As Israel pounds away at Lebanon, coming ever-closer to Syria, it continues to claim that this is all an exercise of self-defence. A few days ago I quoted a conservative blogger at No Quarter, Larry C. Johnson, and his words remain timely:
Let's see if I have this right. The Arab "terrorists" attack military units, destroy at least one tank, and are therefore terrorists. Israel retaliates by launching aerial, naval, and artillery bombardments of civilian areas and they are engaging in self-defense. If we are unable to recognize the hypocrisy of this construct then we ourselves are so enveloped by propaganda and emotion that, like the Israelis, Hezbollah, and Hamas, we can't think rationally. We can only think in terms of tribalism and revenge.
There is an unpleasant echo in all this, from a different time and place. The claim of self-defence is, in fact, eerily familiar. Germany, too, once considered itself surrounded by enemies, giving rise to the doctrine of "encirclement." This was the rationale it put forward for starting both of the World Wars.
No two historical situations are congruent, and, furthermore, I am not making that tiresome and wrong equivalence between Nazi Germany and Israel claimed by some, an equivalence that obfuscates the geopolitical realities in a gust of inflammatory rhetoric. But I am prepared to make the case that self-defence is a weak argument in the current situation, just as it was largely self-serving propaganda in the case of Germany, under both the Kaiser and the Fuehrer. The notion of "encirclement," in fact, is a current commonplace, even if that isn't the term used today. Googling the phrase "sea of enemies" and "Israel" reveals its transformation into yet another Middle East meme.
There is something odd about "self-defence" being continually carried out on the territory of others. Israel presently controls two pieces of occupied Palestinian territory on its borders: Gaza, a huge prison currently under punitive lock-down, and the West Bank, colonized by settlers under the protection of the IDF. It is munching away on Lebanon (a nation it formerly occupied for nearly two decades, and whose Shabaa Farms region has been under Israeli occupation since 1981), devastating its infrastructure and causing incalculable environmental damage.
Israel has also arranged a permanent peace with two other border nations, Jordan and Egypt; and is not as yet engaged with the last border nation, Syria, whose Golan Heights region has essentially been annexed to Israel as well. Israel today is hardly a helpless country on the defensive, encircled by a "sea of enemies." Rather, it is a powerful nation, backed by the US, whose surrounding nations and territories are in various states of subjection or neutralization.
Writing of pre-WWI Germany, Allyson Booth, a professor of English at the U.S. Naval Academy, notes: "While the Kaiser worried about 'encirclement,' his chief strategists organized the German army for a project of 'envelopment'." Ah. We have seen this movie before.