Always look for the elephant

Star Trek 3D Chess

Israel vs. everybody: the Pyramid model

A multidimensional model for locating the elephants in the room

This is the model I use to explain† the Israel-Palestinian-Arab-Muslim-Uncle Tom Cobley and all‡ conflict. To date I haven’t found a better one for gathering up all the players and relating one to the other and where they fit in this very complicated issue. Like a schematic of an internal combustion engine it doesn’t provide a solution for low mileage or even total breakdown but it can be useful for explaining the limitations of ‘expert’ solutions.

At times I listen to politicians,  clergy, ‘expert’ academics and advocates on both sides pontificate on solutions for the Middle East, (meaning Israel, of course) and I feel like screaming. What about the elephants in the room? You have forgotten, Hamas, Islam, Israeli Arabs, Jordan, etc.  Sometimes it’s deliberate, they pretend the elephant is not there to avoid discussing the obvious problem. Sometimes it’s a desire to position themselves on a more desirable sector of the pyramid and sometimes … well, there are plenty of ignorant people out there with strong opinions.

If you are nerdy enough you may have played Three Dimensional chess, in the Star Trek or Raumschach variations or even experimented with a three board variation of your own design. It’s not hard to comprehend. Each board plays by normal chess rules but pieces can skip from board to board and every piece has influence everywhere it can reach. It’s rather like modern warfare with airforce, ground forces and submarines. Few people continue with 3D chess because like the Middle East problem, once you have internalised the concept and reached a fairly low level of competence it’s almost impossible to win. Games and wars reach a grinding, boring stalemate.

The Three Levels

Middle East multilayer pyramid model.

Local or bottom level

It is on this bottom layer that the personal, family and tribal make genuine contact. This is the level of the ‘two-state solution’ and the ‘one-state solution. This is the level simplistically described as the Jews vs. the Palestinians (why can’t they just be friends?).

There are plenty of little baby Dumbos who escape attention here: Bedouin Arabs vs. Palestinian Arabs (less important in Israel. I predict an explosion in Jordan); Christian Arabs vs. Muslim Arabs (generally ignored by the major Christian groups who you would have assumed would be the most concerned) ; Non-Arabs vs. Arabs (Druse, Circassian, Bahai, Armenian, Gypsy, etc.); Islamists vs. Nationalists vs. Pan Arabists (sometimes simplified to Hamas vs. Fatah); West Bank vs. Gaza (did you know they hate each other?) and I haven’t exhausted the list. Personal ambition has it’s place here, I suppose but in common with the multidimensional model it appears in the middle and right at the top as well.

This is the level  in which the Destroy Israel Lobbyprefers to position itself. How can one’s heart not break for the innocent Palestinian noble savages whose homes are being threatened by Jewish settlement?

What about the Jews? Don’t they have divisions: secular vs. religious, left vs. right, haredi vs. kippah shruga, ashkenasim vs. sephardim? Yes, they do but they rarely reach the level of violence and certainly not homicidal violence. The exceptions are so few that many can list them by name. In addition not coincidentally Israel is a parliamentary democracy with a free court system. The mechanisms are in place to keep the lid on violence.

International or middle level

So Sorry We Won Kishon-Dosh 1967

So Sorry We Won Kishon-Dosh 1967

Country vs, country. Just like in the Olympics but with more blood!

This is the level at which Israel most wants to be positioned. The plucky little David facing down the Goliath

Israel has been involved in major state vs. state wars in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973. The generally atrocious treatment of the Palestinians who came under Arab control and the failure of those states who managed to conquer and occupy part of the former mandate of Palestine to even consider granting independence should be reason enough to discount the idea the Arabs states went to war for local level reasons. Had they succeeded the chance they would have divided Israel among themselves is much greater than the likelihood of freedom for the Palestinians. Nevertheless it was much in the interest of the dictators surrounding Israel to claim to be champions of Palestinian rights. It gave their own populations an external scapegoat to keep attention away from regime change. We will have to wait a while (I expect sooner rather than later) to see if the Arab Spring changes that.

If you Google Arab Wars everything you see will relate to Arab Wars against Israel and ignores just how busy the Arab States were between 1948 and today††. Conflicts  involving Yemen, Libya, Syria, Morocco, Egypt, Iraq and not to forget Iran-Iraq. Iran BTW is not Arab but they see themselves as  major players in the war against Israel. Being seen as rejectionist leaders in the fight gave countries as Syria and Libya a status their military stength couldn’t justify.

Super Power or top level

Much as I would love to claim credit for this model I didn’t invent it. I modified it from a model Noam Chomsky introduced (You may spit on the ground now). He in turn probably stole it from a more original thinker without attribution.

Chomsky was mostly concerned with the United States-Soviet Union super power rivalry. But it occurred to me that external powers playing their games in the Middle East came at least half a century before the Russian bear and the American eagle took their position as the leading world powers. Before 1918 there were four powers jockeying for position and playing the elements of the local layer like pawns – Britain, France, Germany and the Ottoman Empire with a bit of interference from Russia. France and Britain won and the odd Israeli border, especially in the Galil finger (surrounded on three sides by Lebanon) is the result as are most of the countries and borders in the middle layer.

Jordan (then Transjordan) was the British pay-off for Abdullah’s assistance against the Turks. On one hand the victorious Brits wanted peace and quiet between Jew and Arab leading to profit and a permanent foothold for the Empire where the sun never set. On the other divide and conquer was always a favourite British tactic in the Empire.

ISLAM as world super power

But what about now with the USA the one remaining super power? Does the model still work?

This is my contribution to the model. I believe it still works, even better than before. The super power rival to replace the Soviets is aggressive, expanding in influence, and rich. It is Islam. Unlike Russia whose influence, despite all those thousands of Arab students at Lumumba Friendship University was generally limited to those middle layer rulers it could bribe with arms and aid, Islam effects all layers including the jihadi yelling, “Allahu Akbar” and the state pushing for sanctions at the UN. And conversely the Arab Street effects the Muslim ruler and even the super powers. Remember Obama in Cairo?

Summing it all up

If the model has taught anything it is that the Middle East is complicated and when faced with simple and simplistic solutions an intelligent person should always be looking out for the elephants.


† Special thanks to Paul Reti who encouraged me to explain the concept in writing.
‡ I’ve been informed that Uncle Tom Cobley and all (no relation to the Cabin dwelling slave) is a purely British phrase. US and non Brit readers can find the whole story in Wikipedia and replace the elephant with an 800 lb gorilla.
†† List of Conflicts in the Middle East (Wikipedia) — List of Conflicts in North Africa (Wikipedia)

About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
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