Sunday, July 23, 2006

The acid test

Talking to Bison today about the ongoing situation in the Middle East, I came up with an acid test to decide on whether Israel has really been disproportionate or not. In fact, it may be the best yardstick on all Israeli policy.

The leaders of the Arab world are nothing if not masters of Realpolitik. Pragmatism keeps them and their typically minority cabals in power, hoovering up American arms and flogging overpriced oil in exchange. But they have the "Arab street" to contend with and appease, often remaining in power historically by explaining that democracy, free speech and a fair share of the country's wealth were things that could only be afforded after the Zionist enemy had been rooted out.

Now, this pretence has gone - all the Arab states have come to recognise that Israel is a "fact on the ground", and they have had to readdress the way they soothe the anger of their oppressed, impoverished people. So they tolerate a little firebrand Islamo-fascism for the masses from the Muslim Brotherhood at home, whilst enjoying the riches of the capitalist elite, and they indulge in a little Israel-bashing at the UN whilst not actually doing anything meaningful for the Palestinians.

Most importantly, they understand from the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq (Uncle Sam's stick), and the volte-face in Libya that is leading to huge investment and boom-time (Uncle Sam's carrot), that you have to keep the Yanks happy.

So the key to understanding when Israel really crosses the line of proportionality, ethical conduct and good strategy, is found in the reactions of the Arab leadership. In this instance, we find responses from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt that pretty much blame Hizballah for the current debacle. Meanwhile, in Lebanon itself, apparently being destroyed piecemeal by the Israeli war machine, Fouad Siniora's occasional and plaintive requests to halt the campaign have been pretty muted.

The point where we should all start worrying about whether things have gone too far is when this acid test shows an awful lot more hyperbola from the leaders of the region. Right now, we can safely assume that the Arab leaders have realised how lightly Hamas and Hizballah have been getting off all these years, and are giving the minimum number of platitudes to keep their own masses happy and avoid becoming a target for a 1970s PLO-style putsch.

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