Gaza Agonistes

A decade after the last Israeli troops and settlers left Gaza, the withdrawal remains controversial in Israel. The former Israeli settlers there bewail their loss of the wonderful lives they claim to have led in the Strip; right-wingers rail against “Sharon’s crime” and try to use it as “proof” that any move in the West Bank would also be a failure. Time to look backward and take stock.

Some eighteen months have now passed since Israel’s last “war” with Hamas in Gaza came to an end. Since then the border, lined as it is with an electronic fence that has proved all but impenetrable, has been largely calm. Primarily, I suspect, for two reasons. First, the Israeli Iron Dome system’s success in neutralizing Hamas’ most important weapons, i.e. the rockets, was beyond all expectations. Second, the damage the Israelis inflicted on Gaza during the six weeks of Operation Protective Edge was vast; sufficient, it seems, to have taught Hamas a lesson. One which, looking back, could and should have been taught much earlier.

Ever since the Operation ended, says Israeli minister of defense Moshe Yeelon, Hamas had not fired even one bullet at Israel. That does not mean this have been absolutely quiet. Some incidents were provoked by all kinds of splinter organizations. Others were staged by individual residents of the Strip who, acting more or less on their own, decided to see what they could do by firing at Israeli patrols or trying to set up IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices). In response the Israelis, obeying their reflexes, launched air strikes, occasionally killing and injuring a handful of people. In response the organizations in question, also obeying their reflexes, either launched rockets or fired mortar rounds at the neighboring Israeli kibbutzim. Amidst the occasional exchanges of fire, throughout 2015 and going into 2016 not a single Israeli was either injured or killed by anyone or anything coming from, Gaza. To be sure, luck played a role in this. Just one round or rocket hitting, say, an inhabited apartment would have changed the statistics. Still it is hard to believe that it is the only factor involved.

Looking further back, almost six years have passed since the Navi Marmara tried to break the Israeli maritime blockade of Gaza and was stopped at the cost of nine self-appointed Turkish do-gooders killed. People, incidentally, who came armed with every kind of edged weapon one could think of. At the time, the organizers threatened that the Marmara would merely be the first of many flotillas to come. Yet not only has nothing of the kind happened, but the Turks have lost much of their clout in the Middle East and are no longer in any position to bully anyone.

Back in the summer of 2006, the victory of the “extremist” Hamas over the “moderate” PLA in Gaza left most Israelis, and many non-Israeli as well, aghast. This author was one of the very few to argue that, in the long run, two weak governments, neither of which can speak for the Palestinian people as a whole, would almost certainly be better for Israel than a single relatively strong one. I still see no reason to change my view.

idf-trucks-keremshalom-novFigures on the Gazan economy are both hard to come by and unreliable. In part that is because, the two pieces of land, i.e. the Strip and the West Bank, are often seen as part of the same Palestinian economy. Still the CIA World Factbook claims that the economy grew 7 percent in 2012 and 6 percent in 2013. In 2014, due to Operation Protective Edge, it suffered a steep decline; however, UNSCO figures suggest a resumption of growth in 2015. In the lead are sectors such as construction (which went up by no less than 449 percent!) transportation and storage, agriculture, forestry and fishing, wholesale and retail trade, and mining, manufacturing, electricity and water.

Looking ahead into 2016 the PMA (Palestinian Monetary Authority) forecasts a growth of 3.3 percent. Not bad, considering the ongoing world-wide economic recession. Part cause, part consequence, of the expansion is the fact that 900 heavy trucks, crammed with merchandise of every kind, now enter the Stripe from Israel every day. To many Israeli right-wingers they are a thorn in the eye. But not one which is likely to disappear any time soon.

To be sure, both sides have been diligently preparing for the next round. Hamas has built more rockets possessed of longer range. They are now able to cover practically the whole of Israel and hit their targets much more accurately than before. Hoping to capture prisoners (hostages) if and when the next round takes place, Hamas has also been busy digging tunnels under the border. The Israelis on their part have been working on methods to detect tunnels—a surprisingly difficult task, it turns out. They are also trying to improve their early warning systems and missile defenses further still. Yet amidst all this both sides have repeatedly assured one another that escalation is not what they want. For the moment at any rate, and up to a point, live and let live seems to be the motto.

Meanwhile, in the West Bank and Israel itself hardly a day passes without some incident in which both Israelis and Palestinians (but mainly Palestinians) are killed or injured. So obvious is the reason that every half wit (but not Israeli right-wingers) can see it. In the case of Gaza, the two peoples are separated; in that of the West Bank, they are not.

Could Gaza serve as a model for the West Bank, or, to begin with, parts of it? Let’s start by putting aside all sorts of religious and ideological claims. In the world of strategy they do not count; nor is there any prospect of them convincing anyone except for part of Israel’s own population. Only one thing should count. To wit: how will Israel be stronger? With the West Bank or without it?

The main strategic argument right-wing Israelis use against a withdrawal from the lands in question is that doing so might lead to rockets being fired from them into Israel. But that is nonsense. Rockets and mortar rounds started coming from Gaza years before then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the Strip to be evacuated. Had the various militant Palestinian organizations in the West Bank wanted to, they could have used similar tactics long ago.

So it is up to Jerusalem to decide what it wants. Either an indefinite prolongation of the existing situation, with all its nasty implications for the country’s demographic balance, democracy and its standing in the world; or the erection of a wall and a withdrawal from occupied territory. Practically all of it, I would suggest. Including large parts of East Jerusalem which are purely Arab. Such a withdrawal would not necessarily have to be carried out all at once. One could start with the districts where Jewish settlements are thinnest on the ground and proceed from there, using each stage to see whether quiet is preserved and the time ripe for the next one.

After all, what does Israel have to lose? Except for the knifings, of course.

Arrows and Maxims

Hindu-Eroticism-03The less developed the country, the more overdeveloped the women (John Kenneth Galbraith).

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Almost is not even half (Dutch proverb).

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Man is the unfruitful animal (Friedrich Nietzsche).

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If all the world’s troubles could be put together in a heap and equitably distributed, most people would be quite happy to take their own and slink away.

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The harder you try to be like us, mesdames, the less we shall like you (Jean-Jacques Rousseau).

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Achieve much, make few waves; be more than you seem (Field Marshal Alfred von Schlieffen).

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When pilotless killer drones are put on flyby, will the spectators cheer?

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Yes, women are excluded; from whatever is hard, dirty, and dangerous.

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Realism is the idea that international peace can only be attained by taking into account players’ power and interests. And not on the basis of sentiment and daydreams; as Prince Metternich well understood.

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Historical events do not march in lockstep. Cause and consequence are often intertwined. That is why post hoc can sometimes be propter hoc.

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Life without a feast is like a road without an inn (ancient Geek proverb).

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When a Frenchman reminded a friend of mine that Germany had lost World War II, he answered: “yes, but not in six weeks!”

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Do you really want to insult your enemies? Easy. Forgive them their sins against you.

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Gender: a term feminists use to draw attention away from the fact that they have no penises.

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When people say “without a doubt,” usually what they mean is that there is no evidence.

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The Inquisition was meant to terrify everyone while also producing revenue. With the IRS, it is the other way around. But the principle is the same, as are many of the methods.

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A vicious cycle: The better the medical care one gets, the older one grows. The older one grows, the more medical care one needs. No wonder that, in all developed countries, medical spending is going through the roof.

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Search, and thou will find. “Experts” keep telling people how bad war is for the soul. No wonder many troops are struck down by PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder); so much so that contracting it has almost become obligatory.

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A modern miracle. Four billion people—the UN says—do not have “adequate” access to water. But this does not prevent the global population from growing, nor global life-expectancy from rising.

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Frigidity: the ultimate weapon in the war between the sexes.

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Democracies breed pretty scoundrels, said Plato. What he forgot to say is that autocracies produce big ones.

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If it tastes good it must be bad for you.

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When revolutionary enthusiasm fades, all that is left behind is bureaucratic slime (Franz Kafka).

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An American female military pilot let me into the secret: “Sexual harassment is what I choose to report to my commander.”

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If environmentalists can be believed, God’s greatest mistake was to create man.

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My ideal country? One in which women always want, and men always can.

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A sexist: anyone who does not agree with feminist claims, however foolish they may be.

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The great advantage of democracy: one can throw out one bunch of scoundrels and bring in another. Keeps them halfway decent, or so we hope.

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Fashion: a kind of ugliness so bad that it has to be changed year by year.

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Feminism? The last hurray of Western civilization before it collapses.

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Five percent of the stuff the media publish about health and nutrition is true. Unfortunately it is impossible to say which five percent that is.

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He cut off his balls to spite his wife.

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Whether or not the Holocaust “really” took place is for historians to debate, not for politicians to legislate about.

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Can 1.3 billion Chinese be wrong? Yes, they can. And so can 100,000 feminist professors.

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A duchess behind her silk curtains does not provide more enjoyment than a milkmaid on her bed of hay (Napoleon).

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To be born is bad for your health. Living kills you.

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An elderly woman comes to the police and complains about having been raped thirty years before. “But why now?” asks the policeman “It’s nice to recall the experience,” she says.

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Daesh, at any rate, knows just what it wants. That is more than one can say of 90 percent of today’s democratic governments.

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A true woman told me: a man without body hair is like an egg without salt.

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Had all the world’s witty quotes been gathered, printed, and loaded aboard the Titanic, the ship would have sunk without any help from the iceberg.

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How can I like women and hate feminists? Simple: who said feminists are women? In truth, they are nature’s duds.

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When the going gets tough, feminists fall silent.

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Parents of adult children should keep their wallets open and their mouths shut.

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You cannot bath in the same river twice (Heraclites).

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Feminism means that women should put themselves first (Carrol Gilligan).

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Put whiskers on a dog, and that does not make it a cat. Put breasts on a man, and that does not make him a woman. Put a penis on a woman, and that does not make her a man.

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In no country is madness more prevalent than the US (Alexis de Tocqueville).

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There is only one way to make feminists shut up: with the banana. And how well do they know it!

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So and so many millions of people die each year because they smoked, we are told. Had they not smoked, wouldn’t they have died?

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I never regretted anything I did not say (Calvin Coolidge).

The Indispensable Sex

AmbwLVN-YEYeg2WD0f8G-6ZUQQ76xibd7ncmQHPRp_F51Last week a female Israeli soldier, Hadar (meaning, roughly, “Splendor,” or “Glory,”) Cohen, was killed in the course of duty. Two months into the Israel Defense Force, just two days after she had completed her basic training and taken the military oath of allegiance, she found herself standing guard at Old Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate. With her were another female soldier and some male comrades. Three terrorists (some would call them Palestinian freedom fighters) armed with knives, submachine guns which they concealed under their coats emerged. One terrorist stabbed and was able to wound the other female soldier before Hadar gunned him down, probably saving her comrade’s life. Thereupon a second terrorist turned on her and stabbed her to death before he and the third terrorist present were “wasted”—this is standard language—by her fellow soldiers. She was nineteen years old.

I did not know Hadar personally. Ere she was killed, I had never heard of her. By all accounts. she was what her name proclaimed her to be: namely, a splendid young woman with her entire future in front of her. Idealistic and determined to prove herself by serving her country as best she could, she volunteered to do a man’s job; i.e was trained to become what both the IDF and the media call a lohemet, meaning either “fighter” or “warrior.”

But do not allow yourself to be misled. The term does not mean she went through anything like a full infantryman’s course. No Israeli woman does, and of those who tried to do so on a more or less experimental basis many have been injured, some of them very badly. All it means is that she was taught how to use her weapon, apparently a shortened version of the M-16 rifle (the real thing would have been too long for her to operate efficiently), and put into a bulletproof vest. So equipped, she was made to stand guard at what is currently one of the most dangerous spots in Israel; dangerous in the sense that, over the last few weeks, it has been the scene of several more or less similar attacks.

Even in Israel, the only country in history which (to its shame, some would say) has conscripted women into its military, a dead or injured female soldier is no ordinary event. That explains the media circus that has been going on around the deceased girl. Hadar’s own funeral was attended by the minister of home security. Accompanied by his retinue, the Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Eisenkot, came to visit the female injured soldier in hospital and saluted her in front of the cameras. Not to be outdone Prime Minister Netanyahu, normally not the most sensitive of men, did the same. Had the dead and injured soldiers been male, almost certainly none of them would have bothered. All three may have felt that there was something deeply wrong, morally speaking, in making Hadar stand guard as she did. Or else, which in Netanyahu’s case seems more likely, that doing so would provide yet another photo-op.

Ultimately the reason why there is something deeply wrong with having women guard men and sacrifice themselves for them, instead of the other way around, is rooted in our mammalian biology. As everyone knows, the mammalian female’s investment in conceiving the young, bearing them, and bringing them into the world is huge. Not so that of the male who takes just a few minutes to do what has to be done and withdraws. Females can only have so and so many offspring during their lifetime; for males, so large is the number as to be practically unlimited.

The mathematics of reproduction explain why, among many mammalian species, the lives of males count for much less than those of females. When there is a threat it is the males which defend the females, never the other way around. Among us humans, the dangers surrounding delivery—at one time, one woman in four used to die in or soon after childbirth—provide another reason why women should not be heedlessly sacrificed. Briefly, nature itself has made women the indispensable sex. Compared with men, in any society they are a biological treasure and must be preserved. Even if doing so costs the lives of men.

Elementary, my dear Watson, Sherlock Holmes would have said. Yet the members of that peculiar species, modern feminists, seem unable to grasp even the most elementary biological facts. Half a century after Betty Friedan raised the standard of revolt, their real motives in claiming the kind of equality that cost Hadar her life remain no less mysterious than the famous feminist mystique itself. Unless, of course, Freud was right and penis envy makes the world go round.

Poor Hadar. I am aware that some people on the other side would say that she got just what she deserved. Be that as it may, and putting politics aside, all she herself wanted was to “contribute” to her country. But apparently she could find no better way to do so than to do what men normally do and what nature, by giving them stronger bodies, has made them more fit to do. Now she is dead, and my heart goes out to her and her family. Yet I cannot help wondering whether, by getting married, giving birth to a couple of children, and raising them properly as a mother should her contribution would not have been greater than it was.

May her soul rest in peace.

Guest Article: Eritrea’s Journey From Soldier State To Pauper State

by Miguel Miranda*

A glaring problem of our insulated consumer-driven society—the kind found wherever a solid middle class has taken hold—is it leaves people aloof and rather ignorant of how modern states are built.

Indeed, they need to be built. Whether erected from the ruins of war or assembled from disparate territories and then organized along lines that benefit its rulers.

Simply put, the rise of states and their armies are simultaneous phenomena essential to civilization as we know it. This led to the modern state that brought industrialized warfare to its peak. Today’s anxious global peace, where no world wars are taking place but so-called “low intensity conflicts” are common, is an achievement of hegemonic modern states.

Warfare as the ultimate tool for creating a state is practiced universally. This bloody effort applies to the United States of America, the whole of Latin America, my own country (the Philippines in 1897 and 1946), certainly to Israel, the up-and-coming world power China, as well as much of the developing world from Bosnia to Bangladesh.

Let’s not forget Eritrea. Aside from its picturesque geography it’s the Horn of Africa’s leading miscreant prone to North Korean fits of belligerence.

In the 1890s Italy conquered Eritrea and fashioned it into a colonial jewel along the Red Sea. Its hardy people, a patchwork of ethnicities, were organized into an administration and army.

The land called Eritrea was never supposed to be its own country, independent and sovereign. The United Nations made sure of this in 1952 when it ceded the territory to Ethiopia, one of Africa’s oldest insular countries with a long imperial tradition.

From the very beginning Ethiopia’s conduct along its northern frontier was fraught with oppression much worse than the Italians, who at least gave the Eritreans a composite national identity.

First under the aging Haile Selassie and then the socialist Derg the Eritreans were forced to abandon their local languages and customs. Open rebellion erupted soon after.

The long struggle to emancipate Eritrea was a strange one. It was completely out of touch with the Cold War and had few proxies, if none at all. Remarkably, the only evidence that the Eritreans received outside support was when the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson visited Eritrean Marxists in 1977 for paramilitary training. He was a young man then and soon left because of health issues.

After four decades of classic guerilla warfare against a ruthless adversary Eritrean forces seized Asmara and made it their capital when independence was declared on April 27, 1993. As for Ethiopia…it collapsed into civil war and remained a one-party third world basket case until Chinese foreign investment triggered its ongoing economic boom.

It was at that exact moment of triumph in 1993, however, that things began to unravel for the Eritreans. The former guerilla leader Isaias Afewerki, now a conquering warlord, assumed the role of dictator. His administration was the left-leaning People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), which began as a coalition of rebel groups in the bad old independence war days.

Given the benefit of hindsight, the nation building the PFDJ undertook in the 1990s was idiotic. Eritrea is a coastal nation at the mouth of the Red Sea that’s also a major international shipping route. It has large and wealthy commodity-rich neighbors such as Sudan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Instead of opening to the world, Eritrea hunkered down and settled on a command economy focused on ambiguous national “self-reliance” at a time when this approach was a recipe for disaster.

Following a bloody war against Ethiopia, which lasted from 1999 to 2000 and which killed 100,000 on both sides, Eritrea kept its armed forces fully mobilized. Worse still, the iron hand of authoritarianism blighted its citizens. How the Eritrean state actually functioned from this point onward is difficult to explain. However, with a growing population (now several million strong) and no significant industries or agricultural sector it began to languish.

Here’s the CIA World Factbook putting it nicely: “…Eritrea has faced many economic problems, including lack of resources and chronic drought, which have been exacerbated by restrictive economic policies.”

The Afewerki regime and its paranoia maintained Africa’s second-largest armed forces, allegedly 250,000-strong, equipped with leftover Eastern Bloc armaments, as well as a domestic security apparatus. What for? By 2014 the UN reported that 4,000 Eritreans were fleeing the country each month for Europe and the Middle East.

At a time when globalization is allowing vast streams of capital to reach the developing world, the so-called “emerging markets,” Eritrea has missed the boat. The only semblance of a functional economy is a thriving black market and government-sponsored arms smuggling.

Instead of erecting attractive infrastructure (the Dubai approach) or creating business parks for outsourced factories (the Vietnam approach) Eritrea is feuding with its immediate neighbors Ethiopia (the arch-enemy), Djibouti, and Somalia. The Afewerki regime doesn’t seem to have any plans for the long-term other than perpetuate itself—not surprising, really.

Not even NGOs are spared and these groups have been outlawed since 2006.

Poor and isolated, Eritrea is now allowing Israel, Iran, and Saudi Arabia to run military facilities in exchange for unspecified aid. It’s also using the 18th century Hesse-Kassel model of exporting its soldiers—unconfirmed reports claim they’re being hired as mercenaries by the Saudis to fight in Yemen.

In 2015 the country was ravaged by drought.

Where did Eritrea go wrong?

Judging by the trajectories of failed states in the 20th century there are five outcomes for Eritrea in the near future.

  1. Regime change and democratic reformation.
  2. Whither away and collapse like East Germany.
  3. Become an aid-dependent hermit kingdom like North Korea that’s targeted for regime change.
  4. Break apart amid civil strife like Syria.
  5. Eventually be defeated and occupied by Ethiopia in a future war.

Students and scholars of the modern state have much to learn from the Eritrean experience. The simple lesson here is the military institution alone, while vital, doesn’t complete a country.

*Miguel Miranda is a writer based in the Philippines. He’s the founder of 21st Century Asian Arms Race (21AAR). It’s a website that follows commerce in modern weapon systems and their impact on ongoing wars and crises across the Eurasian landmass.