Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Israel's Tragic Gaza Dilemma

From an OPINION in The Wall Street Journal, JANUARY 4, 2009, by MAX BOOT, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author:

A modern democracy can't be as ruthless in counterinsurgency as Russia or Algeria.

There is little doubt that Israel is morally justified in its offensive against Hamas. No nation can sit by and allow its territory to be rocketed with impunity. .... But ...it seems highly unlikely that they will be able to decisively defeat the terrorist organization on their southern border.

Achieving total victory would require waging war in the way that America fought Germany and Japan -- all out and on many fronts until the enemy has no more capacity to resist. Then it would have to occupy the ruined land, imposing a peace at gunpoint to ensure that Gaza could never again be a launching point for attacks on Israel.

None of this is beyond the Israelis' military capacity .... They could also impose a peace at gunpoint. ....

Yet the odds are they won't. .... Israel is not Russia -- or Algeria or Burma or Syria or any other state that has taken a scorched-earth approach to counterinsurgency in recent decades. Israel is a liberal democracy in the modern age whose military operations are conducted under the intense scrutiny of lawyers, judges, opposition politicians, reporters and human-rights activists. And those are just its own internal watchdogs. To these must be added the "international community," which monitors Israeli actions with a degree of interest and antipathy reserved for no other state in the world.

For all the accusations of brutality that are routinely flung at Israel's armed forces, their conduct has been exemplary by historical standards. They have shown far less propensity for indiscriminate killing or torture than did European states in the 1950s when confronting insurgencies in such places as Kenya, Cyprus, Vietnam and Algeria, where the stakes for them were considerably less. The only comparable example of restraint is the conduct of the U.S. armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States, too, earns world-wide opprobrium for alleged brutality rather than approbation for its humanity.

...The tragedy for Israel is that a strategy of bolstering indigenous allies is not an option in Gaza. Hamas is, for all of the flaws of the electoral process, the choice of the people. No matter how much of a beating it suffers, there is little reason to think that Fatah could or would come in and effectively administer the territory in a way that would safeguard Israel's security. In the current, feverish atmosphere of Palestinian politics, those who would act with restraint toward the "Zionist entity" are branded as "collaborators" and liable to be killed.

That leaves only one option if Israel wants a friendly, or at least nonhostile, administration in Gaza: It would have to provide that governance itself. Before the first intifada broke out in 1987, Israel was able to administer both the Gaza Strip and West Bank at astonishingly low cost. But the intifada effectively made Israelis feel ashamed of themselves and ended their willingness to bear the costs of "occupation." In 2005, Israel evacuated its settlers from the Gaza Strip in no small part to wipe clean its moral slate.

We now know the settlers' departure did not mollify the extremists. It only emboldened them. So the Israeli armed forces are forced to re-enter the Gaza Strip on a mission without a clear exit strategy or even an obvious definition of victory. That is far from ideal, but it may also be unavoidable.

The essential dilemma Israel faces is this: It can't ignore Hamas's attacks, not only because of the damage they inflict, but also because of the terrible precedent they set. Israel has always been a state that is one battle away from destruction, and it cannot allow its enemies to think that it can be attacked with impunity. But at the same time Israel cannot do what it takes to wipe out the enemy, because of the constraints imposed by its own public, which is far less willing than in the past to suffer or inflict bloodletting.

So the Jewish state is forced to fight an unsatisfying war of attrition with Hamas, Hezbollah and other entities bent on its destruction. The current incursions are only one stage of this lengthy struggle. The odds are that once Israeli troops leave, Hamas will rebuild its infrastructure, forcing the Israelis to go back in the future.

This is the definition of a quagmire, yet Israel has no choice but to keep doing what it's doing. Unlike the French in Algeria or the Americans in Vietnam, it cannot simply pack its bags and go home. If Israel is to continue to exist, it will have to continue to wage low-intensity war for a long time to come -- definitely years, probably decades, possibly centuries.

Israelis have to discard Gen. Douglas MacArthur's famous maxim: "War's objective is victory -- not prolonged indecision. In war there is no substitute for victory." They will have to settle for a substitute because from their standpoint "prolonged indecision" is better than the alternatives -- the annihilation of themselves, which would be unthinkable, or of their enemies, which would be unconscionable.


bigd7187 said...

It is such a shame that one feels that the Israeli Government has legitimacy in its attacks (invasion) in Gaza,since the ceasefire was broken by the Israel Defense Force in the first place which created the high level of tension that has led to this crisis/invasion. Therefore this can not be seen as a defensive move by Israel but an offensive attack in order to enforce Israeli control over Gaza. Also this is a debate about legitimacy and democracy not solely about the security of the Israeli state. No state has the right to challenge a democracy through war and destruction in order to strengthen their ideals inside a region at the expense of innocent lives taking away the so called legitimacy of the Israeli attacks because they disagree on the choice of the electorate in a neighboring territory. Also you keep referring to Hamas as a terrorist organization however they are also a democratically elected party recognized internationally hence Israel challenging a legitimate democracy who has the same right of security than the Israeli government. Legitimacy has also been destroyed through the attacks on clearly marked UN run schools, building and the killings of hundreds of innocent lives, which are protected under the Geneva Convention and the UN Charter, breaking the international rules of conflict and the Just War Theory.

You also go on to say Israeli is not like the US in Japan however a recent report from the Israeli MP and Leader: Afghdor Liberman saying that "Gaza has to be erased from the Map by Nuclear bombs like what Americans used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki." a government official contradicting such a statement and showing how far Israel are prepared to go.

One can not legitimize a states action by relative terms. You would not legitimize a murderer because he did not murder the person as in such an inhuman way than Dr Crippen, breaking international law in anyway (small or large) should be punished by the international community. Israel is breaking international law on a daily basis and needs to be dealt with through the official channels and needs to be held to account by the international community.

Israel has a choice and can withdraw inline with a ceasefire through internationally observed negotiations with the democratic government of Hamas within Gaza, this would be a huge positive step towards peace in the region and could start stabilizing the region. This is a move to secure security for both parties involved in this crisis.

Israeli governance in Gaza and in Palestine is not an option the only true and legitimate way forward is the creation of the official Palestinian state. For Israel to take political and military control away from the people of Gaza is a form of genocide and a willingness to destroy a ancient culture derived within the land.

(This is a legitimate response and should be posed as legitimate critique, every story has two sides let the world see that through this blog)

Steve Lieblich said...

Thanks for your comment "bigd7187", but you forget a few key points:

Hamas may have been democratically elected, but so was Hitler and many other brutal dictators who used democracy to gain power, then brutalised their own constituency to keep it and attack neighbours.

After being elected, Hamas cemented its stranglehold on Gaza, and its people in a bloody coup, that included throwing political opponents off tall buildings.

Democratic election doesn't make them right. Hamas's charter (Google it to read the original) clearly is aimed at destroying Israel and killing Jews.

Israel withdrew from Gaza and the territory has been used ever since, NOT to build an economy or the apparatus of a civilised state, but as a platform for terrorism, and education towards hatred and martyrdom.

Israel is justified in any measure it takes to destroy Hamas....and the Palestinians will be better off for it.

bigd7187 said...

You have made some very interesting points however I would like to enlighten you on some facts about the economic position since Hamas gained democratic power over Gaza which I believe you have over looked.

By the time Hamas took power Israel closed its border crossings with Gaza and prohibiting all exports and allowing only enough goods to avert a humanitarian or health crisis. Therefore there was no ability for Hamas to rebuild the Gaza economy within it needed its boarders to be open and free in order for the resources needed to rebuild in the long run. Israel never gave Hamas and the Palestinian people a chance to put in place an economic policy of regeneration. I strongly believe if Israel kept to the original ceasefire in June 2008 that Hamas would not use its militant force to attack and if they did have no legitimacy to do so. However because of Israel failing to allow resources and aid through its boarders Hamas defended its position the only way it could to gain international attention and gain the resources it needs to rebuild the territory. Israel might have withdrawn its military (as you said) but still used its economic boarders as a weapon of war, a gun it’s not the only weapon for war.
As Sami Abdel Shafi (US business men now working within Gaza was quoted
"They are able to pick up the pieces and go forward - but nothing can go forward without the freedom of movement." Showing that they need co-operation from Israel for Gaza to be able to rebuild economically. Therefore it is not totally Hamas not being able to build a viable economy; it is the economic and political sanctions from the Israeli government.


• Some Palestinians craved medicine and food because Israel had cut off most supplies from entering Gaza as punishment for militants' firing rockets into southern Israel (Time Magazine)
• Trade with Israel and Jordan accounts for 98% of all Palestinian exports, but the private sector will not prosper as long as Israeli checkpoints and cumbersome cargo crossings remain in place, the World Bank said in a report published in December 2008. (BBC News)
• Meanwhile, the United Nations has its own big reconstruction projects - a new sewerage system for Gaza and 1,200 new dwellings for homeless people. However, many of the UN's projects stand idle, because materials are very slow coming across the border with Israel (BBC News)

Also the international and internal monetary cycle for Gaza comes through the Israeli banking system and due to the economic sanction put in place by Israel the monetary cycle has been cut and therefore no money can be withdrawn or deposited. Even civil servants working under Hamas and being paid by the Hamas government but can not deposit their legitimate pay check due to Israeli banks ceasing them. At the same time UN monetary injections have had to be stopped because the Israeli banking system has been blocking them from entry to Gaza.

At the same time the Israeli government has made it clear that it is not pursuing this issue for the greater good of the Palestinians, if they were then they would allow humanitarian workers and their aid the freedom to enter to relive the pressure for the innocent individuals inside Gaza. I don’t believe Israeli military occupation is the way for peace and a better standard of living for Palestinians; it is a way of forming greater tension and gives the Israeli government the ability to enforce a form of genocide.

The Israelis are fuelling the extremism of the next generation. If Israel chooses to continue punishing a whole nation of people for the actions of a few, this conflict will never end. Instead, Israel should defuse the extremism by working to build the Palestinian economy. They need to reopen Gaza borders and not only allow aid from other countries to go to Gaza, but also work to provide aid on their own. Instead of working to destroy the infrastructure of Hamas, they need to work to build the infrastructure of Gaza. If Israel can improve the lives of Palestinians, Hamas and other extremist groups will be helpless to do anything but watch as their support dwindles. Since the military attacks on Gaza, the Palestinian citizen has had a sharp decline in the standards of living with limited electricity due to Israel cutting off power and hardly any freedom to enter or exit their homes let alone Gaza for fear of the Israeli military killing them.

Also deep negotiations in the last year under the title ‘The Saudi Plan” which was inside the forum of the League of Arab Nations making clear if the two state solution as near as possible to the 1948 boundaries was made a reality all Arab state government (including Hamas) would legitimately recognize Israel as a legitimate state. However Israel keep rejecting any sort of deal and therefore continuing to be the aggressors in this situation and have no willingness to ease political and military tensions in the region.

Hamas needs to learn to operate more in a sphere of international politics as the world expects a legitimate government but its political wing needs to be listened to rather than being ignored which is fueling the military wing of Hamas.

If the military intensity stays the same for much longer there would be the smallest percentage of Palestinians to help and there won’t be any infrastructure left for those who are left to survive because Israel are targeting all the amenities needed for a basic standard of living. There needs to be an international political negotiated deal that forms a roadmap for peace, military use is not the way to solve the regions problems but to make them worse.

Steve Lieblich said...

Dear "bigd7187"
Why should Israel feed an enemy intent on destroying the nation and killing all Jews? That's simply asking Israel to commit suicide.

It's not that difficult, and the world has made it clear to Hamas:

1. Accept the legitimacy of Israel.
2. Renounce violence.
3. Honour all previous agreements.

...and, let me add...
4. Release Gilad Shalit

Then we will see a responsible entity, prepared to behave in a civilised manner.

End of the suffering ....

However,their Iranian paymasters / weapons suppliers / military trainers wouldn't let them do that, would they?

And the longer you go on supporting and rationalising their disgusting behaviour, the longer everyone will suffer....because israel will not just lay down and die, as you ask it to.

bigd7187 said...

You say it is that simple however you are arguing that a two way street is actually as one way street. Palestinians will not surrender their territory and except demands by Israel if Israel do not keep to their side of any peace deal set about by the international community, such as re-opening the economic boarders in order for Gaza and the Palestinian people to develop and stabilise the region. Negotiations are a two way street, these agreements come from negotiations. Therefore it is not just Hamas not keeping within the agreements but also Israel, arguably, to a worse extent. Israel is not even dealing with the situation in a civilised manner through out all conflicts and times of ‘peace’ in the region why should the Palestinians give up everything and Israel nothing, takes away the fundamental criteria for negotiations to work. If Israel wants to see the terms met which you have outlined then they will have to meet the terms that have been set out in past ceasefires and agreements at the same time, a process of give and take.

Hundreds that are turning into thousands, of innocent Palestinian lives being taken away compared to a handful Israeli deaths (I am not trying to justify Hamas’s militant action and saying that it is ok for Israeli’s to die) I am trying to explain the relativity of this crisis, showing who the true aggressor is and who is suffering on a daily basis.

Break down of relative death Stats

27th Dec 2008 to 15th Jan 2009-01-16

• 13 Israelis (including 3 civilians)
Compared to
• 1095 Palestinians are estimated to have been killed in this conflict.

I believe these stats can’t be justified on any level and should be condemned on every level to ensure a movement for peace for those who are suffering.

Israel is feeding the humanitarian crisis inside Gaza and have away to help the situation but choose not to and choose not to accept this crisis that is effecting and a making people inside the territory have deeper hatred for those who oppress them illegally.

I am trying to condemn all violence and push for international negotiations, one that pushes for violence on any front makes them on the same level as a terrorist spokes person.

Iran will back away when its brothers in Gaza gain peace and both sides work towards a legitimate territory to ensure stabilisation inside the region, this will then see the progression of Israel being recognised throughout the Middle East. Israel’s continuing attacks and pressures on Gaza are fuelling the Iranians reasons for wanting to gain an influence in Gaza and attack Israel through political means (In the same way the United States has down along side Israel), it’s protecting its own from an illegal oppressor.

Israel has the capacity to wipe Gaza off the map, which is what they want to do and to a certain extent you are arguing should happen. However Hamas do not have that capacity to wipe out Israel, therefore relativity and legitimacy dies along side innocent Palestinians. If Israel agrees to a ceasefire through international negotiations (the argument I am making) Israel will not die and be destroyed, the last ceasefire and time of “peace” showed that if Palestinians are not attacked or left in a position of great need then militant attacks on Israel will die down and eventually stop. Push for peace not destruction; push for two states not a single dominant force in the region, then you will see peace. No state will achieve it through an act of war.

Steve Lieblich said...

dear bigd7187
"...trying to explain the relativity of this crisis, showing who the true aggressor..." is not done by comparing numbers of casualties.

When NATO intervened in Kosovo, the world applauded and end to the atrocities by Serbia, but NATO bombarded by air, killing up to 1,500 civilians as collateral damage to killing 120 Srrb militants. There were NIL NATO casualties (it's easy when you do it all from the air...no ground invasion).

The fact that Israel has better intelligence, better military and nbetter civil defences (bomb shelters and warning systems) doesn't make Israel the villian...quite the contrary.