Archive for December, 2008

Spy vs. spy

Friday, December 12th, 2008

News item:

The United States routinely attempts to gather information on Israel’s assumed atomic arsenal and secret government deliberations, a new official history of Israel’s intelligence services, reviewed by Reuters, says.

While espionage by allies on their friends is not uncommon, a new Israeli state-sponsored publication acknowledges it openly.

The book “Masterpiece: An Inside Look at Sixty Years of Israeli Intelligence,” claims American spy agencies use technologies like electronic eavesdropping, and specially trained staff located in the US embassy in Tel Aviv, for “methodical intelligence gathering.” [my emphasis]

Arrest one and send him to prison for life, based on secret evidence.

Then see if Bush will pardon Jonathan Pollard before he leaves office.

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Demography is Destiny

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

After 9/11 there was a running dispute over the question “Do they hate us for what we do, or because of who we are?” Liberals tended to suggest that a history of Western colonialism and exploitation, combined with poverty, disease and technological backwardness in the Muslim world were the root causes of the conflict, whereas conservatives saw it as ideological — they hate us because of our freedom, democratic institutions, sexual equality, etc.

If you ask Gunnar Heinsohn, he would say that both explanations are wrong.

Heinsohn is a proponent of the ‘youth bulge’ theory which holds that a great deal of war, terrorism, genocide and general violence are a result of young men who have no place in their societies. In societies where the eldest son inherits land or position from his father, the younger ones need to make a place for themselves, often violently.

In a talk he gave Thursday at Israel’s RAFAEL  (Armaments Development Authority), Heinsohn described the options open to superfluous young men in youth-bulge societies:

  1. They emigrate, i.e. opt for colonization without bloodshed.
  2. They engage in crime and decimate each other in gangs.
  3. As young officers they stage coups in the army, where promotion is rare for them.
  4. They engage in civil war or revolutions, masking their ambitions behind selfless service for true gods, tormented peoples, brotherly values, etc.
  5. They oust minorities from their jobs by genocide or expulsion.
  6. They engage in cross-border warfare to find their place through bloody colonization or again genocide.

In the case of blocked emigration youth bulge territories can never exist without killing, so to speak, but will always oscillate from gang wars to terror, civil war, genocide and war.

Heinsohn didn’t invent the youth bulge theory, but he has generalized it and applied demography to explain various historical events — the Crusades, major wars, etc. He thinks that the existence of a youth bulge — which he defines as “growing  population with at least 30 per cent of males aged 15 to 29” is an almost certain predictor of violent instability in a society.

And nobody has a bigger youth bulge than some of the Arab societies that have recently been focal points for terrorism and violence.

The age distribution of  a population at a given time can be shown graphically a diagram called a ‘population pyramid’. You can create them yourself from the US Census Bureau’s International Database. Here is one for a country that is highly unlikely to be the source of the next Mongol horde, Germany:

Germany: population 2008

In Germany the ratio of men aged 40-44 to boys  from 0 to 4 is about 1 to 0.5. The problem in Germany and many other European countries is to find young people to do the work to to support the growing number of retirees. Young people are not faced with a lack of high-status positions to move into as their elders move out of them — rather, there are not enough skilled young people to take over from the older generation. Heinsohn calls a graph shaped like this an indicator of  ‘demographic capitulation’, the shape of a society in decline.

Now let’s look at the profile of Saudi Arabia in 2001, the source of most of the 9/11 hijackers:

Saudi Arabia: population in 2001

Saudi Arabia has about 3.2 boys from 0-4 for every one 40-44 year old.  And 31% of Saudi males are in the dangerous 15-29 age group. Because of the huge discontinuity around ages 30-40, there are few positions available for young men to step into; and Saudi society has not invested in the kind of social infrastructure that might help provide high status positions. To add insult to injury, there are not enough women to go around in the 20-35 year old groups.

One of the most extreme examples of a youth bulge is the Gaza strip:

Gaza: population 2008

In Gaza there are 4.2 boys in the age group 0-4 for every man aged 40-44! Today there are about 222,000 men from 15-29, which is about 29% of the male population. The huge bulge in the younger age groups will ensure a supply of fighting men for years to come. Gaza is an example of ‘demographic armament’, says Heinsohn.

It’s not only a question of numbers. Soldiers from Western democracies tend to be only sons so the society is less willing to risk them. And they have something to lose at home so they are less likely to take risks:

With 31m fighting-age males aged 15 to 29 in 2008, Afghanistan and Pakistan combined are almost just as strong as the USA with 33m. But for a future war the Afghanis and Pakistanis still have 41m boys aged 0-14 in reserve, while the Americans can only count on 31m, of whom a quarter are overweight. While, according to 2008 statistics, the Americans are only sons, Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s 41m boys under 15 include 26m who are also fed and loved but hardly have any chances of a future career. This situation is similar to that of Europe in 1914-1918, when ten million young men were sent to the slaughter. They were born in the 1890s when European women – with the exception of France – had as many babies as the women from Gaza and Afghanistan have today but did not have back then.

Of course the West has superior technology. But this can be offset by asymmetric warfare:

Only if youth bulge warriors seek a pitched battle, can a western high-tech soldier deal with large numbers of them from his bomber turret or missile launcher. But in close quarters combat or on nation building missions he is doomed to fail. This is the crucial disadvantage of western democracies after 1950: They are part of a demographic imbalance with foes whose second to nth sons can fight until death without endangering the survival of their home country while losses on their own side will demographically exterminate whole families.

Paradoxically, Western attempts to ameliorate conditions in the third world often make things worse. A paradigm case is the operation of UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency) in Gaza and Palestinan refugee camps elsewhere.  UNRWA provides welfare services to Palestinians which encourage them to have as many children as possible; but there is no infrastructure of jobs to absorb them. As the population grows, UNRWA simply asks for more money, creating a completely dependent society whose sons are angry and seeking status and meaning in life. They often find it in the terrorist militias or criminal gangs.

So how can the explosive power of Gaza be defused? In the long run, ending the UNRWA policy of rewarding unrestricted population growth will work, but it will take 25-30 years before the huge number of today’s children reaches an age at which they become less dangerous. In hindsight, Israel made a great error by permitting the hostile UNRWA — 90% of its employees are Palestinian ‘refugees’ themselves — to create the demographic bomb.

From a military point of view, Israel would be foolish to invade and re-occupy Gaza. There simply are not enough Israeli soldiers to do this and Israel’s technological advantage would be reduced insofar as the fighting becomes more close-quarters. Suicide terrorism against occupiers becomes possible as a result of the pathologically high motivation of young men with nothing to lose. Any incursions should be short and with well-defined objectives. An overall strategy of containment with surgical actions when necessary to counter particular threats is probably the best approach.

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NPR’s original take on the Sinai Subway

Monday, December 8th, 2008

Leave it to NPR to come up with a fresh perspective on things. This morning correspondent Eric Westerveldt did a story on what I call the ‘Sinai Subway’, the huge complex of hundreds of tunnels underneath the Gaza-Egypt border.

Over the past years these tunnels have been used to transport many things, but in particular they have enabled Hamas to build up its military capability. For example, some of the items smuggled in 2006 alone included 14,000 assault rifles and 28 tons of explosives. Anti-tank, anti-aircraft and surface-to-surface missiles have been brought in. Not only do goods come in, but terrorists go out — to Iran for training — and back. And al-Qaeda agents are thought to have entered via the Subway as well.

This is not new phenomenon. Between 2000 and 2004 — before Israel withdrew from the Strip in 2005 and before Hamas took full control in 2007 — ninety tunnels were found by the IDF and destroyed (and those were the ones they found). Since Israel left, Hamas has been able to dig unhindered.

But Westerveldt didn’t notice any of this. According to him, the Subway was built to supply Gaza residents suffering under the Israeli ‘siege’. The story begins as follows:

Israel imposed an economic blockade on Gaza when the radical Islamic group Hamas seized control last year. To bring in goods — from weapons to cigarettes — smugglers are using tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border.

Then it goes on to describe the huge enterprise — controlled and taxed by Hamas — which carries everything from appliances to zoo animals, emphasizing the privations of Gazans under ‘siege’, forced to buy tacky, low-quality plastic Egyptian shoes.

There was only one more reference to weapons, something like “Israeli officials say the tunnels are used to smuggle rockets and explosives”.

So in other words, the Sinai Subway is not primarily a supply line for Hamas’ Iranian-financed military buildup, but rather a reaction to Israeli limitations on access! The story is not about how Hamas is preparing for war with Israel, but rather about how Israel is oppressing the Palestinians.

But the ‘blockade’ is a response to Hamas rocket attacks — more than 200 rockets fell in Sderot and Ashkelon last week. So one could say that the tunnels — at least the contents thereof — caused the blockcade, rather than vice versa.

As usual, NPR gets it backwards.

Update [1532 PDT]: I titled this post “NPR’s original take on the Sinai Subway”, but actually it isn’t original at all. Substantially the same piece appeared in Al Jazeera on October 5.

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Assaulted photographer has an agenda

Saturday, December 6th, 2008

Photographer ScheflanNews item:

The IDF was investigating reports that a Haaretz female photographer was assaulted by an IDF soldier in Hebron on Saturday.

According to the reports, Tess Sheflan [sic], a photographer with Haaretz, was punched in the face by a soldier from the Haruv Battalion as she was documenting events in Hebron.

One of the soldiers reportedly tried to take her camera away and after she resisted, a soldier punched her in the face. The IDF said it was looking into the report.  — Jerusalem Post

Ms. Scheflan has  a blog. Here is her profile:

Tess Scheflan

* Gender: Female
* Industry: Arts
* Occupation: PhotoJournalist
* Location: Jerusalem-AlQuds : Palestine

No angry comments, please. I don’t approve of punching journalists, even ones with agendas.

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General James Jones, Israel and ‘Palestine’

Friday, December 5th, 2008

Eli Lake, writing in The New Republic [Nov. 26], has compared Barack Obama’s nominee for National Security Advisor, Gen. James Jones, with Hillary Clinton in regard to their attitudes toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Here’s some of what he said:

During the Bush administration, the State Department was the source of every call for envoys, roadmaps, summits, and efforts to revive the peace process. And for most of the Bush era, these calls were rejected by the White House and Pentagon — which believed that the Israeli-Palestinian struggle was a symptom of deeper pathologies within the Islamic and Arab world, and not the underlying cause of Middle Eastern terrorism. Within the Obama administration, this dynamic is likely to be reversed. It may be the White House — and, more specifically, the likely national security advisor, James Jones — that will be the passionate proponent of peace processing. Or, as he told the newsletter Inside the Pentagon last month, “‘Nothing is more important” to regional security in the Middle East than resolving the Israeli Palestinian conflict…

…Jones said that the Palestinians should be granted increasing degrees of local sovereignty over the West Bank until an independent state is born — with an emphasis on giving the Palestinians experience with governance. On Sunday, Ha’aretz reported that Jones favors dispatching a NATO force to keep the peace in the interim.

Clinton, on the other hand,

…is asking if even the Palestinian moderates are ready to govern. At AIPAC’s annual policy conference in 2005, she said: “How do we expect to have a democratically elected Palestinian government if their textbooks are still preaching such hatred, and this if we allow this dehumanizing rhetoric to go unchallenged? Because what is happening is young minds are being infected with this anti-Semitism, and that is going to run counter to what we hope can happen over the next years as we do work for peace and stability.”

Jones apparently fits right in with  Defense Secretary nominee Robert Gates and Obama advisors Brzezinski and Scowcroft. One might ask how a person with his considerable military competence expects the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority [PA] to control a ‘Palestine’ composed of rival armed gangs (someone recently said that Mahmoud Abbas’ authority extends only to several office buildings in Ramallah).

The answer is that he doesn’t — he thinks NATO will keep the peace, in place of the IDF. It’s hard to see how a Palestinian ‘government’ whose power derives from foreign troops and is opposed by a majority of Palestinians will lead to a successful independent state. And let me quote myself on the value of NATO forces in the West Bank:

Leaving aside the irony that NATO troops might include those from traditionally anti-Semitic Eastern European countries, can we expect that they would put their lives in danger to protect Israel any more than the UN forces in Lebanon have done? What will happen the first time a Hamas suicide bomber kills 15 or 20 NATO soldiers? — FresnoZionism

As Clinton points out, ‘Palestine’ is not ready to live peacefully alongside a Jewish state. But ‘realists’ like Robert Gates and Jones see the immediate creation of a Palestinian state as the top priority, and the terrorism emanating from it as something that can be managed.

It’s interesting to wonder what would happen if Jones gets his wish and a Palestinian state is invented. Hamas and Hezbollah will certainly continue their aggression against Israel, since their ‘grievance’ — that there is a Jewish state of any size — would not have been redressed. Iran will continue supporting Hezbollah in its inexorable takeover of Lebanon. Syria will not disarm its thousands of missiles pointed at Israel. Islamic fundamentalists will not stop in their attempts to destabilize Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Iran will not stop its nuclear program.

In fact the only significant change is likely to be that Palestinian terrorism against Israel will increase as the highly motivated and effective IDF is replaced by NATO in the West Bank.

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