“Lamenting lemmings swam they on, from sea to surf with death to spawn…”
This was the opening line of a poem penned in 1987 by a collection of Jungle Cruise skippers at Disneyland. Each of us would contribute a couple of lines before going on break; by the end of the night the poem spanned four pages… and was, shall we say… unique. Prophetic, humorous and, yes, even ribald, the poem showed the vast literary talents of us gun-toting skippers and guides through the treacherous jungle rivers of Anaheim. It also was disjointed, contradictory and, at times, completely nonsensical. Much like the 21st century’s U.S. and Europe’s Middle East policy as a whole, and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict on a more granular level.
“A camel is a horse that was designed by committee.”
Colonel DeVorkin, one of my commanding officers, uttered this phrase during a drill weekend, and it has always stuck with me. A fitting corollary to the subtext of the poem written years earlier, and a more succinct way of describing how we have watched the success of pan-Arabism become consumed by both a return to factionalism, as well as calculated responses by nation-states.
Over the last two weeks, there has been a low-intensity war between Hamas and Israel. This has showcased brilliant military strategy, the power of technology, the vapid pontification of talking heads and politicians, the realignment of the Democratic Party in the United States away from Israel, the calculated ascendancy of Iran, and the normalization of anti-Semitism as far away as Los Angeles.
There is a way to fix this… and I’ll get into that later. First… a bit of a primer:
For hundreds of years Turkey, Central Asia, and North Africa were ruled by the Ottoman Empire. While multiple subcultures existed within the Empire, during its height there was no misconstruing from where power emanated: Istanbul. The Empire would fluctuate throughout its history as alternating between provincial and Turkish-oriented rule, but, in the end, the Turks were at least putatively in control.
Then they bet wrong.
During WWI, the Ottoman Empire sided with Germany and ended up being consumed by France and England following the armistice. Allies within the Ottoman Empire, who helped England and France prevail, were rewarded with kingdoms and caliphates. The modern map of the Middle East was born, still with European colonialism being present. Then the Brits issued the Balfour Declaration… essentially making a case for a Jewish state.
After WWII the British, still holding onto their Palestine Mandate in what is now Israel, were “nudged”. (Meaning Jewish Zionists launched a bombing campaign against the U.K. Thousands of Jews were fleeing postwar Europe and heading to Israel. The British began enforcing immigration mandates, and the Zionists retaliated with explosives. Soon the British would throw up their hands, exit their mandate, and allow for the formation of the modern state of Israel.)
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The Modern Problem:
Israel has control over the City of Jerusalem (at least they have since they captured it in 1967). The name Jerusalem translates, quite ironically, to “City of Peace”. The Old City of Jerusalem is home to two sacred shrines. For Jews, it is the place where the first and second Jewish temples existed and is home to the Waling Wall, or Western Wall, a remaining foundation from the Second Jewish Temple. For Muslims, it is the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, the third most sacred relic in the Muslim religion.
Since the Jewish state has police control over these religious sites, there has been a serious bone of contention between religious pilgrims regarding both access and the affront that they are not completely in control.
Add to this the fact that the Palestinians, now living under home-rule in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, still demand the eradication of Israel and that they have allowed themselves to be coopted by foreign-sponsored terrorist organizations, and we have the current powder keg.
This is, of course, also compounded by a direct disparity of Palestinian and Israeli outcomes. The Palestinians have massive access to global capital, but that capital does not flow. At the time of this current crisis, there has only been one COVID testing and treatment facility in the Gaza Strip. This is the case, despite literally billions of dollars that have been funneled into the corrupt sieve that is the Palestinian Territories. Their natural resources are identical to that of Israel, yet their infrastructure is paltry at best. Their top intellectuals tend to live not in Gaza, but Paris…there is a reason for that.
Iran as the Regional Hegemon:
At the end of the Bush Administration, a white paper was issued by Stratfor (a private intelligence company and think tank) arguing for a realignment of interests with Iran. Since Iran is a theocracy, and dedicated to the proposition that Israel should not exist, any cozying up to Iran would be at the direct expense of Israeli security. The argument for increasing the power of Iran was a geopolitical one. The unique geographic position of Iran places it as a direct competitor to the Saudis, as well as a check on Russian adventurism in Central Asia. The idea that a strong Iran would create a stable Middle East was an asinine idea from the outset, yet the Stratfor paper gained advocates in the incoming Obama Administration.
While geopolitical posturing probably played less into the equation than good, old-fashioned anti-Semitism, coupled with a pro-Palestinian bias, it did become the dominant paradigm.
President Trump screwed up the whole plan though. Not only did he not coddle the Iranians as his predecessor did… he actively sought to destroy them.
Then we got President Biden.
Now, we were “back on track” with our build-up of Iran, but Iran has been seriously bloodied over the last four years. To regain its nuclear program, as well as its warning conventional military capabilities, it needs time… ideally eight to ten years.
As the Biden Administration began its overtures towards Iran, the Israelis became more and more concerned. To ascertain the real intention of the Biden Administration, Israel dispatched a few of its envoys to meet with the new Administration in February. They left disheartened, knowing that a clear and persistent shift is back on track to empower Iran… a mortal enemy…to become the dominant player in the Middle East.
This left Israel with a choice. Wait for the Iranians to reconstitute their military and potentially develop a nuclear bomb, and then fight them eight years from now when the outcome of that conflict is far from certain, or strike them now when they are weakened from Trump’s sanctions, and potentially destroy their theocracy and replace the government with a liberal pro-democracy, secular government.
Iran never gave them the chance to act on their instincts. Knowing that the smart play was to attack now, Iran’s funded terrorist network, Hamas, used the pretext of heavy-handed security in Jerusalem to launch a massive rocket attack against Israel.
This prompted Israel to use some fairly brilliant military subterfuge to take out a good chunk of Hamas’s military capabilities. It did not crush Hamas, though.
Now, Israel needs to make an incredibly dangerous and calculated decision. Iran’s goal is for Israel to invade Gaza and hold onto the territory for a number of years. This will require an immense amount of blood and treasure to Israel. Hamas will still be funded by Iran, and a large-scale insurgency operation will commence. The only way for Israel to support herself during this time is to enact a fairly draconian security presence in Gaza and the West Bank. With Israel bogged down doing that, they cannot attack Iran, and Iran can slowly begin to reconstitute herself.
The Swiss Connection:
Israeli control of the Old City of Jerusalem is not necessary for the survival of either Judaism or the Jewish State; having access to the Old City of Jerusalem, may theoretically be. The United Nations has proven itself to be utterly worthless and corrupt in so many things, the Middle East particularly. So ceding control to the UN should be a nonstarter.
For the Swiss, well… that is a different story.
Israel, the Arab nations, and Iran all have strong relationships with Switzerland. The Swiss have a strong historical tradition of providing both mercenaries to protect foreign territory on behalf of third parties, as well as defending the Vatican itself. Israel should seriously consider complete abandonment of the Old City of Jerusalem and turning over control to the Swiss, essentially taking the administration of the Old City off the negotiating table.
Then the Israelis should do to Gaza and the West Bank what they should have done long ago… invade.
Not with bombs per se… but with capital.
The Israelis should begin a process of establishing extra nationality judicial forums for Gaza and the West Bank. (Again, Switzerland may be a good location.) Along with the establishment of a non-corrupt judiciary, they should also begin the process of building infrastructure for the Palestinians. One way is to adopt the Maquiladora Program that exists between Mexico and the United States where lower wages can be taken advantage of by putting Israeli industries in the Palestinian territories. Palestinians complain about the long security lines to come into Israel where they work. They should be working in those same Israeli industries, but in the Palestinian territories themselves.
To root out the corruption of the Palestinian government, as well as the ever-present Iranian terrorist proxy, Hamas, Israel should call on the signatories of the Abraham Accords… other Muslim countries to enter, occupy, and provide security for the infrastructure development made possible by the Israelis.
Coopting the Palestinians with capitalization, and removing the Jerusalem problem, the Israelis could now focus on their chief concern: Iran.
Of course, this could have all been avoided had the Biden Administration abandoned the misguided policies of the Obama Administration. But, oh well… as they say, “elections have consequences”.