Armistice Day

After more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, there’s a chance Australia might finally be at peace next Armistice Day. Most combat operations in Afghanistan will cease early next year, and we can hope that the final pullout will take place not too long after that. In my lifetime, Australia has been involved in three long wars, none of which have produced the promised results. In two of them, Iraq and Vietnam, the pretext for war was clearly fraudulent. The overthrow of the Taliban regime, which had sheltered Osama bin Laden, was plausibly justified on grounds of self-defence, but the conduct of the war, and particularly the decision to invade Iraq, ensured that the effort would end in failure, as it has done. The best that can be said about the wars of the last decade is that they have been less costly, at least in Australian lives, than was Vietnam.

What is really striking, looking at the recent past, is how much has been achieved by peaceful means. In our own region, Indonesia has been transformed from a dictatorship (generally seen as representing a long-term military threat) to a stable democracy, which has largely overcome the challenges of terrorism, religious violence, natural disasters, and the attempts of the military to retain its central role in politics and business. With the aid of Australian peacekeepers, East Timor has made a start on a difficult road out of poverty. Elsewhere in the world from Eastern Europe to South America to the Arab world, seemingly durable dictatorships have collapsed or handed over power, mostly without the intervention of foreign governments.

Saying that war should be the last resort sounds like a platitude. But it is among the most important lessons we learn from history. Those who choose war rarely achieve the outcomes they expect and usually bring disaster on themselves as well as others. War in self-defence is sometimes necessary, and there are rare occasions when outside intervention can prevent an immediate human catastrophe. Fighting wars for justice, or democracy, or national honour, or to prevent future wars is a path to ruin.

130 thoughts on “Armistice Day

  1. @Katz to stay in the game. Would anyone care what Hamas was doing if it was not firing those missiles. The power to hurt gives them influence.

  2. Good question Katz, there was a certain level of transgressions on both sides for quite awhile. just check “Gaza NGO Safety Office”. However, I suspect there was a perceived opportunity for the Hawks on both sides to escalate.
    ” ….who appears to be retaliating against whom depends on when you start the clock. Most American media accounts have begun coverage of the latest rounds of violence with a Palestinian attack on Israeli soldiers on November 8. Less noticed in the coverage was that the soldiers were part of an element of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), including four tanks and an armored bulldozer, that was operating inside the Gaza Strip at the time. Exactly what those operations included is still unclear, but the IDF did later say it was “investigating” the death of an 11-year-old boy that day. Within the next three days the Palestinian Center for Human Rights documented the deaths of five more Palestinian civilians, including three children, with 52 other civilians wounded. Most of the casualties were incurred in a single Israeli attack on a playground soccer field.”

    Further, the motive of Interior Minister Eli Yishai on Israel’s operation in Gaza: “The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages. ”

    And Jim, re Aumann and peace
    ” .. according to The Jerusalem Post, Aumann joined Ahi, a far-right religious Zionist party led by Effi Eitam and Yitzhak Levi. The editor of the Israeli newspaper Maariv has written that Eitam, who once called Arabs a “cancer,” is a “landgrabber” and a “kibbutznik…turned zealously religious and nationalistic…he is surrounded by an unpleasant aura of irrationality, like one who sees himself in an almost-messianic light.” Levi, for his part, is a rabbi, former Knesset member with the National Religious Party, and co-founder of the radical settlement at Elon Moreh, near Nablus. In addition to his involvement with Ahi, Aumann is a long-time member of Professors for a Strong Israel. The group’s website states that “Judea, Samaria, Gaza, and the Golan Heights are integral parts of the Land of Israel”

  3. @Ootz Playing the man rather than the ball! Is any of Aumann’s reasoning about the blackmailer’s paradox wrong? If they were, you would not have mounted a petty personal attack.

    The whole point of science is devising methods of increasing knowledge without regard to the politics of those involved.

    The social sciences relies on critical discussion to evaluate arguments. The politics and passions of social scientists are beside the point. Stigler argued that the biography of scientists has relevance only to the problems they select in light of their passions.

    Aumann is a mathematician, so maths is used to checking his game theory.

    p.s. the democrat to republican ratio in sociology departments in voter registrations is 44 to 1. Does that composition make sociology unable to say anything of value?

  4. Megan how about you tell me what I lied about. So far you’ve:

    (a) dishonestly said that peace is simple and only requires Israeli action

    (b) dishonestly implied that the Hamas Charter is defunct, and

    (c) dishonestly implied Hamas’ ambitions are limited to the 1967 borders.

  5. @Mel fair go. question (a) is too tough for a member of the appeasement Left to answer. the notion of that if you want peace, you must prepare for war is lost on them.

    Aumann argues well that the way to peace is like bargaining in a medieval bazaar. Never look too keen, and bargain long and hard. be patient.

  6. I should add that civil wars are much harder to end because the power to start fighting again is so diffuse.

  7. It is arguable that the power of Hamas resides almost exclusively in their ability to mobilise powerful Arab and Islamic opinion and more importantly action, in their cause.

    The final destination of this influence must be the White House and the US Congress. And this influence must be expressed in a threat by the US to review its policy of bankrolling Israel.

    Thus the tactics of Hamas appear to be aimed at arousing the Arab and Islamic streets. In the context of the destabilisation of the Islamic world associated with the Arab Spring, this route to pressuring the US may be more productive than before the Arab Spring. But on the other hand, Egypt, the most important Arab country from the point of view of Middle Eastern geopolitics, already has a Muslim Brotherhood government. Egyptian Islamists have therefore little left to threaten the US. Thus, the Egyptian government can’t protest to the US that the US has to do something to help Gaza, or else the Egyptian government might lose the Egyptian people. Why would the the care about the MB government?

    Therefore, it is arguable, Hamas tactics of episodic escalation, or even enthusiastic retaliation to Israeli provocation are now less productive than before the Arab Spring.

    Add the fact that with domestic shale oil the US is growing less dependant on Saudi oil, the geopolitical landscape of the region is shifting rapidly. The US is less compelled to pander to the Saudis.

    Perhaps Hamas would be better employed seeking new ways to influence the US and also public opinion in Israel.

  8. Jim, in Game Theory it pays to recognise who the actors are. Aumann is a controversial figure, amongst other, it has been argued that he or his political allies are blackmailing themselves and adhering to irrational cultural believes.

  9. Katz, interesting analysis and that is why I think any Gaza ground invasion will end badly for all concerned. (Itried to insert link several times only to end in mod, reassemle broken link below)
    http: // blogs. timesofisrael .com /gaza-ground-invasion-will-end-badly/

  10. Katz:

    “And this influence must be expressed in a threat by the US to review its policy of bankrolling Israel.”

    I don’t see this happening. The Democrats don’t want to risk losing the Jewish vote and the Republicans know they need to escape from their white male ghetto or be pounded by shifting demographics, plus many of their chief thinkers and strategists are hawkish Jews.

    Politicians are more firmly bound by mundane electoral considerations than many folk realise.

    Frankly I don’t see a way forward and I wouldn’t be surprised if Israel at some point decides to smash the Palestinians in much the same way as the Sri Lankan Government smashed the Tamils. Thank the Gods we are safely tucked away in the back pocket of the Anglosphere.

  11. I agree with Mel that the likelihood is remote that all things being equal the US would seriously reduce its financial support for Israel, unless Israel rashly adopted the Tamil solution. The Tamils had no determined friends, whereas the Palestinians are a cause célèbre who stymie themselves by their own incompetence.

    That scenario leaves us with the Battle of the Prams inside Israel. I think that Iranian money would be better spent on child endowment inside Israel than on rinky dink rockets.

  12. Tom Schelling spent a lot of time on going to war as an emergent process: what a nation does today in a crisis affects what it can be expected to do tomorrow: “A government never knows just how committed it is to action until the occasion when its commitment is challenged.”

    Schelling argues that nations, like people, are continually engaged in demonstrations of resolve, tests of nerve, and explorations for understandings and many misunderstandings. That is why there is a genuine risk of major war not from accidents in the military machine but through a diplomatic process of commitment and escalation that is itself unpredictable.

    Getting out of a war is a process too that rests on negotiating a peace settlement that requires a credible chance that the peace will last rather than just allow the other side to regroup and rearm. That was why World War 1 was as long as it was.

    A state would think that another state’s promise not to start another war is credible only if the other state would be better off by keeping such promises not to start another war than by breaking its promise once it has rearmed.

    The siege of Gaza is much harder to end because the power to start fighting again is so diffuse across Hamas and the other militias. can anyone make peace on behalf of Gaza?

  13. @Katz

    They say they are trying to

    a) give the oppressor a taste of what life is like under occupation or that the occupiers should not sleep comfortably while the occupied do not.

    b) to remind the world that they don’t accept the annexation

    They may well be achieving those things but a) is of little beyond expressive value to them and b) doesn’t require missiles.

    As I implied above, Katz, firing missiles as they have doesn’t fit into any rational calculus and is of course not warranted. That’s easy to say of course from the comfort of a place where we don’t get text messages from people able to bomb us at will and who have declared they want us to return to the middle ages and to get as few calories as possible. We live in a place where most of us can spare a thought about what our kids will do for a living and what we might do in retirement.

    With all that free time to muse, we’ve time to reflect on the intersection of abstract ethics, questions of utility and what would be most useful. No distinct group of people has given us reason over several decades to see them as beneath our concern.

    Trying to mull over this with those for whom the reverse is the lived experience is probably not going to work all that well. Israel, had it been so minded, might have come to an accommodation in the late 1970s. Its failure to do so, driven by the unstinting backing of the US is the reason why this mess persists.

  14. Interesting article in LA Times with graphic showing range of missile types from Gaza.

    Only the Fajr-5 rockets can reach Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

    Here are two perspectives on the state of play from Gazans:

    JABALIYA, Gaza Strip — Stepping over his daughter’s mangled teddy bear and pink bedroom curtains, math teacher Hossam Dadah salvaged what he could from the wreckage of his home and said he’s had enough.

    Two of his children were hospitalized after Israeli airstrikes destroyed the three-story house next door, which was owned by a Hamas official.

    “This has to end,” said Dadah, his black hair covered with concrete dust from the explosion. Hamas should quit while it’s ahead, he said.

    Not far away in Gaza City, policeman Mohamed Abu Islam peered into the massive crater left by an Israeli strike on the city’s sports stadium and insisted that Gazans should press forward with the conflict.

    “We can’t stop now,” he said. “If Israel wants a long-term truce, this time there must be conditions that improve our lives, such as lifting the blockade on the borders and the sea.”

  15. @Fran Barlow the rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel fail as a just war because “arms may not be used in a futile cause”.

    Force may be used “only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted or are clearly not practical.” Hamas uses negotiations as a delaying tactic and it will not make meaningful concessions.

    Israel, by camparison, unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza strip and prior to that, agreed to the establishment of the Palestinian authority. what did Israel get in return from Hamas for these concessions?

  16. the rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel fail as a just war because “arms may not be used in a futile cause

    They plainly don’t accept that the cause is futile. In effect though, you are inviting them to accept that it is — that they must go quietly into oblivion.

    Now as I’ve said, I don’t agree that the missiles advance the cause or are ethically defensible. Giving them up doesn’t prejudice their position. It might notionally strengthen it though I find this very doubtful. In any event, even if Hamas foreswore missiles, not everyone in Gaza would.

    The reality is that peace would serve the Israeli regime very poorly, which is why they have not honoured peace deals. They are happy for the other side to use this to deem the peace deal dead. The Israelis were after all, authors of Hamas.

    They could have peace any time they wanted, but they don’t want. What they want is misery and shame for their Arab prisoners.

  17. The UK Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (November 2010):

    ‘Although there is no permanent physical Israeli presence in Gaza, given the significant control that Israel has over Gaza’s borders, airspace and territorial waters, the UK judges that Israel retains obligations under the fourth Geneva Convention as an occupying power.’ (Hansard, 30 Nov 2010 : Column WA425).

  18. mega, you are too trusting of junior ministers.

    A territory ‘is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army.’ (Art. 42 of the Hague Regulations).

    are there other occupations without having troops on the ground? name names.

    the border controls are of no moment because any country can close its borders. no fly zones and martime blockades have a separate legal history.

    The border with Egypt is not under siege by Israel.

  19. Ok, so at least one Gazan thinks that these rocket fusillades may serve to end the blockade.

    At least one element of this blockade is maintained by Egypt.

    Perhaps Hamas believes that by dramatising their antipathy toward Israel, Egypt can now (after the rise if the MB) be pressured into opening the boundary between Egypt and the GS.

    This is perhaps an achievable end.

  20. Katz, is Egypt an occupying power because it closed its border to Gaza? was this border with Gaza closed after the purported end of Egyptian occupation of Gaza in 1967?

    a clarification comes from UN Security Council Resolution 1973 which authorised military action and a no-fly zone over Libya but ruled out any “occupation” of Libyan territory. The UN considered an embargo, a no-fly zone and constant aerial bombardment not to be an “occupation.”

    Does Hamas consider the Gaza Strip to be occupied?

  21. why are people so keen to regard the Gaza Strip as occupied? Hamas would not be keen to signify such weakness.

  22. @Jim Rose

    why are people so keen to regard the Gaza Strip as occupied? Hamas would not be keen to signify such weakness.

    Contrary to the implication of some, there are no spokespeople for Hamas here. For example, I’m an atheist, a humanist and a proponent of authentic community. I find the politics of Hamas repulsive. That doesn’t change the facts on the ground though.

  23. It is worth remembering that this is not the first time we have seen the unfolding of a sequence of Palestinian (or other Arab) unguided missile attacks on Israeli territory and a subsequent massive military response by Israel. If we think back to Operation Cast Lead and its prequels in 2008-2009, the war with Hezbollah in 2006, and the Israeli-PLO exchanges which culminated in the war in Lebanon in 1982, we have over 30 years of this sort of thing to reflect on. What is evident is that these sorry sequences of events are bad all round, the missile attacks have not advanced the Palestinians’ political goals, and Israel has not been able to achieve lasting security by military means.

    What has changed, of course, is that this is the first time such a flare-up has occurred since the start of the Arab Spring.

  24. The Israeli Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai on the imposition of a “shoah” by the IDF:

    The more qassam fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they (the Palestinians) will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves {my emphasis}

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