America, Israel and Impossible Walls

So Donald Trump is promising to wall off the southern border. Whether you think this is a worthwhile endeavor or not depends on a great many things, but one strain of argument that has popped up is not so much that this is a bad idea, per se, but rather that it’s an idea beneath consideration, patently foolish and something no rational person would consider.

The response I have seen to this is very interesting and it often takes the form of “Israel has a border wall, why can’t the United States?”

What makes this question “Israel has X, why can’t we” so interesting is what it reveals, both about Israel and about the gulf between her and the other Western nations. It seems that Israel, alone among the Western nations, must engage in this kind of exercise in exclusion. Although England, at least, may soon be regretting the loss of their great moat against mainland Europe… The rest of Europe looks at such nationalism, such exclusion and shudders. Though, to be fair, European nations have more reason then most to rue forceful expressions of national pride.

This in turn fuels a feeling for some on the Right that Israel is the last truly Western nation, in the sense of being a nation that is distinctly modern and patriotic yet retaining its own cultural identity. In other words, that Israel is the last Western nation that is Western in the American sense. This would seem to be supported by the reviling of Israel in the most anti-American quarters of the Left, who despise Israel for precisely the characteristics that are admired by the right. The patriotism, seeing self-defense as a virtue and religiosity that the Right value are all characteristics far out of favor on the left.

Others will contend that a fence is useless, offering more picayune objections: citing tunnel infiltration and the abduction of Gilad Shalit. ‘Surely the wealthy Mexican cartels can surely replicate Hamas’ tunnel network?’, they declare. But this rebuttal would seem to miss the point; no one would seriously entertain the idea that condoms are useless because they have a (very small) failure rate. Yet to a certain kind of critic, the idea that the Israeli border walls are not 100% efficacious is the equivalent of them being useless.

In this way the Left is at least consistent: for years we were told that missile defense could never be practical. Which is true.. so long as you keep ratcheting up what constitutes “practical”. It’s also reminiscent of the attempt to ‘debunk the success’ of the Iron Dome system in the recent Gaza conflict.

This, I think, ties into the other reason the left find the question “Israel has a wall, why can’t we” so vexing: Israel has a wall because it retains a sense of self and a sense of sovereignty. European nations retain (with varying degree of success) distinct identities, but there is a terrible shame seen among the ‘elites’ in taking any pride in this. Israeli pride in Israeli identity is an uncomfortable reminder to many on the left, especially in Europe, of a time they want to forget.

There is also a rather amusing and circular argument and it goes like this;

“You can’t build a fence that won’t be scaled, or a wall that can’t be tunneled under.” Claims the opponent of a border barrier.

“Well,” goes the reply, “then we’ll put up X.” Where X is an ever increasing level of security, going from barbed wire topped fences to noveu-Berlin Wall affairs. As each new level is proposed, it is dismissed, until a point of security that everyone understands would be effective is proposed.

“Okay, may that would work,” admits the opponent, “but it would be sick. But I guess you want to see migrant children blown up by landmines/impaled on punji sticks/eaten by moat alligators?”

It’s a bit like the old example of a man that kills his parents then asks the court for mercy on the grounds that he is an orphan. The opponents of a border wall insist that innocuous measures will be ineffective, and effective measures would be too terrible for civilized people to actually deploy… oh, and you’re a dope if you propose innocuous measures, and a bloodthirsty savage for proposing the measures opponents understand would work.

Catch-22: it’s a way of saying ‘yes’ to the question “does a sovereign nation have the right to refuse access to non-citizens?” while at the same time ruling out any way to restrict access.

It seems in the end what is really being discussed is: if a nation will not put its own citizens before non-citizens, if it will not show loyalty first to its citizens, what loyalty then does that nation deserve from its citizens?

In the contrast of Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, many Americans (especially on the right) see one leader that they feel, outside of any evaluation of competency, truly loves his country and is doing all he can for it. The other leader would be President Obama.

The Iron Dome saves lives in Gaza

If you want to end a war you have to defeat the enemy, humiliate the people and change the government so that they are no longer an adversary, and that requires a lot of capital and a great deal of blood and treasure. Or you can live with the alternative.

-Victor Davis Hanson, 2013

With the lull in hostilities in Gaza, it’s worth examining some of the misconceptions and strained thinking that was broadcast through the media; specifically, the truly bizarre idea that the Iron Dome missile defense system is not just a bad piece of technology, but morally bad and, for all its apparent success, harmful to Israel. While John Podhoretz nicely dispatches several elements of the “the Iron Dome is really a bad thing” complaint in Commentary’s Contentions blog, there is an even more important point that has been allowed to go unsaid: the Iron Dome has saved uncountable lives in Gaza. But before we go into that, let’s take a detour just to show that, yes, people really are saying these things.

Marc Lamont Hill, “Distinguished Professor of African American Studies at Morehouse College”, manages to spectacularly misunderstand the situation in a discussion on CNN;

I think, though, the challenge is, because if you look at the Iron Dome in isolation, then yes, Ross, I agree with you 100% because the Iron Dome is exclusively a defensive mechanism, but what the Iron Dome does is it also takes away all of Hamas’s military leverage which is very different than say, 10 years ago or 15 years ago in other wars like Lebanon, et cetera. As a result, it not only serves a defensive purpose but de facto serves an offensive purpose. It allows Israel to essentially  assault and siege Gaza without any retribution or response on the other side. So again, to some extent, they are not just funding defense, they are funding an offensive war and ultimately an occupation. That for me, is the problem.

Yaov Fromer, who “teaches politics and history at Tel Aviv University”, writes in the Washington Post that the Iron Dome “may do more long-term harm then good”;

[W]hat was once a tactical defense mechanism to temporarily protect the civilian population has become a strategy unto itself. In that way, it may actually undermine Israel’s long-term security. By temporarily minimizing the dangers posed by Hamas and Hezbollah, it distracts us from seeking a broader regional political solution that could finally incapacitate these terror networks and make systems such as Iron Dome moot.

… As long as the Israeli public believes it is safe, for now, under the soothing embrace of technology, it will not demand that its political leaders wage diplomacy to end violence that mandated Iron Dome in the first place. Since Iron Dome has transformed a grim reality into a rather bearable ordeal, Israelis have lost the sense of urgency and outrage that might have pushed their government to make painful if necessary concessions in exchange for peace.

To understand exactly how wrong these two “intellectuals” are, let us imagine the counter-factual: that when the current cease-fire is broken (an eventuality only slightly less predictable then the phases of the moon, as Islamic Jihad is eager to boast), they actually manage to sneak a larger missile past the Iron Dome and inflict the civilian casualties Professor Hill imagines will give Hamas their “military leverage”. In other words, Hamas succeeds in causing Israel’s version of Pearl Harbor.

And we all know how well that worked in cooling tensions in the Pacific, right?

 

It takes very little creativity to imagine that a mass casualty attack on Israel, perpetrated by Hamas (which is both a, the closest thing to a democratically elected government in Gaza and b, a death cult that as a matter of public record is devoted to the destruction of Israel, the Jewish people and the West as a whole), will in fact not bring an thaw in relations.  The result will, I think it fair to say, be much closer to the reaction of the United States after Pearl Harbor then, say, Spain’s decision to withdraw troops from Iraq after the 2004 Madrid train terror attacks.

For all the protestations certain parties have lodged against the Iron Dome the truth of the matter is this: wars end when they are won by one side or the other, once hostilities have commenced anything other then victory or defeat is what the Romans called bellum interruptus (an interruption of the war). Sometimes the bellum interruptus can be long, sometimes short, but there are no good choices, no choices without costs.

The US is involved in at least two notable bellum interruptus at the moment, which show precisely how costly peace can be: North Korea and Iraq. In North Korea the US (and South Korea) decided that a cold peace was better then the option of fighting into the heart of North Korea. And it costs: tens of thousands of US troops remain in South Korea, North Korea exports nuclear technology to bad actors across the world and minor outrages are endured by the free nations of the world (such as kidnapping citizens of western countries). The costs, however they are tabulated, are judged to be less then the costs of actually finishing the conflict and ending the war. In Iraq, the US was content to watch the gains of the last decade be frittered away, perhaps tonight we will find that the terror army of ISIS has proved sufficiently outrageous that our president will declare delenda est.

Carthago Delenda Est. That is the phrase attributed to Cato the Elder, who used it regularly as he argued that Carthage, the ancient rival of Rome, could not continue to threaten Rome’s dominance of the Mediterranean. The Punic Wars spanned over a century until the reversals and battles became too much for men like Cato to endure and the threat was ended by the third and final Punic war.

What the Iron Dome does when it reduces or removes the threat of Israeli civilian casualties (at least, to a degree) is give the time and space for less efficient, less brutal warfare. Make no mistake, when Israel calls ahead to warn civilians or distributes leaflets warning of an impending attack, they are sacrificing many prized commodities in war fighting.  Losing the element of surprise certainly limits civilian casualties, but it also allows for the escape of at least some fighters that might otherwise be killed. Further, it establishes in the minds of Israel’s enemies that Israel cares, perhaps cares too much, about preserving life, even the lives of their enemies. This is a dangerous attitude to have, and even more dangerous to be understood to have, for it enables actors so deranged that they consider Hamas the victor in the current struggle.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the assorted other heads of the hydra of Islamic fascism will never be satisfied to have peace with Israel, and like Carthage, as long as they exist they will rise from the ashes of their defeats to fly at Israel’s throat. For the time being the Iron Dome, and systems like it, make the bellum interruptus tolerable, but only just barely. The citizens of southern Israel, of Sderot and other cities, are weary and tired of an endless, empty peace. By way of example, at the onset of the conflict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s satisfaction rating was 57%, when ground forces entered Gaza it was buoyed to an astonishing 82%. Today? 38%. It’s worth remembering that at the conclusion to the Punic wars Carthage was destroyed utterly, its citizenry either slain or enslaved, and while we may imagine the Israeli response will have much more the form of General Curtis “bomb them back to the stone age” LeMay then Publius Scipio Aemilianus, the conclusion remains the same…

If you care for the lives of Gazans, pray for the continued success of the Iron Dome.

 

 

For those interested in the study of Warfare, I cannot recommend the works of Victor Davis Hanson strongly enough. The quote at the beginning of this piece is taken from his talk below;

Action and Reaction: FAA edition

Earlier I wondered how gormless the West’s political elites must be, given their habit of saying and doing exactly the wrong thing.

Normally we have to wait to see politicians’ boneheaded decisions bare bitter fruit… but not this time!

Late last month the FAA halted flights by US carriers to Israel’s Ben Gurion airport. United States Senator (Texas) Ted Cruz questioned whether the actions undertaken by the FAA were politically motivated punishment for Israel or, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted, “the decision only rewards the Hamas terrorists”;

Well, surely that’s just hyperbole and Hamas paid the actions of the FAA little heed. Or not. As a Hamas spokesman said “The success of Hamas in closing Israeli airspace is a great victory for the resistance, and is the crown of Israel’s failure,” either way. Well, “Safety is the very first priority for DOT, for FAA,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “As the situation continues to evolve, we will adjust our guidance accordingly.”

What a relief!

Don’t worry though, Marie Harf at the State Department is going to set Hamas straight: “The rocket fire needs to stop. And we do want them to return to ceasefire talks, so that is something we are certainly still pressing with relevant parties[.]” Got that? Stopping US carriers from flying to Israel’s only international airport isn’t “a great victory for the resistance”.

 

On a related note, our hashtag divisions stand ready at the borders of Ukraine.

Needless to say, whether the FAA’s decision was based only on safety or on political pique by the current administration, the situation is the same: the FAA’s actions have dramatically reduced the chance of meaningful movement in the peace process. Indeed, I will go so far as to say that ten years from now the decision by the FAA will be regarded as the death knell of the two-state solution.

The FAA’s decision, as the words of Eugene Kontorovich made clear, shows “that Israel has a sword at its neck: face a private-sector no-fly zone or agree to a cease-fire that lets Hamas keep its rockets, and thus close Ben Gurion Airport again at the time of its choosing.” This is the case whether or not you note that the FAA’s decision is dramatically different from how it has dealt with the much more severe danger in Pakistan, for example. (Hat tip to the Yid with the Lid.)

The further irony is that the more the FAA and the Obama administration stick to the line that the FAA’s decision was non-political, the worse the damage will be to the two-state solution and the peace progress. After all, if it was really a political decision then when a more… let’s say supportive administration comes into office, the politics will change. If on the other hand the FAA’s reaction of last month is what can be expected regardless of the administration in power, then Israel must, for the sake of continued economic existence, understand that any amount of militarization (which has followed autonomy like night follows day) in the Palestinian territories constitutes giving a veto to the Palestinians over Israel’s international trade.

So… congratulations? The Obama administration has managed to maneuver itself into a situation where all possible outcomes are bad outcomes and all their efforts actively work against their own stated goals.

Action and Reaction

Sometimes it seems that Western politicians and governments have no idea how to actually go about accomplishing their stated goals. Sometimes it’s so bad you ask yourself “are we being trolled here? Is this an elaborate joke? Are the Illuminati behind this?”

“We didn’t do it.”

Putting aside the idea that our political class is simply ignorant, self-satisfied and venial to the point of dysfunctional (it certainly couldn’t be that…), let’s take a look at a recent set of actions and their entirely predictable reactions. The Obama administration and several European nations want to… let’s call it pressure, the Israeli government into using a lighter hand in their conflict with the Islamic death cult of Hamas (although arguably they are a Nazi death cult).

To that end, there has been an announcement from the British government that if “significant hostilities” resume in Gaza it would suspend 12 arms export licenses to Israel (source, discussion). Today there has been a report that contends that the White House and State Department have stopped an arms resupply shipment  to Israel and will  be exercising “greater oversight” on future munition shipments (contrary to a WSJ report, the procedure followed by the Israelis and the Pentagon was entirely normal).

Let’s put aside all questions of antisemitism and double standards (“Paris has issued formal guarantee to Moscow to build two Mistral class helicopter carriers”, anyone?): broken down to the simplest analysis, the current political leadership of the US and some other Western nations are seeking to persuade Israel by threatening to compromise Israel’s military capacity (or as we see above, actually compromising).

All of this has not, as they say, gone unnoticed. There is a growing sense in some sectors of the Israeli government that (as a conservative American publication put it) they are “On their own: Israel cannot count on the US“. To a certain degree there is a perception that this situation will change when the presidential administration changes. Former Israeli deputy defense minister MK Danny Danon;

We must take into account that in two and a half years’ time, President Obama won’t be sitting in the White House, and we will remain here with the threats and the challenges[.]

While I would agree that Obama’s successor will almost certainly adopt a… different tact, it is equally clear that a nation under continuous armed threat from its neighbors (beyond the problems with the Palestinians, Israel has the enviable position of bordering Syria and thus a front row seat to both the Assad regime and the incubator of ISIS) cannot make strategic plans that depend on the vicissitudes of EU and US politics.

So what to do? Well…

Chen Bingde, visiting chief of the General Staff of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), shakes hands with Israel’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak in Tel Aviv August 14, 2011. [Photo/Xinhua]
As Europe slides ever so quickly into a state of primordial Jew-hatred, Israel seems poised to revive some very ancient relationships: the relationship with the Far East. While the events of the recent Gaza conflict cause people to ponder Is the sun setting in the West and rising east in China?, this development is, at best, only an acceleration of a long standing trend of growing military ties between Israel and China (see also  China, Israel vow to improve military ties, August 15, 2011). The relationship is not so strange as it may at first blush seem (and I’m not just referring to the famous love of Jews for Chinese food): there is a surprising and curious admiration of Jews and the Jewish state in the Middle Kingdom, which is certainly a refreshing change.

That said, while the warm feelings between the traditional cultures of these two nations undoubtedly help, the matter depends more on shared political and practical needs then shared ideology. Israel needs a secure source to supply their military and customers for their products: while Israel undoubtedly has the technical capabilities to manufacture their own munitions, the issue lies in logistics. It’s far more advantageous to supply a large army (or several armies) then a small force. For it to make real financial sense for Israel to bring more and more of its suppliers in-country, they need a buyer. Enter China with its inexhaustible hunger for everything and vast military to supply, stage right.

It’s all very simple, very logical, and entirely predictable. Or at least it will be right up until Western politicians notice it and start complaining.

When Pictures Tell Half the Truth

Imagine that I showed you a picture: corpses, men, women and children all piled up. A great heap of them, stacked like so much trash, limbs broken, eyes vacant, all about them the look of violent death.

Let me be so bold as to assume you would think this the evidence of a terrible crime, one no civilized nation could commit and no civilized man could countenance.

Suppose then that I showed you a picture of the piled casualties of the February 1945 bombing of Dresden;

“Bundesarchiv Bild 183-08778-0001, Dresden, Tote nach Bombenangriff” by Hahn. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0-de via Wikimedia Commons –

No one disagrees that the bombing of Dresden was a terrible thing, but by the same token no one (well, no one serious) imagines that the Bombing was simply an act of opportunistic murder undertaken for the sake of bloodthirst. Serious people understand that moral clarity cannot come without an understanding of all of the facts.

Less then a month before Dresden was bombed the Auschwitz Death Camp had been liberated.  The horrors of  Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen and Dachau would continue for weeks after Dresden. From September 1940 to May 1941 London and fifteen other British cities had faced bombardment by air, with tens of thousands of civilians killed. Dresden cannot be understood without Aushwitz and the Blitz of London, nor Hiroshima and Nagasaki without Pearl Harbor and Nanking. Put another way, you cannot look at the piled dead of Dresden without the memories of other images in mind…

London Blitz

It is the practice of the enemies of the West to deceive with half truths. As William F. Buckley observed,

To say that the CIA and the KGB engage in similar practices is the equivalent of saying that the man who pushes an old lady into the path of a hurtling bus is not to be distinguished from the man who pushes an old lady out of the path of a hurtling bus: on the grounds that, after all, in both cases someone is pushing old ladies around.

Today more then ever the enemies of the West, and of Israel particularly, take every opportunity to tell the world that we ought to pay no attention to who is pushing the old lady out of the way of the bus and who is pushing her into the path of the bus. Today so many in the media, either through ignorance or malice, would have you believe that the conflict between the State of Israel and the Terrorist group Hamas that controls Gaza simply sprang from the ground, a fit of pique on the part of the Israelis.

For example, this imagine, chosen to accompany an Associated Press article;

MOHAMMED ABED / AFP/GETTY IMAGES

A heart-wrenching albeit fascinating image. (As others have noted, it’s a curious thing that a small boy would be writing on a blackboard in the ruins of s school, even more so for a child that presumably speaks Arabic to be leaving graffiti in English. An uncharitable person would think the shot staged, but that would be silly…) But that picture, like so very many images and language choices made in covering the ongoing conflict in Gaza, is intended more to inflame then inform. To understand that picture, after all, one must understand it in the context of a broader set of images and statements, such as;

Israel is a pluralistic, western democracy locked in a struggle with nihilistic death cult, which freely and openly states that there can never be a peaceful resolution to the conflict. For all that, the IDF has engaged in the most restrained and merciful military actions in the history of modern (or, for that matter, ancient) warfare. Yet this is war, and no amount of care can prevent civilian casualties when one side seeks to armor their munitions with the bodies of their own children.  So Israel must continue, understanding what the British understood in World War II, as stated in the words of Air Chief Marshal Arthur Harris (by way of Wikipedia);

I … assume that the view under consideration is something like this: no doubt in the past we were justified in attacking German cities. But to do so was always repugnant and now that the Germans are beaten anyway we can properly abstain from proceeding with these attacks. This is a doctrine to which I could never subscribe. Attacks on cities like any other act of war are intolerable unless they are strategically justified. But they are strategically justified in so far as they tend to shorten the war and preserve the lives of Allied soldiers. To my mind we have absolutely no right to give them up unless it is certain that they will not have this effect. I do not personally regard the whole of the remaining cities of Germany as worth the bones of one British Grenadier.

The IDF has a responsibility to do what it does because it must be done. It is incumbent on all who have the luxury of being informed second hand not to fall into the trap of half-truths being laid out to snare the goodhearted but under informed.