Israel and Gaza – Intervention Time

April 3rd, 2009 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

Focus: Tomorrow’s Flashpoints

Yes, I think it’s time we intervened. By intervention, I mean the kind where a bunch of people sit down with a good friend and have a heart-to-heart talk with them about their self-destructive behavior. That kind of intervention. And which friend should we sit down with?

Israel.

I’m not the only one to think so; a fair number of Israelis agree that someone needs to talk sense to their government. Before Israeli tanks even crossed into Gaza last December, 10,000 Israelis demonstrated against the war in the streets of Tel Aviv – a number which surprised even the demonstration organizers. It’s pretty interesting the extent to which Israel is portrayed, at least in this country, as a nation united behind the need for “decisive” military action. Maybe it’s not so amazing that a lot of Israelis are fed up when you stop to think about how unsuccessful those “decisive” actions have been at actually producing … you know … a decision.

What’s that one definition of insanity? Something about repeating the same action over and over and expecting different results?

Any discussion of Middle-Eastern violence inevitable gets tangled up with claim and counter-claim concerning which act of violence was a precipitating event and which was a response. There’s also the whole issue of proportionality of response which, although taught at the US Army War College as an integral part of the Law of War, is seen by some as too squishy and liberal a notion to merit much discussion. Okay. Forget about all that. Let’s talk about one thing and one thing only-results. Because while we may disagree about right and wrong, I think everybody recognizes stupid when they see it.

Step back, way back, and look at Israeli policy for the past forty years, and the one consistent result of that policy has been the replacement of secular Arab leadership with radical Islamic leadership. For a good part of that period – and I know this sounds unbelievable – that was, in fact, the deliberate aim of Israeli policy.

The enemy, in Israeli eyes, was the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). But the leadership of the PLO was secular (a significant number of its leaders and rank-and-file were actually Palestinian Christians), and Israel’s inability to visualize the sort of adversary it might face in place of the PLO was the genesis of the current fighting in Gaza.

In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon to destroy the PLO infrastructure there. Mission accomplished! The new Islamic fundamentalist group Hezbollah (”Party of God”) sprang up and filled the power vacuum left by the PLO’s forced departure, but that was okay. You see, Hezbollah was backed by Iran, and in 1982 Israel was actually helping Iran in its war against Iraq. Surely Israel’s new friendship with Iran would moderate Hezbollah’s behavior. Surely.

And why was Israel helping Iran in its war with Iraq? Because Iraq was seen as the greater threat and you have to understand, in the rough-and-tumble of real world politics: My enemy’s enemy is my friend. (See Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic, by Ray Takeyh [Holt, 2007].)

Yeah. That always works out well.

Hezbollah soon grew to be the strongest force in southern Lebanon, and in combating the Israeli occupation introduced some innovative new tactics no one had really tried before on a large scale – like suicide bombing. The Hezbollah “situation” simmered for over a decade and finally boiled over in 2006, when the Israelis launched another major invasion which accomplished nothing other than greatly increasing Hezbollah’s prestige, consolidating its political position in Lebanon, and embarrassing the Israeli Defense Force (IDF).

Okay, Lebanon could have worked out better. But what about occupied Gaza and the West Bank? From 1967, when the occupation began, the Israelis went after the PLO leadership (including the Palestinian Christian leadership) without relent, but practiced a strict “hands off” policy with respect to Islamic fundamentalists. Why? Because they were preaching against the PLO, and remember: My enemy’s enemy is my friend. As the Israeli columnist Uri Avnery recently observed,

“For years, the occupation authorities favored the Islamic movement in the occupied territories. All other political activities were rigorously suppressed, but their activities in the mosques were permitted. The calculation was simple and naive: at the time, the PLO was considered the main enemy, Yasser Arafat was the current Satan. The Islamic movement was preaching against the PLO and Arafat, and was therefore viewed as an ally.”

At one point the Israelis actually convinced themselves that Islamic fundamentalists would make less mischief because – wait for it – they spent all of their free time praying. (You can’t make this stuff up!) In 1987 this policy reached its logical fulfillment when the Islamic resistance united and renamed itself Hamas, an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya (Islamic Resistance Movement). Did the Israelis wake up and smell the coffee at this point? Hard as you will find this to believe, the answer is no, they did not. A year later, in 1988,

“Israel forcibly exiled Palestinian activist Mubarak Awad, a Christian pacifist who advocated the use of Gandhian-style resistance to the Israeli occupation, and Israeli-Palestinian peace, while allowing (Sheik Ahmed)Yassin (co-founder of Hamas) to circulate anti-Jewish hate literature and publicly call for the destruction of Israel by force of arms.”

When the Palestinian moderate Mahmoud Abbas replaced the late Yasser Arafat as head of the PLO, and renewed the efforts to reach a negotiated territorial settlement, the Israelis sensed weakness and stonewalled. Why make concessions when you are in a position of strength? The Israeli government marginalized and humiliated Abbas, and prime minister Ariel Sharon even called him “a plucked chicken.” This policy also reached its logical fulfillment in the next Palestinian elections – a resounding Hamas victory. After all, the PLO’s attempts at a negotiated settlement were obviously not going to produce any results.

Make no mistake: the recent campaign in Gaza was not about ending rocket attacks; it was about the liquidation of Hamas. Tzipi Livni, the Israeli Foreign Minister, said exactly that. Dr. Frankenstein decided the time had come to destroy the monster he created.

And what was the result of that? Remember, all we are talking about today, all we care about, are results. The results were nearly identical to the 2006 Lebanon operation: blood and failure.

Israel is still ringed by secular Arab governments. The Arab world watched the destruction of Gaza and the death of hundreds of women and children at the hands of the Israeli Defense Force, and noted the fact that every Arab government stood idle and impotent while this unfolded. Every televised frame of violence in Gaza contributed to the mounting rage, not simply against Israel, but more importantly against those Arab governments and their, “despicable silence and connivance,” in the words of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition movement.

Israel still has the opportunity to reach an accommodation with an Arab leadership dominated by secular nationalists, but the opportunity may be fleeting. If Israel waits – content that it operates from “a position of strength” – the day may come when it is instead surrounded by Islamic fundamentalist regimes. By acts such as the campaign in Gaza, it actively hastens the arrival of such a day, just as its inept policies in Lebanon and the occupied territories nurtured the growth of Hezbollah and Hamas.

Whoever thinks Israel will then be more secure, raise your hand.

To learn about clashes before Israel declared its statehood on May 14, 1948, readLashing Back – Israel’s 1947–1948 Civil Warfrom MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History on HistoryNet.com.

About the Author: The major landmarks in Frank's historical interests range from ancient Persia through the Crimean War, World War II, and the modern U.S. Armed Forces, with a lot of stops in between. Frank is fascinated by the unusual, the overlooked, and the surprising. He is the New York Times number one best-selling author of the Desert Shield Fact Book (1991) and he is currently writing an historical novel on Alexander's conquest of Persia – from the Persian point of view.

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7 Responses to “Israel and Gaza – Intervention Time”

  1. Thank you, Frank, for being frank about the intentionally protracted and laughable peace process in the Middle East. Before we have an intervention with our friend Israel, we need to have one with the cowards in Congress. In the middle of the latest battle in Gaza, only five members of the House of Representatives voted against H.R. 34, which “recogniz(es) Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza, reaffirming the United States’ strong support for Israel, and supporting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.”

    Notice that the U.S. strongly supports Israel while merely supporting the peace process.

    These five members of the House voted with their conscience. No surprises here:

    Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio
    Gwen Moore, D-Wisconsin
    Ron Paul, R-Texas
    Nick Rahall, D-West Virginia
    Maxine Waters, D-California

    You might remember that Kucinich and Paul both ran for president this past media circus and were marginalized by the ringmaster.

  2. Thanks, Tracey. I calls ‘em like I sees ‘em.

  3. JonathanInTelAviv said:

    Some points to consider:

    1. Operation Cast Lead was wildly popular with the Israeli public at the time of the 10,000-person demonstration you cite. And though it has become less popular since it ended, that’s because it didn’t completely achieve its goal: the cessation of rocket attacks on Israeli cities (almost no Israelis believed that Hamas could be destroyed).

    2. You criticize Israel for not taking tougher action against Hamas during the first 20 years of its existence, during which time it was non-violent, yet you excoriate Israel for persecuting non-violence. Clearly those positions are contradictory.

    Maybe Israel should learn how to deal with radical Moslem groups from Arab countries such as Egypt. As Arabs, we can presume they know how to deal with them. Do you agree with that? Do you know how Egypt has dealt with the Muslim Brotherhood, progenitors of Hamas?

    3. Your claim that Israel is “responsible” for the growth of Hamas ignores the fact that such groups have been gaining popularity throughout the Moslem world for decades, well before the founding of Hamas.

    4. If you want to talk about “results,” fine; I just ask that you give credit where credit is due. To that end, we need a bit of context. It’s interesting to compare the fate of Israel’s Jewish population with that of other minorities in the region. Who’s done better than us?

    The Christians? Look at how they’re doing in the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Lebanon, and Iraq.

    The Kurds? Only recently, and only due to the US military, have they been able to stop worrying about somebody gassing them to death.

    The Kuwaitis? Again, it’s only due to the US military that they survived.

    The Bahai in Iran? Heartbreaking.

    As you see, this is a tough neighborhood.

    And now Israel. History shows that Israel has achieved its desired “result” for not just 40 years, but 60: we have survived. And even thrived. Plus we have two long-lasting peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, leaving only Lebanon (where a peace treaty was signed but the president who signed it assassinated by the Syrian dictator, Assad), and Syria and the Palestinians (both recently in serious negotiations). In Middle-Eastern terms, that’s rapid progress indeed.

    Look at where Israel is today, and compare it to where we were as recently as a few decades ago, when we were fighting for our physical existence. Those are “results”.

    5. What really blocks progress to peace now are the Palestian terror groups, chiefly Hamas. As long as these groups have the power to disrupt the process, they will. The only way these groups can be marginalized is for their secular alternatives (the Palestinian Authority) to offer a better path forward for their people. Until that happens, those terror groups have to be contained. And that means cutting them off from their source of power: Iran.

  4. Jonathan:
    Thanks very much for reading the blog and for the thoughtful comments. I’m sure they are heartfelt and I’m happy to answer those which I perceive you mean as questions or requests for clarification. I am less comfortable getting into a full-blown debate in this forum, as it isn’t really set up for it. Not that I shrink from debate by nature.

    1. Public Support For “Cast Lead.”

    Not being present on the ground, and not fully trusting the competence level of reporting on the situation in our own media (I cannot recall even hearing the word “Refusenik” spoken in any US-broadcast news story about Israeli politics – ever), I am dependent on correspondents in Israel (such as yourself) on this. But I stand by my remarks which were, to the best of my knowledge, factually correct. To most audiences the fact than a demonstration of that size took place is genuine (and unreported) news. Did a large majority of Israeli citizens support the war? Yes. And I did not deny it nor suggest otherwise. But was, and is, the support less than what it was reported over here – which is to say unanimous? Again yes.

    2. “As Arabs, we can presume that they know how to deal with (Moslem groups). Do you agree with that?”

    No. Categorically No.

    I reject the entire idea that one ethnic or cultural group “knows,” on either some instinctive or acquired level, how to “deal with its own.” History provides so many examples — so depressingly many examples — of that argument used to justify the most monstrous treatment of human beings that I am appalled it endures.

    No.

    3. “Your claim that Israel is “responsible” for the growth of Hamas ignores the fact that such groups have been gaining popularity throughout the Moslem world for decades, well before the founding of Hamas.”

    No it doesn’t. The component groups which formed Hamas were growing before the formal creation of Hamas, as I mentioned, and were nurtured by Israeli policy, often deliberately. And of course that you cannot deny. It is true the weeds of violent Islamic extremism have taken root many places. That does not excuse fertilizing and watering them in Israel.

    4. Credit Where It Is Due

    This whole very defensive passage suggests to me that you have misunderstood my column. You seem to take it as an attack on the worthiness of Israel to exist as a state. Where did that come from? If I did not consider Israel worth preserving, I would have just written about something else. When people tell you they are afraid you are headed for trouble, that doesn’t man they think you are horrible, worthless people. When they tell you to go to the devil and change the channel, that’s when they have stopped liking you.

    5. “The only way these groups can be marginalized is for their secular alternatives (the Palestinian Authority) to offer a better path forward for their people.”

    Very true. But they cannot offer a better way forward on their own, since all non-violent solutions require the active cooperation and support of the Israeli government, and “plucked chicken” remarks do nothing to raise the confidence of the Palestinian people that such results will be forthcoming.

    Israel still has the PLO as a potential peace partner (even though it has spent a fair chunk of the last forty years trying to stamp “the secular alternative” out of existence). So long as the PLO remains committed to the possibility of a two-state solution, there is some hope. But faith in the two-state solution is fading, even within the PLO leadership. If the PLO gives up on a two-state solution and becomes seriously committed to the one-state solution, Israel is left with some pretty awkward choices, don’t you think? I certainly thing so. So if I lived in Tel Aviv, I’d probably be writing and phoning my Knesset guys to get really serious about helping the PLO regain some political muscle on the ground, instead iof trying to emasculate them.

    But that’s just me.

  5. Tom Harris said:

    Hmmm sounds like our previous adminstration added the Isreali governments thought process to their own little fantasy world with Iraq. Sigh….

  6. Joseph Hinds said:

    Frank, This a super well done piece. Man, God gave you the gift of clarity. All I got was a T-shirt.

    While we are talking to Israelis we might bring up the USS Liberty incident. If your unfamiliar let me bullet point this
    * USS intelligence ship is in operation off the coast of Gaza in daylight.
    * Israeli MTB’s (Motor Torpedo Boats that we gave them) attack the ships and really shoot it up.
    * We have about 40 dead kids and a crippled ship.
    * The Israeli MTB call for Air support because they are under “Enemy” fire.
    *The Israeli fighters make several strafing runs.
    * We now have more dead and injured.
    *Israel says they never knew it was an American ship.
    *The ship flew a Large American flag.
    *All US ships have huge white letters and numbers on the Bow(pointy end of the ship and the Stern (butt end)
    * Entire crew was threatened with court martial if anyone ever spoke of the incident.

    Think its time to speak out?

    Joe Hinds

  7. Joseph,
    There are a lot of unasnwered questions about the USS Liberty incident, no doubt about it. But it’s pretty hard to avoid the feeling that it was a firm message sent to us by Israel that SingInt gathering while they were conducting high intensity military operations — even SigInt gathering by an ally — was not welcome.

    A pretty costly message, it has always seemed to me.

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