English Articles

Sources of military actions
in the Middle East: Power and Bibi

TORONTO – Whatever one might hazard to say about Israel… it would be wrong, the moment a “shot” is fired. There have been many “shots” fired in the last week. In fact, as of May 19, the overall death toll in Gaza stood at 197 people, including 58 children and 34 women, with 1,235 injured and about 70,000 displaced.

A word of caution, the foregoing numbers vary according to their source (Hamas/Palestinian or the Israeli Defense Forces), and reporting agencies like Al-Jazeera, the BBC or the Associated Press.

However, different – more “impersonal” – numbers suggest that questions about who does what and why may not produce a rational discussion regarding targeting sources of problems or indeed long-term solutions. For example, the apparent futility of Palestinian objection to “the Israeli/Jewish presence” would appear to be emphasized by the vastly disproportionate military and economic weight of the two entities.

The GDP of the Palestinian Authority in 2020, according to the World Bank, was at approximately $16 Billion USD, for a population of about 5.2 million. Israel, whose population in 2020 was at about 9.2 million, registered a GDP of about $402 Billion USD according to Forbes/Statista; more than 25 times the size of their neighbour’s.

The disparity does not stop there. Israel’s annual military budget (in percentage of GDP- 5.3% – and in absolute dollars – $22 Billion USD – dwarfs that of every other country and jurisdiction in the area, except Saudi Arabia. Israel’s modern army, in training and equipment is the most sophisticated in the greater Middle East; and it has the nuclear option. It seems unlikely that the Palestinians might present either an economic or military threat to Israel’s existence.

Nonetheless, they figure prominently in the construct of Israeli politics, more precisely, in the political needs of the most purely political personalities to emerge in the area in the last half century – Benjamin Netanyahu, “[king] Bibi” to his fawning admirers here in Canada and in the Diaspora elsewhere.

Prime Minister Netanyahu “has been on the scene” since before I met him when he was Foreign Minister (1989), in his bunker – just to illustrate that to foreign officials that the country’s political elite were under constant threat by terrorists. He plays the political structure of Israeli democracy the way an expert violinist caresses the strings of a Stradivarius [violin].

If Niccolò Machiavelli, 500 years ago, had not already found the epitome of unscrupulous, ruthless political operative in Cesare Borgia for his seminal study in political science, Bibi would most certainly have been his first choice.

Columnist Adam Raz, in Israel’s Haaretz daily newspaper, May 16, said as much in his assessment of the causes of the latest “flare-up” in Gaza: Bibi needs Hamas to be a truculent nuisance. He cannot form a government without their “agitation”.

If he does not form a government, the argument is that he will surely lose immunity privileges and most likely succumb to the negative judgement of the Courts for accusations in his regard of bribery, corruption, malfeasance etc. while in office that have been making their way through the legal system.

The democratic process has not produced a clear winner in four elections held over the last 20 months. Israel is headed toward its fifth in two years.

Bibi needs a “unifying issue” to project himself as “the only boy who can stick his finger in the dike” that holds back the tsunami of Israel’s enemies.

President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau feed that image when they “call for a ceasefire”. Their “voices of peace” may be well-meaning”, but Bibi is holding the guns and Hamas is daring him to shoot.

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