Managing Gaza

Israel’s operation in Gaza is reaching a critical point. While talking heads will debate grand strategy, the options are limited. Behind the headlines is the crucial issue of how Israel’s national security process works (or doesn’t – in light of the weaknesses revealed in the 2006 Lebanon war). The next moves will demonstrate whether or not Israel has successfully incorporated the lessons from the failures of the 2006 Lebanon War. This is crucial to re-establishing Israeli deterrence.

Strategic Limitations

A true peace agreement with Hamas is not realistic. A quick scan of clips from Hamas’ al-Aqsa network or of statements by Hamas leaders from the Middle East Media Research Institute – particularly horrible are these scenes from Hamas produced children’s television – should disabuse all but the most useful idiots of any notions of a moderate Hamas.

Fatah is theoretically an alternative to Hamas, but has been eliminated from Gaza and has little credibility or capability.

Military options also do not offer definite solutions. Re-occupying Gaza would require tens of thousands of Israeli troops and likely lead to hundreds of Israeli and thousands of Palestinian casualties. The Israelis do not want to pay this price. It also might not work. Hamas might be able to maintain an ongoing, costly insurgency against the Israelis, which would be perceived as a victory. (Hamas has taken lessons from Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel and has prepared and is hoping for an IDF ground campaign.)

Hamas’ supply lines are the tunnels into Egypt. The tunnels themselves are only the endpoint of a vast smuggling network that extends throughout the Sinai and into the heart of Egypt. Egypt is a poor country, the smuggling opportunities are lucrative, and law enforcement is weak. In Kashmir, criminal networks in an impoverished environment have fostered a self-sustaining insurgency. The same situation could occur Gaza.

Ultimately, there are no solutions in Gaza on the immediate horizon. This is a problem Israel will have to manage.

Applying the Lessons of 2006

The Lebanon war of the summer of 2006 revealed shortcomings up and down the Israeli national security system – from inadequately prepared reserve infantry units up to the prime minister’s office. While Hezbollah and its supporters worldwide celebrated the defeat of the vaunted Israeli soldier, the more substantial problems were farther up the line, particularly at the top.

The political and military leadership never defined its goals. Prime Minister Olmert spoke of destroying Hezbollah, but did not consider what it would require to achieve them. The prime minister and the defense minister had limited security experience and the chief of staff was an air force officer who was overly wedded to the efficacy of airpower. The IDF wielded tremendous influence on decision-makers – shutting out Israel’s national security council and other institutions.

There were other problems up and down the chain of command – such as the impact of policing the Palestinians on IDF war-fighting capability and the effects of nouveau military philosophy on the officer corps. But poor decision-making and a lack of clear objectives, combined with Hezbollah’s knack for tactical surprise, created a situation in which Israel appeared to not know what it was doing. This contributed heavily to the image of an Israeli defeat.

In the fighting in Gaza, it is essential that – at the very top – the Israelis establish that they know what they are doing. There are many signs that lessons from Lebanon have been applied. The Gaza operations have been more systematically planned than the Lebanon war, including extensive war-gaming and an effective disinformation effort accompanied by massive intelligence gathering.

This still raises the question of whether or not Israel knows what it is doing. Reportedly, Ehud Barak, the former Chief of Staff and Prime Minister, called Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hours after the Lebanon war began and warned: “It’s very important to define how and when you’ll end [the war], because the more time goes by, the greater the potential for complications.”

Barak is now the Defense Minister and his key statement is that he wishes “to totally change the rules of the game.” That his publicly stated goal is vague does not mean that goals are not established. It likely refers to establishing a framework in which Hamas knows that as rocket fire increases, Israelis will counter with overwhelming force. There will still be some rockets, but they will be a relative few. This would re-establish Israel’s deterrence.

A key part of re-establishing deterrence is showing that Israel can manage its security affairs and not get pulled into disadvantageous situations. This management will be put to the test if, as appears likely, Israel engages in ground operations in Gaza. This ability to manage the national security process (an interest of mine) is essential, as Gaza will not be the last crisis that Israel is forced to manage.

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16 Responses

  1. The most advanced peacebuilding effort yet in the Middle East was put into place by Carter and Egypt and it will continue to progress once the conflict is over and the opportunity for peacemaking arises again. I see no reason to diss the Middle East peace process during a time of all out war as this analysis does.

  2. Thanks for your comment. Egypt was led by Anwar Sadat, one of the truly exceptional men in modern Middle Eastern history. He was ready for peace, and there was peace. He was also murdered for it.

    There is no such equivalent Palestinian leader and the fundamental dynamics of Palestinian society are not supportive of peace.

    One can hope that this changes.

    But Clinton gave everything he had to fostering Palestinian-Israeli peace under the most favorable of conditions and it blew up in his face.

  3. Aaron –

    Thanks for your reply.

    I agree with you that peacemaking is currently irrevelant, however, my point is that peacebuilding initiatives, not pacifism, have made progress. The basic purpose of Carter and Egypt’s proposals this year included recognition of Hamas as an elected political party and as someone to be listened to. Hamas, as I recall and correct me if I am wrong, responded with assurances that it would consider Carter’s and Egypt’s request for a ceasing of hostilities. So, if you agree that this is the case then what happened to Hamas’ assurances? Please note that the Bush Administration has perpetually advocated a military-only solution to the Middle East situation and has played no role whatsoever re: peacebuilding initiatives. IMO, Carter gave us a peek at what it will take to build peace in the Middle East. Peacebuilding initiative is not pacifism. Its precedents and practice can even be found in the new Army Field Manual 3-07.

  4. Aaron:

    from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
    Volume 2008, Issue No. 119
    December 29, 2008
    Secrecy News Blog:


    An improved understanding of the dynamics of the conflict between Hamas and Israel — one that goes beyond “they started it” — is probably a prerequisite to any enduring reduction of the violence and the terrible human suffering that the conflict now entails.

    A detailed new assessment (pdf) by an analyst at the U.S. Army Strategic Studies Institute traces the evolution of the Israel-Hamas conflict prior to the end of the recent ceasefire and identifies steps that both sides would likely have to take in order to arrive at a long-term truce.

    “Neither Israel nor the Palestinians have a unified position towards the other,” writes Sherifa Zuhur, professor of Islamic and regional studies at the Strategic Studies Institute. “Each group is socialized in particular ways, through the educational system, employment experiences; and for Israelis, in the military, in political parties, families, and bureaucracies.”

    Based on her own interviews and analyses, the author attempts to elucidate the social, cultural and political factors at work.

    A struggle to control the narrative of the conflict is itself part of the conflict and Prof. Zuhur’s account may not be fully embraced by anyone. On the whole, her analysis seems more sympathetic to Hamas, whose objective, she says rather incongruously, “is not the destruction of Israel” but only the “liberation of Palestine.”

    But even those who cannot accept her terms or the way she frames some of the issues may find food for thought in her 100-page paper (which does not represent an official U.S. Army position).

    She concludes optimistically that “each side is still capable of revising its desired endstate and of the necessary concessions to establish and preserve a long-term truce, or even a longer-term peace.”

    See “Hamas and Israel: Conflicting Strategies of Group-Based Politics” by Sherifa Zuhur, U.S. Army Strategic Studies Institute, December 2008.

    HAMAS and Israel: Conflicting Strategies of Group-Based Politics
    Authored by Dr. Sherifa D. Zuhur.

    Efforts to separate HAMAS from its popular support and network of social and charitable organizations have not been effective in destroying the organization, nor in eradicating the will to resist among a fairly large segment of the Palestinian population. It is important to consider this Islamist movement in the context of a region-wide phenomenon of similar movements with local goals, which can be persuaded to relinquish violence or which could become more violent. Certainly an orientation to HAMAS and its base must be factored into new and more practical and effective approaches to peacemaking in the region. At the same time, HAMAS offers a fascinating glimpse of the dynamics of strategic reactions and the modification of Israeli impulses towards aggressive deterrence, as well as the evolution in the Islamist movements’ planning and operations. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict bears similarities to a long-standing civil conflict, even as it has sparked inter-Palestinian hostilities in its most recent phase.

    Added December 23, 2008

  5. To yall

    Palestine is the land of peace; it contains various religions and cultures like Islam & Christianity & Jews.
    Above all; when your land "your country" is illegally occupied by another person rather than the rightful owner, you will certainly be furious and will try to defend it even though you might get harmed or killed, but you (step up to the plate) and defend your land, sacrificing your self to defend it against the occupation.
    p.s; to every person that thinks Hamas is doing wrong, let me give you facts:
    • From the start of the uprising *the intefada* 1000 Jews died, while 4500 Palestinians died by the Jewish army.
    • From the start of the attack on gazza nearly 400 people died and2000 people have been injured in only two days, lets do the math; it means nearly 200 human beings are dead in a day “in the gazza strip”-the gazza strip is only 400 squared kilo meters-. Now let me ask yall does it mean that the Jewish army has the right to kill 400 people and injuring thousands of others, only to “RETALIATE” to the Hamas attacks; BTW the “Hamas attacks didn’t kill more than 50 Jews”.
    ****p.s: I am a Muslim not an extremist (I'm like every one of yall, I like to listen to RAP & ROCK & other genres of music)"I am like what you call a "moderate" Arab".
    I am a Palestinian Muslim 100%.

  6. So you think making peace with Israel is easy, haven’t you watched the news all these past 60 years, Israel was always either the one to start wars, or provoking one, when Israel in 2006 attacked Lebanon, I was glad that Lebanon survived the horrors of Israel’s brutal attacks, I don’t think that you are watching the right news channels,
    Hammas has every right to defend its land, to try to stop the Israeli massacres. Israel has kept Gaza citizens starving in a siege that started 6 month ago, not allowing food, medicine, fuel, or electricity. And you then you say that they are smuggling food from Egypt is wrong? What did you expect them to surrender to hunger and die, shame on you?
    Please try to find out the real criminal in this war, watch the news that is covering the whole world. Don’t allow yourself to be brain washed with the Israeli Propaganda, watch the other point of view, and see how the Gaza people are really suffering.

  7. It is precedent and practice that I find of interest i.e. Palestine can liberated by war or conflict resolution (Carter’s and Egypt’s proposal). However, the destruction of Israel would use war only and I keep thinking ‘Bush Doctrine’ for the present situation i.e. preemption as both Bush and Israel continue to confront and grow enemies and the costs of war with Palestine.

  8. I went to the Carter Center Fall 2008 Newsletter and found what Carter felt he accomplished in his April trip. Amongst the accomplishments were: (1) Carter listened to all parties including Hamas and stated that peacebuilding cannot proceed without the inclusion of all parties in the debate, (2) a 2008 cease fire was accomplished up until the current conflict, (3) publicity for a two-state referendum was fomented and (4) US participation in Syria/Lebamom talks mediated by Turkey was encouraged. Egypt followed with a simiiar proposal. What happened to these efforts which Carter claims that 64% of Palestians and Israelis want to see happen?

  9. All –

    Sorry to take so long to reply – but occasionally I have things to do besides blog.

    First, the links I included in my statement that Hamas is not a partner for peace were to Hamas produced children shows in which children are systematically indoctrinated towards martyrdom and hatred. It is indicative of a movement in which the raison d’etre is war with Israel. That does not mean that Israel cannot come to short and medium term arrangements with Hamas, but that “revitalizing the peace process” and pushing towards a final settlement are not realistic.

    That being said, I am not so blinkered as to not have some grasp of the nature of Palestinian animus towards Israel. However, 60 years of fighting Israel have brought only further devastation to the Palestinians, while Israel has thrived. The period of relative Palestinian-Israeli cooperation (such as the late 1970s and early 1980s or the late 1990s) were periods of great prosperity for the Palestinians. Decisions to bring those periods to a close and enter periods of conflict had terrible effects on the Palestinians. Consequently, if the Palestinians have any alternative to conflict with Israel they should consider it carefully.

    This raises the question of whether Israel can make peace. Egypt received 100% of its land back when it signed an agreement with Israel. Despite overwhelming military superiority, Israel has been more than willing to negotiate with Syria (the Syrians always find an excuse to kill the deal.) Israel will require complete recognition of its right to exist – Hamas will not grant that. Until they do, talk of a peace process is fruitless (regardless of what popular opinion desires – unfortunately).

    This brings us to the peace building question. As it happens, the Bush administration has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the PA for institutional capacity building in the hopes that it would become strong enough to be a peace partner. This aid did not go to Hamas, but it could be argued that until Hamas felt some competition it had little incentive to take any negotiations seriously.

    As for Carter’s efforts with Egypt to bring Hamas to the table, it is worth noting how strongly Egypt has criticized Hamas for starting the present round of fight.

    Thanks again for all of your comments.

  10. If we could just get the Iranians to arm the Gazans properly they could defend themselves.

    I nuclear exchange between Israel and Gaza would solve so many problems.

  11. Hamas, though a pest, is not Hesbollah. The former is incapable of conducting more than harrassment on Israel, while the later is capable of inflicting real damage as 2006 proved. The longer this spectacle continues, the fewer options are left for Israel.

    It may be controvesial, or even impossible considering all the intertwining politics involved, – but Israel might benefit from recognizing Hamas as the legitimate government of Palestine, and working with the more moderate elements of Hamas to achieve some kind of sustainable peace. It is unimaginable that the majority of the people in Gaza and the West Bank do not some kind of sustainable peace, and real progress in establishing a legitimate Palestinian state with Israel as a legitmate neighbor.

    Israel will be forced to compromise, take down settlements, negotiate reasonable water, electricity, ingress and egress rights, and the Palestinian people will also be forced to renounce, reject, and repudiate terrorist acts as the primary means of political advancement.

    It may be impossible, but it is the only option that has not been tried, and all the other previous attempts at reconciling this bloody costly conflict have failed time and time again.

    Something has to change fundamentally. The Palestinian people elected Hamas, not Fatah, and the rest of the world and particularly Israel, and America must respect the legitimate voice of the Palestinain people.

    If after recognition and acceptance of Hamas and goodfaith attempts to work toward peace – the rocket attacks, and other sundry terrorist operations continue, – then Hamas and the Palestinian people would have had their chance and squandered it, and the rest of the world would not be so eager to prevent or condemn Israel from slaughtering every single Hamas thug, operation, system, and network.

    To give peace a chance, – Hamas must be recognized as the legitimate government of the Palestinian people, and given the opportunity to join the community of nations in goodfaith, and work toward a prosperous peaceful Palestine.

    If not, then these ugly horrible spectacle will continue ad infinitum.


  12. To all Israelis and Palestinians, you fellows have been fighting so many times and have lost so many lives and yet cannot solve the dispute. It is clear that peace cannot be attained by fighting….. if peace is not exactly what you want and revenge or whatever reason you think is why you fought and kill, then continue to fight with guns and bullets supplied by the global spectators… till the last man is left standing…. Clap, clap….. I think most of the spectators are getting bored already…

    It is wise to stop fighting and talk peace…. take it one step at a time, so simple.. and don’t make it difficult.

  13. Good write up. HAMAS clearly miscalculated in abandoning the “cease-fire” and is now paying the price for its mistake. It will be lucky even to emerge from this conflict intact. HAMAS is no Hizballah and this war exposes that fact. HAMAS leaders can only hope that European and Arab leaders rescue from them from obliteration. But hopefully, in his last days as president, Bush can forestall world pressure on Israel to halt its operations in Gaza long enough for Israel to cripple HAMAS for quite a while.

    For more info, or if you’re having trouble sleeping, check out my thoughts on the Gaza war.

  14. Some very interesting Hamas apologists on this board..

    First Jimmy Carter had little to do with the Egypt-Israel peace accords. That was the brainchild of Begin and Anwar Sadat, and the fact that Sadat was assassinated for his part in things should speak volumes.

    The basic principles were worked out by the parties directly during meetings in Madrid and during Sadat’s trip to Jerusalem..which ought to show people what happens when the Arabs approach Israel with a meaningful offer of peace.

    All Carter provided was a photo-op and $2 billion a year in aid to bribe the Egyptians, money they need desperately. That armistice survives because of the US money, because of Egypt’s moribund economy and because the Egyptians know that Israel has the capability to destroy the Aswan dam and put most of th einhabited part of Egypt under 15 feet of water. Meanwhile, it’s a cold peace and Jew hatred is rife in the government controlled Egyptian media.

    As for the ‘Palestinins’ I find it difficult to see how the term’occupation’ can be used when they never owned the territory in question in the first place. The Ottomans ruled it for five centuries, the Brits for another forty and Egypt and Jordan squatted on what were essentially ceasefire lines for nineteen years more, after which they lost control of the area after a war of aggression against Israel.

    The ‘Palestinians’ who weren’t kept in refugee camps were Egyptian and Jordanian citizens and they REMAINED citizens of those countries according to the laws that were specifically passed for that purpose in those countries ….bet you didn’t know that, did you?

    There were around one million Jews ethnically cleansed from th eArab world after 1948, most of whom settled in Israel without a penny’s help from the UN. It’s certainly not Israel’s fault if the Arab countries refused to do the same, for their own political purposes.

    The Israelis, in fact did not foillow the Arab example,and allowed the Arabs to stay in these areas after 1967. That and a weak Israeli government being manipulated by Bill Clinton to re-empower that ranting old coward Arafat and bring him and his gang from Tunis to Gaza remains the only claim the Palestinians’ have on Gaza and the territories they currently occupy in Judea and Samaria ( AKA the West Bank).

    The Arab nations have expolled and killed a great many more ‘Palestinians ‘ than Israel has ( remember Black Septemper, Iraq , Kuwait, etc.?) and it is ironic that some of the people on this board would reserve their hostility for the only country in the Middle East that has given the ‘Palestinians’ so much as a square dunam of land to call their own.

    Finally, as far as Gaza goes, there’s a common sense, simple way to manage it and provide an incentive for peace where it counts.

    Sorry about the length of this, but the disinformation and revisionism that seems to be the norm these days requires it.

  15. As always, thanks for the comments.

    I don’t always have the energy and time to take on every criticism of Israel – so thanks for those who do.

    I look for more thoughtful criticism to address and consider. The fundamental issue is that Hamas is a vicious organization – really the anti-civilization that relishes death and lives for conflict.

    When that changes, many good things become possible.

  16. I still think that Jimmy Carter via the efforts of the Carter Center exercises the best model for peacebuilding in postconflict regions with regard to precedents and practice. Sooner rather than later, the causes of conflict, I think, will change from historical reference to more fundamental needs such as food and water, shelter, transportation and security. Regardless, I am disappointed that the contributors here are so into dissing Carter that so little time and space is actually devoted to the discussion as to how peacebuilding might actually work in the Middle East. Perhaps the global economic recession and climate change must proceed further before people wake up to the fact that wants becomes needs in these circumstances and that if peacebuilding is not in place then war will just find another reason to proceed. Was it Einstein who said that World War IV will fought with sticks and stones?

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