From the Comments: A Thought Experiment Regarding al-Askari

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We are used to seeing the Dome of the Rock soaring into a clear sky, and forget how close-packed the Old City of Jerusalem is, and how awfully vulnerable this makes it. From atop a wall in the Jewish Quarter the golden Dome peeks above the rooftops with the Mount of Olives in the background. 2005:03:05 13:25:36

In response to yesterday's post, John expressed some concern that bombing the Dome of the Rock would lead more-or-less directly to the end of the world. Set aside for a moment the fact that that's the whole point for those who would blow it up. Let's consider a little further in relation to the fallout from al-Askari.

The Times tells us today that over a hundred have died in the violence that followed yesterday's bombing, including several Sunni imams. The Iraqi government, which was already nearly stalemated over the composition of the new government, is in turmoil. Juan Cole indicates that the Shiite militias are likely to become involved, and there is every chance that the present Iraqi civil war could transform from guerilla to hot. That's the bad news. On the other hand, the initial wave of violence has abated, many influential religious leaders are actively working to calm the air, and there is little evidence so far of spillover to other countries. Iraq might yet get through this in one piece.

While the sentiments evoked would be analogous in the case of the Dome of the Rock, events would surely play out differently, in part because of the fraught political dimension, and in part because of how Israel is arranged. While Islamist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad would take the lead in focusing popular outrage, there would be less opportunity for an initial flash of sectarian violence; Israel already has robust mechanisms in place to prevent transmigration of Palestinians into Jewish-controlled areas, and curtails Palestinian mobility as a matter of course, anyway. The outposts and the colony in Hebron would be in grave danger. Does this aid or exacerbate? One can argue that a flash of violence helps quickly exhaust the passions raised, but it could also be the spark that leads to a more general conflagration. Iraq will be instructive in this respect.

At any rate, the reaction of the Palestinians would be somewhat inconsequential to the wider geopolitical ramifications which, I contend, are dominated by national actors, and while noisy would change little. The military disparity between Israel and its Arab neighbors has only grown since the last war they lost badly, so large scale conflict is not something they are eager to repeat. So long as the Israeli government could plausibly make the case that it had tried to prevent the disaster, the USA would continue to support it. There would be increased pressure for Israel to part with portions of Jerusalem in a final peace deal, but this would be countered by pointing to the inevitable and probably dramatic increase in terrorist attacks. In short, the extremists would probably get away with it, whether or not the example of Iraq turns out to predict war.

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I have to be much more pessimistic than that. Certainly Isreal has mechnisms in place to curtail Palestinian attempts at mass mayhem. However, an attack on the Dome of the Rock would inflame the entire Islamic world. In short, it would radicalize Muslims all over the world. Moderate arab governments would have to radicalize or be swept aside by popular sentiment. Any "Western" place or symbol would be considered a valid target and in the sheer volume of zealous attempts that would take place, I would expect at least one or two nuclear detonations if not an all out war. The problem with destroying a powerfully symbolic place such as The Dome of the Rock is that it evokes so much passion that noone could control it or mediate it. The moderate voices and cool heads that we rely on for our security would evaportate. It would literally create half a billion willing martyrs in an instant, and the pandamonium and volume of the resulting expression of rage aided by an era of instantaneous communication around the world and a global media would be the likes of which the world has probably never seen. As a matter of self preservation, Isreal should (and probably does) consider defending the Dome of the Rock against any attack it's #1 national security priority.

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This page contains a single entry by Milligan published on February 23, 2006 6:17 PM.

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