Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 19:42 | SYDNEY
Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 19:42 | SYDNEY

Israel-Hamas: The threat in context


Sam Roggeveen


6 January 2009 14:16

There's something disconcerting about the New Republic piece by Shmuel Rosner reprinted in The Australian today. For all the talk of 'sobriety' and 'seriousness' — presumably meant to convey a 'more in sorrow than in anger' message about Israel's latest military action — one comes away thinking that, on Rosner's telling, Israel's motives look rather flimsy.

The central message of the piece is that Israel must win, but there's never any clear indication of what victory means. Rosner only argues that Israel needs to show its enemies that Israel 'hasn't softened to the point of being defeatable' and that 'Israel is not the spoiled society, incapable of sacrifice'.

But what capacity does Hamas have to 'defeat' Israel? The rocket attacks are appalling and Israel has every right to try to stop them, but they are nothing like an existential threat.

The 'spoiled society' line is also telling. That sentiment is one found in American neo-conservative writing too — a contempt for 'office park man' and the luxury of modern middle class life. In America, the corollary to this view became 'national greatness conservatism', the notion that America could not just be affluent and at peace, it needed a world-historic mission to stave off the ennui and moral corruption that resulted from affluence. I don't know if there's an equivalent strain of opinion in Israel, but I hope it's a minority taste.

We might draw the US analogy a little further to observe that on 9/11, with America at the very peak of its strength in the world, it was also at its most frightened, and it subsequently lashed out in decidedly counterproductive ways.

Israel's situation is clearly different, but like the US in 2001, in physical and material terms Israel has never been more secure. It can negotiate from a position of strength.