Sunday, August 20, 2006

# Posted 7:14 PM by Patrick Belton  


Call it the plastic leprechaun view of Irish history, fairy tales that could only be swallowed by the most gullible foreigners. Robert Fisk, long-time Middle East correspondent for the London Independent wrote recently, "When the IRA used to cross the Irish border to kill British soldiers - which it did - did Blair and his cronies blame the Irish Republic's government in Dublin? Did Blair order the RAF to bomb Dublin power stations and factories? Did he send British troops crashing over the border in tanks to fire at will into the hill villages of Louth, Monaghan, Cavan and Donegal? Did Blair then demand an international, NATO-led force to take over a buffer zone - on the Irish, not the Northern Ireland side, of the border?"

Fisk, whose views on America and Israel are so agreeable to Osama bin Laden that the Al Qaida leader personally offered to guide his conversion to Islam, seldom passes up a chance to bash the Jewish state. However, this spurious analogy fails to take into account the profound differences between Lebanon and Northern Ireland, which is probably why voices from Northern Ireland, such as Mark Durkan, leader of the Irish nationalist SDLP in the province, have rejected it.

In the first place, the critics of Israel’s military operations in Lebanon blithely ignore the fact that Britain always has had, namely full control of the ground. At the height of the troubles, nearly twenty thousand British soldiers garrisoned province of 1.6 million people, supplementing and motivated equivalent to a force some 325,000 in present-day Iraq. The majority of the local population favoured maintaining the link and manned a large and well-trained local police force. With an overwhelming weight of numbers, the security forces blanketed Northern Ireland with troops and police, eventually smothering terrorist activity in urban areas. Day-to-day interaction with the population by the security forces led to agents being recruited even within the highest levels of the IRA. The IRA’s deputy head of counter-intelligence was revealed to be a British agent; now, even the IRA’s “military” chief, Martin MacGuinness has come under suspicion of spying for the British.

In contrast, Israel, voluntarily and without a peace agreement, relinquished its security zone in Lebanon six years ago, a decision that appears folly in hindsight. Without this presence in the ground, anti-terrorist and human intelligence operations are virtually impossible: Nobody suspects Hassan Nasrullah of working for the Mossad.

Unlike Lebanon, the Republic of Ireland has consistently had both the strength and the will to crush terrorists within its borders, meeting the most basic obligation that a sovereign nation owes its people and its neighbours. Many terrorist leaders, like MacGuinness, Michael McKevitt, leader of the Real IRA, or Seán Mac Stíofáin, founding chief of the Provisionals, were only imprisoned under the laws of the Republic, not by the UK. Ireland also pioneered aggressive action against the racketeering funding terrorism, with the British following suit last year with their own agency to seize criminal assets.

Hizbollah’s barrage, up to two hundred missiles fired at Israel each day cannot be compared with the IRA campaign on the British mainland; by the time of the ceasefire in 1997, the IRA this was aimed at inconvenience as much as at terror, by cancelling the Grand National, Britain’s most popular horse race, or bringing traffic chaos in London through hoax bomb warnings. The operational core of the IRA’s “English Department” was swept up soon afterwards.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been forced into spending weeks in air raid shelters or evacuating to safer areas. The bombardment has made normal working and family life impossible in its second city, Haifa. The apt comparison is with another part of Britain’s history, the bombardment of by Nazi Germany’s V1 and V2 rocket “Vengeance Weapons” in the last phases of World War II.

In spite of being hardened by years of war and the capital’s massive network of shelters, nearly a million people fled London. The British response was to bomb the rockets’ launch sites concealed within residential areas of occupied Holland, killing some 500 Dutch civilians in one raid alone. Was this “disproportionate”? A war crime?

The driving impulse for British intervention in Ireland has been fear that her regional enemies would gain a foothold there, exactly as revolutionary France and the Kaiser succeeded in doing. The IRA chief during WWII, Sean Russell, even died of natural causes while returning to Ireland on board a Nazi U-boat. In Lebanon, Israel has a neighbour playing host to its deadliest enemies, the Iranians. They bring millions of dollars, sophisticated missiles and the troops to man them to bear on their openly-declared joint goal of the annihilation Jewish State and its people.

We should draw the proper lesson from the Irish experience. The IRA’s turning to more democratic means came about through a decisive military victory, not because of any sudden attack of conscience - after all Gerry Adams and Martin MacGuinness have led the IRA since the early seventies. Instead, with Israel embroiled in a war of national survival, it should be afforded the latitude same means that Britain and Ireland have used in similar situations in the past.
(14) opinions -- Add your opinion

I do not study Irish history, but I know enough about Israeli and Lebanese history and politics to know that the knowledge displayed here is unworthy of discussion. Israel withdrew from a 'security zone?' Are you kidding me? Every part of that, but the Israel part, is incorrect. The most egregious is the security zone part. Occupied land is occupied land, Israeli-isms for it don't change that, Mr Belton and your misuse of Israeli and Lebanese history correspondents.
Thanks for this, what interested me most actually here wasn't the Israeli angle so much as the Irish, and the high danger every long-running territorial conflict from Kashmir to Palestine runs of being sooner or later analysed through a Northern Irish lens. That, I suppose, would be an interesting piece. Hmm.
Actually, the Northern Irish relationship to Palestine (I cannot speak for Kashmir, though I can anecdotally suspect it equally true), is one that is usually made by Irish activists, and quite a few Irish scholars. Actually, Palestinians don't really look at Ireland for a few reasons I don't have time to explain here though they are rather clear. Palestinians, if they do look elsewhere, tend to look at South Africa--both for political inspiration and strategy, though not history.
I have Irish heritage, I am a devout Catholic, I will let you figure out where I stand on the issue of Irish Republicanism.

That being said, I just don't think there is an apt comparison of the Northern Ireland struggle and well, anyother "long running territorial conflict".

Oh and Patrick, I believe Google will soon have some explaining to do (follow the link). :D
Just one quibble - Nobody suspects Hassan Nasrullah of working for the Mossad.

In Zarqawi's last tape before his death, he accused Nasrallah and Hizb'allah of being Zionist agents. Kind of an amusing sidenote.
This analysis of the Northern Ireland Troubles is at least as facile as Fisk's. Whether rightly or wrongly, British governments in the 70s and 80s (and Thatcher in particular) never believed that the Republic of Ireland was pulling its weight in stopping cross-border raids (its hostility to the IRA was internal, since Sinn Fein did not acknowledge the legitimacy of the Dublin government). At no time did British forces ever have 'full control of the ground' in Ulster, and while it is true that the 'majority' of the population supported the Union, a very substantial minority (up to 40%) did not. Enough to be getting on with, one would think.

No one would deny the importance of military operations against the IRA, but it is a fantasy to suggest that the peace process came about because of 'a decisive military victory'. No such victory was either won or even possible. You might recall that the peace process collapsed under Major's government because of its insistence on treating the IRA as a defeated army, demanding disarmament before any political concessions were made. However ugly, peace in Northern Ireland involved talks with terrorist groups and the acceptance of known terrorists into government. It meant an invitation to the White House for Gerry Adams and political office for him and MacGuinness.

I'm no expert on the Middle East so I won't presume to draw lessons. But we're not going to get anywhere if those who use historical analogy simply find in the past whatever it is they want to see.
During the British Mandate in Palestine, quite a large number of those who served as High Commissioner on down to member of the Palestine Police, had some experience in Ireland. Its actually a fascinating correllary, both in the forms of practices the British transferred from one region to the other (including India, by the way)--such as administration detention, collective punishment--which Israel then also took up.

Some of the prisons built by the British in Palestine were very similar, and were based on lessons learned from Ireland and India. They used their knowledge of administrative rule in all their colonies to inform each other. It is also the origin of the Israeli right-wing, and Zionist, term for the occupied territories as 'administrative territories."
Patrick, le do thoil, bru balagh...

"the knowledge displayed here is unworthy of discussion. Israel withdrew from a 'security zone?'"

The standard term used by the Irish and British media, particularly in stories about the Irish contingent in UNIFIL was exactly that usually prefaced with "self-declared" or "so-called", as here, for example:


"the knowledge displayed here is unworthy of discussion"

If the "here" refers to your own contribution, I can only agree.
"I have Irish heritage..."

FYI Rugby fan - Irish nationalists, particularly of the more traditional stripe found in the GAA, describe soccer and rugby as "foreign" or "garrison" games.
"British governments in the 70s and 80s (and Thatcher in particular) never believed that the Republic of Ireland was pulling its weight in stopping cross-border raids"

"No one would deny the importance of military operations against the IRA, but it is a fantasy to suggest that the peace process came about because of 'a decisive military victory'."

I think that you're forgetting history here - the IRA was crushed at three points prior to the start of the modern Troubles in 1969 - the Civil War, World War II and the border campaign of the fifties. In each case, the Irish Free State, Republic of Ireland, 26-county regime or whatever you want to call it was quite unrestrained in its repression and quick to win. The IRA faced no force-feeding of hunger-strikers, capital punishment, reprisal killings by police or serious effort at internment in the North. With those, I'd have expected the PIRA campaign to have been over by the late seventies. Even without them, as the Irish journalist Ed Moloney argues at length in his book "The Secret History of the IRA", the Provos faced defeat by the mid-eighties and the leadership knew it.

As Bobby Sands' sister said at one point after the peace process began, "My brother didn't die for cross-border bodies and parity of esteem".
anonymous #2

The force with the strongest Irish links in the pre-state Irish mandate was probably Begin's Irgun, which was armed and possibly trained by members of the IRA. One-time Dublin Lord Mayor Bob Briscoe in particular was very active, but other activists were strongly sympathetic. My suspicion is that Irish republicans have tended to gravitate towards whoever is the most ruthless and violent actor on that particular stage, first the revisionists and then the PLO.
Just as an aside, and not addressing anybody in particular, I'd like to quote some some fine words:

"If you harbour terrorists, you are a terrorist. If you train or arm a terrorist, you are a terrorist. If you feed a terrorist or fund a terrorist, you're a terrorist and you will be held accountable."

The good thing about the man from Texas is that these days, Gerry Adams finds himself having to take the train around the US rather than fly. Fund him or support him and you're a terrorist and an enemy of the Republic. Considering that his party is the most vocal opponent of the US in Ireland and that his other friends are FARC, Castro, Arafat and Gaddafi, he's also an enemy of the United States.
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