Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Is the Middle East about to explode?

No doubt Thomas Friedman had something in mind when he wrote about the sex scandals engulfing top military officials of the United States army at a time when the Middle East is about ready as it gets to explode. *

On Nov. 16, a Friday, the Prime Minister of Egypt traveled to Gaza strip in an effort to bring about a truce. There is at risk that Israel shall engage Hamas in a full out military assault on the ground.

After Israelis had killed the top military commander of Hamas, namely Ahmed al-Jabari while riding in a car, Hamas retaliated with rocket attacks upon Israel. One of them hit in Tel Aviv and killed three Israeli citizens. Another rocket went 80 Kilometers and reached the outskirts of Jerusalem. It underlines what new threat is posed once these rockets launched in the Gazastrip can go that far.

The imbalance of power means once again to answer a blow with a new blow. This law of revenge has been followed throughout the turbulent years of the Middle East. Ever since Israel was established in 1948 thanks to United Nations' recognition of a new Israeli state on Palestinian land, that imbalance has been accomponied by uncontrolled shifts in power. The many factions can take constantly advantage of overriding issues blending out other, more concrete ones like the fight for water and land.

To date, the Israeli side has not acknowledged what is de facto 'occupation'. Rather the slogan that every state has a Right to defend itself when its citizens are threatened has been used repeatedly not only to simply justify military actions. Rather punitive measures go with other strategies. So while in November 2012 again the refrain is heard from everyone speaking on behalf of Israel, namely that every government is legitimized if its own citizens are threatened by rocket attacks from the other side, no word about what preceded this latest round of escalating violence.

Even when a CNN anchor questioned the Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom, he would not budge on the question of occupation but overgo it with silence and instead create an imagine as if two states were existing side by side with one being the aggressor and Israel the defender of its citizens. Interestingly enough the CNN anchor remarked at the end of that interview that obviously diplomatic solutions e.g. asking Egpyt to reign in the rocket attacks from Gaza are not preferred, if there are only military options on the table, so to speak.

Why Israel made this pre-emptive strike, if not directly connected with Natayahu's re-election campaign and hence deflection from inner social issues galvanizing protest in Israel against the growing disparities between rich and poor, some further thoughts must be given to this ploy. For it looks also very much like hitting Hamas in Gaza if it was not possible to strike Iran. Thus the justification to stop rocket attacks from Gaza linked to a decision to hold the military commander of Hamas, namely Ahmed al-Jabari accountable, is but one version. Another much more criticial question is why then was Israeli engaged in peace talks with Ahmed al-Jabari just hours before he was assassinated? Was that a calculative move to get him out of his hiding?

The chief of staff to the the Presidential Cabinet of Egypt called the assassination a mistake when he was asked as to what Egpyt might do when going to Gaza. He said prudently even if you are the stronger, that does not mean you can ignore the demand for justice. Clearly here Israel fails with having erected a wall to imprison the Palestinians. It should also not be forgotten that Gaza strip is but an open prison with Israel controlling completely what goes in, what comes out.

There has to taken a closer look at Israel's occupation policy. Like all such policies it is a system of favoring the own citizens and puts the Palestinians at a distinct and clear disadvantage. Since this system is linked to what the settlers are allowed to do, occupation means also seizing 'illegally' land but then safeguarding of the newly acquired properties means an over extension of military rule. There were already protests by Israeli soldiers that the army was going well beyond its mission declared when set up to defend Israelis.

Repeatedly when speaking with Israelis or Pro Israelis, it is very rare that the occupation policy can be discussed in a self critical way. That includes the current Israeli ambassador to the UK who would speak blatently in praise of Israel allowing so many trucks to deliver goods into the Gaza. As if this benevolent act does not underline the status of being the occupier who seeks to control what goes in and out of the Gaza strip! In no way can be the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian authority with Hamas a separate authority in the Gaza strip be based on equal terms. And yet often Israelis speak as if this is already a state to state relationship for they demand of Hamas and of the Palestinian authorities to keep their own population and more extreme forces under control. But if not recognized as state no such control when it comes to the use of fire power or other forces can be assumed. As the example in the Gaza shows, more radical or extreme groups than Hamas itself are behind the shooting of the rockets. Yet the blame game goes hand in hand with holding just one authority responsible while it is not acknowledged that their hands are not only tied, but made most difficult if their military commander is assassinated.

The flare up of rockets from Gaza into Israel and vice versa the countless bombardments by Israeli planes dropping bombs in Gaza comes as Thomas L. Friedman writes at the worst possible times. There is after all the ongoing conflict inside of Syria with all other Arab countries licking their open wounds after the Arab spring has left many wondering where everything shall head towards next.

This latest action by Israeli Defence Forces makes harder to assume that the Israel government is really acting in the best interests of the citizens of Israel.

Since long term perspectives are cited, Israel has all the more reasons to be prudent. After the Arabic Spring has brought about a change in government in Egypt, the first freely elected President is a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood. It means the people in Gaza are considered to be brothers. Thus no current Egyptian government can stand on the sidelines and pretend to be indifferent as to what is happening. Thus if no truce can be brokered, and the Israelis launch a ground offensive, then the region is ready to explode.

Now most importance is what Thomas Friedman develops as basic thesis about the Middle East, namely that the region cannot find peace by itself. There is too much hatred and too many unresolved issues, as that countries can be stable without some outside bracket keeping fractions ready to fight each other till the very end apart.


"I continue to believe that the best way to understand the real options -- and they are grim -- is by studying Iraq, which, like Syria, is made up largely of Sunnis, Shiites, Christians and Kurds. Why didn't Iraq explode outward like Syria after Saddam was removed? The answer: America.

For better and for worse, the United States in Iraq performed the geopolitical equivalent of falling on a grenade -- that we triggered ourselves. That is, we pulled the pin; we pulled out Saddam; we set off a huge explosion in the form of a Shiite-Sunni contest for power. Our invasion both triggered the civil war in Iraq and contained it at the same time. After that Sunni-Shiite civil war burned itself out, we brokered a fragile, imperfect power-sharing deal between Iraqi Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. Then we got out. It is not at all clear that their deal will survive our departure.

Still, the lesson is that if you're trying to topple one of these iron-fisted, multisectarian regimes, it really helps to have an outside power that can contain the explosions and mediate a new order. There is too little trust in these societies for them to do it on their own. Syria's civil war, though, was triggered by predominantly Sunni rebels trying to oust President Bashar Assad and his minority Alawite-Shiite regime. There is no outside power willing to fall on the Syrian grenade and midwife a new order. So the fire there rages uncontrolled.

But Iraq teaches another lesson: Shiites and Sunnis are not fated to murder each other 24/7/365. Yes, their civil war dates to the seventh century. And, yes, when they started going after each other in Iraq, they did so with breathtaking chainsaw-nails-pounded-into-heads violence. There is nothing like a fight within the faith. Yet, once order was restored, Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis, many of whom have intermarried, were willing to work together and even run together in multisectarian parties in the 2009-10 elections."

- Thomas L. Friedman, Obama's Nightmare, 14 Nov. 2012

If this thesis would hold, it means to legitimize in retrospect the intervention and occupation of Iraq by the United States forces in 2003. Even more surprising in view of all the violence erupting throughout the region, he seems now to praise the model of Iraq of the present over all other options, including the one of non interference.

As this is a most crucial thesis, and which can persuade likewise a new interference in the case of Syria, the question is really how Western powers shall now respond to Israel? Already it is said that for too long the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been pushed aside simply because it cannot be handled in any satisfactory way for both sides.

However, there is a major fault line in such a perception of the Middle East as implied by the thesis of Thomas L. Friedman, for it justifies disenfranchisement of the people living in the region. Historically speaking, it would lead to still further attempts to deprive the people of making their own 'political' experiences as to what governance in accordance with their values and world views does and can mean. Depriving others of this experience means teaching repeatedly the wrong lessons of democracy. By any account the latter is based on people being free to express their own will and in so doing learn to question power peacefully as non violence is the prerequisite for holding free and fair elections.

As long as this experiment mundi remains untested, very different experiences shall be made and furthermore false claims made. For too long Israel upheld the claim of being the only democracy in the region but which did not prevent it from entering a peace treaty with Mubarak, a dictator who ruled in Egypt for over thirty years. Of course, by being the 'good guy', so to speak, the real difference to Egypt and other Arab states could be played out, politically speaking. And since anyone protesting against occupation would be automatically called by Israel a terrorist, the peace scheme was really based on a simple rule: if you do not obey, you are going to be hit as hard as possible.

However, toughness has its own way to get back at what kind of life this means, namely not in a land of peace but on a cemetery due to the many fallen soldiers and more so killed innocent civilians.

About claims of democracy by the West and Israel, it should be said that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 contradicted two major principles of democracy: no regime change by violence and no outside interference. Above all time has to be given so that people can mature in both a cultural and political sense. If they do not experience what a peaceful transition of power means in institutional terms, how can they convey the values of democracy to future generations?

The West had upheld during the Cold War this principle of democracy as being the capacity to hold free and fair elections to ensure that the free expression of the will of the people allows for a democratically elected leadership. Such a leadership would be limited in time as is the case with the President of the United States who can only be elected for two terms. But as said this was already contradicted by the United States by upholding the reign of Mubarak for thirty years.

The invasion into Iraq was justified as well in the wake of 911 for a false reason, insofar as Saddam Hussein did not have in his possession weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, the real lesson to be learned out of Iraq is that many blunders by the military went hand in hand with all kinds of corruption and with the fact that countless innocent civilians died or were displaced. Nothing linked to the actions by Halliburton would offer a valuable lesson in development work. Rather it remains to be seen if these kinds of financial scams made possible through military contracts being constantly fortified by outsourcing national security matters to private companies can be held at all accountable, if there prevails no morality whatsoever!

In the Presidential election campaign Obama did refer to modern army requirements, but this would include ethical refinement in terms of the military being held accountable to democratic rule. Repeatedly civil control over the military fails in terms of transparency and this not only due to secracy being justified by citing always national security. For it seems always national security interests tend to go out of control and thereby jeopardize world peace.

It may not be possible at this time to prove that people in the Arab world can learn to govern themselves, especially if the Syrian conflict continues to be more than a civil war. With all what has happened in the region, along with all the hidden and most devious contacts flourishing all the time, and one needs only to see the fate of Lebanon, it is difficult to make sense of such suggestions that America as outside force is needed to stabalize the region. There is naturally as well Europe and more specifically the national interests of France, Germany, UK, Sweden etc. all eager to boast their economies through weapons trade. While Saudi Arabia and other countries like Bahrain continue along similar lines and welcome the chance to procure expensive weapons, it seems not to matter if again civilians are killed. It seems human life does not count when especially larger stakes and greater interests beyond the individual are at stake.

There is an election coming up in Israel. Unfortunately the military and security apparatus could not avert politicians from using an outside threat to justify a new provocation. So once again life is made on both sides of the wall into hell with rockets and bombs threatening the daily lives of people in Israel and in the Gaza strip. Newscasters attempt to air interviews with citizens on both sides but incredible is the ideological penetration into their minds, or else they know what is allowed to be said, what not. That means a coercive logic is as well at play when it comes to expressing one's opinion freely or not. Definitely a critical judgment seems to be missing on both sides of the wall.

A simple 'no' to all kinds of violence seems insufficient. There is not envisioned a real i.e. livable connection between such a 'no' and the uncertainty that would follow. Trust is simply not there to allow an open ended so that both communities could live side by side peacefully. While all claim to want peace, there is the preference towards showing strength just in case. Precaution means in such a case not to take the risk to trust the other side.

As long as too much money is being made by trading weapons instead of furthering peace, no wonder when everything seems to be to no avail and a region more than ever ready to explode.


hatto fischer

Athens 17.11.2012



* Thomas L. Friedman: Obama's nightmare

Posted:   11/14/2012 04:54:37 PM PST

Updated:   11/14/2012 04:54:38 PM PST


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