How the Gaza Invasion Became Possible: The Emergence of Israel as a Regional Superpower

In June, 1982, an attempt on the life of Israel’s ambassador to Great Britain by Abu Nidal’s group provided the pretext for a massive invasion of Lebanon. The attack, including a devastating bombing of Beirut and the slaughter at Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps, finally ended when the last Israeli troops pulled out 18 years later, leaving some 17,500 Lebanese dead, mostly civilians.

Israel’s current assault on Gaza, purportedly to rescue an IDF soldier captured during a Palestinian guerilla raid, brings the Lebanon adventure to mind. It is characterized by the same disproportionate response to an attack on a single Israeli, by the same willingness to devastate a civilian population and extend the conflict regionally (Israel buzzed the Syrian president’s residence and has threatened to target Hamas members in Damascus), and by the same conviction that international protocols and opinion are irrelevant. The magnitude of the damage inflicted on Gaza’s infrastructure and on its population have been described in detail elsewhere, but it clearly displays Israel’s ability to work its will in the region with impunity—the toothless response by the international community will not convince it otherwise.

Many commentators have noted that the assault on Gaza occurred after Jewish settlers were removed and out of harm’s way, and just as Fateh and Hamas had agreed on the terms of a document that, in effect, recognized Israel and suggested the possibility for renewed peace talks. It is not the first time that Israel has struck out to divert attention from diplomatic openings and to forestall negotiations that would inevitably mean relinquishing territorial gains that it claims as its own.

This resort to reckless force, this swaggering militarism became possible when Israel emerged in the late ‘60’s as the region’s unmatched power, boosted by greatly increased military aid from the United States. Until recently, virtually all of Israel’s leaders have had military backgrounds or ties, and defense has been a national priority. More broadly, Israel has militarized its society through its conscription policies, relentless public relations, and by giving significant benefits and extraordinary respect to those who serve. Together with US military aid, close bonds between the defense establishments of the two countries, and strong US financial and diplomatic support, plus a nuclear arsenal, Israel’s military advantage now far exceeds that of its neighbors, the most worrisome of which, Egypt, was neutralized by a US-brokered treaty. Iraq, too, has been removed as a competitor, courtesy of the US, and Israel now acts with vast confidence that its regional primacy cannot be challenged.

The United States has obligingly confirmed this confidence by promptly justifying Israel’s assault on Gaza on the grounds that it has a right to protect its citizens (a right not extended to Palestinians); the US also obstructed a UN Security Council move to censure the invasion.

The wisdom of US support for Israel as a regional superpower, for its projection of overwhelming military potency in lieu of diplomacy and international cooperation, is extremely dubious as a matter of national interest. Surrounding states feel threatened--Iran and Syria entered into a mutual defense pact in June—and polls have shown them to be far less concerned about Iran’s potential development of nuclear power than about American foreign policy. The plight of the Palestinians, a key element in Arab and Moslem bitterness, is largely attributed to our support of Israel and will not be ameliorated by seeing US warplanes and arms assaulting a largely helpless and unarmed people, already battered by months of bombardments and years of deprivation and humiliation.

Uncritical support for Israeli policies can only stand in the way of America’s goal of quenching global terrorism—it fuels the flames, undercuts international credibility and diplomatic efforts, and ultimately costs American blood and treasure. A government that so faithfully advocates for Israel's goals cannot equally faithfully serve American interests.

Posted on Jul 05, 06 | 2:06 pm