What would Bismarck drive? 2.

Israel (and therefore the United States) is going to have to decide some things pretty soon.[1] First, would Israel rather have a whole Syria under Assad (weakened for a long time by its terrible civil war) or would it rather have a Syria partitioned between a mini-state headed by Assad and the rest of Syria run by ISIS? Second, is there anything that Israel can do to shape the outcome? I don’t know. Israeli intervention might bring down on the head of Israel all sorts of hostility from the Arabs, just because. The governments of Jordan, Syria, and Egypt probably wouldn’t object to Israel beating up on ISIS. How would Saudi Arabia view such action? Then, there is the tension in many Arab countries between “the Street” and “the Palace.” How would ordinary people respond to Israeli attacks, regardless of how sensible those attacks might seem to the rulers?

What will happen inside the Cauldron? ISIS can (but may not) tear apart the carcasses of Iraq and Syria. Then its advance slams up against both strong states (Turkey, Iran, Jordan, Israel) and hard cores of enemy peoples with their back to the wall (Kurds, Shi’ite Iraqis, Alawite and Christian Syrians). At this point, the going will get a lot tougher. Will ISIS pause to regroup or will it attempt to maintain the momentum? I don’t know. They’re a bunch of fanatics. They might try to topple a bunch of other governments. On the other hand, the original armed expansion of Islam came in stages. Maybe that analogy will authorize ISIS to pause to consolidate its base in preparation for a renewed advance. If ISIS does pause to consolidate its base, it isn’t going to have a lot with which to work. The caliphate will consist of landlocked desert without much oil. Most of the world will be hostile toward the caliphate. Still, in their own particular way, they’re “Goo-Goos.”[2] Perhaps they’ll find a way.

If ISIS can’t swamp the surrounding strong governments, does that mean it can’t do any harm? That’s hard to tell. Governments find it useful as a heuristic device to link every new outburst to some earlier example. Start listening to the newspeople on the Devil Box, count how often they refer to an “Al Qaeda-affiliated” or “ISIS affiliated” something or other. On the other hand, radical Islam has a wide appeal in certain geographic and psychological realms. (See: The Islamic Brigades I, II.) So it is hard for me to tell what ISIS or Al Qaeda really controls. What does seem clear is that Islamist uprisings will continue to occur and that “foreign fighters” will continue to flow toward where the fighting is taking place. Libya, northern Nigeria, and Mali already have their share of troubles. Cameroun, Niger, and Chad are feeling the effects. Tunisia is a small place with limited ability to defend itself. Algeria survived one bloody civil war between secularists and Islamists: it could flare up again. (If that happens, the fleets of refugees crammed on fishing boats will be headed for Marseilles instead of Sicily. See: The owl and the pussycat I, II.) Whatever the formal links between ISIS and the Islamist movements in these countries, ISIS will do whatever it can to support them. Pretty much on the principle of setting fire to a neighbor’s barn so that they themselves can sleep better at night.

[1] One of those things is NOT the creation of a Palestinian state. There isn’t going to be one. The current version of Fatah is a spent force. There is no way that Israel will agree to put a Hamas-controlled government endowed with all the trappings of national sovereignty in charge of the West Bank. No Arab government has ever shown a real concern for the fate of the Palestinians. If Egypt and Jordan, for example, had wanted a Palestinian state, they could have created one on the West Bank and Gaza when they controlled thos territories between 1948 and 1967.

[2] “Goo-Goos”: derisive late 19th Century American reference to “Good Government” reformers who preceded the Populists.

Terrorists in Palestine.

In the 1930s, which country posed the greater danger to the Jewish people? Was it Nazi Germany, which seemed bent on making the lives of Jews miserable in order to prompt their emigration? Or was it Britain, which seemed bent on blocking Jewish immigration to Palestine? In retrospect, with our knowledge of the Holocaust, the answer is obvious. At the time, however, some Zionists regarded Britain as the greater danger and more proximate enemy. In 1932 some of them found the Irgun to drive the British out of Palestine by force. When the Second World War broke out and, in Summer 1940, when German victories left the British standing alone, most Zionists saw Germany as the greater enemy. Most decided to support Britain in what amounted to an alliance-of-necessity. That included most of the members of the Irgun.

Most isn’t all: in August 1940 a small group splintered off under Avraham Stern formed a terrorist group called Lehi.[1] Stern tried publishing a newspaper, but his men also robbed banks to fund the organization. One of Stern’s chief subordinates was Yaakov Banai (1920-2009), who had recently arrived from Poland by way of Turkey. Banai took charge of the fighting organization. In January 1942, one of these bank robberies led to a shoot-out in which Jewish civilians were killed. Later that month, Lehi used a bomb to kill three policemen. This put the British police over the edge. In February 1942, British police killed Stern. Yitzhak Shamir (1915-2012) took over as leader of Lehi, then rebuilt it.

By early 1944 the Second World War appeared to be turning decisively against Nazi Germany, while news of the Holocaust had filtered out to the Jews in Palestine. The alliance-of-necessity with Britain began to be contested once again among the Zionists. Irgun decided to join Lehi in armed struggle against the British. Irgun’s early actions were essentially non-violent: they bombed government buildings when they were empty and seized weapons from police stations.

Lehi pursued a different course. Eliyahu Hakim (1925-1945) wasborn in Beirut, Lebanon, then under French rule. In 1932 his family moved south along the coast to Haifa, Palestine, then under British rule. In early 1943, Banai recruited Hakim. Soon, the organization ordered him to enlist in the British Army. After training, Hakim was posted to Egypt. He quickly deserted and went into hiding. On 8 August 1944, he formed part of a Lehi group that tried to kill Harold MacMichael, the High Commissioner for Palestine. On 29 September 1944 Lehi caught up with one of the policemen blamed for the death of Stern. Two gunmen shot him eleven times. In October 1944 the British began deporting hundreds of captured Irgun and Lehi men to camps in Eritrea. In November 1944, Lehi paired Hakim with Eliyahu Bet-Zuri (1922-1945) to kill Lord Moyne, the British Minister of State in the Middle East. The two young men shot Moyne on 6 November 1944.[2] The gunmen were captured, tried, and hanged in 1945.

Hard pressure from the British fell on all the Jews in Palestine. In response, the Jewish Agency quietly co-operated with the British, but also launched its own “hunting season” that targeted members of Irgun and Lehi. The “hunting season” warded off British action against the Jewish Agency, but it also thinned the ranks of the agency’s chief political rival. The “hunting season” came to an end in early 1945 and the Second World War in Europe ended soon afterward. All the Zionists began to focus their energies on the struggle to create the state of Israel. Quarrels of the past and of the future were put aside.

[1] Bruce Hoffman, Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle for Israel, 1917-1947 (Knopf, 2015).

[2] One of the pistols used to kill the policemen was also used in the Moyne shootings, so it is possible that one of the gunmen had participated in more than one shooting. Or Lehi just hasd a small arsenal that had to be reused.

Thoughts for the New Year.

I don’t know anything. So, here are my thoughts on a couple of issues.

Climate change is a grave reality. However, I doubt that people can entirely hold back (let alone turn back) global warming. Carbon-burning is central to the industrialization of developing-economies. There aren’t a lot of cheap and ready-to-use alternatives. Instead, there is going to be a long period of adaptation to worsened conditions. It is going to make environmentalists, intellectuals, and other “progressive” people very angry that there will turn out to be market-driven profit opportunities when statist restrictions might have provided more desirable outcomes.

In terms of foreign policy, Vladimir Putin is considerably more of an adult than are American leaders. Balance-of-power politics and spheres of influence are realities in world politics. Power and influence are not the single and permanent prerogative of the United States. For one thing, Ukraine is to Russia as Mexico is to the United States. (“Pity poor Mexico. So far from God, so near the United States.”) For another thing, Putin has tried to help the US out of a couple of ditches into which American leaders have driven it. Syrian chemical weapons and a possible solution to the Iranian nuclear problem are the key examples. All the while he has been vilified because he isn’t a democrat at home and he’s resisting the onward march of Western power around the borders of Russia.

In the Middle East we are witnessing a re-writing the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Iraq is fragmenting into Shi’ite, Sunni, and Kurdish enclaves. This fragmentation is being papered-over during the current emergency. The Shi’ites will never be able to repair their behavior during the Maliki period. Syria is going to fragment into Alawite, Sunni, and Kurdish enclaves. A Kurdish state will emerge. This new country will have trouble with both Turkey and Iran. Will Jordan or Saudi Arabia absorb the unstable and impoverished new Sunni micro-state in western Iraq?

The “two-state solution” to the Israel-Palestine conflict isn’t. Israel cannot afford to have a Palestinian state created. That state would be implacably revanchist, regardless of whatever professions its spokesmen might make in order to obtain sovereignty. Over the centuries, many people have felt that the problems of the world could be resolved if only the Jews would die and stop bothering people. Well, the Israelis aren’t buying this line.

The United States gets much less from the US-Israel alliance than does Israel.

ISIS isn’t a serious problem. The enthusiasm for “jihad” among many Muslims is a serious problem. It is likely to be around for a long time. I’m not sure that it can be de-legitimized by Western propaganda. I’m not sure that playing military whack-a-mole with every new outbreak will solve the problem.

Much as I agree with the objectives being pursued by President Obama on some key issues, I don’t believe that he has the authority for some of his actions. The Supreme Court is likely to overturn the authority-grab carried out by the EPA. The immigration problem wasn’t/isn’t a crisis. It’s just a stick with which to beat the Republicans and an effort to keep Hispanic-American voters on the side of the Democrats. American liberals are going to rue the day that they celebrated his unilateral actions on coal-burning energy generation and immigration. One day, a Republican president will invoke the Obama example.

Two State of Denial Solution.

Creating the state of Israel was a mistake. It was an injustice for European settlers to create a new state on Arab territory without the consent of the Arab peoples. It would have been better to admit all the European Jews who survived the Holocaust to the United States. However, it was a mistake made more than sixty years ago. People often learn to live with awkward circumstances. People in the democratic, capitalist West came to accept the existence of the Soviet Union without wanting to take long, soapy showers with Communism.

In 1948 Israel’s war for independence created many Palestinian refugees in camps in Egypt’s Gaza Strip and the West Bank that was absorbed into Jordan. Had Egypt and Jordan so desired, they could have created a Palestinian state out of these territories. Thus, the “two state” solution initially failed because of the ambitions of predatory Arab states.

In 1967 Israel’s armed forces over-ran the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the course of fighting a preventive war against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. In 1974 the UN proposed ending the conflict by creating two states, with Israel transferring sovereignty over the occupied territories to new Palestinian state. This became the accepted solution for the next forty years.

Late in his second term, President Bill Clinton worked out a peace offer from Israel to the Palestinians. Israel would transfer Gaza, 95 percent of the West Bank (eventually), and a big chunk of East Jerusalem to a Palestinian state. In return, the Palestinians would end the struggle with Israel and accept its right to exist, and also abandon the “right of return” for Palestinians displaced in the 1948 war. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) rejected the deal, insisting that Israel had to evacuate all of the West Bank, including Jerusalem.

In 2005 Israel ended its occupation of Gaza. In 2007, Hamas—the rival to the PLO for leadership of the struggle against Israel—seized control of Gaza. Hamas soon launched missile attacks on Israel. In response, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) battered Gaza until Hamas cried “uncle.” Then they clamped a tight blockade on Gaza meant to starve Hamas of military resources and to make life so miserable for the people inside the “world’s largest open-air prison camp” that they might re-think their support for Hamas. It didn’t work. Moreover, the “Arab Spring” rebellion in Egypt brought to power a government of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas is an off-shoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, so long-standing Egyptian border controls were relaxed. Hamas rushed to bring in thousands of missiles in preparation for a new attack on Israel. Hamas then began the war in Gaza in Summer 2014. That war put the final nail in the coffin of a two-state solution to the Palestine conflict.

The Palestinian situation on the West Bank soon deteriorated following Arafat’s rejection of the peace deal. Israeli settlements increased in number and size. This created “facts on the ground” that will shape any future peace negotiations. In sum, in any future peace settlement, the Palestinians will have to accept less than they were offered in 2000. Fat chance.

Israel is a small place, but Gaza is relatively remote from the centers of Israeli population. The West Bank in contrast, is close to these centers. A West Bank that came under Hamas rule would pose a mortal danger to Israel. There is little reason to think that the PLO could put up much more of a fight against a Hamas coup in the West Bank than it did in Gaza.

In addition, states have certain rights under international law. It would be impossible to impose effective disarmament on Palestine. It would be difficult for Israel to respond to terrorist attacks out of Palestine without bringing down a hail of criticism and international action.

Solving this problem is going to take a lot of new thinking, not old nostrums.

“Giving up on the two-state solution,” The Week, 12 December 2014, p. 11.


Back in the very many days ago, there were a couple of runty little Jewish kingdoms in what is today Palestine (between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean).  Then came the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks under that psycho Alexander, and the Romans.  No more Jewish kingdoms.  Jews ended up spread all over the Middle East and Europe.

Flash forward to the end of the 19th Century.  Everybody else gets a country (Germany, Italy, Rumania for crying out loud), why shouldn’t the Jews have a country too?  This idea is called Zionism.  Trouble is that the place where Zionists wanted to have that country, Palestine, was now full of Muslims and belonged to the Ottoman Empire.            Then, jump to the First World War.  The Ottoman Empire fought on the same side as Germany (which lost) and against Britain (which won).  The Ottoman Empire got broken up, with the British in temporary charge of Palestine.  Also, during the war the British had supported the creation of a “Jewish national home” in Palestine.

Next, along came the Nazis, who tried to wipe out the Jews of Europe.  After the war many of the survivors of the Holocaust didn’t want to remain in Europe.  One bright idea: let them go to Palestine.  Zionists liked the sound of this.  Arabs didn’t like the idea because they were starting to set up their own countries and didn’t see why they should take in a bunch of European colonists just because some other Europeans had done some bad stuff.  Brits weren’t too crazy about this idea because it would make the Arabs mad.  Nevertheless, the Zionist managed to ship the Jews to Palestine, then fought a war (1948-1949) with the Arab countries in order to create the state of Israel.

Lots of Palestinian Arab Muslims got driven off their land during the war.  They ended up living in refugee camps in Egypt (Gaza Strip), Jordan (on the West Bank), and Syria.  Arab countries weren’t too good about taking in their fellow Arabs, although they were pretty good at chasing out all the Jews from their own countries and stealing their property.  Instead, the Arab countries kept talking about wiping Israel off the map and letting all the Palestinian refugees go home.

However, the post-Holocaust Jews of Israel weren’t the pre-Holocaust Jews of Europe.  After the Holocaust the Israelis always took people seriously when they said that they wanted to wipe out the Jews, then spent a lot of time figuring out how to beat up on people who talked that way.  They beat up on Egypt in 1956; then Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in 1967; then Egypt and Syria in 1973; then they bombed a nuclear reactor under construction in Iraq in 1981.

Outcomes of the war of 1967. First, Israel took the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which were full of Palestinian Arab Muslims.  So they have this huge population of captives who hate their guts.  Second, the Palestinians got fed up with Mickey Mouse Arab countries talking about wiping Israel off the map, only to get beat up on by Israel, always making the situation of the Palestinians worse than it was before the Arab countries tried to “help.”  Palestinians decided that they were going to have to fight on their own to create a country.  It had worked for Israel, so be like Israel.  They didn’t have an army or an air force, so they turned to terrorism.  Israel doesn’t want to turn loose of the West Bank and Gaza if it is just going to turn into a safe-haven for extremists who will try to wipe out Israel, but the longer Israel holds these people captive the more anti-Israel the Palestinians become.  If that’s possible.