Monday, June 06, 2011

Still crazy after all these years?

About 16 years ago I was a young undergraduate attending a lecture by a visiting professor, a respected expert on the Middle East. I forget the exact details of the talk, but I do remember going up to the lecturer at the end and asking him whether he thought it likely that Israel's enemies might use civilian Palestinian refugees to overwhelm Israel's borders, for example if Lebanon decided to push its large Palestinian population into what was then Israel's defensive perimeter in southern Lebanon, or, following an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, into northern Israel.

I wondered how Israel would, should or could respond to hundreds or even thousands of civilians trying to storm her borders.

He responded that such an event wouldn't happen, that such a suggestion was fantastical. His face radiated the contemptuous ridicule he clearly felt at my overactive imagination. I could see him mentally ticking the "nutter" box. I didn't entirely blame him, this field does seem to attract way more than its fair share of wackjobs, each with their own hysterical doomsday theories for the Middle East, especially Israel.

Feeling thoroughly chastened and a touch humiliated, I left the lecture hall resolving to keep my crazy ideas to myself.

Then this May Syria did just that, massing groups of Palestinians to push over the Israeli border, maybe as a desperate distraction from Syria's own internal chaos, maybe just to make it clear to Israel what the consequences of regime change might be in Syria. I'm sure Assad could come up with plenty of reasons.

Israel reacted in shock, military included. If there is one things that Israelis fear, it is being faced with hordes of apparently unarmed civilians who nevertheless are presenting a very real security threat. Israel cannot stand for hostiles - civilian, military, or something vague in between - storming her borders. Israelis are horrified at being put in position where the only option is to shoot to prevent such a mob from over-running Israeli positions.

Watching the news footage from the north and listening to the assorted academic experts being interviewed for their learned opinions I found myself curious whether the illustrious professor remembered my apparently ludicrous question from all those years ago. Would he agree that I wasn't such a ridiculously imaginative undergrad afterall? This is one case when I would have preferred to be wrong.

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