Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Irgun Conundrum

I know, that headline sounds like the title for the kind of thousand page technothriller only sold on airport bookstands. But it is also a pretty good title for a serious attempt to force some reality back into a foreign policy debate which has been hi-jacked by simplistic storytelling of the kind more usually seen in formulaic high-fantasy paperbacks which are also only sold in airport kiosks.

A broad and informal coalition of the religious right, neocon fabulists, pro-Israel lobbyists and "us versus them" bigots have managed to drive American foreign policy for many years now. One of the central planks of that coalition's campaign has been to give the word "terrorist" all the narrative baggage that in fantasy novels is given the word "orc" and then apply the labels "terrorist" and "aider of terrorists" to everyone who disagrees with them. You don't negotiate with orcs. You don't negotiate with terrorists. Not ever. They are nasty, brutish creatures with no redeeming features and no hint of civilisation in them, forever in thrall to Darkness. The only good terrorist is a dead orc. Ditto for those who appease or aid them.

Yet a look at the real, live, world makes a nonsense of their simplistic storyline and so whenever possible they ignore and deny that reality. The current conflict in the Lebanon is a case in point. The Militant Right are adamant that there can be no mercy for terrorists or anyone who may be in the same area as terrorists when the Forces of Light go on a righteous orc-killing spree. Their narrative needs to be challenged by some reality - they need to be forced to think outside their self-imposed box and be made to cope with a world in which nuance and shades of gray actually occur.

That's where the Irgun conundrum comes in. It's pretty simple.

If neocon policy had always been followed would the state of Israel even exist in its modern form?

And the answer is, of course, "No".

Let's review some real-world history.

  • Irgun was, 1931 to 1948, a proscribed terrorist organisation, accepted as such even by fellow Jewish political groups in what was then British Palestine.

  • Menachem Begin, later leader of his nation and Nobel Peace Prize winner, was the head of Irgun from 1945-1948 and was the planner and prime mover behind the attack on the King David Hotel in Jerusalem which killed 91 people, mostly civilians, including 17 fellow Jews. The 60th anniversay of that attack was celebrated by rightwing Israelis this July, to which the British Ambassador responded "We do not think that it is right for an act of terrorism, which led to the loss of many lives, to be commemorated."

  • A radical splinter group from Irgun, the "Stern Gang" or Lehi , was even more extreme and actually tried to reach an alliance with Nazi Germany against the British, wishing to collaborate with the most extreme form of evil seen in modern times against its own people and against the Churchill government that provided the driving force behind the defeat of that evil.

  • Yitzak Shamir was head of the Stern Gang after the death of its founder but later went on to be the Prime Minister of Israel. During his time as leader of he ordered the assasinations of British and UN officials.

  • Israel's current rightwing Likud party, home to most neocon Israeli thinkers, was formed from the heirachies of the Irgun and Lehi terror groups. The fighters from both groups were folded into the nascent IDF and Mossad.

    By the neocon's own recent statements, what the British should have done was begin bombing infrastructure in Jewish towns because Irgun and Lehi terrorists were using that infrastructure to resupply. The British should also have sent in a massive armored force to attack villages, after first warning the inhabitants that after a two hour period of grace the troops would consider any remaining in their homes as terrorists too. The inhabitants would have had no-one to blame but themselves and the real fault would have been that of Irgun. Even if the Brits carpet-bombed entire cities there would be no question of dispoportion in response, according to the neocons. Even genocide would have been OK by them.

    Moreover, since "there's no negotiating with terrorists" and "the only good terrorist is a dead terrorist", no-one in the international community should have even recognised Israel as an independent state as long as terrorists were part of its political heirachy. Perhaps even as long as the party the terrorists created from their groups - Likud - was involved in national politics at all. No state, no famous terrorist-turned-statesmen. Certainly no Peace Prize for Begin. He was and always remained a terrorist, after all.

    Oh...and no peace, ever. Not even for a little while.

    Of course, not a single neocon would ever offer such advice about Israel even though they cannot justify such a position in historic fact without tying themselves in knots (although I'm looking forward to seeing any who read this try).

    We can all be glad that the British didn't follow the policies that the neocons from the future would one day offer in other circumstances. The British realised that, eventually, you have to talk to bad guys. They realised that, when it comes to insurgencies and other fourth generation wars, less is more.

    How long will we have to wait before the neocons realise these things too?
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