Friday, July 25, 2014

Our Israel Problem

The Middle East has been a central strategic preoccupation of the world for more than one hundred years, mostly because of oil. Winston Churchill's pivotal step of changing the British fleet from coal to oil was just the start of oil's dizzying rise to pre-eminence in the minds of of every strategic thinker. Since that time it has been a major focus of two global wars, the cold war, and numerous smaller scale wars.

These factors, and the vast wealth that the oil brought to the region, profoundly disrupted the relatively backward and tribal societies that dominated the area. So the Middle East would probably be a mess even without Israel.

Britain was probably the biggest player in the establishment of Israel. Motivated by a mixture of naive idealism and not as shrewd as they thought realpolitik, its leaders allowed and encouraged the immigration of Jews into Palestine. Their realpolitik backfired when the supposed "strategic counterweight" to the Arabs became a terrorist movement dedicated to domination.

Despite early support from the US (and the USSR), Israel didn't really become our own problem child until the 1973 war, when the US intervened very substantially by mounting massive aid when Israel was on the verge of defeat by Egypt and its allies. Out of this grew the Arab oil embargo, OPEC's imperial triumph, the enormous run up in oil prices, a major global recession, the Iranian revolution, and Jimmy Carter's political destruction.

Since that time, Israel, through its own efforts and plenty of American help (though the nukes were probably France's fault) has become the regional superpower. This overwhelming power has allowed it to behave very badly in its abuse of the Palestinians. The superiority is so overwhelming that Israel has essentially no stake in a peace settlement that would in any way approach justice. Instead, it imprisons the Palestinians in the Gaza concentration camp, steals Palestinian land and water in the West Bank, and crushes resistance with overwhelming force.

This behavior has turned many of Israel's old allies against it and utterly depleted the stores of guilt and moral debt that much of the world felt towards Israel. Only the US, where the alliance of American Jews and Christian Millenialists crushes any criticism, hold firm. The Israeli Prime Minister even insults the American President with apparent impunity. How long is this likely to last?

If Israel will not restrain itself, can anyone else restrain it? TBD.