Israel and Syria: The Dangers of Superpower Influence

It’s almost impossible to have a sane conversation in the US about the never ending conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Inevitably your audience will decide that you are in either the Israeli or Palestinian camp and treat you with nearly unlimited amounts of scorn. With this in mind I’m going to try and defy this convention, but I wouldn’t be surprised if my attempt is completely dashed against what appears to be an ironclad law of nature. Let me set the stage with my interpretation of the conflict in Israel: this conflict is an asymmetrical one with actors that are too multifaceted to effectively assign blame to either side.

The Israelis are more than the IDF and the Palestinians are more than Hamas (even within these organizations there is a wide spectrum of honorable to truly inhuman actors); but ultimately the IDF has more firepower and is quite willing to use it indiscriminately; and Hamas is quite willing to make up for this imbalance of power by targeting civilians. Regardless of the power imbalance, both the IDF and Hamas are intentionally drawing innocent civilians into the conflict. Both sides sacrifice innocent lives to blame the other and to perpetuate a fantasy world where they are the innocent victim and the other is a monstrous army of evil unwilling to negotiate peacefully.

Like virtually all intractable ethnic conflicts the killing in the occupied territories will not be brought about by either of the actors. It will require outside pressure from the international community on both sides to force a peaceful resolution. Unfortunately, like Russia’s relationship to Syria, the United States stands as impediment to peace by protecting one side of the conflict for personal gain. In Syria, international opinion has run counter to the regime of Bashar Al-Assad, yet is largely distrustful of the loose coalition of rebels opposing him. Russia, long having supported Syria as a foothold for Russian power projection into the middle east, have stymied a peaceful solution by opposing any resolution that might harm the position of the Al-Assad government and by extension the influence Russia has historically leveraged over Syria.

In a somewhat analogous situation, the US has shielded Israel from the negative opinion of the international community, providing military technology, weapons, and 21% of the Israeli military budget with virtually no conditions as to how this aid is to be used. The US supports Israel for virtually the same reasons that Russia has historically supported Syria, as a practical and ideological foothold for American power projection in the middle east. The US has made statements recognizing the negative role Russia plays in influencing Syrian violence by protecting Al-Assad, yet has been completely blind to the negative role that the US plays in Israel by providing nearly unconditional support to Israel. This hypocritical and destructive influence needs to end.

Granted this is a difficult proposition, however the first step is in enforcing restrictions in US military aid to Israel. When Israeli military leaders engage in campaigns such as Operation Cast Lead and the current attacks in Gaza, they ensure that organizations like Hamas respond with violence. As long as this situation persists, there is no way to begin a dialog with the Palestinian people and militant factions will continue to draw power from the many people associated with “collateral damage” from IDF military campaigns. Unfortunately, such restrictions on military aid can only restrain the most egregious actions of Israel and will have little effect (if any) on the criminal actions on the Palestinian side by itself. This crucial first step would need to be followed up by intense pressure on Hamas and their regional allies to stop their attacks on Israel.

The only humane path will require sacrifice from all actors. The US needs to recognize that it has to jeopardize our relationship with Israel by not treating her like a spoiled child. Israel need to realize that it will have to either secede some of her territory to a Palestinian state or end the Jewish state and accept Palestinians as full citizens. The Palestinians need to accept that not only is Israel not going anywhere, but also that attacking Israel’s civilian population will only perpetuate the suffering of the Palestinian people by ensuring military backlashes from the Israelis.