Israel’s desperate gamble is likely to backfire


2:44 pm - November 19th 2012

by Sunny Hundal    


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The massive shelling of Gaza by Israeli forces, which they say is in retaliation for rocket fire from Hamas, has predictably led to everyone in the western world assume their traditional positions. I don’t want to argue about which side is right or wrong, because clearly the world is starved of that debate.

Yesterday the Jerusalem Post published an outrageous op-ed by former PM Ariel Sharon’s son, Gilad Sharon, arguing that for a “decisive conclusion” to this crisis, Israel needs to assume it citizens are “not innocent” and needs to “flatten all of Gaza”. There is even a comparison to the US nuclear strike on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WW2.

I’ll come back to the madness of the proposals later, but Sharon is right on one point: Israel is out of options. The latest attack on Gaza is a desperate gamble and the country’s die-hard supporters in the West need a different approach to secure the country’s long term future. There are two key reasons I say this.

First: Hamas has developed longer-range rockets. This means hit targets further and with more accuracy, placing even the citizens of Tel Aviv under the threat of rocket attacks. Hamas’ increasing military capability was spearheaded by Ahmed al-Jabari – the man that Israel assassinated, kicking off the latest conflict. The New York Times explains:

The commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, had shifted Hamas’s low-grade militia into a disciplined force with sophisticated weapons like Fajr-5 rockets, which are named after the Persian word for dawn and have significantly increased the danger to Israel’s major cities. They have a range of about 45 miles and are fired by trained crews from underground launching pads.

Under Mr. Jabari, Hamas also developed its own weapons industry in Gaza, building long-range rockets as well as drones that they hoped to fly over Israel just as Israeli drones roam the skies of Gaza, sowing fear in its population.

Israel says it is readying a ground force because it wants to take out these long-range rocket pads. I believe that. I just don’t believe this is possible in the medium term. Hamas will immediately build more and continue with its strategy, with help. Israel also believes that taking out top commanders will make Hamas think twice. This is even more naive: it didn’t happen when Israel assassinated Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin, and it won’t work now. In fact, every time Israel attacks Hamas is strengthened and local support rises.

Second: the Arab spring has hugely changed the area. This is especially true of Egypt, which won’t stand around letting the IDF kill large numbers of Palestinians like Hosni Mubarak did. They have already watched by as 100s of Egyptian activists poured into Gaza this week with medical supplies. If the situation gets worse that trickle will turn into a flood and Israel won’t achieve its goals either. It is unlikely to want a full-scale military conflict with Egypt.

The Arab Spring also strengthened Hamas’ ties with other Arab states, simultaneously loosening Iran’s hold. This means Hamas has gained political legitimacy – the exact opposite of what Israel has been trying to achieve (now you know why Israel also opposed the toppling of Hosni Mubarak).

Unlike past years, the surrounding Arab leaders won’t want to sit by and watch Israel massacre more civilians: not just because the governments have changed, but because inaction could fuel uprisings against them. That rubicon has been crossed.

All this gives Israel very limited time. It is gambling that hitting Hamas with overwhelming force may dissuade it from more rockets attacks in the near future. This is why Gilad Sharon is advocating extreme overwhelming force. The Israeli establishment has become so myopic that the only options under consideration seem to range from retaliation to extreme action.

But neither would not work because it is more likely that Hamas will want to escalate warfare and engage Israel more permanently. Israel would become even more weakened and isolated, with peace even further away. It’s survival would be under even more threat.

There is only one way out of this in the long term for Israel: to break the cycle. Establish a long term cease-fire; stop the illegal settlements; start talking to Hamas; work towards confidence building measures and eventually negotiate a treaty.

If Israel’s supporters in the West want to see the country prosper and survive, they must recognise the dead-end it is currently in and call on it to push in a new direction. Otherwise they too will become complicit in the carnage that is likely to follow.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


Nick Clegg wrote this in 2009.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jan/07/nick-clegg-israel-gaza-war

Particularly:
-”Israel’s approach is self-defeating: the overwhelming use of force, the unacceptable loss of civilian lives, is radicalising moderate opinion among Palestinians and throughout the Arab world”;

-”Brown must stop sitting on his hands. He must condemn unambiguously Israel’s tactics, just as he has rightly condemned Hamas’s rocket attacks”;

-”No terrorist organisation has ever been defeated by bombs alone. Only a new approach will secure lasting peace for Israel itself”.

I fully agree, though unless the governing Israeli coalition collapses I can’t see it happening. If this all goes pear shaped then anything could happen.

I’m not hugely convinced by this, Sunny. Israel’s long-term strategy has been to continue munching up Palestinian land; throttling any possibility of a Palestinian state while launching punitive bombardments whenever their neighbours get too uppity about it.

Meanwhile, Hamas are arch-rejectionists, committed to “resistance” no matter how ineffective and ruinous it is, filled with a nutty belief that God will somehow ensure their final victory.

Both policies are popular with their respective constituencies and no external force appears to have any interest in seriously pushing for anything other than the status quo. If anything, the behaviour of the EU and US in particular shows that they’re perfectly happy with the way things are, thanks.

I think folk find attacks on and from Gaza confusing because of a basic misunderstanding. Both sides are talking about a fight to the finish, once and for all, etc. and so on, but neither is interested in that.

The Israeli political class are perfectly aware that the only way to 100% stop rocket attacks from Gaza is to drive out the entire population of the city and make them go somewhere far away. Since they’re not going to do that, there must be some less mental motivation, and indeed there is – imprisonment plus periodic bombings keep the Palestinians poor, divided and miserable. That suits Bibi and his cronies just fine.

On the other side, these bombardments keep the Gazans’ hate fresh and shore up Hamas’s cred as the only faction telling it like it is about the awful Zionist menace. Not even Netanyahu himself imagines that Hamas will suffer any kind of grievous damage, in terms of reputation or infrastructure.

What we’re looking at here is the status quo, in perpetuity. Israel and Hamas keep getting what they want, while some Europeans and Arabs make sad faces and agree how very bad it all is. I suspect that will go down just fine with all parties involved.

Rodent nails it.

Bibi put great effort and credibility on backing Romney in US elections. Believing a Romney win would give the green light to attacking Iran. It didn’t happen. Do not underestimate this latest crisis as a way of smoking out Iran into some sort of defence of Gaza.

Israel does not want a two state solution. It wants all of the land. And so far the salami sliced stealing of land, and building new settlements has worked well. Every metre that is built on is a metre less for a 2 state solution. The problem is that this process will take decades to complete. And as the hopelessness of the people intensifies the chance of some an attack on Israel by powerful rockets only increases. If Israel were to mount a major land invasion, and push the people back to the Egyptian boarder who is going to stop them with the huge technological advances and military hardware they have?

Only an intervention from a major player like Iran would put that in doubt. And a Iranian intervention will bring massive US involvement. Israel may have decided to get its objectives done quickly and worry about the consequences later.

Agree with your analysis Sunny; agree up to a point with rodent’s cynicism about anybody taking the sane decision on this.

Two things need to happen in order for the situation to start changing, and neither of them are within the power of the Israelis or Palestinians themselves: the Arab states need to start taking more of an interest in Palestine, and the US needs to start taking less of an interest in Israel (especially as regards practically paying it a retainer to stay at war). With the Arab Spring on the one hand and Obama’s apathy towards Israel on the other, who knows? Who knows.

The US interest in Israel is not going anywhere as long as the Suez canal remains of vital strategic importance.

Sunny,

“There is only one way out of this in the long term for Israel: to break the cycle. Establish a long term cease-fire; stop the illegal settlements…..”

Sorry to pop your balloon but there are no settlements in Gaza. Gaza is entirely occupied by Palestinians with Hamas as the governing party.

Why not credit Palestinians with the ability to think for themselves, be responsible for their actions and govern the land that they occupy rather than regard them as mere flotsam bobbing along only able to develop long range munitions.

Israel is testing the Egyptian government to see what kind of neighbour they have to their south. I doubt if Israel is unaware of the implications of the so called Arab ‘Spring’.

throttling any possibility of a Palestinian state while launching punitive bombardments whenever their neighbours get too uppity about it.

I take the point about Israel and Hamas’ unwillingness to change the status quo.

But as I point out – two things have changed. It’s politically harder for Israeli govt to carry on when accurate rockets could be raining down in Tel Aviv. They could tolerate the border towns being bombed.

Secondly, they relied on Egypt and other Arab states to maintain the status quo, tacitly. That is unlikely to remain the case.

10. flyingrodent

Aye, you may well be right. I’m not really seeing any unexpected behaviour, but who knows what’s going on behind the scenes?

Strongly advise against getting hopes up of a decisive turn towards talks rather than missiles, though.

I’ve been debating online since 1995 in many forums, many of them with international participants. In that time, there have unsurprisingly been periodic outbreaks of debates about the Palestine Question.

These debates almost invariably degenerated quickly into exchanges of abuse, with any critics of Israel dubbed as Hitler-loving Nazis by the powerful and numerous Israel lobby online. By comparison, the debates in threads here have been calm and rational IMO. At least, there is a growing international recognition that the Palestinians have a valid cause. That is progress of a kind.

The Hamas rockets fired into Israel are not just a case of mindless, unprovoked aggression directed against the peace-loving Israelis, who want little more than to be able to continue to live their ethnic ways, protected against the malicious intentions of international antisemites.

It just happens that those peace-loving Israelis want to continue to build Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory without interference and to throw rocks at Palestinian children in the occupied territories on their way to school. But then many Israelis apparently believe that they are entitled to occupy all Palestine because of a divine covenant between their ethnic Deity and His Chosen People.

12. Tony McMahon

Flying Rodent’s analysis seems depressingly spot on. It’s like watching the Spartans culling the Helots – every so often, Israel mounts the obligatory massacre of Palestinians on a pretext that Hamas is only to happy to provide.

I don’t want to argue about which side is right or wrong, because clearly the world is starved of that debate.

For me it comes down to the actual type of bombing Israel is doing. Supporters of Israel are insisting it’s being done with great care to avoid civilian casualties and I think that is far too glib and quite far from the truth.
I also think it’s important to note the hostility Israel supporters have to anyone who says they are being wreckless with the bombing and shelling.

I agree that having the whole debate about who’s right and wrong overall is pointless – but for me, just that point I’ve mentioned above is an important marker.
The biggest Israel cheerleaders are shameless.
As bad as the idiots on the other side.

The Viva Palestina type people are crap too, and they use each other’s unreasonableness to shore up their own extreme positions. See HP for various threads on this right now, flagging up how terrible Richard Seymour and the PSC people are.

As for the rockets that can reach Tel Aviv: I don’t think they’ll have many left, and they cant even hit a target as big as that – they’ve missed.
I doubt that Israelis are that scared about them.

In my naive youth, I used to wonder where Hitler got that weird notion of an Aryan master race from. I think I know better now where he got the inspiration from.

15. Raymond Terrific

Come on boffins! This is the big one.

If Bob and Chaise bang their not inconsiderable brains together then surely we can crack it. Bob’s been debating since 1995 so this should be a cinch to a seasoned hand like him. And Chaise is just about the biggest egghead here, so let’s get this sorted and then I can put my feet up, grab a beer and enjoy the rest of the evening!

16. flyingrodent

Somebody launch Bob out of comments, please. This stuff goes beyond just BACAI.

17. MacrosTh3Black

I agree partly with both Sunny and flyingrodent but only to an extent.

No side can win militarily. That much is clear as history has already proven. However, neither Hamas nor the current Israeli Government are willing to make the necessary and painful compromises required for a permanent political solution, either.

On the Palestinian side, the experience on the West Bank, where an almost totally subservient and compliant Abbas is notionally in “control”, demeaning and degrading Israeli policy continues unabated. I imagine that situation doesn’t exactly inspire Palestinian confidence in any potential improvements or advantages that may result from any future peace deal.

On the Israeli side, whatever people may think of Ariel Sharon and his actions before becoming Prime Minister, he did order the dismantling of some settler outposts and the unilateral pull out of Gaza and look at the end result. Did Palestinians respond positively seeing it as an encouraging sign that Israel was genuinely willing to cede land for peace and an opportunity to enter into full hearted negotiations? Did they hell. Hamas launched a power grab throwing Fatah members off rooftops and launching huge numbers of rockets. Hamas still refuses to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and there are no serious indications that will ever change.

Both sides can point to numerous actions and signs of bad faith from the other but the situations in Burma and Northern Ireland both show that if two sides are genuine and willing to make compromises then progress can be made despite seemingly insurmountable difficulties. The problem is that neither is willing and so we are left with the intolerable status quo.

To me it is clear that any political solution has to be based on the 1967 borders with some land swaps, the dismantling of some Israeli settlements (with force if necessary), large financial compensation for Palestinians to give up the right of return, and for East Jerusalem to be the Palestinian capital (but maybe with UN control and administration of the sensitive historical sites so that access for all can be maintained). Hamas and Islamic Jihad would also have to accept and acknowledge Israels right to exist and renounce violence.

I won’t hold my breath.

Wouldn’t want to raise any false hopes. Try this Wikipedia entry:

The 1920 Nabi Musa riots or 1920 Jerusalem riots took place in British Mandate of Palestine on April 4–7, 1920 in and around the Old City of Jerusalem. The events coincided with and are named after the Muslim Nabi Musa festival and followed rising tensions in Arab-Jewish relations.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1920_Nebi_Musa_riots

There were more rounds of Arab rioting in Palestine in 1929, 1936-39 and so on, basically about the same issues. There’s no point in pretending this conflict is likely to end any time soon.

The most objective account I know of about the founding of Israel and subsequent Arab-Israeli negotiations is Avi Shlaim: The Iron Wall (Penguin Books 2001). Avi Shlaim has joint Israeli-British citizenships. He is professor of international relations at St Anthony’s College, Oxford.

These debates almost invariably degenerated quickly into exchanges of abuse, with any critics of Israel dubbed as Hitler-loving Nazis by the powerful and numerous Israel lobby online.

I wonder why this “powerful and numerous Israel lobby” should start getting a whiff of something a little rank. . .

In my naive youth, I used to wonder where Hitler got that weird notion of an Aryan master race from. I think I know better now where he got the inspiration from.

There might be a Harry’s Place Gotcha! coming along any minute. . .

Somebody launch Bob out of comments, please. This stuff goes beyond just BACAI.

What’s “BACAI”?

20. flyingrodent

BACAI? As in, surely a person could discuss this issue without Being A Cretin About It.

Something like that, anyway. “Cretin” is close enough.

I wondered when some participants in this thread might displace rational discussion with name-calling.

As posted in another thread, Vilnai, the Israeli deputy minister of defence, has already spoken of the coming “shoah” (holocaust) of the Palestinians. Try this news report from February 2008:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1580339/Israeli-minister-vows-Palestinian-holocaust.html

That comment by an Israeli minister, already more than four years old, is very clear and explicit about intentions. It’s like getting back to old times.

Agree with the overall conclusion: Israel’s strategy likely to fail in its aim of stopping rocket attacks from Gaza. Not so sure, however, whether surrounding Arab states – especially Egypt where the new President can hardly be sure of the loyalty of the military – would really be likely to enter into conflict with Israel. The risks are just far too high; when push comes to shove, I imagine support for Gaza will not stretch beyond non-miltary aid.

23. flyingrodent

Sorry Bob, but I don’t enjoy being subjected to lengthy rambles about the inherent nastiness of Catholics on the football forums I visit, nor all the bum-extracted rants about the innate eviltude of Muslims you see all over politics blogs. Chat about how Hitler might have pinched his ideas on racial supremacy from the Jews is no more appealing.

So again, if there’s a moderator watching, I strongly recommend launching Bob like a rocket out of comments and slapping him with a lengthy ban. Because he’s a tool, and because deeply whiffy ideas about innate ethnoreligious villainy really isn’t acceptable.

22
Rob: “The risks are just far too high; when push comes to shove, I imagine support for Gaza will not stretch beyond non-miltary aid.”

Where is Hamas in Gaza getting those rockets from and why is Israel again reported to be bombing those “smuggling tunnels”? Who or what is funding the smuggling seeing as how the Palestinians in Gaza are totally impoverished?

Btw if any here believe I’ve been exaggerating or mendacious in saying that some/many Israelis believe they have a divinely granted entitlement to occupy all Palestine, try this video report of a demonstration in America by the Israel lobby and listen to the views expressed by the demonstrators:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CS3JkLMRdSI&feature=related

YouTube videos provide many highly instructive insights into the conflict over Palestine and the actions of the Israeli settlers there. The trouble is that the videos are often hacked by unidentified parties to prevent viewing.

@Flyingrodent – whatever you do, don’t mention to Bob B that you’re calling him a cretin while being Scottish! His anti-Scots views are fairly well known too.

Macros – what do you think of the UN statehood bid?

Cylux: “@Flyingrodent – whatever you do, don’t mention to Bob B that you’re calling him a cretin while being Scottish! His anti-Scots views are fairly well known too.”

It’s a widely documented historic fact that Hadrian’s Wall, built from 122AD onwards, was the most fortified frontier in the Roman empire. Basic curiosity prompts some with a continuing interest in Britain’s long history to inquire why that was so. In 1745, an army of Scottish Jacobites marched south and conquered Derby, only some 120 miles north of London. Evidently, not much had changed in between. Are old habits so hard to break?.

Among my listed sins – my expressed revulsion of Catholic paedophile priests and opposition to Islamic terrorism – I’m amazed that my continued defence of Keynesian economics and criticisms of George Osborne and his policies have been overlooked.

It seems extraordinary to me that those who regard my criticsm of Israel and the illegal settlement of Palestinian land as deeply offensive have nothing to say about a string of press reports from four years ago in which Vilnai, the Israeli deputy minister of defence, proposes a holocaust of Palestinians – see the link posted @21 for one such report.

28. flyingrodent

Are old habits so hard to break?

Has highly dubious comments to make on the inherent violence and bastardry of Scots, Catholics and Jews.

Reminds me of that joke in Blazing Saddles! where the townsfolk agree to accept black and Chinese people, but can’t abide the Irish.

Launch.

Rodent: “Has highly dubious comments to make on the inherent violence and bastardry of Scots, Catholics and Jews.”

I’m unclear as to why I need apologise for posting about 37 Catholic priests in Britain convicted for paedophile offences or for criticisng Israelis for continuing to build settlements on occupied Palestinian territory and ministerial proposals from Israel to inflict a holocaust on Palestinians.

The Australian government has recently announced its intention to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into abuse of children inflicted by clergy and Police reports there of attempts to cover up what has happened. That can hardly be described as “dubious”.

As for the Scots, the union between the two kingdoms was prompted by the disastrous Darien project in central America, an intended adventure in colonialism which had the unintended consequence of bankrupting the Scottish state.

A large part of my problem seems to be that I lack the comparative advantages that ignorance brings. Of course, an alternative explanation is to shut down documented criticism of Israel and the harm Israelis inflicted on the Palestinian people, apparently because a chunk of the Israeli population believes it has a divinely granted entitlement to occupy all Palestine.

News update:

By this news report from a few days ago, Gilad Sharon, the son of Ariel Sharon, is now proposing the nuclear obliteration of Gaza:

We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too.
http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2012/11/israel-must-flatten-gaza-us-flattened-japan-says-sharons-son

No wonder the Israelis worry about Iran developing an atom bomb but Tel Aviv, the biggest city in Israel, is only 20 miles from the occupied West Bank so many Palestinians would also suffer from the fall out.

Similar analysis shows why it is impractical to use nuclear bombs on Gaza but then coventional bombing by the RAF of Hamburg or Dresden in WW2 inflicted similar orders of casualties as the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

@17. MacrosTh3Black

I’d like to comment on this: “Hamas launched a power grab”.

They did not. Hamas won the Palestinian elections. The PLO, backed by Israel, the US, the UK and pretty wel everyone else then mounted a Coup. It suceeded in the West Bank but failed in Gaza. Since then, no-ones dared to let the Palestinians hold another election, despite the fact that Abbas’ mandate as President has expired.

32. MacrosTh3Black

@26 Sarah AB

What do I think of the UN statehood bid? That is a very tough question. I change my mind frequently on that issue. . Partly, I think it is a very bad idea as any workable solution has to result from negotiations between the two parties involved. A unilateral statehood bid does not fit that.

On the other hand, I also can’t help thinking that it would be a good thing if it shocked the Israeli Government and people into realising that the status quo cannot continue ad infinitum. If it led to a moratorium on settlement expansion which would enable peace talks to resume then that would be a positive thing and would help a bit to empower Abbas.

The difficulty is that as attractive as this second scenario is I just don’t see it happening. I really expect that a UN statehood bid, if successful, would just encourage Bibi Netanyahu and his Government to be even more belligerent. Especially if the results of the upcoming election go in his favour as is likely.

@31 Mark Austin

Fair point that Hamas won the election. That was the choice of the Palestinian people. However, Hamas then proceeded to throw Fatah members off rooftops. I think that can arguably be called a power grab when they carried out such extreme violence against their political opponents, Hardly democratic actions nor peaceful “resistance” either.

Even leaving aside the issue of the power grab, as I suspect we may never persuade each other otherwise, I did also point to the issue of rockets and the Israeli pullout being a demonstration of Israeli willingness to cede land for peace.

33. Neil in Chicago

It may be clearer to speak of Likud and Hamas rather than Israel and Gaza.
Likud and Hamas are codependently creating excuses for each others worst behavior.

Bob B – that stuff about flattening Gaza was absolutely terrible – but I’m sure no *nuclear* attack was intended.

Macros – I asked you partly because your views seemed quite close to mine – and, like you, I don’t know about this one because a negotiated peace seems better to me rather than a unilateral one. But that leads me to ask whether it would, by that logic, be wrong for Israel to (unilaterally) withdraw from the WB. I agree that the unilateral statehood bid might lead to violence. I think the force of contrast with Hamas’s actions makes me more sympathetic though.


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