In Gaza war, lions led by donkeys?
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.