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.


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.

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Mr. Cordesman remarks quoted in the article fail to recognize the potential danger to Israel’s populated areas of longer range missiles surely to be smuggled in to Gaza from Iran. The citizens of southern Israel are already traumatized and with the potential of longer range threats Israel had to strike Hamas to defend its citizens,-and we would do the same. Since Hamas thrives on martyrdom and playing up civilian losses to the media, it was clear that Israel would suffer on the diplomatic front. But it just had to be done. The deliberate use of civilian facilities for military actions shows the cowardice of these jihadist leaders. What does Debusmann think of setting up their control center in a hospital?

Posted by bert boyson | Report as abusive

Have you read any of the Hamas statements about Israel? Here’s just 1 example…
Fathi Hamad, Hamas Member of Parliament, to al-Aalam Iranian television in Arabic, 15 March 2007: (prior to the swearing-in of the Palestinian Unity government):
“Hamas rejects the Arab [peace] initiative and wants Palestine from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea. If today Israel cannot be beaten militarily, it will be possible in the future.”

and you still think peace is up to Israel? I think not. Today Hamas would not even honor the 3 hour break from military action when Israel sends in aide and takes Palistinian injured to Israeli hospitals for treatment, no they fired more rockets at civilian targets in Israel during that period, too. Oh, and the term “Palistinians” for an Arab ethnic group, this is a modern political creation with no basis in fact – and had never had any international or academic credibility before 1967!

Remember Golda Meir, “We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.”

Posted by Ann Arbeit | Report as abusive

Where were all of the commentaries when the rockets were raining down on Israel. Hamas needs to be stopped and nobody but Isreal seems to be willing to do so.

Posted by James Middleton | Report as abusive

israel left gaza, but arabs continued to shoot rockets at israel. Debusmann does not care if jews die. To the contrary from his comment it is clear he feels they deserve what they get. This is why i warn my children that another nazi period could come at any time.

Israel has not lost the support of the world, just the loud minority. I’ve actually wondered what took Israel so long to strike back at the seemingly never ending rocket fire. I certainly would not have waited so long. I feel for the innocent of Gaza, but they did elect them. The sooner Hamas is eliminated the better of the world will be.

Posted by Martin R. | Report as abusive

Finally an American journalist who is telling an honest story. People here tend to forget that Israel is invading another nation, blockading the people of Palestine, killing their industry, their economy. The fact that Palestine is referred to as ‘occupied territory’ says it all. There are boundaries made by diplomatic process that Israel ignores. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis build their home in Palestine. Perhaps a better comparison would be if Mexicans ignored the US border and just built towns in the USA, surrounded them by a wall and called it Mexican Territory. Firing rockets is wrong but when you have no economy left and no organized army you have no option. Imagine if a rich nation such as Saudi Arabia started giving the Palestinians the sort of wealth the USA gives Israel to buy weapons, there would be uproar. It is double standards all the way and needs to be stopped. Return Palestinian land to it’s people and work on co-habiting as peaceful neighbors.

Posted by richard. The | Report as abusive

Abraham -
“Even people who have sympathized with Jews during WWII will rethink their position”

I believe the state of Israel care less about sympathy and more about it’s citizens life. We have learned our lesson from the holocaust, you can keep the sympathy to yourselves. This time, when a nation wage against Israel, we are not waiting for the world to understand.

Posted by Moshe Saraf | Report as abusive

The Israeli communities in the disputed territories need to be handled, but in the opposite way from that suggested. The willingness of the Palestinian Arabs to accept the reality of land which is not judenrein is a litmus test for whether they’re actually interested in peace. It’s long past time for America to lay it on the line and tell the Palestinian Arabs to forget about their demands for ethnic cleansing; they simply have to be taken off the table.

Posted by Alan | Report as abusive

The crisis between israel and palestine prolonged so many years without final end. And the cause of the crisis is clear. it’s not about the question of egg and chicken..which comes first ? who start first ?. i don’t know why israel hostility againt arab palestine. in the early 1900, most of the jews spread all over the world particularly europe. most of them are treated badly, discriminated by european,,even mass killed by them (nazi). in the same time the jew live in peace among arab in jurusalem. I,m never heard palestine kill or expell the jew. but why the arab get poison when they give milk ?

Posted by wander | Report as abusive

It is heart wrenching to watch what Isarael is doing to the Citizens of Gaza. Let us adress the first issue of Hamas firing rockets into Isarael for the past eight years as claimed by the Isaraeli government. The numbers of people injured or killed and the property damage caused by these fireworks can be counted on fingers. On the other hand, the fierce bombardment of Gaza by Air, Sea amd Land has caused more than 1000 deaths and huge damage to infrastructure and private properties in a matter of few days. The Israeli response to the Hamas attacks is way out of proportion to the damage caused by their rockets. It has been repeated over and over again that what are the Israleis to do. For ONE they should behave like HUMANS. In no civilised society, police will go after criminals with their guns blazing if they were hiding behind civilians.

Mr. Debusmann is being kind in comparing Israeli leaders to donkeys. I think even donkeys are more intelligent. Israel has been trying to eliminate these problems by FORCE since it came into existance. And to date what have they to show so far only thousands of dead palestinians. If Jewish people need a homeland, so do the Palestinians. I would like to challange anyone can show that under the given status of the land – West Bank and Gaza seprated by Isarel, that a viable Palestinian state can be created. The palestianians will be at Isarel’s mercy for the rest of their lives.

Untill there is a fair settlement for the People of Palestine there is no hope of peace. It is a shame taht people who claim to be the Gods chosen one can so cruel and heartless.

A note for the Anonymous: If Hamas is coward and are hiding behind civilians, IDF is no better, they are dropping Bombs from palnes and tanks agianst which Hamas has no waepons to defend themselves. If IDF is so brave I would like to see them go in without Air and Artillary support. Level the battlefield and than make the claim that Hamas is coward.

Posted by Harinder Sahota | Report as abusive

There will never be a lasting peace, or even ceasefire in the land of Occupied Palestine, (now called Israel and the West Bank and Gaza) as Zionism is, at it’s core, a racist and fascist ideology. The World defeated Nazism and then it defeated Apartheid. Zionism is the last major racist outpost of Western Imperialism and it too, must now be destroyed for World Peace and for Justice to be achieved for the native indigenous population. the Palestinians, have suffered immeasurable at the hands of the Zionist Mass Murderers, who are now engaged in another one of their racist and genocidal murder sprees in the Gaza Strip.

Posted by Pipard | Report as abusive

Mr. Debusmann,
Thank you for the thought provoking article. I agree with you. Israel is destroying any hope for peace. The 6 month truce was destroyed by Israel’s vicious blockade of Gaza for 2 month, in violation of the conditions of the truce. By late Dec., Gazzans were out of food, fuel, electricity, and water. There is no doubt that Israel was implementing a policy of collective punishment on all the population in Gaza. In the recent events, it is very clear that Israel’s goal is to destroy civilian infrastructure, mosques, and hospitals. And the excuse is always ready, “they were firing at us from there.” Even the UN’s headquarters were not spared. If this is not criminal, I don’t know what is. Read articles written by Israelis themselves exposing the lies and propaganda of Israel: nels/avnery/1231625457/

The world’s silence towards the slaughter of innocent civilians is appalling.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

all of the emotion and blind allegiance to israel has to stop. calling names, as in the responses of some, is easy when the deck is stacked and usually fools always try to solve a problem by stating in the middle and NOT at the beginning.
the article is well written and it addresses the all-inclusive problem of the 1948 fiasco and the continued and supported violations by “poor misunderstood israel”. they act like a bunch of crybabies that if they are corrected they will take their marbles and go home. that would be fine if their intrusion into gaza were the marbles. hillary is a disaster waiting to happen and she will not properly work out a fair solution, for her comment bodes ill for negotiations and any hope of peace. i say this because backing israel at all cost is a failure and the problem of hamas firing rockets is a symptom, not THE problem. (kerry should have been the sos) no one mentions the kidnappings, tortures and land-grabbing by israel. the farce that they are so religious and blessed has played out and the kid-glove treatment needs to be over. the article and the writer are to be commended for not kissing israel’s bloodthirsty butt and finally being a courageous MAN to tell the truth. it is easy to sit in your homes and be racist and hateful to palestinians, but GOD, through HIS SON, JESUS CHRIST, will have the last say in this.

Posted by AARON LEWIS SR. | Report as abusive

I tentatively agre with Anthony Cordesman.

At first I was hopeful that Hamas could ACTUALLY be smashed, & Israel could return to dealing with Fatah. This does not seem to be the case any longer. I have lost my faith that rocket attacks can be stopped by force alone. Any extreme action taken by israel, leads to popular outcry.

Why? Because Israel is the \”Strong\” one, the \”opressor\” in this situation. Always upon the strong one rests the burden of the high moral ground. Yet always the strong cannot understand the limits of excercising raw power & force. You cannot beat the love of allah out of a fundamentalist muslim, only increase his resolve to die a martyr.

I cannot fault the jewish people for being slow in adjusting to the role-reversal here, please remember there are holocaust survivors STILL ALIVE! They were given this plot of land in good faith by the colonial powers. They should have gone with Alaska or whatever the 2nd choice was. I cannot fault the jewish people for defending their citizens from armed assault. Look at the Post 9-11 mess resulting from the military hawks gaining cachet in the USA. Well that is the permanent political state of affairs in Israel. The hawks are always right because there is always another rocket attack upon citizens. (remember the jewish psychology, someone is always trying to kill you, but this time they want to kill back!)

That said, the blockades & checkpoints & especially the settlements are THE problem.
If Israel removed these barriers to the way of life of the normal Palestinian, support for radical violence would begin to reverse. Unless Israel stands with open arms welcoming palestinians as brothers in the holy lands, they cannot JUSTIFY the use of force to hunt militants, because there will always be militants in opressed, gated, confined cultures. Especially those cultures OCCUPIED by settlers from the opressors.

I know that exposes Israel to potential danger. I know the loss of a single Israeli life is an untenable political position for any politician. (ahh \”democratic\” politics)

BUT! It has always been 10-1 or 100-1 Palestinians killed in any exchange of fire, so MAN UP Israel & take the hits to win Peace!

Otherwise, the moderate Islamic states will increase their funding to covert militancy, & this whole thing will end in 5, 10, or 15 years with a nuclear exchange in the cradle of civilization.

I hope they find another way, Inshallah.

Posted by Damon the Dove | Report as abusive

Yes, I agree with the author on the premise that fighting always advances to bloodier fighting on the next go around. And both sides have put each others in corners where the only option is to eliminating the other party, in order to live in peace. Both sides have not learned anything but more hate and more killing from each other. The state of Israel has become very affective in creating and furthering the goals of Iran in the eyes of the general Arab populist, by making the Sunni Arab governments look weak & ineffective,while Arabs in the Gaza being bloodied and destroyed by advanced weaponry- Iran will be be the big winner here, not Hamas or Israel. Israel & the Palestine peoples will be the losers if moderates on both side do not resolve this crisis, and do not allow fanatic elements, on both sides, which are running this war solely based on hate and racial profiling, similar to the Nazis in WWII, to continue down this road will only lead to the destruction of all concerned.

The statements by Mr. Cordesman and other residents of the diplomacy “establishment” simply demonstrate the decay into which this series of vested interests has fallen over a length of time. Falsification of the record of actual events with respect to al-Qaeda between 1986 – 2001, stating that Israel has no right to the West Bank or all of Jerusalem, and imposing ethnic segregation on two sets if diverse peoples is a position which combines racist elitism and automatically prevents the development of a common market as the eventual solution to the problem set. The Carter Peace Treaty implied the development of the Common Market for Jordan, Egypt, Israel, and Palestine. But there is, in reality, no Palestine other than as an historical remnant of the former Roman state, of which Britain, France, Spain, and Italy were provinces. We are heirs to that state. It is a part of that heritage that we inherit in our imposing Rome’s conquest of Israel, Herod’s murder of the last of the Macabbean family, and Vespasian’s attack on Jerusalem – to be followed by the subsequent actions of Rome. We today seek to impose our fundamental Greek Christian contempt for Jews, which we inherit at each Sunday School class and carry forward with us despite any subsequent changes in our thinking, on Israel by limiting the boundaries of Israel and claiming that a Palestine exists. Palestine does not exist and has existed as no more than a cultural artifact and fiction in fact since the Byzantine Empire in its southern provinces was conquored by the Muslim armies. The British continued the fiction in the imposition of colonoal zones of control after WWI, when the European powers and our Senate defeated Woodrow Wilson’s attempt to bring a rational solution to the problems presented to us by the unrepresented minorities of the former Ottoman Empire. That he died of a stroke is tribute to the grandeurs of french and British economic provenance and to the inheritors of that arrogance which we witness today in Anthony Cordesman and his ineffectual colleagues. They would rather enhance and legitimatize a balance of terror with Hamas and Hisbollah, as instruments of Iran and Syria, while serving gthe economic interest of France in its part in the trans-Syria pipeline from Iraq to Lebanon.

As we no longer listen to Mr. Kissinger and his “balance of terror” between Saddam Hussein and the Iranian Grand Council, so we can stop listening to Anthony Cordesman. As the popular saying goes, “Freedom is not free.” We shall always pay a steep price in our blood, our fortunes, and by risking our sacred honors. Mr. Cordesman cannot function in that milieu, which gave birth to our Nation, the new Republic of Iraq, and to the Magna Carta. When we remove Hamas from Gaza, we can begin work on creating a multi-ethnic State of Israel with the establishment of BASE, the Basis Assets Securities Exchange program. This is designed for the Palestinian people and provides them access to the Common Market with and within Israel, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Emirates.

Posted by Eruc Hands | Report as abusive

to mr anonymous, do you have any proofs for your allegations buddy. a lie is a lie no matter how many times you keep on repeating it. i think instead of making up stuff try to comprehend an important article like this one..

Posted by eddy | Report as abusive

And if it is then Hamas stop the rockets, would israel open the borders for humanitarian aid?. The answer is no, like in several months since Hamas won the parliamentary election. Today Hamas stops the rockets, but israel keep bombing Gaza.

I agree with James and I re-echo his question:where were all the commentaries when the rockets were raining down on Israel?Where the Arabs alseep when Hamas fired rockets were wreaking havoc on Israeli soil? Hamas is obiously no respecter of anybody and it shows in their actions. It is sad innocents have lost their lives during the attack by Israel, Hamas simply didn’t and still doesn’t care. If they cared, they would have stopped sending rocket missiles into Israel for the sake of people that might be injured or die. In spite of the rising casualties, they still continued sending rockets into Israel. If the Hamas cared less about innocent Palestine civilians, Israel shouldn’t care any more.

Posted by Ben | Report as abusive

Good article. As long as Israel denies the Palestinian people peace, justice and a land of their own they will resist, and if Hamas is crushed, an even more radical group will take their place. The only way to peace is to knock down the settlements, Israel to withdraw from the whole of Gaza and the West Bank and treat their neighbours as humans, with dignity.

Hamas are not rats, they are people who were democratically voted into power by a population who have been abused for 60 years. Israel will eventually reap what it has sown unless it actually works for peace

Posted by Put the war Israeli war criminals on trial | Report as abusive