30 November 2012

Why Israel Did Not Win

With the exception of his problematic reference Iron Dome missile defense system (notwithstanding all the hype, school is still out on its performance, IMO), the attached opinion piece by Adam Shatz in the London Review of Books is an excellent summary of the grand strategic ramifications of Israel's recent dustup with Hamas in Gaza. (New readers: the criteria for a sensible grand strategy are explained here.) 

Israel's grand strategic position was further weakened by yesterday's overwhelming vote in the UN to grant "non-member observer state," similar to that of the Vatican. This resolution upgraded Palestine from its toothless observer status.  Among other things, it grants Palestine the right to accuse Israel of war crimes in the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague. According to a secret State Department diplomatic cable (Feb 2010) released by wikileaks, Israel's fear of such a charge was one reason Israel opposed Palestinian statehood (and presumably this resolution as well):

"Summary: IDF Military Advocate General Mandelblit updated the Ambassador on February 17 on the progress of investigations into allegations of misconduct during Operation Cast Lead, including providing a preview of additional findings to be published before the March 24 Human Rights Council meeting. Mandelblit noted concern with the Palestinian Authority's effort to undermine Israel through the International Criminal Court and hoped the U.S. would weigh in with both the PA and the ICC, and publicly state our view of the ICC's lack of jurisdiction. He warned that PA pursuit of Israel through the ICC would be viewed as war by the GOI. No decision had been made regarding an independent commission to review the IDF investigations. Mandelblit noted what he viewed as the lack of political and popular will to initiate such an inquiry at this time, and suggested that given differences of opinion within the government, the question would be held in abeyance as his investigation progressed. End Summary." 
So, the grand strategic sands are shifting, as described below.  Yesterday's UN vote reinforced this shift.  It remains to be seen if Israel would still consider the ICC option to be an act of war, should the Palestinians decide to invoke it, not to mention whether or not the United States would stand by Israel, if Israel acted on such a consideration.


Why Israel Didn’t Win
Adam Shatz, London Review of BooksVol. 34 No. 23 · 6 December 2012
The ceasefire agreed by Israel and Hamas in Cairo after eight days of fighting is merely a pause in the Israel-Palestine conflict. It promises to ease movement at all border crossings with the Gaza Strip, but will not lift the blockade. It requires Israel to end its assault on the Strip, and Palestinian militants to stop firing rockets at southern Israel, but it leaves Gaza as miserable as ever: according to a recent UN report, the Strip will be ‘uninhabitable’ by 2020. And this is to speak only of Gaza. How easily one is made to forget that Gaza is only a part – a very brutalised part – of the ‘future Palestinian state’ that once seemed inevitable, and which now seems to exist mainly in the lullabies of Western peace processors. None of the core issues of the Israel-Palestine conflict – the Occupation, borders, water rights, repatriation and compensation of refugees – is addressed by this agreement.
The fighting will erupt again, because Hamas will come under continued pressure from its members and from other militant factions, and because Israel has never needed much pretext to go to war. In 1982, it broke its ceasefire with Arafat’s PLO and invaded Lebanon, citing the attempted assassination of its ambassador to London, even though the attack was the work of Arafat’s sworn enemy, the Iraqi agent Abu Nidal. In 1996, during a period of relative calm, it assassinated Hamas’s bomb-maker Yahya Ayyash, the ‘Engineer’, leading Hamas to strike back with a wave of suicide attacks in Israeli cities. When, a year later, Hamas proposed a thirty-year hudna, or truce, Binyamin Netanyahu dispatched a team of Mossad agents to poison the Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Amman; under pressure from Jordan and the US, Israel was forced to provide the antidote, and Meshaal is now the head of Hamas’s political bureau – and an ally of Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi.
Operation Pillar of Defence, Israel’s latest war, began just as Hamas was cobbling together an agreement for a long-term ceasefire. Its military commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, was assassinated only hours after he reviewed the draft proposal. Netanyahu and his defence minister, Ehud Barak, could have had a ceasefire – probably on more favourable terms – without the deaths of more than 160 Palestinians and five Israelis, but then they would have missed a chance to test their new missile defence shield, Iron Dome, whose performance was Israel’s main success in the war. They would also have missed a chance to remind the people of Gaza of their weakness in the face of Israeli military might. The destruction in Gaza was less extensive than it had been in Operation Cast Lead, but on this occasion too the aim, as Gilad Sharon, Ariel’s son, put it in the Jerusalem Post, was to send out ‘a Tarzan-like cry that lets the entire jungle know in no uncertain terms just who won, and just who was defeated’.
Victory in war is not measured solely in terms of body counts, however. And the ‘jungle’ – the Israeli word not just for the Palestinians but for the Arabs as a whole – may have the last laugh. Not only did Hamas put up a better fight than it had in the last war, it averted an Israeli ground offensive, won implicit recognition as a legitimate actor from the United States (which helped to broker the talks in Cairo), and achieved concrete gains, above all an end to targeted assassinations and the easing of restrictions on the movement of people and the transfer of goods at the crossings. There was no talk in Cairo, either, of the Quartet Principles requiring Hamas to renounce violence, recognise Israel and adhere to past agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority: a symbolic victory for Hamas, but not a small one. And the Palestinians were not the only Arabs who could claim victory in Cairo. In diplomatic terms, the end of fighting under Egyptian mediation marked the dawn of a new Egypt, keen to reclaim the role that it lost when Sadat signed a separate peace with Israel. ... continued ....