31 March, 2009

Don't Bother Rounding Up The Usual Suspects

An Israeli army investigation into alleged Israeli army war crimes during the recent bombardment of Gaza has concluded that the Israeli army has no case to answer. Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak has announced that the investigation reveals that Israel still has "the most moral army in the world".

18 March, 2009

The USA's Israel Lobby (slight return)

You have probably heard about this "Israel Lobby" controversy. What happened was that Stephen Walt and John J. Mearsheimer, two American International Relations academics, wrote an article about the USA's tendency to support the most hawkish elements in the Israeli body politic. They saw this as being thanks to the influence of a powerful pro-Israel lobby in the USA. They furthermore asserted that this support for the Israeli right was detrimental to US interests (and, ultimately, to those of Israel). The authors of this article were not the usual leftist types, but theorists from the Realist school of International Relations. Their article let to predictable outrage.

Recently, President Obama proposed to appoint some guy called Charles Freeman to chair the US National Intelligence Council. Last week, however, Freeman withdrew his candidacy, citing a campaign of vilification against him by this Israel Lobby.

There is an interesting article in the Guardian by Jonathan Freedland on this incident: "Discard the mythology of 'the Israel Lobby', the reality is bad enough". Freedland is asserting that the Israel Lobby is not responsible for the near unconditional support that the USA gives to Israel. He is, however, doing it from a leftist perspective, and like Mearsheimer and Walt he sees the American support for Israel as ultimately malign. He does not deny the existence of a US lobby in favour of Israel (it would be hard to claim that the likes of AIPAC do not exist), but sees US support for Israel as being driven not by it but by self-interest – the self-interest of the USA's power-elite.

Freedland's article is interesting, and is a useful summary of the kind of argument he and others have advanced. It does have its problems, however. He creates something of a straw man out of Mearsheimer and Walt's argument, claiming that they see this Israel Lobby as omnipotent, when clearly they do not. Ironically, like many pro-Israeli opponents of Mearsheimer and Walt, Freedland seems also to casually conflate their idea of a powerful pro-Israel lobby with anti-semitic ideas of a sinister cabal of Zion's elders ruling the world. I am also unconvinced by his assertion that Israeli leaders were against the invasion of Iraq; I recall numerous Israeli commentators writing in the pages of Ha'aretz before the invasion, more or less asserting that anyone opposing the invasion was clearly an enemy of Israel.

At some stage of the game I will probably write more on different explanations offered for the obvious closeness between the USA and Israel, before going on to offer my own synthesis of them.

15 March, 2009

L'enfer, c'est les Australiens

Australia's foreign minister Steven Smith is very concerned about recent events in Pakistan, in particular the attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket team.

"This was very much an existentialist threat to Pakistan itself," commented Mr Smith.

The Pakistani authorities are reportedly on the lookout for gitanes and gauloises being smuggled in to the country's beret-wearing maniacs.


image source one

image source two

Cast Lead Fail

You will recall that the Israeli state's recent campaign against Gaza was dubbed Operation Cast Lead, a name picked to denote how uncompromisingly brutal it would be for the Palestinians. Two months after the campaign ended, some people in Israel have started wondering whether Cast Lead achieved anything for them. Although death and destruction was meted out to the people of Gaza, it has not succeeded in its stated aim of halting the firing of rockets from Gaza into adjacent Israeli territory. The level of rocket fire now is down on what it was in late December; I suspect it is roughly comparable to what it would have been before the Israeli state repudiated the truce it had with Hamas by assassinating three of that party's activists back in November. It seems also that members of the Israeli public have started to register how badly the Gaza war has affected their country's image – it never really looks that good when your army tells people to shelter in a school and then fires tank shells at them.

What is both interesting and disturbing about all this is that anyone with half a brain could have predicted this outcome from the Gaza campaign – that Israel would fail to halt the rockets and would further erode its international standing. Whatever you think about the morality of their actions, there seems to be a lack of basic rationality on the part of many Israeli decision-makers. The Gaza campaign did not even succeed as a cynical attempt by the then government to buy popularity with the Israeli public. The decision to launch the Gaza campaign was taken by a government led by the Labour and Kadima parties, both of whom have been consigned to the opposition benches by the recent elections.

Israel's new ultra-right coalition has reputedly decided that for now the rockets from Gaza can be lived with. Minds are apparently being focussed on how the economic crisis is hitting Israel, making a repeat of Operation Cast Lead now rather unlikely. The new government of Binyamin Netanyahu, however, has not decided on a new pacific course of interaction with the country's neighbours. Instead, his leadership is reported to be planning a strike of some sort against Iran.