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.