What To Read on Gaza

The ongoing fighting between Israel and Hamas is causing enormous suffering, and the human toll the war has taken is horrible and getting worse. But for a sense of the “bigger picture,” here are some good pieces written by smart analysts. I don’t agree with all of their conclusions (except the ones written by me), but they are well thought-out and provide a larger, necessary, context to the fighting. I’ll update as new analyses become available.

In no particular order:

Nathan Thrall in the New York Times: “How the West Chose War in Gaza,” on the effects of broader regional politics leading up to the conflict.

Hussein Ibish in Foreign Affairs: “Bibi’s First War,” on why Netanyahu has been reluctant to use force in Gaza, and why that changed now.

Haviv Rettig Gur in the Times of Israel: “The Tragic Self-Delusion behind the Hamas War,” on Israeli and Hamas conceptualization of their own weakness and how this informs their decisions about war, and comparisons to the Algerian War of Independence.

Hugh Naylor in The National: “Hamas Home-Made Rockets No Match for Israel,” on Hamas’ efforts to construct a domestic missile industry.

Allison Beth Hodgkins in Political Violence @ a Glance: “Why Hamas Escalated, When Before They Didn’t,” on the motivations behind Hamas’ decisions to escalate the fighting.

Yossi Melman in The Forward: “Hamas Has Nothing to Lose,” on Israel’s military and tactical goals in Gaza.

Me in The National Interest: “Israel’s Real Problem: It Has No Strategy,” on Israel’s lack of a strategic agenda and how that undermines its ability to defeat Hamas.

Me in The Monkey Cage/Washington Post: “Does the Gaza Operation Threaten Netanyahu’s Political Future,” on the politics of elections and war in Israel.

Update: New, additional readings

Me in Politico Magazine: “Israel Is Winning This War,” on the wrong measurements analysts have used to argue Hamas will ultimately win the Gaza war.

J.J. Goldberg in The Forward: “Gaza Tunnels: How They Work, What Israel Knew.”

Nathan Thrall in London Review of Books: “Hamas’s Chances,” on why Hamas went to war and what’s driving it during the war.

Michael Walzer in The New Republic: “Israel Must Defeat Hamas, But Also Must Do More to Limit Civilian Deaths.” Walzer’s work on just war is among the best out there; he applies his finding to the Gaza war.

Interview with Amos Oz in DW: “Oz: Lose-Lose Situation for Israel.” Given that Oz is one of Israel’s most prominent doves, this interview captures well the general mood in Israel regarding the Gaza war and Palestinian casualties.

Dean Obeidallah in The Daily Beast: “Do Palestinian Really Exist,” a personal story tied into a national story, with implications for the Gaza war.

Dahlia Scheindlin in +972: “Who Are the Israelis Fighting This War?” a glimpse into the lives of Israeli soldiers fighting in Gaza. “Every day that goes by – I’m different.”

Elisheva Goldberg in The Atlantic: “Israel’s Bedouin: Caught Between the Iron Dome and Hamas,” on the in-between place the Bedouin in Israel seem to have fallen–with no protection.

Diskin’s Prayer: On Israel, Gaza, and the next war

Yuval Diskin was head of Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, from 2005-2011. He posted this prayer in Hebrew earlier today on Facebook. 

A Prayer of a Father in a War of No Choice?
by Yuval Diskin

My heart is with my brothers and sisters and the masses of Israeli citizens currently under attack from rockets and missiles. My heart is also with those Palestinians in the Gaza Strip that did not choose this war, have become, against their wills, human shields for the terrorists of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the other terror organizations, and have absorbed hundreds of tons of explosives from the air.

My heart is with all the parents whose sons are on the front and who may – in a few more hours or days – enter this miserable place whose name is the Gaza Strip. Everyone who has seen and spent days and nights with sewage flowing in the streets of the miserable refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank (or for those who want, Judea and Samaria), and Lebanon is able to understand how much we must find a way to resolve this bloody conflict at least partially.

And yes… in the current situation, I think that it is necessary to do everything possible in order to the stop the rockets from the Gaza Strip. And, if there is no other choice, also a ground invasion provided the invasion will have real goals and will not be intended just for the consumption of the incited masses in the hands of the religious fanatics and cynical politicians.

Whoever is familiar with this endless cycle of bloodshed and hatred knows how much the next war is already filled with the blood of the current war. I know and remember this frustrating sense before every operation or war. It is the moment when you realize deep inside yourself the futility and the foolishness of it and, especially, how much in war there are not really any winners…as much as the war escalates and continues, one can see more and more clearly how much it is unnecessary and how much one could have been spared from it if only we had been truly talking out of a desire to solve the conflict, to compromise and build a better future for all of us…

I pray that after everything is finished, we will remember that really at that moment everything starts anew…And when the hourglass is turned over and we begin to count down until the next war, I hope that we will remember that is forbidden for us and for our enemies to pay attention to the same religious fanatics and war-mongering politicians seeking to satisfy the lust of their supporters – on both sides. And how much it is preferable to sit and to resolve what is possible in this bloody conflict.

Until then, I offer a deep prayer that peace and quiet will return quickly to the citizens of Israel in the south, the center, and the north, and that all our regular, reserve, and career soldiers return home in peace, including our four beloved sons. Let it be.

 

The EU Commission Notice Regarding Israeli Settlements

Yesterday there was much uncertainty regarding the European Union Commission Notice on future EU interactions (or lack of) with Israeli settlements and settler organizations in the occupied territories. Once the guidelines were made available, things cleared up considerably. Over at Tablet Yair Rosenberg has a good summary of what the guidelines are not, while at +972 Noam Sheizaf adds a couple more points, including the fact that the EU updated the Israeli government throughout the process.

I’ve already discussed what I think might be some long-term implications of the decision. Here are a few other points to bear in mind:

1. The EU explicitly excluded EU-funded entities, whether Israeli or Palestinian, from the sanctions. This means that groups monitoring the occupation, for example, can continue their work.

2. The occupied territories include not only the West Bank, but also East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights (Section A [1,2,3]).

3. That East Jerusalem is included is a very sore point with many Israelis and their defenders. It’s argued that the Western Wall (not to mention other sites sacred to Jewish history throughout the West Bank) is severed from Jewish identity, which is then left open to negotiations. The notice is seen, then, as a complete rejection of potential Jewish-Israeli claims to the Old City and other holy sites and an embrace of the Palestinian position that either there is no Jewish connection or everything is up for discussion. I’m not sure I buy that argument, but if Israelis do then the EU will have to address it.

4. The guidelines don’t mention organizations like Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which is located in East Jerusalem. But there are clauses that open the door to exempting these kinds of organizations (e.g., Section C [11]), and the document does explicitly exclude Israeli and Palestinian national entities. It is not, then, a blanket boycott of Israeli institutions, even those that operate in the West Bank or East Jerusalem.

5. Section D (15) specifically notes that none of these sanctions apply to activities “aim[ed] at benefiting protected persons under the terms of international humanitarian law who live in these territories and/or at promoting the Middle East peace process in line with EU policy.” This seems to be fairly broad (and rightly so), and allows for some nuance in how the sanctions are applied. Under these conditions, Israeli and Palestinian groups that fit with EU preferences and priorities will be exempted.

It’s clear, then, that the guidelines are targeted very specifically at entities or organizations that facilitate and entrench the Israeli presence in the West Bank, and especially the settlements. It’s not a complete boycott, but it’s a boycott nonetheless.

And while Israeli politicians might be claiming ignorance and shock for political purposes or because they simply refused to see the signs pointing in this direction, and Israelis might think this is a betrayal and an unfair singling out of their little country in the face of widespread conflict and human rights violations around the world, I’d argue that a splash of cold water to wake them up might be one of the more important consequences of the whole thing.

Any final resolution to the conflict will require “painful sacrifices” on both sides. For the Palestinians, that means having to accept that there won’t be a Right of Return. For the Israelis, that means having to accept that they won’t get to keep the West Bank or all of Jerusalem. Anything that jars them out of what’s obviously become a comfortable illusion for both peoples is good—and the sooner the better.

On Gaza-Israel, 2008-09

I published an article review of two articles that dealt with the 2008-09 battle between Israel and Gaza. The articles are Benjamin S. Lambeth, “Israel’s War in Gaza: A Paradigm of Effective Military Learning and Adaptation,” International Security 37:2 (Fall 2012): 81-118, and Jerome Slater, “Just War Moral Philosophy and the 2008-09 Israeli Campaign in Gaza,” International Security 37:2 (Fall 2012): 44-80.

Bibi: Keep Barak

In this piece for Open Zion, I argue that, not withstanding his announcement to retire, Ehud Barak is needed at the Defense Ministry as a necessary balance against other ministerial hawks. The full piece is below.

In a surprise move, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has announced he’ll be leaving politics after the election on January 22. That doesn’t mean his political career is done: in an Israeli political constellation of large egos, Barak’s outshone all the others. Despite improved public opinion surveys for his Independence party after Operation Pillar of Cloud, though, it’s clear that the party won’t be a vehicle for a grand re-entrance. Labor won’t have him, after he cannibalized the party for personal gain. Likud doesn’t want him either: he’s a threat to prominent individuals’ own positions and to many he still represents the left and its delusions about peace. He has no viable political home.

But Israel, the Palestinians, and the rest of the world should hope that Barak somehow finds his way back to Defense, even if that means Benjamin Netanyahu, still likely to remain at the head of a coalition government, has to appoint him to the position. This would entail a fight: there are others in Likud who covet the position, particularly Moshe Ya’alon, and while Avigdor Lieberman says he’ll retain the Foreign Ministry, rumors persist that Netanyahu offered him his choice of ministries to run on a joint ticket with Likud; the second most powerful office in Israel has got to be a real temptation. The price of incurring those figures’ anger is worth it.

his isn’t because Barak’s a pacifist who will avoid war with Hamas or Iran, or because he has a grand plan for Israel that will bring peace to the region. It’s because he’ll be needed to balance out the hawkish, even reckless, preferences of Lieberman, Eli Yishai, and others.

In Haaretz’s account of decision-making behind Operation Pillar of Defense, Barak cautioned against widening the air war into a ground invasion while Lieberman pressed for one. Netanyahu was uncertain—he could have gone either way. It was Barak’s convincing explanation and insistence on the correctness of his analysis—backed by his real security credentials—that eventually swayed Netanyahu.

In the larger ministerial security forum, Yishai, Yuval Steinitz, and others also thought a ground invasion was a good idea. While Benny Begin and Dan Meridor opposed it, their influence is at an all-time low, and it’s not even clear they’ll be around come January 23. Without Ehud Barak to balance the unreconstructed hawks, Netanyahu is more likely to follow their advice.

Barak would have gone into Gaza with ground troops if he thought it was necessary, but he was well aware of the costs of doing so, and he was comfortable taking Israel’s gains and moving on. This is his modus operandi: during his own tenure as Prime Minister, he shifted easily and rapidly between pursuing talks with the Syrians and the Palestinians as he saw fit. At Camp David, he broke the sacredness of Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided and eternal capital. He doesn’t chase a military or diplomatic goal out of ideology, pride, revenge, or justice—he does it out of necessity.

Barak will do what he thinks is right for Israel. Of course, so will Lieberman and Yishai. But they have a hard time separating their perception of what’s right from what’s achievable and what is costly. Barak doesn’t. Israel could use that kind of clear thinking as the challenges of Hamas, the Palestinian bid at the U.N., Egypt, Syria, and Iran converge

Winners and Losers

My first reaction of who comes out stronger and who comes out weaker from the Gaza conflict was posted at Open Zion. It is reprinted in full below.

A ceasefire was announced between Israel and Hamas and came into force an hour ago. It’s early yet, but an initial glance at potential winners and losers gives some insight into how the ceasefire came about, and how it might play out in the region—if it holds.

Some short-term losers: Turkey and Egypt, both of whom claimed to be staunch supporters of Hamas but failed to press for anything that might resemble a Hamas victory. Turkey was at first extraordinarily quiet, pretty much abdicating any responsibility for Hamas and Gaza after spending a few years damaging relations with Israel for their sake and thus undermining its effort to enhance its appeal to the Arab world. Then, once he got going, Prime Minister Erdoğan ruined any chance in the near future for a reconciliation with Israel by calling it a “terrorist state” and condemning the US for supporting it. (See Michael Koplow’s excellent discussion of this.)

For its part, Egypt, despite President Morsi’s declarations, didn’t do anything that hadn’t been done under the Mubarak regime. It’s true that Morsi’s rhetoric was far more supportive of Hamas, and reports are that his ideas for a ceasefire annoyed the Israelis because it so overtly favored Hamas. But the outcome was the same as under Mubarak: the status quo ante, with Hamas getting no promises from Israel to lift the blockade (though Israel seems to have said it would ease up on attacks on Hamas).

Long term losers: Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah. Jonathan Schanzer asked whether Hamas was upstaging the PLO. Abbas displayed total impotence during the conflict; more, he was pushed completely to the side. Hamas’s strategy of sticking to its “resistance” guns and gathering increasing legitimacy and recognition from others makes Abbas/Fatah/the PLO/the PA less and less relevant in Palestinian politics. As far as I can see, the only things that can save them are a successful bid at the U.N., or tangible progress in negotiations with Israel.

The other long-term loser is Israel. As I’ve argued before, Israel has no long term strategy regarding Gaza. Its victory in a limited military campaign will only strengthen the perception that its tactical-military emphasis works and doesn’t need to be changed. This means it’ll be harder for Israel to accept a new formula for maintaining security and achieving peace. It also means we’re likely to see a repeat of November’s events again.

Winners: The obvious one is Netanyahu, for pulling off a clear military victory and moving past his blunder in the Western Wall Tunnel riots of 1996, and for now having a clear foreign policy victory to point to during the campaign; Ehud Barak for showing he still matters (first polls give his Independence the greatest numbers of seats since the campaign began, though I’m not sure it will last to January); Qatar for inserting itself into this arena; and missile/rocket defense systems.

Steven Cook argues the U.S. was in a very difficult position during the conflict, but I think President Obama also comes out a winner. I’d argue he handled the crisis extremely well, by hanging back and letting local actors—especially Egypt—take the lead, thus giving them a stake in the post-war system. He also provided continual encouragement and prodding, through phone calls to Morsi and Netanyahu and with Secretary of State Clinton assuring Netanyahu in person that this was a good idea and the US supported Israel’s right to self-defense.

On second thought, we might consider putting Egypt in this category instead. It navigated very well the shoals of public opinion, Muslim Brotherhood pressure, Hamas’s demands, its own strategic interests, and Israel’s actions. That Morsi was able to pull off a Mubarak-style outcome, even under changed conditions, suggests Egypt remains a regional player, and the outside player when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The more things change…

Does Israel have political options? Yes.

The concept that Israel has no choice but to use military force or go to war has a long history in Israeli strategic and popular thinking. Again today, one hears Israel has no other option but to attack Hamas and Gaza. I beg to differ. Here are two options:

1. Given a cease-fire and de-escalation from the last few days, Hamas and Israel could talk about a long-term truce. At this point, I’ll quote @doranimated from a twitter change today: “You totally misread Hamas, IMHO. There’s no deal to be had.” But why not test the waters and see if some of the leadership of Hamas would like to move away from violent resistance, as has often been claimed? (see here too for Brent’s take) The status quo is unstable (both on the Israeli-Palestinian and regional front), deadly, and insecure. Millions of civilians are suffering. So start small and build toward a longer cease-fire; if it fails, Israel and Hamas are just back to the same confrontation and major flareups every few months. Hamas clearly does not need a long-term cease-fire to be in a position to do Israel harm.

Egypt would likely welcome an effort to mediate a more substantial Israeli-Hamas relationship. Any betterment of the situation in Gaza would take pressure off the Egyptian government. It would reduce the centrality of deciding how open to keep Rafah. It might help address the chaos, smuggling, and insecurity in Sinai. It would be an opportunity to demonstrate to the United States that Egyptian-US ties (and aid!) are worth protecting.

2. OK, fine, you think that the Hamas-Israel route is bankrupt? Israel could take a political process with President Mahmoud Abbas seriously. Build up political relations with the West Bank, take Fayyadism* seriously – not just economically but also politically – and get back to high-level negotiations. By moving toward a two-state solution with Abbas, Israel could try to marginalize Hamas; this is not a new idea. Arab states, like Egypt or Qatar, that saw a real two-state solution developing might even lean on Hamas to jump on the bandwagon.

To pursue this second alternative, Israel has to do a few things. It needs to jettison the “no partner” talk. In 2000-01 (Camp David/Taba) and again in 2008 (Annapolis), Israel and the PA held serious negotiations that solved many but not all issues. Crucial, hard sticking points remain but that is what negotiations are for. Yes, Israel withdrew civilian settlers from Gaza in 2005, but it intentionally did so without a negotiated agreement and it followed the withdrawal by taking steps that guaranteed a negative outcome. In addition, Israel needs to stop focusing on tactics (freeze, not freeze) and recognize that for strategic reasons it needs this process to get a full work-out. If you will it, it is no dream.

In this context, a move by the PA for a status upgrade at the UNGA later this month is an opportunity not a threat. Here is a chance for Israel to encourage a political step and, by engaging, perhaps to help define the meaning and parameters of that step.

There are deeper factors potentially at play here. If the Palestinian people have something to lose – as in statehood, sovereign territory, access to Jerusalem – they will act in ways that protect such gains. If the PA has something real and meaningful to show from using politics, politics will get a better name. Politicians will be able to credibly argue, as they cannot right now, that politics can deliver substantive achievements.

Of course, this assumes the PA and Israel both want a two-state solution. I think Abbas and the Fatah leaders do. I have my doubts that the current Israeli government supports a Palestinian state in 95%+ of the West Bank and Jerusalem as a shared capital of two states. If they do not, scratch this option off the list. Then Israel is back to the waiting game, as in waiting until the Palestinians give up. Just contain or police (h/t Joshua Rovner) the Palestinian problem. I’d speculate that such waiting ends up highlighting the religious and generational aspects of the conflict because there is no way nationalism will just fade away. So people have to fall back on faith and the sweep of history to help them imagine what is likely impossible in reality.

Both political options have problems. But the way is which the past (e.g. Camp David, Gaza withdrawal) has been used to discredit them is deeply flawed. There is no military solution. Let politics have its day and see if there is a political one.

*It may be too late but you get the point.

Update: “The End of Deterrence” is also directly relevant here.