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David Miller: Now It's War In The Middle East

David Miller Online: There Is Now A War In The Middle East

The last time this column focused on the situation in the Middle East back in April, it was clear then that the prospects for finding a peaceful settlement where becoming ever more remote. ‘Escalation’ was a word that was becoming more prominent in the rhetoric of all parties concerned and the Israeli people had recently elected Ariel Sharon as prime minister, ushering in a hard line approach to the violence. One month later and it has become clear that not only has the violence escalated, it has now developed into a bitter and potentially protracted war. Peace will not be forthcoming to the region and the events of the last few days are a demonstration of why this is so.

Following yet another Hamas suicide bombing, in which six people died, Israel launched a series of retaliatory air strikes against targets in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including facilities used by Force 17, the elite bodyguard unit of Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat and Palestinian police forces. The strikes also targeted the Palestinian coastal patrol force stationed in Gaza and 16 people were reported killed.

The air strikes are a significant development in the cycle of violence for two reasons. The first is that they mark the first time strike aircraft, in this case F-16’s, have been employed in the conflict in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Until this point the Israel’s had limited the use of firepower to helicopter gun-ships and tanks and it is the first time since the 1967 Six Day War that Israel has used combat aircraft in those areas. However in the wake of this latest move and international criticism, Mr. Sharon is not backing down, stating that Israel will do anything that is necessary and use everything in the Israeli arsenal to protect its citizens.

The Palestinian Authority was quick to denounce the strikes as a serious escalation and has called on the international community for support and intervention, while the United Nations has labelled the strikes as disproportionate. Potential fallout from this action is that Arab states, such as Jordan and Egypt who maintain ties with Israel, could suspend them in accordance with an Arab League statement following the strikes that calls for the isolation of Israel.

As Israel has become the target of repeated terrorist strikes, it is understandable that they should retaliate, however this places them in a catch 22 situation. It is important for Mr. Sharon to show that he is prepared to match actions with words and show the Israeli people he is prepared to defend them. At the same time, the use of strike aircraft and other heavy weaponry are unfortunate weapons and policies of choice, as they can serve no useful purpose in deterring further Palestinian and Arab attacks. This must fall to Mr. Arafat and those close to him. However, while they feel this responsibility belongs to Israel and are not prepared to do this, then the use of such firepower can only inflame the situation further and places Israel in the light of the aggressor when blame can be found on both sides. This is the second reason as to why these strikes are significant.

Air strikes and massive displays of firepower are not the answer to resolving this conflict. The problem is that when such firepower is used, the conflict immediately becomes one sided. There is no way possible for the Palestinians to match might of the Israeli armed forces, hence elements of the community, such as Hamas, resort to terrorism. Terrorism is the most effective weapon the Palestinian’s have, as it carries the conflict into Israel itself and strikes at the Israeli population. Once Israel carries out a retaliation operation, then a propaganda victory is achieved as it are the Israeli’s who appear the heavy-handed aggressor and it is they who inflict the most casualties. The Palestinians are as equally responsible for both the prolonging of this conflict and it’s ending as much as the Israeli’s, however neither side is prepared to make the first move towards this step.

There is nothing that would suggest moves towards resolution are taking place, and as neither party is prepared or able to commit to resolving the conflict then the cycle continues and the war will drag on. Mr. Sharon does not appear to be the kind of politician who backs down so therefore it is reasonable to expect the Israeli counter strikes to continue. As they do, the Palestinians will continue their side of the fight and while the United States remains firmly on the sidelines and refuses to risk or advocate intervention, violence is the only course open here. The Middle East has a new war.

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