Dangerous times

Will Iran join the war if the Israeli army enters Gaza? Iran has a ‘de facto’ border with Israel via the Hezbollah in Lebanon. Does Netanyahu want to pre-empt Iran? Will America stop this?

UN Secretary-General, António Guterres
UN Secretary-General, António Guterres

Incredibly, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations called for the resignation of UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, after he said the Hamas attack on 7 October in which 1,400 people were killed ‘did not happen in a vacuum.’

‘The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation,’ Guterres was quoted as telling the 15-member UN Security Council last Tuesday after the Hamas-led Ministry of Health in Gaza reported more than 700 Palestinians were killed in 24 hours of Israeli airstrikes, the highest daily death toll since the Israeli bombardment of Gaza began.

More importantly he also said: ‘But the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas. And those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.’

Guterres’ assessment was completely right, of course.

Some of us who have been following the last bout of slaughter in the Middle East - mainly in Israel which, unknowingly to most, now ‘unofficially’ includes Gaza and the West Bank, perhaps try to understand what has been going on for the last 70 years.

For starters, very few people outside Israel believe that the Israelis are the chosen people; but I believe that they are definitely a unique people. I know of no other ethnic group in the history of mankind, which retained its culture and faith for some 2,000 years after being destroyed and forced to flee from its own country. History is full of civilizations that have disappeared or swallowed up by more powerful civilizations and become new people. Not the Jews.

The Jewish race has not only survived the annals of history. It even got back its country and recovered its lost Hebrew language and there are now some 10 million inhabitants living in the modern state of Israel. There is no other ethnic group that accomplished this. 

During its 2,000 years of diaspora, the Jewish presence spread in North Africa, all over Europe, with others in the east, Asia and America. Practically everywhere they have been, they were much more proportionately represented in the intelligentsia of the country where they settled. Today, one can find important Jewish influence in finance, the arts, science, medicine, entertainment, and more recently in IT.

We, in Europe, classify our culture as Judeo/Christian... After all both Jesus Christ and Karl Marx, just to mention a few, were Jews.

Throughout their history, the Jews were targeted for their money and considered as scapegoats for all sorts of natural disasters, with the persecution of Jews culminating in the Holocaust.

The modern history of Israel started with the Zionist movement some 200 years ago after Jews suffered years of persecution and being treated as second class citizens. The Zionists were financed by the international Jewish community who started buying land from Arab landowners, who called this income ‘Jewish gold’.

Progress was slow until the Balfour Declaration made by the government of the UK - then exhausted by the First World War - in exchange for the support of international Jewry. As always, Perfidious Albion was very good at handing over to others, land which belonged to someone else!

The Second World War was a game changer. The survivors of the Holocaust flocked to the ‘Promised Land’, defending it against all impossible odds in its early years - sometimes acting as today’s terrorists - and amazingly set up the first democracy in the Middle East.

More wars with the Arab world followed: some brilliantly won and others won with great difficulty, but not one was lost. The support of the Jewish lobby in the US proved to be decisive.

The ravages of war caused the Palestinian refugee problem which spilled into Jordan, and Lebanon. The world powers - mainly the USA and the USSR - waded in. This internationalised the Arab-Israeli conflict and the whole of the Middle East was somehow embroiled.

One fine day, the US alleged that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and invaded Iraq, taking its oil and provoking the creation of Isis. Iraq was knocked permanently out of the Arab Alliance confronting Israel.

This war inflamed the Arab world, not just against Israel, or the US... but against the whole of the West perceived as the ‘Christian’ West.

Later it was Syria, one more mess with Russian involvement thrown in for good measure. Egypt was won over with US money, quite some time after having given Israel a hard time in the Yom Kippur war.

Today, Iran is the only real existential threat to Israel... and it is a pretty nasty one.

Life in Israel is not easy, and this goes for the Israeli Jews, the Arab citizens of Israel and the Palestinians evicted from their land.

Today, 2.3 million persons are cooped up in Gaza, a strip of land with an area equivalent to that of Malta. Others live in the West bank. The Palestinians in Gaza have fallen into the fanatic hands of Hamas - some feel that this was to be expected given the circumstances in which they live. The Palestinians in the West Bank have seen an unprecedented immigration of some 500,000 Jewish settlers taking over more Arab land with the protection of the Israeli state and its army. No wonder Palestinians feel this is an ‘apartheid’ style process of ethnic cleansing.

Politics in Israel have recently taken a turn to the worse. Israel is slowly but surely becoming a more radicalized country. The fanatic right, for years kept at arms’ length is now part of government. The daily harassment of Palestinians in the West Bank has reached a new height. Last week, the Israeli army killed 60 people and arrested 600; and this is not Hamas land.

All this is one big human tragedy. It is bad enough but it can get worse.

Luckily, US President Joe Biden has managed to tone down, so far, the Israeli reaction and Israel has not waded blindly into Gaza. Biden warned Netanyahu not to make the same mistake that America made after the Twin Towers attack...

But Netanyahu is not the kind of person to be told what to do.

In all this fog of war, the real existential issue for Israel is that Iran will soon have - or perhaps already has - nuclear bombs. Israel has about 90 of them; but that is no consolation.

Will Iran join the war if the Israeli army enters Gaza? Iran has a ‘de facto’ border with Israel via the Hezbollah in Lebanon. Does Netanyahu want to pre-empt Iran? Will America stop this?

We live in dangerous times.