees.

Interestingly, all the groups split into two identifiable types; some weren’t happy to compromise but thought they could do so, some rejected any compromise outright. The really significant result, however, is that the no-compromise group responded very badly to the offer of a side payment – it just made them angrier and more intransigent. Only a dramatic sacrifice of symbols by the other side would induce them to change – exactly, as it happens, the sort of thing the compromise group wouldn’t think of doing for fear of what the non-compromisers would say.

I wonder if it would be possible to re-analyse the results using Robert Altemeyer’s tests of social authoritarianism and dominance? It feels intuitively right; more formally, an intense concern with symbols and symbolic norms would seem to be very similar with the obsession with the preservation of hierarchical norms Altemeyer identified among his authoritarian subjects.

It also fits with a lot of the language of extreme conservatism through history; the idea of the corrupting nature of compromise and of democracy, especially of parliaments, and its opposite, the cult of the decision embodied in the leader, has been around since the counter-enlightenment.

This does, of course, point out a deep ambiguity – we admire principle but also reasonableness, which must mean the ability to ignore it.

Further question; remember Chris Lightfoot’s analysis of the Political Survey results? Chris selected the statements from a survey which maximised the variance in the population’s answers to them and used these to summarise the results on two axes. This is one of the axes:

  • Sense Statement
  • agree Prisons are too soft on criminals
  • agree The UK should withdraw from the European Union
  • disagree Most immigrants are beneficial to the UK
  • agree Some crimes are so serious that the only proper punishment is the death penalty
  • disagree It’s more important to rehabilitate criminals than to punish them
  • disagree The government should give more aid to poor countries
    agree National law should always override international agreements and European directives
  • agree Working people pay too much tax
  • disagree The cost of living in the UK should be allowed to rise in order to fight global warming
  • agree The government is mostly interested in helping itself, not ordinary people

The people surveyed broke by vote into two well-specified groups on this axis; one encompassed the Labour, Liberal, Welsh and Scottish Nationalist, RESPECT, and Green voters, the other the Conservatives, BNPers, ‘kippers and Veritas voters (if any measure of them can be considered statistically significant). Now, I would suggest that for a lot of the latter group, the last but one question isn’t really a stereotype-rationalist one about negotiating costs and risks but an identitarian one about not being a *refined shudder* greenie, which means that only the tax one can be considered as a question of compromise.


You rock. It’s interesting that blockade-running is a lasting technique of protest; Joseph Conrad did a spot on behalf of the Spanish Carlists, Erskine Childers for the IRA (although he thought he was doing it for the other side), and then, there was the saga off Bilbao in the Spanish Civil War. It’s always worth doing to go and probe what the actual limits to freedom are; naturally, they are set by the other side’s available will.

This tends to vary between the sea and the land. Winston Churchill wrote, about the German decision for unrestricted submarine warfare in 1916, that no-one would have objected had a lot of neutrals been driving trainloads of war supplies up to the front and the Germans had turned their artillery on them. Sinking neutral ships, however, was somehow a lot more offensive. Similarly, it seems that the Israeli military finds it easier to use force at some sweating checkpoint than on the high seas; foreign nationality hasn’t always been protective.

A couple of possible reasons come up; one is that (as Churchill suggested) it simply feels and looks awful, to the people who would have to carry it out. Especially as one of the great Israeli historical grievances regards the Royal Navy intercepting immigrant ships at sea. (Why else did the Foreign Ministry mouthpiece say they didn’t want a “well-publicised provocation in the middle of the sea”?) A second, related, is that the sea is for everyone, like the radio spectrum. Crucially, with 20 miles or so of shore to aim for, and territorial waters used by quite a lot of other small craft, it would have been hard to spot two more wooden boats at night, so an arrest would have to happen further out at sea, in which case it would have been on the high seas, in international waters. Major sea powers tend not to like this, especially when they already have a grudge on the matter. Further, it would have been a precedent for other navies in the area.

There’s another point, of course; the idea of a naval blockade has traditionally been financial and legal. If there was an “effective” – we’d now say credible – blockade, a ship that breached it invalidated its insurance, and that of its cargo. Similarly, the blockade invoked the force majeure clause in any contract that required goods to be shipped through it. A little force went a long way. This was the situation off northern Spain at the end of 1936; the Fascists had a few ships in the area, and wanted to prevent shipping reaching the Republican-held ports there. They had the further problem that no-one recognised them as having belligerent rights – i.e. unless they could stop ships, the blockade would not be legitimate.

The Royal Navy was in the area, but wasn’t keen on picking a fight with the fascists, largely because the British ambassador to Spain was getting his information from them. Dozens of ships with cargos for Bilbao were held in Bordeaux by the blockade; one of them was about to call the bluff. The Seven Seas Spray sailed in defiance of the blockade, and all advice, and arrived in Bilbao. The next shp to go was intercepted by the fascist-controlled cruiser Almirante Cervera. She instantly radioed for the Navy’s assistance; she was a British-flagged ship, and so the Navy had an obligation to defend her. The British government had tried to balance believing in the fascist claims by sending more ships; the Hood, Resolution, and a gaggle of destroyers arrived. What was more, the Hood‘s 8 15-inch guns were trained on the Almirante Cervera.

They didn’t discuss it further. More importantly, the blockade was over; there were no mines, and the threats were empty, and the Royal Navy was now unwillingly committed to protect any shipping in that sea. The roadstead in the Gironde emptied. All it had taken was the willingness to defy; probably, with more effort, the fascists could have sunk a ship, but they were not in a position to stop them all.

Outside Dubrovnik in 1991, there was a more postmodern take on the tradition; a bizarre gaggle of journalists, intellectuals, pacifists, and crisis tourists decided to run the Serbian encirclement of the city in a chartered Ro-Ro ferry. Despite being stopped by an (ex-)Yugoslav Navy vessel, they were eventually allowed to pass after a highly surreal parley; the downside was that there wasn’t actually very much in the way of aid aboard the ship or aboard any other ship. There is a telling account of the journey here; note that one prediction from it was very much true, as Stipe Mesic did indeed get to be president of Croatia.

I have to say that the makeup of the Gaza convoy isn’t that promising – Yvonne Ridley? Was George Galloway unable to open his sunbed? But the spirit is right, and they strike an important point – Israel does all its trade through its ports, over the sea. They can afford to start a row about the freedom of the seas as much as Singapore or Britain can.

This essay by Ian McEwan in the Guardian Review shows precisely why the Decent influence on British intellectual life is so damn depressing. You may think, and I would say the AaroWatch crew are guilty of this, that they are just a bunch of wankers left behind with their blogs after history moved on. But their unpopularity is not all that important – the whole Decent project is intended to be an elite/intellectual one, based on influence rather than numbers.

On those terms it’s succeeding, what with the ramifications it’s developed in the Conservative Party…and its effect on the literary establishment is pretty grim, too. McEwan will never be a core-group Decent, even though he wrote a whole book about how terribly civilised, self-controlled surgeons compared to those irresponsible scum protesting in the streets. He’s too good for that, and style has a role to play as well – Martin Amis’s epic self-dramatising fits in perfectly with a movement as queeny as Decency, but McEwan’s literary protestantism doesn’t quite fit. But they are having an effect on him.

Consider this essay. It’s a good, solid piece of work; a well-researched reflection on the continuity of apocalyptic thought in human societies, and the way it projects the real horror of mortality – that the world goes on without us – onto precisely the society that will always outlive us. But then, but then; you read this:

It was inevitably a transition, the passing of an old age into the new – and who is to say now that Osama bin Laden did not disappoint, whether we mourned at the dawn of the new millennium with the bereaved among the ruins of lower Manhattan, or danced for joy, as some did, in the Gaza Strip.

They didn’t, though, did they? The TV image in question turned out to be stock footage shot months before, and no-one remembers the BBC lead of that night from Palestine, Yasser Arafat giving blood for New York. There is something wrong here – after all, why would you want to involve Palestinians at this point? They didn’t bloody do it, man. Why not say – in Afghanistan, where the orders for the attack were given? In Saudi Arabia, where the attackers came from and where, in all probability, the money came from? In Hamburg, where the terrorist cell actually prepared the attack? Why give a location at all – someone, after all, will have danced for joy somewhere?

And here we go. McEwan now devotes several hundred words to the revolutionary notion that Wahhabism, Nazism, and Stalinism are undesirable and would be best avoided, something no Guardian Review reader is likely to have thought before him. He cites Christopher Hitchens, raging about John F. Kennedy, but oddly doesn’t seem aware that Richard Nixon nearly started a nuclear war in 1973 or Ronald Reagan in 1984 with the ABLE ARCHER crisis, one which was particularly perilous because it happened without any of the diplomatic crisis management Kennedy’s cabinet wrapped the Cuban crisis in. There is a message here, no? And it’s not about apocalyptic thinking, at least not that kind.

But McEwan, as I said, will never be a real Decent. American Christian Identity types come in for a lot of flak, as does the Israeli settler movement. The fox is struggling to hedgehog up. On the other hand, though, it’s there – the creationists get given an explicit pass on the suggestion they don’t really believe it, and we’ve dealt with Palestine further back. This is undoubtedly a Decent document, which is a great pity, because its indecent curves are stunning when shown.

Meanwhile, I was driving away from Windsor Great Park on the day of the Queen’s Cup polo match when I saw, over a hedge, the top of a Routemaster! Given the bizarre significance of the things to the PolEx/Godson/Standpoint/CCO/Martin Bright club, I’m tempted to imagine it as the transport for the Decent assassination squad.

The great Israeli historian Martin van Creveld argued, years ago, that the occupation must end because of the “power of the weak”, that eventually the degree of violence that would be needed to maintain it would destroy Israeli moral cohesion. It seems someone on the other side has read him. Within the last month we’ve seen a mass protest by hundreds of women being staged to spring a group of Hamas men from a building they were surrounded in, and now an airstrike is called off as civilians surround the target. Ruthlessness is harder than you think.

A Hamas commander at the scene said people had gathered to show that the demolition strategy of the Israelis could be defeated.

An Israeli military spokesman confirmed to Reuters news agency that the raid had been called off because of the Palestinian action.

The new map of the Middle East crazed wingnut Ralph Peters came up with needs a bit more battering, I think. Specifically, as well as the fact that even though in the text of the article he accepts that the Israelis ought to go back to the Green Line, and on the map he blithely confiscates Saudi Arabia’s oilfields and gives them to a new Shia state including southern Iraq, he can’t bring himself to mention the word “Palestine” (it’s given as “West Bank – status undetermined”), his worldview is truly bizarre and it shows through.

Iran is expected to surrender its Arab bit and coastal strip to the new Shia state, some land to the Kurds, and the northern bit around Tabriz to Azerbaijan – rather like Stalin did in 1945 – and for some reason it’s marked as Iran (Persia). Really. What is it with right-wing Americans and restorationist fantasies? Peters probably considers China to be China (Taiwan Mainland) or something. Meanwhile, a straight line is drawn across Iraq right through the centre of Baghdad between “Sunni Iraq” and the new Shia state. That’s what I call a dead straight line, even though Baghdad is marked as a “city state” in a desperate afterthought. The Sunnis miss out on the oil except perhaps for the East Baghdad field, but there is no mention of their control of the Shias’ water supply (perhaps Peters doesn’t realise you need water).

As well as being mulcted of their oil, the Saudis are asked to hand over a huge tract of land to Yemen (why?), Mecca and Medina, plus more land, to a new “sacred state”, and accept being downgraded from a Kingdom to the “Independent Saudi Homeland Territories”. Christ. Territories and a homeland in one name. Still, it couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of hypocritical, corrupt medieval torturers. Jordan also gets some Saudi territory – why, I’ve no idea, except that it ends up looking rather like a rhinoceros rotated through 25 degrees from the horizontal.

Oman, the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait are entirely unchanged, presumably because he doesn’t know where they are except that they are rich. Going for the big finish, he also gives the entire Syrian coast to Lebanon, incidentally putting his (presumably) friends and allies there in the permanent minority, on the grounds that it would be a “new Greater Phoenicia.”

Now it’s all over, what was all the shooting about?

To answer that question, we’d first need to know something of each side’s aims. Hezbollah’s were reasonably clear, at least as far as the decision to take the two soldiers prisoner went: put pressure on the Israelis to release their remaining Lebanese prisoners, and not incidentally demonstrate they were still Gangster Number One. After all, Hamas had managed to pull off the capture of Gideon Shalit and the destruction of a tank only days before, so something needed doing to maintain respect.

What they didn’t reckon with, basing their perceptual framework on Ariel Sharon’s 2004 decision to exchange prisoners, was the Israeli freakout that followed. Once that began, Hezbollah’s aims were to hold on to as much as possible whilst keeping their army in being, and score prestige triumphs like rocketing Haifa harbour and flying drones into Israel. Simple enough.

What were the Israeli aims, though? Just get the soldiers back? Negotiation would have done that. And, in the end, it doesn’t seem to have worried them very much. The Israelis seem remarkably unconcerned that two of their soldiers are left in Hezbollah hands – still! Demolish Hezbollah? Well, they seem to have liked the idea. But, if you look at the situation maps, their actions do not correspond to such grandiose goals. Quite simply, they did not go very far into Lebanon, ever – despite the talk of going to the Litani, they only went there as a token presence. Secure the north from rockets? This would have meant going well beyond the Litani, perhaps to the Awali river line, which would have put the great bulk of the rockets out of range for as long as they stayed. But they spent so much time talking of a two mile deep security zone – which would help not a jot.

There are a couple of explanations. One is that they would have marched to the Litani but Hezbollah (and the Shia Amal, and the Communists) beat them. I’m not sure. They certainly put up an impressive defence, but whether they could have prevented Tsahal from breaking through if it had been bent on doing so is another matter. In all, four Israeli divisions were employed, and at no time was a manoeuvre bigger than brigade strength launched except perhaps at the very end. Another is that the Israelis were trying to avoid the 1978 scenario, where Hezbollah just retires behind the Litani in an affair of outposts, by trying to draw them on to their positions in the south. Another is that they were conflicted and unsure of aims, and that there was effectively no overall strategy. If 1982 was a war for psychotics, with its obsessive blitz ever further north and climatic massacre, this was one for neurotics.

The drawing-on tactic is possible, I suppose, but for an army as tank-oriented as the Israelis against an enemy made up of small mobile ATGW teams, very unfavourable. It would have amounted to parking a lot of tanks in southern Lebanon as targets. It might have had some appeal to a command torn between the will to wound and the fear to strike, though, unwilling to plunge north but under pressure to confront the enemy. It might also have appealed to the airpower theorist, Halutz, as a way of flushing Hezbollah fighters so his aircraft could attack them – but three-man rocket teams are not good targets, and the decision not to charge north meant that they wouldn’t collect at the bridges like good little sheep. (This may be the result of learning the wrong lesson from Kosovo.)

That the IDF simply didn’t have a strategy is perhaps supported by the fact a key commander, the head of the northern command, was sacked. Everyone will now draw whatever conclusions they want from the war – the 4th Generation Warfare crowd will point to the rocketing of the Haifa port and the village reserve groups with their rockets as more evidence for their side, the neo-cons will cry Iran, the Quai d’Orsay will positively purr, and the Lebanese will in all probability conclude that the more tank-hunters between them and the Israelis, the better.

I prefer the Colonel’s analysis, which is that Hezbollah is just at the turning point from a guerrilla force to an army in Maoist revolutionary war theory. They are known to have studied Vietnam extensively, after all. For the laughs, meanwhile, Col. Lang described the Hezbollah first line of defence as the Tabouleh Line, with the next being the Shawarma Line. I disagree. I think the talk of bunkers and tunnel complexes is overrated – every front-line account I’ve seen speaks of small groups of tank hunters shooting and moving, hiding out in the open, and practically all the Israeli losses came from them. It’s more accurate to say that Hezbollah drew the Israelis into a hoummus.

The last post went a bit off-topic as the rockets got in the way of the strategy. So, a recap. Hezbollah is following, I think, a sort of fleet-in-being strategy. They want to keep their militia and their quasi-state role inside Lebanon, and anything that weakens the Lebanese government is conducive to that. Even being forced to withdraw from the deep south isn’t that bad, as the return of Israeli forces there gives Hezbollah back its missing reason to exist. But what are the Israelis hoping to do, apart from exactly what the enemy want them to?

One argument is purely tactical, or tactics-as-strategy. That is that they just want to get the prisoners back and get the rocket fire shut off. The first counterargument is that Ariel Sharon achieved both these by negotiation, and if he did it you can hardly describe it as weak. Another is the official line, that they want the Lebanese government to deal with Hezbollah. Bwaaahaahaaha, as they say. The Lebanese government is going to be lucky to survive Operation LITANI II, and anyway doesn’t have the consensus or the strength to do so. (Over at Aqoul, Tom Scudder asks if a list of Lebanese military equipment suggests strength or weakness on the Lebanese army’s part. Answer: it’s irrelevant.) And if that is the aim, why did they just bomb a TV transmitter miles north of Beirut that is used by LBC – the Christian Lebanese TV station whose chief political commentator was menaced during the revolution for being too anti-Syrian – and a channel owned by the Hariris? Yes, that’s as in Rafiq Hariri.

Alternatively, this is just more of a pattern familiar from 2002. Back then, whilst demanding that the PA and PLO “crack down on the terrorists”, the Israelis responded to every terrorist incident by bombing Palestinian police stations – culminating when their army besieged the headquarters of the Palestinian secret service and took away the files on the, er, terrorists. Perhaps it’s a weird version of our old friend, airpower theory. This is lent credence by the fact that the IDF chief of general staff Dan Halutz is an aviator, for the first time in Tsahal’s history. Chris “Back to Iraq” Albritton dishes this policy nicely – after all, if this really worked, why didn’t the 11th of September raid make the US public overthrow George W. Bush? More seriously, Chris’s reaction is itself proof that it doesn’t. He’s getting bombed and he’s not any happier about it. Further empirical evidence for the criminal stupidity of this strategy is what’s happened to Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz’s polls since the rain started a-falling. Two weeks ago, Olmert’s approval rating stood at 43 per cent. Now it’s 78 per cent. Peretz’s have gone from 28 per cent to 61 per cent.

Apart from that, I defer to this post.

Hizbullah: Our little-girls-face-ripping-off missiles answer to God the most merciful, the most compassionate.
Israel: As Golda Meir once said: we do not actually hate them for ripping off our little girls’ faces but for making us rip off their little girls’ faces.
Hizbullah: And let’s not forget the Palestinians, they have lost their land and some of their little girls’ faces.
Israel: Oh that’s from honor killing, if the girls have sex, they rip off the girls’ faces.
{Angry shouting, inaudible}
Mediator{ pounding gavel}: Inadmissible, we are only talking about face-ripping-off-of-girls in war. We are trying to prevent another Mideast Girl Face Ripping Off Free-for-All.
Israel: Millions of Jewish girls have had their faces ripped off out of sheer cruelty and hate; and dozens and dozens of Israeli girls through suicide bombers and terrorists. We will never forget. So we are accidentally ripping off girls’ faces strategically for survival.
Hizbullah: We are compelled to rip off the faces of little girls in order to hasten justice. We will, if necessary, rip off little girls’ faces until justice is complete and the Compassionate One is sovereign and cruelty is banished.
Israel: We are a humane society and we never rip off faces of little girls except by accident. And by the way, they are overcounting their little girls with their faces ripped off.

Read the whole thing. If you want to be really, really depressed.