“Don’t give them guns!”… or APCs… or fighter aircraft…
* translator’s note: “Don’t Give Them Guns!” was a popular slogan by the Israeli far right, before and during the Oslo peace process, where “them” refers to the Palestinians.
** Original Hebrew post, content and references can be found here (Eyal Niv’s blog)
Every now and then, an utterly redundant public discourse is brought back to life – should we (i.e. Israelis) arm the Palestinians, be it with guns or APCs. The Israelis frame the question as whether or not we should “give them guns”, and this construct portrays Israel as a charitable, possibly even ingenuous partner. Israel, as I will shortly demonstrate, is not, in fact, ingenuous. On the other hand, the argument against arming the Palestinians, as though that would inhibit Palestinian independence, is also fundamentally flawed. Granted, framing the debate according to the Israeli construct (i.e “giving the Palestinians guns”) is actually a red herring. This construct depicts Israel as generously “giving” the Palestinians weapons, with apparent benevolence and candor, flies in the face of the fact that it also continuously disenfranchises the Palestinians. Israel is the de facto ruler of the Palestinian population, the indisputable owner of their lands and resources with the use of force. That said, it will not alleviate the Palestinian plight should Russia, the USA, or any other arms-provider for that matter, would replace Israel as a vendor of arms. Indeed, any attempt to arm the Palestinians on a large-scale would be detrimental for them.
There are several further reasons why selling armored vehicles to the Palestinians is stupid; for the Palestinians as it is for the rest of the global community. First, the Palestinian National Authority is not a sovereign entity. It is, effectively, a subcontractor for the Israeli military occupational regime. In order to effectively “control” the West Bank towns (19% of the occupied West Bank), the Palestinians have absolutely no need for armored personnel carriers or anything of the sort (unless they’re planning a “Palestinian Tiananmen square”, a scenario in which we have the privilege to prevent). Secondly, the very act of distributing armored military vehicles would create the false image that the “upgraded” Palestinian forces now matches the IDF in military prowess, and can now threaten the Israeli sovereignty over the occupied territories. This, actually, does more harm than good, creating a dangerous illusion. Thirdly, even three nonfunctional APCs in the Palestinian arsenal would justify the purchase of further military equipment such as tanks, aircraft, vessels etc, and would legitimize extending the scale of hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians. Such escalation would increase the amount of destruction and civilian casualties by orders of magnitude. APCs cannot be an effective tool to fight the oppression, and can only be used to justify and reinforce it.
In other words, introducing APCs to the West Bank PA, while being nothing more than a business venture for, say, the Russians, is actually extremely dangerous; Although not in any particular measure for Israel, but more so to the Palestinians. If there is one thing this region does NOT need – it is more armaments. It follows, then, that “Don’t give them guns” shouldn’t, in fact, be the peace-camp’s slogan. It should be shouted from the rooftops by everyone who is in any way interested in surviving the political climate in the Middle East, and should be endorsed by anyone who wishes to see this region finally abolish its miserable, belligerent habits. This, as it were, is also applicable for the Iranian nuclear program, or Iranian acquisition of arms in general, whether they are relayed to Lebanon or Syria.
“Don’t give them guns” should also be the slogan endorsed by the biggest threat in the Middle East, namely, that nation which poses a threat to the vast majority of its neighbors. A nation that possesses weapons of mass destruction, an air-force bigger than the RAF, military intelligence capabilities that are comparable to that of France and England, independent advanced military industries. It should also be noted that Israel is approximately the third or fourth largest military equipment and technology exporter in the entire globe.
Indeed, Israel is not only defending itself from its neighbors, it is also posing (or at least is conceived as) a threat to them. These neighbors accordingly have to prepare for the possibility of Israel attacking them (if only prompted by fear). The arms imported by Israel and manufactured by it are vastly, incomparably superior to the few pieces of mobile scrap-metal which the Russians are willing to sell to the Palestinians, who are, at best, an untrained militia, lacking proper military training and staff. Billions of dollars are transferred every year – not to bolster Iranian military capacity – but to bolster the Israeli military threat. A threat which prompts all the nations within the region to invest huge efforts in confronting it.
It should be noted that Israel publicly speaks of its defensive military ethos, and yet has developed an offensive military strategy. This military strategy emphasizes the concept of preemptive strike, relocating the battlefield towards enemy territory and using revenge (gmul, tagmul) as a means of “deterrence”. It was Israel that initiated the wars in ’56, ’67 and ’82. Israel annexed territories, some of which are still under its domain, from Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, and it is also the supreme sovereign of the Palestinian people. Israel continuously disenfranchises the Palestinians, and it is also the one who chose to turn the border-incidents in the (besieged) Gaza strip and in Lebanon (A nation whose sea and air domains have been constantly violated by Israel) into a month-old (or more) of all out-war, followed by infrastructural decimation and excessive civilian casualties. Israel, too, is a threat to the Middle East.
And so, Israel is more dangerous to the Middle Eastern region than any other nation in it. It is the herald of violence and instigator of many wars, the perpetrator of many civilian casualties, and dominates, relative to its total size, the largest amount of territories not rightfully its own. The Israeli obsession with security – will never be satiated, and Israel will never be at east with the military potency of its neighbors. And so, we must constantly live our lives immersed in fear of our nation’s perceived external threats. It is, in fact, a megalomaniac obsession, aspiring towards omnipotence, an obsession, that will never cease to be, for an infinite “deterrence factor”, for complete domination, an achievement impossible to attain, and yet the endless striving towards it has a very real and tangible influence. This megalomania is not a sign of strength, but of complete and utter horror. Israel is so immersed in its fear of others, that it actively poses a threat to others and forces them to become its enemies, in and endless, futile feedback loop.
To “give them guns”, and to give ourselves guns, will only exacerbate, little by little, the tension permeating the people within the region, and will further aid in legitimizing violence as the most viable option for settling the conflict. The availability of weapons, be it for Israelis or anyone else, contributes to the notion that perhaps, by the force of arms, we may be able to attain that which we have always desired. By lethal force. Superpowers who sell their weapons to us opportunistically rekindle the fires of conflict, and then leave us at each other’s throats, making us armament-addicts, dancing perpetually in a vicious circle of blood. And so, we are led to believe that we have no choice but to contribute to a balance of terror, as we fill ourselves with fear of each other. So, before we jump on the existential anxiety bandwagon, and meander blindly into the next war, it is time to insist on weapon embargos: on Iran, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians. But most of all – we must also seek a weapons embargo on Israel. Importing and manufacturing arms do not provide us with security, rather it poses a real and tangible threat to it.