Pecking Order

The pecking order on the playground determines who is the strongest and who is the weakest and who is that crazy red headed child that you just don’t want to fight as he has been known to bite.  The rules of engagement on the playground are fairly simple.  Don’t start a fight with anyone higher than you on the pecking order, don’t start a fight with someone too much lower as this is looked upon as bullying and never ever start a fight with that red headed kid.  As all children know this “order” on the playground is essential not to encourage or create conflict but to avoid it.  In the real world we have examples of this such as the mutual assured destruction theory that the nuclear proliferation brought to the world as the US and former USSR accumulated more nuclear weapons then anyone would ever need.

So where am I going with all of this in terms of Middle East politics?  Well, I read the discussion between Syria and Israel the other day with both sides threatening to crush the other in all out war and suddenly realized that the Middle East pecking order has been disturbed.  For the better part of the last 30 years it has been clear to countries such as Syria that Israel was not to be challenged in all out war.  This thinking came about after some wars that ended very badly for Arab states such as Syria were fought in 40s-70s. At that time the pecking order was well established and maintained until now.  As a side note, depending on who you are you may either see Israel as fairly high on the pecking order due to military strength or the red headed child due to their nuclear weapons and dire need to survive at any cost but for a long time now I don’t think anyone saw them as the weakling that you all took turns beating on.

So how did our precious pecking order become unraveled?  I blame guerilla warfare and terrorism.  It has long been established that even a strong army such as Israel or the US or back in the day the USSR has a lot of difficulty waging war in non-conventional fashion.  When you can just roll out the tanks and drop a bunch of bombs I would argue that these three armies had no equal in war but as we found out in Vietnam, Afghanistan (US and USSR wars), Iraq, Lebanon and many others these armies are not nearly as dominant when there are no tanks on the other side. 

Trying to fight a war when the enemy hides behind human shields, puts no value on life (their own, the enemies or civilians) and generally does not meet you on a field of battle is very difficult.  The examples set in recent engagements such as Lebanon has created a false sense of confidence in countries like Syria that they too can take on the Israeli army.  To me this may be even a bigger problem than the current terrorist problem as all out war between Israel and its neighbors always leads to a lot of death, no resolutions and now that all of these countries have more advanced weapons it can lead to “mutual assured destruction”.  Maybe not in the sense of nuclear war but in the sense that the infrastructure damage and loss of life that a big Middle Eastern war threatens may not be something Israel or the poorer Arab countries may ever recover from.

For right or for wrong I think the pecking order in the Middle East is critical for peace in the larger sense of the word.  While it is peace based more on fear or understanding of your enemy’s power it never the less accomplishes the goal.  I am not sure what the solution is and I don’t want to advocate war but I see two ways to re-establish the pecking order.  One, Israel should stage a pre-emptive strike and make a statement that will remind some of its neighbors what the pecking order is.  Two, a bigger kid needs to move onto the block and establish that if any beatings go on it will be only them beating on someone else.  Obviously in my analogy the bigger kid is the US.  Neither option is pretty and I don’t expect a lot of support for either but I have not come up with a third alternative.  I know one thing, talking has never solved anything in the Middle East so I have ruled that option out.

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Peter Rabbit writes a monthly column on politics and world events for The Casual Observer, specializing in the Middle East. His articles can be found in Carrots of Wisdom.

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