Thinking About an Israeli War on Iran

“All options” in U.S.-Iranian relations have in fact never really been on the table. Compromise has not been an option. That would entail the end of the regional nuclear double standard as well as the recognition of Iran as a coming regional power. So Iranian-Israeli war continues to threaten. Does the Tel Aviv war party have a logical case? What, from that perspective, is the “best” that could happen?

Almost anything could happen were Israel to start an unprovoked war against Iran. Let us assume, for the purposes of argument, that it all goes just as the Israeli war party dreams. [Israel’s high-tech war of choice.]With Defense Minister Barak, let us assume that almost no Israelis will die. Let us assume that Israeli planes and missiles hit their targets and that those targets are perfectly selected from among the possible 300 or more Iranian nuclear sites. Let us assume that the bombing sets the Iranian nuclear research program back by an optimistic five years, more than former Mossad chief Meir Dagan  and U.S. intelligence circles seem to think likely. OK, Netanyahu becomes the West’s Cowboy #1 and remains in office. The Palestinians realize they have no hope of justice in our time. Now what?

All Iranians, indeed all Muslims, will have all the justification in the world for using violence anywhere, anytime, in any way they may choose against Israel, and some will. After all, if Israel can start a war and slaughter civilians in the thousands just because it prefers that its adversaries not develop weapons that it has itself possessed for decades in abundance, then exactly what moral constraints can be said to exist on the anti-Israeli actions of others?

More to the point, what political constraints can then be said to exist? What Muslim leader could justify cooperating with or trusting Israel after an Israeli attack on an Iran that has conducted rhetorical war but, in comparison with Israeli attacks on Palestinians and Lebanese, behaved cautiously? Will Ankara submissively shelve its effort to occupy a moderate middle position in regional affairs or start looking for military allies to protect itself from the now unrestrained regional superpower? Would such an attack tip Egypt into an actively anti-Israeli position for the first time in decades? Is Israel prepared to deal with the implications of the termination of Egyptian support for the continued imprisonment of Gazans in their ghetto?

What would be the implications for the U.S. of a collapse of Iraqi government cooperation? Renewed anti-American violence in Iraq, attacks on the Green Zone, Baghdad breaking diplomatic relations on the eve of the U.S. presidential campaign: has Israel considered the degree to which Americans might begin to take seriously the question of whether or not the U.S. can continue to pay the national security price of an alliance with such a violence-prone state?

Will the Iranian quest for national security become such an obsession that all domestic factions unite in the search for a solution, transforming Iran into a far more determined, effective adversary? Israeli politicians seem to spend a lot of time thinking about the Osirak precedent; perhaps they should stop. When Israel bombed Iraq in 1981, no Islamic bomb existed. How many Pakistanis, in today’s vastly different atmosphere, will have sympathy for an Iran under attack for something it does not even yet possess? What bargaining chips might the concentrated thought of Iranian national security thinkers manage to identify for cutting a nuclear deal with Pakistan? Has Tel Aviv thought through the various bilateral Iranian-Pakistani issues (refugees, terrorism, Baluchi independence movement, joint resentment at American treatment, oil pipeline, strategic security advantages of cooperation) that Tehran, its attention focused by the horror and humiliation of an Israeli attack, might use to entice Pakistani cooperation?

In return for all those uncertainties, Israel will have managed to put the Iranian nuclear program back where it was in…2007?!? In 2007, it was believed by some that an Iranian nuclear bomb “could be possible” as soon as 2009. The war scare was so extreme in Israel that Israeli media sources were calling an Israeli attack “inevitable” and predicting that it would occur “in 2007.” Or maybe the Israeli attack will be so successful that, against expectations, it knocks the Iranian program all the way back to 2004, a time of such tension that Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz was threatening Iran with “all options,” codeword for a nuclear strike. Or maybe the Israelis would be so lucky as to knock the Iranian program a full 15 years back – to 1997, when Netanyahu was accusing Russia of “endangering the very future of Israel” by providing Iran with missile technology. Setting back the Iranian program by a few years may be crucial to a politician’s career but is of little significance for the long-term security of a state.

Now recall that all these potential pitfalls flowing from an attack offering such modest achievements are premised on the assumption that Netanyahu’s dreams of a quick, easy, 100% successful military strike are realized and, somehow, realized without Israeli recourse to nuclear arms–which would truly establish it as an international criminal enterprise of the first order–and that massive global fallout from exploded Iranian nuclear infrastructure does not result and that Iran does not in response sink a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, etc., etc.. The set of post-attack dangers enumerated in the preceding paragraphs is the situation after the best possible outcome for the Israeli war party.


Emulating Barbarians

In the global struggle between populations demanding justice and elites defending privilege, it is important to note how the forces of conservatism efficiently share tactics. We must look both over time and across societies to see the pattern of new precedents for oppressing the people being established by virtue of the impunity with which most elites operate and their facility for adopting the worst practices of their peers in other societies.

The world is watching regime after regime engage in forms of behavior completely outside the norms of civilized behavior. Two increasingly common examples are manning security forces with foreigners so they can be “trusted” to kill the people to protect the elite and attacking hospitals to punish the broader population for its political activities, but these are only two of a wide range of poisonous practices by out-of-control politicians. The pattern is simple and insidious: a precedent is established by the failure of the world to criticize (if not punish) the first offender, and then any other regime that chooses force over reason follows that precedent. The more often the crime is committed, the easier becomes the subsequent violation of civilized norms. One day it is an enemy, the next an ally, and the third…your own government.

Foreign Police and Army.    One example is the ominous tactic of hiring foreigners with (naturally) no loyalty to the local population as oppressors (security forces not to provide security for the people but to provide security for the elite against the people). The U.S. reportedly included former Latin American death squad members in its mercenary army in Iraq. Gaddafi got mercenaries from elsewhere in Africa and perhaps Israel to battle against Libyan democracy advocates. Bahrain’s police and military are primarily composed of foreigners. Now Riyadh is considering Pakistanis to repress its people. It is hard to imagine a practice more inimical to democracy than giving internal security to foreigners, but there is another example of elite adoption of repressive tactical innovations to put citizens “in their place” even more shocking: attacking hospitals.

Attacking Hospitals.    For those interested in civilization, the spreading practice over the past decade of attacking hospitals is a particularly barbaric example of militarism run wild. Just to cite one previous example (hardly the first in the past decade), when Israel invaded Gaza in Dec. 2008, it committed the dual war crimes of attacking both a U.N. relief post and a hospital, for which it was condemned by Ban Ki Moon to no avail in the face of protection by Washington. Since Israeli leaders were not punished by the so-called civilized world, others have now drawn the obvious lesson that it is OK in the 21st “century of state terrorism” to slaughter helpless hospital patients to punish populations demanding civil liberties. This time it is tiny Bahrain, a “state” not formerly on anyone’s list of rogue states.

Failing to hold leaders of regimes personally responsible for their crimes in office turns those crimes into precedents that other opportunistic politicians (please pardon my redundancy) will quickly follow. Every time a politician in office commits a crime– particularly a war crime such as attacking hospitals, using outlawed weapons such as phosphorus bombs, or attacking peaceful demonstrators–with impunity, we are all endangered. What matters is not where the crime is committed but whether or not the officials in charge are condemned by name. Bringing them to trial and punishing them would of course be preferable, but what is truly inexcusable is silence. Criticism is what establishes cultural norms. When we look the other way, when we shrug it off, we only put ourselves in danger because silence equals acquiescence. All who prefer living in a democracy or indeed simply under civilized conditions rather than barbarism should be concerned about the rapidity with which common human standards of behavior decline when major states commit war crimes with impunity. And in the last decade, we have seen an astonishing list of new precedents–preventive war in the absence of a compelling danger, the advocacy of nuclear war, collective punishment, the hiring of foreign mercenaries as domestic security forces to oppress the local population, and military attacks by states on hospitals (first in enemy states, then domestically)–become increasingly common practice on the part of regimes that choose force over reason.

A Positive Step by Obama Administration

The Obama Administration took a small step in the right direction when spokesman Jay Carney held Yemeni president Saleh personally responsible for his behavior but missed an opportunity to make clear that it would hold all the leaders of all countries responsible for their behavior.

In a statement Tuesday night, the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said the United States “strongly condemns the use of violence by Yemeni government forces against demonstrators” in Yemeni cities in the past several days. Mr. Carney “reminded” Mr. Saleh “of his responsibility to ensure the safety and security of Yemenis who are exercising their universal right to engage in political expression.” — Laura Kasinif and J. David Goodman, “Government Forces Fire On Protesters in Yemen,” New York Times 4/5/11

The Solution.    Washington should identify practices considered unacceptable, publicly condemn all examples of such behavior, name the guilty officials, state that it supports the principle of holding officials personally responsible for the actions they take as well as for actions taken by their subordinates, and state that it will support efforts to bring these officials to trial.

Such steps would involve at least two fundamental shifts in conventional  behavior:

  1. Putting Principles First: the focus would shift from arbitrarily criticizing people we happen to dislike for behavior others are allowed to engage in with impunity to articulating a principle (e.g., “thou shalt not bomb hospitals”);
  2. Holding Leaders Responsible: the specific and crucial principle of personal responsibility for official action taken as head or part of an organization would be established, refuting the corrupting practice of pretending that the leaders of an organization are magically “innocent” of the behavior of that organization, as though the “organization” were distinct from the individuals composing it.
To the degree that we enunciate principles and hold leaders personally responsible for violating those principles, we strengthen civilization’s defenses against barbarism and thus protect ourselves.

Theocracy vs.Democracy: The Israeli Case

Democracy is a vision of hope that has never been well implemented in any mass society. Americans should learn the lessons inherent in the missteps of other societies struggling against internal factions that attempt to use democracy in order to destroy it.
Democracy, if civil liberties are not taken to be an inherent part, is a concept with little meaning and less value. If Stalin’s USSR were “democratic” just because the law required everyone to vote, with 100% happening to vote for him, then “democracy” would be just another political rip-off. Therefore, I take the term “democracy” to incorporate civil liberties. That said, a democracy and a theocracy can only overlap if exactly 100% of the population desires a religious state; should even one person choose another path, then either the democracy will become a dictatorship or the theocracy must be abandoned.

This conflict between democracy and theocracy is increasingly becoming the central issue in Israeli politics and, with the militarists who advocate a garrison state deepening their alliance with the theocrats, threatens to become a fight to the death for the future of Israel. [For a more theoretical discussion of a distinct but closely related perspective on the struggle against authoritarianism—democracy vs. fascism—see “Mideast Peace or Fascism,” Online Journal 3/16/10.]

    One recent piece of evidence that theocratic forces are winning this battle for control of Israel is the bill just approved by a Knesset committee to give the “orthodox rabbinate” [Alana Newhouse, “The Diaspora Need Not Apply,” New York Times, 7/15/10.]
    authority over who is legally considered a Jew in Israel, a fundamental question in a theocracy because the answer defines who is a citizen.
    Going hand-in-hand with the above example of rising Israeli theocracy is the recent Israeli cabinet approval of a law that would require illegal residents aspiring to citizenship to swear allegiance to a “Jewish democratic state.” [“Israeli ‘Loyalty Oath’ Approved” MWC 7/19/10.]
    Israeli legal affairs editor for the newspaper Yediot and retired judge Boaz Okon published on June 22 his own list:
    • A school that began segregating students on ethnic lines with the support of the community;
    • A Knesset member is humiliated by her peers for joining the Gaza flotilla;
    • Apartheid on the streets of Hebron has become institutionalized;
    • Punishment of Arabs is harsher than punishment of Israelis;
    • The extraction of false confessions from minorities by police are not investigated;
    • Illegal wiretapping by the government is not investigated.
    This is only part of the judge’s list, which he summarizes as “growing evidence of the lack of the spirit of freedom and the emergence of apartheid and fascism.” [Didi Remez, “Yediot’s Legal Affairs Editor on ‘the Emergence of Apartheid and Fascism’ in Israel,” 6/23/2010.]
    Writing in Haaretz a few months ago, Carlo Strenger, Chair of the Clinical Graduate Program at Tel Aviv University, put it this way:
    In this time of rising anxiety Israel‘s political echelon has taken a number of steps toward undermining Israel‘s sometimes flawed but always vibrant democracy. The Knesset’s shameful passing of Yisrael Beiteinu’s so-called Nakba Law in a first reading is a dangerous precedent: Once freedom of expression starts to be curtailed, a state enters a slippery slope and nobody can know where it ends. The Israel Defense Forces’ declaring Bil’in a closed military area is an active step against political freedom and a way to undercut decisions taken by Israel‘s Supreme Court. [Muzzling Israel’s Left Only Harms Its Democracy, Haaretz 4/2/10.]
    One can easily imagine where this is headed: in the future, lifelong Jewish Israeli citizens who dare to oppose government policies will find a rabbinate court stripping them of their “Jewishness” and the government stripping them of their citizenship and themselves being fined the cost of a one-way flight to somewhere else.
    When the privilege of enjoying democratic rights is reserved for a subset of the population, say, whites, or males, or the rich, then the society is already set on a slippery slope down to authoritarianism. After all, if “the poor” or those lacking blue eyes can rightfully be excluded, then why not you…or, indeed, everyone except “the leader?” Israel is now clinging to this slippery slope and losing its grip.
    All is of course not lost. The U.S., with its 18th century democracy for rich white men, managed to climb some ways up this slope but at the cost of the Civil War, which cracked open the door not just for blacks but for Indians and white women as well. So the course can be reversed, but slipping down the slope is far easier than crawling back up.
    Those Israelis so fond of talking about existential threats should think about the contradiction between democracy and theocracy before it becomes the real existential threat facing Israel. But that is the business of Israelis. For Americans, the issue is different: having been taught a lesson about the dangers of external violent fundamentalism, it is now time for Americans to learn about the dangers of internal fundamentalists who pursue their anti-democratic goals by democratic means.
    When democracy is reduced to democratic processes without a secure foundation in popular responsibility to defend civil liberties, then democracy becomes a dangerous tool in the hands of extremists subtle enough to conceal their penchant for force. The first lesson for Americans is that this danger exists in the U.S. as well, although for Americans, it may be easier to perceive it by looking overseas. In both Israel and Iran today, the contending forces are particularly clear, but Israel is the country Americans should be watching the most closely, both because it is still a relatively open society and because many Americans pursuing a special agenda are pleased to insist loudly that Israelis “share American values.” If Israel is to be taken as a model for or a reflection of American values, then we owe it to ourselves to make sure we know exactly what values Israelis today believe in.
    The second lesson is that Americans should support those who share its values, doing business cautiously with the rest, but with the clear caveat in mind that this distinction cannot be made by dividing the countries of t world into “good” countries and “bad” countries. After all, if a whole country were to be given a single classification, presumably based on the behavior of its government, then where would we classify the U.S. itself, with its recent history of unprovoked aggression and attacks on civilians? Societies can modify their beliefs very quickly, and different parts of society, as has become crystal clear to both liberals and conservatives in the U.S. over the past decade, can represent fundamentally distinct perspectives. Watching how Israelis or Americans or…Iranians behave, the distinction between those groups in each society that are worthy allies and those that are not becomes clear. It is, to cite just one example, not in the interests of the American people to support political factions that advocate or practice the violent suppression of those exercising civil rights, unless, of course, you really believe it to be in your interest to have a minimally educated but power-hungry politician deciding what you should think. In a word, it is no more in the interests of Americans to be in an alliance with a theocratic Israel than it is to be in an alliance with a theocratic Iran;  conversely, it is very much in the interest of Americans to support those circles in both the Israeli and Iranian societies that share the values that Americans, at their finest, have been struggling to realize for the last two centuries.

    The initial version of this article, entitled “Israeli Theocracy,” was published by Media With Conscience on 7/20/10.

    Tails Wagging Dogs

    To state that the US will support an ally if it is threatened is natural. To state that the US will support an ally in case of a conflict without making clear that the US guarantee only applies if the ally is the victim, not the aggressor would be an irresponsible sellout of US national security interests, to put it politely.

    In the case of Israel, currently by far the most aggressive state on the planet (unless you count superpowers), to tell their leaders that the US will support them regardless of how they behave would be an invitation to commit aggression. One could argue about the relative significance of comments made publicly vs privately.

    Mr. Biden, Ms. Clinton, if the shoe fits…

    Did You Know? U.S. Congressman Calls on U.S. to Break Israel’s Blockade of Gaza

    AP reports:

    U.S. Rep. Brian Baird says the United States should break Israel’s blockade of Gaza and deliver badly needed supplies by sea.

    The Washington Democrat, who is not running for re-election, told Gaza students Sunday that ships should bring supplies to the beach and deliver them to United Nations agencies.

    He also said President Barack Obama’s Mideast envoy should visit the Hamas-ruled territory to get a first-hand look at the destruction caused by Israeli’s military offensive last year.

    Yemeni Radicalization Dynamics

    Is Washington about to fall once again into bin Laden’s trap and dig itself yet another hole in the Mideastern sands?

    The biggest political story of the post-9/11 era may be the degree to which Washington’s response to the radical Islamic challenge misread the nature of that challenge, thereby empowering the most extreme Islamic elements and undermining U.S. national security. The decade of failure resulting from Washington hubris and provincialism seem, judging from the new panic over Yemen, to have taught Washington little about the process of Muslim radicalization. A few points about how that story seems to be playing out in Yemen follow. For those who have thought about the course of the Western-Islamic confrontation, it will sound all too familiar. nothing about the true dynamics underlying the

    To make a very complex and poorly understood story as concise as possible, the worsening situation in Yemen seems characterized by at least the following list of underlying dynamics:

    1. Harsh U.S. military tactics inflame hostility;
    2. U.S. or proxy military campaigns in one country exacerbate violence later in another country;
    3. U.S. or proxy military campaigns in one country cause refugee flows that destabilize the society of other countries;
    4. Quick to judgment, Washington supports the very repressive regimes that were the source of the problem;
    5. Addressing the symptom of militant protest rather than the cause of popular dissatisfaction, Washington undermines its own interests;
    6. Using its military hammer to address the radicals’ talking points;
    7. Trusting local leaders who speak English and sport official titles, Washington fails to perceive the interests they share with local militants;
    8. Viewing the world through U.S. eyes, Washington fails to appreciate local regime priorities.

    Again, the point here is not to claim to have “discovered” something new but to point out that, with Yemen, Washington seems in the process of making all the same mistakes that have undermined U.S. policy for a decade all over again.

    Building on the abstract discussion of Muslim radicalization presented earlier, below are a few details about the Yemeni case.

    War Crime Chickens Come Home to Roost. Following military attacks in December, which the Yemeni press is condemning as “massacres,” “dozens of Qaeda family members and local residents were killed, increasing anti-government sentiment.”

    Military Campaigns Spread Chaos. Yemenis who fought in Iraq after the US invasion are now back in Yemen supporting radicalism there, duplicating a similar flow out of Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal. Militant leaders in Pakistan have also reportedly begun transferring to Yemen. Poor as Yemen may be, the Yemeni population is flush with small arms, and militants reportedly are even sending arms to Somali Al Shabaab insurgents even as Al Shabaab reportedly plans to send fighters to Yemen. Chaos in Somalia has provoked refugee flow into Yemen, offering Yemeni radicals further opportunities for recruitment.

    Supporting Repression. With people angry at misgovernment and radicals quick to exploit it, supporting a corrupt and repressive regime plays right into radical hands; in Yemen, the current regime has become increasingly repressive in a quest for permanent power and “is to a great extent the problem, not the solution.”

    Symptoms, not Causes. With poverty, civil war that has left 100,000 homeless, and a growing water shortage far more characteristic of Yemen than some American nightmare of jihadi armies, the US provides military aiddetermined and concerted effort” to finance a counterterrorism unit in Yemen and ominously responded to a question about sending U.S. troops as off the table “at this point.” Britain, however, has already sent a counterterrorism unit to Yemen, while the U.S. is sending special forces, so Brennan’s remark about U.S. troops was invalidated before he even made it. and bombardment. U.S. Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan has admitted to the press that Washington plans “a

    Failing to Address the Radical Critique of the West. In “44 Ways to Support Jihad,” Yemeni-American imam Anwar al Aklaki made several points that Washington, by its behavior over the last decade, has only made more persuasive. He characterized the contemporary period as a period “when Muslim lands are occupied by the kuffar, when the jails of tyrants are full of Muslim POWs, when the rule of the law of Allah is absent from this world and when Islam is being attacked in order to uproot it.” Al Aklaki also pointedly addressed Western media bias, noting:

    The danger of the Western media stems from the fact that it puts on the cloak of truth and objectivity when in reality it is no more than the mouthpiece of the devil. Can’t you see that the Western media is constantly trying to underplay the atrocities committed by the West…

    Trusting Local Leaders. Washington has a tendency to trust distant politicians just because they happen to be able to say the right things in English and because they are in power. “It is a threat to US security to under-estimate the level of enmeshment between the Yemeni state and al Queda.” Underscoring Obama’s letter of support for Yemen a few months ago, the high-level January 2 meeting between U.S. Central Command chief David Petraeus and President Saleh suggests that Washington is moving rapidly to make a highly questionable commitment to Saleh.

    Misunderstanding Regime Priorities. Washington not only ignores popular priorities (e.g., water, employment, good governance), but it overlooks regime priorities. The Saleh regime seems far more concerned about retaining power and, in particular, about winning a civil war against an ethnic minority called the Houthis (a fight in which the U.S. has no dog) than with the global contest between radical Islam and the West. The Houthi rebellion against regime repression and Saudi interference seems “more a reaction to a dysfunctional governmentdraw Iran into a conflict that so far seems provoked more by Saudi Arabia itself than by Iran, Saudi claims to the contrary notwithstanding. Indeed, Iranian media have recently emphasized the extent of Saudi aggressiveness. than an inspired, centralized, ideological movement,” but the type of heavy-handed Saudi and U.S. military attacks that have recently killed numerous civilians could certainly transform it into an anti-Western movement. Saudi aggression may also

    These dynamics interact in complex ways that should be carefully studied before any decision to intervene is even considered. It is hard to imagine an al Qua’ida recruiting technique that could be more effective than having the U.S. attack villagers from the air. Supporting a corrupt and repressive regime while ignoring the demands of Yemeni reformers needlessly makes the link between opposing the West and improving the lives of the Yemeni people. Moreover, whatever Washington does is viewed with suspicion because of the history of U.S.
    intervention in the region on false pretexts.

    In essence, two conflict are occurring. One is a domestic struggle between a regime desiring power and people desiring better governance. The secon d is a global struggle between jihadis and the West. For the West to win, it must prevent the two struggles from becoming mixed. For violent jihadis to win, they must convince the populace that the struggle for liberty and justice means combating the West. To the degree that the West can use judicial means to combat jihadis while either remaining aloof from the domestic struggle for liberty or—better—in some way becoming identified as a supporter, it gains. To the degree that the West becomes associated in popular perceptions with a repressive regime, the jihadis become the symbol of liberty, and they gain. To a great extent, the story of the post-9/11 world is the story of Washington’s failure to maintain the distinction between these two struggles.

    One pitfall for the U.S. is for the reform movement and general population to perceive the U.S. as their enemy. The U.S. will almost inevitably fall into this pit if it attempts a military solution to the problem of eliminating terrorism because military means, especially those employed by the U.S., are unsuited to attacking militants hidden in a civilian population. The true believers will gladly sacrifice the lives of innocent civilians in order to win the war against the U.S. Emphasizing judicial methods not only reaffirms American principles but protects U.S. interests by minimizing the number of enemies it will make.

    Another pitfall for the U.S. is allowing a regime the U.S. is cooperating with against jihadis to exploit that cooperation in its domestic struggle to defeat reformers and retain control. If the regime succeeds in doing so by playing on U.S. confusion between jihadis claiming the patriotic mantle and genuine reformers, the jihadis may seize control of the opposition movement.

    Washington is undercutting American interests both by relying on counter-productive military measures and by failing to respond to Yemeni needs. Doing nothing might be dangerous, but it would quite possibly be significantly more effective than the policy that appears to be emerging in Washington.

    Israel: War Crimes Then, "Peace Crimes" Now

    Israel remains firmly in denial about its barbaric treatment of the people of Gaza, and Washington, busy with its own empire-building in Afghanistan, remains dutifully in support. If the people of Gaza were accepted as, well, “people,” the crack in the war party’s shield might bring down the whole U.S.-Israeli anti-Islamic house of cards, so that party’s experiments in the Gaza Laboratory continue.

    Meanwhile, the U.N. has courageously shined a spotlight on Israeli war crimes, and one wonders if discussions about Fallujah or U.S. failure to tackle Afghan heroin production might be next.

    UN General Secretary Ban commented:

    Jerusalem must be the capital of two States – Israel and Palestine – living side-by-side in peace and security, with arrangements for the holy sites acceptable to all, if peace in the Middle East is to be achieved, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned today….

    He cited as obstacles to peace continued Israeli evictions and house demolitions in East Jerusalem, the latest occurring yesterday, closure of Palestinian institutions there, and the expansion of settlements contrary to international law and the Roadmap peace plan espoused by the Quartet – UN, the European Union, Russia and the United States – that seeks a two-State solution to the conflict….

    He also called on Israel to re-open its borders with Gaza to allow in reconstruction material 10 months after the end of its three-week assault on Hamas there, noting that a donors’ conference in Egypt raised $4.5 billion in financial aid for the purpose.

    “Little if any of that money has been delivered,” he said. “Families have not been able to rebuild their homes. Clinics and schools are still in ruins. I urge Israel to accept the UN reconstruction proposals as set forth, recognizing that the only true guarantee of peace is people’s well-being and security.”

    He called on both Israel and the Palestinians to carry out “full, independent and credible investigations” in accordance with the recommendations of a UN commission led by Justice Richard Goldstone, a former prosecutor at the UN war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, which found evidence that both sides committed serious war crimes in the Gaza war.

    Ban’s comments come amid controversy over the Goldstone report, which, according to Goldstone, found:

    The Mission found that the attack on the only remaining flour producing factory, the destruction of a large part of the Gaza egg production, the bulldozing of huge tracts of agricultural land, and the bombing of some two hundred industrial facilities, could not on any basis be justified on military grounds. Those attacks had nothing whatever to do with the firing of rockets and mortars at Israel…. These attacks amounted to reprisals and collective punishment and constitute war crimes.

    Goldstone’s report on Israel’s December 2008 attack on Gaza is a landmark effort by the global community to stand up to oppression, but Ban’s comments carry this even further, officially stating the obvious: even in victory, Israel has done little if anything to “clean up its act.” If what Israel did during the overt military phase of its suppression of Gaza constituted “war crimes,” then what is the proper term for its continued collective punishment of a now quiescent population – “peace crimes?”