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Israel’s World Cup complex and neighboring wars

During the last three World Cups, Israel was either preparing or had gone to war with one of its neighbors

Joyce Karam

Published: Updated:

During the last three World Cups, Israel was either preparing or had gone to war with one of its neighbors. In 2006, it was Lebanon, in 2010, it was airstrikes on Gaza, and this year while all eyes are on the final game in Brazil, Israel is attacking hundreds of targets in Gaza in response to Hamas’ rocket fire.

While the timing is coincidental, Israel’s confrontations during World Cup tournaments have become symptomatic of a larger problem in Israeli politics. Today, Israel is over dependent on its military might and finding itself increasingly isolated on the global stage amidst regional uncertainty and the collapse of the Peace process.

No “Ekecheiria”

As far back as 776 BC, with the Greek Olympics the world used sports tournaments to come together and shelve political differences. Not in today’s Middle East, however, and certainly not by Israel. The Olympic truce that the Greeks coined as “ekecheiria” does not find a synonym in the Israeli political lexicon. In 1982, and as Italy defeated West Germany in the World Cup in Spain, Israel swept through Beirut. The scars of that war repeated in 2006, when Israel launched airstrikes against Lebanon three days after Italy won that World Cup held in Germany then.

Interrupting the World Cup with war and conflict should not become an Israeli tradition

Joyce Karam

In 2010, Italy did not win, but Israel launched limited airstrikes against Gaza, as the World Cup was happening in Johannesburg, South Africa. And now, the paradigm continues, with Israel hitting more than 450 targets in Gaza in an operation that started during the Algeria-Germany face off on June 30 and in retaliation to the murderous killing of the three Israeli teens. The operation that now earned the name of “Protective Edge” continued during the quarter and semifinals in Brazil, and will most likely proceed till after the final game on Sunday. The aggression has so far left tens of Palestinians dead and more than 300 injured, with the level of hate and anger increasing on both sides and provoking retaliation acts.

Israel framed the goal of the operation as to punish and deter Hamas for the killing of the teens, and launching rockets into Israel. But “Protective Edge” duplicates previous tactics that Israel tried in 2006, 2008 and 2012 in Gaza and repeating it today is not a sign of success.

Military overdependence

Even Israel’s closest ally, the United States, sees the shortsightedness and unsustainable nature of Israel’s current strategy. Israel “cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely” said Philip Gordon, President’s Barack Obama coordinator for the Middle East. Gordon, speaking at the Haaretz annual conference in Jerusalem this week, spelled out clearly Israel’s problem. He asked: “How will it (Israel) have peace if it’s unwilling to delineate a border, end the occupation and allow for Palestinian sovereignty, security and dignity? How will we prevent other states from supporting Palestinian efforts in international bodies, if Israel is not seen as committed to peace?”

Gordon’s words will most likely ring hollow to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His strategy since assuming office in 2009 and before that in 1996, is buying time through security containment while expanding settlements and avoiding at any cost real compromises that would achieve peace. U.S. envoy to the Peace Process Martin Indyk is the third in that post to throw in the towel after dealing with Netanyahu. His resignation two weeks ago came at the heels of illegal settlement expansion by the Israeli government, and refusal to commit to its part of the prisoners exchange agreement last May.

There is no question that Israel has the strongest military in the Middle East today, and a very powerful political operation in Washington. There is no question as well that extremist groups such as Hamas are a threat to Israel’s security. But lacking a negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority, military action will not buy Israel stability and deterrence in the long term. The tide is shifting internationally, and the General Assembly’s vote with 138 countries saying “yes,” upgrading Palestine into a non-member observer state in 2012, is an indication of this shift.

Interrupting the World Cup with war and conflict should not become an Israeli tradition. Since Spain’s 1982 tournament, football teams have evolved while Israeli practices have largely remained the same and they promise to only get worse if no peace agreement transpires with the Palestinians before Russia’s tournament in 2018.

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Joyce Karam is the Washington Correspondent for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Twitter: @Joyce_Karam

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.