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David Miller: Middle East Moves Towards War

David Miller Online. Why the Middle East is Moving Towards War.

Just over a month ago, this column addressed the obstacles that are in front of Israel and the Palestinians that while outstanding are preventing a conclusive peace to the ongoing violence being found. A month later, resolution remains further away than ever. Before any discussion can take place concerning the status of Jerusalem, the return of Palestinian refugees and the Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories, the spiralling violence must abate, and there is little chance of that happening. Why take this view? The answer is that the stone throwing and the containing of demonstrations are increasingly giving way to guerrilla warfare.

The trend towards guerrilla warfare has increased since this latest outbreak of violence began in September and it is the Palestinian’s principle tactic should they continue to seek armed confrontation with the Israeli army. Guerrilla warfare has long been a tactic of choice for those who are confronted by a much larger and militarily powerful enemy. It is a form of non- conventional warfare, which enables those confronting a guerrilla campaign able to equate it with terrorism, which is of the same phenomenon. By using the term terrorist or terrorism when describing an enemy, it allows for a movement or organisation to be portrayed in a more negative light.

The difference between a guerrilla campaign and one of terrorism is subtle and the subject of intense debate, but if the terms are to be used then it is important that a definition and a distinction between them is made. While both are forms of non- conventional warfare, a guerrilla movement is designed to establish itself in areas it has control over or ‘liberated’ and uses such areas to gain resources, troop numbers and equipment in its battle against the opposing forces. With the establishing of the Palestinian Authority and its control over areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip such a process occurred before hostilities broke out. It is for this reason that the Israeli Defence Force has deployed its forces to encircle Palestinian towns and sectors to limit the support and fire that the Palestinians can gather from such areas.

Guerrilla warfare can also be defined in terms of what it targets and in this manner it can be separated from terrorism. A guerrilla campaign is a small war due to the asymmetric balance of power between the sides, but the rules of engagement remain the same as that of a major conflict between states. Terrorism, for its part, does not follow such a set of rules, and this is why in a terrorist campaign civilians and non- combatants are drawn into the line of fire. In all conflicts the line separating the two concepts is blurred and it is not unusual for the parties to give both labels to the same incident whether civilians are the intended target or not. In this recent outbreak of fighting in the Middle East, evidence of both of these concepts can be found and it is not unusual to find the same organisation employing both guerrilla and terrorist tactics, for example, Hamas.

Terrorism has long been a feature in the Middle East as it has with other regions around the world, such as Europe. Even before this outbreak of fighting, organisations were prepared to use terrorism to bring a halt to the peace process, hence it is no surprise to see it at work now. The biggest concern at present however, is that along with the continued stone throwing, the situation has deteriorated into series of guerrilla clashes, which are shown in the media on a daily basis. The small arms fire- fights continue each day in the Gaza Strip and West Bank and this is punctuated by tank and helicopter fire by the Israelis.

And yet the diplomatic efforts to halt the fighting and breath some life back into the peace process continue, though any effort to resolve this crisis will struggle to gain credible results. This was shown by the failure to implement the accords signed at last month’s summit in Egypt which was hosted by Egypt and which President Clinton and UN Secretary- General Kofi Annan attended. There remains too much suspicion among states at present for these efforts to be effective. The Israelis, for their part, maintain long-standing mistrust towards the UN and want the United States to co- ordinate any mediation effort, while the Palestinians have stated they wish to see more Russian involvement to act as a counter weight to this.

Escalation is the biggest enemy that any moves toward peace in the region confront.
Already Egypt, which along with Jordan, is the most friendly of Arab states towards Israel, has withdrawn its ambassador in protest at Israel and the Arab League has given its endorsement to the Palestinian ‘Intifada’ claiming it to be a “legal fight to obtain rights”. There are reports that the Arab League is considering an oil embargo on Israel to pressure it into ending the conflict while the strikes and counter strikes on the Israeli- Lebanon border show how easily this conflict can move from the occupied territories into other contentious areas of the Middle East and how old rivalries and hostilities can be easily revived.

For these reasons there is even less to be optimistic about regarding the Israel- Palestinian conflict than a month ago. While the diplomatic effort stumbles on, the conflict continues and the risk of escalation increases with it. Neither side is prepared to concede in the conflict and as one witness to the latest fighting in the Gaza Strip said, “it’s a war”. If no concessions are forthcoming then this is exactly the direction the Middle East is heading, towards a war.

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