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America vs. The World

The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart. — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Foresight is 50/50

I’m a betting man.

So when it comes to volatile issues like the recent soldier-abduction-meets-Gaza-incursion across the Israeli border, I can’t help but make a few prognostications about what we can expect in this Middle Eastern theatre in the coming weeks.

Sure, I’m needlessly putting my ass on the line for something so unpredictable. But isn’t it all worth it for that 50/50 shot at being right?

1. Gilad Shalit will get out of this alive. The 19-year-old corporal whose capture started this whole mess is just too valuable to his Hamas-associated captors to kill. As the best bargaining chip Hamas ever had, his fate may determine the difference between a weeklong battering and months of all-out war. Unless someone gets trigger-happy or an errant missile hits their location, there will be no point at which his life is seriously at risk—the cost of his death is just too high.

2. Israel will not release every Hamas government official they arrested. As of Thursday evening, Israel had arrested 64 Hamas ministers and parliamentarians, supposedly as “bargaining chips” to exchange for Shalit’s freedom. Though the world may assume their detainment lasts no longer than the duration of this bloody chapter, there’s just no way they’re all going free. I’d be surprised if Israel permanently holds any fewer than five.

3. We will see increasing violent protests (i.e. riots) in Egypt. Cairo is taking a lead role in trying to work out a diplomatic exchange between the two sides. But spurred on by government-run media, the man on the street in Egypt—not to mention Jordan and Saudi Arabia—is furious about what they view as an Israeli act of war. And while Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak is playing negotiator, his outlawed opposing party Muslim Brotherhood is pushing for pro-Palestinian rallies. I say rallies become riots within weeks, if not days.

4. Syria is in the crosshairs. Hamas’ top bananas—notably their political leader Khaled Mashaal—are based out of Damascus, so it should be no surprise that Israel has been sending warplanes over Syria. With a strong possibility that Mashaal gave the green light for the soldier’s capture while Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya is left to deal with the consequences, Israel may begin directing their Hamas-snuffing efforts across the Syrian border. Expect to see at least one car or building blow up in Damascus sometime soon.

5. Palestine’s government will come out of this whole experience weaker. The presence of Israeli soldiers has always made the extremist position more appealing—in the short run. But when the smoke clears, Hamas will have to demonstrate their ability to take on reconstruction when they’d rather be rallying. At the same time, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ moderate position will be weakened by the entire experience. And when Palestinian leaders become weakened, you don’t see speeches. You see security forces marching in the streets. If you thought Gaza was unstable before, just wait.

Doubt any of these outcomes? I’ll be happy to put my money where my mouth is—that is, until I’m proven embarrassingly wrong. Predicting’s a bitch, isn’t it?


Anonymous tet said...

You're right.

As I was saying to Josh yesterday over lunch, the IDF is a bunch of crazy mo-fos.

And not the Idaho militia black helicopter nut-type crazy mo-fo.

Nope, we're talking dead serious, Samuel L. Jackson in Foxy Brown sort of crazy mo-fo.

The only way I expect Shalit to die is if someone from a more radical group within Hamas manages to get hold on him during some confusion. The power's been out for a day now, there's got to be some serious phone calls being made right now between Syria and Gaza.


Anonymous Adam said...

Crucify me for this, but I'm giving 75/25 odds that Gilad Shalit gets killed.

Basically, I don't think Israel can strong-arm this one. If Israel tries, I don't know that the most hardline factions of Hamas will take this quietly like Fatah and the PLO might have in days gone by.

Besides, has it been conclusively shown that Hamas has Shalit? And if they don't, can they control who does?

I say that this situation screws the pooch for not only Palestine but also Israel. I had hope that we were getting somewhere with this, but this "you abduct, I abduct more" situation will leave wounds -- Shalit's life or death aside -- that won't heal.

And the repercussions: from Muslim Brotherhood to Hezbollah to Hamas itself will probably see gains in hardline support if this thing really implodes. But I'm betting that hawks left in Likud will see the same boost.

I.e. This goes badly for moderates on both sides: Abbas and Kadima.

Blogger Gordon the Gnome said...

I think we can all agree that this situation will radicalize everyone involved.

The question I have these days is: who exactly is Hamas? On one hand, you've got the political party that won the election and everyone hopes will someday moderate with time, particularly when talk of a two-state solution and recognizing Israel comes up. On the other hand, you've got Hamas-sponsored gunmen who do what they want, and a Hamas leadership in Syria that can afford to be even more radical because they're out of harm's way (relatively speaking).

So, will the real Hamas please stand up? And put one of those fingers on each hand up?

Anonymous P. Pirx said...

Well, for my $0.o2 worth, I would say "yes" on (1), "maybe" on (2), "yes" on (3) and (4). As for (5), well, it is a matter of perspective. Just to throw some hypothetical numbers, if the Palestinian Government's level of control drops, as a consequence of the events, from 10% to 5% then one one hand one can say that it lost 50% of its power, while on the other hand one can say that it wasn't in control of the situation to begin with.

As a side issue, regarding the "wounds that won't heal" comment by Adam, well, I'm coming from an empirical school, where in the event when beliefs don't match observations you adjust beliefs, not observations. And I observe that the wounds resulting from the massive bombing of Germany and Japan in WWIi (more than half million dead in each case) did heal quite nicely, while the wounds resulting from relative pinpricks ("you'll kill one of my people, we'll kill 3 of yours") seem to fester without end. Something to ponder.

Blogger Gordon the Gnome said...

Pirx, your 5%/10% statement sums it up perfectly. Few people deny that the Palestinian government "controls" very little of Gaza and the West Bank. Particularly in contention is what the security forces do in relation to armed milias on the street.

What then becomes the big question is what came first: Israeli order (in the form of the occupation) or Palestinian chaos (in the form of internal and external violence)? Both sides have legitimate arguments for their "chicken vs egg" rationale. But until the two sides trust each other or have "trust" forced upon them by a third party, an eye for an eye will forever remain the M.O. in the Middle East.

Until they run out of eyes, anyway.

Anonymous P. Pirx said...

Well, in the Balkans the accounts going back to the battle of Kossovo (sometime in the 14th century) are still being settled. And, should we mention Ireland? As new eyes can be mass produced using low skill labor, such conflicts can keep going on for a long, long time.

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