Power and Relations in Middle East

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By Jeroboam Shaanika The Logic of Power, its application in International Relations and failure of Good Intentions in the Middle East. According to Niccolo Machiavelli “a prince who is of average capabilities will always keep his state unless an extraordinary and excessive force deprives him of it, and should he lose it in such a manner he will repossess it at the first setback suffered by the conqueror”1. The above quote from Machiavelli’s The Prince articulates the traditional realist concept that the logic of power will ultimately enhance the state status in relations to others. The current conflict between Israel and Hamas and Israel and Hezibullah [Hizbollah] or Hezbollah (the Party of God) has roots in the Machiavellian of school of thought. All three appear to have two things in common. The historical background seems to suggest they share a burden of emotional birth. Perhaps it started with these words in Genesis 12: 1-2 with God telling Abraham “go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation…” This promise apparently, has two dimensions, one is for the land and the other is for a great nation. Two sons were born to Abraham – Ishmael the son of Hagar who was a maid to Sarah and Isaac the son of Sarah, the wife of Abraham. By the interpretation Ishmael [the father of the Arabs] was the first born and traditionally, he had the first priority over the family heritages. Others argue that Isaac [the father of the Jews] was born out of a promise, hence he was given the right over the land and a promise of a great nation went to Ishmael. However, this is more a realm of imagination rather than a practical way of dealing with this problem in a modern world even if it has a historical fact, which cannot be legally proven. As Benny Morris observes, underlying the series of Arab-Israeli wars has been a deep hatred by each side of the other and deep existential fears. Firstly, Israel feels it has a scar from past victimizations and the other two feel they have bleeding wounds inflicted by the Israelis. Secondly, each side aspires to obliterate its arch-enemy at any available opportunity. Consequently, the sense of emotion continues to dictate what each side wants and how to get it. Aspirations for Hamas and Hezbollah present a burden of security threat from the Israeli point of view. In 1919, David Ben-Gurion expressed pessimistic views on Arab/Jewish relations, “Everybody sees a difficulty in the question of relations between Arabs and Jews. But not everybody sees that there is no solution to this question. No solution! There is a gulf, and nothing can bridge it … We, as a nation, want this country to be ours; the Arabs, as a nation, want this country to be theirs.” The British Royal Commission on Palestine in the 1930s painted another pessimistic scenario of the situation in the following three sentences. “An irrepressible conflict has arisen between two national communities within the narrow bounds of one small country. There is no common ground between them. Their national aspirations are incompatible 2.” As Uri Bar-Joseph of the University of Haifa points out in his essay “Israel’s National Security Towards the 21st Century” the establishment of the first Jewish mobile units (Nodedet) by the unorthodox Haganah Commander, Yitzhak Sadeh and of the Special Night Squads (SNS) by the legendary British captain Orde Charles Wingate in response to Arab rebellion of 1936-39 had an impact and influence on the Israeli military thinking3. However, Uri Bar-Joseph credits the founder of the Jewish State, Ben-Gurion as the main brain behind Israel’s national security concept. Since the early 1950s Ben-Gurion concluded that Israel could not reach peace with the Arab world at a cost he deemed acceptable, hence he advocated that all national resources should be mobilized for the sake of state’s security 4. To the Israelis the most fundamental and dangerous threat to Israel’s existence is an all-out co-ordinated Arab surprise attack. Consequently, Bar-Joseph argues, Israel should always maintain the ability to defend herself under the conditions of such a worst case scenario, known as mikreh hakol (the all-out case). Hence, Israeli national security doctrine rests on three pillars and Bar-Joseph explained them in the following order: deterrence (as implied by the defensive goals of its national security conception); strategic warning (on any development which might endanger its national existence); and decision (the military ability to win a decisive victory if deterrence fails). It is the last pillar of its doctrine that the Israeli government is heavily relying on in the current crisis to achieve victory at all costs. Both Hamas and Hezbollah regard themselves as genuine resistance movements against Israeli occupation of Palestine (Hamas) and Southern Lebanon in case of Hezbollah. In May of 2000, when Israel pulled out of Lebanon, Hezbollah claimed the credit of forcing Israelis out of Southern Lebanon. Still Hezbollah demands the Israelis to leave the Shebaa farms – an area regarded by the UN as part of Syria, but claimed by the Lebanese also. In the current crisis of Hamas-Israel-Hezbollah, two notions: the logic of power and power of logic appear to be applied in the opposite directions. While the logic of power epitomizes the pursuit of absolutism, power of logic exemplifies the influence of positive thinking to achieve good. Power in international relations is defined in several different ways. It is important to look into several ways to assess these distinctive powers and find out how they fit into the current crisis involving Israel, Palestine and Lebanon. Power as a goal of states or leaders; Power as a measure of influence or control over outcomes, events, actors and issues; Power as reflecting victory in conflict and the attainment of security; and, Power as control over resources and capabilities. Power is also classified into soft and hard power. According to Joseph Nye, soft power includes debates on cultural values, dialogues on ideology, the attempt to influence through good example, and the appeal to commonly accepted human values. While hard power refers to coercive tactics: the threat or use of armed forces, economic pressure or sanctions, assassination and deception, or other forms of intimidation. It is generally assumed that states with power capabilities must exercise them in a responsible manner. Nevertheless, the current outburst of violence between Israel and its two arch-enemies, Hamas and Hezbollah, reflects a failure of good intentions. Central to the current violence was the capture of three Israeli soldiers, one Corporal Gilad Shalit by Hamas on June 25, 2006 and two, Ehud Goldwasser, 31, from Nahariya, and Eldad Regev, 26 from Kiryat Motzkin captured by Hezbollah on July 12, 2006. At this moment, three antagonists appeared to have concluded that it is bombs and shells not power of logic that will decide the fate of the succeeding generations. In so doing they are constructing a road that will take future generations in the Middle East to a more dangerous valley of the shadow of darkness and destruction. Neither side can justify the pursuit of its goals be it security or resisting occupation by spilling the blood of innocent civilians and causing mass destruction to basic infrastructures. Clearly, the conflict has unleashed a humanitarian catastrophe of monumental proportions. It looks as if there is little or no consideration on human suffering. The symptoms of failure are clearly coming out to shame the international community, particularly, the so-called world powers. Instead of dealing with international problems, purely on character content, some of the so-called world powers have chosen to deal with problems through selective scale of preference. The solution to this problem is not as easy as what George Bush said “what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it’s over”. Bush said these remarks at lunch in St Petersburg while talking to Tony Blair, who stood behind him like a faithful servant reporting to his master, unaware that there was a microphone transmitting the conversation. The escalation of conflict in the Middle East is just one example of the repulsiveness of selectivity. Either by a mere coincident or by tactical calculation, the crisis in the Middle East unfolded just on the eve of the G8 Summit in St Petersburg in Russia. The situation somehow forced itself into the agenda and the divergence of international opinion was again unexpectedly tested. Some people especially in Israel and the US viewed the crisis as having been orchestrated by Iran and Syria possibly driven by two different interests. In the first place, they feel Syria considers Lebanon a part of “greater” Syria and that Syrian President Assad used Hezbollah to provoke the latest eruption of violence to prove to the Lebanese that they need the Syrian presence to protect them from the Israeli aggression and to stabilize the country. Other views put the blame on Iran accusing it of conveniently using Hezbollah, to distract the attention of G8 summit leaders in St Petersburg, from discussing its pursuit of nuclear weapons. However, these are speculations based on conspiracy theories. The art of diplomacy is to make peace even where it never existed. There is an urgent need for a comprehensive peace process in the Middle East to be salvaged for the benefit of both Arabs and Jews. Unfortunately, US Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton and Condoleezza Rice see things differently, they regard calls for a cease-fire as based on false promise that will only return the situation to the status quo. What kind of a formula will the US apply to ensure that the situation does not return to the status quo? If diplomats are beating war drums, what then do you expect from the generals? The Israeli Defence Force has requested the US to expedite the delivery of smart bombs under a deal signed last year. The delivery of these precision-guided bombs and missiles this time can be equated to paving the roadmap to peace with smart bombs and as consequence prolong the suffering. Therefore, the US Secretary of State, Dr Condoleezza Rice went to the Middle East the third week of July 2006, with two contradictory packages. To the Lebanese, the Secretary delivered a humanitarian and reconstruction promise. To the Israelis she delivered a mark of approval of consignment for the Israelis to finish Hezbollah or buy a little time hoping that the rocket stocks in Hezbollah’s depots will either be depleted or wiped out by the Israelis. This sounds like a novel of imagination than the use of power as a measure of influence or control over outcomes, events, actors and issues. Certainly, these types of ostrich diplomacy or head in the sand approaches only serve to postpone problems not solve them. When the United Nations was established nearly 61 years ago, its Charter promised the people of the world a great deal of international goodwill. Frameworks for harmonizing the actions of nations are clearly spelled out in the UN Charter. The UN Security Council serves as a 911 emergency-call monitoring outpost to deal with threats and breaches of peace and security as provided for by Chapter Vii, Article 39 of the UN Charter. However, the Security Council, due to ostrich diplomacy, is gradually becoming what Winston Churchill called in his speech at Westminster College, in Fulton, Missouri, a cockpit in the tower of Babel. Hence, the need to reform the Security Council and make it more responsive to threats to peace in an effective and balanced manner. The power of logic that was to guide and navigate the international goodwill is drying up and only reflects a distance away like a mirage vibrating on the horizon. However, as demonstrated in this crisis and others of less significance, help has not always been evenly distributed because of the failure of good intentions. A notion that the use of over whelming power is an end in itself and can lead to stability in any trouble spot on the globe appears to be gaining momentum. Nevertheless, like fire, power can do both good and bad. If not handled with care, it can cause great damage. Former US President Bill Clinton says in his Memoir “My Life” that his early mentor Senator William Fulbright believed that the idea that power was an end in itself, rather than a means to provide the security and opportunity necessary for the pursuit of happiness, seemed to him stupid and self-defeating . The logic of power alone cannot provide peace and opportunity, unless backed by credible power of logic. Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor to former US President Jimmy Carter, supports this assumption in the Times of July 31, 2006. Brzezinski states that, the total experience of Israel in its several conflicts with its Arab neighbours, including its ongoing repression of the Palestinians, cumulatively demonstrates that even overwhelming military power cannot produce acceptable and lasting political outcomes. Unfortunately, another school of thought believes in the destructiveness of the logic of power. In as much as power has its potentials, those potentials also come with limitations, imposed by a sense of responsibility. The Middle East geographical areas had seen many self-fulfilling prophecies, but Isaiah’s prophecy of “a wolf shall dwell with a lamb” appears to be a far distance still. Paradoxically, there are more ravenous wolves in lamb’s garments and goats fleeing from leopards than cohabiting under the same tree shade. Why are the wolves and sheep finding it difficult to co-habit? Because they are still in the Hobbesian state of nature where the strong survive and the weak perish. – To be continued in next week’s Friday edition. 1 Milner, Stephen trans, ed. Niccolo Machiavelli: The Prince. London, Everyman, 1995 2 British Royal Commission on Palestine, In: Elliot, M. The War That Never Ends Begins a Violent New Chapter, Time Magazine, July 24 204 3 Bar-Joseph, U. Israel’s National Security Towards the 21st Century: The Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 24 No. 2 June 2001, pl. 4 Ibid p2 – Jeroboam Shaanika holds a Ph.D in International Relations and Diplomacy from Ecole Des Hautes Etudes Internationales, Paris-France, and an MA Diplomatic Studies, University of Westminster London-UK, Certificate of International Studies, London School of Economics and Political Science. He is a Namibian civil servant. The views expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect that of the Namibian government.

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