Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Kill With A Borrowed Knife

Huan, the Count of Zheng (806 - 771 BC), planned to conquer the state of Kuai. He published a document announcing that in case Kuai should fall into the hands of Zheng, ministers and generals of Kuai mentioned in the paper will be granted "civil servant status" in the state of Zheng. In addition, the entire territory of Kuai shall be distributed among them. When the ruler of Kuai heard of this, he suspected high treason and had his ministers and generals executed to the last man. With the elite of Kuai gone, by the hand of their own sovereign, the conquest of Kuai was then a fairly easy game for Count Huan of Zheng.

The (military) history of China if full of stories like the one told above and many of them are attributed to one of the famous 36 stratagems of the Chinese. Stratagems are ruses to be used in war and in politics, often through unorthodox or deceptive means. The conquest of Kuai is an example of how to use stratagem number 3, "kill with a borrowed knife". (For those among you familiar with the Chinese language, it's 借刀殺人 or Jiè dāo shā rén.) Kill with a borrowed knife means that the enemy is weakened or eliminated using a third party, thereby avoiding a direct confrontation and instead sending a stalking-horse into the battle. 

Israel kills with a borrowed knife lately. Just when the Palestinians and activists for Palestine increasingly apply non-violent means to protest the injustice done to Palestinians and the untenable situation in Gaza, Israel pulls the rabbit of a Chinese stratagem out of her hat.

Let's face it: the Flotilla 2 was badly organized, it was a failure. It hurt me to watch the events in Greece unfold. To be an activist, it is not enough to be active and dedicated. You need to have a strategy and you need to plan your strategy like a military operation. How smart was it for Flotilla to gather in one place, Athens Greece? A de-centralized approach would have been a much better recipe for success. At the end it was left to the poor guys of the French boat, having set sail from Corsica, to be "somehow" on their way to Gaza, waiting for their friends never to show up.

Greece was the knife that Israel had borrowed. What handle did Israel have over this knife? We all know Greece is in deep financial waters. Greece will have to cut public spending and will have to reduce her military arsenal as well, making the country vulnerable, if only psychologically perceived, to its long time foe Turkey. Turkey? Israel has some issues with Ankara too! Might the reward for Greece be a strategic military partnership with Israel? In the weeks preceding Flotilla's false start, the air forces of Greece and Israel held common military exercises for the first time in some years...

After Flotilla was grounded - the Israeli foreign minister Lieberman called it "vanishing like a rain cloud on a summer day" - AirFlotilla took off. Activists were trying to fly in to Tel Aviv to come nearer to Gaza and protest against the siege Israel has laid upon the strip of land by the Mediterranean sea. AirFlotilla seemed again like a panic operation to me, barely planned and hastily executed in chaos. How smart is it to announce your operation in advance so Israel was given all the time to yet borrow another knife? This time fighting the enemy was outsourced to airline companies - they certainly like their business with Israel - and to France. The French police took care of much of the activists trying to board for the gates of Gaza, leaving Israel mostly out of negative headlines in the eyes of the world's opinion.

killed with a borrowed knife: Flotilla 2

France seems to evolve more and more as Israel's strategic partner in Europe. Just last week, Agence France Press reported that the French ministry of education had decided to rewrite some parts of its history textbooks, eluding the fact that a Palestinian state was also planned by the UN General Assembly in 1948 (and thus denying the Nakba). And before that, the militant philosopher from France, Bernard Henri Lévy, who single-handedly had made the rebels of Eastern Libya a French foreign affair, brought a message from Benghazi to Tel Aviv, proclaiming that the Libyan democrats will establish diplomatic ties with Israel once the French led NATO forces have bombed them to Tripoli. 

The biggest knife of them all, so big it needs to be carried with two hands, are the United States, another country on the verge of insolvency. It's not a knife, it's a sword. And it is being sharpened as we write and read for the diplomatic Olympic games coming September in New York City. 

South Sudan has gained its independence just three days ago, applauded and recognized by the international community, including the United States and Israel. But Palestine? That's an entirely different ball game for Obama. Juba is the new capital of a new state, who cares that Khartoum was not happy with this? But Ramallah, but Gaza City? If it's not two states, what is it then? It's 1) a binational democracy (which means the end of zionism) - I'm quoting Stephen M. Walt in Foreign Policy here - or 2) another round of ethnic cleansing (which is a crime against humanity) or 3) some form of apartheid, with the Palestinians living in disconnected enclaves under Israeli control. Your call, UN. 

Already the US, on behalf of Israel, threatens all kinds of consequences if Palestine dares going to the UN with her cause. Already Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is wavering on the issue. How could he skim off his percentage when the US stops funding the Palestinian Authority? He is even ready to put the unity government on the back-burner to appease Western allies (the useless "Quartet" you mean?) ahead of the UN vote. My dear Abbas: you have been the victim of a classic "Catch 22 stratagem" (an American invention!): they say Palestinian statehood is only possible with a unity government in place but having the unity government include Hamas will make your Western "allies" vote no to Palestine when the autumn leaves are falling.

In the story from old China at the beginning of this post, the ruler of Kuai was unaware of being the knife in Huan's hands. Greece, France and the United States are very much aware that they represent important tools for Israeli diplomacy. So far, their dancing with the wolf has paid off. They can live with a relative few activists on Facebook and Twitter condemning their consensual actions. What is the knives' benefit? To paraphrase a slogan from Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign: it's the economy, stupid! Israel is an economical global player and a technological powerhouse, an important pillar of a globalized economy. Israel is a much more interesting partner for the powers that are than any Palestine will ever be. Never mind Gaza, the siege, the occupied territories. Never mind that Israel as a society is suffocating. Who cares about justice, about equal rights and dignity, when a dollar is to be made. We didn't need Dominique Strauss-Kahn's DNA in the saliva of an African immigrant in New York to get this message across.