Showing posts with label security. Show all posts
Showing posts with label security. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Is Opposing a Palestinian State and Palestinian Suffrage Racist?

One of the arguments prevalent among those who advocate for the creation of a Palestinian state, including among staunch Zionists - such as Jeffery Goldberg - is that the Jews of Israel must make a choice between two incompatible futures. In one scenario, Israel relinquishes the territory it liberated through defensive war in 1967, divesting itself of millions of Palestinian non-citizens under its control and allowing a Palestinian state to take root in what is commonly referred to as the West Bank. The State of Israel will then remain an overwhelming and unassailable Jewish majority country, continuing to bestow democratic rights on all its citizens without risk of undermining the country's Jewish character. Alternately, Israel may annex the West Bank, but must then grant voting rights to the 1.5-2.5 million Palestinians who reside there (the exact number is debated), ostensibly ending the Jewish people's modern journey in national sovereignty.

In my last post, I discussed the traditional and contemporary commitment of Jews - all Jews - to democratic norms. Of course, Jefferey Goldberg's full argument is that certain problematic sectors of Israeli society - Jews of Middle Eastern and of recent Eastern European origin, residents of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and the rapidly growing haredi minority - are a unique obstacle to Israel relinquishing territory for a Palestinian state, while remaining opposed to granting citizenship to the 1.5-2.5 million Palestinians residing in the West Bank.

It may very well be that large constituencies within Israel are opposed to granting the Palestinians either a state or Israeli citizenship and voting rights (as opposed to say, permanent residency rights). However, neither Goldberg nor Israel's progressive left is really dealing with the reasons why this may be. Instead, they're suppressing the basis for inconvenient opinions and segmenting Israel's Jews into the good and the bad, the reasonable, progressive Zionist democrats, and the illiterate savages who are too stupid to be allowed to think for themselves. Pigeonholing people between the solution preferred by the country's self-anointed elite and the promise of a veritable apocalypse is not intellectually honest dialogue. Further, labeling a likely majority of the Israeli population as anti-democratic and racist for obstructing either a Palestinian state or Palestinian suffrage as Israeli citizens presumes a lack of alternative motivations.

Israel is a nation under siege. Its citizens have been shot, stabbed, blown up, bombarded and generally threatened with a loss of life, limb, parent, child, sibling, friend, or any stranger on the street, not to mention the persistent regional calls for their national genocide, every single day, going on eight decades. When the nation isn't being invaded or threatened by neighboring armies, it is being infiltrated by individuals whose primary intent is either to kill or maim the greatest number of people in the most gruesome, public way possible, slit the throats of entire families in their sleep or kidnap soldiers and bargain their decomposed remains back to the state. Millions of people are living in an environment where, at any moment, for no reason within their control, rockets will fall from the sky and splatter their children's mutilated bodies so completely across sidewalks and playgrounds that it will take days for trained specialists and DNA sequencing to collect the pieces. This is not a normal way for human beings to live their lives.

At this point I can hear a number of my Israeli friends protest, vehemently, at my characterization of them as hapless victims. They live their lives to the fullest, they'll say, and don't think every day about the violence and challenges I'm ascribing to them. Indeed, Israeli society has demonstrated a remarkable resilience and even growth in the face of adversity. This is a quality of the country and its people much beloved their supporters worldwide, and certainly by the American Jewish community. However, such praise, while understandable, isn't admirable, it's sickening. We in the rest of the world are praising a people for accepting as normal a level of violence and threat of violence that would never be tolerated in our societies. That Israelis have internalized and normalized living at death's door, and that we applaud them for it, is not a source of pride, but of shame. What other nation with the power to permanently resolve threats to its security would not do so? That's normal; Israel isn't.

There was a time when the "land for peace" formula made some sense. There was a time when the peace camp promised that its solutions would actually bring peace. I don't know if you've noticed, but after Lebanon and Gaza, no one is making such promises to the people of Israel - not the human rights groups, not the Israeli government, not the Palestinian Authority and not the American president. A nation already at the limit of its tolerance for violence is being asked to double down on a policy which no one can guarantee will bring peace, and may in fact instigate a new round of bloodshed. It's either that or invite the very people who would shoot rockets at your home and riddle your family with bullets into having a say over how your country should be run. Lastly, should you choose to do neither, you're an anti-democratic racist. Enjoy.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Seductive Logic of American Incentives

Israel's English language media went into overdrive this week over reports that the Obama Administration has offered Netanyahu's government a generous package of incentives, including twenty advanced stealth aircraft, merely in exchange for imposing a three month freeze on building in Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria, but definitely not in Jerusalem, but also in Jerusalem, and an American promise to end further requests for settlement freezes, as long as they get to keep requesting settlement freezes.

It is the nature of the diplomatic wrangling in which Obama has ensnared both the US and Israel, that specifics reported with great pomp just days ago must be repudiated with cynicism just days later, pending approval from the kingpins of Ramallah - Abbas and Fayyad. It is therefore useless to discuss such issues in specificity, because let's face it - the American administration is too weak and too beholden to Arab interests and Arab pressure to force the Palestinians into returning to the negotiating table under any conditions. Thus, whatever agreements Netanyahu makes with Obama today on issues that the Palestinians may find objectionable will be vetoed by Abbas tomorrow, or the day after, or in three months, forcing the Americans to redouble pressure on the only negotiating partner doing any negotiating - the Israelis.

I do not meant to imply malice on the part of the Obama Administration, not at all. The present situation is a natural byproduct of linking, with good intentions but fuzzy logic, the success of American policy throughout the Middle East with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, thereby placing all of America's most vital chestnuts into the Palestinian nutcracker. When the Obama Administration decided to offer the lives of American soldiers deployed in Baghdad and Kabul as a bargaining chip to Palestinian negotiators, it lost the ability to function as an honest broker that can impose conditions on both sides, and became hostage to Ramallah's demands, with time developing a Stockholm syndrome to boot.

It is therefore useless for us to debate the settlement freeze, it's specifics, or the possibility for future settlement freezes. Like the American President, on these issues we should simply pick up the hotline to the Arabs and begin taking dictation. Instead, I would like to focus on the sole American settlement-freeze incentive which is relatively isolated to the bilateral relationship with Israel - the much talked about package of 20 F-35 stealth fighters.

Israel retaining a qualitative military superiority over its neighbors has been the cornerstone of American foreign policy in the Levant since the 1973 war. As Lee Smith has written, by making Israel too powerful to defeat, America forced most of the Arabs to end their flirtations with pan-Arabism and Soviet communism, and crawl to Washington for their security and concessions from Israel. In a stroke of foreign policy genius, Kissinger turned a small, stubborn country of three or four million Jews into American leverage over two hundred million Arabs.

Such strategic foundations justified four decades of American military assistance to Israel, but it is not clear if the paradigm Kissinger created still holds, at least in the minds of the Obama Administration. America has many more pieces on the board now than in 1973, and an impossibly complex set of regional interests that a unitary focus on Israeli strength is no longer able to single-handedly manage. Indeed, in a region which the Obama Administration is desperate to extricate itself from, Israeli strength remains an American leverage over the Arabs, but in reverse, to be bargained away in exchange for Arab cooperation on Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

The crux of the issue is like this: If a strong, assertive Israel remains a cornerstone of American policy in dealing with the Arabs, then it is an American interest to supply the Jewish state with the armaments it needs to retain its military edge, regardless of progress on the peace process, or lack thereof. In this case, Israeli concessions to the Palestinians on settlements are irrelevant to wider American interests in the region. If Israel does not make these concessions, it will receive the armaments regardless, maybe next month, or next year, or under the next American government, but it will receive them because America needs a strong Israel.

However, if a strong, assertive Israel is no longer a cornerstone of American policy in its relations with the Arabs, then whatever armaments Israel receives in the context of bilateral negotiations now it will anyways not be allowed to use without American approval, except in a case of clear self-defense. The F-35 is not a defensive but an offensive platform, designed to project power and defend (or impose) interests across borders - and in Israeli hands, to impose Israeli power and Israeli interests on their Arab neighbors, including deflating Syrian nuclear ambitions or guarantying upstream water flow to the Jordan River. If a strong, assertive Israel is no longer the foundation of American policy in the region, then it will not be allowed to project its power and interests, with Iran's nuclear program a case in point.

That is not to say that America's commitment to Israel's basic security has been undermined. American support for Israel is too broad-based, and too deep, for any American president to violate the covenant of Israel's survival. Israel will continue to receive the weapons it needs for self-defense - witness American largess in building up Israel's missile shield - but American confidence in the utility of Israeli power projection to American interests has been broken. Therefore, whatever additional capability Israel receives for power projection has already been neutered in the womb, rendering the platforms of power projection, such as the F-35, utterly worthless.

By bargaining away settlement freezes for fighter jets, Israel is increasing its military capability but losing the freedom of action to deploy that capability in a way that meaningfully enhances Israeli security. Meanwhile, vital Israeli negotiating positions vis a vis the Palestinians are being compromised, perhaps irretrievably, with no tangible diplomatic gains. Indeed, concessions designed to provide Israel with diplomatic deterrence are instead being used to justify ever deepening concessions. The original, one time Settlement Freeze has now spawned Son of Settlement Freeze, and in three months will produce a Daughter of Settlement Freeze, and so on, until there is an entire family, with not so much as a thank you from the American President for allowing the peace process to limp along on the sore back of Israeli concessions and unchallenged Palestinian rejectionism.

Twenty advanced warplanes cost the Obama Administration nothing - it's the equivalent of a $3 billion jobs stimulus program for Lockheed Martin. Nor does another squadron of aircraft, no matter how advanced, contribute meaningfully to Israel's security. The seductive logic of transient American incentives being finagled for permanent Israeli interests - at the very least, constituting vital negotiating leverage with the Palestinians - is in fact empty of substance. If concessions are to be made, then they must be traded for nothing less than tangible diplomatic achievements in the context of final status negotiations. Until then, Israel should reconcile itself with a frustrated and misguided American President badly in need of a foreign policy victory leading up to the 2012 campaign.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Rebbe and Israel's Security

It's here! The video no self-respecting "friend of Chabad" bocher can live without. Jewish Education Media (JEM), an independent organization affiliated with Chabad Lubavitch, and headed by Rabbi Elkanah Shmotkin, the son of Rabbi Israel Shmotkin - the Rebbe's shaliach (emissary) to Milwaukee, and my shul's Rabbi - some months ago released a high production quality video, providing a glimpse into the Rebbe's communications, advice and instruction, throughout the decades, to Israelis involved in the country's security.

The Faithful and Fortified series provides a fascinating account as some of Israel’s top defense, intelligence, and government leaders discuss – for the first time on the record – their meetings with the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, on topics ranging from public policy to military strategy.

Faithful and Fortified Volume 1 from Jewish Educational Media on Vimeo.

Thoughts? There is a volume two, as well.

Whenever Elkanah visits the shul, usually for a holiday or Shabbos, he's always full of select anecdotes from the hundreds and thousands of people that JEM interviews about their personal experience with the Rebbe. It is incredible how many people, even two decades after the Rebbe's passing, are still coming out of the woodwork to share their story, to preserve for future generations that singular encounter with the Rebbe that changed their lives.

For those of you interested in archival work, JEM is spearheading one of the largest restoration and preservation projects of its kind in the nation, encompassing tens of thousands of hours of multi-format video, sound recordings and hundreds of thousands of pictures, which catalog the history of the Chabad Lubavitch movement, from the "old country" into the present.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

"Peacefully and Pleasantly"

26 Adar II, 5749 · April 2, 1989
The Mayor of Ariel, Israel visits the Rebbe: “Tell the people in Israel to publicize everywhere that all the rumors that Israel will give back land have no basis in reality. These rumors are the cause of intifada, for they give the message that there is something to gain through violence. Israel will remain whole, and Moshiach will soon add the rest of its lands, peacefully and pleasantly without any battles.”

A point the Rebbe stressed, again and again, was that holding on to the entire Land of Israel would only enhance the security of all its residents, Jews and non-Jews, and that the settlement of the land should be accomplished in a peaceful way, without incitement or arrogance. No announcements. No grand speeches or gloating. Just shut up and build.

That's my preferred terminology, not the Rebbe's: just shut up and build.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Israeli Imperative: Divide and Survive

Silke points out an exceptional article in The American Interest:
As a continental power, rich in material resources and human capital, the American way of war has been characterized by the application of overwhelming force to exhaust adversaries, followed by the distribution of massive aid to reconstruct conquered societies and put them on the path toward liberal democracy and market economics. This approach has fit America’s material conditions and ideological convictions, particularly its founding declaration that all people have an unalienable right to a life free from foreign rule.

Israel’s geopolitical predicament and founding ideology are very different. While Jewish law commands that “you shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”, the Zionist state exists first and foremost to ensure the survival of the Jewish people. As a tiny country, Israel can only defeat its more numerous adversaries by breaking them into manageable pieces, or by behaving so that already broken pieces stay that way. Indeed, its geopolitical predicament mirrors that of the original Hebrew polity. It was the unity of hostile empires—Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek and Roman—that doomed ancient Israelite kingdoms. When its neighbors were divided, the First and Second Jewish Commonwealths did rather well.

So, while America is free to frolic around the world, reshaping the affairs of smaller nations to promote its ideals - democratic government, market capitalism and the centrality of American security to the stability of the international system - Israel has more limited ambitions:
Israel’s strategy [divide and survive] can at best only manage the conflict; it can never solve it.
Right. Israeli policy is geared towards conflict management, not conflict resolution, as that resolution would necessarily either involve the Palestinians becoming ardent Zionists, or their political, military, demographic and cultural capitulation to the Jews.

I'm not certain I accept the author's point that American policy is altogether different. Where Americans have the capacity for regime change, or a rogue state's "behavior modification" they do so. However, when the American capacity falls short of the effort required for conflict resolution - the Soviet Union, China and today's Iran come to mind - then divide and conquer, and morally fuzzy conflict management of the type seen throughout the Cold War, is considered quite acceptable.

The Arabs are Israel's Soviet Union, China and Iran put together, and then another Iran to boot! In that sense, conflict management has worked fairly well for the Jews of Israel, if not for the Arabs. It also means the Jews have to be unified and strategically clever until an opportunity for conflict resolution presents itself, at least more so than the Arabs.

The Obama Intifada: Wag the Dog?

It's getting ugly.
On Tuesday, hundreds of Arabs throughout Jerusalem burned tires and threw rocks at border guards. An Israeli policeman was shot in East Jerusalem. What do we hear from the Obama administration? Silence. This is the Obama Intifada. It is he who has suggested that the Palestinian Arabs have legitimate grievances, that Israel is the victimizer, and that the United States will stand aside and allow violent atrocities by Arabs to go forward without comment. He wants this Intifada, and he's got it.

The Obama Intifada will serve a dual purpose: it will knock health care off the front pages, and it will provide a "crisis" for Obama to solve. If a few Jews get killed, Obama doesn't truly care. What's a few eggs if you're frying up a socialized health care omelet? What's a few Jews if you can win another Nobel Peace Prize?
Precipitating a crisis always creates risks. The Administration may have wanted a measure of "regime change" or reshuffling of the Israeli cabinet to bring Kadima into the governing coalition. If that was the case, they failed:
The popular assumption is that Obama is seeking to prove his resolve as a leader by getting tough with Israel. Given his ineffectiveness against Iran and his tendency to violate his own self-imposed deadlines for sanctions, the Israeli public is not likely to be impressed. Indeed, Israelis' initial anger at Netanyahu has turned to anger against Obama. According to an Israel Radio poll on March 16, 62 percent of Israelis blame the Obama administration for the crisis, while 20 percent blame Netanyahu. (Another 17 percent blame Shas leader Eli Yishai.)
Perhaps the Administration considered some side benefits of distracting the media, and a wary public, from an upcoming, unpopular vote on transforming American healthcare. Whatever their intentions, what they've done instead is give the Arabs a blank check to kill Jews.

From the perspective of Hamas and the no less violent, if more politically astute mainstream of Fatah, all they're doing is putting into action, on the streets, American's radical policy of rejecting Jewish rights to build in Jerusalem. Yes, history has shown that Palestinians - the ones that count, with the guns - will generally kill Jews if given a convenient opportunity, but there is something more here we should consider.

The Palestinians will change nothing by killing a few Jews in Jerusalem. Drawing Israel into a bloody confrontation, however, and reaping the political rewards of a "disproportionate" Israel response, as we've seen in the past, can change everything.

This is the lesson each act of Palestinian terrorism and war over the last 50 years has taught us: Every defense of Jewish life has come at a political cost for the State of Israel. Moreover, this cost is exacted by Israel's "friends", not its enemies. Obama has given the Palestinians cover to reap a political reward from violence and murder and, contrary to popular conception, they have no intentions of letting a golden opportunity slip past them.

Hope and change, meet world.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Palestinian Strategy: A look back

Back in 2002, Stratfor published the following, excellent analysis of Palestinian strategic thinking, and how it fit into regional trends. It was offered as a free intelligence analysis at the time, the kind they urge subscribers to pass on as a way of increasing their membership, so I'm not breaking any copyrights that I'm aware of.

As the United States undergoes a rather public and acrimonious process of review regarding Israel's role in the American alliance network, it is worth looking back at how the geopolitical environment, core motivations and dynamics driving the Israel-Palestinian conflict have changed since 2002, and how they have not. Enjoy.

The Palestinian Strategy
24 June 2002


It is difficult to see the strategy behind Palestinian tactics. Suicide bombing has clearly become a mainstream Palestinian tactic, one that makes the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip unlikely to the point of impossibility. It not only locks Israel into a war-fighting mode but also eases diplomatic pressure on Israel to make a settlement. The Palestinians know this. So why have the Palestinians adopted this tactic?

The answer lies in what must be a fundamental strategic shift on the part of the Palestinians. They no longer see the creation of a rump Palestinian state as a feasible or desirable end. Rather, despite the hardship of an extremely extended struggle, they have moved toward a strategy whose only goal must be the destruction of Israel. Since that is hardly likely to happen any time soon, the Palestinians must see forces at work in the Islamic world that make this goal conceivable and not just a fantasy.


Embedded in the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli war is the fundamental question: What is the ultimate Palestinian strategy? We see the tactics unfolding daily, but it is neither clear what the Palestinians expect to achieve nor what strategy links these tactics to their ultimate goal.

The suicide bombing campaign, involving both Hamas and Al Aqsa Martyrs, a unit of Fatah, is a well-defined and well-coordinated, mainstream Palestinian movement, not an errant action by splinter groups. Certainly, the Palestinians do not expect to be able to defeat Israel militarily by conducting suicide attacks. Nor do they expect to succeed at driving a wedge between Israel and the United States. To the contrary, the Palestinians are quite sophisticated managers of Western public opinion, and they understand that the suicide attacks decrease the probability of such an outcome, regardless of Israeli response.

The lack of strategic clarity stems from the murkiness of their ultimately incompatible goals. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's public goal, and the foundation of all third-party peace efforts, is to create an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and in Gaza. There are, however, two other possible goals: to reclaim all of the lost territories and create a Palestinian state throughout the former Palestine, not incidentally destroying Israel, or to reconcile the two goals and create a hybrid of a smaller Palestinian state as a springboard for broader operations aimed at ultimately defeating and occupying Israel.

The Palestinians' current tactics are only slightly compatible with a strategy aimed at creating a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. For this to be their goal, the Palestinians would have to believe that the bombing campaign will drive a wedge between the Israeli government and the Israeli public who will demand an end to the war and willingly give the Palestinians an independent state in return, overriding any security considerations of the Israeli government. The Palestinians observed a similar process take place over the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. Possibly they believe they can achieve the same end on a much grander scale through this campaign.

Were this the goal, it would suffer from two serious defects. Historically, bombing campaigns designed to drive a wedge between the public and the regime have failed. When delivered from the air -- as in the Battle of Britain or the bombings of Germany, Japan or Vietnam -- they did not succeed, even at much greater numbers of casualties than are likely to be experienced in Israel.

The Palestinians must be aware that bombing campaigns against the homeland tend to fail. They also know Israeli sentiment very well and are too sophisticated to believe this campaign will result in a groundswell in Israel demanding negotiations. Quite the contrary, it is likely to freeze Israeli public opinion in an intransigent mode.

But even if the suicide bombings forced Israel to capitulate on creating a Palestinian state, a Palestine consisting of the West Bank and Gaza would be an untenable solution, and the leadership knows it. First, a consensus would never be reached, and someone would object sufficiently to organize new attacks and undermine any agreement.

Second, a small Palestine would be economically and militarily untenable: It would never be free of Israel's orbit. Therefore, Palestinian nationalism could accept a small Palestine only as an interim measure on the way to a greater Palestine. Most important, the Palestinians know that the Israelis are completely aware of this and therefore are not going to reach a settlement with Palestine on something that cannot be guaranteed: the complete cessation of warfare and an absolute commitment to accept the permanence of Israel. Which still leaves the question of why they are waging this type of campaign.

One explanation is that the Palestinians no longer believe a solution to their problem is attainable on a local basis. This means they do not believe they can reach their goals through negotiations with Israel sponsored by third parties, such as the United States. Rather, they believe now that their goals can be reached only in the broader context of a transformation of the Islamic world and a redefinition of the relationship of the Islamic world not only to Israel but also to the West in general.

From the Palestinians' standpoint, their fundamental problem is hostility or indifference on the part of Islamic states and Arab states in particular. Jordan has been actively hostile to Palestinian interests after Arafat almost overthrew the Hashemite monarchy in 1970. Egypt's peace treaty with Israel has kept it from redefining its relationship to Israel while paying only rhetorical attention to the Palestinian issue. The Syrians have supported factions of the Palestinian movement, still dreaming of annexing Palestine into a greater Syria. Other, more distant states have been more bellicose but no less ineffective. The Palestinians' fundamental problem of being isolated from Arab resources and power enables Israel to act against them without real concern for its other frontiers. Therefore, the Palestinians cannot hope to win.

The needed transformation of the Islamic world will take a long time to achieve. On the other hand, from the Palestinian point of view, time is on their side. Given that all quickly attainable solutions leave them in an unacceptable condition, they have nothing to lose by playing for the long-term solution. Given Palestinian psychology, a long-term strategy of enormous proportions is politically more viable than short-term strategies that cannot deliver genuine solutions. They can either capitulate or continue to struggle, but a small Palestinian state would not satisfy their needs. Nor could it preclude the continuation of war by Palestinian rejectionists and therefore would not be accepted by Israel. The Palestinians' only hope is a redefinition of the general geopolitics of the region.

It is in this sense that the ongoing suicide campaign must be understood. Having accepted that no political settlement in the smaller context of Israel and Palestine is possible, the Palestinians have accepted a long-term strategy of unremitting warfare using whatever means is available -- for now, suicide bombers -- as the only alternative. The price is high, but given the stakes, their view is that it is worth it. It follows that the Palestinians will accept reoccupation by Israel and use that reoccupation not merely to drain Israeli resources but also to create an atmosphere of war designed to energize the Islamic world for a broad redefinition of relationships.

The suicide bombing campaign cannot be intended to achieve any significant short-term goal. First, it is not likely to generate a peace movement in Israel --quite the contrary. Second, it locks the United States into alignment with Israel, rather than driving a wedge between the two. Finally, it creates an extreme psychology within the Palestinian community that makes political flexibility all the more difficult. The fervor that creates suicide bombers also creates a class of martyrs whose sacrifices are difficult to negotiate away. The breadth and intensity of the suicide bombings force us to conclude that the Palestinian leadership is focusing on a long-term strategy of holding the Palestinians together in a sense of profound embattlement, transforming the dynamics of the Arab world and then striking at Israel from a position of strength. In short, the Palestinians think that time is on their side and that sacrifices for a generation or two will yield dividends later. If they wait, they will win.

Here Palestinian strategy, intentionally or unintentionally, intersects with that of al Qaeda, which also is committed to a radical transformation of the Islamic world. Its confrontation with the United States is designed to set the stage for this transformation, enabling the Islamic world to engage and defeat the enemies of Islam.

For al Qaeda one of the pillars of this confrontation is the Palestinian question, which it defines as the recovery of Islamic land usurped by Israel, a tool of the United States and Great Britain. For al Qaeda, the Palestinian question represents the systematic repression and brutalization of the Islamic world at the hands of both Christianity and the secular West. Israel is merely the most extreme and visible dimension of Western injustice. Palestine is, at the same time, a primary means of energizing the Islamic world. The ongoing injustice of the Palestinian situation combined with the martyrdom of the bombers creates, in al Qaeda's view, both a sense of embattlement and religious fervor with profound political consequences. Hamas and Al Aqsa Martyrs are powerful recruiting tools for al Qaeda.

If the Palestinians have adopted the long-term strategy we described, then al Qaeda is the means of achieving their geopolitical end. If the precondition for the defeat of Israel is a transformation of the internal politics of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and the rest of the Arab world, then al Qaeda is currently the only force fighting toward this end. In the same way that Arafat's generation aligned itself with Egypt's Gamel Abdel Nasser, Arab socialism and the Soviet Union in an attempt to find a geopolitical lever to destroy Israel, so today's generation has to look for geopolitical salvation among Islam's religious fundamentalists. Al Qaeda is the only group operating effectively at the moment and therefore, by default if not by intention, al Qaeda is serving the Palestinians' interest and vice versa.

For al Qaeda, a Palestinian settlement would be politically and morally unacceptable: Morally, it would represent a betrayal of Islam; politically, it would defuse a critical, energizing issue. Any agreement that would accept the permanent loss of territory to Israel would increase the power of accommodationists in the Islamic world. Al Qaeda needs an ongoing confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis to serve its ends; the Palestinians need tremendous pressure brought on the Arab world to serve their interests. The Palestinians also need a transformation in the Arab world. Here the two interests coincide. Israel, then, becomes a foundation of al Qaeda's political strategy in the Islamic world, as well as a test bed for tactics and military strategies.

Palestinian strategy makes no sense except in the context of alignment with al Qaeda. We need to be very careful here. We are not saying that there is deep cooperation going on between the Palestinians and al Qaeda although we would be very surprised if representatives of the two entities have not met and coordinated at times. Rather, what we are saying is that the goals of the Palestinians and those of al Qaeda have converged. Whether this was by design or by the logic of their situation is not really relevant. What is relevant is the convergence not only of tactics but also of a strategic and geopolitical perspective. Unless the Palestinians undergo a profound change of goals, they need al Qaeda to be successful to aid their own success. Al Qaeda is helped enormously by Palestinian behavior. If not a word had ever been exchanged --which we doubt -- the interests would still have converged. And the alliance that grows naturally is the most powerful one.

This means that no real peace process is any longer possible and that Israel can expect to be under constant pressure from the Palestinians. Then the question is, can Israel define a strategy for containing the Palestinians without simultaneously inflaming the Islamic world? More important, can the U.S.-Israeli relationship survive when what Israel must do to suppress the Palestinians flies in the face of American coalition-building in the Islamic world? Of course the Palestinians may hope to provoke a response from Israel that the United States cannot tolerate. However, this is not 1973. Israeli dependence on the United States is much less today than it was then, and therefore U.S. influence on Israel is much lower. Second, the United States is not likely to break with Israel when the trigger is suicide bombing -- not what the Palestinians want to hear, but it is exactly what al Qaeda would want.

This is precisely the crisis both the Palestinians and al Qaeda want to create. Al Qaeda hopes to use U.S. commitment to Israel as a tool for political mobilization in the Islamic world, since the United States cannot accept the destruction of Israel and nothing less can satisfy the needs of the Palestinians. The forecast, therefore, is for pain.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Peace Upon the Land

The Operation the Rebbe references, Peace for Galilee, was launched by the IDF in 1982 to rout Palestinian terrorist training camps situated across the Lebanese border. For more than a decade, ever since the PLO's expulsion from Jordan following the events of Black September, 1970, Palestinian terrorists had been crossing into Israel from Lebanon to carry out attacks on civilians. Entire families were butchered, and "proportionate" Israeli reprisals, consisting of airstrikes and commando raids, did not stem the attacks.

The IDF succeeded in driving most of the PLO to Tunis but, lacking clear political direction, did not complete its operational objectives, and was forced to set up a buffer zone on Lebanese soil. The forces guarding this buffer became a target of Hezbollah, resulting in hundreds of casualties over 18 years of occupation. The buffer zone was subsequently evacuated by the IDF in 2000.

One of the things I've appreciated, since before I really became involved with Chabad, has been the Rebbe's commitment to and concern for the preservation of life. As a Jewish leader, speaking to Jews, his focus is clearly on Jewish responsibilities and obligations, grounded in a Jewish perspective and Jewish law. Yet, he makes it a point, again and again, in a time of war, to emphasize that a decisive course of action, as advocated by the military command, would have resulted in fewer lives lost on all sides, Jews and non-Jews, referring specifically to the Sabra and Shatila tragedies as a terrible consequence of indecision.

In our age, it has become fashionable to speak of peace, and with regards to Israel, to demand that it makes peace with its neighbors, even if that means it ignore acts of aggression planned and directed against it. Such is the convoluted state of affairs, that it is not enough for a threat to exist; Israel must actually wait to be attacked, it must allow its citizens to be murdered, in order to scrape together sufficient legitimacy to defend itself.

This is an immoral approach that cynically produces the very bloodshed and suffering it claims to avoid. The first priority of a nation is the preservation of life for its inhabitants. A strong State of Israel, and one blessed with the means to defend itself, thank G-d, must categorically ensure the sanctity of life for its residents. It is immoral and counterproductive for it to do otherwise, for whatever blood is spilled in the short run will secure future generations from being victims to violence, on both sides, Jew and non-Jew.

Instead, by not dealing decisively with threats, and allowing deterrence to erode in the face of relentless attacks, only a continuation of mass violence and suffering has been experienced, and can be expected. But where "the strongest army in the Middle East" achieves decisive victory, whether against Egypt, or Jordan or Syria, deterrence is created and peace follows. Let it be a cold peace, but one that has not endangered the lives of Jews, Egyptians, Jordanians or Syrians in several decades.

Where Israel is decisive, the lives of Jews and non-Jews are saved. And where Israel is indecisive, as the Rebbe says, "casualties are falling", G-d forbid, on all sides, and with no end in sight.


A friend and reader emails me,
You can't take a religious approach to war. The political dimension has to be taken into account. We can't allow generals to run amok on the battlefield, doing whatever they want. Military leadership is beholden to political leadership. The politicians must determine the scope of the war, and have the flexibility to adapt it as necessary.

I'm not sure what "a religious approach to war" means. What the Rebbe does is to highlight the cardinal responsibility of any state, and in particular a Jewish State, whose Jewish leaders are bound to uphold Mosaic law - to preserve life. Other nations and non-state actors, in contrast, may not interested in preserving life, but in achieving political ends. The Rebbe categorically rejects a such an approach to war, which places life secondary to political objectives. He implores us, and the Israeli leadership, to view the waging of war through the prism of pikuach nefesh - preservation of life, on all sides.

Once the sanctity of life is established, and its defense becomes the primary rationale for waging a war of self defense, the focus shifts on how to best do so, in a way that avoids casualties, including among the enemy. Far from allowing military commanders to "run amok" on the battlefield, the political leadership must instruct the military to achieve the necessary objectives in a way that reduces bloodshed in its implementation, and secures life in its outcome.

Then, once the military campaign begins, the political leadership must resist foreign pressure and allow the completion of military objectives it set. As has been demonstrated just recently in the Lebanon and Gaza wars, hesitation and indecision passed on from the political to the military command cause a vital loss of momentum, threaten the lives of forces engaged in combat, and display weakness that is ceased on by the enemy to prolong the conflict. The resulting stalemates ensure a continuation of suffering, on both sides, and the likelihood of further loss of life on an even greater scale.

Far from demanding a "religious approach to war", what the Rebbe is urging constitutes basic common sense and accepted military doctrine.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Tzipi for President!

Well, Prime Minister. And not that Tzipi. I'm referring to Tzipi Hotovely, of Israel's Likud party, who is the first Likud MK I know of to offer some sensible resolution for the West Bank Arabs once Yehudah and SHomron (YeSHa) are annexed by Israel - in a word, citizenship. Alright, maybe she hasn't thought it all through yet, but it's SOMETHING!

According to the article, "The country's political centre is increasingly talking about this scenario - but as a potentially disastrous move that will be forced on them if attempts to create a Palestinian state fail."

If attempts fail? How many attempts shall we allow, before we can  concede that attempts to create a Palestinian state will end in failure and more bloodshed? All I'm asking for is a number - 8, 9? We're already at 5, by my count. In that case, there are only a few more attempts left, and then we can focus the collective energies of Arabs and Jews on integration in a Jewish state "from the river to the sea".

I've complained in the past, bitterly - including the short past of this blog - about the intellectual bankruptcy of Israel's right:
The Israeli right is an abject failure; a boorish salad of slogans divorced of pragmatic policy solutions. At least Kahane was honest. I do not believe in ethnically cleansing Arabs, just as I don't believe in ethnically cleansing Jews, but one must appreciate Kahane's commitment to dealing with reality. "Jordan is Palestine", on the other hand, is not a policy. Outlasting a moderately hostile American President by conceding just enough concessions to stave off a complete diplomatic collapse is not a success. Crying "anti-semitism", shaming foreign dignitaries, threatening regimes, endless bungling and embarrassments... these are not signs of competence in international relations. The only right of substance - the only people living and fighting for their ideals, day in and day out - are the settlers.

So, let me be the first to state, in crude Pop-American form - I HEART HOTOVELY. Yes, she is classically beautiful, and probably married, making this a highly immodest point, but the real attraction is that someone, ANYONE, has chosen to deal with reality, at least rhetorically. As I've written about in the past, somewhere, I don't favor bestowing Israeli citizenship on the Arabs of Yesha. Instead, let's begin with permanent residency - it is a pragmatic step that takes into account the needs of the Arab population, while respecting the lessons of a century of war and ethnic violence. I wrote of this in more detail here, reworded slightly now, stylistically:
To be a citizen of the US you have to wait almost 10 years. Millions of Turks are permanent residents of Germany, for decades, without [serious grievance]. Why should the Palestinians be granted citizenship overnight, after fighting 60 years of brutal war with the Jews? That's insane and unreasonable. Those who wish to become Israeli citizens should meet certain eligibility criteria - non-involvement in terrorist organizations, one generation of permanent residency, conscription in the armed forces, etc. I'm sure the details can be worked out. This isn't a matter of demographics, even, but of pragmatism.
Furthermore, Jewish law provides the status of ger toshav - permanent resident - endowing them with civil benefits, and obligating the Jewish nation for their security and well being. Having accepted that the Arabs will not accept partition, the question of what to do with the Arabs of Yesha is a conversation we need to have in the Jewish community, both within Israel and in the Diaspora. Other cultures throw each other off buildings or set up death squads to eliminate their opposition. We Jews engage in a different form of bare-knuckle fistfights - those of the mind. Hotovely has fired the first volley from Israel's center-right. Is this a joke, a political maneuver, a fanciful ruse to stymie Arab fantasies? As someone who played tennis for half a decade in my youth, I know that putting a ball where you want it on the court requires follow through. I'm waiting...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Is Mossad Responsible?

It may delight you to know... that I have no idea. I have been paying attention to the story, though what has surprised me more - perhaps by now it shouldn't - is the pathetic attempts at outrage and insistence on lawfare now spreading through the anti-Israel European community. That said, I have yet to see a single person shed a tear, or even waste a shrug on the news in the US. In addition, it apparently doesn't seem to bother the government of Dubai that known international terrorists are entering its borders to traffic in weapons with nearby rogue nation states with ambitions to dominate the region.

If this was Mossad, my utterly uninformed perspective is that using passports of Israelis with dual European citizenship, and having the entire operation captured on camera... it seems very sloppy. Having read By Way of Deception: the Making of a Mossad Officer in my youth, I happen to know that the legend of Mossad has long exceeded the organization's many successes, and surprisingly many failures. Still, one would expect... more.

Israel is a small country, with limited resources. There are only a handful of Mossad operatives trained in direct action, and to converge eleven or twelve such individuals on one target, in a hostile country - which is how Mossad defines Arab lands - to eliminate a murderer, yes, but who the hell was this guy? We're talking about a serious allocation of resources, with now a dozen burned agents, to deal with a mid-level weapons mule. Perhaps, or perhaps we're (or I am) missing something that made him a target of great importance. (In the comments, Tori suggests Mabhouh was the Hamas equivalent of Hezbollah's dearly departed Mughniyeh.)

But what do I know. Stratfor, on the other hand, I trust.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Pillbox Fever

Though you wouldn't know it from the beaches of Tel Aviv, Israel is a nation besieged, in a state of perpetual, if often dormant war. Currently, those who pursue it lack the strategy, means or will to engage in hot conflict; thus, today, we have relative calm, punctuated by isolated acts of politically insignificant but tragic violence. Despite the lull, as has been necessary since the very first moshavim, persistent vigilance, in the form of security and observation posts, is a necessary fact of life.

Manning these posts, hundreds of them, sprinkled along Israel's borders and buttressing the security barrier that cuts through the Judea and Shomron to separate Israeli and Palestinian communities, and around Gaza, are thousands of young, conscripted Israeli soldiers. These are not special forces or counter-terrorism experts; they're kids with guns, a few weeks of basic training and, every so often, life and death responsibilities. Separated from their families, girlfriends, video games, they operate in shifts and teams, rotating in for a few days. It must be mind-numbing work - to sit still in a cramped, hot, sometimes remote outpost, for days, and watch... just watch. Just watch.

It gets better...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Theatre of the Absurd

Some of you may have heard of the Bil'in protests, staged by pro-Palestinian agitators to protest Israel's building of a security barrier partially through the village's agricultural lands. I split the protesters into two camps, exemplified best through photojournalism.

On the one hand, you've got farmers and their families, reliant on agriculture for their livelihood, rightly concerned about restrictions on their ability to work the land. Rightly, I say, because after years of legal battles, the Israeli Supreme Court agreed, and the Israeli army complied.

On the other hand, you've got clowns in Avatar costumes, looking for the one place on earth where throwing rocks at people and making a fool out of yourself is rewarded through heroic photo spreads in prominent international news outlets (Australia, UK, USA, etc.)

 Exit bag, anyone?

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