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Now that the fighting has ended the posturing begins to claim total victory in the latest round of fighting in Gaza between Israel and Hamas. What were Hamas’ objectives in starting this fight? In an interview to Hamas’ magazine, Al-Risala, Mousa Abu Marzouq, Hamas’ second in command in Damascus discusses the Tahdiah [calm] and argues that “The [Tahdiah] had become ‘a ceasefire [in exchange for another] ceasefire,’ with no connection either to the crossings and [the goods] transported through them, or to the siege. Terminating it was [thus] a logical move.” (Marzouq, Mousa Abu, Al-Risala, December 12, 2008, excerpt found at MEMRI Special Dispatch – No. 2177). After the beginning of Operation Cast Lead Hamas then claimed a second objective: inflicting significant military casualties on the Israelis (Kramer, Martin, “Dig Hamas really win in Gaza?”, found at http://sandbox.blog-city.com/did_hamas_really_win_in_gaza.htm, January 28, 2009). Hamas claimed that “Israel was falling into ‘the trap that our fighters had prepared for its soldiers and tanks.'” and that “the Zionist enemy will see surprises and will regret carrying out such an operation and will be a heavy price. Our militants are waiting with patience to confront the soldiers face to face.” (“Hamas: Gaza will become graveyard for Israeli troops“,Haaretz, January 4, 2009).

As noted elsewhere, Hamas basically collapsed, their fighters quickly shed their uniforms, donned civilian clothes and melted into the civilian population (even going so far as to fight from inside civilian enclaves to ensure that Israel would be accused of targeting civilians) (Kramer, Martin, “Did Hamas really win in Gaza?“, MartinKramer.org, January 28, 2009). As one Israeli soldier put it “We set a date with Hamas, and they didn’t come. They were afraid to come and face us, and they ran away,” (Friedman, Matti, “Despite its threats, Hamas put up light resistance,” Yahoo News, January 19, 2009). Most of Israel’s military casualties came from friendly fire.

The question now turns to whether Hamas or Israel won the fight. Both sides immediately claimed victory in the fight — Israel claiming that they had achieved their primary objective of limiting the number of rockets being fired on a daily basis into southern Israel (from a pre-war high of 70 down to 20 on the last day of the war) and Hamas, according to Rashid Khalidi, can claim victory since “all it has to do in order to proclaim victory is remain standing” (Khalidi, Rashid, “LRB Contributors React to Events in Gaza“, London Review of Books, January 15, 2009) — a rather low standard a victory. While Hamas may have emerged politically stronger in Gaza based on the premise that they survived the war they, as Hezballah in Lebanon discovered in 2006, are now the target of public resentment given the level of damage caused to homes and infrastructure in Gaza. Unlike Hezbollah who was able to dispatch teams to assess the damage of the 2006 war and to hand out money to rebuild homes and rebuild its militia Hamas has neither the finances nor the efficiency of Hezbollah and must overcome the obstacle that Gaza remains a closed area for all intents and purposes. (Ferziger, Jonathan, and Daniel Williams, “Israel, Hamas Both Claim Victory After Cease-Fire in Gaza Strip“, Bloomberg.com, January 19, 2009).

Based on traditional concepts of warfare it would is clear that Israel won a substantial victory on the battlefield as well as maintained firm control on the Gaza crossings (a key objective of Hamas at the outset of the fighting being that the crossings would be opened completely). Hamas proved that their “military” wing was anything but capable and relied solely on firing rockets into southern Israeli cities as their only means of resistance. In the end Israel achieved many of its initial, stated objectives for the operation and Hamas achieved nothing other than the scorn of the outside world for starting the fight and then using their own people as human shields.

I was recently reading Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed column in the New York Times, “Tough Love for Israel” in which he argues that what Israel needs now from America isn’t “more love, but tougher love”. He uses the responses he received on his own blog, nytimes.com/ontheground after he wrote an op-ed in the Times from Hebron. The writes in “Tough Love for Israel” that he received many counter-arguments to his points in the previous opinion piece and challenges to address them. One of the first ones he focuses on is the Jewish presence in Hebron:

Jews lived in Hebron for 1,800 years continuously … until their community was murdered in 1929 by their Arab neighbors. The Jews in Hebron today — those “settlers” — have reclaimed Jewish property. So I don’t see what makes them illegitimate or illegal. (Irving)

Mr. Kristof counters

“True, Jews have deep ties to Hebron, just as Christians do to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, but none of these bonds confer any right to live in these places or even visit them”

(“Tough Love for Israel“, New York Times, July 25, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com).

Interesting. Just because we had previously deep ties to Hebron, Joseph’s Tomb, and other places in the West Bank, we don’t have the right to live there or visit. Ok, let’s take that argument on face value. I can live with that. But I can hear the Palestinian Arabs, and I’m sure all Arabs in general, howling right about now. That also negates their beloved “Right of Return” if they accept that argument. It is such a simplistic position because it negates the ability of any displaced persons from ever being allowed to return to their homes after a conflict. However, his response goes even further…remember what he says “but none of these bonds confer any right to live in these places or even visit them.” So that means that under a two-state solution the Palestinians can deny Israelis the right to even visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, are buried. Of course the world would simply turn a blind eye to that but if Israel were to reciprocate and deny Arabs the right to visit, say, the Al-Aqsa Mosque or the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount Israel would be decried as an apartheid state (nothing new about this slander) and a rascist state (again, the left-wind already makes this claim). Nevertheless, I suspect that this probably wouldn’t happen (at least not “officially”) since it would cut down on tourism in the nascent Palestinian Arab state.

Let’s look at another argument Mr. Kristof received:

One side is a beautiful, literate, medically and scientifically and artistically an advanced society. The other side wants to throw bombs. Why shouldn’t there be a fence? (Mileway)

And Mr. Kristof counters:

So, build a fence. But construct it on the 1967 borders, not Palestinian land — and especially not where it divides Palestinian farmers from their land.

(“Tough Love for Israel“, New York Times, July 25, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com)

This is a hard one to argue against. The only argument that I can see is that there are “realities on the ground” as President Bush once said that need to be considered. I would argue that a land swap should be considered to compensate for land that cannot be excluded from the Israeli side of the fence. But let’s continue. Another counterargument Mr. Kristof received was:

While I do condemn this type of violence, it pales in contrast to Palestinian suicide bombers, rockets and other acts of terror against Jews. (Jay)

To which Mr. Kristof pulls statistics from B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization:

B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, reports that a total of 123 Israeli minors have been killed by Palestinians since the second intifada began in 2000, compared with 951 Palestinian minors killed by Israeli security forces.

(“Tough Love for Israel“, New York Times, July 25, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com

True, the number of casualties on the Palestinian Arab side has been greater than the Israeli side but I believe that he misses the point. It’s not just more Palestinian Arab youths have died but the Jay is focusing on the nature of the attacks. The Palestinian Arab terrorists are deliberately targeting civilians and other targets that will illicit the greatest fear and horror in the Israeli public. On top of that the terrorists are operating from civilian areas and doing so knowing full well that civilians will be killed in any Israeli response. If they truly cared for their people they would follow the 4th Geneva Convention that explicitly bars an armed militia for operating within civilian areas and requires them to separate from civilian populated areas. Israel’s response, while regretably killing civilians, is aimed at the terrorist bases of operation. We are not deliberately targeting the civilians like the Palestinian Arab terrorists do with regards to Isrealis. In fact, during the second Lebanon War, the Israeli army, in many cases, went to great extremes to try and limit collateral civilian casualties during the fighting and in some cases this resulted in greater casualties among the soldiers. War is a dirty business…that’s why it’s a thing to be avoided. The problem seems to be that the Western nations (America and Europe) believe that it’s something that can be conducted “cleanly”.

Let’s move on to the last counterargument that Mr. Kristof brings up in his op-ed:

To withdraw from the West Bank without a partner on the Palestinian side will find Israel in the same fix it has once it withdrew from Gaza: a rain of daily rockets. Yes, the security barrier causes hardship, but terrorist attacks have almost disappeared. That means my kids can ride the bus, go to unguarded restaurants and not worry about being blown up on their way to school. Find another way to keep my kids safe, and I’ll happily tear down the barrier. (Laura)

On this one Mr. Kristof responds:

This is the argument that I have the most trouble countering. Laura has a point: The barrier and checkpoints have reduced terrorism. But as presently implemented, they — and the settlements — also reduce the prospect of a long-term peace agreement that is the best hope for Laura’s children.

(“Tough Love for Israel“, New York Times, July 25, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com)

The separation barrier has done more to reduce the number of terrorist attacks inside pre-1967 Israel than anything else tried since the start of the first Intifada. It has made living inside of pre-1967 Israel safer albeit not completely safe since there have been terrorist attacks since the barrier was built and completed.

However, Mr. Kristof doesn’t stop there. He continues:

If Israel were to stop the settlements, ease the checkpoints, allow people in and out more freely, and negotiate more enthusiastically with Syria over the Golan Heights and with the Arab countries on the basis of the Saudi peace proposal, then peace might still elude the region. But Israel would at least be doing everything possible to secure its long-term future, rather than bolstering Hamas.

.(“Tough Love for Israel“, New York Times, July 25, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com)

Let’s review his arguments. Israel should:

  1. “stop the settlements” — ok by me,
  2. “ease the checkpoints” — how do you do this and ensure that Terrorists will not get through undetected?,
  3. “allow people in and out more freely” — again, see my question with regards to the checkpoints,
  4. “negotiate more enthusiastically with Syria over the Golan Heights” — eh? Let’s see where the current talks with Syria being held in Turkey lead. If all it leads to is a cold and meaningless peace in exchange for the Golan Heights then what has Israel really gained?
  5. “negotiate more ethusiastically…with the Arab countries on the basis of the Saudi peace proposal” — hmmm…let’s see. The Saudi peace proposal calls for:
    • Full withdrawl of Israel from all Arab lands captured since 1967 – i.e. “Land for Peace” – Israel’s stance since 1967
    • Implementation of UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 — no surprise there
    • The establishiment of an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital — a little sticky as to what would be considered “east Jerusalem”
    • A just solution to the Palestinian Refugee problem in accordance with the UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (i.e. “The Right of Return”) — hmmm…Mr. Kristof’s logic above however states that deep ties to places does not “confer any right to live in these places or even visit them.” That’s a bit of a problem.
    • The normalization of relations in the context of a comprehensive peace — that’s pretty vague.

In essence Mr. Kristof is putting all of the onus on Israel and none of it on the Palestinian Arabs or any of the Arab states in the region for the failure of the peace process. He argues that if Israel would, in essence, “just be reasonable” and give the Arabs what they want then we would have peace in the Middle East. What he fails to point out is that Israel has been trying that approach with the withdrawal from Gaza and southern Lebanon and look where it has gotten them — rockets rain down daily on the Israeli city of Sderot and occassionally on Ashkelon, anti-semitic incitement continues not just in Gaza but in the West Bank as well where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rules (Mr. Kristof calls him Israel’s “most reasonable partner ever”), and Hizbollah is already preparing it’s next pretext for war. The Jerusalem Report noted on July 16th 2008 that

According to the Hizbullah-affiliated daily Al-Akhbar, (deputy chair of Lebanon’s Supreme Shi’ite Islamic Council, Sheikh Abed al-Amir) Kiblan declared that seven villages whose Shi’ite inhabitants fled in 1948, and which were subsequently destroyed, “must return to their owners, our country and our people,” and Hizbullah’s arms would achieve this.

Gordon, Evelyn,Civil Fights: Hizbullah’s Next Pretext,The Jerusalem Post, July 16th 2008 )

These villages are inside of pre-1967 Israel and represent the Arab approach to demanding more and more from Israel even when it meets the its obligations according to the UN. Mr. Kristof misses it completely. His approach puts no burden on the Palestinian Arabs or the Arabs in Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia or elsewhere in putting forth honest, meaningful concessions into the peace process. In essence, they need have no “skin in the game” according to him. And, according to him, the only way for a new President, whether it’s Barack Obama or John McCain, to move the peace process forward is to show Israel “tough love.” Sorry…been there…done that. What is needed is a fresh and realistic approach…not “tough love.”

I was recently sent the following op-ed by Stephen J. Kohn — a former American Business Executive who has been living the past 12 years in Israel. I am reproducing it for others as the major search engines don’t seem to be picking it up. I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Kohn and I believe that he’s spot on with his analysis.

Restraint, Cycle of Violence and Confidence Building Measures

By Stephen J. Kohn

These three expressions-Restraint, Cycle of Violence and Confidence Building Measures-are code names for Israel to “cool” it. Be suicide bombed, have your soldiers kidnapped or live in a world of vitriolic anti-Semitic and anti-Israel scorn, and the three terms are tossed out in the stentorian voices of Seville suited Arab diplomats and quoted by snide BBC, New York Times and CNN reporters and the Secretary General of the UN to keep us in check. These expressions are most important when terrorist organizations (AKA as militants) do their deeds and Israel, exercising its right to self-defense, is told to hold back.

Always Israel is told to hold back because, well, because we are Israel and the world has become used to telling Jews to hold back for Millennia. As in my grandfather’s case. Taking a ferryboat at the turn of the century he was accosted, so the family tradition says, by a baseball player. Seeing my grandfather’s beard, he felt it deserved to be pulled as hard as his home run hitting arms would allow. My grandfather, for self-defense, bit the ball player’s hand. Moreover, the judge (it was my grandfather who was arrested), said “Couldn’t you restrain yourself?”

Well, we as Jews and Israelis have been holding back, somehow expecting that our confidence building holding back would bring us favor with Moslems or the civilized world. Just like my naïve grandfather must have thought as he nursed his bruised chin.

So now, as before, we have decided to attack in return. Instantly the factors that caused our reaction are set in the next to last paragraphs of the news stories, and our reaction is balanced with that of the Moslem aggressor as if pulling the Jew’s beard is natural and his biting back was an unnatural act.

As I write this, CNN.com’s headline is “Israel Strikes Beirut’s Airport”, BBC’ “Israel Blockades Lebanese Waters” and the New York Times’ “Israelis Enter Lebanon after Attack”. The fact that rockets have been bombarding Northern and Southern Israel, with injuries and deaths, seems to be far less important to these ‘objective’ sources of information on the waters and concrete runways near Beirut.

And a report on Japan’s reaction to North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, a strong threat, seems quite logical, but Israel’s reaction to 800 to 1000 Kassams, we are told, should not rekindle the “Cycle of Violence”. The bombed houses in Sderot never seem to be worth a picture, those in Gaza and Beirut are.

Perhaps those sitting in Europe or in Peace Cafes in Boston will continue to view us as warmongers. Perhaps these folk would react with restraint to another mega terrorist disaster in their midst. We here do not have that luxury. In this part of the world, despite the attempts at calming us, gestures of restraint have only one meaning – weakness. In addition, enraged reactions might cause some apoplectic reactions by Arab leaders and European diplomats, but here we know that no matter what we do, in certain quarters, it will be condemned.

In populations that still cannot accept that Moslems blew up the Twin Towers, not the Jews and Americans, we really cannot expect too much understanding on anything we do. And that is why, more and more of us, right, center, and left, are saying, “We will do what we have to do”.

And if we need to bite off a finger to stop the scourge of terror and kidnapping and verbal assault, we will do, just as my grandfather threatened to. Since the judge has spoken anyway, why not commit the ‘crime’ of securing our safety?

And since even giving back Gaza and Southern Lebanon and promising much more over the last 120 years has never brought us peace, it is doubtful if many of us will support a new slew of Confidence Building Measures, abstain from the Cycle of Violence and practice Restraint. Perhaps, a bit of effort at ‘manipulating’ our foes is in order. We know them very well, and with continued appeasement, so will most other non-Moslem nations (and Iraq), as well. That is those who have not already been attacked.

Steve Kohn

April 2020
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