June 19, 2010
David Shulman in Israel After the Flotilla Debacle in the New York Review of Books blog makes a couple of important points about contemporary Israel that are rarely made or acknowledged in Australia.
He says that it is important to understand the depth of the change that Israel has undergone since the present government came to power in the spring of 2009. First:
Netanyahu heads a government composed largely of settlers and their hard-core supporters on the right. Their policy toward Palestine and Palestinians rests upon two foundations: first, the prolongation, indeed, further entrenchment of the occupation, with the primary aim of absorbing more and more Palestinian land into Israel—a process we see advancing literally hour by hour and day by day in the West Bank. Second, there is the attempt to control the Palestinian civilian population by forcing them into fenced-off and discontinuous enclaves. Gaza is the biggest and most volatile of the latter,
He adds that there is another critical facet to the shift that has taken place. Under conditions of escalating religious nationalism (a Zionism that presses territorial claims, religious exclusivity and political extremism) Israeli dissent is being repressed, as a result of internal security now being in the hands of the ultra-right party Yisrael Beitenu, led by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
He adds that maintaining the occupation West Bank and Gaza Strip and the Gaza blockade is incompatible with making peace, and indeed indicates that the present Israeli leadership under Netanyahu has no interest in resolving the conflict.
The context in Australia is the campaign by the right wing leadership of Israeli lobby and the neocons campaign to portray Israel as on the very brink of annihilation. Israel’s preoccupation with Iran’s nuclear program stems from the fear that Iran would either use a nuclear weapon against Israel or give the bomb to one of its direct proxies, most likely Hezbollah. The neocons point to Tehran’s open hostility toward Jerusalem as they beat the drums of war.
As George Friedman points out at Stratfor:
A single point sums up the story of Israel and the Gaza blockade-runners: Not one Egyptian aircraft threatened the Israeli naval vessels, nor did any Syrian warship approach the intercept point. The Israelis could be certain of complete command of the sea and air without challenge. And this underscores how the Arab countries no longer have a military force that can challenge the Israelis, nor the will nor interest to acquire one. Where Egyptian and Syrian forces posed a profound threat to Israeli forces in 1973, no such threat exists now. Israel has a completely free hand in the region militarily; it does not have to take into account military counteraction. The threat posed by intifada, suicide bombers, rockets from Lebanon and Gaza, and Hezbollah fighters is real, but it does not threaten the survival of Israel the way the threat from Egypt and Syria once did (and the Israelis see actions like the Gaza blockade as actually reducing the threat of intifada, suicide bombers and rockets). Non-state actors simply lack the force needed to reach this threshold. When we search for the reasons behind Israeli actions, it is this singular military fact that explains Israeli decision-making.
Friedman adds that while there is no balance of power, the dominant nation can act freely. The problem with this is that doing so tends to force neighbors to try to create a balance of power.