Update from AIJAC
May 3, 2007
Number 05/07 #03
Today’s Update focuses on some of the discussions of the wider security problems Israel faces which have been exposed by the Winograd report into last year’s Lebanon war.
The first contribution comes from David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, writing in the Washington Post. It serves primarily as a reminder that the conditions that led to last year’s war remain largely in place and unless something is done about these conditions, a new conflict in either Lebanon or Gaza can break out at virtually any time. He points out that UN efforts to prevent Hezbollah’s re-armament have failed, Syria and Moscow are playing a destructive role on Israel’s northern front, and in Gaza, Hamas is ready to also help spark violence in the north. For his full analysis of the volatile state of play on Israel’s borders, CLICK HERE.
Next up, top Israeli security affairs journalist Zeev Schiff explores further the nexus between the problem of Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border and Hamas in Gaza, and also the wider question of how Israel can establish deterrence against terrorist groups, and not just against regular armies. He says the Winograd report should have included some discussion of these vexatious issues, as well as alternatives to the “hasty” embarkation into war the commission criticised. Shiff suggests an ultimatum and military mobilisation, allowing a well-prepared strike, might have been a better answer. For his view, CLICK HERE.
Finally, academic Palestinian politics expert Dr. Hillel Frisch has some interesting exploration of the nature of the alliance between Hamas and Iran. He looks at the history of the link and the reasons for it in terms of Iran’s regional hegemonic ambitions. He also suggests that if Iran is ultimately confronted and taken down a notch by the US, there is some hope that this may cause Palestinians, and even Hamas, to abandon their current radical pan-Islamism in favour of a more moderate form of pan-Arabism. For his full analysis and discussion, CLICK HERE.
By David Makovsky
Washington Post, Thursday, May 3, 2007
The scathing interim report issued this week by an Israeli panel that reviewed the decisions leading to the country’s war with Hezbollah last summer may spell doom for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s leadership. Calls for his resignation have mounted even within his own party. However, the real story is that the causes of last year’s war still exist — and may spark another conflagration.
The first underlying issue is the failure to enforce U.N. resolutions. Israel resorted to military action last July largely because the United Nations and the international community did nothing to implement U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 (passed in 2004) or Resolution 1680 (passed in 2006), which made clear that Hezbollah should disband and be disarmed. Israel was left to fend for itself after Hezbollah crossed a U.N.-demarcated line, killed three soldiers and kidnapped two soldiers it still has not released.
The end of the war led to the passage of Security Council Resolution 1701, which deployed thousands of U.N. peacekeepers to southern Lebanon. The presence of such forces there has constrained Hezbollah, even though the peacekeepers have not attempted to disarm Hezbollah fighters. However, a key provision of the resolution — an international embargo to prevent weaponry from entering Lebanon — has not been met. Just two weeks ago the Security Council voiced concern that this resolution has not been implemented fully. It has been widely reported that arms from Syria are being smuggled into Lebanon, and Israeli officials say that Hezbollah is hiding Syrian-manufactured 220mm rockets just beyond the jurisdiction of the peacekeepers but within range of northern Israel. There is open speculation in Israel and Lebanon about the possibility of the conflict resuming this summer.
Two other factors add fuel to the fire. First, Syria is colluding with Hezbollah to destabilize the Lebanese government, fearing Beirut’s commitment to prosecuting the killers of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri, the beloved leader slain in February 2005.
Second, in an eerie echo of the run-up to the 1967 war, U.S. and Israeli officials say Moscow is once again telling Damascus that Israel has plans to attack Syria. Israeli security officials say that Syria’s new military deployments reflect this Russian advice. Concerned that such a deployment might dangerously turn from defensive to offensive, Olmert took the unusual step of declaring last month that Israel has no desire to start a war with Syria. But the prospects for miscalculation remain high. Syria believes that Israel sees war as a means of regaining a deterrent that was weakened last summer, and Israel believes that Syria sees its relationship with Iran and Hezbollah as a winning combination.
On top of all this, Hamas’s approach to a cease-fire in Gaza is one of observation, not enforcement. Specifically, Hamas has done nothing to halt the firing of more than a thousand Qassam rockets from Gaza, which Israel evacuated from in 2005, into southern Israel over the past year, and last week it publicly asserted responsibility for some such attacks. The cease-fire has never been defined, so there are no obligations constraining the Israelis or Palestinians. It is worth recalling that Hezbollah’s provocative attack last summer was staged in sympathy: It kidnapped two soldiers after Hamas kidnapped Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit last June.
Amid all these problems, and given Olmert’s teetering position and the Arab League’s insistence after its March summit in Riyadh that its peace plan is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, it is hard to believe that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will succeed in negotiating a “political horizon” — namely, fleshing out guiding principles that would govern a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — until the Israeli political situation stabilizes and there is greater clarity about and a moderate direction to the Palestinian “unity government.”
This situation does not argue for U.S. passivity. Rather, Rice should lead an international coalition to defuse multiple looming crises in Arab-Israeli arenas. The international community can and should agree to follow up U.N. Resolution 1701 with one involving the deployment of U.N. peacekeeping troops on the Syrian-Lebanese border. Avoiding another outbreak of violence could make Rice’s political horizon a more likely possibility once the Israeli leadership crisis eases.
The writer, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, directs the institute’s Project on the Middle East Peace Process.
By Ze’ev Schiff
Haaretz, May 03, 2007
While the Winograd Committee report is only partial, some important issues are missing and others are not dealt with sufficiently. The committee did a thorough job, and poked into hidden corners, but one still gets the feeling that the phrasing of the report was done under pressure. It is good the committee insisted on publishing an interim report first, and left the testimony of the prime minister, defense minister and chief of staff for the next stage. That was the logically correct order, and it is a pity the High Court was dragged into a petty dispute over this.
One issue that is conspicuously absent is the way the conflict on the Palestinian front affected the Second Lebanon War – a subject the committee did not address at all. The confrontation with the Palestinians has been going on for years, and generations of Israel Defense Forces soldiers focused on it, as if it were Israel’s major struggle and all future battles would be modeled on it. This kind of thinking negatively affected the army’s performance in Lebanon.
The tactical behavior of the combat units was affected by the way battles were fought with terrorists and small guerrilla units. Everything would freeze if a spearhead encountered a terrorist. If anyone was hit, everyone waited for evacuation and new orders. It was clear, after such clashes, and certainly if the IDF suffered casualties, that the whole unit would pull back. The assumption was that the troops would return some other time. This was how several units responded in Lebanon. The IDF once excelled as a regular army. The territories ruined it.
But that is not all. From the report, it emerges that the Palestinian front imposed constraints on the IDF in its battle with Hezbollah. In view of the situation in the territories, the IDF transferred some of its finest infantry units from the North. Little by little, Israel lost its power of deterrence against Hezbollah. Even worse, Hezbollah ended up deterring Israel. A kind of mutual deterrence was created. Israel’s warnings to Hezbollah remained empty threats. The skiing and bed and breakfast policy reigned on the northern border. Even today, there are some who say Israel should not have responded when eight soldiers were killed and two kidnapped on July 12, 2006, although it seems obvious that this abduction would have led to others, as well as deeper incursions.
Hassan Nasrallah sized up the situation correctly. He saw the two fronts against Israel – Palestinian and Lebanese – as a single unit. Evidence of this is that the first abduction at Har Dov in October 2000 took place just after the outbreak of the second intifada. The ambush and kidnapping in July 2006 came three weeks after the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit. This important issue of how the territories and the conflict with the Palestinians affected the war should have appeared in the interim report.
The report deals superficially with Israel’s power of deterrence against Hezbollah. This is a critical issue that needs to be addressed in the committee’s concluding report. After all, the committee undertook to explore the processes that caused the war to develop as it did, and deterrence is one of the chief components of Israeli strategy. We are not talking about ordinary deterrence, of the kind employed vis-a- vis Arab countries or standard armies. We are talking about deterrence of a different kind, against a terrorist and guerrilla organization that has no country. True, Hezbollah built infrastructure in Lebanon, but it is ultimately at odds with the Lebanese government, and represents the interests of another country – Iran.
Therefore, the definition of victory over such an organization differs from the ordinary kind of military victory. What should be considered a victory in a military confrontation with a semi-military organization like Hezbollah? This is an issue that deserves attention in the committee’s final report.
With respect to the hasty decision to go to war, the committee says the government did not conduct the kind of thorough deliberation that should have taken place beforehand. According to the report, Israel then found itself in a war that it had no intention of being in. What is not included in the report is a discussion of alternative actions that could have been taken. For example, if the military command knew that most of the field divisions were not properly trained or prepared for battle, and that emergency supplies were low, Israel could have chosen to do what it did before the Six-Day War – issue an ultimatum for the return of the abducted soldiers; embark on a waiting period during which the reserves could be called up, the infantry units trained and the emergency stocks replenished; and then deliver a resounding blow.
by Hillel Frisch
BESA Centre for Strategic Studies Perspectives #28
May 1, 2007
Since the US invasion of Iraq, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Iran has taken on the behavior of a regional hegemon. Indeed, Ahmadinejad speaks and acts as if he is the new leader of the Third World. Iran is setting itself up as the leader of a Mideast “axis of evil” with radical proxies and allies. An important aspect of the new Iranian “hegemonic” reach is Teheran’s growing alliance with Hamas. The marriage between the two dates back to January 2006, when both Iran and the Palestinian Authority (PA) held elections. Under Ahmadinejad, Iran has become an active revisionist state guided by radical religious conviction, while Hamas has captured almost complete control of the PA. This paper analyzes the implications of a radical religious coalition between Iran and Hamas.
Development of Iran-Hamas Ties
Iranian-Hamas relations went through three stages. In the late 1980s, relations between the two were only marginal, principally because Iran’s attention was focused elsewhere. Iran’s interests were in mobilizing Shiites in the Gulf, in supporting international terror, and in building up Hizballah with a sectarian-flavored radicalism. These actions grated on Hamas – a radical Sunni movement. Hamas also viewed Iranian support for the Jihad al-Islami, a different Palestinian faction, as a threat to its standing in the domestic Palestinian arena.
The second stage began with the invasion of Iraq in 1991 and its subsequent containment. Though US policy spoke of dual containment, the containment policy was imposed far more harshly on Iraq. Iran began to view itself as a potential regional hegemon, if not the leader of the Third World. It was the only regional power that was endowed with both a large population and plentiful natural resources. Even Turkey could not compete with that combination at a time when Egypt, the regional power in the 1960s and 1970s and Iran’s natural foe, continued its relative decline under Mubarak. Iran began focusing on increasing state power and control over states guided by radical and fanatical conviction.
This change in Iranian self-perception from a religious Bolshevik revolution into a radical state power, or a Stalinization of Iranian politics, ushered in a new era of a warmer Iran-Hamas relationship. Hamas was invited to Teheran for major events. Iran began supporting the organization financially and Hizballah trained some of the 415 Hamas members, expelled by Israel in 1995 to Marj al-Zuhur, in the art of terrorism. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin repeated the egregious mistake of allowing the repatriation of terrorists, which ushered in a new era of terrorism. New heights of lethalness arose: the advent of the suicide bomber.
Yet even in the 1990s, Hamas was still a minor world player – a movement with an estimated 50 million dollar budget. The PLO-controlled Palestinian Authority stole the international limelight. Hamas’ star, increasingly luminous before Oslo, began to dim as the PA took root. Hamas was forced to reduce terrorism significantly in the latter half of the 1990s, culminating in its expulsion from Jordan in 1999 and its bifurcation. Part of the organization was located in relatively distant Damascus (a fate that the PLO had also experienced); while the other branch operated in the West Bank and especially in the Gaza Strip.
During this period (1993 to 2000), Hamas also suffered from limited public support. Palestinian pollsters consistently found that a mere 14-18 percent of the respondents supported Hamas, while double the percentage of respondents supported Fatah. For this reason, Hamas refrained from participating in the Palestinian elections of 1996.
Iran found it far more worthwhile to invest in Hizballah, located in post-Taif agreement Lebanon, rather than Hamas. If it adroitly played its cards right, Iran could possibly dominate a state bordering Israel.
The Transformation of the Iran-Hamas Relationship
Changes on the world stage in the new century transformed the Iran-Hamas relationship for a third time. The 2003 invasion of Iraq, coupled with Palestinian violence since 2000, culminated in an electoral victory for Hamas in January 2006. Palestinian violence, but more critically the death of Arafat and Hamas’ realization that it had been beaten by Israeli counterterrorism, caused the group to take the political realist route.
The election victory demonstrated that Hamas, in capturing a quasi-state, could help Iran become the power behind the proxies in its quest for regional hegemony. The new Hamas-led government increasingly gravitated towards Iran, as Iran increasingly cooperated with Hamas.
A Prognosis for the Alliance
Hamas, because it is in a more vulnerable position, is playing a more cautious game. Hamas appreciates the importance of Egypt as a lifeline to Gaza, and is being careful not to overly antagonize Cairo. Thus far, Egypt is cooperating with Hamas despite its alliance with Iran, because Egypt still regards Israel as a major threat, in a classical balance of threat calculation. This relationship could change, however, if Iran’s power and Palestinian ties to al Qaeda terrorism in the Sinai, increase. The abduction of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston by groups possibly linked to al Qaeda in March 2007, and their involvement in numerous bombings of internet cafes and Christian centers in Gaza, might result in a change of attitude in Egypt towards the Islamic threat in general and towards Hamas in particular.
Hamas cannot disregard the implications of a potential moderate Sunni state alliance between Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. As Palestinian political analyst Abdullah Hourani recently noted in an issue of Majallat al-Dirasat al-Filastiniyya, Hamas hardly expressed enthusiasm for the Hizballah victory – partially because the triad between Iran, Hizballah and Hamas is characterized by jealousy, as is the case between most power–proxy relationships. The latter usually vie for the attention and benefits that the power has to offer. It is interesting to note that Iranian-Hizballah involvement in terrorism usually occurred with renegade Fatah groups rather than with Hamas.
Hamas also appreciates the value of its unity government with Fatah. Hamas faced the hostility of the nationalist and more secular Palestinian camp (Abbas and Fatah) combined with the opposition of the US, Jordan and Israel – a formidable array of foes. For these reasons, Hamas is wisely keeping open the exit option from the Iranian-Syrian alliance by avoiding the harming of US citizens and interests in Gaza, by refraining from international terror, and by refraining openly from identifying with al Qaeda.
Iran, by contrast, is heading towards disaster as it treads the same road taken by Muhammad Ali in the first half of the nineteenth century, Jamal Abd al-Nasser a century later, and Saddam Hussein in the 1990s. While Iran might have the motivation, it lacks the capabilities necessary to challenge a vastly uneven international playing field, in which power at the center in the past two centuries has only rotated between “northern” players rather than having diversified or spread more evenly. If the Soviet Union caved in to the United States, albeit after a long challenge, Iran, which is both less endowed with human and natural resources, can hardly challenge this basic fact of international life.
What Can Hamas Do?
Sooner or later, Iran will face the brute power of the United States – under either a Republican or Democratic administration, or before or after Teheran acquires the bomb – and the outcome will be all too apparent. By that time, Hamas might decide it better to join the West in negotiating peace, rather than being part of the attempt to beat it, and suffer defeat in return.
To achieve that peace requires a change in Hamas mindset, from a pan-Islamism and pan-Arabism of conquest, to a pan-Arabism of creative opportunity. The basis of this new pan-Arabism might be some form of Jordanian-Palestinian federation which will allow the Palestinians access to the opportunities they could derive from a more friendly relationship with moderate Jordan and the wealthy Gulf States.
At the present moment, the emergence of a more benign, “creative pan-Arabist” Palestinian orientation appears far-fetched. However, after the failures of successive Fatah-dominated governments, a Hamas-dominated government, and the present unity government, coupled with failures on the terror front, Palestinians, including Hamas, might reconsider a different approach, even though this change is hardly inevitable.
Dr. Hillel Frisch, a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and a senior lecturer in political science at Bar-Ilan University, focuses on Palestinian and Arab politics.