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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 10-11-2023 14:42

What Israel is up against

While there can be no doubt that on October 7 the Israelis let their guard slip, the complacency many had evidently come to feel now belongs to the past.

Not that long ago, forcibly displacing large numbers of people who were thought prone to come into conflict with their neighbours was considered the least bad way to solve many long-running problems that, if allowed to fester, could have horrific consequences. After World War II, almost 15 million Germans were brutally expelled from the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia and other countries in which their ancestors had lived for centuries.

Those who, once in Germany, wanted to return to the places in which they were born and raised were roundly denounced as right-wing extremists, revanchist neo-Nazis who refused to accept defeat. Within a few years, the German refugees were successfully absorbed into the general population and their campaigns lost their momentum. On that occasion, “ethnic cleansing” worked, as it did in East Asia where the Japanese were thrown out of Manchuria, Sakhalin, Korea and Taiwan.

Unfortunately for the people who live there, the Middle East is not like Western Europe or, for that matter, East Asia. Instead of letting the Arabs displaced by the consolidation of the State of Israel become citizens of Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Kuwait and other countries in the region, they were herded into refugee camps managed by the United Nations that eventually became townships. Some, which Israel is now demolishing, still exist in the Gaza Strip.

This has led to a strange situation in which the great-grandchildren of people who decided, willingly or not, to flee from their original homes have inherited the refugee status, and the financial aid provided by Europeans and North American that comes with it, of their increasingly remote forebears. The reason has always been obvious: they are pawns in a geopolitical and religious game which is being played by individuals, including UN bureaucrats, who are determined to prevent the Jews from continuing to dominate a territory that was once ruled by Muslims.

In recent years, it appeared that the governments of some important countries, notably Jordan and Egypt, had come to the conclusion that it would be better to leave things as they were and accept Israel, which had become a dynamic regional superpower, as a useful ally in the struggle against the Iranian theocracy, hence the “Abrahamic accords” promoted by the United States. Israel’s response to the murderous attack by Hamas, which aroused the enthusiasm of the “Arab street” put all that on hold, but it remains a far more realistic prospect than the “two-State solution” many Westerners, who overlook Muslim indifference to what are regarded as alien political arrangements, still think is the only way out of the imbroglio.

It can be assumed that most Arab governments want to see Hamas wiped out. They are aware that in religious fanaticism they face a far more formidable foe than Israel, even if there are zealots in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv who want to annex the entire West Bank. This is something most Westerners find hard to understand. While they may be suitably appalled by the bloodthirsty cruelty of Jihadist organisations such as ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas, they tell themselves that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are kind-hearted and peaceful folk who want to live their lives in peace like everyone else. Perhaps most are, but the initial reaction of many, especially in Gaza, to what happened on October 7, suggests otherwise. Disturbing as the thought may be, among the world’s almost two billion Muslims there are many millions who would eagerly participate in a holy war of extermination first against “the Saturday people,” that is the Jews, and then “the Sunday people,” the Christians and anyone else who refuses to submit to Islam. Much of the Middle East has been “ethnically cleansed” of such minorities, with millions of Jews moving to Israel where, needless to say, there are no refugee camps.

Few Muslims, whether they are fire-breathing Islamists or peaceful moderates, care that much for the flesh-and-blood Palestinians. Egypt borders on Gaza but refuses to give all but a handful of its inhabitants even temporary refuge in the Sinai desert because she does not want to run the risk of having them outstaying their welcome. As for the Indonesians, Pakistanis and others, among them Daghestanis who the other day stormed an airport looking for Jews to murder, that are screaming abuse at Israel, they are doing so only because they see her as the enemy of Islam, not because they want the Palestinians to have an independent State.

Throughout the Muslim world, large-scale massacres are almost weekly events but few pay much attention to them because they are, one might say, internal affairs which cannot be blamed on religious outsiders. This, and this alone, is what makes the war between Israel and Hamas different. If thousands more are butchered in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Sudan as a result of some arcane theological dispute or a straightforward political quarrel between rival clans, hardly anyone will pick up a flag and join protest marches in London, New York, Paris or Berlin. If “the Jews” happen to be involved, tens of thousands, accompanied by contingents of local leftists, will be certain to do so.

Israel has not merely survived but prospered mightily thanks largely to her military prowess. That was why the dreadful carnage perpetrated by Hamas excited so many Muslims throughout the world; they took it to mean that the Israeli Defence Force was really far weaker than they had been led to believe. However, while there can be no doubt that on October 7 the Israelis let their guard slip, the complacency many had evidently come to feel now belongs to the past.

Even “peaceniks” of the soft left and religious Jews who had not been required to do military service have realised that theirs in a life-and-death struggle and that, unless the Muslim world is taught again to respect their armed forces, many more will share the fate of the victims of the worst atrocities suffered by Jews because they are Jews since the days of World War II. This is why the Israelis are turning Gaza into a wasteland. They know that, like the Allies three-quarters of a century ago when they demanded the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan and to get it done remorselessly bombed their cities, killing huge numbers of civilians, they really have no alternative. 

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James Neilson

James Neilson

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1979-1986).

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