Saturday, November 08, 2008

Skunk: Israel Advances Non-Lethal Methods of Social Control, The Palestinian Government May be the First to Purchase It

For years,the Israeli government has been criticized severely for the way it which it deals with both insurgency and protest. It has become something of a truism within the European media class and certain elements of European civil society that the Israeli's are always to be criticized in this respect. The reason, of course, is simple enough--they are on the wrong side of the conflict with the Palestinians--and the media plays a critical role in the education of the masses (now equipped with electoral power). That the severest criticism has come from those states whose own governments in recent memory used extraordinarily brutal tactics to suppress their own ethnic or religious violence is ironic. See Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Commentary No. 40: Irish Nationalist Terrorism Outside Ireland: Out-of-Theatre Operations 1972-1993 (an analyst with the Analysis and Production Branch of CSIS, February 1994, unclassified).

Of particular concern has been the issue of proportionality--a concept of European civil law that has acquired a life of its own within international law and relations. Its ultimate notions are grounded in a managerialism that has come to substitute for the classical presumptions of international relations--conflict, victory, and punishment. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it has a more direct use--as a weapon in the media battles for the support of outside intervenors. See, e.g., Ahmed Abdullah, Israel Unleashes Skunk Bomb, Al Jazeera, July 10, 2008 ("Israel has always used disproportionate force in the occupied Palestinian territories, especially political hot-spots where there are regular protests against harsh Israeli policies." Id.).

In the modern world, law is deployed to channel the use of power to manage disputes--to render conflicts less bloody and more costly. The great model, perhaps, is that of the "cold war" where the Americans were able to outspend and outlast their Soviet adversaries. Small wars, little and contained hot conflicts are tolerated as the precise movements of pieces in the greater game, but no such small move is allowed to get int he way of the ultimate goal--the preservation of human and other assets for the benefit of those who control them as they are passed around and their utility maximized among those who manage these things. Larry Catá Backer, The Devil’s Advocate: The West, the Invincible Guerrilla, the Value of Violence and the Rise of a Management Model of War, Law at the End of the Day, August 7, 2006; Larry Catá Backer, Manging the Warfare of the Oppressed--Containing the Exuberance of Darfur Warriors Law at the End of the Day, May 11, 2008.

The Israeli's have not been insensitive to this problem. And it appears that this sensitivity has a produced a reaction that may well have great value, not only to the Israelis but to their adversaries in the Palestinian Territories as well, along with all governments seeking a greater control of their populations. Thus, it seems, the English media apparatus has both reverted to form and reluctantly reported a change in the "game" of managing Israeli responses to its neighbors and adversaries. Wyre Davies, New Israeli Weapon Kicks Up Stink, BBC News Online, October 2, 2008. Following the rhetorical form of the earlier article appearing in Al Jazeera (Ahmed Abdullah, Israel Unleashes Skunk Bomb, supra), the Davies article for the BBC starts, as usual for stories of this type, with a condemnation of Israeli tactics--that requires both an episodic story of brutality and a compelling figure.
Three weeks ago, Israeli soldiers burst into Awwad Sror's small family home in the Palestinian West Bank town of Nilin.

Mr Sror's family say that when he intervened as troops arrested his younger brother, Aqal, he was shot from close range with at least three rubber-coated steel bullets.

One hit him in the chest, another smashed his jaw, while a third entered his right eye socket and fractured his skull. . . .

Israel has investigated the incident and has concluded that the soldier who fired the shots acted properly when Mr Sror tried to stop his brother being taken away.

The family argues it was an excessive use of force.

Wyre Davies, New Israeli Weapon Kicks Up Stink, supra. And it comes with a wonderfully evocative picture of the victim. All is good--from the point of view of Mr. Davies as he serves his masters and the greater cause. We know who we ought to believe, and who ought to be punished.

But that is not the point of the story. "Acutely aware of accusations that it is using disproportionate force in political hot-spots like Nilin, Israel is deploying a new, non-lethal but highly effective and highly-offensive weapon. It's called Skunk. Imagine the worst, most foul thing you have ever smelled. An overpowering mix of rotting meat, old socks that haven't been washed for weeks - topped off with the pungent waft of an open sewer." Id. This, too, is accompanies by a suitably evocative picture--of a person suffering from the stench. The story actually broke in 2004, but appears to have taken a turn this year. See Hugh McManners, Israelis Invent Stink Bomb for Riot Control, The Independent, Sept. 18. 2004.

On its face, Skunk appears to be a useful response to the managerial problem of Israeli-Palestinian relations--a way for the violence to continue but accompanied by a reduction in the resulting lethal or injurious response of the Israelis (though nothing, of course is required of the adversary). Is this the kind of internal management of violence the Europeans can relate to: "The beauty of Skunk - if beauty is the right word - is that it is said to be completely organic. . . . No illegal chemicals, no proscribed substances - just a thoroughly disgusting mix of yeast, baking powder and a few other "secret" ingredients. . . . "It's totally harmless, you can even drink it," boasted Superintendent Harosh - as though encouraging me to swallow a mouthful." Wyre Davies, New Israeli Weapon Kicks Up Stink, supra.

One would think that this innovation is for the good--less killing and fewer injuries. But that would be wrong. It is precisely the need for killing and injury that continues to feed the European media with the commodity it needs most--"news" of Israeli brutality it can use to produce product (news stories) and further its editorial position (that Israel must go--at least as currently constituted). And that killing must be cultivated. Thus the 'analysis':

First, it is suggested that this new control agent may have no effect on the Israeli lust for killing and injury. Despite its potential use, "protesters and villagers are still being killed and seriously injured in the West Bank by more conventional weapons." Wyre Davies, New Israeli Weapon Kicks Up Stink, supra.

Second, the Israelis are depicted, if subtly, as ghouls for thinking this stuff up. And there is a bit of the diabolical--but not unusual when deployed iconically (if perhaps unconsciously) against Jews. "Superintendent David Ben Harosh treats Skunk as something of a pet project. The way he hugged the litre bottle of dirty, green liquid close to his chest as we talked was odd - most people would surely keep it at arm's length." Id. This is an old canard--in England at least. See Hugh McManners, Israelis Invent Stink Bomb for Riot Control, The Independent, Sept. 18. 2004 ("The ever-ingenious inventors at Israel's weapons research and development directorate. . . . The Israelis have always been innovators of military technology. Their Merkova tank was designed with a rear compartment for carrying the bodies of their dead from the battlefield. But tanks can be sitting ducks to protesters, who can set fire to them. Israel Military Industries has developed tank shells that explode immediately after leaving the tank's barrel, deafening and terrifying but not seriously injuring bystanders.").

Third, the extended use of Skunk will change the balance of power in the management of the conflict. Riots, protests, and resistance will be easier for the Israelis to manage. One need only spray. One need not even arrest on the spot. There is a longer period during which those involved can be discovered and managed. Moreover, it will be easier to reach a greater umber of participants. All one has to do is follow the smell. "Imagine being covered in the stuff as it is liberally sprayed from a water cannon. Then imagine not being able to get rid of the stench for at least three days, no matter how often you try to scrub yourself clean." Wyre Davies, New Israeli Weapon Kicks Up Stink, supra.

Fourth, the strategic uses will have a substantial impact of great use beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is a useful method of marking protesters and others involved in public displays of any kind a state finds it necessary to manage. Where one had to rely on television and pictures to identify people who might easily blend into the general population--those escape routes will be significantly narrowed with the use of Skunk. Any state interested in managing spontaneous exuberance--as well as violence directed from within or without--will find this product very tempting. But more importantly, it will also be available to violent elements of civil society seeking top incapacitate their adversaries. At least that is the potential.

ANTI-whaling activists admit to throwing about 12 stink bombs onto a Japanese whaling ship after two of its crew were released, and are planning more attacks. . . . Captain of the Steve Irwin Paul Watson denied any attack on the Yushin Maru No. 3, saying he had not even seen such a boat. But he confirmed the group launched a “retaliatory strike” of butyric acid “stink bombs” at the Yushin Maru No. 2, about one hour after activists Benjamin Potts and Giles Lane were transferred to the Australian customs boat, the Oceanic Viking. Butyric acid is a non-corrosive substance and smells like rancid butter. “We sprayed them with butyric acid, which is a noxious stink bomb, and the smell stays there for a few days. While it is on the deck it is pretty hard to do any work, like kill a whale,” Mr Watson said.
Melissa Jenkins, Whale Activists Admit to Stink Bombs, The Australian, Jan. 19, 2008. This activity, of course, may substantially reduce the power of civil society efforts against the use of organic stink weapons.

Fifth, this will affect both the way in which protests can be constructed and the way in which they are covered. Reporters will have to be warier on their coverage, their potentially greater invisibility will have an effect on the way protests are orchestrated, and the ability of the state to discover participants will be much greater and an be asserted at leisure (they will have up to three days to follow the trail). It is no surprise, then, that "For human rights groups, the jury is still out on Skunk. They object to the arbitrary way in which innocent bystanders can be soaked with the stuff - having to suffer for days afterwards." Wyre Davies, New Israeli Weapon Kicks Up Stink, supra. More likely, they object to their own marking with the stuff. After all, Hamas, for example, is famous for suggesting that in conflicts like those between Palestinians and Israelis, there are no innocent parties. It will be hard to continue to have it both ways with a non toxic alternative to managing these public affairs. But most important of all is the way in which the Skunk will be useful for identifying and keeping track of people. At some point it is likely that Skunk will be part of a system of tagging and tracking. That will go a long way toward systems of managing conflicts--but one in which power shifts away from insurgents and the masses they might deploy to cover their actions, and toward the states against such activity is directed. The Israelis will not be able to keep this to themselves for long.

Sixth, it is clear that the Israelis intend to make the product available to other states. "The Israeli police force has high hopes of turning Skunk into a commercial venture and selling it to law-enforcement agencies overseas." Wyre Davies, New Israeli Weapon Kicks Up Stink, supra. But they face competition from the Americans. See David Hamling, U.S. Weapons Research Raising a Stink, The Guardian, July 10, 2008. Its manufacturer, "General Dynamics, says the XM1063 will "suppress, disperse or engage personnel" and "deny personnel access to, use of, or movement through a particular area, point or facility" (=see PDF)." Id. ("The Pentagon has been working on such chemicals for years, and a recent US army briefing on future artillery concepts specifically mentions artillery-delivered malodorants. (see PDF)" Id.). But the American effort appears to face a possible impediment--the possibility that its use will be challenged as a chemical weapon whose use is forbidden under international convention.

Experts suggest three possible payloads: an existing riot-control agent, malodorants or a new chemical agent. Existing agents include CS gas and a form of pepper spray. But these seem unlikely choices, because their effects only last minutes, and could wear off before friendly forces arrive. They could also face a legal challenge: the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention prohibits the use of riot control agents in warfare. "The matter is further complicated if pepper gas was used as the irritant since this is a plant toxin," says Steve Wright of Leeds Metropolitan University. "Such toxins are explicitly banned."

Id. The Israeli Skunk product does not appear to suffer from these problems. The American military, and those of any other state with restive populations or insurgencies--from Egypt to Sri Lanka, are likely to line up for purchases, even as they continue to condemn its manufacturer for going tot he trouble of inventing and selling it.

And the first customer might well be Fatah. Hamas Boycotts Palestinian Talks, BBC News Online, Nov. 8, 2008 ("Hamas accused the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of arresting hundreds of its members in the Fatah-controlled West Bank" Id.). How better to control factional fighting without incurring criticism from even media friends abroad! Indeed, across the world, the possibilities are enormous.

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