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Middle East: Russian Roulette or Conflict Resolution?


On February 27, 2014, Amnesty International published a report titled Trigger-happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank. The report describes the mounting and multiple human rights abuses committed by the Israeli forces in the Occupied Palestinian Territories against the Palestinians since January 2011.

In the report, Amnesty urges the international community to suspend all transfers of military equipment to Israel.

2014 has so far seen relatively few skirmishes on Israel’s borders, yet enough to remind us that its frontiers with Lebanon and the Gaza Strip are still venues where cross-border hostilities take place, be it projectiles or rockets launched at Israel, or Israel’s massive firepower directed against Gaza or Lebanon.

Moreover, the trajectory of the language employed by Israeli officials is alarming. In 2008, Gadi Eizenkot, a major-general in the Israel Defense Forces, stated that Israel would “apply disproportionate force” on Lebanese villages and “cause great damage and destruction” (1).

And according to Giora Eiland, a former head of Israel’s National Security Council, Israel should declare that all of Lebanon would be targeted in a future war, specifically mentioning Lebanese civilians. Eiland argues that Israel should not seek to defeat Hezbollah: rather, he says, Israel should carry out “the destruction of homes and infrastructure”. He goes on to advocate that Israel should cause “the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people” (2).

Similar threats were voiced about the Gaza Strip. Based on the multitude of similar formulations by a number of high-ranking Israeli officials, it is reasonable to assume that this line of thinking represents a widespread trend within the Israeli military and political leadership.

Border skirmishes are likely to increase in 2014 and 2015. The present stage of the Arab Spring may increase the number of these isolated incidents. They could be caused by the appearance of armed groups involved in the conflict in Syria, Lebanon and Egypt on Israel’s borders.

None of these developments would endanger Israel in any significant way. This is alarming for another reason: it can provide the pretext for the Israeli army to turn into reality the numerous belligerent threats. The constant Israeli bombing of alleged Syrian convoys to Lebanon last year were one indication of the present state of mind of Israel’s military officials: that this is an opportune moment to use military force — by an army that has not experienced real war for ages — to establish some final facts on the ground.

Possible scenarios? It could be an Israeli attack against Lebanon or Gaza. However, an Israeli assault against Iran remains a possibility that should not be taken lightly.

A more aggressive Israeli policy could be strengthened by growing discontent towards Israel in public opinion across the world, and increased demands for a fundamental change in its policies. As in the case of South Africa during apartheid, Israel is likely to act with greater ferocity as international pressure mounts. It is starting to experience international isolation that it has never felt before. This fosters the determination of the Israeli establishment to use military force to establish what Israeli political culture often refers to as “deterrence capacity”.

A new Israeli military campaign, whether in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, Syria or Egypt, might have a disastrous impact on an already bleeding region. Furthermore, it would impede resolving the one issue in the Middle East that provides pretexts and excuses for violence: the issue of Palestine.

Besides US policy of arming any Middle Eastern actor it deems an ally, Israel’s own strategy helps to explain why the Global Militarization Index, a study by the Bonn International Center for Conversion, ranked the Middle East as the most militarized region in the world. The Middle East encompasses less than 10% of the world’s countries but, altogether,five Middle East states rank among the top ten in the Global Militarization Index. And Israel itself is consistently ranked as the most militarized country in the entire world.

The international community has the means at its disposal to foster international institutions and international law in the region, and to significantly reduce the possibility of future wars and escalation of hostilities.

One step that needs to be taken sooner rather than later is to put pressure on Israel to join the rest of the countries of the region to further the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free-zone in the Middle East. Israel remains the only Middle East state that does not support this international endeavour, known as the Helsinki process.

The Israel-Palestine conflict is not only a severe human rights issue and the longest ongoing military occupation in the post-WWII era, but a major source for region-wide tension. Hence, it is of paramount importance to enforce the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, a right affirmed decade after decade by the UN and the international community, and denied decade after decade by Israel.

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