How Did We Get into This Mess? the Prospect of a Regional War in the Middle East Underscores the Lethal Futility of Our Interventionist Foreign Policy

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The Israeli military campaign against Hezbollah-infested sites in Lebanon has been carried out "according to a plan finalized more than a year ago," reported the July 21 San Francisco Chronicle.

"More than a year ago, a senior Israeli military officer began giving PowerPoint presentations, on an off-the-record basis, to U.S. and other diplomats, journalists and think tanks, setting out the plan for the current operation in revealing detail."

All that was needed was a triggering event, and one materialized on June 25 when Gilad Shalit, a corporal in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), was kidnapped by guerrillas linked to the Hamas terrorist group (which controls the elected Palestinian government) in a cross-border raid. Seven Palestinians sneaked into southern Israel from Gaza by way of a tunnel and attacked an Israeli tank crew and a lookout tower, killing two soldiers. With Shalit as a hostage, Hamas demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. Shortly thereafter, southern Israel came under attack by a barrage of homemade rockets fired from Gaza.

This provoked Israel to send the IDF back into the Gaza Strip, which it had abandoned less than a year earlier. Roughly two weeks later, Hezbollah terror ists--acting in "solidarity" with Hamas--captured two more Israeli soldiers while they were reportedly on the Lebanese side of the border, and then launched a series of deadly missile attacks against cities in Israel. This provoked the Israeli assault on southern Lebanon--following the plan worked out over a year ago.

Because Hamas and Hezbollah received funding and materiel aid from Iran and Syria, the conflict threatens to expand into a broader regional war. After visiting the Middle East and conferring with prominent leaders, including a "senior Jordanian intelligence official," former ABC Nightline host Ted Koppel opined in the New York Times: "The United States is already at war with Iran; but for the time being the battle is being fought through surrogates."

As if to reinforce Koppel's point, Bush administration officials leaked the news to the New York Times that Washington was arranging for "expedited delivery" of precision-guided bombs to Israel--even as the president and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice publicly swatted away talk of an immediate cease-fire.

It is tempting to see the June 25, 2006 abduction of Gilad Shalit as in some ways a replay of the June 28, 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand by Serbian terrorists: a seemingly minor incident magnified into a world-historic tragedy (WWI) through the logic of entangling alliances and the opportunism of ambitious world leaders. And a report on the June 25 incident compiled by retired Israeli Brigadier General Giora Eiland suggests that the capture of Cpl. Shalit was in a sense arranged by the Israeli military as a pretext for war.

In his report, Gen. Eiland described Shalit's abduction as the result of an "operational failure" by IDF commanders on the scene. "There was a warning [of the impending Hamas attack], I say this clearly, the best there could be under the circumstances," concluded Gen. Eiland. "There was definitely a warning, and I would even say a sound warning." Yet despite the culpable incompetence displayed by Shalit's on-scene commanders, Gen. Eiland insisted that he didn't think "any of the commanders needs to be dismissed, especially since these officers are now participating in fighting in the Gaza Strip."

Why would demonstrably incompetent field commanders be left in charge of military operations described as vital to Israel's national interests--unless something other than incompetence was behind the border incident that led to the conflict?

Though such a betrayal seems incomprehensible to most people, it would fit comfortably into the recent history of the Middle East, a region in which powerful interests have worked diligently--and, unfortunately, with great success--to prevent any significant progress toward peace. …