How will history describe the Israeli war against the Palestinians in Gaza? Another Holocaust, this time perpetrated by the descendants of the victims? An election ploy by ambitious Israeli politicians to win votes in the February 10 elections? A test range for new American weapons? Or an effort to lock the new Obama Administration into an anti-Iranian position? An attempt to establish its military "credibility" after its disastrous defeat in the war with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006? Perhaps all of these…and more.
But one thing is certain. Israel has killed at least 100 Palestinians for each of its own claimed losses, a vast disproportion that has produced horror in much of the world, creating a new cause which has mobilized countless numbers of people — possibly as strong as the Vietnam war movement. It has made itself a pariah nation — save in the United States and a few other countries. Above all, it has enflamed the entire Muslim world
As Bruce Riedel, a "hawk" who has held senior posts in the CIA for nearly 30 years and is now one of President Obama’s many advisers, has just written: "…the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the central all-consuming issue for al Quaeda," and "Muslims feel a profound sense of wrong about the creation of Israel that infuses every aspect thinking and activities and has become the rallying cry used the convince the ummah of the righteousness of al Quaeda’s cause." That was before Gaza. Much of the world now detests Israel but most it will live for many years to come with the consequences of Israel’s atrocities. Muslim extremists will now become much stronger.
Charges of war crimes are now being leveled — and justifiably so — at the Israelis, many of whom themselves come from families that suffered in the hands of the Nazis over 60 years ago and now claim that the Holocaust was the only tragedy — as if the far more numerous deaths of goyim throughout the world after 1945 count for nothing. The United Nations and human rights groups are demanding that Israel be brought to justice for what now amounts to having killed over 1300 Gazans with immense firepower, many of which, like phosphorous bombs, are illegal. Israel has already prepared its senior officers to be ready to defend themselves against war crimes charges and Israeli Attorney General Menahem Mazuz several weeks ago warned the government was expecting a "wave of international lawsuits."
It will now have to live with the geo-political consequences in the region. Israel has, perhaps irreparably, imperiled its relations with the neighboring Arab states and other Muslim nations — Qatar and Mauritania have already suspended diplomatic relations with it — less because the ruling classes of these nations want to penalize it but because the Arab masses demand it, imperiling their own positions as rulers.
Even more important, although the United States has loyally supported Israel for decades, deluging it with the most modern arms and giving it diplomatic protection, it is now in an economic crisis and needs Arab money, not to mention oil imports, as never before. The stability of this crucial alliance will now be tested.
Since its inception, a cult of machismo — called self-defense — characterized much of Zionism, and although there were idealists like A. D. Gordon, the mainstream was more and more committed to a violent response to the Arabs who surrounded them. The military was increasingly glorified, including by nominal Leftists like David Ben Gurion, so that today Israel is a regional Sparta armed with the most modern military and nuclear weapons, giving it a virtual monopoly in a vast region — one that will inevitably be challenged.
Uri Avnery, a leading Israeli anti-war activist, has just written that "… hundreds of millions of Arabs around us… will they see the Hamas fighters as the heroes of the Arab nation, but they will also see their own regimes in their nakedness: cringing, ignominious, corrupt and treacherous… In coming years it will become apparent that this war was sheer madness."
We are living through yet another great tragedy, and tragedies have been the staple of world history for centuries. Now former victims and their descendants are the executioners.
Gabriel Kolko is the leading historian of modern warfare. He is the author of the classic Century of War: Politics, Conflicts and Society Since 1914, Another Century of War? The Age of War: the US Confronts the World, and The Triumph of Conservatism. He has also written the best history of the Vietnam War, Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the US and the Modern Historical Experience. His latest book is After Socialism.