November 16, 2012
Number 11/12 #04
Following on from Daniel Meyerowitz Katz’s news roundup yesterday, this Update looks at the reasons for and the possible trajectory of the current round of violence sparked by Gaza rockets, which the IDF has dubbed Operation Amud Anan (“Pillar of Defence”).
Since the targeted killing of Hamas’ military commander in Gaza on Wednesday, there are now reported to have been around 340 strikes by Israel on targets in Gaza – reportedly killing 15 Palestinians (it is unclear how many are combatants versus civilians) – and 305 rockets fired into Israel, killing three civilians, including a pregnant woman. This also included perhaps four rocket attacks on the Tel Aviv area – the first since the 1991 Gulf War – which fortunately caused no damage or injuries. Israel claims to have neutralised most of Hamas’ medium range Iranian-made Fajr-5 missiles capable of hitting Tel Aviv in its initial strikes.
First up is Amoz Yadlin, the former head of IDF Military intelligence, now head of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, explaining the strategic and tactical thinking and concerns behind Israel’s operations. He explains this whole operation is about deterrence – not revenge or assassination – and that the Israeli leadership has wisely refrained from setting larger goals than deterring rocket attacks, and also discusses the possibility that a ground operation – but not re-occupation – may become necessary. He also analyses some other regional complexities, including the possibility of a second front in the north, and Israel’s fraught relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood-led Egyptian government. For his insights in full, CLICK HERE. Another excellent look at what Israel is seeking to achieve, tactically and strategically, comes from Times of Israel editor David Horovitz. Some additional important points are made by Israeli writer Shmuel Rosner and Canadian columnist Jonathan Kay.
Next up, noted Israeli academic Barry Rubin looks at some larger strategic lessons outsiders can draw from the reality of the current situation Israel faces vis-a-vis Gaza. After reporting about the situation in Tel Aviv, he starts out by dissecting an ill-informed New York Times editorial, which while nominally recognising Israel’s right to defend itself, suggests it should be do so by either negotiating with Hamas, or continuing its past policy of responding to rocket with only minimal force directed against rocket crews. Rubin explains why this approach is misinformed and rooted in the inability to understand the nature and worldview of violent and fanatical groups like Hamas, which also applies to Western policy across the Middle East, especially following the Arab Spring. For his argument in full, CLICK HERE.
Finally, Washington Institute expert on Egyptian politics Eric Trager looks at the difficult question for Israel of maintaining the peace treaty with Egypt in the current circumstances, given that the Egyptian government under Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood feels at best ambiguous about the treaty in any case. Trager says Morsi is clearly torn between the security establishment, keen to keep things calm and keep the treaty in place, and the Muslim Brotherhood, constantly pushing for a complete break with Israel. Trager concludes that Morsi has shown a past capacity to exploit crises to gain his objectives, and the Brotherhood’s objective is clearly to tear up the treaty with Israel when it can, so the international community and especially the US are going to need to intervene energetically to prevent the risk of an immediate and enduring rift. For Trager’s knowledgeable analysis of the state of play in Egypt vis-a-vis the treaty with Israel, CLICK HERE. More on the dangers to the Egypt-Israel treaty and the Egyptian reaction to the violence is here and here.
Readers may also be interested in:
- The IDF has a webpage illustrating its various efforts to minimise civilian casualties in Gaza, including leaflet and phone warnings, and various steps undertaken during military strikes to minimise collateral damage. Video of leafleting efforts in Khan Yunis this week is here.
- Other relevant IDF videos include one showing the destruction of a Gaza rocket storage site, and another shows Hamas placing a longer range Fajr-5 rocket into an underground launcher.
- A report from the towns of southern Israel – including Kiryat Malachi where three people were killed yesterday – on how the residents are holding up under the rocket bombardment.
- Knowledgeable Israeli Palestinian Affairs reporter Khaled Abu Toameh says Hamas is determined not to agree to a ceasefire any time soon.
- More on the Israeli quest to restore deterrence vis-a-vis Hamas from academic Gerald Steinberg and security columnist Ron Ben Yishai.
- A look at the regional context of recent growing violence on Israel’s border – including the attacks also from Syria earlier this week – comes also from experts Dr. Jonathan Spyer and Dr. Dore Gold, and columnist Evelyn Gordon.
- Jordanian-born scholar Mudar Zahran debunks some myths about the supposed blockade of Gaza – and argues that it is more accurate to say that Hamas is besieging the residents of the strip than that Israel is.
- There has been a lot of media fakery already exposed in connection with the Gaza conflict – a Hamas tweet features an emotive picture, which turns out to be from Syria months ago, not Gaza; Hamas fakes video of its missiles hitting Tel Aviv, and a supposed casualty of Israeli strikes carried away in front of TV cameras appears to be fine seconds later.
- Isi Leibler writes a letter to European Jews, calling attention to their increasingly precarious position in many countries.
- Sharyn Mittleman surveys Australian and international government reactions to the Gaza conflict.
INSS Insight No. 385, November 15, 2012
The Israeli public and its decision makers understand that slogans such as “eliminating Hamas” or “talking to Hamas” will not win a war or resolve the Palestinian problem. Indeed, the objectives of Operation Pillar of Defense are carefully defined: to restore Israel’s deterrence vis-à-vis Hamas by dealing a severe blow to the Palestinian terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip and denying them the use of their strategic array of long range rockets. The operation began on November 14, 2012 with impressive military and intelligence success, and although Hamas’ arsenal of strategic rockets was not fully destroyed, it seems that the goals of the operation have been almost fully attained. The experience of the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead has shown that it takes some time until the blow registers and has an effect on the decision makers of the other side.
Ending the operation will also require charting a smart and responsible course: continuing the fighting will allow the IDF to damage Hamas more deeply and prepare for the possibility of a ground incursion, but simultaneously it is necessary to look for opportunities to end the round of fighting given what has already been achieved.
Egypt has an important role to play in facilitating an exit strategy, and Egypt’s initial reaction is no reason to panic. If Egypt truly desires the status of an influential regional power, it must maintain lines of communication with Israel and preserve its role as a mediator capable of ending the round of escalation. Recalling the Egyptian ambassador to Israel is not a departure from Egypt’s traditional responses to events of this type. Egypt recalled its ambassador during the First Lebanon War and after the first helicopter attack during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002. The decision to send a delegation to Gaza led by Prime Minister Hisham Kandial testifies to the Egyptian desire to strengthen its status as a mediator and broker a ceasefire as soon as possible. The leaders in both Jerusalem and Cairo would do well to contain existing frustrations and disagreements to allow constructive Egyptian mediation for ending this chapter quickly.
Conventional wisdom has generally said that fighting on one front would in all likelihood lead to the opening of a second front, and that the chances for having the “luxury” of fighting on one front only – as during the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead – are slim. But Syria is beset by a civil war and it seems unlikely that the Syrian army, busy fighting for the survival of the Assad regime and combating against the rebels brutally and without compromise, will divert forces to opening another front – dangerous to Syria – against Israel. Hizbollah too is more preoccupied with events in Syria than with developments in the Gaza Strip. The threat to Hizbollah’s status within Lebanon, the damage to its legitimacy, and its low standing in the Sunni world because of its support for Assad reduce the probability it will ignite the northern front. Nonetheless, the IDF must be prepared for such an eventuality.
Washington and London understand that Hamas is a terrorist organization and that just as in Operation Cast Lead, it was Hamas that decided on the timing of the fighting by launching massive rocket attacks on Israel. Israel has received noteworthy support from the United States. President Obama and US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice (a leading candidate to replace Secretary of State Clinton) reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend its southern citizens. Similarly, Britain’s call for the end of fighting and denunciation of Hamas attacks on Israeli cities and towns indicate the extent to which Israel succeeded in attaining its goals without having to pay a steep political price.
Operation Pillar of Defense is legitimate both morally and legally. Israel showed restraint for a long time, but the intolerable disruption of the lives of one million citizens in the south, Hamas’s decision to join the more extreme terrorists operating in the Gaza Strip instead of restraining them, and the two attempts to attack IDF forces on sovereign Israeli territory – one, a booby trapped tunnel, and two, direct fire at an Israeli army jeep on the east side of the border – required a response. It is the state’s obligation to defend its citizens and sovereignty. This is not about a targeted assassination or revenge: such words simply have no place in describing the reality of the southern front. Rather, it is about a confrontation between two armies: the IDF and the Palestinian terrorist army. It is about attacking senior commanding officers in the enemy’s ranks and destroying the enemy’s strategic arms caches.
At the same time, the Gaza Strip is but one front on the greater Palestinian arena, and therefore the long term solution is to be found in a total view of the two comprising pieces, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. In the absence of a political process, and when Israel’s policy consists of giving the moderates in the Palestinian camp the cold shoulder, Israel’s legitimacy on the international arena will erode the longer the operation lasts, especially if there are widespread casualties to Palestinian civilians. Therefore, the overall Israeli strategy must include some carrots to the moderates in the PA in order to strengthen them, and powerful sticks to the extremist terrorists in order to weaken them.
At the moment, it is necessary to make it clear to Hamas that Israel has not yet realized its potential for damaging it: the Israeli air force has hundreds more targets for attack. However, it would be best to avoid full occupation of the Gaza Strip. The disengagement from Gaza was an important strategic move serving the security of the State of Israel, and it should not be undermined. Returning to a situation of controlling one and a half million Palestinians (in addition to those in the West Bank) would be a severe strategic mistake. But in case Hamas does not allow the fighting to end, the IDF must be prepared for a large scale ground offensive in the Gaza Strip. As a first step, it is possible to raid the border areas, destroy Hamas’s tunnels and strongholds, divide the Gaza Strip, and block future routes of terrorist reinforcement.
Israel must demonstrate its determination to expand the systemic damage to Hamas in order to increase the pressure on it and renew IDF deterrence. Hamas’s conduct in the Gaza Strip is in many respects that of a state, and Israel must take advantage of this situation to demand that it act with statesmanlike responsibility. At the same time, it must look for opportunities to end the fighting once the objectives of the operation are attained.
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By Barry Rubin
Pajamas Media, Thursday, November 15, 2012
A few sirens went off in Tel Aviv around 6:30 PM, November 15—not the whole system or the one outside my window but those a few blocks away—and didn’t stay on very long. Then there were two loud but short booms, the sound of anti-rocket missiles being fired. Rumors followed. This being the age of social media people insisted that something must have happened because somebody in California said so. Some people said with certainty that a rocket hit in this or that place, one claimed he saw the smoke from a building that had been struck. In the end, it was announced that a rocket from the Gaza Strip had been shot down far to the south. The atmosphere was reminiscent of 1991 when three dozen Iraqi rockets did hit Israel, one of them a few blocks from my home, and anti-missile batteries could be heard nightly firing at incoming missiles from Iraq.
Of course, there’s nothing funny about a war. Less than an hour’s drive to the south people are under fire. There are casualties on both sides, including civilians. This is a serious matter, made no less so by its relative familiarity. Yet there is a difference between the horrors of war and imagining away a conflict, an inescapable situation, because one wants to do so. Only by confronting the reality can there be the best possible response to a crisis. Wishful thinking or ignoring real conflicts makes things worse.
The new war between Hamas and Israel has a lot of important lessons for international diplomacy and U.S. policy today. It once again shows that a country, especially one faced by a hostile adversary who cannot be turned away by words or compromises, has limited choices. And in that case a government must do what it must do.
A key to the problem of Western comprehension of international realities is admirably summarized by a New York Times editorial on the subject:
“No country should have to endure the rocket attacks that Israel has endured from militants in Gaza, most recently over the past four days. The question is how to stop them permanently.”
Now the answer to that question is simple to understand if not easy to implement. The attacks can only be stopped if Hamas is removed from power and replaced, given contemporary circumstances, by the Palestinian Authority (PA). The PA is certainly no prize but that’s a reasonable goal for what is often referred to as the international community.
Yes, Hamas won an election in 2007 but then it staged a violent coup, threw out the opposition, and has thus governed as an unelected dictatorship. It has no legal basis since Hamas never accepted the Oslo accords agreements. Hamas is also a terrorist group. And it daily voices not only its opposition to Israel’s existence but also advocates—and teaches the children of Gaza to carry out some day—the commission of genocide against all Jews.
So the answer to the Times’ question is a no-brainer, right? In fact, of course this response is not what the Times has in mind. Instead, the newspaper and like-minded people present the following list:
- Israel should negotiate with Hamas. Great idea but an impossible one because of a factor Western leaders, academics, and journalists often do not take seriously nowadays: ideology. Hamas means what it says, intends to continue the violence for years in the belief it can win total victory, and is indifferent to the sacrifice of its own people. So in this case negotiations are not an option.
- If there is a comprehensive Israel-Palestinian peace there would be no more war. Actually even if such an agreement were to be reached—which is impossible because the PA won’t make one—Hamas would step up attacks in an attempt to destroy the agreement.
The PA could not make a deal that would include the 40 percent of the Palestinians who live in Gaza. And Hamas would try to overthrow the PA in the West Bank and might even succeed. Then Hamas, perhaps with the Fatah people who allied with it, would have a fully sovereign state to use as a platform for an intended war of genocide against Israel.
Part of the problem is that the West is not psychologically prepared to deal with fanatics, people who don’t measure the balance of forces before entering a war and are indifferent to the suffering of their own civilians. Westerners tend to use a materialistic yardstick: holding elections, having to govern themselves, a higher living standard and more education will make people moderate. The problem is that this has been tried out in the Middle East—as it is being tried now—and doesn’t work.
- Israel should just shut up and let Hamas attack it whenever that group so chooses or at most respond with only minimal force. This concept is often implicit in coverage of the issue as in one prestigious newspaper whose main article explained that Israel’s killing the military chief of Hamas, whose main job was to plan terrorist attacks on Israelis, threatened to create a regional crisis.
An acquaintance of mine bragged that nobody in her European country supported Israel. That means, of course that they all supported Hamas. But what if they say that they actually just supported the people of Gaza? That would be like saying during World War Two bombing raids that one opposed them out of support for the people of Germany. The sympathy for civilians is understandable; the violence and casualties are a tragedy. Yet the root cause is a regime that both oppresses the people and sets of a war.
So given the fact that it does not want to reoccupy and govern Gaza (though one of the accusations thrown against Israel is that it still occupies Gaza!), Israel has limited choices. The best of the lot is to limit any materiel that gets into Gaza that can be used for war and to retaliate as necessary to obtain several years of relative peace. That means, in the Times’ euphemism, that Hamas often observes a ceasefire, that is, in the minutes between rocket, mortar, and cross-border attacks by itself or the small groups it uses as an excuse for aggression.
Another part of the problem is the external situation. Egypt is ruled by a Muslim Brotherhood regime. The Gaza Strip is governed by a Muslim Brotherhood regime. See any pattern here? What saves the situation for the present is that the Egyptian government doesn’t want an all-out confrontation now.
Just hours before the war began it received a pledge of $6 billion in aid from the European Union. This is, of course, a noble endeavor to help Egypt’s people though it also puts billions of dollars in the hands of anti-Western, antisemitic extremists. Maybe it will moderate them but it is certain that the money will strengthen them.
As for the United States, it supports Egypt but it also supports Israel. So it will encourage a ceasefire and probably after a few days there will be a ceasefire. Hamas will “partly” observe it until the next time it chooses to attack Israel. Perhaps by that point the Salafists in Egypt will be ready for a fight and the Brotherhood regime will need to stir up some hysteria to help it fundamentally transform the country and distract attention from its domestic dictatorship and failures.
So the lesson of this new Gaza war is that terrorist regimes must be removed from power because otherwise they will keep provoking war, terrorism, and instability. Having ruled out that option, the only alternative is periodic conflicts like the one going on now in the Gaza Strip.
Can Israel sustain this situation? Of course, that is basically the framework in which it has been living and prospering for 64 years. Is it preferable? Of course not. What is the world going to do to make it better? Nothing.
And what does Hamas’s behavior tell us about that of other Islamists in power? A great deal once one factors in patience and subtly on the part of such regimes as those in Sudan, Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon, Iran, Turkey, and perhaps soon Syria.
I said above that the lesson of the Gaza Strip is that terrorist, radical regimes should be removed from power. It goes without saying that they should not be helped into power by the West in the first place. Unfortunately, that is a lesson that the Obama Administration still doesn’t understand.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.
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The Atlantic, November 15, 2012
In deciding what to do about Israel, the new Egyptian president is torn between the security establishment and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The fact that Israel endured over 800 rocket attacks from Gaza in the past year before commencing yesterday’s military operation against Hamas suggests that Jerusalem hoped to avoid the current flare-up. Among other concerns, the Israeli government knew that another Gaza war would ignite the neighboring Egyptian “street,” and since Egypt’s post-revolutionary government would have to be more responsive to popular sentiments, a downgrade in Israeli-Egyptian relations would be likely. The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood — Hamas’ Egyptian cousin — as Egypt’s new ruling party exacerbated those qualms, given the Brotherhood’s longtime opposition to the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty and refusal to acknowledge Israel’s rightful existence.
It was therefore unsurprising that Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, a former Brotherhood leader, conceded to popular outrage in the wake of “Operation Pillar of Cloud” this week by recalling Egypt’s ambassador to Israel. Yet in the grand scheme of diplomatic gestures, this was, in fact, a relatively minor move. Indeed, former President Hosni Mubarak did exactly the same thing in November 2000 when Egyptian demonstrations against Israel mounted during the second intifada. The real question, therefore, is what Morsi does next: will he stop at simply recalling his ambassador, or will use the fighting in Gaza to justify a more severe approach towards Israel?
At the moment, Morsi is seemingly being pulled in two directions. On one hand, Egypt’s diplomatic and security establishments are urging calm. In this vein, Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr issued a bland statement calling on Israel to stop the fighting, and has taken the matter to the Arab League, which, in addition to being feckless, won’t discuss the fighting in Gaza until Saturday.
Meanwhile, during the three days leading up to Wednesday’s conflagration, Egypt’s intelligence services had been working to prevent Israel-Hamas escalation, and they are now hoping that the current episode will pass speedily before Egyptian-Israeli relations are truly endangered. “Whatever happened happened,” a high-ranking intelligence official told me yesterday when I asked whether a prolonged Gaza conflict would lead Morsi to intensify his response. “We must look to the future without any blood or escalation.”
Yet the Muslim Brotherhood is pulling Morsi in a very different direction. In the wake of Wednesday’s fighting, the Brotherhood called on Morsi to “sever diplomatic and trade relations with this usurper entity,” so that the Egyptian government can “begin to be a role model for Arabs and Muslims who keep relations with this entity.” The Brotherhood will also organize mass protests against Israel on Friday, and prominent Brotherhood leaders have insisted that post-revolutionary Egypt be more supportive of the Palestinians. “The Egyptian people revolted against injustice and will not accept the attack on Gaza,” tweeted Brotherhood political party chairman Saad al-Katatny.
During the first four-plus months of his presidency, Morsi has mostly embraced the more pragmatic approach endorsed by Egypt’s security and diplomatic professionals. This is partially due to Morsi’s stubborn refusal to deal with Israelis (not to mention his refusal to even utter the word “Israel” in official statements), which has forced him to delegate responsibility for his Israel policy to these bureaucratic institutions that are disinclined from confrontation with Israel. But it is also due to the Muslim Brotherhood’s belief that it must complete its project of Islamizing Egypt before it can pursue its regional ambitions. Indeed, as Mohamed Sudan, secretary for foreign relations of the Brotherhood’s political party, said earlier this week, Morsi is pursuing the right path towards Israel because he is “cancelling normalization with the Zionist entity gradually.”
Still, there are indications that Morsi may choose a more confrontational posture sooner rather than later. On Tuesday, the Brotherhood’s political party announced that its legal committee was working on a new draft law to unilaterally amend Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. Meanwhile, prominent Muslim Brothers have made hostile gestures towards Israel in recent months, including the Supreme Guide’s call for a “holy jihad” for Jerusalem, as well as Morsi’s answering “amen” to an imam who prayed for the destruction of Jews.
Morsi has also demonstrated that he knows how to use a crisis to advance the Brotherhood’s political agenda. He responded to August terrorist attacks in Sinai by quickly firing the military chiefs who posed the greatest threat to the Brotherhood’s rule. Similarly, he may use the current flare-up to accelerate the Brotherhood’s pursuit of its anti-Israel ambitions. Whether or not Morsi uses the current fighting in Gaza to break off Israeli-Egyptian relations entirely now, it is clear that this remains the Muslim Brotherhood’s ultimate ambition.
This is where Washington comes in. While the Obama administration cannot change the long-held aims of an insular, extreme movement like the Muslim Brotherhood, it must work to prevent the Brotherhood from pursuing those aims anytime soon. The administration can begin by telling Morsi very clearly that while he is free to disagree with the United States on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he cannot disagree on the importance of maintaining Egypt-Israeli relations, which have served to prevent war between two of the region’s strongest militaries for the past three-plus decades.
Moreover, the administration should use economic aid, as well as American support for the $4.8 billion IMF loan that Egypt is pursuing, as leverage for ensuring that Morsi stays within well-defined red lines. After all, this aid is not charity — it is an investment in a relationship with an Egypt that is at peace with its neighbors. And an Egypt that uses another round of Israeli-Palestinian fighting as an excuse for breaking its international commitments, as the Brotherhood would like Morsi to do, is a very bad investment.
Eric Trager is the Next Generation fellow at The Washington Institute.