Saturday, March 01, 2008

No Country for Young Men

I haven't been here in Israel even a day, and have been asleep for most of the time. My eyes hurt from jetlag and I'll soon be off to sleep some more. But I've got to write something about what I've arrived to, because it seems so hauntingly familiar to the summer of 2006. It's hard not to turn to breathless dramatic tones when you walk into a house at 5 am after a day of air travelling and look on the kitchen table to see a local newspaper with a headline stating "WAR". While I've been sleeping through my jetlag today, more than 60 Palestinians and two Israelis died about 35 miles south of here in what many are calling exactly that. This is not a part of the world where young men can expect to live a long life.

I haven't watched a TV show or listened to a radio broadcast, and there are no papers printed on Saturday, so I know virtually nothing of what is going on. The immediate cause for all this mayhem is the serious and persistent escalation of long-range Katyusha-style rockets into the daily barrage shooting forth out of Gaza, and the use by Israel of air assets to counter the missile volleys. The missiles from Gaza are now landing in Ashqelon, a town of 120,000 people, and are landing on shopping malls and housing projects. The Israeli air attacks certainly have the requisite collateral damage consequences that are part of doing business with stand-off airborne arsenal.

It is hard to get any clear sense whether the actions of today (coming at the end of a very deadly week) mark the beginning of a descent into a spring war against Gazastan. Certainly the language of the lower echelon Israeli ministers suggests that a decision has been made to deal once-and-for-all with the growing missile threat from Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert returned from a weeklong visit overseas to a country on the edge from a major security crisis, and US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is due in on Monday for a visit to supposedly check up on how the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations are going. Yeah, right. Tonight the "good" Palestinian leadership on the West Bank could no longer ignore the carnage from Gaza and suspended the talks, and as I go to sleep tonight, it looks like Rice's visit will be the last chance to stem the inevitable march to what will be an ugly, violent, and messy -- I struggle to write it -- "war".

Why is Hamas in Gaza provoking the Israelis and inviting down this assymetrical response from the Israeli sky? It really is very simple: Hamas wants to be at the center of attention, it wants to assert its primacy in Palestinian affairs, and it wants to provoke a crisis which will force Western diplomats, the Fatah government on the West Bank, and Israel to engage it in dialogue. Added to all that, the recent breach of the Egypt-Gaza border probably served as a catalyst, insofar as new and better Iranian (so the Israelis charge) equipment made its way into Gaza.

I hope I am clouded by foggy jetlag-induced thinking, but it sure seems like something bad is in the offing. This could cool off just as quickly as it started, but for the moment, it looks like a tough spring ahead.

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