Sunday, August 03, 2014

Déjà vu from January 2009: "Israel declares a unilateral cease-fire in Gaza"

Earlier today Prof. Menachem Kellner in Haifa sent me a copy of a blog post I wrote in January 2009, in the closing stages of that Hamas-Israel war (see below).

I confess that I'd forgotten about that post. Re-reading it brought home to me, depressingly, the extent to which we've already been through this scenario before ... and may well go through it again—and again?—in the future. (Israel hasn't declared a unilateral cease-fire yet in the current Gaza war, but it may be moving in that direction.)

On the other hand, history never precisely repeats itself. It's possible that this time things might turn out differently (which, alas, doesn't necessarily mean better—though one can always hope).

—Jeff Weintraub

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Israel declares a unilateral cease-fire in Gaza   [January 17, 2009]

It has now been 22 days since Israel launched its military operation against Hamas in Gaza on December 27, 2008. It was never clear how the fighting would end, but we may now be seeing the beginning of the endgame—though one has to say that tentatively.

Today Israel declared a unilateral cease-fire to take effect at midnight (Greenwich Mean Time).
BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen says the question now is whether Hamas decides to lick its wounds and regroup - or whether it gambles on dragging Israel into a war of attrition.
So what will this unilateral cease-fire mean concretely? Hard to know, but here are some immediate reactions and speculations.

=> This has been a war of terrible dilemmas, about which it has been impossible to feel confident or unconflicted. Israel was certainly justified in responding to the resumption of Hamas rocket attacks against Israeli civilian communities, which have been hit by thousands of these rockets over the years. (And the range of Hamas's rockets has been increasing, as Michael Walzer pointed out so they don't pose a static threat.) But the fact that something is, in principle, justified doesn't necessary make it a good idea, and in this case the dangers and drawbacks were pretty obvious.

Among other things, it wasn't clear whether and how military action could compel Hamas to cease those attacks, and no serious person expected either that this operation would break Hamas's control over Gaza or that Israel had any desire to re-occupy Gaza. At the same time, the longer this fighting went on, the more it increased death and suffering for Palestinian civilians in Gaza (and for Israelis, though Israel is both more concerned and more able than Hamas to protect its civilians). So Israel had both moral and practical reasons not to want to get sucked into an open-ended war.

As early as the first week of fighting, accordingly, several people—including David Grossman and my friend Gershon Shafir—proposed that Israel should unilaterally declare a cease-fire and essentially dare Hamas to respond. As Gershon put it in concluding his piece:
The strongest argument in favor of such an approach is that all the available alternatives—including the currently stated Israeli policy of seeking ‘to educate’ or eliminate Hamas—lead nowhere and can only yield disastrous and counterproductive results, along with unnecessary human suffering. Israel has made its point. Now it should know when to stop.
Something like that may be happening now, but after the weeks that have passed, the circumstances may be different.

Up to now, neither Israel nor Hamas has been willing to accept an unconditional cease-fire. The public position of the Israeli government has been that any cease-fire would have to be "durable and sustainable." It hasn't been entirely clear to observers like me what they meant by this in practice, but at least part of what the Israeli government seemed to be looking for were post-conflict arrangements that would make it more rather then less difficult for Hamas to smuggle more advanced weaponry into Gaza. Hamas, for its part, wanted conditions that would relieve Israeli pressure on its operations and on Gaza in general, allow it to claim victory, and increase its public support among Palestinians vis-a-vis Fatah.

But it would appear that decision-makers on both sides have been finding increasing reasons—and perhaps facing increasing pressures—to halt the fighting.

=> According to informed analysis from various sources, from the very beginning there has been some division of opinion within the Israeli government about when and under what conditions to stop. As Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff reported in Haaretz earlier this week ("Who is really winning the war in the Gaza Strip?):
Defense Minister Ehud Barak is very fond of marathon consultation sessions. This week he invited to his office a group of reserve generals who all retired from active duty in recent years. All but one advised Barak to end the operation quickly and withdraw from Gaza before things started to get more complicated. The most effective Israeli deterrence, they said, had already been achieved by the end of last week. When Barak asked just when, in their opinion, Israel ought to pull out of Gaza, most of the participants answered: Yesterday. This week, the defense minister was convinced that the operation had exhausted its usefulness.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, too, who at the operation's outset had waged fierce battles with Barak over questions of substance, public credit and political dividends, now holds the same view. But the lousy relations among the Livni-Barak-[Prime Minister] Olmert triumvirate have created a balance of fear: None of them wants to be painted as the soft "dove" throwing a wrench in the military campaign and dictating a swift end to it.
This triumvirate, including Olmert, seem to have reached the collective conclusion that enough is enough.

Some have speculated that they wanted to take this step before Barack Obama's inauguration, or perhaps just before something went terribly wrong. It is also possible that the Israeli government has received international assurances, confidential or semi-public, that some serious measures will be taken to control the flow of more advanced weaponry to Hamas. It may mean something that in UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon's statement on Friday calling for a unilateral cease-fire declaration—which he delivered standing next to Hamas's bitter enemy Mahmoud Abbas—Moon spoke explicitly of the need for a "durable and sustainable" cessation of violence, since that phrase has become a diplomatic code. (Or, on the other hand, that may mean nothing in particular.)

=> In the meantime, there were also signs that elements in the Hamas leadership were starting to feel increasingly shaken and threatened by the Israeli assault, enough that they felt some urgency about stopping the fighting.

Up to a point, Hamas could presumably regard the death and suffering of Palestinians at Israeli hands as a propaganda bonanza from which it could only benefit. But Hamas's own military and organizational apparatus are considerably more vulnerable to Israeli attack than, say, Hezbollah's. All during the war between Hezbollah and Israel in the summer of 2006, for example, Hezbollah could continue to rain thousands of medium-range Iranian rockets on northern Israel, turning cities like Haifa into ghost towns. In the current round of fighting in Gaza, by comparison, Hamas has continued to fire rockets at Israel, but in dwindling numbers.

That may help explain why at least some Hamas figures gradually began to express interest in a cease-fire proposal worked out by the Egyptian government—which is no friend of Hamas. Early on in this conflict,
Egypt presented [Hamas] with a cease-fire proposal that, at first glance, seemed to stand no chance of being accepted: an immediate, unconditional cease-fire, entry into negotiations over a new hudna ("truce" - during which the cease-fire would be maintained, in the absence of a determination as to when the border crossings would be opened) and, in the third stage, a renewal of the talks between Fatah and Hamas that would lead to the formation of a unity government and require a Palestinian Authority presence at the border crossings. Then, and only then, would the Rafah crossing be opened - one of Hamas' prime objectives in this war. The Egyptians were essentially telling the organization that the crossing would remain closed for many more months.

Several times during the past 10 days, Hamas announced that the Egyptian formula was unacceptable because it hurt Palestinian interests. Two days ago, the tone changed. Salah al-Bardawil, the Hamas-Gaza representative to the Cairo talks, held a press conference during which he praised the Egyptian efforts to obtain a cease-fire. The Hamas representative in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, made similar statements. Bardawil even went so far as to emphasize that the Egyptian initiative is the only one the organization was considering, thereby dismissing all other mediation efforts, including those of Qatar and Turkey.
But in these matters there may be some disagreement between the Gaza-based portions of the Hamas leadership and the top leadership based in Damascus, who are presumably willing to fight to the last Gazan. As Harel & Issacharoff reported this morning:
In a series of blows during the past 24 hours, the most severe since the Israel Defense Forces operation began in the Gaza Strip 20 days ago, Hamas was brought very close to surrender.

It is unlikely that we will see white flags, because the group recognizes that this would have a devastating effect on its image. But the Israeli military pressure has destroyed most of the Palestinian defenses in the heart of Gaza City, a day after the group had to agree in principle to the Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire a deal it is not very happy with. [....]

The latest move has is risks. The IDF is constantly concerned that a single mistake may lead to mass killing of Palestinian civilians, or a surprise attack by Hamas that may affect public opinion in Israel. This nearly happened yesterday when UNRWA facilities were hit. [....]

Meanwhile it seems that at least the Hamas leadership in Gaza has began to fathom the seriousness of its position. Two Hamas leaders in the Strip, Razi Hamad and Ahmed Yusuf, accused the group's leadership in Damascus of "bringing a terrible disaster on Gaza."

The two are considered members of the pragmatic wing of the party, and charged the Damascus-based leadership with making a terrible mistake in ordering Hamas to foil the extension of the cease-fire agreement with Israel in December.

However, in Damascus it is not clear that the message has been received. Ramadan Shalah, head of the Islamic Jihad, told Al Jazeera that the Palestinians will continue their resistance in Gaza and the city will not surrender because "victory is imminent."

The head of the Hamas politburo, Khaled Meshal, who is central in the decision that led to the events in the Strip, spoke in Damascus last night of a Palestinian "victory in Gaza." [....]
What all this means—assuming, of course, that the analysis is accurate—is that what Hamas will actually do in response to the Israeli cease-fire declaration is not easy to predict. So we don't now what happens next, even in the short run.

I hope that Hamas finds some politically viable way to accept a cease-fire. This would bring the fighting and destruction to a stop—at least for the moment, and perhaps even for a while. Then it will become possible to assess the human and material costs of this mini-war and to consider its possible long-term political consequences.

I don't pretend to know at this point what those will be (even assuming that fighting doesn't simply resume soon, which it might). But I would be willing to offer one surmise. It has become a standard cliché among journalists, pundits, and other analysts to proclaim that one political consequence of this blow-up will be to strengthen support for Hamas among Palestinians. Maybe, but I'm inclined to doubt it, and it certainly doesn't strike me as inevitable. I have no doubt that, for many Palestinians, these events have further inflamed anger and hatred against Israel. But once the aftermath begins to sink in, some of those same Palestinians might also conclude that Hamas helped to bring "a terrible disaster on Gaza" with nothing to show for it—which is in fact what happened.

Of course, if the Hamas leadership makes a calculation along the lines I have just suggested, that might also give them an incentive to reject a cease-fire right now.

But all this is speculation. I guess we'll see. Meanwhile, let's hope for the best. Neither Palestinians nor Israelis deserve this unending misery.

Shalom,
Jeff Weintraub

UPDATE - Sunday, January 18: Hamas and other "Palestinian resistance factions" allied with it have responded by declaring a temporary cease-fire in Gaza. According to the BBC News report:
A statement read by a Hamas spokesman said the group would hold fire for a week to give Israel time to withdraw its forces from the Gaza Strip.

The move came hours after a unilateral Israeli ceasefire came into effect. [....]

Many people are hoping that a ceasefire will last, but no-one on either side of the border will be surprised if the fighting starts up again, our correspondent adds. [....]

Hadar Goldin is dead, and Israel may be moving toward a unilateral pullout from Gaza

Yesterday the IDF officially announced it is convinced that Lt. Hadar Goldin, the Israeli soldier thought to have been captured by Hamas Friday morning, is dead. I find it strange to feel some sense of relief about the death of someone for whom I bear no dislike whatsoever. But under the circumstances, and given the alternative, I can't avoid feeling that way. Goldin's death deprives Hamas of a significant victory, given the bizarre logic of Hamas-Israel conflicts. And this outcome also makes it politically less difficult for the Israeli government to move toward ending the war in Gaza.

Some of the reasons why it is urgently necessary for Israel to find a way to extricate itself from this Gaza war, before it gets sucked in even further, were cogently explained by Will Saletan in a piece he wrote on Thursday (from which I quoted here). As of Thursday night (or, more precisely, the middle of the night on Friday morning), there were signs that the Israeli government was thinking along broadly similar lines. That probably helps explain why it accepted the 72-hour cease-fire plan announced by John Kerry and Ban Ki-Moon.

But then later Friday morning the cease-fire collapsed almost immediately, with Hamas apparently capturing Goldin in the process. It seemed quite possible that the level of fighting in Gaza might actually escalate further. But it now looks as though the Israeli government, or at least a majority of the cabinet, had already decided to move in the opposite direction, and to start winding down Israel's military operation in Gaza instead. According to Barak Ravid's report in Haaretz on Saturday:
Israel's security cabinet decided after a five-hour meeting Friday night that Israel will no longer seek a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip via negotiations with Hamas, senior Israeli officials said. Therefore, Israel does not intend to send a delegation to the Cairo truce talks as previously agreed in the course of the last cease-fire, before it was violated by Hamas.

The senior officials said that ministers were unanimous in the cabinet meeting in their position that there is no point in pursuing cease-fire negotiations after Hamas violated the previous one by capturing an IDF soldier on Friday. According to the officials, the ministers also agreed that the captured soldier will not change Israel's overall strategy. In other words, the IDF will continue its operations to destroy the tunnels and the ground operation will not be significantly expanded at this stage. [....]

The senior officials said that in light of the failed cease-fire efforts, Israel will consider ending the operation and unilaterally leaving Gaza, relying on deterrence. [....]

Israel's aim to end the operation unilaterally also stems for its interest in stopping the severe deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and in preventing the collapse of essential infrastructure. The senior officials also said that a deeper entry into Gaza would result in a dramatic rise in civilian Palestinian casualties, which would in turn increase the pressure and international condemnation of Israel while serving Hamas' interests.

Hamas' spokesman in the Gaza Strip, Sami Abu Zuhri, responded to the reports and said a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip will not commit Hamas to anything, the Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported.
According to more recent reports, the IDF has indeed begun scaling down its operations in Gaza, pulling back from urban areas and sending some troops out of Gaza entirely. In so far as these really do turn out to be the first steps toward an end to the fighting, this is potentially good news. But whether or not Israel will actually be able to end the war unilaterally (assuming it actually is committed to doing that) will depend, of course, on unpredictable events and other uncertain factors.

Although it's understandable that the Israeli government might feel inclined to give up on the cease-fire route at this point, it would probably be better if the war ended through a mutually agreed cease-fire (along the lines of the original Egyptian cease-fire proposal), accompanied by negotiations that brought in Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority as well as other significant players. That might enhance the (very slim) possibilities that the resolution of this latest Hamas/Israel war, with its terrible effects for everyone involved, might actually lead to some constructive long-term consequences. Another passage in Ravid's report seems to hint that the Israeli government is aware of the need for these sorts of follow-up negotiations—though only up to a point:
The senior officials said Israel will also try to reach an understanding with Egypt, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the international community on the issue of reconstructing the Gaza Strip, preventing Hamas from re-arming itself and monitoring material entering Gaza.
I myself feel more in accord with the spirit of the Call for a Cease-Fire and the Resumption of Negotiations issued last Monday by the Israeli Peace NGO Forum (see below). Events since Monday have rendered some details of that proposal outdated. But its basic thrust remains correct.

Meanwhile, we have to wait and see what happens next. The war isn't over yet. As I said in 2009, in the closing stages of that Hamas-Israel war, "Neither Palestinians nor Israelis deserve this unending misery."

—Jeff Weintraub
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Call for a Cease-Fire and the Resumption of Negotiations
July 28, 2014

The Policy Committee of the Israeli Peace NGO Forum supports the call for an immediate cease-fire based upon the Egyptian proposal, to be followed by renewed negotiations for a two-state solution between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as the representative of the Palestinian people. The rising number of deaths, around 50 Israeli soldiers and civilians already, and over 1,000 Palestinians in Gaza, men, women and children, requires immediate action to halt the mutual violence.

There is no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, Israelis reserve the right to self-defense and deserve to live in security and peace, without the threat of rockets fired at them and enemy tunnels dug into their midst. Equally, Palestinians are entitled to lead a dignified and independent life in a united Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel. That future Palestinian state, consisting of Gaza and the West Bank including East Jerusalem, with mutually agreed upon border amendments based on the 1967 lines, will be demilitarized, in line with mutually accepted security arrangements.

The present crisis, tragic as it is in human lives and suffering, calls for increased resolve by all moderate forces in the region, supported by the international community, to stand together in a joint effort to finally bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an end through a mutually agreed political settlement rather than a return to the cycle of devastating and pointless use of force.

The Arab Peace Initiative, launched by the Arab League in Beirut in 2002, which offers end of conflict, peace, security, and, normal relations with Israel by the entire Arab and Muslim world in exchange for the establishment of a Palestinian state, can play a crucial role in achieving peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians. In addition, an international fund to rebuild Gaza to ensure a constructive life for its people should be launched.


We also express our deep concern about the internal threats to democracy that have emerged in the current crisis. There is no place in our society for calls to "kill Arabs" and "kill leftists". Also, expressions of joy over the death of Israelis or Palestinians, particularly children, in either community, should be totally unacceptable. The right to freedom of expression and differences of opinion lie at the bedrock of Israeli democracy, and must be preserved.

Hussein Ibish on "the knowledge constituency versus the ignorance lobby" in the Arab-Israeli conflict – Why Prof. Mohammed Dajani Daoudi is no longer at Al-Quds University

Hussein Ibish is political analyst and activist, affiliated at various times with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the American Task Force on Palestine, who writes for a range of publications in the US and the Middle East, including NOW in Lebanon and The National in the United Arab Emirates. The piece below appeared on June 10, which now seems a long time ago. But the issues remain timely and important. Some highlights:
Professor Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi, who runs the Al-Quds University Department of American Studies and University Library has been allowed to resign his position following the uproar over a trip he led of Palestinian university students to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Some Palestinians, including some of his own university colleagues, attacked Prof. Dajani with a mishmash of incoherent and utterly irrational condemnations.

The whole saga has been most impressively chronicled by the redoubtable Matthew Kalman of the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, whose latest report suggests that Prof. Dajani sought and received promises of support from the university leadership, only to have his resignation letter accepted rather than rejected. Presumably Al-Quds University just doesn't want to hear any more criticism and prefers to turn its back on the entire "controversy" rather than uphold academic freedom in its own institution. [....]

[T]here are those, including professors, who, with a straight face, argue that Palestinians should only be taught, and by implication think, about their own Nakba.

Others tried to argue that the problem was not with the trip to Nazi death camps itself, but rather that Prof. Dajani's trip was coordinated with an Israeli university that took Jewish students to a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank. [....]

There's little hope of Israelis and Palestinians improving their dreadful relationship without, among many other things, trying to understand each other's histories and narratives. That's hardly a panacea. Real coexistence can only emerge in the absence of occupation, and the structural relationship of dominance and subordination built into that profoundly unhealthy and abusive structure. But better mutual understanding may be an essential component of helping to end the occupation and the conflict. [....]

And it's not just restricted to Palestinians and their relationship to Jewish history and the Holocaust. [....] The whole Arab world is at a turning point. If it continues to allow the stupidity and ignorance lobby, in all its myriad forms, to insist on cultural insularity, chauvinism, and deafness to the outside world, it will remain utterly stuck and unable to successfully join and compete in a globalizing world. But if the intelligence and knowledge constituency, as embodied by Prof. Dajani and so many other important leading Arabs, succeed in turning their societies away from decades of enforced parochialism, they will be among the most important groups in building a better future for the Middle East. [....]
For further information, see the report in Haaretz cited by Hussein Ibish (or, for people who can't access subscriber-only articles in Haaretz, this article in the Washington Post) and this profile of Dajani.

A statement supporting Mohammed Dajani and his work, and expressing concern over his resignation, was issued yesterday by the Academic Advisory Committee (AAC) of The Third Narrative. You can see it here.

—Jeff Weintraub

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NOW (Lebanon)
June 10, 2014
The knowledge constituency versus the ignorance lobby
The saga of Prof. Dajani is a subset of a broader Arab struggle between the forces of intelligence and stupidity

By Hussein Ibish

Chalk up another victory to the mighty Arab ignorance and stupidity brigade. Or should we?

Professor Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi, who runs the Al-Quds University Department of American Studies and University Library has been allowed to resign his position following the uproar over a trip he led of Palestinian university students to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Some Palestinians, including some of his own university colleagues, attacked Prof. Dajani with a mishmash of incoherent and utterly irrational condemnations.

The whole saga has been most impressively chronicled by the redoubtable Matthew Kalman of the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, whose latest report suggests that Prof. Dajani sought and received promises of support from the university leadership, only to have his resignation letter accepted rather than rejected. Presumably Al-Quds University just doesn't want to hear any more criticism and prefers to turn its back on the entire "controversy" rather than uphold academic freedom in its own institution.

Prof. Dajani told Mr. Kalman that he saw his letter of resignation as "a kind of litmus test to see whether the university administration supports academic freedom and freedom of action and of expression as they claim or not.” If this was indeed a test, they just got a resounding F.

But the whole squalid affair is redolent with Palestinian, and broader Arab, collective neurotic symptoms about others. What, after all, do Palestinians have to gain by insisting their students remain ignorant of the Holocaust? Prof. Dajani argued from the outset that it is essential to understand the Israeli mentality and the Jewish experiences, especially in Europe during the first half of the 20th century, that inform it. It's an unassailable argument.

Nonetheless, there are those, including professors, who, with a straight face, argue that Palestinians should only be taught, and by implication think, about their own Nakba.

Others tried to argue that the problem was not with the trip to Nazi death camps itself, but rather that Prof. Dajani's trip was coordinated with an Israeli university that took Jewish students to a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank.

Shock! Horror! Normalization! It's laughable.

There's little hope of Israelis and Palestinians improving their dreadful relationship without, among many other things, trying to understand each other's histories and narratives. That's hardly a panacea. Real coexistence can only emerge in the absence of occupation, and the structural relationship of dominance and subordination built into that profoundly unhealthy and abusive structure. But better mutual understanding may be an essential component of helping to end the occupation and the conflict.

Even if none of that's true, knowledge is, nonetheless, power. The constituency for keeping Palestinian students ignorant of certain facts, presumably because they present the truth about Jewish suffering in Europe during the 20th century and that this complicates the understanding of Jewish Israelis simply as oppressors in the occupied Palestinian territories, is a perfect example of the "stupidity lobby."

And it's not just restricted to Palestinians and their relationship to Jewish history and the Holocaust. There is a broader conflict throughout Arab culture between those who want to embrace the world, in all its complexity and challenges, versus those who want to crawl inside a warm cocoon of insularity. Relying on nostalgic fantasies about former periods of greatness, the broad Arab ignorance constituency is very powerful.

It includes not only Islamists and other religious dogmatists, including apolitical clerics, but also strident nationalists, leftists, fascists, and chauvinists of every possible variety. Among all of these groupings, as well as the important open-minded and globally-conscious constituencies that are most in favor of engaging the world, there are people who push back against insularity. But for the past century at least, the majority trend in the Arab world has been to try, insofar as possible, to shut out knowledge of and engagement with outsiders, except for commercial purposes.

Many Arabs seem to be suspicious of and hostile towards real knowledge of others (as opposed to myths and stereotypes, of course), and even more engagement with them. Too many of us just don't want to hear it. Those, like Prof. Dajani, who try to break through this curtain of insularity are frequently punished, or at least criticized, for their embrace of broader realities, some of which are uncomfortable and destabilize reassuring mythologies.

Prof. Dajani says he doesn't regret the turn of events. Why should he? He's done something noble and constructive, and he will continue to do so without the support of his former university, through many other venues such as his Wasatia movement. But he, and all those like him throughout the region who want to smash the shackles of decades of carefully cultivated ignorance and embrace history and reality in all its troublesome complexity, are pointing the way.

The whole Arab world is at a turning point. If it continues to allow the stupidity and ignorance lobby, in all its myriad forms, to insist on cultural insularity, chauvinism, and deafness to the outside world, it will remain utterly stuck and unable to successfully join and compete in a globalizing world. But if the intelligence and knowledge constituency, as embodied by Prof. Dajani and so many other important leading Arabs, succeed in turning their societies away from decades of enforced parochialism, they will be among the most important groups in building a better future for the Middle East.

The saga of Prof. Dajani, and the whole battle between the Arab ignorance versus knowledge constituencies, is far from over. My money is on the intelligence community ultimately defeating the stupidity brigade, but it's going to be an uphill struggle.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Stuck in Gaza?

What a difference one day can sometimes make during a war.

=> On Thursday, which already seems a long time ago, William Saletan of Salon wrote a piece that pulled together some of the most compelling reasons why the Israeli government ought to be trying to find ways to bring its military operation in Gaza to an end as soon as possible. Saletan, it should be noted, was not among the people who had been issuing blanket condemnations of Israel from the start of the war, along with wild claims that the Israelis were just indiscriminate and sadistic baby-killers. I think his overall argument was pretty cogent, whether or not one agreed completely with every specific point, and it remains worth reading today. (I recommend it.) The subtitle of the piece was "Operation Protective Edge needs to end", and the main title was "12 Signs It’s Time to Get Out of Gaza". Those 12 signs, or rather reasons, listed by Saletan were the following:
1. Your enemy refuses to protect its people. [....] When your enemy shows no mercy for its own people, that responsibility falls to you. [....]

2. You’re killing too many civilians. Last time I checked, on a per-strike basis, Israel’s rate of inflicting civilian casualties was lower than NATO’s in the Kosovo war. But in just three weeks, Israel has launched so many strikes that its civilian casualty toll has eclipsed NATO’s. [....] What’s happening is entirely predictable: Israel has shifted from guided weapons to old-fashioned shelling. Everyone, including Israel, knows that this will increase the error rate, with lethal results. [....]

3. Your civilian protection measures are failing. I’ve praised the IDF for its exemplary double-layered warning system: phone calls to residents of buildings, followed by dummy bombs designed to scare people out of the building before the real strike hits. The IDF has also robo-called and leafleted neighborhoods, warning people to clear out before the area is invaded. But these measures are failing. [....] The further the IDF advances into overpopulated Gaza, the harder it is for civilians to find a refuge. At some point, you have to acknowledge that your worthy efforts aren’t enough. [....]

4. Your mission and methods keep expanding. [....]
5. The payoff is declining. [....]
6. You’re losing too many soldiers. [....]
7. You’re close to losing another Gilad Shalit. [....]
8. You’re picking fights with everyone. [....]

9. Your eldest statesman says it’s time to stop. A week ago, Shimon Peres stepped down after seven years as Israel’s president. [....] On Wednesday, he visited wounded Israeli soldiers and praised them for fighting Hamas terrorists “who have no respect for human lives.” But he also concluded that the war had “exhausted itself” and “now we have to find a way to stop it.” For this, Israel’s housing minister called Peres’ remarks “unacceptable” and accused him of undermining military morale.

10. Your army hints that it’s time to stop. [....]

11. Your ethics are degenerating. Israel accuses Hamas of using Palestinian civilians as human shields. As an indictment, that’s correct. But Israel has also peddled this as an all-purpose excuse for the IDF’s role in civilian deaths. [....] Once you’ve devised a moral argument that excuses anything you do, you’re lost. [....]

12. The West Bank is boiling.
Two of the main themes running through this argument were that Israel was experiencing mission creep in a way that would suck it ever deeper into Gaza, with increasing costs of all kinds and diminishing possible benefits, and that as the war went on, it was becoming increasingly difficult to avoid unintentionally killing Palestinian civilians (which, despite propaganda to the contrary, the Israelis have clearly been trying to avoid). Point #12 is also a crucial consideration, and it continues to become even more dangerous as the war continues.

As of Thursday night, there seemed to be signs that the Israeli government—or, at least, the majority of the cabinet—were in accord with the main thrust of this argument, and was looking for ways to extricate itself from the Gaza war before it escalated further. That was probably part of the reason why the Israeli government accepted the proposal for a 72-hour cease-fire due to begin at 8 a.m. on Friday, followed by negotiations in Cairo.

=> But then on Friday morning the cease-fire collapsed almost completely, since Hamas proved to be unwilling or unable to maintain its side of the truce. And it also turned out that Saletan's warning in his point #7 was especially on-target. In one of the operations they carried out while breaking the cease-fire, Hamas grabbed a major prize by capturing an Israeli soldier. Unfortunately, as Anshel Pfeffer and others immediately pointed out, this brilliant success will almost certainly help prolong the fighting in Gaza, and quite possibly help to escalate it as well.
Efforts are already afoot to try and revive the 72-hour ceasefire which was blown to smithereens this morning but it will be next to impossible now for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who withstood the pressure in the cabinet to expand the operation, to agree to any ceasefire in the coming days.
Joshua Keating's assessment was especially pessimistic:
A number of humanitarian cease-fires had already been called in the now nearly monthlong war in Gaza, but the one that was supposed to go into effect for 72 hours starting this morning [i.e., Friday] felt different. [....]

Now, Hamas has apparently captured an Israeli soldier using a tunnel near Rafah, and Israeli bombardments have resumed. Israel says the capture came after the cease-fire went into effect. Hamas says it was before.

This would seem to mark the end not just of this cease-fire but of a phase in the conflict where a series of rolling cease-fires leading to a diplomatic solution was a plausible strategy.

Even if Netanyahu wanted to de-escalate the conflict, that seems politically impossible now with an IDF soldier in custody. [....] Hamas, meanwhile, is unlikely to give up its prisoner anytime soon. [....]

A few days ago, it seemed possible that Israel might be on the verge of simply declaring its military goals accomplished and pulling out. But rescuing a prisoner likely being held somewhere underground in Gaza is going to take a lot longer than simply destroying tunnels. The violence seems likely to continue for some time now, and a long-term reoccupation of Gaza—a scenario called for by some senior Israeli officials—now seems a lot more likely than it did a few days ago.

This iteration of the long-running Israel-Hamas conflict seemed as if it was likely to end with case-fires and a return to the grim status quo after a few weeks, like previous iterations in 2008 and 2012 had. But it’s starting to look like we’re witnessing something much worse.
Various bits of that analysis are questionable, and I think (and hope) that the speculation about a renewed long-term Israeli of Gaza is unrealistic and excessively alarmist. (This report today would seem to help confirm that impression.) But its true that the breakdown of this cease-fire, combined with Hamas's capture of an Israeli prisoner, has produced a situation in which the prospects are indeed quite bad.

We don't know precisely how all this happened, and it's hypothetically possible that the Hamas leadership didn't deliberately intend to blow up this cease-fire. But it's also possible that they did so precisely because Hamas, or at least whoever is controlling Hamas's military operations on the ground in Gaza, doesn't want a cease-fire under conditions short of 'victory' (however they define it). In that case, they can control the agenda.

Like all too many wars, this one may prove to be easier to get into than to get out of. Meanwhile, we have to hope that the worst possibilities don't actually come to pass. And let me repeat that from the Israeli perspective, the main thrust of Saletan's analysis back on Thursday remains valid. Let's hope it hasn't already become obsolete.

—Jeff Weintraub

Friday, August 01, 2014

Meanwhile, back in (Greater) Syria

The overwhelming focus of media attention on the latest Hamas-Israel war has driven the news from Syria and Iraq almost completely off the front pages of the newspapers and out of most TV news programs. But that doesn't mean that things have actually stopped happening there. For example, there are some scary developments in the parts of Syria controlled by the group that used to be called ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and [Greater] Syria) or ISIL (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), but which now calls itself simply the Islamic State.

For the moment, I will just pass on a roundup of some of this news by DavidP in Britain.  As he says: "It seems to me that, largely unnoticed, there is a tragedy unfolding for the Syrian people and the broad alliance of groups that are fighting the regime."

--Jeff Weintraub

==============================
DavidP
Thursday, July 31, 2014
ISIL advances in Deir Ezzor

(15/7) 'Islamic State' expels rivals from Syria city: "Islamic State killed the Deir Ezzor chief of [Jabhat]al-Nusra and raised their flag in the city," according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The group calling itself the Islamic State, previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant [ISIL], has taken control of the rebel-held portion of the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor,  buoyed by advances in neighbouring Iraq  has said.  Rival rebel groups fighting against forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad either changed sides or fled from the strategic Euphrates valley city.
According to the [SOHR], which relies on a network of activists and medics on the ground, fighters from the Islamic State group were now in control of "95 to 98 percent of Deir Ezzor province". The regime-controls half of Deir Ezzor city, a handful of villages as well as the military airport.
The Observatory said that rivals of the Islamic State group,  including fighters of al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, lost control after negotiations failed with the Islamic State group whose leadership last month declared a "caliphate" straddling Syria and Iraq. "Fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra and the [Islamist] rebel movement Ahrar al-Sham withdrew from their bases in the city, while others pledged their loyalty to [the] Islamic State," the Observatory said.
The rebel spokesman for Deir Ezzor confirmed the reports, blaming international backers of the anti-Assad opposition for a lack of support. Speaking to the AFP news agency via the Internet, Omar Abu Leyla said: "The withdrawal is a result of the lack of any formal financial backing [for the rebels] either from the [exiled] opposition or from the international community." [..]
[ISIL's] gains in Iraq have tipped the balance in the struggle for power in rebel-held areas of eastern and northern Syria where it has been fighting armed groups allied with al-Nusra since January. The Islamic State group already controls the city of Raqqa upstream from Deir Ezzor where it has enforced its hardline form of Islam,  with public executions,  including crucifixions. Abu Leyla added: "Islamic State has no shortage of weapons,  ammunition or fighters,  and the battle became totally asymmetrical, especially after its advance on Mosul and its capture of heavy weapons." (see also NGO: Jihadists expel rivals from Syria’s Deir Ezzor.)
It seems to me that, largely unnoticed, there is a tragedy unfolding for the Syrian people and the broad alliance of groups that are fighting the regime. 

In an earlier report, Omar Abu Leyla was described as a Free Syrian Army spokesman: "But in four months of fighting (in Deir Ezzor), the rebels who were fighting IS did not receive a single bullet" from countries that back the revolt, he complained. (Islamic State 'seizes key Syria oil field', 3/7)

Only 3 weeks previously, Syria Deeply published, "As ISIS Looks Deeper into Deir Ezzor, Nusra Remains Formidable Opponent" (27/6):
even before its Iraqi surge, ISIS was steadily gaining ground in Deir Ezzor, because that is where it has focused its main combat resources in Syria. ISIS pulled back months ago from the main fronts with the regime in the north, and it has focused on seizing control of Deir Ezzor rather than seeking to gain significant ground elsewhere in the country. In contrast,  al-Nusra and leading rebel factions fight ISIS in Deir while continuing to bear the burden of battles with the regime in Aleppo and throughout the north.
[JW:  Just to put the whole story in perspective, what all this means is that the less extremist, non-jihadist groups in that area had already been forced into an alliance with the Al-Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda, in a last-ditch effort to resist ISIS, a group considered too extreme even by Al Qaeda. But even that coalition hasn't been strong enough.]

President Obama has asked the US Congress to approve $500m
 to train and equip what he described as "moderate" Syrian opposition forces.  The funds would help Syrians defend against forces aligned with President Bashar al-Assad, the White House said. The aid would also counter Islamist militants such as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis), it added.  [..] it is unclear whether and when Congress would act on his request. (26/6)
[JW: Two or three years ago, something along those lines might, possibly have been useful. Now, it's probably too little and too late, even if it happens ... and I'm not holding my breath.]

A 72-hour cease-fire in Gaza collapses almost immediately, with potentially far-reaching consequences

Last night, in what the New York Times called a "diplomatic bolt-from-the-blue," US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon announced a 72-hour "humanitarian cease-fire" in Gaza to which Israel and Hamas had agreed after complex, many-sided negotiations. The cease-fire was due to take effect this morning, and both Palestinian and Israeli negotiators were supposed to go to Cairo to begin working out the next steps.

This morning, however, the cease-fire collapsed almost immediately, since Hamas proved to be unwilling or unable to maintain its side of the truce. In one of the operations they carried out while breaking the cease-fire, Hamas scored a major success by capturing an Israeli soldier and carrying him away through one of Gaza's many tunnels. Unfortunately, as Anshel Pfeffer explains in Haaretz (see below), the consequences of this abduction will almost certainly include prolonging the fighting in Gaza, and quite possibly helping to escalate it as well.

(It is not surprising that both Kerry and Ban Ki-Moon have publicly condemned Hamas's violation of the cease-fire and called for the captured Israeli soldier to be released. I wouldn't bet on that happening any time soon )

What happens next remains to be seen, but it's probably safe to predict that there won't be another cease-fire in the near future. As Jeffrey Goldberg says, this is an exceptionally dangerous moment.

—Jeff Weintraub

========================================
Haaretz
August 1, 2014
Hamas claims its prize and deepens its isolation
By snatching an Israeli officer, the Islamist group has alienated powerful players on the Mideast stage and blown the cease-fire to smithereens.

By Anshel Pfeffer

To describe the assumed capture this morning of Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin as a "game-changer" after all that has happened over the last twenty-five days in Gaza would be stating the obvious. As far as Hamas is concerned, the pounding that the beleaguered Gaza Strip has been taking – by now over 1,500 deaths, most of them civilians, the enormous investment it has made in around forty tunnels leading from Gaza, under the border to Israeli communities and outposts – was leading up to this: The capture of "another Shalit."

It is impossible to exaggerate the value of "another Shalit" to Hamas and other Palestinian militant organizations. Not only as a bargaining chip in a future prisoner exchange with Israel, or as scoring a blow on the Israeli side, but as the ultimate morale boost with much of Hamas' Palestinian constituency. Hamas' military wing (there are indications that the political leadership may not have been aware of the plans) took a massive gamble breaking the ceasefire brokered and guaranteed not only by the United States, the United Nations and Egypt, but also by its last remaining supporters: Qatar and Turkey. Now some Hamas spokesmen are trying to minimize the diplomatic damage by saying that the attack took place three hours earlier than when it actually did. It will make little difference – Hamas is further isolated but it has its prize.

The furious Israeli retaliation was the price the people of Gaza have just paid. All Israeli combat troops have standing orders to prevent a capture of one of their comrades at any price - bombarding any possible escape route to stop the captors from spiriting the soldier away. In a Haaretz interview in 2009, Brigadier-General Moti Baruch spelled out with uncommon frankness explaining that the order – The Hannibal Procedure – is "unequivocal" and applies "at every level, beginning with the individual soldier... The message is that no soldier is to be captured, and that is an unambiguous message." He said that "in the end, an incident like this must be seen above all as one where there is an enemy, even before the kidnapped soldier. There is an enemy who must be hit... you take a risk, you risk your life and that of your comrades, so, of course, in an abduction you might endanger the abducted soldier, but not only him. You are not just in the midst of an abduction, but also in the midst of making contact with the enemy."

The Hannibal Directive reflects not only the tactical and strategic implications for an army in the capture of one of its soldiers but the national trauma that is caused as well. The collective outpouring of grief for the fate of one family confronting the unknown which translates into deep political pressure on the government to do anything to ensure his return – including as in the Galid Shalit case, signing an agreement to release 1,027 prisoners in return.

But this is very different to the Shalit case, where the sergeant was captured during a period of relative calm, from his tank that was positioned on the Israeli side of the border. Escalation then was much slower and more moderate. 2nd Lieutenant Goldin has been taken while large IDF forces are already engaged in combat operations on a relatively wide front in Gaza - the escalation has already been fast and furious and gone well beyond just ending the ceasefire which barely begun.

The next stage, whether the security cabinet gives the army orders to expand the operation beyond its current objective of destroying the Hamas tunnels and trying to recover the captured officer, to a wider offensive against the Hamas leadership is still unclear. It will to some extent on what information is received, if any, over the next few hours on Goldin's status. His physical situation, whether he at all survived the explosion of the suicide bomber by the tunnel's entrance may mean that Hamas do not have a live prisoner to barter with - a fact that if true, they will certainly hide.

Efforts are already afoot to try and revive the 72-hour ceasefire which was blown to smithereens this morning but it will be next to impossible now for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who withstood the pressure in the cabinet to expand the operation, to agree to any ceasefire in the coming days. As far as Hamas are concerned, a ceasefire is the best outcome now. They have their prize, achieved at a terrible cost to the people of Gaza, now they want to sit back and negotiate.

Progressive Academics Challenge Bar-Ilan University Administration’s Rebuke of Faculty Member

I happen to be one of the "progressive academics" included in that announcement, as one of the founding members of the Academic Advisory Council for an enterprise calling itself The Third Narrative:
The Third Narrative’s Academic Advisory Council (AAC) is comprised currently nearly 100 leading progressive scholars and academics who reject the notion that one has to be either pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian. The AAC believes that empathy for the suffering and aspirations of both peoples, and respect for their national narratives, is essential if there is to be a peaceful solution. Scholars and academics should play a positive role in asking difficult questions, and promoting critical thinking, about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. To achieve this goal the AAC insists on the importance of academic freedom and open intellectual exchange, and so rejects calls for academic boycotts and blacklists, as well as efforts to punish academics for their political speech, including even those who support the academic boycotts that we oppose.
You're invited to read (and, if you're an academic or other scholar, to consider signing) our Statement of Principles.

For background information and explanation regarding this incident at Bar-Ilan University, see here & here.

—Jeff Weintraub

==============================
Progressive Academics Challenge Bar-Ilan University Administration’s Rebuke of Faculty Member

Today, the Executive Committee of The Third Narrative’s Academic Advisory Council (AAC), a North American network of liberal and progressive scholars and academics, released a statement concerning the rebuke by Bar-Ilan University administration officials of a faculty member for expressing concern over the welfare of both Israelis and Palestinians during the current conflict.

Amid the tragic loss of life in the current Israel-Hamas conflict, the AAC is troubled to learn of an incident that appears to amount to a regrettable infringement of academic freedom.

When Professor Hanoch Sheinman of Bar-Ilan University prefaced an email to his students about their exam date by saying he hopes they are “in a safe place, and that you, your families and those dear to you are not among the hundreds of people that were killed, the thousands wounded, or the tens of thousands whose homes were destroyed or were forced to leave their homes during, or as a direct result of, the violent confrontation in the Gaza Strip and its environs,” the dean of the Faculty of Law publicly rebuked him, taking it upon himself to apologize for Prof. Sheinman and telling the professor that “the matter will be handled with the appropriate seriousness.” Such a statement implies the possibility of punishment.

As scholars and academics, we believe that Prof. Sheinman’s statement falls squarely under the bounds of speech protected by the universal principle of academic freedom. As such, we strongly urge the dean of the Faculty of Law to refrain from any punitive actions. Although we share the concern that faculty should not gratuitously politicize routine academic communications, the burden of the professor’s words was plainly to express compassion. Even if we disagreed with Prof. Sheinman’s political opinions or sentiments, moreover, they would still be protected by academic freedom.

In this case, we also happen to note with favor that the kind of universal compassion Sheinman extended to both citizens of his own country and to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip undergirds the second principle of our organization: the reversal of decades of mutual Israeli-Palestinian dehumanization and the furtherance of negotiations leading to a hoped-for permanent peace.

------------------------------
New York, NY, July 31, 2014
CONTACT: Professor Cary Nelson
217-356-0649
or
Gideon Aronoff
212 366-1194 (After hours 347-583-7277)
gideon@ameinu.net
www.thirdnarrative.org

Michael Walzer confronts the political choices and ethical dilemmas raised by the 2014 Hamas-Israel war

As many of you are no doubt aware, the political theorist, public intellectual, and democratic socialist Michael Walzer, a distinguished academic and long-time co-editor of Dissent, is the author of the indispensable Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality, the immensely influential Just and Unjust Wars, and many other works ranging from books and articles to essays both reflective and polemical. Over the years, I've found that anything Walzer writes on any subject is always worth reading and illuminating (whether or not you wind up agreeing completely). This is his take on the latest Gaza war ... which I will just pass on without further commentary.

—Jeff Weintraub

==============================
New Republic
July 30, 2014
Israel Must Defeat Hamas, But Also Must Do More to Limit Civilian Deaths
By Michael Walzer

When it comes to the conflict in Gaza, the critical question, "Cui bono?"—"To whose benefit?"—suggests that this is Hamas's war. It is a reckless gamble by an organization that was in deep trouble, and the gamble (so far) is paying off, at terrible cost to the people of Gaza—though the terrible cost is crucial to the payoff.

Looked at from afar, and I suspect from close up—I have never visited Gaza—Hamas is an awful organization and deserves all its trouble. It is religiously committed to the destruction of Israel, and it has no commitment, religious or secular, to the welfare of the people it rules in Gaza. It has worked hard and surprisingly effectively to build its arsenal and to dig its attack tunnels and its underground fortresses, but it has built no bomb shelters for the ordinary Gazans from whose midst it fires its rockets and in whose homes, schools, and mosques it hides them. Israel claims that Hamas uses the people of Gaza as "human shields"; in truth, Hamas isn't so much hiding behind them as deliberately exposing them to harm, which is one way of "winning" in asymmetric warfare.

But Hamas isn't the only Palestinian organization. For some years now, Israel has had the option of working with Fatah and with the Palestine Authority that Fatah controls. Indeed, Israel has benefited greatly from the diligence of the PA's security forces on the West Bank—and would now like (as would Egypt) to see those same forces at work in Gaza. And yet it has done nothing to strengthen the PA and to move it toward its own goal: Statehood and sovereignty. Instead, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government has done pretty much everything it could to undermine the PA—by expanding West Bank settlements, seizing land and water, and failing to deal with the settler movement's zealots and thugs and their "price tag" attacks. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict would look very different today if the PA was on its way to statehood. For one thing, it would be difficult for Hamas to claim to lead the "resistance" to Israeli occupation if the occupation was approaching its end.

Like the present Israeli government (or, better, its leading members), Hamas doesn't believe in a Palestinian state alongside Israel. These two bitter enemies are actually helping one another. Every rocket that Hamas fires weakens the Israeli left and makes it more difficult for ordinary Israelis to contemplate a withdrawal from the West Bank—since rockets from there could make all of Israel uninhabitable. And every new settlement, every "price tag" attack on the West Bank, weakens Fatah and the PA and lends credence to Hamas's claim that violence is the only way.

Hamas wants Greater Palestine; the Netanyahu government, though it doesn't admit it, is moving steadily toward Greater Israel. Hamas opposes Little Israel, and Netanyahu opposes Little Palestine. One might well want to say, a plague on both their houses! But now they are at war, and choices have to be made.

We should choose Israel—because Israel is a democracy where it is possible to imagine the political defeat of the rightwing nationalists who are now in charge; it is possible to imagine a government that would work toward Palestinian statehood—Israel has had governments of that sort in the past, under the leadership of Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Olmert. Inside Israel today, it is possible to criticize the government's bombing policy—as I will do below, a little uneasily, from the outside. Public criticism of Hamas in Gaza, even in "peacetime," is a risky business, and a victory for Hamas in this war—indeed, any strengthening of its hand vis-a-vis Fatah—would set the stage for future and more terrible wars, for Hamas has never deviated from its absolute opposition to the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East.

*****

But this choice, Israel over Hamas, is difficult for many people to make because of the rising tide of Palestinian casualties, dead and wounded, in the Gaza war. Israel, people say, is the strongest military power in the Middle East, so what can it possibly fear from Hamas? Why is it killing so many people, not militants only, but also civilians? Indeed, Israel is the Middle East Goliath. But readers of the Bible will know that it wasn't Goliath who won the battle with little David. In a conventional war with Hamas, Israel would win—not in six days as in the 1967 war, but in six hours. Asymmetric warfare, however, is a very different story. Despite its high-tech army, the best in the world, the United States lost an asymmetric war in Vietnam and may soon turn out to have lost another such war in Afghanistan. In the last decade, Israel, with what may be an even higher-tech army, was unable to win asymmetric wars in Lebanon and Gaza.

The reason has a lot to do with civilian casualties. In asymmetric warfare, low-tech forces—call them terrorists, militants, or the more neutral "insurgents," which I will use—aim at the most vulnerable targets, civilians, and they launch their attacks from the midst of the civilian population. The high-tech forces respond, in defense of their own or of allied civilians, and end up killing large numbers of enemy civilians. The more civilians they kill—this is the sad, but not morally puzzling truth—the better it is for the insurgents. If you kill civilians in places like Vietnam or Afghanistan, you lose the battle for "hearts and minds." If you kill civilians in a place like Gaza, you lose the battle for global support. The two losses are different: America was defeated in Vietnam, while Israel in Gaza (in 2006) was merely forced to accept a cease-fire, and so prevented from winning. Indeed, the cost of winning would probably have been unbearable.

But it can't be the case that the insurgents, by hiding among civilians, make it impossible for the other side to fight against them. There has to be a just, or justifiable, way of responding to indiscriminate rocket attacks. Hence the doctrine of double effect and the rule of proportionality: If you are aiming at military targets (rocket launchers, for example) and know that your attack will also cause civilian casualties (collateral damage), you must make sure that the number of dead or injured civilians is "not disproportionate" to the value of the military target. Needless to say, this is a highly subjective calculation and has rarely been much of a limit on military attacks: This target is very valuable, the generals say; almost any number of civilians deaths is justifiable. Nor has proportionality provided much of a guideline for moral judgments: Even a very low number of civilians deaths, the moralists say, is disproportionate and a war crime.

Along with many others, I have argued for another rule: that the attacking forces must make positive efforts, including asking their own soldiers to take risks, in order to minimize the risks they impose on enemy civilians. How much risk has to be accepted? There is no precise answer to that question. But some risk is necessary, and if it is taken, then I think that the major responsibility for civilian deaths falls on the insurgents who are fighting from homes and schools and crowded streets. And if responsibility is understood and assigned in that way by the global public, it will be possible to fight and win an asymmetric war.

Is Israel fighting that kind of war? Warning civilians to leave a house or a neighborhood, as the IDF has been doing, probably reduces civilian deaths; and it may involve increased risks for the attackers, if the attack is coming on the ground rather than from the air, since defending forces will also be warned. But warnings, as the U.S. learned in Vietnam, aren't enough. People don't leave, or not all of them leave: they are caring for elderly or sick parents; they can't bear to abandon a home of 30 years, with all its accumulated belongings; they don't know where to go; or there isn't any safe place to go. Except when they are being used for some military purpose, houses where people live are not legitimate targets—even if the people who live there include Hamas officials. These attacks are wrong because the officials live with their families, who can't be called human shields.

It is always necessary to figure out who is there, in the house, in the school, in the yard, before an attack begins—and that will often require the attacking soldiers to take risks. I suspect that some Israeli soldiers are doing that, and some are not. That's the way it is in every war; a lot depends on the intelligence and moral competence of the junior officers who make the most critical decisions on the ground. Judging these issues from a distance is especially difficult. But I would strongly advise anyone contemplating the loss of life in Gaza to think carefully about who is responsible, or primarily responsible, for putting civilians at risk. The high-tech army, for all its claims to precision, is often callous and clumsy. But it is the insurgents who decide that the death of civilians will advance their cause. We should do what we can to ensure that it doesn't.

Michael Walzer is a contributing editor for The New Republic and professor emeritus of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A storm of religious persecution around the world (Terry Glavin)

I was just about to post something about the latest pogrom against the Ahmadi Muslim minority in Pakistan. which was worth noticing precisely because it was neither unusual nor surprising. But I see that Terry Glavin wrote a terrific piece for today's Ottawa Citizen which starts with that pogrom and puts it in its larger context. Persistent and often intensifying religious persecution in countries around the world, along with widespread sectarian (or ethno-sectarian) violence, add up to a very big and important story, but one that tends to get curiously insufficient attention.

That may strike some of you as an odd claim, given all the recent front-page articles about ISIS in Iraq, the civil war in Syria,  and that sort of thing.  But in fact only a few scattered examples of this pervasive world-wide phenomenon get intermittent attention. And even when there are reports about specific abuses, persecutions, conflicts, and atrocities in one place or another, they tend to be treated in isolation, and rarely get put together to bring out the overall picture.

Glavin makes an excellent start at giving us that picture. A few highlights from a piece that should be read in full:.
The U.S. Secretary State this week released a global study of trends in religious persecution. Its key finding:  “In 2013, the world witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory.”

And it’s Christians who appear to be getting hit the hardest.  ....  [Meanwhile,] a January report by the Pew Research Center found that Christians and Muslim minorities are equally victimized in law, most noticeably in Muslim majority countries.
That is, in a number of Muslim-majority countries—like Pakistan—discrimination and persecution are directed not only at non-Muslim religions like Christianity, but also at forms of Islam considered religiously incorrect. Of course, there are also ongoing campaigns of violent persecution of Muslims in some non-Muslim-majority countries—Glavin mentions western China, but an even more striking example, among others, is Burma. Nor are Christians and Muslims the only targets of religious persecution today.

But read the whole thing (below). Many people who are aware that there's violence of all sorts around the world right now—who could miss it?—don't realize that for much of the world, this is a period of widespread and often increasing religious persecution and conflict, both institutionalized and explosive. (And also, perhaps not coincidentally, a period of widespread religious ferment and dynamism.) But it's a fact worth recognizing..

—Jeff Weintraub

=========================
Ottawa Citizen
July 30, 2014
A storm of persecution
By Terry Glavin

Last Sunday in Pakistan, a mob rampaged through a ghetto of the minority Muslim Ahmadi sect in Gujranwala City, looting and set fire to houses and shops. A 55-year-old woman and her two granddaughters were burned to death. The pogrom was triggered by local Sunni clerics who said they were enraged by a “blasphemous” photograph that an 18-year-old Ahmadi man posted on his Facebook page.

If you are an Ahmadi in Pakistan, you can be sent to prison for calling yourself a Muslim, for greeting a fellow Muslim with the traditional Salaam Aleikum, for preaching your faith and for even calling your mosque a “mosque.” Over the past quarter-century, nearly 700 Pakistanis have been charged with blasphemy. More than 50 of of these accused blasphemers were murdered before their cases were heard by a judge. Twenty were given life sentences, and 16 others are on death row

Around the same time as the Gujranwala pogrom, hundreds of fighters from the Islamist Boko Haram militia, best known for having kidnapped and enslaved more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls last April, were looting and burning Kolofata, a town in Cameroon. They murdered at least three people before withdrawing back across the border into Nigeria with several hostages, including the wife of Cameroon’s deputy prime minister Amadou Ali, a local mayor and five members of his family.

On Monday, the Chinese government’s noose-tightening repression of religious minorities sparked riots in the Kashgar prefecture of the country’s northwestern Xinjiang region that subsided only after Chinese troops opened fire and killed dozens of Muslim Uyghurs, and Beijing’s policy of persecuting Uyghurs, Tibetans and Falun Gong practitioners is now being extended in a new clampdown on the country’s 60 million Christians. Authorities have recently issued demolition orders to about 100 churches, instructing congregations to remove crosses from church buildings.

Also on Monday, the Syrian Network for Human Rights reported that nearly 2,500 Syrians were killed during the just-concluded month of Ramadan. More than 170,000 Syrians have been killed and nearly half of Syria’s population has been displaced in the Islamist bedlam that has arisen in the wake of the democratic uprising against the Baathist dictator Bashar Assad that began three years ago.

Syria has become a charnel house of warring Sunni Islamist militias, Al-Qaida offshoots and the Tehran-backed, Beirut-based Shia terrorist organization Hezbollah. A new study by the Council of Foreign Relations concludes that Syria’s casualty toll now surpasses the carnage in Iraq over the past decade, and the various Islamist factions have attracted more foreign fighters to Syria than were engaged in the recent decades of fighting in Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Bosnia combined.

Next door in Iraq, where a Syrian-Iraqi Al Qaida mutation has headquartered its cross-border “caliphate,” Islamic State fanatics are pursuing a terror campaign of firing squads, mass beheadings and crucifixions. Since Easter, tens of thousands of Christians have been hiding out in the deserts and cowering in basements, or have fled north to the safety of Iraqi Kurdistan. Nearly a million Christians have been chased out of Iraq in recent years, leaving perhaps 300,000 behind. As of this week, for the first time in 1,800 years, Mass is no longer being celebrated in the ancient city of Mosul.

“It’s tragic because it’s the largest Christian city in Iraq; it was what you call the nucleus of Christian presence for many centuries,” the Syriac Christian patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan told reporters in Washington this week. (Patriarch Younan will be visiting Ottawa next week). “And we have at least 25 churches in that city. All are abandoned. No more prayers, no services, no more Masses on Sundays in Mosul because no clergy, no people there that are Christian.”

In Europe in recent days, mobs reportedly enflamed by Israel’s assault on Hamas in Gaza have attacked synagogues in Paris, and rioters in Sarcelles have been heard to scream “Death to the Jews.”  Two months ago in Europe, a fanatic opened fire at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, murdering four people. A recent European Union survey found nearly a third of Europe’s Jews no longer feel safe, and are considering emigration. Thousands have already left. The latest edition of Newsweek magazine has devoted its cover story to the phenomenon. Its headline: 'Exodus: Why Europe’s Jews are fleeing once again.".

“It seems like we’re living in a world where there are all these perfect storms of religious persecution,” Andrew Bennett, Canada’s ambassador for religious freedom, told me the other day. “There’s definitely been an increase in religious persecution in the world.”

The U.S. Secretary State this week released a global study of trends in religious persecution. Its key finding:  “In 2013, the world witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory.”

And it’s Christians who appear to be getting hit the hardest. The International Society for Human Rights reckons that Christians are the victims in four fifths of all acts of racial discrimination across the globe, while a January report by the Pew Research Center found that Christians and Muslim minorities are equally victimized in law, most noticeably in Muslim majority countries.

When Canada established Bennett’s Office of Religious Freedom last year, there was a lot of jeering about it, along with insinuations that Bennett’s own Christian background would prejudice him somehow. The carping has given way to a newfound appreciation around Ottawa for the good sense of the initiative, and since the office we established, six more countries have joined with Canada, the U.S., France and Britain in identifying religious freedom as a foreign policy priority.

There is often little that Canada can do beyond acting as a “voice for the voiceless,” an interlocutor on behalf of persecuted minorities with the governments that discriminate against them. That is no small thing.

In the case of the Iraqi Christians, Canada has also taken in 20,000 refugees in recent years. Bennett’s office also funds human-rights research and “dialogue” forums in countries such as Pakistan and Indonesia. Some countries – notably Iran, China and Saudi Arabia – are simply incorrigible, and impervious to persuasion. But there is another kind of incorrigibility Bennett has to contend with, of what might be called a “domestic” variety.

“What we’re witnessing in the Middle East right now is the wiping out of close to 2,000 years of Christianity, and sometimes if feels like it’s not politically correct to talk about Christian persecution. That has to end.”

Terry Glavin is an author and journalist.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Congress blocks Obama’s attempt to order new office supplies (Borowitz Report)

As we all know, the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and more on that soon. Meanwhile, back in the World's Greatest Democracy ...

This little piece by Andy Borowitz (satire! satire!) gets to the heart of how our national government has been operating from the moment Barack Obama took office in January 2009 and the Congressional Republicans decided to respond with a strategy of monolithic, unrelenting, indiscriminate obstructionism (which got even worse after the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2010, a majority they managed to retain in 2012 mostly because of gerrymandering, and began using their control of the House to generate a string of manufactured crises that have twice brought the US government to the brink of default and threatened to blow up the world economy).

Yes, this piece is satire ... but does it really sound so far from plausibility?

In the real world, whenever people start complaining about "Congress" or "Washington" in an undifferentiated way, they need to be reminded that the Republicans are the problem. (And if the Republicans manage to take control of the Senate this fall—which doesn't look at all impossible, since they don't seem to pay any political price for what they've been doing—then we will really be in trouble.)

—Jeff Weintraub

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New Yorker
July 25, 2014
Congress Blocks Obama’s Attempt to Order New Office Supplies
By Andy Borowitz

The House panel that mandated the office-supply freeze denied that it was politically motivated, citing “budgetary concerns.” “It’s time President Obama learned a tough lesson,” House Speaker John Boehner told reporters. “Being President does not entitle you to a spending spree at Staples.”

At the White House, the President blasted the Republicans’ move to strip him of legal pads, pencils, and other office essentials, calling it “just their latest attempt to keep me from doing my job.”

At the White House, the President blasted the Republicans’ move to strip him of legal pads, pencils, and other office essentials, calling it “just their latest attempt to keep me from doing my job.”

In an Oval Office appearance, a visibly irritated President Obama showed reporters a nearly empty supply cabinet and said, “They have manufactured this crisis,” noting that he will be out of paper clips and Post-its by August.

Andy Borowitz is a New York Times best-selling author and a comedian who has written for The New Yorker since 1998. He writes the Borowitz Report for newyorker.com.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

What are Hamas and Israel fighting about? – Walter Russell Mead offers a strategic analysis

Hamas and the Israeli government are fighting this war, in large part, on the basis of strategic perceptions and concerns that seem important to them. (Whether those are intelligent or foolish, accurate or misguided, is a separate question.) But this part of the picture rarely gets explored carefully or systematically in discussions I have seen.

In the piece below, "When Strategies Collide", Walter Russell Mead just made an intelligent, informative, and usefully thought-provoking effort to help fill this gap. The main thrust of his analysis is reproduced as a sub-heading for the piece:
Many wars are fought over accidents and misunderstandings. This is not one of those times. With key interests at stake, the conflict in Gaza is likely to continue.
Well, yes and no. There are good reasons to believe that both the Israeli government and Hamas stumbled into a large-scale military confrontation that neither of them really wanted right now.  (I think the best single formulation of this analysis, which I find largely convincing, is still the one put together by J.J. Goldberg of the Forwqrd in two pieces he wrote two weeks ago, here & here. They're must-reads, and can be supplemented with this BBC piece by Kevin Connolly and this recent interview with former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin.) So in that sense one could argue that this war was triggered, to some degree, by "accidents and misunderstandings," not to mention miscalculations. Among other things, Netanyahu's actions in the West Bank during June, motivated in large part by a desire to undermine moves toward "reconciliation" between Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority and Hamas, unintentionally helped set the stage for the Gaza war in July. But once the conflict escalated past a certain point—the key moment was Hamas's decision to launch an all-out missile barrage against Israeli cities—there are powerful reasons why the fighting will be harder to stop than it was to start.

Of course, it's also true that in this war all predictions about what will happen next are risky. They can easily be proved wrong by unexpected developments.
Both sides have reason to think they can pull off a significant victory in the current round of fighting, and neither side thinks it can live with the consequences of a defeat. Until something happens to change the thinking on one or both sides, a cease fire will be hard to achieve.
Again, my first reaction is to say yes and no. I think it's probably right and important to say that "neither side thinks it can live with the consequences of a defeat." And it does seem plausible that Hamas now believes it might be able to pull off a significant victory—in terms of what it would consider a "victory." Among other things, as Mead notes, Hamas
is elated by its success in temporarily but significantly hampering operations at Ben Gurion Airport (arguably the most significant single Palestinian tactical accomplishment since the 1948 War). In addition its fighters have had unexpected success killing Israeli soldiers on the ground, and the Arab street is electrified by the conflict. The resulting publicity offers Hamas an opportunity to emerge from the isolation it faced after the overthrow of the Morsi government in Egypt.
But does anyone in the Israeli government really believe that Israel an score "a significant victory" in this war? I'm dubious. Still, the case is worth considering.

=> And, by the way, Mead also highlights one very important factor in the current situation that has gotten oddly downplayed or even missed in most discussions, the key role played by Egypt. I think Mead's points in the following passage are only slightly overstated:
The real problem for Hamas is the Saudi-backed Sisi government in Egypt. The current Egyptian government sees Hamas as an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood, and crushing the Muslim Brotherhood as thoroughly as possible is Egypt’s top priority these days. Egypt’s Saudi patrons feel the same way; the Muslim Brotherhood looks to the Saudis like a challenge to their claim to lead the forces of orthodox Sunnism—and Hamas in the past has been willing to ally itself with Saudi’s arch enemies in Syria and Iran.

The change in the status quo that led to war with Israel had nothing to do with Israel itself; what has happened is that Egypt has systematically intensified the blockade of Gaza, hoping to throttle Hamas, disrupt its support, and put enough economic pressure on Gaza to force Hamas from power.
[JW: To say "nothing" is an overstatement. But the basic point here is right, important, and insufficiently appreciated.]
For Hamas, the pre-war status quo was a death sentence, allowing Egypt to quietly strangle Gaza. [....] A return to the status quo ante is not acceptable to Hamas, which feels it absolutely must gain some relief or it will go under.
=> Otherwise, rather than try to excerpt or paraphrase the main points in Mead's analysis, I'll just suggest that you read the whole thing.

—Jeff Weintraub

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The American Interest
July 25, 2014
THE GAZA WAR:
When Strategies Collide

By Walter Russell Mead

Many wars are fought over accidents and misunderstandings. This is not one of those times. With key interests at stake, the conflict in Gaza is likely to continue.

As the politicians, pundits, and foreign policy panjandrums of the world Western world wring their hands over the chaos and carnage in Gaza, it’s worth noting that there are solid reasons why peace is proving so elusive. Both sides have reason to think they can pull off a significant victory in the current round of fighting, and neither side thinks it can live with the consequences of a defeat. Until something happens to change the thinking on one or both sides, a cease fire will be hard to achieve.

HOPES FOR A WIN

Israel continues to fight because it believes that with more time, it can destroy enough tunnels and inflict enough damage on Hamas to significantly degrade the organization’s military strength and weaken it politically. Furthermore, both Saudi Arabia and Egypt are, perhaps for the first time, quietly rooting for Israel to crush the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Hamas. Given this, Israeli officials presumably think they have a golden opportunity for the extended and crushing war that they really need to inflict serious damage. Any war with the Palestinians involves political costs and setbacks for Israel, but at this particular moment, war in Gaza is less politically expensive than at other times. Given that Hamas is a significant and growing danger, Israeli leaders are likely to think, why not use the opportunity for all it is worth?

Hamas on the other hand is elated by its success in temporarily but significantly hampering operations at Ben Gurion Airport (arguably the most significant single Palestinian tactical accomplishment since the 1948 War). In addition its fighters have had unexpected success killing Israeli soldiers on the ground, and the Arab street is electrified by the conflict. The resulting publicity offers Hamas an opportunity to emerge from the isolation it faced after the overthrow of the Morsi government in Egypt. Since more Israeli progress on the ground will inevitably and tragically mean more civilian deaths, Hamas can also hope for big propaganda victories to offset any military setbacks that prolonged hostilities will bring. Hamas and its Turkish and Qatari allies can also hope that the longer the war lasts, the worse Egypt and Saudi Arabia will look. The Gaza war isn’t just a war between Israel and Hamas; it is a stage in the struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and its Arab opponents. The longer Hamas can bear up under Israel’s military pressure, the more success it has in the intra-Arab struggle.

The hope of victory is one reason the two sides keep fighting; both Israel and Hamas also believe that defeat would impose unacceptable costs.

ISRAELI FEARS

For Israel, there are three big reasons why losing is unacceptable. First, as a small country surrounded by enemies and facing hostile public opinion in the world at large, Israel’s security depends in large part on its reputation for military supremacy. That reputation, Israelis feel, deters many more attacks and keeps opposition passive and political rather than encouraging it to be active and military. This is an advantage that Israel will not lightly give up; hostilities are unlikely to end until and unless the Israelis feel they have made their point.

That motive is always present, but it became much more important after a rocket from Gaza caused a significant interruption in service from Ben Gurion Airport. People don’t travel much across Israel’s land frontiers; the airport is Israel’s vital link with the rest of the world. Hamas and anti-Israel forces everywhere were wildly elated by this success, and Israel’s enemies now think they can imagine a new strategy to drive the Jewish state to its knees by cutting it off from the outside world. Israeli defense officials likely feel that they must now do two things: eliminate the capacity of Hamas to repeat this attack, and make the consequences so wounding and expensive to Hamas as to reduce the attractiveness of repeat efforts. This new factor is a military game-changer, and it greatly raised the stakes of the conflict. (The biggest political mistake of the war so far? The American officials who banned U.S. flights from using the airport made a cease fire much harder to obtain.)

Second, there are specific political reasons why Israel is intent on hitting Hamas as hard as it can. Some of this is about Palestinian politics. Fatah may be corrupt, incompetent and in the eyes of many Palestinians fatally compromised by its willingness to compromise with Israel, but the more the ‘resistance’ path championed by Hamas looks like a historical dead end, the less Fatah’s flaws matter in the competition for Palestinian leadership.

But Israel is after much bigger game than Hamas in this war. Weakening Hamas isn’t just an Israeli project: Riyadh and Cairo are rooting for the Gazan terrorists to lose as well. This strange new band of brothers is Israel’s Plan B alliance in case the U.S. folds on Iran. The Saudis and their Egyptian allies also hate and fear Hezbollah; from an Israeli point of view a successful war against Hamas could be the first step in cooperative action against Hezbollah and, beyond it, Iran. Israel wants this war to go well because it could pave the way to more effective cooperation with the most populous and wealthiest of the Arab states.

It’s also worth noting, from the standpoint of very-long-term Israeli interests, that the willingness of the Saudis and Egyptians and their friends, even silently and tactically, to align with Israel is a promising sign that Israel may someday be accepted in the region. Israel has been given a chance to audition for the role of a tacit ally of the Sunni Arab world against both Sunni and Shia radicals; it doesn’t want to blow this chance and its desire to build its relations with neighboring Arab states may outweigh its concerns about annoying Europe or even the U.S.

The third big reason why Israel needs a win is the one that most of the press commentary focuses on: security. Hamas has developed a network of tunnels and a capacity to launch missiles against much of Israel. Israeli officials will want to see that capacity significantly degraded. From the Israeli point of view, the price of a war in Gaza is high, but the incremental political cost of a few more days of combat, could now be less than the benefits from substantial progress in dismantling tunnels, breaking up Hamas’ leadership and destroying its weapon and missile stockpiles.

Thus from an Israeli point of view, the costs of this particular war are lower than usual, thanks to the tacit Arab support from Hamas’ many Arab enemies, and the need for decisive military results is greater than usual. That would suggest that Israel is likely to want to continue fighting until either its goals are reached or it is clear that they cannot be within a manageable time frame or at an acceptable cost. That point doesn’t appear to have been reached yet.

THE STRATEGY OF HAMAS

Like Israel, Hamas’ war strategy seems to be guided by solid calculations about the organization’s vital interests, and the leadership appears to believe that this is a war that the movement can’t afford to lose.

The chief problem and the real enemy for Hamas is not, however, Israel. Israeli hostility is something Hamas understands and can deal with. The real problem for Hamas is the Saudi-backed Sisi government in Egypt. The current Egyptian government sees Hamas as an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood, and crushing the Muslim Brotherhood as thoroughly as possible is Egypt’s top priority these days. Egypt’s Saudi patrons feel the same way; the Muslim Brotherhood looks to the Saudis like a challenge to their claim to lead the forces of orthodox Sunnism—and Hamas in the past has been willing to ally itself with Saudi’s arch enemies in Syria and Iran.

The change in the status quo that led to war with Israel had nothing to do with Israel itself; what has happened is that Egypt has systematically intensified the blockade of Gaza, hoping to throttle Hamas, disrupt its support, and put enough economic pressure on Gaza to force Hamas from power.

For Hamas, the pre-war status quo was a death sentence, allowing Egypt to quietly strangle Gaza. The business networks dependent on smuggling were hurting, civil servants weren’t getting paid, and residents were increasingly unhappy with a lousy economy and no progress in sight. Hamas is a cornered animal striking out in desperation. A return to the status quo ante is not acceptable to Hamas, which feels it absolutely must gain some relief or it will go under.

There are reports of splits between the political and military leaders of Hamas in the run up to war, but it seems clear that whoever is now calling the shots in Gaza, so to speak, believes that Hamas is in a war for survival, and short of crushing defeat, Hamas is unlikely to accept a cease fire that restores the status quo ante.

Hamas wants a cease fire that will allow it to import enough goods into Gaza to keep the economy going and to allow it to rebuild its military stockpiles. If Israel and Hamas were the only two entities involved, this might not be so hard to arrange. They have had cease fires before, and while each hates the other and wants it destroyed, on a pragmatic, day by day basis, Israel and Hamas have managed to work things out for long periods of time. The trouble is that it is hard for Hamas to force Egypt and Saudi Arabia to accept this deal. The Saudis and their allies are happy for Israel to pay the political price for a war against Hamas that they want the Jewish state to win. Meanwhile, it is Egypt that ultimately can decide on peace or war: when Egypt feels that Hamas has been weakened and punished enough that it’s OK to show it some mercy, then the balance of forces will shift and some kind of truce will become much easier to achieve.

Under the circumstances, Hamas’ strategy is a convoluted one: Hamas is trying to create such a hot crisis by staging a war with Israel that the U.S., Europe and an enraged Arab street will force Egypt and Saudi Arabia to give up their drive to starve Hamas out. That may yet work, but it is unlikely to work all that quickly. Neither Egypt nor the Saudis are particularly unhappy if Israel is getting bad press around the world; as far as they are concerned, if rampaging mobs burn every Israeli embassy in Europe, it is no skin off President Sisi’s nose.

This suggests that for Hamas as well as for Israel, the high price of a long (by Israeli-Palestinian standards) war may make sense. It will take time for the kind of political pressure to build that would lead Egypt to soften its blockade of Gaza; it’s hard to see a good reason (except for the obvious humanitarian one) why Hamas would give up before giving its strategy time to work.

WILL PEACE GET A CHANCE?

Many wars come about by accident or by misunderstanding. This particular war, however it was originally triggered, seems to be driven by the real interests of the chief parties involved. In such cases, peace is hard to make until the parties have seen how things go on the battlefield.