ALL SIDES WANTED ESCALATION
The historian Moshe Zuckermann on the Middle East Conflict, Ignoring Civilian Casualties and the Role of the US
[Moshe Zuckermann was born in 1949 as a son of a Polish-Jewish holocaust survivor in Israel and lived in Frankfurt, Germany. Today the historian and sociologist teaches at the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas of the University of Tel Aviv where he directs the Institute for German History. This interview published in: Neues Deutschland, 7/22/2006 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, link to www.nd-online.de.]
ND: An Israeli soldier was kidnapped. A little later parts of the Middle East were in flames. How could an action of the armed division of Hamas escalate to a war?
Zuckermann: Formally, rescuing the kidnapped was central, setting a sign that Hamas could not possibly engage in any military action. Military supremacy should remain with Israel. Then when Hezbollah kidnapped two more soldiers and Israeli border posts were attacked, the storm erupted. The kidnapping crisis could have been solved very differently through a prisoner exchange. Since negotiations were impossible with either Hamas or Hezbollah, a military strike was presumably the only possible reaction. The strike came as ordered.
ND: What do you mean?
Zuckermann: All the sides had interests in kindling the fire to profile themselves, Hezbollah as Iran's extended arm to guide the G8 conference, Syria seeking to assure its shaky presence in Lebanon, the US that sees Israel as a partner in the "war on terror" to wipe out Iran and Syria and Israel thirsting to bring "order" again in the Gaza strip and Lebanon. The kidnapped soldiers only had a subordinate role.
ND: Israel is determined to eliminate Hezbollah and Hamas militarily. Civilian casualties even in her own population are accepted. Can this work out as planned?
Zuckermann: If the Israeli government ultimately does what it wants, it will work out as planned. Whether it will work out is still in the stars. Hezbollah proves to be a very strong and effective organization that cannot be easily subdued. A military decision cannot be easily reached since the Israeli government refuses a massive use of its ground troops. Civilian casualties do not matter at all. Politicians and the military have never been interested in the long-term. This makes the present suffering so barbaric.
ND: What is the role of the US?
Zuckermann: As a "mediating power," the US plays a pitiful role this time. Since the US refuses to speak with Iran or Syria, it has no influence on two central protagonists of the present crisis. For geo-political reasons, the US is objectively interested in eruption of violence. For the US, Israel contributes in the "battle against terror" against two states on the "axis of evil." Therefore the US supports the Israelis without reservation. In reality, the US wants to strengthen its hegemony in the Gulf region. However that is not admitted or debated.
ND: The rightwing in Israel feel confirmed in its position that the clearance of Israel's Gaza strip weakened Israel and destabilized conditions in the Middle East. Will the war lead to a domestic shift of power in favor of the settler movement?
Zuckermann: That remains to be seen. The settler movement is now in the opposition. The government is careful not to comply. Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says he will continue with his plans in the West Bank. Whether he can do this is very unclear. The real debate between the camps will first occur when the current crisis is overcome. Olmert's intentions must be discussed. They are nothing about which the left heart can rejoice and hardly contribute to a lasting solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
ND: Has the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians broken down?
Zuckermann: Who can answer that? If you mean the "Oslo" peace process, that process is buried. Still the future is open. Without peace, there is no future - not for Israel, the Palestinians or the whole Middle East.