Here’s How — As With This Israel-Hamas War — Western Elites Are Baffled by the Middle East
The elite currently in power in the Western mass media will never comprehend the Middle East. There is a problem with bias, for sure, but the big issue is the impenetrable ignorance of the very people entrusted with explaining the region to others. They insist on imposing their own misconceptions on the situation while ignoring the evidence.
Consider Janine Zacharia. What a distinguished resume: Jerusalem bureau chief and Middle East correspondent for the Washington Post (2009-2011), chief diplomatic correspondent for Bloomberg News (2005-2009), and before that five years working for the Jerusalem Post in Washington, D.C., and another five years working for Reuters and other publications from Jerusalem. Right now she’s a visiting lecturer at Stanford University in communications.
Surely, such a person must understand the region’s issues, and if anyone isn’t going to have an anti-Israel bias in the mass media it would be her. And she isn’t anti-Israel in a conscious, political sense. Indeed, she obviously views herself as sympathetic. Rather, her assumptions make her type of views inevitably anti-Israel and, more broadly, inevitably destructive of U.S. interests on other issues.
Here’s her article in Slate. The title is “Why Israel’s Gaza Campaign is Doomed.” Not why this response is the best of a set of difficult options; not why the world should support Israel; not why Hamas should be removed from power with international support but why Israel is wrong and stupid to fight. “Doomed” is a strong word.
The subhead — adapted from Zacharia’s text — is “Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to bomb Hamas militants will leave Israel more isolated, insecure, and alone.” Not the decision of Israel’s unanimous leadership including first and foremost its military and defense experts but that of a prime minister who now plays a role for the American media most closely approximated to that held by former President George W. Bush.
And by defending itself against an onslaught of rockets — 120 in one week — Israel will be worse off even though, by the way, every Western country I’m aware of has supported Israel. Why will Israel be more isolated, insecure, and alone? Because the unspoken assumption of the Western media elite is that anyone who uses force, even in self-defense, ends up worse off.
It is quite reasonable to state that the campaign will not end the problem. Everyone in Israel and in Israel’s leadership and all the generals and Netanyahu know this very well. They also know that a country that does not defend itself will end up doomed, isolated, insecure, and alone.
They also know the best that can be expected given this situation is to force Hamas to deescalate for two or three years before the next round. One of the goals of the operation is to destroy the large military stockpiles — especially longer-range missiles — that Hamas has accumulated since 2009. Thus, Hamas will have to start all over again to smuggle in weapons. The next time they start a war it will be from a far weaker position than if they had not taken such losses.
Much of the Western elite no longer understands concepts which their predecessors took for granted during the last two centuries. You can go back even further than that to Joshua 7: 8-9 when Joshua prays after a military defeat:
What can I say after Israel has turned tail before its enemies? When the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land hear of this, they will turn upon us and wipe out our very name from the earth.
Zacharia, however, faithfully represents the current standpoint of the Western elite. Here is her prescription:
Israel needs a far more sophisticated, diplomatic, long-term strategic policy for dealing with Gaza and all the threats around it—from Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and perhaps Egypt. A new Israeli approach may have to include a willingness to at least try talking to Hamas, which is fighting its own internal battle against even more radical, anti-Israel groups in the Gaza Strip. It may mean putting more pressure on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, languishing in irrelevance in Ramallah, to make peace with Hamas so there can be negotiations with Israel and a permanent end to this rocket-war madness.
Let’s list her arguments:
- The “Palestinian militant groups” want to drag Israel into an all-out war. Therefore, she reasons, Israel is foolish to engage in such a war. But the other side wanting a war that Israel prefers to avoid has been a common feature of Israeli history, as in 1948, 1967, and 2006. The Palestinian leadership and Arab states misjudge the balance of forces (that is, they don’t know they will lose) or feel such a losing war is worthwhile to mobilize popular support and to prove the individual group involved (in this case Hamas) is the best and most courageous of Fedayeen.
- The other side consists of “militant groups.” The problem with avoiding the word “terrorist” is not that it sanitizes those attacking Israel but that it downgrades their ideology and intentions. Hamas openly declares it will destroy Israel and commit genocide against Jews. Terrorism is a tactic. What lies behind it is a desire to murder all the civilians on the enemy side, whether or not any specific attack succeeds in killing a few of them.
If you don’t understand the extremism of the enemy, you don’t understand the enemy. And if you don’t understand the enemy, you have no idea of what to do in response. This is precisely the problem of the Western policy toward the Middle East and revolutionary Islamism.
For example, there is a readiness to believe that the assassination of a U.S. ambassador in Benghazi (and on September 11 to boot!) is the result of anger over a video rather than a concerted campaign to fundamentally transform Libya and the Middle East.
But back to Zacharia.
- The fault is with Israel. It doesn’t have a proper diplomatic policy, you see, because there’s no willingness to talk to Hamas. Does Hamas have character of its own? Might it have an ideology and goals of its own? Might Hamas be to Israel what al-Qaiea is to the United States?
If one actually knew anything about Hamas — and Israelis have three decades of experience in studying, fighting, and dealing with it — the idea of a negotiated solution would be ridiculous. Incidentally, Israel has negotiated truces with Hamas. Under normal conditions, Hamas just violates them and up to a point Israel looks the other way or responds in a small way. Periodically, Hamas decides on a big offensive and that leads to war.
Yet Zacharia blames Israel for not being good enough to negotiate a deal with a group whose televised children’s shows call for the physical extinction of Israel, the mass murder of its inhabitants, and future careers for kiddies as suicide bombers.
- Hamas is fighting even more radical groups in the Gaza Strip and therefore it must be moderate or at least potentially so.
That isn’t really true. Of course, Hamas cracks down on groups that attack its own rule or prove to be inconvenient. But far more often it cooperates with Islamic Jihad and even al-Qaeda affiliated groups. These attack Israel with Hamas’s cooperation and forbearance and then Hamas can claim innocence, thus waging war and claiming it isn’t doing anything at all. This is a transparent ploy but one that, as with Zacharia, many influential people in the West buy hook, line, and sinker.
- Israel can “put pressure” on Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, which rules the West Bank, and end the attacks from the Gaza Strip permanently. Yet anybody — much less a journalist who spent years dealing with the Middle East — should know that Abbas has zero influence in the Gaza Strip and any deal he makes (and he doesn’t intend to make one) will have no effect on Hamas or the Gaza Strip.
Moreover, Israel cannot put too much pressure on Abbas because the Obama administration, which puts on no pressure of its own, won’t allow it to do so. In addition, Israel worries more about Abbas being overthrown by Hamas than about his combating the group. Let’s remember that Abbas himself has repeatedly made deals with Hamas that the “militant group” has violated.
In other words, what Zacharia writes — and this is common throughout Western academic, media, and governmental circles — is completely absurd. The solution not being taken up is to overthrow Hamas just like the Taliban was overthrown in Afghanistan, though even that didn’t solve the problems in the latter country.
But there is zero support in the West for bringing down Hamas. President Barack Obama helped install a pro-Hamas regime in Egypt. And the man who never pressured Abbas pressured Israel to reduce sanctions on the Gaza Strip, thus helping Hamas remain in power so it can continue firing rockets at Israel.
I do not expect the mass media to improve nor do I have any hope of educating the journalists who write this kind of thing. They are not going to change in the near or even medium-term future. Hence, they will be ignored instead.
Equally, the governments who follow this kind of line will have no effect — at least no positive effect — on regional problems. The new feature of the last few years is that the U.S. government has contributed to making things much worse.
And that’s why there will be no “permanent end” to this rocket war madness or all of the other varieties of madness that are getting worse in the region.