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Byron Shire
September 20, 2021

Mike Carlton: Gaza is Israel’s Vietnam

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Mike Carlton, former ABC correspondent and naval historian (through Crikey)

An Israeli military bulldozer pulling out a Merkava tank out of the Gaza Strip, on Wednesday. At least 15 Palestinians and two Israeli soldiers were killed overnight 23 July in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian death toll on the 16th day of the Israeli offensive surpassed 640, Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qedra said. More than 4,000 people have been injured. Twenty-nine Israeli soldiers have died during six nights and days of ground fighting, the military said. EPA/Atef Safadi
An Israeli military bulldozer pulls a tank out of the Gaza Strip after weeks of pounding the area. EPA/Atef Safadi

So Hamas wins. No matter how Israel and its friends spin it, the raw fact is that this ‘indefinite ceasefire’ leaves Hamas unbeaten in Gaza.

Bloodied and battered, yes, with an echelon of its senior military and political leadership killed by Israeli airstrikes. But it is only down, not out.

It lives to fight another day, which means that Benjamin Netanyahu and his hard-Right Likud-coalition government have failed, and disastrously so, in their stated aim of ensuring Israel’s security by a crushing military and economic dominance of the Palestinian people. They rolled the dice. They lost.

This is the nature of asymmetrical warfare. As we saw in Vietnam, one side deploys overwhelming military and technological muscle, and the propaganda to go with it, to crush its weak and primitive opponent.

Entire American infantry and air cavalry divisions, hundreds of thousands of men and machines, were hurled against an enemy that lived in tunnels and moved by stealth and guile. It was B52 bombers and napalm against little guys wearing rubber tyre sandals and driving clapped-out Russian tanks.

For years the United States navy and air force bombed the bejesus out of Hanoi and the Ho Chi Minh supply trail down along the Cambodian border with Vietnam. Henry Kissinger strutted his diplomatic magic in Geneva and Paris.

And it failed. Utterly. Voltaire got it right: God is not always on the side of the big battalions. Having beaten their French overlords, North Vietnam’s political and military leadership ratcheted the theory up a couple of notches.

They recognised that their regular northern army, and their subordinate southern Viet Cong cadres, could never defeat the United States in the field. But they knew they didn’t need to. No matter what their casualties, no matter how many thousands of their young men they committed to certain death, all they had to do was to still be standing when the Americans lost the will to fight and the shooting stopped. And they were.

So is Hamas. As its spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said on Tuesday: ‘Hamas is grateful to the people of Gaza who sacrificed their homes, children and money. We announce the victory today after achieving our goals. Netanyahu has failed to force Gaza to surrender. Yes, we defeated them by our standing and our resistance.’

The figures are horrifying. Agence France Press estimated that more than 2,000 Palestinians were killed in seven weeks of war, including 493 children. Some 10,000 people were injured, 3,100 of them children, of whom around 1,000 will suffer some permanent disability. And about 475,000 people have been left homeless.

By contrast, Israel’s ambulance service counted just five civilian deaths and 37 injuries, only one critical, from Hamas rockets and mortars over the 50 days. Technology again, Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence worked brilliantly.

But to what end? American historian Barbara Tuchman nailed what she called the march of folly: the wooden-headed (her words) pursuit by nations of policies catastrophically against their own interests.

Her examples included the Spanish King Philip II’s dispatch of the Armada against Elizabethan England, George III’s attempt to crush the rebellious 13 American colonies and, yes, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon in Vietnam.

To which illustrious roll we can now add the name Netanyahu. His reckless folly has ensured that Hamas and Islamic Jihad now have an abundant source of recruits for their next generation of fighters.

They will be those who survived this latest war, those children who saw their parents or their brothers and sisters blown to pieces and their homes, schools, and entire neighbourhoods obliterated. And they will rise again.

The entire history of this benighted land tells us there is nothing more certain. No Israeli now alive will know peace. Hamas can resume the strategy and tactics of terror at any time it chooses.

None of this is even vaguely understood by the powerful and sophisticated Likud lobby in Australia. The faintest criticism of Israel is always met with concerted howls of ‘anti-Semitism!’

It is a facile libel flung about by the comfortable kaffeeklatsch of Sydney and Melbourne, well-upholstered burghers who have never actually experienced a flicker of anti-Semitism in their gilded lives, let alone the Gestapo knock at midnight or even a rocket landing down the street.

In doing so, they demean the memory of those who truly knew what it meant: the dead of Auschwitz.
The final word can be left to 327 Jewish survivors and descendants of victims of the Nazi genocide who signed an open letter to The New York Times this week:

‘We unequivocally condemn the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza and the ongoing occupation and colonisation of historic Palestine.

‘We further condemn the United States for providing Israel with the funding to carry out the attack, and Western states more generally for using their diplomatic muscle to protect Israel from condemnation. Genocide begins with the silence of the world.

‘We are alarmed by the extreme, racist dehumanisation of Palestinians in Israeli society, which has reached a fever-pitch. In Israel, politicians and pundits in The Times of Israel and The Jerusalem Post have called openly for genocide of Palestinians and right-wing Israelis are adopting Neo-Nazi insignia.
‘Furthermore, we are disgusted and outraged by Israel’s wholesale effort to destroy Gaza and the murder of more than 2,000 Palestinians, including many hundreds of children. Nothing can justify bombing UN shelters, homes, hospitals and universities. Nothing can justify depriving people of electricity and water.

‘We must raise our collective voices and use our collective power to bring about an end to all forms of racism, including the ongoing genocide of Palestinian people. We call for an immediate end to the siege against and blockade of Gaza. We call for the full economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel. ‘Never again’ must mean NEVER AGAIN FOR ANYONE!’

But then, they’re probably anti-Semitic.

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  1. Great article and good to know you are still out there writing Mike! The SMH’s loss. It’s just not the same without you.

  2. clearly you have no grasp of the situation. beyond that i’m not even going to list out the obvious ignorances in this article.

  3. A great article Mike, with some great home truths for some people who support the right wing of Israel, from various places of remote comfort. The comparison to Vietnam is not of the same scale of course but the intent is similar. “Never again” is fine but this isn’t the exclusive domain of Israel, never again for anyone. Humanity has some great and caring ways but the primitive warlike characteristics of our species has yet to fully evolve.God on our side is no longer justification. Thank god or whoever that we are slowly waking up to the bull we have been fed for aeons. Where can we read your stuff now Mike?
    atb 2 u Ed

  4. I never thought I would ever agree with anything Carlton wrote, but he’s spot on here. Now we just have to await the dirty tricks campaign from Netanyahu’s ‘hasbara’ dept. of propaganda as his sleepers in the West stir the anti-Semite pot.

  5. Mike doesn’t seem to recognise the main difference between the Vietnam War and the current conflict in Gaza.

    Yes, the Vietcong could wait for America to tire of the conflict as the Vietcong were not threatening the destruction of America as part of their charter nor were they neighbours.

    Wouldn’t like to be Hamas if it was America on its border with rockets flying into New York. They would be wiped off the face of the earth.
    Hopefully the Palestinians living in Gaza will one day look at the good living conditions of the Palestinians on the West Bank and kick out Hamas and the misery they bring.

    • Brian
      Hamas has never threatened “the destruction of America” and it has also repeatedly agreed to recognize Israel within its internationally recognized borders, i.e., those of 4 June 1967.
      I also remind you that unlike Israel, America is not belligerently, illegally and brutally occupying the Gaza Strip.
      Yes, Brian, contrary to pro-Israel hasbara, under international law, Israel is still occupying the Gaza Strip and has been since June, 1967.

  6. Before kicking out the French the Vietnamese had already booted out the Japanese and the Chinese. They’d had 30 years of practice dealing with bullies when the military might of the USA decided, as is their way, to pick on the little guy. Israel are certainly giving Hamas a lot of practise. It’s not acceptable to use the holocaust as an excuse to conduct their own.
    Peace isn’t available to anyone until it’s available to everyone.

  7. Difference between Vietnam and Gaza #1

    The US had the option to fight or to surrender and leave.

    Israel has the option to either fight or surrender.

    • geoffff

      You neglected to note that Israel has the option to abide by international law and end its illegal, belligerent and brutal occupation of the Gaza Strip.

      • Ummmm… Israel ended it’s occupation of the Gaza strip in 2005…. left industry intact, borders open.

        Restricted importation of weapons through border when Hamas ceased control and vowed to wage Jihad.

    • geofffff

      Please provide fully accredited, documented and duly sourced evidence that Hamas refuses “to recognize the US and seek[s] its destruction.”

    • geofffff

      Get educated!!

      Hamas has long since agreed to recognize Israel within its internationally accepted borders, i.e., those of 4 June 1967.

  8. Difference between Vietnam and Gaza #4

    Vietnam insurgents and allies nationalist communists with rational objectives.

    Hamas is Sunni Jihadist allied to ISIS with an imperial ideology and no national objectives.

  9. There is one very big difference between the Vietcong/US and the Hamas/Israel conflicts: The Vietcong did not want to destroy the US and kill all Americans – they just wanted them out of Vietnam. I urge readers to peruse the Hamas Covenant 1988. It has been translated by Yale Law School – see http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/hamas.asp. The second paragraph talks about Islam obliterating Israel. Anyone reading the last paragraph of Article 7 will appreciate their genocidal intent. Article 11 states that Sharia Law will be the law governing the land of Palestine. Can you imagine what this means for gays, women and anyone with different views? Article 17 deals with the role of the Moslem woman. Have a look at what it says about school curriculums, “Zionist organizations under various names and shapes, such as Freemasons, Rotary Clubs,” etc. Have a look at Article 22, which amongst other things, blames the Jews for all wars, all revolutions, control of all media, control of all imperialistic countries, and rule of the world via the UN and Security Council. The same Article repeats the accusation that the Jews formed secret societies such as Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, the Lions. While I don’t like Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Israelis understandably fear that any withdrawal will lead to Hamas taking over, as they did when Israel vacated Gaza. The only valid analogy with Vietnam is that both are wars that cannot be won by superior forces. It is difficult to fight a war against an enemy that deliberately fights from civilian areas.

    • jeff ross


      Hamas dropped its call for the “destruction” of Israel in 2006, just before the internationally supervised election the same year in the Gaza Strip and West Bank which Hamas won (i.e., in both the occupied West Bank and occupied Gaza Strip.)

      “Hamas has dropped its call for the destruction of Israel from its manifesto for the Palestinian parliamentary election in a fortnight, a move that brings the group closer to the mainstream Palestinian position of building a state within the boundaries of the occupied territories.” ((“Hamas drops call for destruction of Israel from manifesto,” by Chris McGreal, The Guardian, 12 January 2006, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/jan/12/israel)

      Furthermore, along with the PLO, Hezbollah, the Arab League, non-Arab Iran and the Organization of Islamic States, Hamas has long since agreed to the US supported 2002 Arab League Beirut Peace Initiative, which guarantees Israel full recognition as a sovereign state, exchange of ambassadors, trade, tourism, etc., if Israel complies with international law and its previous commitments. In this regard, a headline in the November 9, 2008 edition of Ha’aretz reads: “Haniyeh: Hamas Willing to Accept Palestinian State with 1967 Borders,” for a report that Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh had told 11 members of the European Parliament that Hamas would accept the 1967 borders with Israel and had offered a long-term truce in exchange for Israel’s recognition of Palestinian national rights. In an op-ed column in the New York Times the following year, Robert Malley, a special assistant for Arab-Israeli affairs under President Bill Clinton, said Hamas’s acceptance of a two state solution “has now grown from a hint to a certainty.”

      Regrettably, for the region and the world, along with several other peace proposals put on the table by the Palestinians, the Arab League and the US (too numerous to list here), Israel has twice rejected the 2002 Arab League Beirut Summit Peace Initiative.

      Also, by forming a unity government with Fatah last May, which was recognized by the United States (much to the chagrin of Israel), Hamas once again agreed to recognize Israel within its internationally accepted borders, i.e., those of 4 June 1967.

      The main reason the peace process has gone nowhere is Israel’s refusal to abide by international law (e.g., UNSC Resolution 242, which in accordance with the UN Charter, “[emphasizes the] inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war….”)

      In short, as evidenced by the fact that throughout the peace process it has continued to blatantly and illegally grab more Palestinian land and water resources in the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, Israel has no intention of pursuing a just and lasting solution to the conflict. Given the Netanyahu led Likud Party’s platform, this is no surprise. Here’s a summary of the platform:

      a. “The Jordan river will be the permanent eastern border of the State of Israel.”

      b. “Jerusalem is the eternal, united capital of the State of Israel and only of Israel. The government will flatly reject Palestinian proposals to divide Jerusalem” [Palestinians have agreed to share Jerusalem with Israel as a joint capital.]

      c. “The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river.”

      d. “The Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are the realization of Zionist values. Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and constitutes an important asset in the defense of the vital interests of the State of Israel. The Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities and will prevent their uprooting.”

      BTW, Israel did not vacate or withdraw from Gaza. It retains a three kilometer so-called “buffer zone” within in Gaza’s borders and has frequently killed innocent Palestinians who have wandered into it.

      To quote the independent and respected human rights organization Human Rights Watch regarding Israel’s so-called “withdrawal” from the Gaza Strip completed in 2005: “…Israel will continue to be an Occupying Power [of the Gaza Strip] under internatio­nal law and bound by the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention because it will retain effective control over the territory and over crucial aspects of civilian life. Israel will not be withdrawin­g and handing power over to a sovereign authority – indeed, the word ‘withdrawa­l’ does not appear in the [2005 disengagem­ent] document at all… The IDF will retain control over Gaza’s borders, coastline, and airspace, and will reserve the right to enter Gaza at will. According to the Hague Regulation­s, ‘A territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised’­. Internatio­nal jurisprude­nce has clarified that the mere reposition­ing of troops is not sufficient to relieve an occupier of its responsibilities if it retains its overall authority and the ability to reassert direct control at will.”

      In effect, by controlling its entrances, exits, air space and sea access, Israel has turned the Gaza Strip into the world’s largest outdoor prison. As Britain’s PM David Cameron put it: “[The Gaza Strip] is a prison camp.”

      To quote Ha’aretz: “‘The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process,’ Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s senior adviser Dov Weisglass has told Ha’aretz. ‘And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission. All with a [U.S.] presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress.’ Weisglass, who was one of the initiators of the disengagement plan, was speaking in an interview with Ha’aretz for the Friday Magazine. ‘The disengagement is actually formaldehyde,’ he said. ‘It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.’” (Ha’aretz, October 6, 2004; http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/top-pm-aide-gaza-plan-aims-to-freeze-the-peace-process-1.136686)

      Given the fact that under international law, the Gaza Strip is still belligerently/illegally occupied by Israel, its inhabitants have a legal right to resist occupation. Also as the Gaza Strip is occupied by Israel, according to international law, Israel’s repeated attacks/invasions are illegal and in fact, Israel has a legal obligation to provide for the basic human needs of its inhabitants, not slaughter them.

      BTW, like the citizens of Stalingrad under siege by Nazis during WWII, Palestinians in Gaza have no option other than to flight “from civilian areas.”

  10. An excellent article. One that fully grasps the situation!
    It’s about time we started reading factual pieces instead of the churned out propaganda that we read/ hear in main stream media who suck up to the powerful pro-Isreal lobby. And the skwaking of Israeli’s who consider any criticism of their country as anti semitic
    Good on you Mike. I am not anti semitic, I am anti Zionist.

  11. Israel had to negotiate everything from the beginning. The last chance of that disappeared with the rightwing assassination of Rabin . Something like 50% of US overseas aid goes to Israel .Henry Kissinger, himself Jewish predicts that the state of Israel won’t exist beyond 2022.

  12. Mike,
    The key message in this and your last SMH article seems to be completely misunderstood by many – it’s not OK to kill children. Full stop, there is no argument. The excuses Israel and others of the hard right about being victims and protecting themselves and national interests are nauseating. I was unaware of the Holocaust survivors letter to the NY Times, thank you for the article.
    Regards, Gus

  13. “who have never actually experienced a flicker of anti-Semitism in their gilded lives”

    I have some questions for Carlton.

    1. Didn’t hear about those primary school kids on the Sydney Jewish schoolbus getting a bunch of drunken fools boarding and terrifying them, threatening to slit their throats, I take it? The rebbe threatened in Perth, or the hateful graffiti on the wall of the Jewish school in Perth either?

    2. Are you saying no antisemitism exists in Sydney or Melbourne, and that you are such an expert on the subject that you feel confident to say that if people disagree with you, they must therefore have never experienced antisemitism in their lives, not to mention both support Likud and be part of a lobby of secret agendas? I wonder how you know this with so much confidence that you feel able as a journalist to present it as a fact… I didn’t think journalists jumped to conclusions in that manner. Do you also know what they had for breakfast? This seems a bit like “these people have never experienced antisemitism, and I should know, because I’m not an antisemite”.

    3. Isn’t “gilded lives” (i.e. rich) a bit of an, er, stereotype that just coincidentally happens to be ever-so-frequently applied by antisemites to Jews? Unless you’re saying that life in Melbourne and Sydney is gilded for everyone. Interesting word choice there, that if a Jewish person disagrees with your politics, they must be well-off. Oh, the irony of denying that these people have ever experienced antisemitism while dragging up the most overused antisemitic stereotype 😉

    This really seemed rather inappropriate to me. Just because no-one’s ever yelled “Christkiller!” at you or your family members or beaten them up for their religion/culture, doesn’t mean that this hasn’t and isn’t happening to others. Very presumptious of you, and it’s hard to take you seriously when you seem to be saying that people who understandably fear antisemitism are just using it as an excuse (from their comfortable mountain of gold :P). Certainly, there are many people who criticize Israel in a legitimate fashion without having an agenda of hateful bigotry, but if you’re ignoring that the latter even exists, then I would like one day to join you in this magical fairy world where none of us are scared in the back of our minds every time we go to synagogue or send our kids to school.

    The idea of someone trotting out the memories of our dead families to tell us that antisemitism is no longer a problem and we should stop lying about it makes me rather uncomfortable.

    It’s very hard to take your work seriously when you seem to be saying that if anyone who disagrees with you says they have experienced antisemitism in their lives, they must be both rich and a malicious liar. Perhaps you could try harder next time? It’s interesting to hear a variety of perspectives on the conflict, and I’d like to be able to read your opinions without my eyes turning into saucers.


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