Hipster Churchillism and Operation Pillar of Defense

When I flipped open my news websites on Thursday and saw that Israel had taken out a Hamas commander and posted the video on YouTube, my reaction could be best summed up as “Oh god, not again.” Shocking as it might be to people who know me; I actually don’t like war. I study it because things that kill people matter; because I’m a citizen of a country that enthusiastically turns to the military to enforce its view of the world; and (okay, I’ll admit it) because military technology is awesome.

The story as I understand it is that after an escalating barrage of rockets through October and early November, Israel launched a very public campaign of “precision” strikes against Hamas leaders and rocket launching sites. Hamas responded with a massive barrage of missiles, including long-range Iranian Fajr-5 missiles targeted at Tel Aviv and Hamas. Israel has called up the reserves (75,000, compared to 10,000 in Operation Cast Lead), and well, you can fill in the depressing rest.

I can’t speak to the justice or morality of the conflict; that’s simply too big.  But one thing that I firmly believe from the lessons of Robert McNamara, is that when you go to war you must have a good idea of why.

The base level explanation from official Israeli sources is that “Israel has the right to self-defense, and they shot first.” A higher level explanation is that this is all about reminding the Arab world to take Israeli deterrence seriously. Above that is the theory that this is about reminding Hamas of its obligations to control Gaza. And in the realm of the conspiracy theory is that Netanyahu is doing this to solidify his re-election chances or prepare for a strike on Iran.

Hamas’s objectives, in a similar order, are to destroy Israel via rocket bombardment, do something with its military arsenal before it is destroyed by Israel, and demonstrate leadership to the Palestinian people and the Arab world.

Notice any asymmetries in these objectives? Not the military “wipe Israel off the map/destroy Hamas’ rocket capability” ones, because those aren’t happening, but the political objectives. The best that Israel has a realistic chance of achieving is the status quo, plus a few years respite from rockets.  Hamas could actually win by credibly providing emergency services, by working with influential figures in Egypt, Qatar, and Turkey, and by demonstrating itself as the foremost Palestinian political party. Now, I might be wrong, and Hamas could have miscalculated, but I don’t see much hope for long term Israeli interests, let alone a two-state peace.

This battle is playing out in the media as much as it is in the air, with real-time flames between @IDFSpokesperson and @AlqassamBrigade. A friend of mine is working in an Israeli media ops command center, presumably grinding his way towards IDFBlog badges, and reminding people that Hamas can use geotagging on twitter posts to aim its rockets. Now, my usual military and foreign policy blogs are talking about this, as is the New York Times and other major newspapers, but in social media terms this feels like a dud. The only thing that I’ve seen personally gain any traction in my (very liberal, fairly Jewish) social circle is a 2006 quote from Benjamin Netanyahu, “The truth is that if Israel were to put down its arms there would be no more Israel. If the Arabs were to put down their arms there would be no more war.” Otherwise, most people still care more about l’affair de Petraeus and cat pictures than this conflict.

Ironically, the very efficiency of Israeli’s Iron Dome anti-missile system may have deprived it of the media trump card; pictures of dead babies. While the Israeli military is more media savvy than it was in 2008, their Hipster Churchillism is, well, profoundly weird and far less sympathetic than the images coming out of Gaza, Pallywood staging or not.

So what’s the end? Well, I expect that some number of people will die, more of them Palestinian than Israeli, that billions of dollars will be spent in an effort to blow up various parts of the Middle East, that Israeli’s reputation will be further tarnished, and that we’ll do it all again in another four years, but worse.

After all, this land is mine.

(from Nina Paley)

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