Sunday, January 04, 2009

Gaza offensive

Let There be Peace by Elke Behrens

Israel has greatly esclated its Gaza offensive with a ground incursion: Israel launches ground invasion of Gaza by Richard Boudreaux Los Angeles Times 01/03/09; Livni: Cease-fire in Gaza would grant Hamas legitimacy by Barak Ravid 01/01/09; Israel Looking to Silence Hamas Forever by Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler, Inter Press Service 12/31/08. As Boudreaux reports, the Israelis are apparently hoping for some sort of lighting victory:

Israeli officials said the aim in Gaza was not to overthrow Hamas or even to eliminate its capacity to fire rockets, but rather to crush its motivation for doing so. Some Israeli analysts and experts said this could be accomplished by a brief but powerful ground operation.

"Since the name of the game is killing and destruction, the ground operation has to be quick, with a lot of firepower at friction points with Hamas," Alex Fishman, military analyst of the newspaper Yediot Aharonot, wrote Friday. "The goal is to exact a high price in the early stages of the ground operation and to end it quickly."
This is a bad situation for the United States. It's a very rough issue for Obama to have to take up in the first days of his Presidency. But it's also one that could bring some high benefits in terms of his foreign policy.

The Republican Party has aligned itself with the thinking and rhetoric of Likud hardliners in Israel. Kadima and Labour are the ones prosecuting the current Gaza offensive: Likud takes even more extreme positions.

The following will sound very familiar to those of us who have been listening to our Republican war lovers justify torture, preventive war, and general contempt for the laws of war, not to mention any kind of sense of proportionality or of what constitutes just war: Gaza 2009 - To win, all Israel has to do is survive by Bradley Burston Haaretz 01/03/09. Burston's argument reflected in the title is a reflection of the general Israeli posture - which I assume is genuinely felt by a large number of Israelis - that their nation is constantly in danger of destruction. That they live in "existential danger", as the diplomats say, the danger that their country's existence is threatened.

In any reasonable military sense, that is not the case. The fact that many Israelis and Israeli leaders understand their situation that way is in itself a fact that other countries have to take into account. But there is no good reason for the United States to base its foreign policy on such an assumption. Israel has a modern army well-supplied with US weapons and it has its own nuclear arsenal. No external force, certainly not Palestinian guerrillas in Gaza or the West Bank, can militarily conquer Israel. And both their conventional war capabilities and the nuclear weapons are very strong deterrents to anyone even attempting to do so.

Burston all but revels in the deaths of civilian noncombatants. Referring to the targeted killing of Hamas leader Nizar Ghayan (or Rayyan) along with members of his family, he writes:

Something has changed in the Mideast equation, and the killing of Ghayan [pronounced like Ryan with a hard R], is a telling indication of that change.

Knowing Israel (having listened to the Israeli far-right as it condemned the IDF as an army of pansies afraid to fight, and to the Israeli far-left as it sympathized only with Gaza casualties and not those in Sderot), Ghayan knew that he could surround himself with the human shields of four wives and 11 children and survive this war.

Knowing the UN and the international community, Ghayan knew that if he used mosques for Hamas armed wing headquarters and storage armories for longer-range rockets from Iran and China, Israeli military planners would not dare to attack them, fearing a grave diplomatic and public outcry.

Knowing that the Israeli Air Force (in his view, demonstrating the Jew's essential weakness) had begun warning Gazans of impending attacks, Ghayan refused to have his family take to the roof to cause Israel to call off the bombing. The human shield would suffice.

In a matter of 24 hours, two mosques serving as Hamas military bases were destroyed, and Ghayan and his family killed.

The world? The world has taken much more interest in New Years.
The Palestinians? A central fact of the Mideast equation may, at long last, be dawning on them:

To win, all that Israel has to do, is survive.
The latter being a tautology. If you define Israel's surviving as winning, then Israel will win even if the Gaza offensive turns out to be as big a disaster for Israel as the 2006 Lebanon War was.

Incidentally, the strategy of targeting individual leaders for assassination which Burston praises so highly needs to be seen for the risks as well as the opportunities involved. If we're talking about some small radical group or a street gang, knocking off the two or three key leaders may effectively cripple the group. With a larger group like Hamas that has substantial backing among the local population, individual assassinations of leaders can certainly weaken the group in the short run. But they also deprive their opponents of leaders who have the stature to make agreements that might lead to a lasting peace. The latter appears to be fine with Ehud Olmert's government, at present. Barak Ravid reports says:

[Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi] Livni told her French counterpart Bernard Kouchner that Hamas must must not be given the opportunity to gain any sort of legitimacy within a renewal of a truce. ...

Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip has damaged Hamas and will not end until Israel no longer deems the Palestinian Islamist faction a threat, Livni told reporters in Paris. ...

On Wednesday, Israel rejected the proposal for a 48-hour humanitarian truce as unreasonable. "We did not go into the Gaza operation only to end it while rocket fire continues," Olmert told cabinet ministers during a special session.
How many times will Israel and the Palestinians - and US foreign policy - have to go through this brutal ritual? It's not pretty: U.S. Branch of Amnesty Calls on Rice to Drop "Lopsided" Stance by Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service 01/02/08.

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