July 14, 2006

Lowering The Threshold


If you’ve been around here awhile, you probably know — or have figured out — that I’ve kept a bit of distance between The BAG and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

There are a couple reasons for this.

First, I have quite a few readers that are either Muslim, Arab, or have strong sentiments in support of the Palestinians … and, quite a few others whose feelings run exactly counter, many in alignment with the Israeli right.  For myself, a reform Jew with a Labor/leftist slant, I often feel caught in the middle, making it hard to know where to go with the visuals.

Second, I’ve found that I can post an image touching on these sensitivities, and the image can quickly become lost in the ensuing debate.

With the rising violence, and the political complexity of the current crisis, however, I feel it would be negligent — as well as hypocritical — to simply ignore the pictorial dynamics and the actions of the visual media in handling this extreme Israeli/Hamas/Hezbollah/Gaza/Palestinian/Syrian/Iranian/Washington crisis.

The shot above came over the newswire exactly a week ago.  The caption read:  “Israeli security officers examine the area where a Palestinian Qassam rocket landed causing a forest fire in Kibutz Zikim at the border with Gaza.

A crudely built and aimed Qassam, however, is not the same as a Hezbollah Katyusha.

As long as four years ago, Mark Silverberg of the Ariel Center for Policy Research in Israel wrote that Hezbollah had 7,000 Katyusha missiles aimed at Israel, with a heavy, long-range version capable of striking Haifa and the surrounding oil refineries. (He envisioned a scenario in which Hezbollah might launch a strike — as it did yesterday — to lure Israel into war on behalf of its Iranian benefactor.)  And now, according to Haaretz, the Ketyusha is capable of delivering a 600 kilogram warhead to Israel’s furthest southern cities.

At first, I was surprised such a photo would have been allowed to circulate.  Just a week later, however, the scene seems utterly simplistic and years old.  I’m sure this photo pulls overwhelmingly to consider “the politics of weaponry,” providing free-floating groups (in the Middle East, in Iraq, potentially in North America) the ability to scale the asymmetrical advantage of otherwise muscular states.

However, I’m more drawn to the human tension and the procedural response.  The question I ask is: how much higher does Hezbollah’s attack raise the bar for already-challenged diplomats and politicians?  What I can’t imagine is the kind of humanitarian technology necessary to keep pace with the radically lower threshold for intense warfare.

(image: Yannis Behrakis/Reuters. July 6, 2006. near Israel-Gaza border.  Via YahooNews.)

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Michael Shaw
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