As in the recent, brief war between Russia and Georgia, Israel's ongoing bombardment of Gaza is a lose-lose scenario for everyone: the Israelis, the Palestinians, and what is left of the U.S.'s reputation as a major world power.
First of all, the Hamas members responsible for the homemade rocket attacks against southern Israel are idiots. I cannot imagine what results they expected their barely lethal actions would achieve. Did they think a massive retaliation would bankrupt Israel, as Iraq did the United States? Surely, they were not naive enough to think that other Arab or Muslim states would intervene militarily. Saakashvili made that mistake in Georgia by thinking the U.S. would stand up for its ally. Ha.
Second, Israel's retaliation is out of all proportion to the provocation and is punishing all the people of Gaza, not just the idiots with the rockets. The Israeli blockade of Gaza, in place since 2007, has two main effects. One is that it reduces Gazans to abject poverty. According to the UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), 51.8% in Gaza are now living below the poverty line, as reported in the Guardian for December 21, 2008. The second effect of Israel's actions is that they strengthen Hamas, as Tony Blair acknowledged in an interview published in Haaretz on December 21:
'"We have to be very clear on one thing," he says. "The present situation is not harming Hamas in Gaza but it is harming the people."'See the article for the effects of the blockade on the Gazan economy. Blair does go on to say that 'Israel's options are difficult', but surely the scale of the current bombardment is the worst option of all. Together, the blockade and the bombardment are a one-two punch: the blockade prevents the delivery of medical supplies, and the bombardment fills the hospitals with the wounded and the dead. Both campaigns strengthen Hamas by reducing the capacity of any other entities in Gaza to deliver services and to compete for Palestinian hearts and minds. Bullies thrive in times of lawlessness and desperation.
The timing is interesting. Yes, a truce between Israel and Hamas has just expired, but the leadership vacuum in the States probably plays a role, too. Were both sides trying to get in their last licks before President Obama takes office? Does the Israeli government expect less of a free hand after January 20? That very well could be.
Events in Gaza and elsewhere remind me that the U.S. is no longer the world's policeman, something I never thought I'd be nostalgic for. The New York Times reported the following on December 18:
'In what would be the first modern active deployment of its warships beyond the Pacific, China appears set to send naval vessels to help in the fight against hijackers in the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden.'Did you ever think you'd see the day when the U.S. could not or would not act decisively to defend petrol supplies from Somali pirates and the Chinese navy had to step in? And it's not just China:
'To help combat the sharp rise of increasingly brazen pirate attacks in the gulf, the European Union deployed its first-ever naval mission this month, a six-ship flotilla. The union’s operation, code-named Atalanta, joined other navies already patrolling there, including those from the United States, Russia and India.'Will there be more or less warfare and chaos without the U.S. playing global cop? American indifference in Liberia, Somalia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the 1990's led to disaster; American action in Bosnia (too late!) and Kosovo stopped wars. If the U.S. withdraws from its twentieth-century leadership role in the world, will the world be better or worse off? Right now, the prospects don't look so good.