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Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Juan Cole offers some interesting historical perspective on Israel’s wars in a piece called “Gaza 2008: Micro-Wars and Macro-Wars.” Here is one of his more provocative assessments:

Israel’s political tradition seeks expansion if possible; if not possible, it seeks a balance of power with its enemies. If that is not possible, it seeks to be held harmless from its avowed foes. If that is not possible, it is willing to wage total war to punish the enemy population until it accepts at least a cold peace. Where necessary, Israel is willing to give up territorial expansion to get the cold peace.

If only I knew what “total war” means here. In modern European history it was when the distinction between soldiers and civilians was increasingly erased during the First and Second World Wars. If Israel sometimes erases such distinctions in urban situations, I am not aware of a policy that accepts this erasure, especially not for its own civilians. Presumably Cole has something else in mind or is using hyperbole, either way demonstrating how slippery the term “total war” can be.

And “cold peace”? Well, the Cold War was a rhetorical war in the metropoles and a shooting war in other countries by proxy; however, it was otherwise a peace, albeit one punctuated by extreme levels of militarization that the push of a button could have transformed into the first real total war. Perhaps then “cold war” in a generic sense means a war with no shooting. Does “cold peace” mean a peace marked by periodic violence? If so, I have not noticed any particular willingness by Israel to accept this violence. Or is this about an icy peace punctuated by the permanent threat of violence? Wouldn’t that be a cold war then?

Putting aside the overly generous use of unexplained labels, Cole’s article is worth reading, whether or not you agree with his take on “Israel’s old expansionist tendencies.” The historical context is useful, and the term “micro-wars” is at least consistent with the metaphor upon which “asymmetric war” depends, though it encompasses more dimensions than merely partisan warfare. Cole points to four specific factors in the twenty-first century: (1) the integration of the religious political parties Hamas and Hizbullah with the population around them via the parties’ social services; (2) suicide bombs, tank-piercing capabilities, and small rocket fire; (3) the support of a regional power (a common feature of other guerilla wars); and (4) “Israel’s Achilles heel, its demographic vulnerability”—a violent environment encourages emigration. Cole uses these factors as the backdrop for his narrative of Israel’s conflicts in Southern Lebanon and Gaza.

In the end, though, he wonders if global opinion might prove a bigger problem for Israel, albeit only in the long term. Public opinion is the one thing I’ve been wondering about as well.

And “macro-war”? Does Cole mean the old conventional wars that Israel used to fight with its neighbors? Or is he talking about global public opinion, which is the focus of Israel’s and its enemies’ propaganda wars and public diplomacy?

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