Friday, June 08, 2007

Matt 24 Watch, 24: 1967, forty years on . . .

This week is also of course the sixty-fifth anniversary of the decisive June 4 - 7 1942 battle at Midway during which in five minutes, the tide of war in the Pacific theatre of WW II turned to the Americans and away from the Japanese.

For, through cracking the Japanese codes [NB: they were evidently using a version of the German Enigma coding machines cracked by the Poles and British], the Americans were able to rush their last three Carriers to the scene, at the northwestern end of the Hawaiian chain of islands.

Then, after having lost wave after wave of attacking torpedo bombing aircraft -- along with their brave but hapless crews, a group of dive bombers arrived on the scene just in time to be able to make uninterrupted dives from 15,000 feet on the Japanese Carriers. This was because the famous Mitsubishi-manufactured "Zero" fighters had gone down to sea level to shoot down the waves of torpedo bombers, and the Japanese did not have radar at that time to spot the bombers until they were diving on them. So, in five minutes, Kaga, Akagi, and Soryu were hit and burning; all being lost. While Yorktown was also sent to the bottom [many of the returning planes form the dive-bombing raid landing successfully on the other US Carriers, Enterprise and/or Hornet], Hiryu was found the next day and also sunk.

This historical note, of course, underscores the destructive power of modern weaponry, in which a numerically and even somewhat qualitatively inferior foe can achieve stunning upset victories once surprise is in their favour, often based on intelligence breakthroughs. Here, four Carriers were beaten by three [one of which had been hastily repaired after the Battle of the Coral Sea] and that in a context where the American aircraft at that time were by and large not only fewer in number but inferior to the Japanese.

Operation Moked, through which Israel achieved air superiority by mans of a pre-emptive air strike even against odds of 4:1 in aircraft, underscores this lesson.

(Indeed, we should also note here that in May 1940, the Germans actually had fewer, and inferior tanks to the French and British, as well as fewer men overall. Even in aircraft, the numbers and quality balances were not at all decisive in Germany's favour. It was surprise, multiplied by firepower and spreading command paralysis on the other side, which led to the decisive victory by the Germans in France. And once the Germans had seized territory, taking it back took a lot of time, effort and blood going up against a seasoned and well-equipped opponent using firepower to extract a terrible price.)

Similarly, the same point was made again when in October 1973, 150 Israeli tanks in the Golan were able to hold off 1,100 - 1,500 attacking Syrian tanks and so demoralise them that even when the Syrians did break through the field commander pulled back, apparently in fear of yet another devastating ambush. [Reportedly, he was later shot by the Syrian authorities for doing this.]

That tells us that in the modern heavy-firepower world (now multiplied by the power of smart weapons), military confrontations are inherently extremely unstable, with a heavy premium going to the one able to surprise the other or otherwise gain an advantage for the moment.

So, we can easily see the rationale behind the Arab strategy in 1947 - 73: as long as the Israelis have to more or less win every military campaign, sooner or later, at one time or another they will come up short on the odds, and they will be beaten. That would be the end for Israel, and on the plain record of declarations to carry out mass murder, for most of the Jews in Israel too. (Nor does the consistently ineffectual international community responses to mas murder in Cambodia, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Southern Sudan and now Darfur give us any confidence that such a slaughter would have been prevented.)

In 1973, the strategy almost worked, as just outlined. (It also nearly triggered a regional nuclear war and brought the superpowers to the edge of direct confrontation.)

The implications of that sudden escalation evidently caused a shift in focus of the Arab policy and associated strategy, to a slower but more credible "national liberation struggle" by the Palestinian Arabs; which exploits the West's guilty conscience over its colonial past and the resentment of the South over that resulting history of oppression -- never mind that the actual record is that the modern Jewish nation is the fruit of the effort of a legitimate nationalist movement, one willing to live and cooperate with its neighbours, as has been long since recognised at the Versailles talks, and then in the League of Nations and the United Nations.

Hal Lindsey has summed up some of the lingering issues, just today:

It has been 40 years since the miraculous Israeli defeat in six days of the combined efforts of the Arab world to destroy the Jewish state. It was at that time Israeli forces recaptured East Jerusalem from Jordanian control and established sovereign control of their ancient capital for the first time in more than 2,000 years.

But now, 40 years later, the battle for Jerusalem still rages . . . . former [Israeli] Prime Minister Netanyahu correctly summed up what was gained and is now being given away: "That victory transformed Israel from a feeble and fragile country whose existence was questionable, into a state that could not be defeated. … Israel's conquest of the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula in the Six Day War actually brought the region closer to peace by convincing the Arab side that it could not destroy the Jewish state. However, the recent unilateral withdrawals from southern Lebanon and Gaza Strip, as well as ongoing talk of a pullout from most of Judea and Samaria, has again given hope to the Arabs that their ultimate goal is attainable." . . . .

This week, [current Israeli Prime Minister] Ehud Olmert again promised to make "painful concessions" to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians, in accordance with an Arab peace plan endorsed by the Saudis in March. "I am ready to discuss the Arab peace initiative in an open and sincere manner," Olmert wrote. "But the talks must be a discussion, not an ultimatum."

Israel said on Wednesday that a summit between Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas scheduled for Thursday and expected to discuss aspects of Palestinian statehood had been postponed at the Palestinians' request. Hamas leader Ismail Hanieyeh said several agreements had to be settled before talks reconvened.

Nothing too sweeping, really. Hanieyeh outlined Hamas' position in an op-ed piece published in Britain's Guardian newspaper. He didn't propose a discussion; he delivered an ultimatum. (What a surprise!)

Haniyeh said if Israel was serious about peace, it had to recognize "the basic rights of our people," including the right of refugees who fled or were driven out by Israel when it was founded in 1948 to return.

Haniyeh wrote, "In the 1967 war, Israel conquered the land of Palestine but it did not conquer the people. ... The 1967 war has over 40 years engendered successive wars and destabilization of the Middle East."

For the climate to change, he said, Israel had to withdraw from all lands occupied in 1967, dismantle all the settlements in the West Bank, where around 250,000 Jews live among 2.4 million Palestinians, free all 11,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and recognize the right of refugees to return.

"If Israel is serious about peace, it has to recognize these basic rights of our people," Haniyeh said. "Nothing will stop our struggle for freedom and to have all our children reunited in a fully sovereign state of Palestine, with Jerusalem as its capital."

What does Israel get in return? . . . . Said Abbas: "Hamas is not required to recognize Israel. ... It is not required of Hamas, or of Fatah, or of the Popular Front to recognize Israel."

But, he does propose a form of "recognition" that requires PA government officials "recognize their counterparts" to "solve people's problems," making clear that this does not constitute an inherent recognition of Israel, just a functional recognition that allows the PA to get what it needs from Israeli counterparts.

Abbas notes the Palestinian finance minister has to come to an agreement with the Israeli finance minister regarding the transfer of that money, but asks, pragmatically, "So how can he make an agreement with him if he does not recognize him?"

"So I do not demand of Hamas nor any other [organizations] to recognize Israel. But from the government that works with Israelis in day-to-day life, yes."

In other words, Abbas, Hamas and the Palestinians in general don't recognize Israel's right to exist. But they do recognize that $500 million is $500 million. And Israel has it and they don't.

All it takes to get it is to recognize the temporary existence of Israel on Palestinian land.

Sadly, Lindsey's sarcasm is well-warranted.

Plainly, there is a refusal on the part of the Palestinian Arab leadership to recognise that Israel has a basic, even obvious legitimacy rooted in the same nationalist considerations they wish to cite for themselves. Secondly, they obviously refuse to recognise the implications of the attempted wars of annihilation in 1947 - 49 and 1967, which created the Palestinian Arab refugee populations, and in fact forced 820,00 Jews out of their homes across the wider Middle East, 620,000 of whom found refuge in Israel. (That is, there credibly were at least as many Jewish refugees as Arab ones from the 1948 war. Israel absorbed its Jewish brethren, invited back the Arab refugees on condition that they would not wage war on it from inside, and contributed tot he care of Arab refugees. The Arab states, with the exception of Jordan, did little or nothing other than to exclude the Palestinian Arabs from any real resettlement, announcing that they intended this to be a long festering sore in the international community, to "justify" ongoing hostility against Israel.)

No wonder, then that even unilateral withdrawals by the Israelis from zones they held and occupied in Gaza [2005] and Southern Lebanon [2000], in the context of defending themselves from attacks and terrorist campaigns, have simply led to more of the same: perception of weakness, renewal of attacks. Thus, we can make sense of last summer's war, and of the current clashes as Palestinian Arabs continue to rocket Sderot.

Unfortunately, the long term result is predictable. At some point, there will be a major terror attack, and the Israelis' patience will snap. Then, even in the face of the steady build up of missiles and rockets in Gaza and Lebanon, they will surge out again, and will simply ignore the usual one-sided demands of the international community that they stop.

The probability of that rises, as Iran -- contemptuously brushing aside the usual ineffectual UN protests and making a mockery of oh-so-confident predictions that they would take years to make the technical breakthroughs, rapidly crosses the nuclear threshold.

And, in turn, that brings us . . . right back to what the ancient Jewish prophets spoke of in Psalm 83 and Ezekiel 35 - 38, ever so long ago now.

To that, let us next turn . . . END

Minor cleanups -- I forgot the USS Hornet!

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