Friday, November 28, 2014

The Gaza Trap

TEL AVIV – Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” against Hamas in Gaza is the kind of asymmetrical warfare that has characterized nearly all Middle East conflicts in recent years. Victories in such wars are always elusive.

Whatever the achievements of Israel’s superior army and its anti-missile systems, and however appalling the devastation of Gaza, Hamas will survive, if only because Israel wants it to. The alternative – jihadist anarchy that would turn Gaza into a Palestinian Somalia – is simply too unbearable to contemplate.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshal’s boastful rhetoric cannot hide the fact that Hamas’s military power has been dealt a devastating blow. But, unless Israel is ready to pay an exceptionally high price in terms of its international standing by occupying Gaza and destroying its entire military hierarchy and arsenal, Hamas can still claim victory, having survived yet another onslaught by Israel’s colossal military machine.

The superior power in an asymmetrical conflict always has a problem defining its objectives. In this case, Israel aspires to achieve “quiet” with few enough Palestinian civilian casualties to minimize international criticism. But the failure to achieve this goal is precisely where the superior power is defeated in asymmetrical conflicts. Moreover, “quiet” is not a strategic goal; nor is Israel’s way of pursuing it – a war every two or three years – particularly convincing.

The real question is this: Assuming that Israel gets the quiet that it wants, what does it intend to do with Gaza in the future? And what does it intend to do with the Palestinian problem of which Gaza is an integral part?

The question of Palestine is at the root of the asymmetrical wars that Israel has been facing in recent years, not only against Hamas, Qatar’s Palestinian client, but also against Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in the region. These wars are creating a new kind of threat to Israel, for they add to the conflicts’ strictly military dimension the domains of diplomacy, regional politics, legitimacy, and international law, in which Israel does not have the upper hand.

As a result, in asymmetrical conflicts, Israel finds its military superiority vitiated. These are political battles that cannot be won by military means. The asymmetry between the nature of the threats and Israel’s response ends up putting the superior military power in a position of strategic inferiority. The spread of violence to the West Bank – and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s support of Hamas’s objectives – means that Israel cannot avoid the conflict’s political consequences. Hamas, a neglected opponent of Abbas’s diplomatic strategy, is gradually becoming the avant-garde of Palestine’s struggle for liberation.

Contrary to what Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu believes, the main existential threat facing the country is not a nuclear-armed Iran. The real peril is to be found at home: the corrosive effect of the Palestinian problem on Israel’s international standing. The devastation caused by Israel’s periodic asymmetrical confrontations, combined with the continuing occupation of Palestinian lands and the ever-growing expansion of settlements, has fueled a growing campaign to undermine Israel’s legitimacy.

For example, the seemingly benign Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, viewed by many of its supporters as a legitimate form of non-violent resistance, has continued to gain ground. BDS’s opponents (including me) regard the movement as a political subterfuge intended to bring about the implosion of the Jewish state.

The Palestinian mainstream, represented by Abbas, made a strategic decision to opt for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders. Israel’s strategic response would normally be that it aspires to be a “Jewish democratic state,” which presupposes a Jewish majority. But if the never-ending peace process continues to fail to produce a two-state solution, how can Israel avoid the reality of a single state in a continuous state of civil war?

There is only one way out of the Gaza tragedy that can provide justice to its many victims: The parties to the conflict and the regional actors now vying to act as mediators must leverage the ongoing calamity into a grand peace agenda.

This would mean launching a Marshall Plan to upgrade Gaza’s infrastructure and improve social conditions. It would also entail lifting the blockade and opening Gaza to the world. The price Hamas would have to pay is complete disarmament and demilitarization of Gaza under international supervision, with Abbas’s Palestinian Authority controlling the border crossings into Israel and Egypt.

Simultaneously, negotiations for a two-state solution should resume, with an unequivocal commitment by the United States and the other members of the so-called Middle East Quartet (the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia) to use all possible influence on the parties to prevent another failure.

Israel is devoid of a convincing strategy; what it has is a series of improvisations aimed at securing the nation’s physical survival on as much land as the international community might allow. But improvisation is simply unsustainable in the long run. For example, Israel has reached out to those Arab countries that are willing to subordinate the Palestinian problem to discreet bilateral relations, essentially on security matters. But any such “alliances” that Israel might be able to develop – say, with Saudi Arabia and Egypt – can only be circumstantial and ephemeral.

The challenge for Israel is to tie its military tactics and diplomacy to a clearly defined political goal. And a credible national strategy must recognize that as long as the Palestinian conflict remains unresolved, Israel’s moral foundations and international standing will be dangerously compromised.

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    1. CommentedJohann Savalle

      Israel is under attack. The Media is doing more damage than Hamas. Across the world's media, Israel is the bad guy. Jew are the bad guys. If we were to find a way to legitimate the existence of Israel, and somehow having the world to accept the existence of jews on this planet as a positive asset, then the war would be very different. I am not even sure they would be a war. The hate that animate Hamas and the hate that animate the world most biased publication, both have the same roots, jews.
      If we could look at this issue for a second and try to fix it, instead of dismissing its existence, we would make some progress I believe.

    2. CommentedJephtah Lorch

      Mr. Ben-Ami's discussion is an exercise in theoretical logic totally disconnected from the understanding of Islam and its culture. The assumption that Hamas will comply with a peace treaty or accept the PA as its ruler is disconnected from reality. They can not keep a 5 hour cease fire. Moreover, Mohammad's Hudaibiyya pact tradition, also mentioned (in Arabic) by Yasser Arafat in his speeches, will be practiced. Mr. Ben-Ami brings his culture to the table, not that of his opponent.
      Hamas and the Moslem Brotherhood , much like Erdogan, Iran, Taliban and other extreme Moslem movements, wish to restore Mohammad's Chaliphate. This movement has nothing to do with Israel, it is also happening in Europe already.
      The problem is not a matter of form, it s a matter of principle affecting the world and financed mostly by Qatar and Iran.

        CommentedJephtah Lorch

        By the way, see Mosul's (Iraq) Christian oppression and death threats, see the dwindling Christian population in the West Bank and the total disappearance of both Jews and Christians from Gaza (which used to have no Moslems at the beginning of the Ottoman Empire).

    3. Commentedjose oscategui

      I disagree with Mr Shlomo Ben-Ami, it is correct to say thta "Israel is devoid of a convincing strategy". Of course they do not say it but it is deductible from its actions.
      The strategy that Israel is implementing with the full acceptance by the US is to fill the territory with as many Jews as posible to counter the growth of the Palestinian population. To attain this, of course, they need to retain as much of Palestinian territory as they can. Israel has a very active campaign to get as many youg Jews all over the Word to go to live in Palestine.
      This strategy is what explains why any pretext is found by Netanyahu to expand settlements...and get at most a soft slap in the hand by the US.
      Unfortunately this strategy is doomed because it does not take into considerations that Israel is a small island surrounded by an Arab Ocean. Israel is wasting opportunities to make friends in the neighborhood which is what one does when living in a rough neigborhood unless one are convinced that can make it dissappear.
      The inevitable growth of Iran is another reason why that strategy will fail and the reason why Israel wants to bomb them together with the US.

    4. Commentedhari naidu

      According to Carl Bildt blog (Sweden/FM), a four point based ceasefire is required to find a strategic resolution of the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

      1. Israeli blockade of Gaza must end. It has fuelled Hamas tunnel economy and destroyed honest living by honest people. It’s counterproductive and wrong.
      2. Israel security must be protected. International mechanism on Gaza boundaries to stop weapons etc. Movement and access to be assured.
      3. Gaza governance must be part of Palestine. PA must be responsible for its security and demilitarization. Free, fair and open elections.
      4. Gaza must become the window of Palestine to the Mediterranean and its port of entry to rest of the world. Secured links with West Bank built.
      What’s required is an official act of Israeli Knesset lifting the Gaza blockade and declaring Israel is prepared to implement the above four points.
      Ex-PM Olmert was responsible for the blockade of Gaza, according to Al-Monitor, and Netanyahu has continued it.
      Hamas was originally organized, by Sheik Hasseni, as a social welfare service network of Palestinian people. Ex-PM/Sharon was responsible for targeting Sheik Hasseni in his wheel-chair and killing him.
      After his death, Hamas was taken over by an educated elite who built-up the organization of today. US insistence on Palestinian elections ultimately lead to Hamas victory, as a political party.
      Talk about the destruction or dissolution of Hamas is propaganda generated by US and other anti-Arab media, including the designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization.
      Similar to unilateral US sanctions against Iran and now Russia - are not recognized under international law.
      It’s not a legal act by the UN.
      There is no practical way to eliminate an indigenous political organization like Hamas – which belongs to Palestine.
      Similar to Vietcong - in Vietnam War - which defeated the US military.

    5. CommentedSergey Zavyalov

      Hamas and other Nazi sympathizers Propaganda and BDS movement against Israel is the primary reason behind the harsh treatment of Palestinian refugees. Since taking over Gaza, Hamas killed thousands of civilians who oppose their rule and terrorize the rest to stay in line. They continue to stay in power by pure propaganda and lies to their people.

      Israel needs to confiscate all funds from the Hamas unity government and use that to rebuild Gaza and Westbank. They need to show that Hamas cannot be entrusted with any type of aid or accounting because they embezzle money to build terror infrastructure instead of community centers. They need to show the Palestinians that Hamas is using them as hostages, shackled to poverty for sole purpose of Jihadi Propaganda and libel against Israel.

    6. CommentedRodrigo San Jorge

      Shlomo, the mediators you speak of must also cease using Gaza as a means of sympathetic leverage against Israel. It boggles the mind that the surrounding Arab nations have done so little to lessen the pain of the Palestinians. Why, even Israel takes better care of the Arabs living within its borders. And why is Hamas allowed to exist as a political party? What other government in the world has in its charter the desired destruction of a people-group? Why do some surrounding Arab nations place so many barriers in front of Palestinians seeking employment? These are some of the questions I have, at least.

    7. CommentedFreddy Terranean

      International supervision won't have the guts to stand up to Hamas. Hamas is to international supervision as Hezbollah is to Lebanon.

      In any case, Hamas will never agree.

    8. CommentedFreddy Terranean

      They aren't really Palestinian lands unless Israel just gives up. The concept of a "Palestine" was generated as a response to Zionism, mainly after the 6-day war. It has some popularity, but no history.

        CommentedJephtah Lorch

        Totally correct. Jordan could have established a Palestine until 1967 and Egypt could have 'saved' Gaza from Israel when signing the peace treaty with Israel. No one wants them and in fact, they are being exploited and funded by Moslem Arab countries wishing to restore Mohamad's Chalipate.

    9. CommentedVincent chandran

      There are 2 points I would like to make. Firstly, this disproportionate use of force witnessed by the whole world against a civilian population will not help Israel. Infact, I am sure that Hamas will be further empowered and this fight will continue. As a result of this policy, which is supported by the United States-the world has become a more dangerous place . More and more Jihadist from Europe, Asia, Africa and America are making their way to war zones and eventually will be a force to be reckoned with in later years not only in the Middle East but in their country of origin. Secondly, when we called the President of Syria and Sudan . war criminals for the killing of civilians we must also use the same barometer in the carnage in Palestine. Under International Humanitarian Law, this is a war crime and support comes clearly from the United Nations. This double standards has been practiced far too long and I hope policy makers will take a stand calling a "spade a spade".

        CommentedRodrigo San Jorge

        Vincent, the sad fact is that in wars civilians die. Those who decide to go to war know this. In this case, Hamas has made the decision to engage Israel in war. I can tell you this; if any other nation around the world had missiles launched into it (as with the 10,000 into Sdarot) no-one would fault that country for retaliating. That is, of course, unless it's Israel.

    10. CommentedPaddy Xtolpho

      Israel is in a bad position simply due to decades of illegal occupation. Denying the context of that is dishonest, and bad analysis, too.

    11. CommentedThomas G. Stevens

      "The price Hamas would have to pay is complete disarmament and demilitarization of Gaza under international supervision, with Abbas’s Palestinian Authority controlling the border crossings into Israel and Egypt." Can anyone reasonably think that Hamas is willing to pay this price? This is a fantasy.

    12. CommentedNicolás Elosegui

      I agree with the considerations of this text. But the offensive is unleashed. In military standars it means that Israel will continue until it can destroy all military Hamas cappabillity. Then face a reconstruction plan with international aid (because, some one will have to pay for the bullets...)
      But what society can emerge from destruction? How will this overwellmed palestinian society, with so many injust deads, children, families torn apart, find justice and peace? Best wishes come short . Peace.

    13. CommentedSergey Zavyalov

      J. Von Hettlingen – I very much agree with you and Mr. Ben-Ami assessment of the grim situation currently unfolding in Israel. Although I disagree with the US narrative that removing the entrenched and well funded Hamas would further destabilize Gaza into the arms of other terror organizations. On the contrary, I believe that Hamas destruction can be a liberating factor for many Gazan’s, and with proper policies and education the survivors can be taught of the deliberate corruption, poverty and embezzlement policies used by the Hamas regime to ensure the horrors suffered by the civilians will be repeated every couple years and how other terror organizations would be a repeat of these policies.

      This will not be easy, especially with the growing voices of the ultra-right but these voices are still a minority in Israel. It will be difficult for both sides to reconcile their differences and to forget the destruction on both sides, but Israel needs to show a common enemy here and that common enemy is Hamas and their terror kin.

    14. Commentedj. von Hettlingen

      Indeed, Mr. Ben-Ami is one of the few in Israel, who realise the intricacies of the Palestinian conflict. Israel is fighting an asymmetrical war in Gaza. Even though its armed forces are seen as the most powerful and best equipped in the Middle East, history shows that even the US and the Soviet Union had been defeated in asymmetrical warfare in Vietnam and Afghanistan respectively. America's war in Iraq and its "war on terror" against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan are not won neither.
      There are right-wing hawks in Israel, who want to eradicate or decimate Hamas. Yet their "rule-and-divide" strategy has no future. They have to realise that the absence of peace in Gaza will only draw extremists to the region. Osama bin Laden was deeply distressed by the grievances of the Palestinians and had vowed to wage jihad against the US, because it supports Israel.
      The "Operation Protective Edge" in Gaza is to weaken Hamas and keep it on a tight leash, becasue the other alternative - "jihadist anarchy that would turn Gaza into a Palestinian Somalia"- would be a nightmare for Israel. The conflict has taken a heavy toll in lives and personal property of the Gazans. At the same time Israel is being harshly criticised and is paying "an exceptionally high price in terms of its international standing". The whole world is urging for a ceasefire as well as a return to the negotiating table.
      Apart from the decades-old Palestinian conflict, the dramatic changes that are under way in the region around Israel is forcing the "superior power" to rethink its strategy and reshape its policies. Non-state actors like Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon as well as their asymmetrical warfare pose enormous threats to Israel. Unrest along Israel's borders (with the exception of Jordan) is increasing as the Middle East is going through an upheaval that shows no sign of ending. Key players like Egypt, Syria and Iraq are either facing political uncertainty, full-scale - sectarian - civil war, or have been exhausted by invasion and bitter internal violence.
      In light of this turmoil Israel seeks to strengthen ties with Egypt and forge an unholy alliance with Saudi Arabia. Mr. Ben-Ami is right that such relations "can only be circumstantial and ephemeral". Personal relationship in this region shapes foreign relations. It is not rare that leaders turn the tables on each other after a transition of power. The Palestinians are here to stay. If Netanyahu possesses political acumen and statesmanship, he should resume peace talks that will lead to a two-state solution. The "reality of a single state" would be grim for Israel, as the Palestinian population grows at a faster rate than Israel's population.

    15. Commentedhari naidu

      Bibi is a failed leader of Likud. And he will be replaced or thrown into the dustbin if history -sooner than later - in spite of unprecedented political support in US Congress.
      What will follow will not be better...

      Palestinian land and its recurrent Israeli illegal settlements by neocons including those from Brooklyn (NY) will not make the current crisis manageable - after fall of Bibi.

      Gaza has made Hamas its Avant-garde Palestinian force to mitigate asymmetrical military power an destructive capability of IDF; the tunnels surprised not only Bibi but IDF. Desperate people undertake desperate means to preserve their moral and human dignity.

      The Torah is a document of moral force - Zionism is definitely not.

        CommentedSergey Zavyalov

        Hari Naidu – More Israel libel and Hamas propaganda?
        You say, “Gaza has made Hamas its Avant-garde Palestinian force to mitigate asymmetrical military power an destructive capability of IDF; the tunnels surprised not only Bibi but IDF. Desperate people undertake desperate means to preserve their moral and human dignity”
        In fact, Hamas has made themselves the avant-garde PA force by instilling fear into the people of Gaza and killing hundreds of Fatah members in the process. Hamas is known for their heavy handed tactics against Gaza residents and reporters that are against their terror and embezzlement agenda funded by the suffering of regular Gazan’s. Hamas has spent dozens of millions of dollars on their tunnel and terror infrastructure, these don’t only surprise IDF and Bibi, the costs of all this terror infrastructure could have been spent on local Gaza and West Bank development, but instead they spend it on the destruction of their own people, because this will lead to more international funding and global media coverage (exactly what every terror organization wants).

        The IDF are liberators, they are removing the terror infrastructure and network that keeps the people of Gaza shackled to poverty and destruction, and Bibi is the one leading this liberation.

    16. CommentedSergey Zavyalov

      I agree with the author, Israel has great challenges ahead, especially if the situation in Gaza does not improve post conflict and you can be sure that Hamas is going to use every single bit of its influence in and around Gaza to make sure the situation remains bleak and does not improve. This includes embezzlement of aid money from its citizens and civil infrastructure projects in PA to fund tunnels, military equipment and the BDS movement around the world.

      Hamas is already dragging out this conflict by breaking\disagreeing on ceasefire initiatives, making sure to fire at Israel\IDF from areas of most population within in Gaza, booby-trapping tunnels and weapons caches to violently explode in a way to maximize civilian casualties, even shooting at facilities that they are supposed to provide security for within Gaza and beating Palestinian citizens caught fleeing their homes to protect themselves. Meanwhile Hamas BDS movement already proving its worth to the terrorists who created it as can be seen with worldwide anti-Israel descent and protests. Hamas global media campaign has painted Israel as an occupier while not a single media outlet questions the millions of dollars being sent to Hamas, or how the money only gets spent on infrastructure that Hamas makes sure will eventually be brought down by the IDF (tunnels) and fund prisoners sitting in Israeli jails thus providing the incentive to the PA citizen to go to jail.

      For Israel to be successful, they must confiscate and re-appropriate all Hamas and Hamas unity government funds to rebuilt Gaza, and include for necessary infrastructure to be built in the West-bank\PA lands to support education and integration of Palestinians into local societies no matter if it’s in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, etc. Israel must use this last bought with Hamas and expose their corruption on every level possible, and show PA refuges that Israel will fight for PA citizens that renounce terrorism.

    17. CommentedCris Perdue

      Thank you sir. It is so rare to see an article that looks at both sides of the conflict in a rational light. It is even more rare to see one that puts the situation in perspective, and here is even briefly presented a plan. Perhaps the plan may be impossible, but sometimes the the seemingly impossible can happen if pursued by people with determination and patience.

      Best regards.