The Bubble of Middle-East Dominance

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As is the case whenever Israel conducts a major military campaign, the ongoing IDF assault on Gaza — which has annihilated hundreds of non-combatants, including children — has flushed the bigots out of the brush.

One particularly notorious specimen encapsulated the message sent by Israel’s strike against Hamas in terms that should resonate among die-hard anti-Semites: "Do not f**k with the Jews."

That sentiment was not put into play by a neo-Nazi or someone else plagued by similar obsessions. It was Martin Peretz, editor-in-chief of The New Republic, self-appointed authority on matters of ethnic etiquette, and Al Gore’s Harvard-era academic Pygmalion, who blessed the blogosphere with that elegantly phrased insight.

What Peretz wrote could quite easily have fallen from the lips or flowed from the fingers of David Duke or someone else of his persuasion. If it had, Peretz — from whose exacting scrutiny no public figure is exempt, not even his precious Prince Albert — would probably have accused the author of trafficking in invidious stereotypes regarding "Jewish power." But Peretz himself is obsessed with that subject, at least as it pertains to the power wielded by the Israeli government — which he apparently considers the embodiment of the Jewish collective identity.

Peretz is fixated on the preservation of the power of the Israeli State. And as left-leaning journalist Eric Alterman observed in a critical profile, the policy options preferred by Peretz "almost always [mean] more war" — not only between Israel and the Palestinians, or Israel and an insufficiently docile neighbor, but also between Washington and any of Israel’s enemies that is seen as a bit too big for the Israeli government to handle on its own. And like many other commentators who share his priorities, Peretz has been careful to limit his involvement in wars of any kind to the role of spectator.

Rush Limbaugh famously declared that feminism was invented "to allow unattractive women access to the mainstream of society." In similar fashion it sometimes seems as if Zionism has degenerated into little more than a vicarious celebration of Israeli militarism, thereby offering flabby, pasty-faced nebbishes like Martin Peretz, Bill Kristol, and Michael Medved a way to indulge their fantasies of being shtarkers.

People of this ilk don’t live in Israel or serve in the military of any country, so they don’t have to deal directly with the bloody business of the wars they incite and applaud. From the comfortable distance of several thousand miles and two continents they grind out pseudo-tough guy rhetoric from computer keyboards, or plant their well-fed tuchises on comfortable chairs in radio or television studios and belch self-satisfied homilies about the virtue of sending other people’s children out to kill and die on behalf of a distant and thoroughly disreputable State.

A couple of years ago, venturing with some reluctance into a subject I wouldn’t address had it not been thrust upon me, I presented an outsider’s perspective on Zionism, as well as two kinds of Judaism:

Religious Judaism, as I see it, is centered in the worship of God. Its defining text was delivered at Sinai.

Cultural Judaism, by way of contrast, is based on the worship of a people. It has much less to do with Sinai than with Seinfeld.

Zionism, which draws from both of the above, is the worship of a political State.

Zionism, which began as a 19th Century secular collectivist movement, has come to define not only the Jewish view of politics and religion, but is the dominant perspective within much of Evangelical Christianity. It planted the axioms that govern any discussion of Middle Eastern affairs, either in religious or secular political circles.

Yet there is little, if any, appreciation for the lethal paradox Zionism represents to those concerned about the survival of the Jewish people: The movement summoned into existence a Jewish State supposedly to provide a refuge for the Jewish people, yet Israelis enjoy a precarious existence as citizens of what is routinely described as a tiny, perpetually imperiled Middle Eastern country.

"For 2,000 years," observes Charles Krauthammer, "Jews found protection in dispersion — protection not for individual communities, which were routinely persecuted and massacred, but protection for the Jewish people as a whole. Decimated here, they could survive there…. Hitler put an end to that illusion. He demonstrated that modern anti-Semitism married to modern technology — railroads, disciplined bureaucracies, gas chambers that kill with industrial efficiency — could take a scattered people and ‘concentrate’ them for annihilation."

The "cruel historical irony" of modern Israel, Krauthammer continues, is that creation of the Jewish State "required concentration — putting all the eggs back in one basket, a tiny territory hard by the Mediterranean, eight miles wide at its waist. A tempting target for those who would finish Hitler’s work."

Israel’s demographic and geographic vulnerability are constantly invoked by those who believe that the US Government — and, therefore, the people from whom that entity plunders the necessary resources — must, as a matter of moral duty, ensure the survival of the Jewish State.

The unexamined corollary to that demand — indeed, it is all but a criminal offense to discuss such corollaries in public, at least here in the putative Land of the Free — is that Jews are uniquely imperiled by living in Israel. What this means is that Israel may actually be a net liability to the Jewish people, as well as an avoidable burden for the American public at large.

I am an agnostic regarding the claim that the State of Israel, as it presently exists, is the fulfillment of the pious desires of ancient prophets and martyrs. But I am convinced to the point of moral certainty that Israel has no legitimate claim on our tax dollars or military aid, and that Washington’s subsidy of Israel has been an unalloyed disaster for both Israel and the region.

The ongoing stream of financial and material aid to Israel has created a uniquely damaging form of moral hazard. The amount of aid grows in proportion to the perceived threat to Israel. At the same time, Washington doles out aid to the Palestinian "leadership," generally favoring the worst and most corrupt elements within that population. Tax dollars are also used to slop the foreign aid troughs of such governments as Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, and of course, "liberated" Iraq.

Buy-offs of this kind are justified as part of the "peace process," but they actually create a perverse incentive to sustain the violence, or at least the threat thereof: If peace were actually to break out, the rationale for that aid would disappear.

There is a sense in which Washington’s aid to Israel is akin to such museum-quality examples of government stupidity as FEMA’s flood insurance program, which encourages people to build homes in flood plains, or the role played by government-sponsored entities such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in underwriting and securitizing bad mortgage loans. All of those programs subsidize risky behavior, and socialize the costs when that behavior leads to disaster.

Israel’s punitive military excursion into Gaza is a splendid example of the same kind of subsidized foolishness, this time in international rather than domestic affairs.

Gaza is the world’s largest prison camp; an Israeli embargo prevents the Gazans from obtaining most of the necessities of life. Once ruled by Yasser Arafat’s Fatah Party, the Gazans are now ruled by Hamas, a terrorist-dominated "independence movement" that was created with help from Israeli intelligence to be a "counterweight" to Arafat’s movement.

Intermittent rocket attacks into Israel by Hamas cadres provided the pretext for the current Israeli war on Gaza. These attacks are not "resistance" to the Israeli government’s suffocating blockade of Gaza; they are cynical, damnable terrorist assaults on Israeli citizens — carried out, ironically, by elements of a movement created and sustained by the Israeli government itself.

The Israeli government and its defenders describe the Hamas missile attacks as a violation of a cease-fire agreement and, therefore, proof that the population of Gaza is incorrigibly committed to violence. But the current Israeli campaign was planned more than six months ago — before the cease-fire even went into effect. Had Hamas not been stupid enough to fire a handful of largely useless rockets into Israel, some other provocation would have been arranged to justify the invasion of Gaza.

Just War principles do not require a strictly proportionate response to an attack. However, there is a point where punitive action taken in self-defense becomes aggression, and aggression becomes a slaughter.

In this case, the Israeli military is waging a clearly indiscriminate war against a helpless civilian population. And this is being done as part of a punitive mission that will not end, or significantly reduce, the ability of Hamas to conduct minimally damaging rocket attacks into Israel — a fact at least some supporters of the Israeli action consider proof of the IDF’s insufficient ruthlessness.

Waging war in this fashion is politically profitable for elements of both the Israeli government and the Palestinian leadership. This reflects a durable, and carefully concealed, symbiosis described by Ben Cramer in his immensely important book How Israel Lost.

One illustration of that symbiosis mentioned by Cramer is the creation by the Mossad of Hamas, which nurtured the cult of suicide bombing and has killed hundreds of Israelis since 1988. While this was supposedly done to provide a "counter-weight" to Arafat, the Israeli establishment maintained intimate ties with him, as well — even as Israelis and Palestinians were dying by the hundreds in a supposedly irrepressible conflict.

“The PA’s slimy business intersects with Israeli business at the highest levels of Israeli political life,” wrote Cramer with palpable disgust. “Things are not as they seem.”

Cramer illustrated this cynical "understanding" by highlighting the relationship between Israeli-owned Dor Energy and the PLO-operated Palestinian fuel monopoly. Dor’s petroleum depot was a large, conspicuous target on the border with Gaza, re-supplied at regular, predictable intervals by large, slow-moving fuel tankers. In any of the numerous Israeli military strikes on Gaza, both the depot and the trucks would make irresistible targets. Yet, owing to the deal arranged between power-brokers on both sides of the conflict, neither the depot nor any of the tankers has ever been hit.

By far the most lucrative "arrangement," Cramer explains, is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself, in which outbreaks of violence are timed to serve the political interests of leaders on both sides.

Prior to his death in November 2004, Arafat’s popularity “in opinion polls [would often] teeter near nowhere — invisibility — until his rescue by Israeli action against him,” Cramer points out. The same was true of Ariel Sharon: “If his polls dropped, something terrible happened — dead Jews all over the TV,” and his political fortunes would rise.

Exactly the same cynical game is afoot now in the latest bloodletting in Gaza. The present conflict, recall, was being planned six months ago, and is being played for political advantage by the incumbent Israeli government.

Once it’s understood that the Israeli-Palestinian blood feud is, in some ways, a scripted exercise akin to a professional wrestling "match" — albeit one on a much bigger scale, with real injury and death — then it’s easy to understand why peace is so elusive. Those in charge of the Israeli State, and those who aspire to run the embryonic Palestinian State, simply find the conflict too politically and materially profitable to abandon, despite the horrors it inflicts on the victims of their misrule.

"Why is there no peace?" asks Cramer. "Who wants one?"

It is impossible to see how this murderous charade could continue without the financial and material intervention of Washington. Were the U.S. to do what our Constitution and founding principles require — withdraw all subsidies and support from both sides of the conflict — the perverse incentives that propel much of this conflict would be removed.

U.S. withdrawal wouldn’t palliate ancient ethno-religious grievances, or those of a more recent vintage rooted in the dispossession of the Palestinians. But it would force the antagonists to make a more realistic accounting of the actual costs of the conflict, which might prod them to make the kind of grudging, halting, agonizingly reluctant material overtures that eventually lead to peace.

Of course, American withdrawal is going to happen anyway when the destruction of the dollar is consummated, a fact that should not be lost on those interested in Israel’s survival. That nation’s ability to dominate its rivals militarily is the geo-strategic equivalent of a particularly pernicious investment bubble, one that has distorted Israel’s priorities and discouraged it from creating a security framework on assumptions that don’t involve leveraging U.S. power on its behalf.

The bubble of U.S.-Israeli dominance in the Middle East will burst as soon as the fiat dollar’s global hegemony ends.

William Norman Grigg [send him mail] writes the Pro Libertate blog.

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