Israel’s short-term aims destroy its long-term needs for regional peace
This post contains analyses of Israel’s strategy from Christian Science Monitor, the former head of Mossad and BBC news.
Israel has dealt with Hamas through a policy of isolation and military containment. The recent escalation of violence in Gaza calls for a reconsideration of this strategy. Israel’s military response only offers a temporary palliative against a broader, inherently political problem.
By Benedetta Berti, Christian Science Monitor
November 19, 2012
TEL AVIV–Since Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006 and subsequently took control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, Israel has dealt with the “Islamic Resistance” through a policy of non-recognition, political isolation, and military containment. The recent escalation of violence in Gaza should call for a reconsideration of this strategy.
The rules of the game between Hamas and Israel became especially clear after the Israeli operation “Cast Lead” in December 2008-January 2009. Israel’s military air and ground offensive against Hamas in Gaza at that time was waged with the objective of creating a “credible deterrence,” and led to a period of relative quiet for Israel.
Immediately following Cast Lead, Hamas acted in a predominantly restrained fashion. It mostly refrained from participating in rocket attacks against Israel and prevented other armed groups within Gaza from operating freely. In return, Israel’s military involvement in Gaza diminished, although it did not reconsider its policy of isolation and non-recognition of Hamas.
To be sure, this unwritten agreement was far from idyllic: Attacks from the Gaza Strip never fully ceased, Israel’s military operations in Gaza did not come to a total halt, and short-lived escalations of violence occurred periodically. What’s more, Hamas’s “restraint” seemed to diminish with the passing of time. In the past few months, Israel came to the conclusion that Hamas was no longer playing according to “the rules,” noting its increased involvement in rocket attacks and its growing reluctance in stopping other groups from perpetrating attacks of their own.
Israel calculated that killing Hamas’s military wing commander Ahmed Jabari and stepping up Israeli military operations would “restore deterrence,” going back to a post-Cast Lead situation of relative quiet. It seems Israel decided to use military force to weaken Hamas’s military arsenal while also hitting its resolve to fight.
The current military operation can arguably accomplish both of these tasks (the first one much more easily than the second). However, while Israel has a clear right to protect its citizens, the question that needs to be asked is: Are the costs of a further escalation and of a possible ground operation worth it for Israel, and how much time can it buy?
The first obvious cost of the ongoing escalation rests within the civilian population in both Israel and Gaza, who are paying directly for the resumption of major hostilities.
Israel appears to be confident it can bear the military costs of the operation. But this assumption is largely shaped by the awareness that the conflict is unlikely to expand to a region-wide war. Iran is dealing with crippling sanctions, Syria is in the midst of a civil war, and Hezbollah’s power has been diminished by its siding with its Syrian patron, the Bashar al-Assad regime. So it is unlikely that any of these parties will get directly involved in the fighting in Gaza.
However, Israel should not disregard the political and diplomatic consequences of continued escalation. The already frail and shaky relationship with Egypt is a first obvious casualty of the current situation, with the future of bilateral relations and the peace treaty with Egypt looking ever colder.
Israel’s overall position in the region also suffers as a result of the ongoing military operations. This is particularly the case since – as a result of the “Arab awakening” and the increased weight of the “Arab street” in the region – there is greater pressure on regional players to openly condemn Israel and to support Hamas in Gaza. And the more protracted and extensive the operations will be, the more the country’s standing and legitimacy will suffer at the international level, even among Israel’s western allies.
Israel’s renewed military confrontation with Hamas may backfire, both empowering Hamas within Gaza and the West Bank, as well as further highlighting the weakness of the Palestinian Authority and its leadership. It may already be enabling the more hard-core leadership within Hamas.
But the main problem with Israel’s current military response is that it only offers a temporary palliative against a broader, inherently political problem. A post-2006 assessment clearly shows that Israel’s policy of non-recognition neither weakened Hamas nor compelled it to relinquish its armed struggle in the long term. Similarly, isolating Hamas did not topple its government, but instead punished the civilian population of Gaza.
Perhaps it is time to review both notions. Hamas, as the de facto government of Gaza, should be directly engaged through a political process leading to both a ceasefire as well a reversal of the “’isolation”’ of the strip.
Talks are underway in Cairo, but the hopes for a ceasefire are still dim. Israel’s past several days of military operations weakened Hamas militarily, and sticking with this diplomatic process should not be seen as being soft on them. Rather, it shows Israel is being realistic in its assessment of the possible consequences of a protracted military conflict in Gaza.
As part of talks, Hamas should commit to a ceasefire as well as to gradually and incrementally move closer to the Quartet’s (United Nations, US, European Union, and Russia) conditions for recognizing the group. Those conditions include renouncing violence, recognizing Israel, and accepting past agreements between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel. Instead of serving as preconditions to negotiations, however, they should become objectives to achieve during these direct negotiations.
A diplomatic solution will likely include difficult compromises for both sides. But military power alone will time and again prove insufficient to create the conditions for genuine stability. Instead of pushing for an escalation and a ground military operation, Israel should make every effort to defuse the conflict. And with the help of countries like Egypt, both groups should aim to negotiate a prompt end to the hostilities while beginning a longer-term political process.
Benedetta Berti is a fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, a lecturer at Tel Aviv University, a member of the Atlantic Council’s Young Atlanticist working group, and coauthor of the book, “Hamas and Hezbollah: A Comparative Study” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012). Follow her on Twitter at @benedettabertiw.
Israel needs a Gaza strategy more than war
By Efraim Halevy, Financial Times
November 18, 2012
Almost a week after “Operation Pillar of Defence”, morale is running high in Israel. The public is justifiably proud of the performance of the air force, which has flown more than 1,000 sorties. The air strikes have decapitated much of Hamas’s command level, including the death of Ahmed Jabari, the leader of the Islamist group’s military wing.
Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, singled out the destruction of Iranian-made Fajr-5 missiles as particularly worthy of praise in his first media briefing. The second stage of the operation, now in advanced preparation, entailed cabinet approval to call up about 75,000 reserve soldiers on Friday night. Husbands and fathers hastily left the sabbath night dining tables to join their units.
The public has been given the highest marks for reacting promptly and calmly when warning sirens have announced an impending rocket attack. Iron Dome anti-missile batteries have destroyed many hundreds of rockets in mid-air. Mr Barak has been quoted as saying that “there is no reason to ask for a ceasefire until Hamas comes begging for it on its knees”.
The aims of the operation have been publicly stated: to halt the rocket attacks on Israel entirely; to restore Israel’s deterrence; and to secure a long-term commitment from Hamas that it would respect a ceasefire. But little to nothing has been revealed on how the Israeli leadership hopes to secure this result.
When asked publicly if the aim was to uproot Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister, said this would have to await the “next government”. This allusion to the impending general election scheduled for January 22 was the first shot in a subsequent string of comments focusing on growing support for postponing the poll. The next day Mr Lieberman said that there was no justification for a ground offensive unless Israel was determined to see it through to the very end. Was this one more deception or a bold statement of intent?
A ground operation is often fraught with uncertainties and the experiences of unfinished business in both the Lebanese war of 2006 and the operation in Gaza in 2009 are fresh in peoples’ minds. In the past 48 hours serious voices, such as those of Dan Halutz, the former chief of staff, and Amos Yadlin, the former military intelligence chief, have stressed the need for a quick exit strategy once Israel declares victory.
Herein lies the rub. Hamas, badly beaten but uncowed, is defiant in setting its own terms for a ceasefire: an Israeli commitment to halt targeted assassinations; an end to the blockade on Gaza; and free passage between Gaza and Egypt. These demands are unacceptable to Israel.
All eyes therefore are on Mohamed Morsi, the American-educated Egyptian president. His sympathies lie with Hamas, which is a sister movement of the Muslim Brotherhood, but he is duty bound to preserve his country’s interests, which preclude the free entry of terrorist operatives into Sinai – which is already a hotbed of violent anti-Egyptian activity.
On Saturday Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Qatar’s emir, and Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader, arrived in Cairo in the wake of President Barack Obama’s call on Mr Morsi to take the lead in defusing the tension. Even Saudi Arabia has deferred to Cairo.
There are those in Israel who believe this could be the supreme test of Egypt under Mr Morsi to seize the moment and save the entire region from sliding into chaos.
The situation in the Palestinian Authority is precarious. Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement are pathetically irrelevant. Their foreign minister will be visiting Gaza as a member of an Arab League mission – a demeaning status indeed. Widespread unrest in Jordan in response to a steep rise in the price of energy products could develop into a national insurrection endangering the monarchy. Such an event would be a big setback for Israel, both politically and security-wise. The weaker Hamas emerges in the Gaza Strip, the stronger the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the principle Iranian proxy, will become. Elsewhere Iran, the main threat to Israel, has suffered serious setbacks in recent months, primarily in Syria, its strategic ally in the region.
Thus much more is at stake in the current flare up. If it spreads and a ground offensive inevitably produces photo opportunities of dead and wounded, the “street” in all the Arab capitals could erupt and unleash wild consequences, forcing Mr Morsi and others to step back and let the chips fly and land wherever. Regimes and governments can collapse overnight in a second version of the Arab spring. No one can predict the outcome.
Israel must not allow Hamas to feign victory through pictures of rockets flying over Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Yet it is imperative that Israel contribute to an Egyptian-crafted and American-supported formula for the region. If it doesn’t, it might have to grapple alone with the fallout from the latest escalation in violence. Indeed, Israel will have to do what no government has done before: determine a comprehensive strategy on the future of Gaza and its 2m inhabitants.
The writer is former head of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency
Gaza: What is Israel’s military strategy?
By Yolande Knell, BBC News
November 19, 2012
Israeli officials say the military has broadened the scope of its operation in the Gaza Strip and is preparing for a ground offensive in case one is ordered.
On Friday, the cabinet authorised the call-up of up to 75,000 reservists, although so far only about 20,000 have been contacted.
So what is Israel’s military strategy?
Its offensive, which is being called Operation Pillar of Defence, began on Wednesday when the head of the Hamas armed wing, Ahmed Jabari, was killed in his car in Gaza City.
Since then, the assault against Gaza has been conducted through a remote campaign of air strikes, naval artillery and tank fire across the border.
More than 1,100 targets have been hit. The Israel Defense Forces say their objective is to stop rocket fire by militant groups in Gaza into Israeli towns and cities.
Late on Sunday, Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon told journalists that Hamas, which governs Gaza, had to satisfy Israeli demands.
“It’s up to them to make up their mind whether it is worse to go on with these rogue activities – firing rockets and terror activities,” he says.
“We are looking for this kind of ceasefire which will bring about peace and quiet. We don’t claim to topple Hamas, this not our objective. It is to deter them.”
But so far, rocket attacks from Gaza have continued.
There have been more than 1,000 over six days; nearly 300 have been intercepted by the Iron Dome defence system, mostly over southern Israel.
However, new longer-range missiles have approached Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Close to the Gaza border, there has been a build-up in Israeli troops, and there are columns of armoured vehicles.
“We came to help with whatever is needed,” said one soldier close to the town of Beersheba. “I left everything at home and just came,” added another who admitted being “a bit excited”.
But that enthusiasm, and with it Israeli public support, could soon dry up if a ground invasion of Gaza took place.
This would involve Israeli forces in urban warfare, seeking out weapons storage and assembly sites. The risk of casualties on both sides would greatly increase.
Leading defence correspondent Alex Fishman, who works for Israel’s biggest circulation newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, says the offensive does not come out of the blue.
“There were plans for these events months in advance, so strategically it wasn’t a surprise,” he says. “The timing was due to what Hamas was doing along the Israeli and Egyptian borders, and then there were troubles the last couple of weeks.
“We are still on the first chapter, the aerial operation, which used precise weapons systems and the navy, towards targets that were stockpiled before by the army and intelligence.
“The next stage will be much more difficult because the air force will bombard the civilian areas. They keep a lot of rockets among civilians.
“The third stage will be much brutal bombardment, the ground forces invasion, [but] I believe that we won’t reach this stage. The political and military leadership are not eager to go to such an elevation.”
Mr Fishman argues the green light to call up large numbers of troops was important to apply diplomatic pressure, but does not mean that a wider operation was planned.
“75,000 was like giving the army the credit in the bank that it needs,” he says.
“When this was published, it made a very strong impression. Foreign diplomats started to call and ask: ‘Are you serious?’”
There are currently two tracks being followed in this conflict – one military and one diplomatic.
Egyptian officials have indicated there are signs of progress in ceasefire negotiations that Cairo is trying to broker between Hamas and Israel.
However, Israeli generals and politicians will not want to stop their assault in Gaza until they can prove they have virtually eliminated the threat of further rocket fire.
Meanwhile, Hamas is still looking to score some symbolic strikes in response to the death of its military commander.