Raphael Hoult, winner of the inaugural Barry Rubin Prize Essay Competition. (photo from Raphael Hoult)
“A Game of Clocks: An Analysis of the Situation in the Middle East and Its Effects on Israel” by Winnipeg’s Raphael Hoult is the winner of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ inaugural Barry Rubin Prize Essay Competition.
Hoult, a physics major at the University of Winnipeg in his second year of studies, conjured up a mind-bending theory about the stability of Middle East security and consulted expert sources for his essay.
In physics, Hoult’s interests lie in the field of quantum gravitation, which attempts to combine two major theories – those of general relativity and quantum mechanics.
“These two theories don’t play well together,” said Hoult. “They conflict in places. The biggest place they conflict is in that every force in the universe has been quantized, meaning that we’ve found a very small, discrete package of it in the universe. For example, electromagnetism is delivered by something called a photon. The other forces have something that delivers them, as well. But, with gravity, we’ve found no such thing yet. What we say is we haven’t been able to quantify it, though there are a lot of theories out there for how to solve that problem. There’s string theory. Another is loop quantum gravity, that attempts to bring some parts together.
“I want to help look for a theory of quantum gravity, so we can finally resolve this dilemma … combine the two theories into one bigger theory, a more complete theory. And, hopefully, that will give us a lot more insight into the way gravity works and allow us to do more with our understanding of gravity – to utilize it more, similar to the way our deeper understanding of electricity and magnetism has allowed us to do more intricate electronics in the past couple years.”
According to Hoult, this reconciliation of quantum mechanics and general relativity has been the Holy Grail of physics for the past 50-some years, and solving it will be huge for physicists and the world as we know it.
“The proposed theoretical messenger particle for gravity is the graviton, which is something we’ve not yet observed at all,” he said. “Quantum mechanics requires there to be a graviton…. General relativity in no way makes reference to a graviton.
“The main thing is quantum mechanics works really well with very small things, general relativity works really well for really big things. Things with a lot of mass are usually very large. The problem comes when you have things that are very massive and also very small, such as neutron stars or black holes. These are very dense, have a lot of mass and exert a lot of gravitational force, but they are also very small. In the case of a black hole, they are actually on the atomic level. So, quantum mechanics is very important to the way they work, but general relativity also is in play. When our two theories don’t work and they are supposed to be working at the same time, that’s a problem and something we want to fix.”
In addition to his knowledge of physics, Hoult is also well-versed in Israeli politics. “I’ve actually never taken a political science course at university,” he acknowledged, “but I went to Gray Academy [of Jewish Education in Winnipeg], so I had a very strong basis in knowledge about Israel. I had a good grounding there. I also read the Times of Israel and Haaretz every day.”
When Hoult saw an advertisement for the Barry Rubin Essay Competition on Facebook, it piqued his interest. The contest topic was, “What does the current regional turmoil in the Middle East mean for Israel?”
In his essay, Hoult said, “The three main critical points I talked about were the constancy of Hezbollah, Hamas and Daesh (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria [ISIS]). I wrote about the fact that Hezbollah is involved in the war in Syria, specifically as affiliates of Bashar Al-Assad. They support him and are fighting on behalf of him. On the flipside, a branch of ISIS, called Al-Wilayat Sinai, is operating in the Sinai Peninsula desert against the Egyptians, making their lives very difficult. They’ve also struck up an alliance with Hamas.”
According to Hoult, the main three players in regards to Israel involve Hezbollah in the north, Hamas in Gaza and Al-Wilayat Sinai (Daesh) in the south. Hoult does not delve into the Iranian threat in his essay, apart from Iran’s role in supporting these groups.
“My hypothesis was that these three forces are connected to one another,” he said. “And, because of the ongoing campaign against ISIS, my hypothesis is that, as soon as that campaign succeeds and breaks down ISIS, all hell will break loose for Israel.”
Hoult explained that this theory takes into account Hezbollah’s huge military arsenal, which is estimated at around 100,000 rockets, and their ability to hit every point in Israel from Metula to Eilat, combined with the southern threat from Hamas and from the Al-Wilayat Sinai, which, so far, has been mainly fighting the Egyptians.
“Once ISIS collapses in the north, the Al-Wilayat Sinai … will suddenly be like a tentacle that has been cut off from the squid,” he said. “It will have no control and will be in desperate throes to stay alive, making it likely that it will involve at least a couple cross-border raids. If those involve any Israeli deaths, it will force Israel to respond, which is an issue, due to the fact that Israel can’t cross the border without Egyptian permission.
“There is also the fact that Hamas is having another military build-up,” he added.
Hoult predicts this will likely lead to another war in 2017 and, once that war is over, he said Hezbollah would have had ample time to gather its troops and possibly attack Israel from the north. “This is not a good thing for Israel, as Hezbollah is dead set on destroying Israel if they can,” he said.
As to why Hoult thinks his essay was selected as the winner, he said he is not sure, although he imagines it may have “had something to do with all the sources cited, creating a compelling likelihood of my hypotheses coming true.”
One of his many concerns is that “the primary backer of Hezbollah and Hamas is Iran. Iran has just had billions of dollars unlocked, due to the nuclear deal … which I’m not going to condemn or support, though I’m a little bit skeptical of whether or not unlocking those funds was a good thing.”
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.