Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The Serbia-Israel analogy

openDemocracy recently published an essay by Anatol Lieven, drawing on his recent book American Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism.

Anthony Barnett comments on this in his editor’s note Why the United States and Israel? (for which I ghosted an early draft, not including the following paragraph):

"[Lieven’s piece] contains a…striking analogy. The first world war was precipitated by Serbian extremists whose ambitions had been inflamed by their confidence in the massive support extended to Serbia by the vast Russian empire of the Czars. Could Israel, thanks to its American alliance, be similarly overconfident today?"

But how appropriate is the analogy? Robert K Massie’s Castles of Steel (a history of naval warfare in World War One, which I happen to be reading) contains this comment on the origins of the attack by Austria-Hungary on Serbia:

"The assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife by a Bosnian Serb provided Austria with the pretext it needed to invade. The assassin belonged to a secret Serb organisation, the Black Hand, whose objecttive was to detach Bosnia and other Slav provinces from the Hapsburg empire and incorporate them into a Greater Serbia. The Serbian government was not involved, but the assassin had connections with Serbian police officials and his revolver had come from the Serbian State Arsenal". (page 11 of the US paperback edition)

By Massie’s account drawing on contemporary sources, Austria-Hungary sent the Serbian Government a note following the assassinations demanding near total surrender on terms no sovereign nation could reasonably be expected to accept. But the Serbian government – terrified of Austrain power – did accept the terms.

Even this was not enough for the Austro-Hungarians, and they invaded anyway.

Who plays the role of Austria-Hungary in the Serbia-Israel analogy? The most military powerful Arab states, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, seem to be realistic about Israel’s continued survival. So not them.

Maybe Iran, then? The Iranians must surely be aware they are no military match for Israel with or without a handful of simple nuclear weapons to Israel's reported 200 to 400 sophisticated ones (this upper count from Cato Institute military analyst Chuck Pena). Iranian bluster largely designed to galvanise support at home.

And who plays the role of the Black Hand? West Bank settlers, perhaps. But they would be more likely to assasinate Sharon than an Arab or Muslim leader.

Useful insight into Sharon’s position came in an article by David Grossman (published in the Guardian on 27 Oct). Grossman – no fan of Sharon – says: “ Sharon is now acting with great personal and public courage”.

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