An IDF Veteran Reflects on an Indian Graveyard in Jerusalem

Nov. 13 2017

While Americans observe November 11—the anniversary of the end of World War I—as Veterans’ Day, for the British Commonwealth it is Remembrance Day, and ceremonies are held at military cemeteries around the world. Matti Friedman comments on one such commemoration held near his home:

My most unsettling neighbors here in Jerusalem are Indians: Afzal Hussein Shah, Chulam Muhammad, Mansub Ali. . . . They, [and those buried alongside them], were children of British India, attached to units like the 124th Duchess of Connaught’s Own Baluchistan Infantry. Many were Muslims; others were Hindus and Sikhs. They traveled far from home to fight the Islamic empire of the Ottoman Turks in Palestine. They must have expected, or at least hoped, to make it back to their families. They were instead felled by bullets, shrapnel, or disease, and remained in this cemetery through the improbable creation of a Jewish state.

They could hardly have imagined that the empire that sent them to fight would vanish—that some of their hometowns would lose their connection not only to Britain but also to India and would become part of a different country entirely, Pakistan. How could they have known that the cause for which they died would become nearly incomprehensible within the span of the lives they should have lived? Only the dead are frozen in their old wars. The soldiers who walk away are left to watch everything change. . . .

In my own time in an Israeli infantry company in the last three years of the 20th century, during a small but very long border war against Hizballah, I believed that an isolated hilltop outpost in southern Lebanon was worth my life and those of my friends. But in the spring of 2000 the army withdrew, and soldiers from my company blew up the outpost. Now it was worthless. . . .

Seventeen years have passed. It’s not that today’s Middle East would be unrecognizable only to the soldiers of 1917, like those buried in my neighborhood. Today’s Middle East would be unrecognizable to the younger version of me who reported to a draft office twenty years ago.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Jerusalem, War, World War I

The Struggle for Iraq, and What It Means for Israel

Oct. 17 2018

Almost immediately after the 2003 invasion, Iraq became a battleground between the U.S. and Iran, as the latter sent troops, money, and arms to foment and support an insurgency. The war on Islamic State, along with the Obama administration’s effort to align itself with the Islamic Republic, led to a temporary truce, but also gave Tehran-backed militias a great deal of power. Iran has also established a major conduit of supplies through Iraq to support its efforts in Syria. Meanwhile, it is hard to say if the recent elections have brought a government to Baghdad that will be pro-American or pro-Iranian. Eldad Shavit and Raz Zimmt comment how these developments might affect Israel:

Although statements by the U.S. administration have addressed Iran’s overall activity in the region, they appear to emphasize the potential for confrontation in Iraq. First and foremost, this [emphasis] stems from the U.S. perception of this arena as posing the greatest danger, in light of the extensive presence of U.S. military and civilian personnel operating throughout the country, and in light of past experience, which saw many American soldiers attacked by Shiite militias under Iranian supervision. The American media have reported that U.S. intelligence possesses information indicating that the Shiite militias and other elements under Iranian auspices intend to carry out attacks against American targets and interests. . . .

In light of Iran’s intensifying confrontation with the United States and its mounting economic crisis, Tehran finds it essential to maintain its influence in Iraq, particularly in the event of a future clash with the United States. The Iranian leadership has striven to send a message of deterrence to the United States regarding the implications of a military clash. . . .

A recently published report also indicates that Iran transferred ballistic missiles to the Shiite militias it supports in Iraq. Although Iran has denied this report, it might indeed attempt to transfer advanced military equipment to the Shiite militias in order to improve their capabilities in the event of a military confrontation between Iran and the United States and/or Israel, or a confrontation between [the militias] and the central government in Baghdad.

From Israel’s perspective, after years when the Iraqi arena received little attention from Israeli decision makers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have mentioned the possibility of Israel’s taking action against Iranian targets in Iraq. In this context, and particularly in light of the possibility that Iraq could become an arena of greater conflict between the United States and Iran, it is critical that there be full coordination between Israel and the United States. This is of particular importance due to [the American estimation of] stability in Iraq as a major element of the the campaign against Islamic State, which, though declared a success, is not yet complete.

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More about: Barack Obama, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Israel & Zionism, U.S. Foreign policy