Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Victory, Defeat and the Middle East

The Middle East is truly difficult for the Western World to understand.  It seems familiar and similar,  but peculiar and annoying differences keep on popping up.  For example, there are two words existing in all languages (to the best of my knowledge) with clear meanings: victory and defeat.   In regards to war, if your armed forces can or do take over the enemy’s territory, you win.  If you have to ask for mercy, you lose.  Every kid who ever had a fight in the schoolyard understands that.

However, in the Middle East, the words have become confused.  In 1948, 1956, and 1967, both Israelis and Arabs agree that the former won and the latter lost. Since then, Lewis Caroll has taken over, i.e. a word means what I intend it to mean.  In 1973, Egypt and Syria had to run to Russia and the UN and ask for a ceasefire because Israel had wide open roads to Cairo and Damascus.   Curiously enough, Israelis view the Yom Kippur War as a great defeat while the Egyptians regularly celebrate the anniversary of the great victory.  In the first and second Lebanese wars (the former officially known as Peace in the Galilee Campaign), the Palestinians and Hezbollah were forced to retreat, to the sea in the former case, granted while causing quite a few casualties for the Israelis.   Again, the sides seem to view the matter inversely, with the Israelis very uncomfortable with the memory of the conflict and the former two groups proud of their resistance. 

The latest of chapter of  this Go reversal game is the most recent tit-for-tat exchange in Gaza, otherwise known as the Pillar of Cloud operation, which ended some two weeks ago.  The Palestinians objectively were extremely unsuccessful in their goal of killing civilians while the Israeli air force destroyed most of their planned targets with minimum collateral damage, as civilian casualties are euphemistically called.  Predictably, Israelis are uneasy with the result while the Palestinians are celebrating their phantom victory, i.e. the vague promise to talk about opening borders.

Clausewitz wrote that war is another means of diplomacy.  I suppose that the claimed victories and defeats are actual if you taken into account the political goals of the parties.  Still, as Orwell suggested, the complete misuse of words eventually strips them of all of their meaning, especially in the Middle East.

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