This one contains relatively little of my own opinion, at least directly. I’ve been following the news fairly closely with a sort of sick fascination, and have built up an inventory of links to things I’ve read that struck me as smart or insightful; here it is.
First of all, if you want real-time coverage, you can’t beat Al-Jazeera. Sure, their hosts are hardly neutral, but they interview partisans from both sides, and I can’t say enough about their front-line people, who are pretty well just-the-facts all the time. Particularly Ayman Mohyeldin, who reports from inside Gaza, often near the fighting, often in a helmet and flak jacket. In a flat middle-American accent, by the way. That guy’s brave.
You can watch Al-Jazeera’s English feed live, any time, on Livestation, which works superbly on my Mac.
Background · Now let’s get into the analysis, starting with some pieces that look (at least in part) backward. Nicholas Kristof, in The Gaza Boomerang, gives a good overview and fills in some of the historical pieces. Also from the Times is Rashid Khalidi’s What You Don’t Know About Gaza; he’s the only Arab voice in my survey, and his take is partisan, but his points well-argued.
There are three separate pieces in this survey by Gershom Gorenberg, whom I’ve recently discovered; he writes for various magazines and in his own excellent South Jerusalem blog. I’d like to call out his The Ignored Choices in Gaza as an especially useful backgrounder.
Angles · Next, here are some more real-time-flavor analysis pieces. Clearly, what with the US political changeover in progress, and an Israeli election imminent, a reasonable person has to wonder if considerations of political timing played a role here. Christopher Hitchens, in Bad Timing, assumes they did, and is appropriately acidic; you can’t beat Hitchens for scathing cynicism.
Ross Douthat, in War: What Is It Good For?, is balanced and also sanely cynical, but concludes “It seems like a bad idea, but within the constraints that Israeli leaders operate under it's possible that it's the worst option except for all the others.”
Another open question is what, exactly, Israel hopes to achieve with this offensive, and how, concretely, they hope to achieve it. Marc Lynch, in "We have no grand political scheme", looks seriously at the startling possibility that the Israelis haven’t really thought it through very carefully.
Reuvan Pedatzur, in The mistakes of Cast Lead, paints a convincing picture of what the strategic thinking might have been, but then concludes that Israel would have done better to have simply stopped after a couple of days of air attacks.
Gideon Lichfield’s beautifully-written Israel’s PR war is penetratingly bleak.
And from Gershom Gorenberg again, Pride, Fury, Fire is a stream of pure empathy for those suffering in Gaza.
But It’s Just a Sideshow · The situation is horrible and I deeply admire all the people working hard to stop the bleeding, but at the end of the day Hamas is just a side-show in the larger Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And in the West Bank theater of that conflict, things aren’t going well.
Most sane people think that a two-state solution is the only way out of the morass, but the settler movement is dedicated to keeping that from happening; Gorenberg is back again in The Other Housing Crisis to explain that they’re winning.
The Middle East is well-supplied with groups that it’s easy to loathe; for example the governments of almost every Arab nation, and the equally-nasty Hamas leadership. But I’d have to say that the outside fringe of settlers is right up there; see Bernard Avishai’s Hebron Agonistes: Too Much For Israel.
Hope? · I have found a few pieces that offer grounds for optimism. Well, at least in the short term: both Ha’aretz’s Just get out editorial rant and Yoel Marcus’ Knowing when to stop present powerful arguments that it’s in Israel’s best interest to stop the war right now.
And let’s not forget that there are some paths out of the woods that are at least worth exploring; see Scott MacLeod’s Time to Test the Arab Peace Offer.
Irritants · I’ll close with a couple of my opinions, just lines of argument that have popped up here or there that strike me as irritatingly stupid. One is when an Israeli spokesman says that “Any truce must guarantee a complete cessation of rocket attacks.” Well yeah, and I want a pony for my birthday. There is no group of humans existent on the planet, either inside the Gaza strip or outside it, that could deliver on such a promise. The Israelis have punished the rocketers in full measure, with an appalling amount of collateral damage, and it probably won’t make them stop 100%, but they must have known that going in.
The second irritant is those, and they’re chiefly loony right-wing Americans, trying to paint this as a global contest against Iran, dismissing the rocket-slinging Palestinians as Iranian stooges, and Iran itself as a scary monster.
That’s just nuts. Iran is politically dysfunctional, internally divided, in considerable economic difficulty, and entirely outgunned; and would still be outgunned even if they did manage to brew up a few nukes.
When you read someone advancing the “It’s about Iran” argument you can safely dismiss them as a deranged warmonger trying to advance some other agenda.
The Real Tragedy · The first few days of this war actually served the interests of both Israel and Hamas. Sad but true.
Comment feed for ongoing:
From: Robert Sayre (Jan 09 2009, at 00:32)
Well, that's what you get when you make up a country in 1948.
Perhaps this comment will be followed by a bunch of tiresome rhetoric.
From: JB (Jan 09 2009, at 01:01)
I think there is one sure way to end terrorism against Israel - create a Palestinian state! They'd put a stop to the rocket attacks, because they'd have something to loose.
From: Ante Barac (Jan 09 2009, at 01:26)
Well, there was an armed conflict in my country (Croatia), not so long ago. What I can tell you from that experience is this:
You could watch CNN 24/7, read every article from news to serious analyses in NYT and still be clueless of what was really happening.
There are still at least three versions of anything that happened, and what little information ended up in foreign media was heavily distorted and lacked any real connection to the real world.
You could read history books to try and understand the thing, but again, every single one of them is 90% PR. Filled with attitudes and personal agenda.
Not to be cynical, the moral of the story is: Wars are messy affairs. Horrible, horrible things happen to people involved on every side. Wars can not be managed, consequences can not be controlled. You can only be sure of one thing. Many people will die, and even more people will be hurt in a ways that will be incomprehensible to a normal human being. And most of the planet will no nothing about it.
Therefore, any politician making any decision leading to an armed conflict is a blithering idiot. Most of Europe learned the lesson in 1945, i hope we did 15 years ago.
From: Dennis Krueger (Jan 09 2009, at 02:22)
You might enjoy The War Nerd's analysis at http://exiledonline.com/cat/war-nerd/
From: Tom Raftery (Jan 09 2009, at 03:49)
Great post Tim, thanks for the links to all the superb sources.
One thing, in your closing comments you say that the only winners from the first few days are Israel and Hamas.
I would say now that Israel are coming out of this very badly and Hamas are, unfortunately, gaining support.
The senseless killing of civilians can only serve to drive people into Hamas' arms.
You can never kill your way to peace and the IDF's scant regard for human rights or international law means that they have lowered themselves to Hamas' level.
It is never good when the government of a modern democracy starts to disregard human rights.
There is little then to separate them from terrorists.
From: len (Jan 09 2009, at 09:05)
"The second irritant is those, and they’re chiefly loony right-wing Americans, trying to paint this as a global contest against Iran, dismissing the rocket-slinging Palestinians as Iranian stooges, and Iran itself as a scary monster."
Not entirely. I've been reading other lists where the proxy war theory is advanced by the left wing loonies in Australia, for example. There is an 'enemy of my enemy' effect going on that makes the leftists outside the US take the positions of the right wingers inside the US as long as they can use that to hurt the US. And none of it is without irritation.
We'll pay a price for a long time for the last eight years of whack jobs in power. It won't help to have the disease spreading globally so maybe we should think about how to get some peace at the same levels of quiet informal cooperation that got us XML in the days when if two engineers from IBM and Unisys or Digital,etc., (pick one) were in the same room, it was naturally assumed they would pull out the short swords and slash away.
I know little about it. The Middle East looks to me like Zeta Reticulins fighting over a pocket of gas. But living every day waiting for the next rocket to fall sounds like hell and I have to wonder why all of the players can accept that but can't accept their neighbors or move. Is the rock in their hands worth it?
From: anon (Jan 09 2009, at 10:48)
From: Pete B (Jan 09 2009, at 16:23)
The LA Times here has very courageously given an Op Ed slot to Hamas. Obviously one sided - but if we are trying to understand a little better it's good to hear directly from the leaders on both sides. Israel seems to have no trouble getting it's official view in he media. (And that's not me taking sides - just a fact.)
The totally predictable reactions only underline the difficulties for anyone trying to take a reasoned view.
From: Out Of Your Element (Jan 09 2009, at 18:04)
I subscribed to your blog for its occasional tech insights.
But you're simply far out of your element here.
In order to improve your understanding of what's going on there, sure, you must discuss it. But perhaps that's better done privately on a subject as serious as this? That's my advice, anyway.
From: John (Jan 09 2009, at 19:17)
"Al-Jazeera...hardly neutral"? That's the understatement of the year. Why even cite this source?
From: Rob (Jan 09 2009, at 23:27)
Actually, I think Tim is being a little hard on Al Jazeera. I think that they are actually being pretty neutral, really, in the face of a story where neutrality is pretty difficult. It isn't like they haven't been giving Hamas spokespersons a hard time too; they most certainly have. It is just that North American media are so emasculated and biased, that we have forgotten what actual journalism looks like.
On another note, me and some of my on-line mates have been playing pro-Israel Troll Talking Points Bingo. You picks your troll, and then mock them as they trot out the same old (very old) talking points. It is amazing how they never get tired.
I actually think that teh intertubes are going to have a major impact on things Middle-Eastern: not only can we now get news from bloggers within Gaza when the accredited journos can't get in, we can access Al Jazeera, and many other voices. And I have been struck by how sane most of those voices have been.
From: Antonio (Jan 15 2009, at 14:22)
But, why waste time watching Al-Jazeera?
Israeli TV is much better: they have programs that make jokes on dead innocent people! Watch it for yourself:
From: Rob (Jan 16 2009, at 10:06)
Hey, you're right. There *are* no Iranians involved: