After communism and capitalism, there is asterism.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Israel - bombing its way into irrelevance

Time for a reality check. Israel is gearing up for a massive assault on Lebanon. Already they are inflicting their own version of Shock and Awe on Beirut. The army reserves have been called up and the peace terms are unacceptable. Maybe it will end up occupying large sections of Lebanon, and plan to remain there for years. Maybe Beirut will bombed back to the stone age. And if Israel succeeds, well, so what?

This new war in Lebanon is a minor border skirmish compared to the ongoing war and tragedy in Iraq or any potential war with Iran. Even if the whole of Beirut is burnt to the ground it would only be a tragedy for the people of Lebanon. Gone are the days when the 'Middle' of the Middle East has any strategic relevance to the Arabs. The world has moved on and the warheads in Israel, too puffed up in their own arrogance, have failed to notice.

To give this a historical perspective; in the 70's the whole of the Middle East was controlled by a combination of the military might of the Shah's Iran on one side and Israel on the other. The rest of the population was kept quiet by corrupt regimes that could pretend legitimacy by being nominally anti-Israeli in public while dealing with America, the Soviet Union and Israel as needed. Saddam was a good example. Although he is now considered to be Israel's sworn enemy, yet, during the Lebanese Civil War he was quite happy to cooperate with them to arm the Christian militias in Lebanon.

In those days Israel was king. They were a key component of American foreign policy in the region and saw themselves much like the old South Africa. A military and economic power centre through which all the Arabs eventually would be forced to deal to trade with rest of the world. Lebanon too was important. With its liberal society it became a centre for banking, trade and was also one of the main locations for regional tourism.

Then two things happened. The revolution in Iran broke the old balance of forces in the region. And China and India became industrialized powers shifting the balance of power decidedly to the East. Now, with America's massive involvement in Iraq, the amazing growth of Dubai, Israel is becoming more of a small country very far away from where the real world is. Even Lebanon will never regain the importance it had before the civil war. Dubai has sucked away all the trade and much of the tourism that used to flow through its gates.

Lately Israel had been doing a reasonable marketing effort for itself. Looking like it had broken the militaristic pattern of a country that was aiming for perpetual war and occupation of its neighbors. It was in the process of forcing some kind of a peace deal on the Palestinians. The rest of the world could see it as a peaceful nation in a problematic region. Even the Arab countries were beginning a process of grudging recognition. Look how Israeli delegates were free to attend the World Trade Organization's meetings in Dubai in 2003. And Israel has a lot going for it in this world. With a highly educated workforce, a source of cheap labour and, most importantly, one of the most advanced legal systems, a peaceful Israel could grow to rival the power of London or New York as a location for international business.

Now this is all for nought. Blown away with in the dust kicked up by the first bomb that landed on Beirut airport. We are back to the old Israel of the 70's. It will make the media companies happy for a while with some of the really exiting TV pictures they have been denied in Iraq and then bit by bit, the world will lose interest. All the petrodollars will flow into Dubai, the far east and Iraq when it rediscovers stability. And Israel will become nothing more than a drain on the US taxpayer.
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