The Killing of Syrian Evacuees, and MOAB

One of the biggest news items the previous week was “the mother of all bombs” was dropped on Afghanistan. My first thought was, how come the children came first? My next thought was, why did the Americans use those words? Suppose they had said, “We dropped an 11 t bomb to break up the ISIS tunnels,” they could have still shown the same footage, but it would not have sounded so arrogant. Since this bomb had to be dropped from a cargo plane, it would presumably only be used on populations that have no significant air defence. The Americans also claimed that they killed thirty-six ISIS fighters and no civilians. Exactly how do they know that? (Sorry, but I persist. I want evidence, or at least some reasonable explanation that evidence has been seen by someone who will tell the truth.) One of the clips showed the ground around where the blast took place, and there was plenty of green there. Explain to me why there were no tribal farmers there?

Another disturbing event occurred at al-Rashideen, in Syria. Busloads of Shia evacuees from Foua and Kefraya permitted to leave the al Qaeda held Idlib province were attacked by what appears to have been a van-bomb. At least a hundred and twenty-six were killed, and more will die, and of those who died, at least sixty-eight were children. You may recall President Trump spreading empathy for the innocent children who died at Khan Sheikhun; silence on this incident, though, and the question is, why? There was also essentially silence from the Western press. Why, after all the fuss made of the sarin event? Particularly since these people were being evacuated under an agreed exchange whereupon rebels were permitted to leave Aleppo in exchange for free passage for them. They were obviously killed by al Qaeda affiliates, so why no bombing of them? Presumably because they are “nice” Muslims. Has he already forgotten 9/11? More to the point, this is a clear indication that you cannot negotiate with such terrorists because they have no honour.

What should be done about Syria? In my opinion, ISIS and the al Qaeda factions should be eliminated. As von Manstein noted, in terms of military strategy the first requirement is to prioritize. It is true that Assad is currently handling his population rather badly, but nobody else seems to have any constructive suggestions as to what should happen. Everyone says, negotiate a peaceful settlement, but it is difficult to do this when the issues are discrete and if, as shown by the example above, one side will not honour the terms of any agreement. If it is one or the other, the absence of middle ground makes compromise near impossible. Neither al Qaeda factions nor ISIS will moderate their extreme views, so I am afraid they must be removed. Assad at least ran a secular government, and in my opinion, he is the only one visible who has any chance of doing that in the future and do it for long enough to be effective, so swallow the dead rat. The best example of what I fear was Saddam Hussein. Nobody would accuse him of being “good”, but nevertheless he ran a secular government, and under his government, there was no al Qaeda of any significance in Iraq. The US deposed him and executed him, and did not attempt to govern, despite the antics of Paul Bremer. Why not? Insufficient troops. The net result was that disgruntled Iraqi soldiers got tangled up with ISIS, and look where we are now. It is better to do nothing about Syria than make it much worse.

Why do I discount the military option? The troops needed for a military occupation depend on what is expected of the occupied population. During the Czech invasion, everybody expected the Czechs to behave, and from memory five divisions comprised the invasion. That would be somewhere between 50,000 – 75,000 men, and probably about another 30,000 support staff. However, they concentrated on “important” sites. I recall that if you stayed out of city squares, or around things like radio stations, the chances of actually seeing Russian troops were very low. You saw them on roads if they were moving, and of course they had bases, but otherwise they were invisible. I even drove essentially across the country and only saw troops using the road to go from A to B. That would not work in a place like Syria, where you have to assume everybody there will hate you. Al Qaeda and ISIS, and their sympathizers will definitely hate you; the Alawites will most likely hate you for overthrowing their man, and that leaves the Kurds and Turkmen, both of whom will fear your leaving with whatever ISIS morphs into remaining. In an occupation where you are hated, you have to remove all the weapons, you have to check all transport, and have frequent checks on people in the open. That is why Israel, which has recognized what occupation means, does what it does in Palestine, and overall, while the Palestinians hate it, it does a good job of occupying. For Syria, I think you would need at least 500,000 soldiers, and preferably about 700,000. Who wants to pay for that? And on top of that, if you want it to succeed, you had also better spend a lot on reconstruction. To make a job of it, it would probably take ten to fifteen years, and initially there would be a lot of body bags because the likes of ISIS will have secreted arms dumps. Not very attractive, is it?

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Is there a solution to the Palestinian question?

Back from a quiet time, and look at what happened? The first was that at the end of 2016, New Zealand co-sponsored a UN resolution “demanding” that Israel stop building settlements in the occupied territories of the West Bank. This generated a surprising amount of heat, if not much light. For those who have read my fiction, I have advocated logic as a way of analyzing problems, and it seems to me this question is suitable for such an approach, not that it is likely to succeed.

We start by acknowledging where we are. Israel is a Jewish state, and it occupies by military force the West Bank, which was largely populated by Palestinians, many of whom were forced out of the rest of Israel. The two sides have been very antagonistic towards each other, and the objective is to try to find a solution where both can live in peace. The question is, what are the conditions that might lead to that outcome? In my opinion, the options are:

  1. Move the Jews out of the area. However, the Jews have such an invested infrastructure this option is not a starter.
  2. Move the Palestinians somewhere else. The problem is, where? People say Jordan, but Jordan is already overrun by Syrian refugees, and in any case, why does someone else have to pay the price? While most of the Jews came recently, the Palestinians have been there for a very long time. Whoever advocates this solution can do their own bit, by accepting a Palestinian family, providing them a home and jobs, and a guaranteed income until they can fend for themselves. In short, put your money where your mouth is. I bet there will not be sufficient takers to make a difference.
  3. Incorporate the Palestinians into Israel, with full citizenship, and enough money to make a start to life. That is a non-starter because Israel is a Jewish state, and a Muslim majority would be non-acceptable.
  4. Have a two state solution.

In my opinion, only (4) has any hope, but here the problem is the West Bank is not exactly large, and it is covered with a pox of Israeli settlements. Some people say, they are only 3% of the area. Before addressing that, we must ask, are the settlements legal?

When the first settlements were being considered, the legal counsel to the Israeli Foreign Ministry was asked whether international law permitted civilian settlement in the occupied territories. The reply: that would contravene the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The settlements are illegal because international law forbids an occupying power from moving part of its population to occupied territory. The territory is under military occupation, and it is for that reason the Arabs who live there do not have to be integrated into Israel.

Here is the legal dilemma from the Israeli point of view. Granting citizenship to the Palestinians would mean either Israel ceased to be a proper representative republic, or it would cease to be a Jewish state. Not granting such citizenship meant they were under military occupation, and international law should apply.

In this context, it seems that everybody who keeps asserting Russia violates international law and should be punished are strangely quiet on Israel. Instead we have the rather bizarre situation where the people of the West Bank fall into two subsets: settlers enjoy the full rights of Israeli citizens, while the Palestinians are still under military occupation and have essentially no rights. The question then is, how long will this go on? Obviously, the hard right of Israeli politics seems to think, forever. Whatever else they have, compassion for the Palestinians is not one of them.

Returning to the 3% problem, the area of the settlements is not the issue. The settlements are all connected to Israel proper by roads controlled by Israel that slice up the West bank. The settlements all demand water, sewage, electricity, and other services. All of these services are controlled by Israel, and are unavailable to the Palestinians, and worse than that, Israel would not let the Palestinians cross their fixed infrastructure, because they would expect it to be damaged.

If there is to be a two-state solution, the Palestinians have to go some way. They have to accept the right of Israel to exist, not because it is right but because there is no alternative. Incidents such as the recent one where a Palestinian drove a truck through some Israeli soldiers have to stop. First it is not right to kill people, and particularly those who are not directly responsible for your problems, and second it is counterproductive, because it just firms up Israeli opinion about them. The Palestinians have been severely wronged, and everybody should acknowledge that, but the Palestinians cannot progress by living in a morass of moaning about wrongs. That does not mean that others should not do something to help, though. When the United Nations voted to form Israel, they gave away that which they did not own. In the Naqba, about 700,000 Palestinians were displaced, and their property taken over by Israel. Of course, following the UN resolution, the Israelis could say they had no choice. Maybe, but if that was what the UN wanted, they should have purchased the Palestinian properties and given them to the Israelis. The fact of the matter is that Israel was founded on promises (Lloyd George offered the concept to Jews to help raise money for the war effort, which probably did not help the attitude of a certain Austrian corporal.), terrorism (it is the one shining example that proves that sometimes terrorism does work) and military force. One of the great ironies is that the Jews sent to Palestine in the late 1930s from Germany, organized by a certain Reinhardt Heydrich, set about terrorist activities against the British during WW II, while Heydrich was busy organizing the mass murder of Jews in Europe. The fact that the Palestinians and other “Arab” countries tried military means to right the wrongs done to the Palestinians is also irrelevant, although through their lack of effectiveness it has obviously made the problem worse.

But the past is irrelevant. We are here. If we accept that the two-state solution is the only possibility for civilized peace, then both sides must make serious concessions, and more to the point, the rest of the world that voted to create this problem has to come to the party with serious investment to make Palestine at least a plausible state. If you vote to give away that which you do not own, then you should be prepared to pay for it, to give the Palestinians some hope. The alternative is that the Palestinians live in perpetual military occupation, with no rights, and subjugated by a military force that does not like them one bit.

The recent example of a soldier who saw a Palestinian lying on the ground, and because he believed that Palestinian had injured an Israeli, he shot him. The Palestinian was subjugated, and would have been taken away for trial, but this soldier simply executed him. If you see interviews of Israelis, a large number (including some right wing rabbis I saw interviewed) seem to think the soldier was right. Sorry, but that is not civilized, it is not legal, and it most certainly is not helpful.

So if neither side is interested in reaching a solution, how does this end? I confess I have no idea, except I cannot see it ending well