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Hither and Yon

Mini-wars and world wars: uncomfortable comparisons

Mini-wars and world wars: Some uncomfortable comparisons
By Donald Kirk, East-Asia-Intel.com
Conflict between Israel and the Hamas bears some startling resemblances to that between North and South Korea. Think about it:
Israel and North Korea are both essentially client states. Israel couldn’t fight anyone, could not exist surrounded by Arab enemies, without all the arms the U.S. has been pouring into the country since its founding in 1948. North Korea could not exist without the food and fuel and other stuff it gets from China.
Incredible though it may seem, the parallels go even further. Both are nuclear-armed states — though not recognized as such. Israel is assumed to have fabricated and stockpiled nuclear devices but denies it. North Korea has fabricated nuclear devices and proudly admits it — though the U.S. and others have often said North Korea doesn’t really have viable nuclear weapons and is not a bona fide, card-carrying member of the nuclear club.
Oh, and both Israel and North Korea give their huge patrons a hard time. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told President Barack Obama to mind his own business when Obama called on him, personally, by telephone, to knock off the bombing of Gaza. North Korea has responded in similar terms to Chinese pressure to tone down its nuclear and missile programs, cut out the threats and stop testing “devices.” The idea is both Israel and North Korea want to show their independence from the great powers on which they rely for survival.
Ok, admittedly any comparison between Israel and North Korea is more than a little outrageous for a number of reasons, but the phenomenon of the besieged state, surrounded by enemies, left with no alternative but to build up its military night and, on occasion, to use it is compelling.
As long as we’re on the topic of unlikely analogies, let’s compare Israel with South Korea. That comparison may seem relevant in view of the special relationship that ties the United States to both countries.
The U.S. is totally committed to Israel in view of the mass slaughter of Jews by Nazi Germany in World War II and the threats of anti-Semitism that never go away in Europe and the U.S. Arab nations, picking up where the Nazis left off, vow the destruction of Israel in revenge for European Jews taking over the land that once was Palestine under British mandate.
The U.S. is no less committed to South Korea in view of the onslaught by North Korean and Chinese forces from 1950 to 1953. Like the Arabs on Israel’s doorsteps, the North Koreans persist in thinking they’re entitled to South Korea and refuse to abandon the quest.
The U.S. no longer provides arms as it once did for South Korea since the South is more than capable of making its own, but the South still buys sophisticated U.S. weaponry. Moreover, the presence of 28,500 U.S. troops in the country, and warships and warplanes on standby in Japan, Hawaii, Guam and elsewhere, shows South Korea needs the U.S. as much as Israel.
Comparisons go wrong, though, when you consider what Israel, North and South Korea and the U.S. are doing with all these weapons. Imagine what would happen if North Korea fired a few rockets on metropolitan Seoul, including Incheon International Airport? Political leaders and diplomats everywhere would no doubt be working furiously for a ceasefire, but in the meantime South Korea might do what it has never nerved itself to do in retaliation for incidents like the attack on Yeonpyeong Island or the sinking of the Cheonan in 2010. South Korea might finally do a little bombing and shelling of its own against North Korea.
That type of response would make the mayhem that’s been going on between Israel and the Hamas look like a minor brushfire. Unless the politicos got together very swiftly on a solution, China and the U.S. could be drawn into the conflict, and Japan, having shed its constitutional inhibition about sending troops to wage wars overseas, might join in “collective defense.” War could spread very quickly elsewhere, down the China coast, into the East China Sea where China challenges Japan over the Senkaku islands, aka Diaoyu, and on to the South China Sea, also claimed in entirety by China.
That’s sort of how the two world wars began – first incidents, and then incursions, finally the spread of imperial power by the countries destined to lose the war, Germany and Japan. In the process, tens of millions died.
So far the fighting between Israel and the Hamas is confined to a small stretch of turf, but protagonists are at war almost everywhere you look in the Middle East. Whatever they say, most of these conflicts have nothing to do with Israel, an easy scapegoat. Looming above the fray – nuclear weapons that countries like North Korea see as the ultimate “defense,” the mass killer in a war to end all wars.
Columnist Donald Kirk has been covering war and peace in Asia for decades. He’s at kirkdon@yahoo.com.
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