Should the UK become involved in the conflict between Israel and Hamas or in the conflict between ISIS and various other groups in the middle east?
It is often said that a government’s prime duty is the defence of the realm. Even that is not as simple as it sounds. As good a place to start is to consider the concept of the ‘just war’.Three such ’causes’ have, since Roman times, been cited as reasons for declaring war: invasion, breaking a treaty and damage to or theft of property.
The UK’s military have been in action continuously since the second world war. In my opinion few of these actions could be described as ‘just’ on that basis. Indeed, only three spring to mind: Korea, Kuwait and the Falklands. Of these only the third involved one of the UK’s possessions. Was there any moral justification for the other interventions?
Many were triggered by human rights atrocities of one sort or another. These always pose a problem for me: such intervention demands that the UK chooses one side over the other and often, with hindsight, it seems that the wrong side was chosen. The classic case of such a decision was the Vietnam War and it is much to Harold Wilson’s credit that he refused to be drawn into that conflict despite huge pressure from the US.
Guilt comes into this too. In places we controlled when we ran an empire, we drew lines on maps that bore little reference to the people living in those areas – especially in Africa. Those who took control in the middle east after the first world war and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire (which, of course, included the UK) repeated those mistakes: they also drew lines (almost literally in the sand) which took little account of traditional boundaries. To be fair, in all these cases those boundaries were very fluid and fluidity is something that the so-called developed world finds difficult to accept.
There is also a sense of guilt over the creation of the state of Israel. Any group which retains a religious loyalty which transcends national boundaries can be seen as being a threat to governments (even when they are not) and the Jews have been a convenient target for regimes that wished to divert attention from their own actions. It is perfectly understandable that a significant number of Jews would decide that the only escape from anti-Semitism was to create their own homeland.
Thus the creation of a Jewish state in the middle east came into being. You can argue about the rights and wrongs of the creation of that state but the fact is that it was created and, very importantly, it was recognised as being a bona fide state by the United Nations in 1948. Israel created a focal point for inter-group tensions in that part of the middle east and many were not happy to accept the (democratic?) decision of the UN and vowed to destroy Israel and all the Jews living therein.
This is central to many of the problems in the middle east as I see them – which does not mean that I am right. We, the west, think in terms of democracy. They, the people of the middle east do not. They do not respect the ballot box (although many living there world wish it to be otherwise): they respect power. We have ample evidence of that. Following free and fair elections held in places such as Egypt (usually greeted with joy on all fronts) matters begin to turn sour when the new, democratically elected government proves less powerful than the leaders of some of the ‘parties’ that lost at the election.
It is as if, in May 2015, Red Ed were to win the election and the new leader of the opposition (shall we call him J?) succeeded in persuading enough members of our armed forces and or police to mount a military coup. It is impossible to imagine that happening in the UK, isn’t it? Are we sure? If things weren’t working (remember the three-day week, the piles of rubbish in the streets, unburied bodies?) then there could be enough tension for violence to break out and if Red Ed could not restore order and J could . . . We have ample evidence that this scenario, so alien to us here in the UK, would be the norm in parts of the middle east with the possible exception of Israel.
As an aside: to make matters worse, faction A sees that faction B has broken a treaty or damaged property and so the retaliation becomes a just war. But that retaliation also breaks that treaty or damages property and so now faction A sees this as a just war.
To return to the main argument: we have decided that this time we really do know who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. Let us assume that in this case it is the Israelis who are the bad guys because the have used dis-proportionate force against the people of Gaza.
What can we do? Well, we could stop selling things to Israel (including arms). Assuming that this so weakens Israel as to make it impossible for them to continue action again Gaza (and there is no point in doing it unless that can be achieved) we have now given Hamas the opportunity for which they have been waiting – an Israel weak enough for the forces of destruction to go in and annihilate or evict the Jews: mission accomplished – no more Israel. Only there are a lot of Jews who do not live in the UK and over whom we have no control. It is inconceivable that they would just stand back and watch this happen. Is that sort of action against Israel really likely to bring peace and stability of the middle east?
If you agree with me that it is not, you would also probably agree that we would not be able to clear the first hurdle (making Israel weaker than Gaza) but there is one thing we would achieve. Our government would no longer be on speaking terms with the Israeli government and any influence we might have had would then be lost. (This point was made by Dr Sarah Woolaston MP on letters to some of her constituents and it is, I think, a very valid point despite the reception it received).
So, as far as I can see, there is nothing we can do to make matters better other than to try to help with any peace proposals should our help be sought.
This is NOT to say that I condone the way in which the Israeli have been used. It is NOT to say that I am unmoved by the appalling sights coming our of Gaza. The amount of force used by Israel is terribly wrong and I cannot see that it can do anything other than harm. Frankly I despair of the situation but I am prepared to accept that if I had as a neighbour a regime that was intent on wiping me and mine off the face of the planet, I might well behave just as badly. Wouldn’t you?