Saturday, 22 May 2010

Iron Dome, media propaganda, and military Keynesianism

The United States has pledged $205 million to fund the development of the Israeli "Iron Dome" project. Allegedly, this will help defend Israel from Palestinian and Lebanese rocket attacks. But, as is often the case when it comes to Israel, the truth is somewhat more complex.

According to House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman, "with nearly every square inch of Israel at risk from rocket and missile attacks, we must ensure that our most important ally in the region has the tools to defend itself." The BBC adds that "Iron Dome was conceived and developed in Israel following the Lebanon war of 2006, during which Hezbollah launched about 4,000 rockets into northern Israel" and "southern Israel has also come under fire, with thousands of rockets and mortars fired by Palestinian militants."

Iron Dome seems not only useful, then, but neccesary in the face of such a bombardment. But, as I have noted before, the threat is overstated.

According to Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (PDF), "as of April 27, 2008, a total of 13 Israelis have been killed by Qassam rockets since the attacks started in 2001." However, as Amnesty International point out in Operation Cast Lead: 22 Days of Death and Destruction (PDF), the end result of an offensive by Israel lasting less than a month was that "some 1,400 Palestinians had been killed, including some 300 children and hundreds of other unarmed civilians, and large areas of Gaza had been razed to the ground, leaving many thousands homeless and the already dire economy in ruins."

Also important to note, for context, is that Gaza had been blockaded for 18-months prior to that, and remains so to the present. For the crime of electing a Hamas government in free and fair conditions, they were condemned to brutal collective punishment.

In the words of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC);
The stringent closure imposed on Gaza is having a serious impact on most people's daily lives and has stymied reconstruction efforts. Fishermen's and farmers' livelihoods have been destroyed. Unemployment and poverty are rampant. The availability of medical care is inadequate and water and sanitation services are run down.
Despite this, Hamas offered to renew its existing ceasefire. Israel flatly rejected the offer, favouring war as long as Gaza was under Hamas control. One can only wonder when the US will fund an equivalent Iron Dome to protect the Palestinians from Israel.

As Edward Herman notes for Z Magazine;
In reality, the primary violence is Israeli dispossession, which has taken Palestinian land and water for decades, under U.S. and other enlightened states' protection. Over the years the Palestinians have resisted, mainly peaceably, sometimes by violence, but with very much higher casualty rates suffered by the poorly armed Palestinians (over 20-1 prior to the second intifada, when the rate dropped to 3 or 4 to 1-rising to 100 to 1 in the Gaza war).
Nonetheless, the established line of "Israel at risk from rocket and missile attacks" continues to be parrotted by politicians and the media alike. As such we must continue to expose it for the lie that it is.

But this is far from all. The idea of Iron Dome as any kind of "defensive," even an unnecesary or disproportionate one, is fallacious. According to the BBC, Israeli "officials say the next phase in its development is its integration into the Israeli army."

Tel Aviv University professor and noted military analyst Reuven Pedatzur, quoted in the Jerusalem Post, has a quite different take on the matter;
The Iron Dome is all a scam. The flight-time of a Kassam rocket to Sderot is 14 seconds, while the time the Iron Dome needs to identify a target and fire is something like 15 seconds. This means it can't defend against anything fired from fewer than five kilometers; but it probably couldn't defend against anything fired from 15 km., either.
We've been here before. Barack Obama's policy statement on Israel included the call for "continuing U.S. cooperation with Israel in the development of missile defense systems," of which Iron Dome appears to be the end result. The model is clearly the broader US "star wars" system. In both cases, it is not just cynicism which challenges the idea of the systems as "defensive," but the fact that they are quite evidently not fit for purpose on that front.

Johann Hari has made this point before, in some depth;
In the early 1980s, President Ronald Reagan was increasingly worried a nuclear war with the Soviet Union was inevitable, until a long-suppressed memory resurfaced in his mind. In 1940, he had starred in a hokey movie called ‘Murder in the Air’. He played a secret agent who had to protect a newly invented super-weapon called the “Intertia Projector” which fired an electrical current at any plane or missile approaching the United States, rendering it worthless. In the film, a scientist tells Reagan this weapon “makes the US invincible in war, and promises to become the greatest force for world peace ever discovered.” 

Why, Reagan wondered in the Oval Office, couldn’t he have a real Intertia Projector? Let’s create a machine that would detect any incoming nuke as it approached the US and zap it into nothing! The Cold War standoff would be over! Reagan was losing the ability to distinguish between reality and films: he repeatedly claimed he had been at the liberation of Auschwitz, when he had recreated it in Hollywood. After the Second World War, there had been a few studies trying to invent such a machine – but they all concluded it was “impossible.” Nonetheless, Reagan decided in 1983 to call on America’s scientists to make it happen. 

Everyone was bewildered. Reagan’s undersecretary of Defence, Richard DeLauer demanded to know how such a “half-baked political travesty” got into a Presidential address. As the Pulitzer-prize winning historian Frances Fitzgerald explains: “Most of the scientists and defence experts invited to the White House for dinner that evening expressed incredulity. An umbrella defence of the United States was a virtual impossibility… [But] when the experts insisted that science was not magic and that American technology could no do everything, they would be accused of lack of patriotism.” 

The lack of evidence didn’t deter Reagan’s team. The man he put in charge of the programme, James Abrahamson, declared: “I don’t think anything in this country is technically impossible. We have a nation which can indeed produce miracles.” The programme was dubbed ‘Star Wars’ – which was fitting, since it was science fiction. As the years passed, the US strategic planners developed ever-more-fevered fantasies of how the shield would allow them to strike anywhere in the world without any risk of retaliation. 

By the time Reagan left office, there was a vast industry dedicated to chasing this will-o’-the-wisp. Huge defence contractors – including Boeing and Lockheed Martin – were making billions from it, and giving fat donations to politicians in both parties. In the decades since, the US has spent more and more, and asked the ‘shield’ to do less and less. Now they want it to just take out a single nuke – and it still doesn’t work. The tests only succeed when the interceptors know where the missile is being fired from, where it is heading to, and the warhead continually broadcasts its location to the interceptor. Some success. They have been given a near-impossible-task: scientists compare it to hitting a bullet with another bullet.
Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow at the Arms Control Association, backs this assesment up (PDF);
Getting to ground truth on strategic missile defense is a bit like looking for a faithful reflection in the distorted mirrors of a carnival fun house - nothing is quite what it seems.

Performance details are shrouded in secrecy on both strategic ballistic missile defenses and the countermeasures that would be used to defeat them. Neither strategic ballistic missile offenses nor defenses have been used in combat. Many experts to whom the public has access have a vested interest in spinning evaluations of their capabilities.
This is no less true when it comes to the smaller-scale version in Iron Dome. Indeed, according to Pedatzur, "considering the fact that each Iron Dome missile costs about $100,000 and each Kassam $5, all the Palestinians would need to do is build and launch a ton of rockets and hit our pocketbook." But then we can safely assume that the point here was never defence.

The main point, as I noted during the South Ossetia conflict back in 2008, is that whilst "missile defence" is unworkable in terms of its stated goal, it is more feasible as a way to launch first strikes with impunity. There is historical precedent for the US making such plans.

This is not to say that America will launch a first strike anywhere. Indeed, it is unlikely. Rather, the possiblity of such a thing will allow it to assert dominance and scare off threats on the basis of a more one-sided form of the Cold War MAD strategy. After all, control of strategic markets and resources remains the primary goal of US planners, and if they can maintain that without open warfare then all the better.

At the same time, the industry that has built up around "missile defence" adds to the taxpayer subsidy of private profit through the military-industrial complex. As Noam Chomsky has explained;
Like all advanced societies, the U.S. has relied on state intervention in the economy from its origins, though for ideological reasons, the fact is commonly denied. During the post-World War II period, such "industrial policy" was masked by the Pentagon system, including the Department of Energy (which produces nuclear weapons) and NASA, converted by the Kennedy administration to a significant component of the state-directed public subsidy to advanced industry.

By the late 1940s, it was taken for granted in government-corporate circles that the state would have to intervene massively to maintain the private economy. In 1948, with postwar pent-up consumer demand exhausted and the economy sinking back into recession, Truman's "cold-war spending" was regarded by the business press as a "magic formula for almost endless good times" (Steel), a way to "maintain a generally upward tone" (Business Week). The Magazine of Wall Street saw military spending as a way to "inject new strength into the entire economy," and a few years later, found it "obvious that foreign economies as well as our own are now mainly dependent on the scope of continued arms spending in this country," referring to the international military Keynesianism that finally succeeded in reconstructing state capitalist industrial societies abroad and laying the basis for the huge expansion of Transnational Corporations (TNCs), at that time mainly U.S.-based.

The Pentagon system was considered ideal for these purposes. It imposes on the public a large burden of the costs (research and development, R&D) and provides a guaranteed market for excess production, a useful cushion for management decisions. Furthermore, this form of industrial policy does not have the undesirable side-effects of social spending directed to human needs. Apart from unwelcome redistributive effects, the latter policies tend to interfere with managerial prerogatives; useful production may undercut private gain, while state-subsidized waste production (arms, Man-on-the-Moon extravaganzas, etc.) is a gift to the owner and manager, who will, furthermore, be granted control of any marketable spin-offs. Furthermore, social spending may well arouse public interest and participation, thus enhancing the threat of democracy; the public cares about hospitals, roads, neighborhoods, and so on, but has no opinion about the choice of missiles and high-tech fighter planes. The defects of social spending do not taint the military Keynesian alternative, which had the added advantage that it was well-adapted to the needs of advanced industry: computers and electronics generally, aviation, and a wide range of related technologies and enterprises.
Thus, we can assume the fact that Iron Dome is not fit for its stated purpose to be largely irrelevant. It is not, in fact, there for "defence" but as a visible deterrent and an industrial cash-cow.

What this means for the Palestinians is as yet unclear. Under Obama's lead, despite obfuscation in the media, the US-Israeli alliance has not wavered in its rejectionist stance. Expansion into Palestinian territory has been unceasing, and indirect peace talks (initiated after the failure of direct talks) are going nowhere. This new development seems only to be another barrier to hope and progress.

What we do know is that the fight for justice cannot end.

A nine-ship convoy, under the banner "Freedom Flotilla," is headed to Gaza to deliver aid, despite warnings that they will be stopped for "breaching Israeli law." Palestinians have been staging protests in memory of the damage inflicted by the 1948 war. Direct action by Anarchists Against the Wall persists despite continual repression by the Israeli Defence Force.

The Palestinians are a people under apartheid. Especially in Gaza, their conditions are incomparable even weighed up against the South African struggle. Their oppressor is backed up by the full might of the most powerful superpower in history. Every act of resistance is met with a thousand-fold retaliation, and they are being choked and starved as a people. And still they fight back.

If they can continue to do that, against such overwhelming odds, then the very least we can do is to show solidarity and make sure that their story isn't consigned to the memory-hole by the media.