Skyepcast: Israel-Gaza (Audio Content)

israel-gaza.mp3

Scott and I discuss the Israeli-Hamas war.  Click the link above to open a new player with the audio.  To download for Mac Users (Ctrl + Mouse), Windows users right-click Save As.

Links:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/15/world/middleeast/15fatah.html?_r=1&ref=world
http://www.iht.com/articles/2009/01/14/africa/15mideast.php
Chris’ Article Hamas: Method to the Madness  http://culture11.com/article/36290
Scott’s article http://politicsofscrabble.org/?p=1798

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Published in: on January 15, 2009 at 10:53 am  Leave a Comment  
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Follow up on Proportionality in Asymmetrical War

Nagarjuna excerpts a nice line from a piece in The Economist and then comments on it (quoting a piece from my earlier post on the subject).

The Economist graf that he quotes is the following:

A country must first have exhausted all other means of defending itself. The attack should be proportionate to the objective. And it must stand a reasonable chance of achieving its goal. On all three of these tests Israel is on shakier ground than it cares to admit.

N’juna then quotes my passage relative to #2 (proportionality).  He asks this question:

I’m inclined to agree with Dierkes that we cannot reasonably apply the concept of proportionality to the situation at hand and to other instances of asymmetric warfare. So, what do we do instead? Use only tests 1 and 2. or add a new test to the mix?

I think he means should we use only tests 1 and 3 (since I’ve argued against relevance to #2).  I feel I have even badder news on this front ‘cuz I’m not sure 1 and 3 are totally relevant either.

Number 1: Country must have first exhausted all other means.

–If that principle holds, then certainly the Israelis are open to criticism given that they never accepted the Hamas election in 2006 and immediately set about trying to wrest them from power (I argued against that policy at the time, but too late for that).

–The principle (#1) assumes that a country can not live with a certain degree of violence intruding upon it.  While this is a crazy proposition, I’ll put it out there.  Maybe the best form of defense is too admit there is no ability to end all such violence and ask what the best amounts of violence are?  i.e. To create resiliency. . I realize this is insane and suicidal politically speaking.  What I mean is even having exhausted all means other means, one might still not go to war on the presumption that the violence is inevitable and will only cause more blowback than the current low-grade level of violence already intruding.  Easy to say in the abstract for Israel to be sure.  But I still think it might be right.

#2 I already covered.  I’ll only add that the proportionality is relative to the objective.  But the objective itself has to be open to some kind of normative critique.  Which are proper and which improper objectives?  This question I think directly leads to….

#3, reasonable chance of success

This one again comes up against the same question of 4th Generation War.  Asymmetry.  Irregular forces.  Proxy or Low-Intensity conflict.  Whatever term you prefer.  A reasonable chance of success typically assumes armies fighting armies.  What does a reasonable chance of success look like relative to Israel-Gaza.  Depends on what success is defined as–which even the Israelis have realized they can’t make public since they themselves have basically no clue.

The Israelis on the military side (“the war” side if you like, or first round of war anyway) have more than a reasonable chance of successs.  They have a guaranteed one.  The whole point is to bait them into a ground invasion anyway.  On the political (“peace”) side–which is the real endgame–I see no way they have any reasonable or even unreasonable (i.e. highly unlikely but still small percentage) of achieving success.  Hamas is embedded in civil society.  Either you may support the hardline factions of Hamas, end up with something worse than Hamas, or worse both simultaneously.  When the strong fight the weak, the strong are weakened.  Winning battles loses wars in this fight.

It’s a Chinese finger trap.  For the Israelis to win the peace, they have to reconnect Gaza to the outside world.  Exactly the opposite of what they have been trying to do with the blockade, shutting out bandwith (so no nasty photos of the civilians they’ve killed get out onto YouTube), cutting off escape routes into Egypt, etc.  So doing however would also empower those on the black weapons market (which is undoubtedly getting through anyway).  The Egyptians can’t stop it.  The Israelis can’t.  Nobody can.  Also, any attempt to rebuild Gaza (“win the peace”) would require the Israelis to have a political mediator on the Gaza side.  But any group the Israelis try to “putsch” through (i.e. Fatah returned to power in Gaza) will inherently be de-legitimized.  So the Israelis can’t rebuild civil society, hence they are only seen as targeting it, targeting civilians (in the eyes of Gaza and much of the Arab Street).  So they can’t (re)build the place, hence they see everything as a military problem with an attending military solution, which only furthers this downward cycle.  The more they struggle to resist, the more become entrapped in the device.

In that scenario, I’m simply don’t know if any of the classic just war principles are particularly relevant anymore.  I don’t look on that point btw as a good thing; frankly it scares the bejesus out of me.  I also struggle with Nagarjuna’s question:  If not this, then what?  Short answer: I’m not really sure.

Published in: on January 12, 2009 at 9:25 pm  Comments (1)  
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Tom Segev: Conflict Management not Peace in The Middle East

Tom Segev, Israeli jouranlist (and author of the actually good book on the 67 War) with an insightful if nearly totally depressing op-ed in the Washington Post.

Segev:

I belong to a generation of Israelis who grew up believing in peace. At the end of the Six-Day War of 1967, I was 23, and I had no doubt that 40 years later, the Israeli-Arab war would be over. Today, my son, who is 28, no longer believes in peace. Most Israelis don’t. They know that Israel may not survive without peace, but from war to war, they have lost their optimism. So have I.

Because:

Apart from the conflict’s cruelty — particularly toward civilians, including numerous children — the present eruption is most likely to be remembered as yet another step in a long march of folly that began in 1967.

Following the Six-Day War, the Israeli government contemplated moving hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from Gaza and resettling them in the West Bank. That could have made the present situation infinitely less convoluted. But the plans remained on paper because some of the most powerful members of the Israeli government, including the right-wing leader Menachem Begin and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, believed that the West Bank should be reserved exclusively for Jewish settlement.

This was probably the worst mistake in Israel’s history. With nearly 300,000 Israelis living in the West Bank today and an additional 200,000 living in the formerly Arab part of Jerusalem, it is almost impossible to draw sensible borders and achieve peace.

Undoubtedly the post 67 euphoria (partly nationalist, partly religious, which are always mixed in Israeli-Zionist history…even the secular there has a kind of religious fervor), the decision to settle into the West Bank (which as Gorenberg pointed out was really accidental and certainly not thought through) has sealed the region into a forever stalemate.  There is no Palestinian state I’m sad to say anywhere on the horizon.  I think frankly one should just be created on paper, since it is never going to happen otherwise in real life, and then possibly the fact that it exists will make it come to exist.

But this sadly seems to me to the truth all around:

This conflict is not merely about land and water and mutual recognition. It is about national identity. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians define themselves by the Holy Land — all of it. Any territorial compromise would compel both sides to relinquish part of their identity.

Segev says Israel should return to what it was created for, being a Jewish democracy (not as in Gorenberg an Accidental Empire).  It would require a complete withdraw from The West Bank but I just can’t see that happening.  They are too enmeshed, too embedded, the occupation as a cancer on the Israeli political body strikes me as too deep.  Such a radical operation and political chemotheraphy seems beyond any politician in a fractured electoral environment.

The result of which:

I no longer believe in solving the conflict. What I do believe in is better conflict management — including talks with Hamas, which is a taboo that must be broken. The need for U.S. engagement has led me, along with many other Israelis, to harbor high hopes for the administration of Barack Obama. The Bush administration was mainly concerned with keeping alive a diplomatic fiction called “The Peace Process.” But there really was no such “process.” Instead, the oppression of the Palestinians continued and intensified, even after Israel had evacuated several thousand settlers from Gaza in 2005. More settlements were put up in the West Bank.

Agreed.  Again either declare the state or don’t and manage the conflict (or maybe do both).  Don’t have a process towards a Palestinian state because that is all it will ever be–a process towards some unachievable goal.  To change Lennon:  Don’t Give Peace a Chance.  Here Yoda holds true: Do or Do not, there is no try.

Published in: on January 11, 2009 at 5:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Article on Hamas for C11

I have an article up at Culture11 on the “rationality” (means-end rationality not the rationality of their goals/ends in mind) of Hamas. The link is here. Big ups to political editor extraordinaire James Poulos.

A sneak peak:

There is a method to the madness of Hamas that comports with this reality. Hamas seeks to fight in the only way it can win, given the military, economic, and political disparity between the two countries. Whatever else one thinks, Hamas is rational enough — in its means, if not its goals — to fight in the way that maximizes both its advantages and Israel’s disadvantages simultaneously. So the more Hamas militants and/or Gaza civilians are killed (up to an extreme point, of course), the more Hamas achieves tactical, asymmetric success against Israel — leading to a victory for Hamas that further delegitimizes Fatah and moderate Arab regimes like Egypt’s.

The reality in question being irregular insurgent warfare against a conventionally armed nation-state.

The implication (left implied) for Israel is a counter-intuitive one. The argument is that Hamas should be brought into the political process as a way to neutralize them and shift the “Low-Intensity Conflict” in the long run to their favor. Because Israel wins fights against nation-states.

Take Hezbollah who either won or fought to a draw (depending on your pov) their short war with Israel in 2006. After that conflict, Hezbollah was brought formally into The Lebanese State. Hezbollah has not (so far as I know) changed their official position on seeking the total destruction of the state of Israel. But has Hezbollah joined in this round of conflict? Not yet and I don’t think they will. They have a stake now in the (admittedly ramshackle) Lebanese state. They are now in a coalition government and their actions as they realized in 2006 could and did cause Lebanese not of their ethnic background/political persuasion to get killed. That’s bad for their legitimacy.

The same I think could be done with Hamas. They won’t change their rhetoric on destroying Israel but the logic of statecraft begins to takeover at some point. The Peace Process to date has been under the assumption that the Palestinians get a state when they act right (accept Israel, stop attacks, etc.).  What if that is backwards?  What if the state has to be built first in order that (from Israel’s pov) the long term strategy will play to their advantage and leave the Palestinians having to take up state buildup?

Just a reminder that I blog fairly frequently at Culture 11’s Faith Blog, Credo. Here is a piece up today on Anglo-Catholicism.

Published in: on January 7, 2009 at 1:12 am  Comments (2)  
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(A)Proportionality in Israel-Gaza

Shmuel Rosner writing in Slate:

But such is the tricky nature of modern warfare: How do we measure proportionality without reducing the concept to an impossibly pedantic tit-for-tat? (How would it work? For every rocket launched into an Israeli town, Israel would retaliate by launching a similar rocket? And even then, how could we achieve proportionality without making sure that Palestinians in Gaza have the same alarm systems and comparably effective shelters?) How do we measure “success” in a situation where no side is likely to bring real closure to a volatile situation?

Easy answer: you don’t and can’t.  The doctrine of proportionality (which has its roots in classical just war theory) was announced–as Rosner correctly points out–in the 1907 Hauge Conventions.  That defined the era of Clausewitz’s Trinitarian Theory of Warfare:  government, armies, and populations.  The first two fight the war, the third does not.  In the post-nuclear, post WWII era, of Fourth Generation Guerrilla Insurgencies, propotionality is a meaningless term because what you have is the equivalent of a swarm of bees stinging an elephant.  What would be a proportional response of an elephant to the bees?  It doesn’t make any sense.  Proportionality only works as a guiding principle within the bounds of a nation-state with a professional army built for conventional warfare.  The other side in this conflict does not have that edifice of social organization and therefore is not going to abide by those rules.  Meanwhile for the side that does (Israel in this case), the technological difference is so vast, there is no way (as Rosner himself points out in the article) for there ever to be a proportionate response.  All the elephant can do is step on some bees.  There is no proportionate elephant equivalent to a sting. Rosner is almost there–he keeps seeing how hard it would be to apply this concept but just can’t let it go.

4th Generation Warfare in Gaza: Hamas, Israel, and Creveldian Realistic Pessimissm

I don’t have much to say on the tragedy that is transpiring over in Israel/Gaza.

Only to say that it yet again proves the veracity of Martin Van Creveld’s thesis that since the nuclear age, since the end of WWII, big powers over time always lose against irregular, smaller, guerrillas groups.  e.g. The French in Indochina & Algeria; The British is Aden, Suez; The Americans in Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan; The Soviets in Afghanistan.  On and on the list goes.

The only LICs (Low-Intensity Conflicts) that are won by the big powers are when they are within their own country (The British in N.Ireland, NATO in Balkans?).  But counterinsurgencies in another country (e.g. Syria trying to police/control Lebanon) eventually wear out.  With the Israeli/Palestinian situation the question is:  is this a counterinsurgency of national liberation or an uprising within a country.  The schizoid nature of the conflict suggests a bit of both which is why it continues to both flare up repeatedly and yet can not force a withdraw from the Israelis (except to the pre-67 borders).

For those who don’t know Creveld, basically he argues that big powers (including Israel) build their armies for conventional state-state war, which is what they never fight.  They get themselves and their mammoth energy-hungry beasts of armies into rugged terrain, urban warfare (see US in Iraq), get their supply lines cut (see Taliban attacks on NATO convoys through Pakistan), and eventually are forced to withdraw.

If Israel sends in tanks to Gaza expect it turn very badly for the Israelis.  They will undoubtedly kill many more Palestinians.  Hamas can not beat the IDF in a straight-up fight which is why they won’t take them on that way.

Here is Creveld predicting/explaining a very bleak future for Israel indeed (from 2002):

Byrne: Thanks for joining us tonight on Foreign Correspondent. How has it come to this, Martin… how is it that the mighty Israeli army – one of the world’s most powerful – with its helicopter gunships, with its tanks, with it’s missiles, can be losing to this relatively small, relatively under-armed if fanatical group of Palestinians?

Van Creveld: The same thing has happened to the Israeli army as happened to all the rest that have tried over the last sixty years. Basically it’s always a question of the relationship of forces. If you are strong, and you are fighting the weak for any period of time, you are going to become weak yourself. If you behave like a coward then you are going to become cowardly – it’s only a question of time. The same happened to the British when they were here… the same happened to the French in Algeria… the same happened to the Americans in Vietnam… the same happened to the Soviets in Afghanistan… the same happened to so many people that I can’t even count them.

Byrne: : Martin you used the word ‘cowardly’ yet what we’ve seen tonight – these commando units, the anti-terrorist squads – these aren’t cowardly people.

Van Creveld: I agree with you. They are very brave people… they are idealists… they want to serve their country and they want to prove themselves. The problem is that you cannot prove yourself against someone who is much weaker than yourself. They are in a lose/lose situation. If you are strong and fighting the weak, then if you kill your opponent then you are a scoundrel… if you let him kill you, then you are an idiot. So here is a dilemma which others have suffered before us, and for which as far as I can see there is simply no escape. Now the Israeli army has not by any means been the worst of the lot. It has not done what for instance the Americans did in Vietnam… it did not use napalm, it did not kill millions of people. So everything is relative, but by definition, to return to what I said earlier, if you are strong and you are fighting the weak, then anything you do is criminal.

Update I: And just for the record, the US COIN (Counter-insurgendy Doctrine) is mostly smoke-and-mirrors.  Obama is looking to double down in Afghanistan and guaranteed that will end as badly as it will in Iraq. It generally (at best) is not really a counter-insurgency but a capitulation to the victory of smallish, more primitive groups, and simply plays one off against another (i.e. The Sunni Tribesmen versus al-Qaeda in Iraq).  In Afghanistan Petraeus is looking for a replication of the same thing with local Tribes against the Taliban.  All that does is further de-legitimize the state.  This will come at the expense of Hamid Karzai.

Update II: As Israel becomes more and more militarized societally, under the supposed existential threat (whether from homemade rockets in Gaza or the Iranian nuke-to-be, which as Creveld points out is not a real threat to Israel, they can deter and respond with total annihilation of Iran, so can the US), the constant state of low-grade fear, spiking to intense in certain moments, corrodes the political process.  This unsurprisingly comes at the moment of an upcoming Israeli election as the center/left (Kadima and Labour) parties look to fend off tough-guy talk from the right (Likud) and perhaps box incoming President Obama in on any peace process. The Israeli state is veering towards a major constitutional crisis and all-out legitimacy of itself as a state in the 21st century.

Heads I win, tails you lose. That is the game Hamas is playing.

Update III:  Right on cue, Haaretz reports Hamas wants Israeli to invade with ground forces.  Of course they do.  Suck them in, bleed them dry, swarm like insects biting and sucking the blood of an elephant.  The Israelis would be beyond stupid to fall for this gambit.

Palestinian Civil Society Building

Strong piece by Natan Sharansky and Bassem Eid in the WSJ op-ed pages today.  The title (unfortunately) is “No Peace without Democracy”, when Democracy really means rule of law and government that exists to support people not people exist to support militias/warlords/cronies/gangs that use government to extract wealth from the people.  But democracy is one word so that’s easier.  But in the context of the Palestinian issue, democracy (i.e. pure rule by ballot) gave us Hamas and illiberal (in many regards) organization.

That said, the central argument of the piece is spot on:

Last November’s Annapolis “peace” conference continued this misguided approach. Once again the focus is primarily on who is ruling and not on how they rule. Mr. Abbas has replaced Arafat as the recipient of international largess, but the emphasis remains on empowering a particular leader, rather than empowering Palestinian civil society and creating democratic institutions.

That is, since even Oslo and PM Rabin the Israelis have always hand picked who they would negotiate with.  One of the central failures of Oslo was a number of other Palestinian political groups who were shut out by of the process by the combination of Arafat’s desire to be a dictator and the Israeli’s lack of trust and negative interference in the Territories (and still seeing them as Israeli territory and not say illegally occupied land with its own sovereign voice/integrity).

They call for shifting aid going to Fatah but rather to civil society build up.  As Thomas Barnett likes to say, foreign aid dependency is like oil/diamonds, the countries that get it have no reason to be responsible to its citizenry, can buy off security forces (mostly to control internal affairs), and control the people.  It also creates a dependency on the outside source of income which forestalls native human efforts to better one’s life and one’s family life.

Their conclusion:

It is high time that Palestinian civil society be fully recognized by the international community as a prerequisite to peace, not as an obstacle to it. If Palestinian civil society is not empowered, the Fatah-controlled West Bank may soon be ruled by Hamas, and Fatah leaders there may find themselves one day having to rely on Israel’s Supreme Court to save them.

Published in: on August 8, 2008 at 9:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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Truce Hamas-Israel?

Despite Thursday’s lethal fireworks, both Israeli and Palestinian sources expect that by the middle of next week, a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas brokered by Egypt may go into effect. It won�t be announced as such — Israel is squeamish about officially striking a deal with what it deems a terrorist group — but if it goes ahead, Hamas will strong-arm its own fighters and those belonging to Islamic Jihad into halting the barrage of rockets aimed at the farming communities and towns of southern Israel. In exchange, Israel is expected to refrain from targeted killings of Hamas operatives, and will hold off on mounting any major assault into Gaza. Israel will also commit itself to gradually lifting the blockade on goods reaching Gaza’s besieged inhabitants.

Why would Israel deal?

Because its army generals have told Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that a major offensive into Gaza could last weeks or even months and would very likely cause heavy casualties among Palestinians and Israelis soldiers — but would probably not stop rockets from being fired. And Olmert’s priority is to stop the rockets from Gaza.

Full story here.

Clinton Out-hawking Bush?

gaza-international-airport.jpg

The electioneering aside for the moment, this also frightens me with Sen. Clinton.

Glenn Kessler, a really sharp journalist at Washingtonpost has a very solid piece on Condi Rice’s low-key diplomacy between Egypt, Hamas, and Israel.

Kessler:

Throughout her trip, Rice never publicly uttered the term “cease-fire.” But at the request of Egypt, Rice privately asked Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to issue a public statement that Israel would halt attacks if Hamas stopped firing crude rockets at Israeli towns and cities. One day later, Egyptian officials could point to the statement in talks with Hamas, and the daily barrage suddenly stopped.

Kessler mentions that Zb. Brezizinski, Brent Scowcroft, Colin Powell, and Efraim Halevy ex-head of Mossad all favor talks with Hamas.

What about Clintonite Dennis Ross (who along with Richard Holbrooke and Wes Clark would be the main foreign policy players in a Clinton administration)? Not so much.

But many experts in the United States argue that Hamas should not be rewarded for bad behavior. Former Clinton administration negotiator Dennis Ross said, “It would give the sense that the world has to adjust to them, and immediately demoralize the Palestinians you want to work with.”

The Palestinians you want to work with consists of….Fatah?

That’s a difficult position given:

none of the players — including Israel’s Arab neighbors — wants a solution that appears to grant Hamas any sort of victory, diplomats said. “No one can ignore Hamas. They are a reality,” said an Arab diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivities. “It’s all about how much of a dividend to give them.”

Photo here.

Published in: on March 15, 2008 at 9:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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New Gazan Push

According to Haaretz, Israel is sending in observers/ambassadors to Gaza in order to make its push for int’l legitimacy to its coming mass offensive in Gaza. 

Defense Minister Ehud Barak (former PM) has promised to extricate Hamas’ control of Gaza within a year.  The Israelis are seeking to end Qassam rockets into Israel from Gaza.

An offensive into Gaza will be bloody, lots of civilian deaths and Hamas I fear will not so easily be broken.  They may temporarily disperse from power, luring IDF into guerrilla urban war, and then start to use suicide bombing and other tactics of 5th Generational open-source war.  Hamas is also a very shrewd manipulator of the media landscape.   

With the recent closing of the broken walls between Egypt and Gaza, the energy seeking to be released from Gaza has been focused within, and now comes word of an Israeli invasion within the year.  Such a move only further antagonizes the autocratic Egyptian government from the Arab streets.  The gov’t is seen as backing the hated Israelis over the oppressed Palestinians.   

Israel is headed to an extremely dark phase becoming more and more I worry a de-moralized occupier.  This could get very ugly very quickly. 

Published in: on February 13, 2008 at 10:04 am  Leave a Comment  
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