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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.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Spirals and spheres

Download all images:     Sphere Maps (268K PDF)

Let's face it—there has been far too much spiraling out of control in the Middle East over the past week to possible cover it all in one blog.

There's no point in repeating here every headline you've read about Israel, Hamas, Hezbollah and Lebanon in the past month.

If you'd like a summary, the BBC does a decent job answering questions and recapping events as they unfold. If you prefer another news source—from Fox News to Al Jazeera—go for it.

At no point in this blog will you see any justification for any nation's behavior, nor will you see a show of support or placing of blame for any actions either side may take. We'll leave that to the other forty million blogs out there.

Instead, you'll see a series of unusual graphics attempting to accomplish two things. First, the international relationships in the area are shown in the abstract (as interacting spheres and lines of varying sizes and colors) to more clearly show who's involved in this brutal escalation.

Second, you'll see a few play-by-plays from the point of view of the average Israeli, which can help explain why things are escalating as they are and what Israel may plan to do in the near future.

Let's start it off simple.

Here's Israel:



Here's Israel a month ago with two of its neighbors: the Palestinian territories (West Bank and Gaza grouped together) and Lebanon:



Note that their relative sizes reflect their approximate "power" compared to Israel, not their actual geographic area.

However, the fact that these spheres touch (or, in the case of Palestine, overlap) reflect that these involve "live" borders—ones that are volatile and thus invite a likelihood of military action.

Their red color represent that they are different from Israel, but not conflictingly opposite (a standard color wheel places orange and blue on opposite sides; I play off such symbolism here).

Though Egypt and Jordan also border Israel, they are currently at peace with Israel and therefore are omitted from these diagrams for simplicity's sake.

Here are Iran and Syria:



Again, the sizes of these spheres represent an approximate level of power relative to the other countries shown.

Their distance from Israel reflects no direct conflict of borders. (In reality, Syria also shares a border with Israel at the Golan Heights, which Israel took over during the 1967 war. But once again, that border does not currently see any destabilizing action, so I show some distance between Israel and Syria to reflect that.)

Their orange/red color reflects that opposition to Israel is an inherent aspect of their national character. Permanent leaders of both Syria and Iran have used opposition to Israel as a common method of solidifying their own power and authority. (As for why Lebanon and Palestine are not defined as such, read on.)

Here are Hamas and Hezbollah:



Since both are organizations rather than countries, they are depicted as semi-transparent (yellow) circles to reflect that they are less clearly defined than nation-states.

However, where they cross over "red" territory, they create an area that represents the tangible existence of each organization—their military and political presence—and, being orange, reflects direct opposition to Israel.

Hamas covers around half of Palestine, reflecting close to 50 percent control of the territories (particularly in Gaza). Where Hamas crosses over with Syria portrays their true leadership, which is headquartered in Damascus.

Hezbollah covers a good deal of Lebanon—their militia runs southern Lebanon, and they are politically active in capital Beirut. Where Hezbollah crosses over with Syria reflects the support they receive from Damascus. Where Hezbollah crosses over with Iran reflects the high quantity of support, funding and military technology they receive from Tehran.

Here's what life was like for almost a year now since Israel pulled out of Gaza (especially since Hamas won elections early this year):



Palestinians occasionally lobbed rockets over from Gaza into Israel, and Israel occasionally conducted targeted operations in Gaza.

Then, the situation turned uglier a few weeks ago:




During a cross-border raid, Hamas-affiliated militants killed a couple of Israeli soldiers and captured one (supposedly at the command of Hamas' Damascus-based leadership).

From that point forward, the next few images show the situation unraveling, with Israel retaliating strongly in Gaza, Hezbollah getting involved (kidnapping another two Israeli soldiers and launching rockets into Israel), Israel conducting a massive operation in Lebanon (air strikes on Beirut and troops moving into the south), and Hezbollah using increasingly sophisticated missiles (likely from Iran) capable of hitting northern Israeli towns, Haifa and a warship.


As you can see, each round of attacks seem to get grander in scale and deeper in territory.

You may also notice that several of the participants (Iran and Syria) have not yet gotten involved directly—instead, they seem to be happy letting organizations based out of their own capitals face Israel in Gaza and Lebanon.

Israel has been responding more and more harshly against civilian targets in Gaza and Lebanon, invoking increasingly harsh criticism from much of the world. Wondering why they'd want to lean so strongly on governments and populaces as well as military targets? Here are a few possibilities Israel may be pursuing:



They're hoping "shock and awe" will drive Hamas and Hezbollah out of Gaza and Lebanon. Israel figures that hitting Hamas/Hezbollah hard on their home turf will destroy their military capabilities and possibly even turn the local populations against them. History has shown that it only makes these extremist organizations more popular in the short term.



They're considering an attack on Damascus (or, less likely, Tehran) to take out the organization heads. Israel may be tempted to strike Hamas' and Hezbollah's leadership in Damascus, hoping to take out key individuals and communications while putting the political pressure on Syria's government to reconsider supporting Hamas/Hezbollah. Doing the same in Iran is also possible, but much less likely (Iran's just too strong and too far away). Unfortunately for Israel, this tactic is more likely to unite its enemies than split them apart.



They're following through with the only strategy that worked in the past: full invasion and occupation. Israeli soldiers remaining in Gaza and southern Lebanon is proven to be terrible for public relations and human rights, yet has proven to reduce terrorism within Israel by a huge margin. But while chasing Hamas and Hezbollah out, they can easily make just as many new enemies among the local populations. Besides, even if they intend to stay only as long as necessary, nobody ever believes Israelis want to leave. "Occupation" has been as strong a terrorist recruiting word as anything.

Later this week, I'll look into what extreme scenarios and solutions would be required to halt this conflict from spiraling even further. (What's more likely: NATO sending troops to southern Lebanon or Ariel Sharon coming out of his coma?) But for now, there are just two other things that can help put the situation in perspective.



Israelis don't see this only as a conflict with these few select countries and organizations—they are always aware of just how outnumbered they are in their own neighborhood, and this view dictates a great deal of their behavior and actions.



The Middle East isn't just for Muslims and Jews anymore—nearly every major global player has something at stake.

After all, we're looking at a complicated conflict in a complicated world. And it's just getting started.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Adam said...

Excellent work with Macromedia/Illustrator/whatever.

Strategy 2 seems least likely, given the potential reaction. I'd argue the world was a different place a decade ago or even six years ago. Hit Tehran or Damascus and, as you point out, anti-Israeli sentiments might grow, fueling both Hamas/Hezbollah and potentially involving some of the other red/orange countries on the map.

Also, I generally rule out the ability of Israel to decrease the political/psychological support for Hezbollah/Hamas in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. Destroying infrastructure and the logistics of their militias might work, some, but attempting to dissuade Lebanese and Palestinians from backing those organizations -- particularly through force -- would more likely engender more hostility, in my opinion.

I would also argue that -- this time around -- invasion and occupation will on your map pull the spheres of Syria and Iran much closer to Israel. I think both countries would not be as restrained (if you can call it that) in years past; this time, occupation is likely to push Iro-Syrian forces into warring on Israel.

Other notes: I wonder if Iran's sphere should be larger. Or Israel's smaller, with the U.S. an adjacent partner in blue on all maps.

I also think there's more separation of joint Indo-Pak spheres from the Middle East. Maybe instead Afghanistan, with an overlap on the border with Pakistan, which should then overlap a small space (Kashmir) with India.

Just thoughts. Again, very nice job. Smart.

Blogger Gordon the Gnome said...

Thanks, Adam.

I would agree that Strategy 2 is the least likely, particularly the part about attacking anything within Iran. But a targeted strike against a Hamas leader or two in Damascus is really quite possible. But you're right, the repurcussion would just be to get a potential Syrian military response and possibly Iran as well. (If they don't attack Israel straight up, they may move forces and weapons into Lebanon.)

In addition, those hostile "orange" areas will start springing up throughout the Middle East—Egypt in particular may be currently having a hard time keeping its extremists under control.

Glad you're looking closely at the positioning of the spheres on a larger scale. Intricate as the graphic, it's still very much a work in progress, and one that may never settle in one place (like our International Power Rankings, it's a dynamic representation of our ever-changing world). So any input on that is always welcome!

Blogger Chance-86 said...

Nice work, and nice comments. My thoughts may be a little off-direction, but I can't help to babble...

I have spent a lot of time in my life looking at the Geo/Political/Spiritual problems and significance of Israel and the Middle East...call it a really odd obsession of History and Biblical Prophecy if nothing else.
Honestly, this whole situation caught me off guard, even though the warning signs had been there all along. The retaliation over a single soldier was extreme, making me wonder if the plans had been there for some time and this was just the catalyst that Israel had been waiting for. I could be horribly wrong, I've noticed in the past that my 'western logic' rarely applies to issues in the middle east.
The whole 'power' scenerio just fascinates me. I struggle to really decide where the power is. I believe that Israel's power is diminishing. A part of it is simply due to the fact that a large part of their power was just 'borrowed' from the US standing, which has been greatly eroded in the past 6 years. It's the old, "I may not look all strong and buff, but my big brother is a freakin MONSTER of a man" type scenerio. That;s not as true as it used to be. Once the big brother is too busy somewhere else, the little brother makes a much more appealing target. Then you add to that the aggression that they are showing, and people take notice. Unfortunately, they are not getting the positive spin that they need to convince the world that they are justified. Temporarily, their neighbors are content with letting the organizations do the dirty-work from their soil, but that will end abruptly as Israel cares less and less about political targets, and continues to assert their power on civilian targets. This is a pissing contest that has the potential to get way out of hand...if it hasn't already. Damascus and Teheran would love nothing more than to see Israel go back to being a nation of people instead of a Geographic location. Sometimes it's better to speak softly and carry a big stick.

Blogger Gordon the Gnome said...

If Israel's current actions in Gaza and southern Lebanon were purely a response to soldier kidnappings, then yes, they would be confusingly extreme and counterproductive.

But I don't think that's the case. As you put it, they've likely planned to do something about Hamas and Hezbollah for a while (with those pesky rockets landing in Israel as the main reason), and the kidnappings provided a catalyst with a human face. Don't think Israel expected a two-front war, though... not that they can't handle it militarily.

But yes, a huge part of Israel's power comes from it's US-backing, which may or may not be waning as a result of America getting bogged down in Iraq.

Currently, Israel's tactic of hitting Hezbollah head-on while it's a tangible enemy may win them a round or two against Iran, but more likely than not, it'll cost them in the PR game. Both Iran and Israel know this—and yet both Iran and Israel think they have the upper hand in the situation.

So like you said, it's a pissing contest—one where the splashback may be too much for both sides to bear.

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