In Gaza war, lions led by donkeys?

By Bernd Debusmann
January 15, 2009

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate- Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own -

It’s not often that a senior member of Washington’s usually staid and cautious foreign policy establishment likens Israeli political leaders to donkeys and questions their competence. But the fighting in Gaza prompted Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies to do just that.

“Will Israel end in empowering an enemy in political terms that it defeated in tactical terms? Will Israel’s action seriously damage the U.S. position in the region, and hope of peace, as well as moderate Arab regimes and voices in the process? To be blunt, the answer so far seems to be yes.

“To paraphrase a comment about the British government’s management of the British Army in World War I, lions seem to be led by donkeys…The question is not whether the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) learned the tactical lessons of fighting in 2006 (in Lebanon). It is whether Israel’s top political leadership has even minimal competence to lead them,” he writes in an analysis on Gaza.

In Cordesman’s view, the leadership lacks a grand strategic purpose. Are the tactical gains the IDF is making in its assault on Hamas to stop it from firing rockets into Israel worth the political and strategic costs to the Jewish state?

Strong words from a respected authority on the Middle East, a member of an influential network of scholars who migrate from senior government jobs (his included director of intelligence assessment for the Secretary of Defense) to think tanks and from there often move back to government in Washington’s revolving door scene.

With the prospect of fighting in Gaza dragging on past next week’s inauguration of Barack Obama as the next U.S. president, analyses and advice have flowed freely on how the new administration should deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a problem that has plagued a string of presidents and shaped Arab perceptions that the U.S. backs Israel, no matter what.

Will the U.S. shift course under Obama? In her confirmation hearing this week, his nominee for Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, ruled out negotiating with Hamas, the group Israel is fighting in Gaza, unless it renounces violence and recognizes Israel. “That is just for me an absolute,” she said. No change on that front from George W. Bush.

No word either on Israeli settlements on the West Bank. They will remain standing once the guns fall silent in Gaza. Their continued growth – in violation of international law – bodes ill for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, the so-called two state solution. In the past 15 years, the number of Israelis living on the West Bank rose from 116,000 to almost 300,000. In addition, another 190,000 Israelis live in the formerly Arab part of Jerusalem, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.

END WEST BANK SETTLEMENTS

If Obama is serious about making peace between Israelis and Palestinians, says Aaron David Miller, a scholar at Washington’s Woodrow Wilson Institute, he will need to tackle the settlement question. In the past, U.S. involvement has been largely rhetorical. Miller, a former adviser on Arab-Israeli negotiations to six secretaries of state, said he could not recall one strategic meeting with an Israeli Prime Minister to discuss the damage the settlements did to peace negotiations.

“But it is a fact that settlements are incompatible with creating confidence, let alone creating an atmosphere of serious negotiations.” Why didn’t the U.S. press harder? “For one, we didn’t want a confrontation.”

If future American attempts to help negotiate peace are to be successful, Miller says, the U.S. must be equally firm in dissuading actions on either side that wreck chances of an agreement – rockets fired from Gaza, or Israelis settling on the West Bank. Agreeing to every idea proposed by an Israeli Prime Minister, as happened in the past, is not the right way to go.

The cause of even-handedness would also benefit if American politicians (and pundits) took statements from Israeli leaders with a grain of salt. Such as the analogy Defense Minister Ehud Barak provided to explain why the IDF launched the war on Hamas in Gaza, opening with a bombardment reminiscent of the shock-and-awe assault with which the U.S. tried to decapitate Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003.

“Contemplate what would happen if Kassem rockets were fired for years from Tijuana in Mexico to San Diego.”

There is no excuse for targeting civilians but Barak’s Tijuana-San Diego analogy is severely flawed. Tijuana has not been occupied by a foreign power, its citizens do not belong to families that were dislodged by a war in 1948, and the flow of goods into and out of Tijuana has not been subject to blockades. Unlike Gaza.

You can contact the author at Debusmann@reuters.com. For previous columns, click here.

189 comments

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Comparison of Israelis to lions and donkeys is on the conscience of Mr. Debusmann. I would though reserve the term “donkeys” to the upcoming US Administration – not only it seems more fitting in the context, but it’s the official mascot of their party. Lion, on the other hand, is quite appropriate – it’s the ancient symbol of Judea.
But then, what can Hamas be compared to? The only just comparison is rats – cowardly, mean, blood-thirsty, and dirty. Though in some sense this comparison is an insult – to the rodents. Unlike the animals, Hamas leaders must understand that placing a rocket launcher atop a civilian building makes that building a legitimate military target. Yet they do just that – and then scream about “Israeli war crimes” to everyone willing to listen. They extol martyrdom – yet they have no guts to stand up and fight like men. They hide in the tunnels, sewers, and basements. They shoot their rockets – not at tanks and planes of IDF, but at residential areas in Israel, deliberately trying to hit a school or a bus stop, and lamenting their rockets being insufficiently lethal. After the shooting they disappear underground, leaving their human shield to take the punishment. They are ready to fight to the last child of Gaza. They declare themselves winners – as if Hamas tanks encircled Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv lay in ruins.
And the worst part of it – there are fools swallowing Hamas propaganda whole, hook, line, and sinker, and not only in Tehran, but around the world. As long as Hamas thinks that the images of ruined houses and bloodied children are to their benefit, they’d do their utmost to increase the flow thereof by provoking IDF strikes. The suffering of innocents in Gaza is terrible, but the only way to really help them is to remove, or at least to limit Hamas capacity to sacrifice them for Hamas own political gain.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

Hamas took over the power in Gaza illegally from palestinian authority in a coup. They don’t recognize the arrangements that were made by Israel, EU, Egipt, and palestinians on border control and the movement of goods. Therefore, Israel and Egipt have all the rights to close the borders until the legal authority of palestinians, who were kicked out, and European monitors are allowed to return according to previous agreement. Don’t forget, the Gaza borders were open until Hamas overthrew illegally the rule of president Abbas.

How is it possible to negotiate with Hamas when it doesn’t recognize any previous agreements, doesn’t recognize Israel right to exist. Peace process is suppose to be peace in exchange for land. Israel withdrew from Lebanon and Gaza completely, but instead of more peace, Israel got more terror, largely thanks to Hamas and their homocide bommings since 1990′s and rockets for the last 8 years.

There is no chance for peace and 2 state solution until Hamas and radicals like it will disappear from the region. All Hamas believs in a single state solution that doesn’t include Israel.

As to a comment about refugees from 1948 war. It is very important to remember how this war started. All major arab countries attacked Israel and tried to destroy it. When Germany started WWII and lost it, many germans were displaced from former German territory and other areas of Europe to a current Germany. These refuges are just being used to score political points by terrorists like Hamas.

Posted by Mark | Report as abusive

Mr.Debussman is right on the point.Israel has made a big mistake because it lost support all over the world,and now might have to face war crimes against humanity.
This crazy war will prove that Israel is making a mess into its own garden because in the long run Arab people will not trust the Israelis to make peace with the Jewish state.
Ok,you (Israel) hate HAMAS you kill and murder the whole people in the enclave what a shame,even people who have sympathised with Jews during WWII will rethink their position and wonder what the hek is Israel doing to the innocent ones who really dont give a damn about HAMAS or FATAH or Israel all they want is to have peace of mind and live happily with their children since you and I know the amount of suffering they have endured since 1946.
To be honest,it seems Israel thinks it is above all international laws and regulations forgetting that this is not the way to deal with others.
So Mr,Debussman,lions and donkeys can lead each other to disasters,but the lion knows at the end, will not tolerate the donkey no more and might eat him>>>>
Like the King of Jordan has said before Israel need to get out of its war and military mentality and extend its hand to peace,cause as he put it,Israel will not endure stability or peace unless it comes down and accept all UN resolutions and have peace with the Arab countries.

Posted by Abraham | Report as abusive

I don’t believe that opinions posted anonnymously should be published by any opinion posting sites.

Posted by Frank Austin | Report as abusive

Mr. Debussman is right. Hamas certainly started this war although the blockage against Gaza was a contributing factor. The tactical victory that Israel will achieve could be marginalized by the political dividends that Hamas achieves on the Arab street. The biggest loser will be the Palestinain Authority which sits on the sidelines. I believe that a serious approach to reinforce the two-country solution with direct involvement of the U.S. I hope that the day will come for peace in this region.

Well, if you don’t like the Tijuana example add people sneaking to your child school bus and bombing it.
Blockades are a necessity that saved a lot of lives.
There were many mistakes by both sides
but the difference is, Israel wants peace, one we can all live with. Every politician that wants to succeed in Gaza, have to at least pretend he wants all Jews in Israel killed… great start for peace, right ?
And all the Arab countries that are angry about the Palestinians, never helped them. The ones that are living in these countries are hated there too and sometimes badly mistreated.
It’s very easy to be smart from the outside.
People keep forgetting that the Palestinians don’t want peace at all. And they let groups of terrorists control their lives when all they do is use them as live shields
.

Posted by yael | Report as abusive

The question is what comes first, to stop the rocket firings which have basically paralyzed Southern Israel, meaning nearly a million inhabitants not being able to carry out their jobs, studies etc, aside from the psychological effects, or to give first priority to world opinion which is fed by a one-sided media, which commits the sin of omission,thus creating anger of the masses towards Israel, and at the same time inderectly encouraging the Hamas to still fire rockets when the “show” is over?
The government has an obligation to protect its citizens
and if it doesn’t, will find itself replaced by another party.
The settlements should be removed-besides being a direct insult to the Palestinians,they are a hinderence, and no end of millions of dollars have been wasted wherein that money could have been used for more important matters e.g. strengthening the defences of Sderot.
I have read articles on Britain’s reaction to the WW2 v1 and v2 rockets fired on them by Germany, the bommbings of Dresden, the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and other similar articles. It seems that what’s okay for Europe to do is not okay for Israel to do i.e. exercising the basic right to self defence. As always European hypocrisy is alive and well.

Posted by paul k | Report as abusive

Mr. Debusmann doesn’t mention the fact that the Hamas came to power mainly by killing Fatach members in Gaza. He also don’t tell that Israel had redrawn it’s forces from Gaza a few years ago, and instead of good will got thousands of bombs. And what about Iran’s involvment in Gaza, sending it’s poissones arm directly to Israel’s heart trough the Hamas.

When will the world understand?
Hamas = Al-qaida
Busses being bombed in Israel =Towers falling in New-york

Stratigic purpose? How about defending thousands of Israelis from missiles. Strategic enough for me. And regarding the Arabs around us and their reaction to our actions. The moderate countries like Jordan and Egypt are not too sad we are kicking Hamas’s ass.

Posted by Ohad Itai | Report as abusive

Wrong, wrong, wrong. On all points.

The Palestinians in Gaza act like a bunch of wild animals, it is impossible for Israel to let them have open borders since they would attack Israel at every opportunity. In 2005, Israel left Gaza and the Palestians freely chose to install a regime that does not recognize Israel. They refused to follow the negotiated rules for allowing their border crossings to operate. They don’t follow the laws of war, they don’t wear uniforms, they hide behind civilians, and the reason that there are refugees in Gaza from 1948 is because even then they refused to recognize the right of the Jewish people to have a state there and turned down the chance to have their own state. Of course, when Egypt occupied Gaza from 1948-1967, they didn’t work with Jordan (who occupied the West Bank during the same time period) to establish a Palestinian state; they concentrated on destroying Israel.

The West Bank settlements are a red herring. With a negotiated peace treaty, Israel can dismantle settlements within weeks. But dismantling settlements or even freezing settlement construction is a big concession from Israel that should be accompanied by Palestinian concessions as part of negotiations.

The Israel strategy in this war is the same as the successful strategy Israel followed in 2006 in the war with Lebanon. Hizbollah claimed victory, but Nasrallah, the Hisbollah leader, also said that if he knew what the Israeli response would have been, he would have not kidnapped the Israel soldiers that started the war. Note that Hisbollah has been very quick to deny any connection with any weapons fired from Lebanon since the end of that war. Since 2006, a beefed up UN force has patrolled the same area in Lebanon that Israel occupied for a number of years and the border has been much quieter since the war than it had been in the 2001-2005 period after Israel’s withdrawl from Lebanon. Israel wants an international force to take over policing the Gaza border and to prevent the Palestianians from attacking Israel from there. I don’t know if they will get that, but the outcome is likely to be an improved security situation from Israel’s standpoint.

Posted by YM | Report as abusive

It is absolutly appaling to read what Anonymous had just finished writting . Describing HAMAS /Palestinian fighters with rats makes me think of another era and anotehr war and yes , acleansing of the very people that he belongs to to be Hitler. Hitler described your ancestors as rats , thus , dehumanizing them and killing and gassing them . Shame on you for using the very Nazi language that had given you the excuse to fool the Americans into helping you and your nation to become a lethal killing machine. Your zionist mind has been brain washed by swallowing teh zionist pill for ages. You can’t come and steal the land, remove”Cleanse”??” it’s people, submit them to absolute dependence ,and then ask them to give their God given right of self defense !!This is a mockery and nonsense and you ought to be ahsmed of your self andf start educating yourself of the real Zionist agenda andit’s stated goals since it’s inception. Jews, Muslims and Christians lived in harmony in the land of Palestine for centuries.. zioists like you brought the hate, racism , destruction and above all .. fealth to the land of Palestine and started to spread your filth . And you should read and learn teh facts, hamas was created by Isreal as an attemp to replace the PLO ..Hamas saw the light and realized that Isreal is teh true enemy and must be resisted … I guarentee you taht if HAMAS had the fire power .. they would be “have been;”‘ fighting you in Tel Aviv ..These men have no fear of your mechanized American Weapons .. These men are the true men of war .. they are brilliant in using what they can and improvising to inflict seriouse damage on Isreal from all sides of the globe. I predict that they will win the hearts and minds of all fair minded people all over the world.

Aaron Schlickman

Posted by Aaron Schlikman | Report as abusive

Reuters’ coverage of the war — just see the web site from today alone — is tremendously slanted towards the Palestinians, conveniently leaving out Hamas’ misdeeds and only pointing the finger at Israel. No objectivity here. But Debusmann’s story is really unfair, especially in its end. He continues to state the flawed point that Hamas is reacting to recent blockades. But Hamas for years has been undermining every serious peace effort, since Oslo, when every meeting between Israel and the PA was then preceded by some Hamas atrocity bombing or attack, just to poison the atmosphere. Hamas is on record as doing everything it can to undermine peace talks. And in its charter it articulates its aims to destroy Israel and drink the blood of the Jews. You don’t like Barak’s analogy to Tijuana? But Israel left Gaza over three years ago and instead of peace it got rockets. Where was the peace gesture from Hamas for Israel’s evacuation? Where were the confidence-building steps from the Palestinians? All Israel got was what it has always gotten — the lesson that leaving territory does not invite peaceful gestures but more attacks. Hamas is a vicious tyranny that brutally exploits and murders it own people, why not expose it? Hamas plays the media like a well-tuned fiddle, that’s why the world hates Israel now, not because of what Israel does. (Why doesn’t the world hate the Sudanese for slaughtering hundreds of thousands of civilians? Because people like Debusmann really don’t care about civilians, only about bashing Israel.) Debusmann takes anti-Israel propaganda and spreads it, and that’s what hurts Israel’s case, using the Reuters platform. As for the settlements, Israel has shown that it is willing to leave territory for peace, but it keeps learning that it gets no peace for leaving territory, just an attempt to wrest more territory, and greater vulnerability. Get real, Mr. Debusmann.

Posted by David Kronfeld | Report as abusive

I wonder if the anonymous is not aware that he/she is exactly doing what he/she is accusing hamas of? Hiding! But one cannot expect more from someone so full of hate against humanity.

Lets strip the conflict between palastine and Israel from the religious context of Hamas being a moslem group and Israel jewish becasue these emotionally charged badges obscures the facts.

We all have great sympathy with the jewish people for their sufferings throughout history and rightly so. But what is going on in Gaza is not much different with what Hitler and his SS men did to Jews themselves. Why we are closing our eyes on one of the gravest post WWII genosides letting it happen in a very similar manner to the systematic way as Nazis went about their crimes against jewish people. Would we tolerate what Israel does to Palastinians if it was done by another state?

I am aware that these are uncomfortable questions and it is also not easy for me to word them leave alone to have an answer to them, but I think it is time to leave our comfort zone and start thinking out of the box. As mentioned by Abraham, people want to live in peace, see their children grow and their grandchildren borne. They want to have a little garden with olive trees and enjoy a sunset in summer chatting with their neighburs while drinking tea. All of this is possible if we learn to recognise that human blood is the same, nevermind if it is flowing from an Arab, Jewish, black or white body. The problem is that the international law does not see the value of human life the same all over the world, therefore it is also not prepared to protect the ones it percieves to be of lower birht.

It is sad but again it is one those painful truths we live with.

Posted by Pouruchista | Report as abusive

Mr. Debusmann criticizes Israel, but offers no real alternative solution to what the Israelis are presently engaged in. The rockets attacks started about 7 years ago. The Israelis tried political pressure, economic pressure, they tried to get Arab countries to pressure Hamas, they tried limited military incursions,and most recently they tried a 6 month ceasefire, which Hamas chose not to extend. Prior to the present fighting the rockets were hitting Israel at a rate of 80 to 90 per day and they were aimed at civilian targets. The present Israeli strategy is really the only one Israel was left with. Unlike what people such as Mr. Cordesman may think, so far, it is working, not just from a military point of view, but in terms of a long term political strategy. Until now, Hamas has never been vigorously confronted, and the result has been to see its power grow (in particular it has crushed it opponent Fatah). It has become ever more belligerent and more determined than ever to destroy Israel. Now that it facing the prospect of losing this present war in a military sense, it will also suffer a political set-back. No one likes a loser, not even the Palestinians. Once extremist forces like Hamas are defeated, the Israelis and Palestinians will be able to negotiate a permanent peace treaty.

Posted by Dan | Report as abusive

I think that Mr. Debussman has a very good point in that the Israeli political leadership will be unable to achieve any lasting results from the recent military incursions in Gaza.

What will happen 6 months from now? 1 year from now?
Hamas (although weakened) is still there and the jewish settlements are still there…

Anonymous:
You are of course entitled to your opinion, but you are not making any sense!
“The suffering of innocents in Gaza is terrible, but the only way to really help them is to remove, or at least to limit Hamas capacity to sacrifice them for Hamas own political gain.”
Basically you say that the only way the Israeli armed forces can avoid civilian losses is by bombing Hamas and therefore causing immense civilian casualties.

Posted by Ahmad Hamada | Report as abusive

Israel was bomed 8 years, where were you ?
It is importantant that the western world will protecet itself. We cannot let not democratic teror to use the openess of the democratic . We need also to save as much pepole as we can in order to save the democratic

Posted by eran | Report as abusive

Actually neither Debussman or Barak is correct. The US occupies the California side of the Tijuana border – land it took forcibly from Mexico. But Barak’s point is correct – I doubt Mr Debussman would complain if the US responded to rocket fire from Mexico. But he does complain with Gaza – even though Israel left Gaza several years ago, only to find (predictibly) that withdrawal did not bring peace. It brought more rockets. This is because the Palestinians do not recognize Jewish claims to ANY of Israel, despite those claims being stronger than their own, because they do not recognizes Jews as a valid religion / people. And they will not settle for a negotiated solution to this conflict, settlements or no settlements, except only as a temporary measure to strengthen their position. To ask Israel to remove the West Bank settlements is more ludicrous (historically speaking) than asking the US to leave California.

Posted by seth | Report as abusive

To a previous unnamed poster:
I think you are off subject. This article is not about the actions of Hamas; I think most reasonable people can agree that Hamas committed war crimes by intentionally targeting civilians. Rather, this is about some policy experts pointing out that Israel may be harming herself in the long run through her current actions.

Posted by Shea W | Report as abusive

Not many people know but there are many muslim’s in the israeli army. I am muslem and served in the IDF. palestinian hamas tactics are simple – they do anything they can to kill israeli civilans and that’s a fact, they declared they will not stop until they distroy israel, on the other hand they hide behind their wiman and children, they shoot rockets from school’s and mosque’s to increase there civilian casualty’s – the world does not care when hamas kills israeli children becase hamas is teror orgenazetion and it’s “normal” for theme to kill civilian’s… for year’s they shoot missile’s into israel and the world did nothing. what were the options of israel? do nothing? wor is not the unswer? then what is? how could israel negotiat with hamas when they dont recognize israel’s right to exist!
I AM MUSLIM AND ISRAELI AND PROUD TO HAVE to serve’d in the israeli army, i am sure they do what they can to avoid civilian casualty’s but it’s impossible when you fight bloodthirsty organization like hamas.
The palestinian people should dicide if they want to live with peace – if they do – they should not appoint teror organization as their leader’s.
I AM A MUSLIM AND IN THE SAME TIME I KNOW I PREFER TO LIVE IN ISRAEL THEN ANY OF THE ARAB country’s.

Posted by Hasan | Report as abusive

Why not? Anonymous has a point. What would you have the IDF do? Have all the Israelis sit in their country having rockets rained upon them? How do you fight an enemy that hides among civilians and uses human shields? Would, say, Americans tolerate this in their country? Barak’s analogy holds true because the Southwest lands of the US were all once Mexican lands, seeing as how the people had lived there for many years before the US took over. Say the mexicans in the southwest US decided that it was unfair that the US took all that land and rose up and started killing civilians left and right and mexicans started fired rockets across the rio grande? What would the US military do? Exterminate them. What would the UK do if a group similar to Hamas rose up in Ireland but based on Catholicism and started firing rockets into London? The fact is, those sort of extremists groups will never be okay with Israelis living there. Those kind of people will always have festering hatred and recruit more people to fight an injustice served in the past. They will never choose to live amongst Israeli’s because they have developed such a hatred and that sort of environment is just too chaotic to live in for long periods of time. What would YOU do if you had to live in fear everyday, that some wayward rocket could kill your children, kill your family, take everything away from your that you have worked for all your life? I don’t blame them for wanted to get rid of Hamas. Step into their shoes.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

Ha! These posts are ridiculous and Debussmans article is probably one of the worst, most biased pieces of journalism I have seen on this site. Reuters should be ashamed for letting him post such an article. While I could find holes in every argument this Mr. Debussman makes I just need to address his closing remarks. First of all Israel has not been an occupying force in palestine for 7 years! Secondly who started the war of 48′?? It certainly wasn’t the Israelis. Thirdly, if Tijiuana was importing weapons to fire at the US, you don’t think there would be a blockade on the flow of goods??? Debussman please think about what you post from now on instead of spewing out the garbage you do.