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Posts Tagged ‘Israel-Palestine conflict’

1. ‘Democrats join Republicans in questioning Obama’s policy on Israel, Peter Wallsten, Washington Post

Who said President Obama was a divider? His position on the Israel-Palestine conflict seems to be uniting Democrats and Republicans in opposition. This was visibly seen during Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress on  Tuesday:

Top Democrats have joined a number of Republicans in challenging President Obama’s policy toward Israel, further exposing rifts that the White House and its allies will seek to mend before next year’s election.

The differences, on display as senior lawmakers addressed a pro-Israel group late Monday and Tuesday, stem from Obama’s calls in recent days for any peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians to be based on boundaries that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, combined with “mutually agreed swaps” of territory.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) and other Democrats appeared to reject the president’s reference to the 1967 lines in his latest attempt to nudge along peace talks, thinking that he was giving away too much, too soon.

2. ‘A World of Our Making – G. John Ikenberry, Democracy: A Journal of Ideas

Esteemed International Relations scholar G. John Ikenberry provides an in depth look at the changing global order, warning that though its current liberal make up will remain intact, changes are a coming:

This American-led liberal hegemonic order is now in crisis. The underlying foundations that support this order have shifted. Pressures for change—and for the reorganization of order—are growing. But amidst this great transformation, it is important to untangle what pre-cisely is in crisis and what is not. My claim is that it is a crisis of author-ity—a struggle over how liberal order should be governed. But it is not a crisis over the underlying principles of liberal international order, defined as an open and loosely rule-based system. That is, what is in dispute is how aspects of liberal order—sovereignty, institutions, participation, roles, and responsibilities—are to be allocated, but all within the order rather than in its wake.

If the old postwar hegemonic order were a business enterprise, it would have been called America Inc. It was an order that, in important respects, was owned and operated by the United States. The crisis today is really over ownership of that company.

3. ‘A Formidable Republican Field- Jay Cost, The Weekly Standard

Cost makes a compelling case that the current GOP presidential leaders, Pawlenty, Romney, and Huntsman, are a more formidable challenge to President Obama than many in the media would have you believe. Cost also reminds us that contrary to what many Obama supporters hope, a Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Newt Gingrich candidacy, the Republican Party has for the past 40 years chosen a mainstream candidate:

With Mitch Daniels having taken himself out of the GOP nomination battle, the field has come into sharp focus, and the view is not good for President Obama and the Democrats.

If one were only to read commentary and analysis from the mainstream media, this would surely come as quite a shock, as the GOP field is usually portrayed as uninspiring and lackluster. But then again the MSM is often behind the curve when it comes to the Republican party, seeing as how most journalists and pundits do not identify with it or the modern conservative movement that animates it. Most are politically aligned with Obama, and so unsurprisingly they think his would-be Republican challengers are second-raters.

My position over the last three months has been that Republicans need to evaluate each contender along three key metrics: general election competitiveness, legislative skill, and party stewardship. I think conservatives have legitimate concerns about the field, although it’s also worth waiting to see whether the main contenders can address this issue to the right’s satisfaction.

Today, I want to look at things strictly from the competitiveness metric, and here I think the main contenders — Jon Huntsman, Tim Pawlenty, and Mitt Romney — all score very, very well. I see four reasons for drawing this conclusion…

4. ‘Chomsky’s Follies – Christopher Hitchens, Slate

Chomsky, who Hitchens (And Paul Berman) correctly note, still enjoys some reputation both as a scholar and a public intellectual, had some remarkably delusional things to say regarding the American killing of Osama Bin Laden. Hitchens takes the creepy, radical leftist to task:

It’s no criticism of Chomsky to say that his analysis is inconsistent with that of other individuals and factions who essentially think that 9/11 was a hoax. However, it is remarkable that he should write as if the mass of evidence against Bin Laden has never been presented or could not have been brought before a court. This form of 9/11 denial doesn’t trouble to conceal an unstated but self-evident premise, which is that the United States richly deserved the assault on its citizens and its civil society. After all, as Chomsky phrases it so tellingly, our habit of “naming our murder weapons after victims of our crimes: Apache, Tomahawk … [is] as if the Luftwaffe were to call its fighter planes ‘Jew’ and ‘Gypsy.’ ”

In short, we do not know who organized the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, or any other related assaults, though it would be a credulous fool who swallowed the (unsupported) word of Osama Bin Laden that his group was the one responsible. An attempt to kidnap or murder an ex-president of the United States (and presumably, by extension, the sitting one) would be as legally justified as the hit on Abbottabad. And America is an incarnation of the Third Reich that doesn’t even conceal its genocidal methods and aspirations. This is the sum total of what has been learned, by the guru of the left, in the last decade.

5. ‘Word of the Decade: ‘Unsustainable, Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal

Peggy Noonan lucidly describes how Americans are coming to terms with our unsustainable fiscal situation:

We’re at a funny place. The American establishment has finally come around, in unison, to admitting that America is in crisis, that our debt actually threatens our ability to endure, that if we don’t make progress on this, we are going to near our endpoint as a nation. I am struck very recently by the number of leaders in American business, politics and journalism who now get a certain faraway look at the end of an evening or a meal and say, “It’s worse than people think, you know.”

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Top Threats to International Security

   Posted by: Pat    in China, Latin America, Middle East, Russia   Print Print

Last week, I made a list of the Top 7 Threats to the United States homeland and interests and now will tackle the Top 7 Threats to the entire international system. Let the threatening begin!

1. Great Power War – Many would call this old-fashioned thinking, but I still believe the greatest threat to global security is war(s) between great powers. Throughout human history, with World War II being the greatest example, physical conflicts between powerful nation-states has caused the most destruction and destabilization to our global society. Though in many ways the world has moved away from the tragedy of power politics, it still does exist, and as long as it does, it proves the greatest threat to a peaceful, cooperative existence.

To describe this danger more specifically, let’s look at the world’s current two behemoths, the United States and China, and how they individually or together (mainly meaning a war between the two) could destabilize the international system and bring great harm to millions. After all, with great power comes great responsibility.

A. United States – People often quote a poll conducted in Germany that concluded that a majority of Germans view the United States, with Iran a distant second, as the largest threat to global security. This poll was almost always referenced in conjunction with the Bush administration, specifically its decision to invade Iraq.  I always thought of something else. First off, I find the poll’s results completely unsurprising (though the writer/speaker who brought them up always seemed to expect gasps). The sheer enormity of American power, especially in the military sphere, has to make it the greatest threat to international security. In 2003, no other state actor on the planet could go halfway across the globe and dispose of a government in power for 30 years with a sizable military in a couple weeks. And it’s not even close. If I’m Germany, Iran, India, Nepal, etc. I would be speechless. How did you guys do that? It looked so easy that every state had to now understand that it could be done to them.

This is not to ignore the troubles the US and its allies faced after the invasion of Iraq, but the point is made nevertheless. The sheer fact that most of the world does not fear American power, only worries about it being misused from time to time, shows the benevolent nature of American hegemony or great power status. (Here comes hypothetical ridiculousness) If a Nazi or Stalinist regime was in charge of the United States than every state (especially you Canada!) would have the United States easily atop their threat assessments. The US doesn’t even have to be ruled by thugs to shake up or bring back global stability as Iraq has shown us twice (1991, 2003)! Great power can be used for good as well as ill and that is why the behemoth that is the United States is a consistent threat to international security.

B. China – China deserves a mention under this category as well. Their economic rise,( they soon will be the 2nd largest economy in the world), sheer geographic and demographic size, and superpower ambitions portray a major power player in international relations and like we just said, with great power comes great responsibility. One can feel the presence of a rising Middle Kingdom in Japan, Indonesia, Australia, Vietnam, Russia, India, and all the way to America’s shores. The 20 odd year run of American unipolarity will face in China, its greatest challenge yet. The current global status quo, US as a limited superpower with several smaller, yet critical global players (EU, Russia, China, Japan, etc.), may be upended in various unforeseen ways by a revisionist Chinese state. Interests between these two will inevitably clash in East Asia, Middle East (Iran already), Africa, and even in Latin America. Realist scholars have noted that the most dangerous, destabilizing periods in international politics have sprung out of battles between a status quo challenger (in this case, the US) facing a revisionist power (China) who desires a role in the world to match its perceived influence and power. I am by no means arguing that this US-China conflict, or for that matter China-India, will be physical or inevitable, but the possibility is there and it could get very, very bloody.

2. Failed States – Well I consider the destructive power of a war (both cold and hot) between great powers to be the most serious threat to international security, the presence of failed states across the globe is at this very moment already causing dramatic problems. Failed states such as Afghanistan (especially before 9-11), Somalia, Congo, Haiti, Sudan, etc. create numerous challenges to global stability and safety. Ethnic or sectarian conflict spilling over borders, weapon and drug smuggling, international terrorism, piracy, and millions of world citizens who do not have a local societal and governmental structure to give them a chance at a decent life are all threats to those close by and as 9/11 showed, sometimes those far away. It is not only those states that already failed that is a serious concern for us all, but those that may be failing, specifically Pakistan, Afghanistan, North Korea, parts of Mexico, Iraq, and Yemen. If any one of these states collapses the consequences would be far reaching.

3. International Terrorism – Connected to failed states, but by no means only relegated to them, international terrorism is a scourge on international safety and stability. Attacks on major financial centers such as New York and London shock the global economy costing billions in losses for millions of people. Terrorism breeds insecurity and forces states and societies to spend huge amounts on homeland security, hurting not only global commerce, but also slowing the transportation of ideas and talents across the planet. Looking outside the West, one can clearly see what terrorism and the threat of it does to such states as Pakistan, India, Uzbekistan, Palestine and Israel. Terrorist attacks are not good recruiting tools for foreign investments. When it comes to the threat that terrorism brings to the international system, the greatest fear is a nuclear/biological/chemical attack, or even a valid threat of their use. If there ever comes to be one of these attacks on a major population and political center (New York, Washington D.C., London, Paris, Beijing, New Delhi) it could shake the international system in ways we can’t imagine.

4. Iraq/Iran – An Islamic Republic of Iran with nuclear weapons and an Iraqi state that is falling apart are two scenarios that are both possible and frightening. Though I do not believe an Islamic Republic government will behave irrationally enough to actually launch a nuclear attack, I do fear their policy shifts and regional stance that would come with them knowing that they now have a nuclear deterrent. Their acquisition of such weapons would also require either Arab states to reply in kind with their own programs, or more likely, blatant American security umbrella commitments. Either way it would seem to even further the Iran-United States battle for influence and control of the vital Middle Eastern region.
I have long argued that losing Iraq would be more catastrophic for American and global security than if US/NATO lost Afghanistan (Obviously it would be best to lose neither). Iraq is a key state in a vital and volatile region. Its border touches Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia and therefore has the ability to negatively or positively affect these other critical states. The state of Iraq is of course home to one of the greatest oil reserves in the world and the country’s stability and ability to get this vital resource to market will affect energy prices everywhere. Lastly, an Iraq that is functionally democratic (not like Western liberal democracies, but still ten times more free than its neighbors), stable, and friendly to its neighbors, the West, and the United States, would be not only a terrific (or terrifying if you’re a neighboring autocrat) example to the peoples of nearby states who lack such an open, productive system, but would also provide an integral link between the West and a strong Muslim state, which could bring much promise to both sides. In either case, much is at stake.

Did someone say 'threatening'?


5. Pakistan/India – The conflict between these two states over the region of Kashmir is one of the most vibrant and potentially explosive in the world. The two sides have fought 3 small border wars over the past 50 years and remain militarily-ready for more. Did I mention that each side has nuclear weapons? Of course, many Realists would argue this is keeping a major war at bay. Thankfully, the two sides have in the past week begun officially speaking again. Still, the inability, or the purposeful allowance, of the Pakistani state to control violent extremists in their midst that have perpetrated attacks against the Indian people and state (with Mumbai 2009 being the latest major attack) will continue to make these contentious neighbors a threat to regional and international security, as a major brouhaha between these two actors would bring in outside great powers (US, China, EU, Iran) and unknown consequences. This case rates below Iran/Iraq because it is much less likely to actually occur.

6. Russia – I’ve spoken about Russia’s still vibrant, if limited globally, power for some time now. Moscow’s willingness to use its military (hello Georgia 2008) to protect or further its interests in its perceived ‘sphere of influence’. While great powers like the US, China, Germany, etc. downplay their great power status in order to calm the international community, Russia speaks openly about its regional and global aspirations (see Cuba, Venezuela, bomber flights, Ukraine, etc.). The Russian bear’s main threat to global stability is its continuous presence as a threat to Europe. 

7. Israel-Palestine – Lastly, this seemingly endless territorial conflict has troubling implications beyond its bloody borders. The entire Middle East sees this as the central foreign policy issue and outside powers such as the United States, UK, EU, and Russia are constantly embroiled in the dispute. The status of the Palestinians is a common complaint, or raison d’etre, for many Islamist terrorist groups and actions. Finally, the contentious cold war between Israel and Iran could become a hot one at any moment and nuclear weapons held by each side may bring an uncomfortable truths between the two states, or it could lead to catastrophe. 

What do you think of the list? What did I miss? What did overrate? Underrate?

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What are the threats facing the United States? What are the threats to international security and global stability as a whole? Well, Gallup asked over 1,000 Americans to ‘assess the threat of each of seven international issues to the United States’. While I’m sure that most Americans aren’t qualified to answer questions regarding security threats (although a greater number are getting degrees in homeland security from DHS sponsored college programs), it is still interesting to see what the general public perceives as the greatest threat. People’s responses are no doubt skewed by the media, their religious backgrounds and politics. Here are the results:

First, I will give GPP own answer to this question by listing what I believe to be the greatest threats facing the United States national security and interests today. Secondly, I will give my opinion of what I see as the greatest threats to international security and stability overall in a post to follow.

In the poll above, Americans listed their perceived threats as 1. Terrorism 2. Iran 3. North Korea 4. Israel-Palestine 5. China 6. India-Pakistan 7. Russia. Here’s how I would breakdown the question above, starting from least threatening to most to US security and interests:

Threat #7- The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians - Putting this one as the least threatening I’m sure with displease many people who see in this conflict the root to many of the world’s and America’s problems. Like all of these seven threats, the longstanding Palestinian-Israel conflict is a major factor for global instability and its continued presence no doubt hurts US national security and interests in the Middle East, with its use as a reason for terror attacks being the most central, but it does not have the impact, or potential consequences, to American security interests as the others.

Threat #6 – The conflict between India and Pakistan - This always cold war, sometimes hot war, conflict has been a threat to US interests for decades, but with the current situation in Afghanistan/Pakistan it has taken on a new level. These states both hold nuclear weapons and have a seemingly intractable issue, Kashmir, keeping them at odds. The fact that this conflict is intertwined to the future of Afghanistan and it becomes even more clear how important the resolution, or at least semi-civil containment, of this Pakistan-India conflict is to US interests. The US has a major stake in the stability of the Pakistan government and state, with which it needs to stamp out Al Qaeda and other international extremists. For the US, India is a natural great power partner that can help it to balance against a rising China in South Asia.

Threat #5 – The military power of North Korea - Here is another assessment that I think might surprise people, including many Americans that answered the poll question. Kim Jung Il’s nuclear armed military state is something to worry about indeed, especially if you are South Korea and Japan. North Korea’s government has continued to give narcissistic dictatorship’s a bad name and has successfully denied international pressure to conform to foreign demands for years now. Kim’s government is not shy in testing nuclear weapons nor in building missiles that some estimate will be able to reach California in just a few years. The city of Seoul, Tokyo, Kyoto, etc. are already well-within reach. So why is North Korea’s military power not higher on the list? They are #5 because I believe that Kim’s government, and its likely successor’s, can be deterred. I just can’t foresee Kim actually launching an attack against Seoul, Japan, US, that would surely lead to his and the state’s destruction. This is a tough one though, as Kim’s government has also been caught red-handed providing weapon technology and know-how to Iran, Pakistan, and Syria.

Threat #4 – The military power of Russia - Commentators on this site have criticized my respect for Russia as still a highly relevant player in European and global politics, and this ranking of fourth show’s that there are several greater threats to US interests than Mother Russia, but not many. One of reasons I feel that Moscow is still a major player in the great power game and a threat to US interests and homeland is its proven willingness to use old school power political tools, specifically military and natural resources, to defend its interests and expand its influence. The Georgian-Russian war of 2008 showcases this capability and the fact that Russia has made a deal to build a military base in Abkhazia and keep it there for 49 years leads one to believe that this event was not a one-off. The US relies on a safe and secure Europe and Russia has to still be considered the number one threat to its existence. Concerning the US homeland, Moscow is still the only state on the planet that could destroy all major population centers through the use of a massive nuclear strike. This fact can never be ignored, no matter how unlikely the possible occurrence.

Now that is threatening!

Threat #3 – The military power of Iran - It was difficult to place this higher than the Russian military forces, but Iran deserves to be here, especially in light of the recent IAEA report which states that the Islamic Republic has been working on weaponizing a nuclear device. Iran’s military does not come close to touching Moscow’s, but the Islamic Republic’s intentions and proximity to Afghanistan, Iraq, oil-filled allies, and Europe makes it a more direct threat to US interests. The Islamic Republic has based part of its legitimacy as a fighter against the ‘Great Satan’ and has fought against US interests in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan (at times), North Korea, Syria, and I could go on. Though I believe an Iranian government in control of nukes will be mostly rational, and therefore deterrable, I am much less confident about this than I am about North Korea. Iran has been given the opportunity by a rather pliant American administration to bring itself back into line with most of the international community, in a sense ‘come out from the cold’, and shown time and time again it is unwilling to do so. Unless the Islamic Republic is overthrown, there aren’t really any good signs that this will end well.

Threat #2 – International Terrorism - The American public’s number #1 is not quite mine, but who could blame them. It seems like everyday one turns on the television, opens their newspaper, or clicks on a website there is yet another story about a terror attack directed at either American interests or homeland. From the panty-bomber, US Army member Hassan, Zazi, David Headley, the Bronx group, to the fact that America’s number intelligence leader says that an attempted attack on the homeland in the next 6 months is a ‘certainty‘, it should come in surprise that 81% of Americans view international terrorism as a major threat. I too believe international terrorism, specifically of the Islamic extremists nature, is the most immediate threat to America’s homeland. Unfortunately, there are just too many fanatics out there that believe the United States is the cause of their or their people’s problems and that the only way for them to rectify the situation is to kill themselves and as many of us as possible. So international terrorism is very serious challenge facing the US, and it will be for a long time, but it’s not the number one threat. That honor goes to….

Threat #1 – The military power of China - The blog’s called Great Power Politics after all, so how could I not put the battle between the world’s two greatest behemoths number one? I can’t! Cold-blooded IR realists see this picture: a superpower in likely decline relative to a rising great power who no doubt has superpower ambitions; both locked in the same playground = conflict. This does not mean violent tank-to-tank, destroyer-to-destroyer, nuke-to-nuke conflict is guaranteed, but that it, along with economic, political, social, cultural, ideological battles are indeed very likely to occur. Just in the past couple months the wounded United States and surging Middle Kingdom have spared over currency, multi-national corporations, North Korea’s nukes, Tibet, global warming, cyber attacks, and I feel that these will get worse and others will arise as time moves forward. American relations with its many allies in East and South Asia (South Korea, Japan, Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, India) will be shaped by these states’ evolving relations with the burgeoning neighbor. The Chinese government has shown itself to be pragmatic to the core, but its growing resources and influence, are expanding what it sees as its interests further and further abroad. As this occurs, Beijing and Washington’s interests will inevitably collide (case in point). Major conflicts between the US and China are far from preordained, but as of right now I do strongly believe that a rising China is the greatest threat to US interests and homeland.

The current American administration is aware of these challenges facing the country and it would be interesting to see how some of the higher ups (Obama, Clinton, Gates, Mullen, Petraeus) would answer this survey. What do you think they would be? What are your top 7 or more for the US? I will make a new list from the vantage point of threats facing international security very soon.

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Israeli Troops Into Gaza: Here We Go Again

   Posted by: Pat    in Middle East   Print Print

Just days ago I discussed the difficulties facing the possibility for an Israeli military takeover of Gaza, but the likelihood of this actually occurring just became more plausible as Israeli troops have now moved into the Gaza Strip and are taking over and holding certain former Hamas controlled strategic areas.  Reports are in that Israeli troops moved into Gaza early yesterday, bisecting the country and looking for Hamas rocket launching sites to disable and control.  What are the depths of Israel’s plans for this incursion/occupation?  Is this an attempt to fully ouster Hamas as a governmental and terrorist entity?  Will and can Israel go that far?

Official Israeli military and government pronouncements regarding the goals about the air strikes and now the ground invasion have been cautious and limited in scope.  Prime Minister Olmert and his ministers have continually stated that their main goal is stop Hamas’ ability to launch missiles into Israel territory.  But Israeli government and military leaders have also left open the door for a greater breadth of action against Hamas in Gaza.  A senior military leader was quoted; “We don’t plan to retake the Gaza Strip but there are several places we control now and will control later.  If it will be needed, we are prepared to stay there.” And Defense Minister Ehud Barack warned, “This will not be easy and it will not be short.”

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Map of Israeli military crossings into Gaza - NYTimes

I believe Israel is playing a cautious diplomatic and strategic game, providing themselves leeway for further escalation, but tempering the expectations for victory so as not to give Hamas the type of triumph Hezbollah enjoyed after Israel was unable to crush them.  However, if Israel decides to in fact do whatever they can to remove Hamas from governance of Gaza, they will be in for quite the challenge.  One can see this strategy as possible as Israeli air strikes have targeted and destroyed government buildings and institutions which did not have clear links to military activities.  During these cases, Israeli spokesman argued that these attacks were justified because those institutions provided cover for terrorist activity:  

“The government buildings are a place where financial, logistical and human resources serve to support terror,” said Capt. Benjamin Rutland, a spokesman for the Israeli military. “Much of the government is involved in the active support and planning of terror.”

Though Olmert and Barack have not outwardly discussed the elimination of Hamas as a government entity, other Israeli leaders have including Foreign Minister Livni: “There is no doubt that as long as Hamas controls Gaza, it is a problem for Israel, a problem for the Palestinians and a problem for the entire region.” Of course, if Israel were able to dislodge Hamas from government, what would replace them and would this stop the rockets from flying into Israel?  In one rosy scenario, President Abbas of the West Bank could further his more legitimate government’s jurisdiction over Gaza, but this is doubtful.  Hamas was democratically elected in Gaza and though the group in many ways brutally consolidated power in the Strip, it has more supporters than Abbas’ Fatah party.  Abbas might also been seen as coming in to power in the Strip on the backs of the Israelis, further costing him legitimacy.  The other option would be an indefinite Israeli occupation which is something that I do not believe the Israelis have the stomach for, not to mention what the Palestinians would think.

This conflict will have important ramifications for the Middle East Peace Process, Middle East stability, Israeli security, Palestinian statehood and way of life, and the end of the Bush and beginning of the Obama administrations and therefore Israel must be very cautious in its actions.  No wants to live next door to a neighbor who hates them and commits violent actions, but as history has shown things can get worse.

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Israel’s Gaza Offensive: A Viable Endgame Possible?

   Posted by: Pat    in Middle East   Print Print

Israeli air attack

Most of you have probably heard that Israel has refused to bring a lull to their offensive air attack on Hamas targets in Gaza despite many international calls for a 48 hour break.  It has also been reported that Israeli successfully killed Nizar Rayyan, a senior Hamas figure, and many of his family members.  Rayyan has been connected to several attacks on Israeli, sent his son on a suicide mission, and outrightly calls for martyrdom in the Palestinians efforts against the Jewish state.  

Israel has gone to great lengths to explain their rational for continuing the onslaught, including deploying Foreign Minister and Prime Minister hopeful Tzipi Livni to Paris, and their concentrated efforts to limit the damage to civilians as much as possible.  The main consensus for Israeli’s strategic reasons for continuing the assault is the idea that they can eliminate forever, or at least for quite awhile, Hamas’ ability to launch rocket attacks into Israel proper.     

Does this strategic goal have a chance at success or is Israel just delaying the inevitable Hamas comeback? Is this effort even just igniting further disdain for Israel in the eyes of Gaza’s citizens?  Does Israel have a legitimate political and strategic endgame for this conflict or will it end ambiguously like the 2006 Hezbollah battle? 

Israel seems to be conducting a serious, well-executed military air assault and Hamas’ security and governmental structures and institutions are taking a major beating.  I can’t imagine the pressure the Hamas members must be under right now.  Is it possible for senior Hamas members to relent and make promises to Israel to end attacks if Israel desists its assault?  It’s hard to imagine this happening as Hamas’s reason for being is largely the destruction of Israel and its leadership, especially in Gaza, seems unwilling to negotiate.  

What about President Abbas’s government in the West Bank, is this Israeli assault giving him greater leverage as a moderate voice in the conflict?  This is harder to see.  It would be nice if the international community, especially the Arab governments and great powers, to try to hold up Abbas’s more moderate government as contrary to the counterproductive policies and actions of Hamas.  Of course, Abbas has problems of his own, with a lack of legitimacy and a Hamas-led congress, to name a couple.  

The more I look at possible endgames to this recent and ongoing conflict, the more discouraging and depressing the outcomes appear.  I think Israel has a real chance at drastically weakening Hamas’s ability to seriously harm its territory, but it’s hard to imagine that Hamas will fully be stopped from launching erratic, but still lethal rocket attacks.  Just like the 2006 Hezbollah war, while Israel bombards Hamas targets with effective air attacks, Hamas has been resisting with errant rocket attacks of their own.  What about a Israel military endeavor or occupation of Gaza?  Likewise, it is difficult to see how this would do any long term good.  This should only be done if Israel is prepared to completely oust the Hamas-led government and install some kind of occupied rule over the Gaza Strip until a suitable government, likely based in the West Bank, could be installed, and this is highly, highly unlikely to happen.  

It appears that Israel is stuck trying to create a deterrence situation with an enemy that seems near impossible to deter.  What endgame do you see for this most recent conflict between Israel and the Palestinians?  Can security be achieved for Israel?  Can Hamas be defeated militarily?

(Photo Source: New York Times)

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Hamas and the International Community

   Posted by: FMFP    in Middle East   Print Print

As my fellow blogger has recently written, the Israeli-Palestine conflict is flaring up again and unlikely to see much progress through Western diplomacy. For my analysis, I find it useful to look at the international community’s reaction to the current flare-up. I see this as indicative of why past diplomatic efforts by the US and others have failed.

First, for the background. Israel’s military campaign on Hamas-controlled Gaza began after a six month ceasefire with Hamas ended on December 19. (Contrary to the definition of a ceasefire, this slowed the frequency of the mortar attacks but never actually resulted in a complete peace for southern Israel.) After intense efforts by Israel to lobby Egyptian leaders and the moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for an extension of the ceasefire, the Syrian-backed Hamas would have none of it. This proved a clear opportunity to draw Israel into a debacle similar to the 2006 invasion into Lebanon at a time when Israel appears to be gaining some legitimacy with some of its Middle Eastern neighbors.

Since the end of the ceasefire ten days ago, Hamas forces have fired over 300 missiles, rockets and mortars into Israel. In response, the Israelis have began targeted attacks against the militants using on-the-ground intelligence. Unfortunately, these attacks have resulted in a high casualty rate because of the common tactic of terrorist groups to place their security forces in residential neighborhoods. This has served, and likely will continue to serve Hamas well by eliciting international sympathy for a “humanitarian crisis” being brought on by the Israeli military. Indeed, this strategy’s success can already be seen with comments made by French President Nicolas Sarkozy calling the Israeli response “disproportionate.”

And Sarkozy is not alone as the UN Secretariat General has suddenly become interested in the affair, calling for a cease in operations and echoing calls of a disproportionate response. The Security Council has reconvened to address Israel’s “belligerency.” Undoubtedly, Hamas’ efforts to portray their cause as one of “resistance against illegal occupiers” rather than as instigators of terrorist attacks on innocent civilians has fared quite well with the international community. This leaves one to wonder what the international community was doing while Hamas was violating their six-month ceasefire or during the period since 2005 when Hamas fired nearly 6,300 rockets into southern Israel?

Such is the history of the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Peacemaking efforts have consistently revealed the extremist intentions of those sounding the clarion call for the Palestinians. Simply, these groups seek no less than the destruction of Israel as a nation-state and as a people. Facing this intransigent position, it is no wonder the Israelis have failed to appease their foe at the negotiating table.

The “peace process” has often resulted in Israel making territorial concessions while receiving little assurance of safety for their border citizens (e.g., Oslo Accords followed by the Second Intifada). And often it becomes just a matter of time before Israel responds to protect its citizens. In this sense, Gaza provides the most recent example of a moral equivocation that has shaped the conflict. The daily occurrence of random terrorist acts by Hamas has been essentially equaled and surpassed with the latest Israeli response. Hence, disproportionate.

As a developed nation, Israel finds itself in a similar position as the US in that it can be held accountable for its actions and its military endeavors are often subject to the political will available. This means it must fight the battle of public perception if it is to be successful. Unfortunately, Israel seems to have perennially lost this battle in the international community. Conversely, little accountability has been placed on the Palestinians’ shoulders while consistently being granted a pass by the media for their terrorist activities.

The US must work to support Israel despite this eternal antagonism toward it by others. Israel’s quest for self-preservation and defense of its homeland is no foreign mission for any sovereign to understand. Yet it has long been a challenge for them to persuade others of this mission. Geopolitically, the best outcome from the current fighting would be a fatal blow to the Hamas power structure. Only then will the peace process successfully resolve the issues at hand. As long as the Palestinian people have leaders that take their marching orders from Syria and Iran, no amount of concessions on Israel’s part will suffice. If Hamas were to be severely weakened, this would then allow more moderate forces like Mahmoud Abbas to become the Palestinian voice at the bargaining table.

Whether this will occur is yet to be seen. Israel has a tremendously difficult battle in front of them, both militarily and publicly and I wouldn’t be surprised to see another series of events like their invasion of Lebanon in 2006. So should Israel launch a ground attack? Will it be any more successful than its 2006 campaign? Does it have any other viable alternatives like turning to the UN for support?

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Middle East Peace and American Presidents

   Posted by: Pat    in Middle East   Print Print

As tensions and rockets rise (and fall) in Gaza and Israel, it highlights the dramatic challenge and expectations of the incoming Obama administration, as many big names (here, here, here, and even here) have called for action and attention on the issue. These people are hoping that an Obama administration can finally bring progress to a conflict that has raged and stalemated for decades know. Will Obama push hard to mediate and broker a peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis early in his term? Should he?

The Middle East Peace Process has exhausted and frustrated some of the 20th century’s greatest leaders. The last two American presidents attempted to bring the two sides to an agreement late, very late, in their second terms, and either accomplished little or may have actually made things worse. Bush and Clinton were both derided for starting the process too late, but this policy timing does not surprise me. I’m sure that policy experts and media outlets advocated for a similar early and aggressive action for the beginnings of both the Clinton and Bush administrations, as they have done for Obama, but they did not heed such as advice. Why?

I think the main reason is because they did not want to use up too much of their political capital, gained from the election, on an issue that did not have much chance at success. This may be even more true for an Obama administration which is facing a myriad of domestic issues, especially an economy in recession. Barack Obama was elected to get America’s economy and society humming again, not solve the longstanding Israel-Palestine conflict.

Obama has talked about the importance of the Middle East Peace Process and one can expect a pragmatic approach by his administration, but I doubt he will expunge too much energy and political capital on the issue. Whether this will once again keep the conflict from finding a suitable solution is hard to know, but that is what I see happening. Obama will be active in the region, with the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and he has already stated that he wants to give a significant speech in a Muslim dominated country.

How do you think Obama will handle the Israel-Palestinian peace process? Will he let Sec of State Clinton or a special envoy try to pragmatically move things forward or will he immerse himself in the conflict? How will the current rising tensions and attacks effect Obama’s future decisions and policy choices? I have really only talked about domestic and leader levels of analysis, what other factors did I leave out in looking at this foreign policy decision process?

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