- The Washington Times - Friday, January 16, 2009


War is a cruel business and needs to be looked at accordingly. All the hype of trying to ensure minimum civilian casualties is good for public relations and added headaches for those who plan wars. If civilian casualties truly had to be stopped and “collateral damage” (the military euphemism for civilians who get in the way of bullets, bombs, rockets, missiles and airplanes) is to be avoided, there exists a far simpler way. Avoid war.

Of course, resolving a conflict peacefully requires far more diplomacy and patience as well as understanding of the other side’s needs and fears. Resolving a conflict peacefully also means being able to project oneself into the other side’s state of mind in order to better understand its position at the negotiating table. However, the deep intransigence shown by the political leaders in the Middle East conflict has time and again demonstrated the inability of the leadership to think and react beyond its ingrained animal survival instincts.

War, as we know, is the failure of diplomacy, but ultimately armed conflict is also the failure of those diplomats and politicians to achieve what they have been chosen, elected or self-appointed (as the case may be in some parts of the world) to do.

Time will tell whether Israel’s latest war in the Gaza Strip was justified from a historical and a military point of view. Let’s put aside momentarily all ethical and humanitarian questions in this war because it would be impossible to establish a fair basis for either. By that I mean that both sides are guilty. It really does not matter who started the fight. It remains impossible to justify the firing of Qassam rockets at Israeli civilians by Hamas; it remains unacceptable to continue to terrify a quarter-million people and think there would not be severe consequences.

Just as it is unimaginable and unacceptable to justify the killing of about 500 people in retaliation for rockets which in turn have claimed the lives of “only” five people.

I say “only” because every one of those five lives, much like every one of those 500 lives on the Palestinian side represents an entire life. Each one of those deaths is someone who had a mother, father, possibly a sister or brother, a son and/or a daughter, or more. Each one of those lives is a human tragedy.

And so the Middle East fights another war in its long history of armed conflict - the seventh war since the founding of the state of Israel, and that’s not counting border skirmishes, intifadas, air raids, suicide bombings, targeted assassinations and a sundry list of similar activities.

The question that must be asked, by both sides, is the following: What has armed conflict achieved in the Middle East conflict? Of all the wars fought on this disputed piece of real estate, it would be safe to say that the vast majority of the wars have contributed in making the Arab-Israeli conflict more complex?

In all the wars fought in the Middle East since the start of the Arab-Israeli dispute, only the October 1973 War helped pave the way toward peace. The rest have stunted the peace process.

Why was the October war any different? Because of the June 1967 war.

The June 5, 1967, war produced two very important results that, in turn, had a direct effect on the region and its conflict for generations.

First, the Six-Day War humiliated the Arabs more than on the battlefield. In the aftermath of the Arab world’s gravest defeat in the region’s modern history, and the terrible loss of face it represented, the defeat made it impossible for the Arabs to negotiate with Israel after such loss of face. That needed to be rectified before any peace discussions could get under way. This condition set the tone for the October (or Yom Kippur) war of 1973.

Second, defeat of Egypt, Syria and Jordan by Israel also showed the Palestinians that they needed to take their destiny into their own hands - and thus, the creation of the Palestinian fedayeen - or guerrillas - to begin fighting an unconventional war against Israel.

The period following the June war became a time of reflection and soul searching in the Arab world.

The October 1973 war gave the Arabs an initial victory. It allowed the Syria to achieve some initial headway on the Golan front (before it was repulsed by the Israelis), just as Egypt initially crossed the Canal and stormed the Bar Lev Live, thought to be impregnable.

The result of the 1973 war was that the Egyptians, at least, felt absolved of the defeat of 1967 and now felt they could negotiate face-to-face with Israel. And that eventually led to a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel and subsequently with Jordan and eventually with the Palestine Liberation Organization. The other wars only helped stoke the flames of the conflict.

How will Gaza fare in comparison with the other conflicts? Why will the latest war be any different? Time will tell.

cClaude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times.

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