Articles About How Israel Is Strengthening Hamas
Hamas History Tied To Israel
By Richard Sale
UPI Terrorism Correspondent
06/18/02 "UPI" -- --- In the wake of a suicide bomb attack Tuesday on a crowded Jerusalem city bus that killed 19 people and wounded at least 70 more, the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, took credit for the blast.
Israeli officials called it the deadliest attack in Jerusalem in six years.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon immediately vowed to fight "Palestinian terror" and summoned his cabinet to decide on a military response to the organization that Sharon had once described as "the deadliest terrorist group that we have ever had to face."
Active in Gaza and the West Bank, Hamas wants to liberate all of Palestine and establish a radical Islamic state in place of Israel. It is has gained notoriety with its assassinations, car bombs and other acts of terrorism.
But Sharon left something out.
Israel and Hamas may currently be locked in deadly combat, but, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials, beginning in the late 1970s, Tel Aviv gave direct and indirect financial aid to Hamas over a period of years.
Israel "aided Hamas directly -- the Israelis wanted to use it as a counterbalance to the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization)," said Tony Cordesman, Middle East analyst for the Center for Strategic Studies.
Israel's support for Hamas "was a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO by using a competing religious alternative," said a former senior CIA official.
According to documents United Press International obtained from the Israel-based Institute for Counter Terrorism, Hamas evolved from cells of the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928. Islamic movements in Israel and Palestine were "weak and dormant" until after the 1967 Six Day War in which Israel scored a stunning victory over its Arab enemies.
After 1967, a great part of the success of the Hamas/Muslim Brotherhood was due to their activities among the refugees of the Gaza Strip. The cornerstone of the Islamic movements success was an impressive social, religious, educational and cultural infrastructure, called Da'wah, that worked to ease the hardship of large numbers of Palestinian refugees, confined to camps, and many who were living on the edge.
"Social influence grew into political influence," first in the Gaza Strip, then on the West Bank, said an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
According to ICT papers, Hamas was legally registered in Israel in 1978 by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the movement's spiritual leader, as an Islamic Association by the name Al-Mujamma al Islami, which widened its base of supporters and sympathizers by religious propaganda and social work.
According to U.S. administration officials, funds for the movement came from the oil-producing states and directly and indirectly from Israel. The PLO was secular and leftist and promoted Palestinian nationalism. Hamas wanted to set up a transnational state under the rule of Islam, much like Khomeini's Iran.
What took Israeli leaders by surprise was the way the Islamic movements began to surge after the Iranian revolution, after armed resistance to Israel sprang up in southern Lebanon vis-�-vis the Hezbollah, backed by Iran, these sources said.
"Nothing provides the energy for imitation as much as success," commented one administration expert.
A further factor of Hamas' growth was the fact the PLO moved its base of operations to Beirut in the '80s, leaving the Islamic organization to grow in influence in the Occupied Territories "as the court of last resort," he said.
When the intifada began, Israeli leadership was surprised when Islamic groups began to surge in membership and strength. Hamas immediately grew in numbers and violence. The group had always embraced the doctrine of armed struggle, but the doctrine had not been practiced and Islamic groups had not been subjected to suppression the way groups like Fatah had been, according to U.S. government officials.
But with the triumph of the Khomeini revolution in Iran, with the birth of Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorism in Lebanon, Hamas began to gain in strength in Gaza and then in the West Bank, relying on terror to resist the Israeli occupation.
Israel was certainly funding the group at that time. One U.S. intelligence source who asked not to be named said that not only was Hamas being funded as a "counterweight" to the PLO, Israeli aid had another purpose: "To help identify and channel towards Israeli agents Hamas members who were dangerous terrorists."
In addition, by infiltrating Hamas, Israeli informers could only listen to debates on policy and identify Hamas members who "were dangerous hard-liners," the official said.
In the end, as Hamas set up a very comprehensive counterintelligence system, many collaborators with Israel were weeded out and shot. Violent acts of terrorism became the central tenet, and Hamas, unlike the PLO, was unwilling to compromise in any way with Israel, refusing to acquiesce in its very existence.
But even then, some in Israel saw some benefits to be had in trying to continue to give Hamas support: "The thinking on the part of some of the right-wing Israeli establishment was that Hamas and the others, if they gained control, would refuse to have any part of the peace process and would torpedo any agreements put in place," said a U.S. government official who asked not to be named.
"Israel would still be the only democracy in the region for the United States to deal with," he said.
All of which disgusts some former U.S. intelligence officials.
"The thing wrong with so many Israeli operations is that they try to be too sexy," said former CIA official Vincent Cannestraro.
According to former State Department counter-terrorism official Larry Johnson, "the Israelis are their own worst enemies when it comes to fighting terrorism."
"The Israelis are like a guy who sets fire to his hair and then tries to put it out by hitting it with a hammer."
"They do more to incite and sustain terrorism than curb it," he said.
Aid to Hamas may have looked clever, "but it was hardly designed to help smooth the waters," he said. "An operation like that gives weight to President George Bush's remark about there being a crisis in education."
Cordesman said that a similar attempt by Egyptian intelligence to fund Egypt's fundamentalists had also come to grief because of "misreading of the complexities."
An Israeli defense official was asked if Israel had given aid to Hamas said, "I am not able to answer that question. I was in Lebanon commanding a unit at the time, besides it is not my field of interest."
Asked to confirm a report by U.S. officials that Brig. Gen. Yithaq Segev, the military governor of Gaza, had told U.S. officials he had helped fund "Islamic movements as a counterweight to the PLO and communists," the official said he could confirm only that he believed Segev had served back in 1986.
The Israeli Embassy press office referred UPI to its Web site when asked to comment.
Copyright © 2001-2004 United Press International
From London Review of Books: http://www.lrb.co.uk/web/15/01/2009/mult04_.html#tariqali
15 January, 2009
by Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia
It is commonplace to talk about the ‘fog of war’, but war can also clarify things. The war in Gaza has pointed up the Israeli security establishment’s belief in force as a means of imposing ‘solutions’ which result in massive Arab civilian suffering and solve nothing. It has also laid bare the feebleness of the Arab states, and their inability to protect Palestinian civilians from the Israeli military, to the despair and fury of their citizens. Almost from the moment the war began, America’s Arab allies – above all Egypt – found themselves on the defensive, facing accusations of impotence and even treason in some of the largest demonstrations the region has seen in years. Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general of Hizbullah in Lebanon, reserved some of his harshest criticism for the Mubarak regime; at Hizbullah rallies, protesters chanted ‘Where are you, Nasser?’ – a question that is also being asked by Egyptians.
The Egyptian government and its Arab allies – Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco – responded to the war much as they responded to the 2006 invasion of Lebanon: by tacitly supporting Israel’s offensive in the hope of weakening a resistance movement which they see as a proxy for Iran and Syria. When the bombing began, Egypt criticised Hamas over the breakdown of the reconciliation talks with Fatah that Cairo had brokered, and for firing rockets at Israel. The implication was that Hamas was responsible for the war. Refusing to open the Rafah crossing, the Mubarak government pointed out that Israel, the occupying power, not Egypt, was responsibile for the humanitarian situation in Gaza under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Egypt’s concern is understandable: ever since it recovered the Sinai in 1979, it has worried that Israel might attempt to dump responsibility onto it for the Strip’s 1.5 million impoverished residents, a fear that has grown as the prospects of ending the occupation have receded. But its initial refusal to open the crossing to relief supplies, medical personnel and reporters made it difficult for Cairo to deny charges that it was indifferent to Palestinian suffering, and that it valued relations with Israel and the US (its main patron) more highly than the welfare of Gaza’s people.
Since Hamas came to power in Gaza in 2006, Egypt’s press has been rife with lurid warnings – echoed in conservative Lebanese and Saudi newspapers, as well as Israeli ones – about the establishment in Gaza of an Islamic emirate backed by Iran. Cairo’s distrust of Hamas is closely connected with internal politics: Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brothers, the country’s largest opposition movement; and it came to power in Gaza in the kind of democratic elections that Mubarak has done everything to prevent. (He is likely to be succeeded by his son, Gamal, after sham elections.) When there still seemed hope of a Palestinian Authority (PA) coalition government between Fatah and Hamas (which would have diluted the latter’s power), Egypt was careful to appear balanced. But after the deep split in Palestinian politics that followed the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007, Egypt tilted increasingly against Hamas. The division of occupied Palestine into two PAs – a Fatah-ruled West Bank and a Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, both without sovereignty, jurisdiction or much in the way of authority – was seen in Cairo as a threat to domestic security: it promised greater instability on Egypt’s borders, jeopardised the negotiated two-state solution with Israel to which Egypt was committed, and emboldened allies of the Muslim Brothers.
Egypt has also been alarmed by Hamas’s deepening relationship with its fiercest adversaries: Iran, Syria and Hizbullah. ‘Moderate’ Arab regimes like the one in Egypt – deeply authoritarian, at best, but friendly with the US – have favoured peaceful negotiations with Israel, but negotiations have not led to Palestinian independence, or even translated into diplomatic leverage. Resistance movements such as Hizbullah and Hamas, by contrast, can plausibly claim that they forced Israel to withdraw from occupied Arab land while scoring impressive gains at the ballot box; they have also been reasonably free of corruption. As if determined to increase the influence of these radical movements, Israel has undermined Abbas and the PA at every turn: settlements, bypass roads and ‘security barriers’ continue to encroach on Palestinian land; none of the 600 checkpoints and barriers in the West Bank has been removed; and more than 10,000 Palestinian political prisoners languish in Israeli jails. The result has been the erosion of support for the PA, and for the conciliatory approach pursued by the PA and Arab states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which reacted by moving even closer to the Bush administration in its waning days. Mubarak, according to Ha’aretz, urged Olmert to continue the Gaza offensive until Hamas was severely weakened – though Egypt has, of course, denied these reports.
But Hamas will not be so easily defeated, even if Israel’s merciless assault and Hamas’s own obduracy have brought untold suffering on the people of Gaza and much of the Strip lies in ruins: like Hizbullah in Lebanon in 2006, all it has to do in order to proclaim victory is remain standing. The movement continued to fire rockets into Israel under devastating bombardment, and it looks likely to emerge politically stronger when the war is over, although as with Hizbullah, it may have provoked popular resentment for bringing Israeli fire down on the heads of the civilian population: there was little Palestinian popular support for the firing of rockets at Israel in the months before the Israeli offensive. It is doubtful, moreover, whether any Hamas leader will be as shrewd as Hassan Nasrallah after the 2006 Lebanon war, when he admitted that had he known the damage Israel would do, he would not have offered the pretext that triggered its onslaught.
Israel began a propaganda campaign several months ago, when it closed Gaza to journalists in what appears to have been an effort to remove witnesses from the scene before the crime took place. Cell phone transmission was interrupted to prevent the circulation of photos and videos. The result, in Israel and the US, has been an astonishingly sanitised war, in which, in a bizarre attempt at ‘balance’, the highly inaccurate rocket attacks against Israel and their three civilian victims since the fighting began on 27 December have received as much attention as the levelling of Gaza and the killing of more than 1000 Palestinians and the wounding of nearly 5000, most of them civilians. But Arabs and Muslims (and indeed most people not living in the US and Israel) have seen a very different war, with vivid images of those trapped in the Gaza Strip, thanks in large part to Arab journalists on the ground.
During the large demonstrations that erupted in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan and Yemen, condemnation was directed not only at the usual targets, Israel and the US, but also at the passivity, even complicity, of Arab governments. Stung by the protests and fearing popular unrest, several Arab states sent their foreign ministers to New York, led by Prince Sa’ud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, and forced through a Security Council resolution in the face of American resistance. Jordan withdrew its ambassador from Tel Aviv; Qatar broke off ties with Israel and offered $250 million for the rebuilding of Gaza. At the same time, Egypt made limited concessions, taking some wounded Gazans to hospitals in Egypt, providing medical supplies, and belatedly allowing a few medical personnel into the Strip through the Rafah crossing. Yet the Mubarak regime has otherwise continued to play the role of even-handed mediator.
As I write, its proposals for a ceasefire have met with a positive response from both Hamas (which has significantly modulated its criticism of Egypt) and Israel. It is still unclear how Egypt will respond to Israel’s demands that it halt arms smuggling through tunnels into Gaza; when and if the crossings will be fully opened; under what arrangements, and how reconstruction aid will be channelled to the devastated area; and indeed how an Egyptian-brokered arrangement, should it come into force and endure, will be regarded by Egyptian and Arab public opinion.
For the moment, the shaky legitimacy of Abbas’s government in Ramallah, and of the authoritarian Arab governments that have cast their lot with Israel and the United States in the regional contest with Iran, appears to have grown shakier still. Should Iran and Syria succeed in rapidly establishing new relationships with Washington under the Obama administration, these governments will be further weakened. Moreover, their inability (or their unwillingness) to do more to resolve the Palestine question, or even to alleviate Palestinian suffering, has been exposed once again. It contrasts starkly with democratic and non-Arab Turkey’s robust support for the Palestinians. Palestine has been a rallying cry for opposition movements in the Arab world since 1948, and in the decade after the first Arab-Israeli war a series of domestic upheavals, revolutions and coups took place in several Arab countries, including Egypt, where veterans of the Palestine war led by Nasser came to power in the 1952 coup against King Farouk. The repressive capacities of a government such as Egypt’s, whose secret police is said to employ more than a million people, should not be underestimated. But several unpopular regimes may face serious consequences at home for having aligned themselves with Israel.
Rashid Khalidi is Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia.
Another War, Another Defeat PDF:
The Gaza offensive has succeeded in punishing the Palestinians
but not in making Israel more secure
By John J. Mearsheimer
Israelis and their American supporters claim that Israel learned its lessons well from the disastrous 2006 Lebanon war and has devised a winning strategy for the present war against Hamas. Of course, when a ceasefire comes, Israel will declare victory. Don’t believe it. Israel has foolishly started another war it cannot win.
The campaign in Gaza is said to have two objectives: 1) to put an end to the rockets and mortars that Palestinians have been firing into southern Israel since it withdrew from Gaza in August 2005; 2) to restore Israel’s deterrent, which was said to be diminished by the Lebanon fiasco, by Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, and by its inability to halt Iran’s nuclear program.
But these are not the real goals of Operation Cast Lead. The actual purpose is connected to Israel’s long-term vision of how it intends to live with millions of Palestinians in its midst. It is part of a broader strategic goal: the creation of a “Greater Israel.” Specifically, Israel’s leaders remain determined to control all of what used to be known as Mandate Palestine, which includes Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestinians would have limited autonomy in a handful of disconnected and economically crippled enclaves, one of which is Gaza. Israel would control the borders around them, movement between them, the air above and the water below them.
The key to achieving this is to inflict massive pain on the Palestinians so that they come to accept the fact that they are a defeated people and that Israel will be largely responsible for controlling their future. This strategy, which was first articulated by Ze’ev Jabotinsky in the 1920s and has heavily influenced Israeli policy since 1948, is commonly referred to as the “Iron Wall.”
What has been happening in Gaza is fully consistent with this strategy.
Let’s begin with Israel’s decision to withdraw from Gaza in 2005. The conventional wisdom is that Israel was serious about making peace with the Palestinians and that its leaders hoped the exit from Gaza would be a major step toward creating a viable Palestinian state. According to the New York Times’ Thomas L. Friedman, Israel was giving the Palestinians an opportunity to “build a decent mini-state there—a Dubai on the Mediterranean,” and if they did so, it would “fundamentally reshape the Israeli debate about whether the Palestinians can be handed most of the West Bank.”
This is pure fiction. Even before Hamas came to power, the Israelis intended to create an open-air prison for the Palestinians in Gaza and inflict great pain on them until they complied with Israel’s wishes. Dov Weisglass, Ariel Sharon’s closest adviser at the time, candidly stated that the disengagement from Gaza was aimed at halting the peace process, not encouraging it. He described the disengagement as “formaldehyde that’s necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.” Moreover, he emphasized that the withdrawal “places the Palestinians under tremendous pressure. It forces them into a corner where they hate to be.”
Arnon Soffer, a prominent Israeli demographer who also advised Sharon, elaborated on what that pressure would look like. “When 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It’s going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.”
In January 2006, five months after the Israelis pulled their settlers out of Gaza, Hamas won a decisive victory over Fatah in the Palestinian legislative elections. This meant trouble for Israel’s strategy because Hamas was democratically elected, well organized, not corrupt like Fatah, and unwilling to accept Israel’s existence. Israel responded by ratcheting up economic pressure on the Palestinians, but it did not work. In fact, the situation took another turn for the worse in March 2007, when Fatah and Hamas came together to form a national unity government. Hamas’s stature and political power were growing, and Israel’s divide-and-conquer strategy was unraveling.
To make matters worse, the national unity government began pushing for a long-term ceasefire. The Palestinians would end all missile attacks on Israel if the Israelis would stop arresting and assassinating Palestinians and end their economic stranglehold, opening the border crossings into Gaza.
Israel rejected that offer and with American backing set out to foment a civil war between Fatah and Hamas that would wreck the national unity government and put Fatah in charge. The plan backfired when Hamas drove Fatah out of Gaza, leaving Hamas in charge there and the more pliant Fatah in control of the West Bank. Israel then tightened the screws on the blockade around Gaza, causing even greater hardship and suffering among the Palestinians living there.
Hamas responded by continuing to fire rockets and mortars into Israel, while emphasizing that they still sought a long-term ceasefire, perhaps lasting ten years or more. This was not a noble gesture on Hamas’s part: they sought a ceasefire because the balance of power heavily favored Israel. The Israelis had no interest in a ceasefire and merely intensified the economic pressure on Gaza. But in the late spring of 2008, pressure from Israelis living under the rocket attacks led the government to agree to a six-month ceasefire starting on June 19. That agreement, which formally ended on Dec. 19, immediately preceded the present war, which began on Dec. 27.
The official Israeli position blames Hamas for undermining the ceasefire. This view is widely accepted in the United States, but it is not true. Israeli leaders disliked the ceasefire from the start, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak instructed the IDF to begin preparing for the present war while the ceasefire was being negotiated in June 2008. Furthermore, Dan Gillerman, Israel’s former ambassador to the UN, reports that Jerusalem began to prepare the propaganda campaign to sell the present war months before the conflict began. For its part, Hamas drastically reduced the number of missile attacks during the first five months of the ceasefire. A total of two rockets were fired into Israel during September and October, none by Hamas.
How did Israel behave during this same period? It continued arresting and assassinating Palestinians on the West Bank, and it continued the deadly blockade that was slowly strangling Gaza. Then on Nov. 4, as Americans voted for a new president, Israel attacked a tunnel inside Gaza and killed six Palestinians. It was the first major violation of the ceasefire, and the Palestinians—who had been “careful to maintain the ceasefire,” according to Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center—responded by resuming rocket attacks. The calm that had prevailed since June vanished as Israel ratcheted up the blockade and its attacks into Gaza and the Palestinians hurled more rockets at Israel. It is worth noting that not a single Israeli was killed by Palestinian missiles between Nov. 4 and the launching of the war on Dec. 27.
As the violence increased, Hamas made clear that it had no interest in extending the ceasefire beyond Dec. 19, which is hardly surprising, since it had not worked as intended. In mid-December, however, Hamas informed Israel that it was still willing to negotiate a long-term ceasefire if it included an end to the arrests and assassinations as well as the lifting of the blockade. But the Israelis, having used the ceasefire to prepare for war against Hamas, rejected this overture. The bombing of Gaza commenced eight days after the failed ceasefire formally ended.
If Israel wanted to stop missile attacks from Gaza, it could have done so by arranging a long-term ceasefire with Hamas. And if Israel were genuinely interested in creating a viable Palestinian state, it could have worked with the national unity government to implement a meaningful ceasefire and change Hamas’s thinking about a two-state solution. But Israel has a different agenda: it is determined to employ the Iron Wall strategy to get the Palestinians in Gaza to accept their fate as hapless subjects of a Greater Israel.
This brutal policy is clearly reflected in Israel’s conduct of the Gaza War. Israel and its supporters claim that the IDF is going to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties, in some cases taking risks that put Israeli soldiers in jeopardy. Hardly. One reason to doubt these claims is that Israel refuses to allow reporters into the war zone: it does not want the world to see what its soldiers and bombs are doing inside Gaza. At the same time, Israel has launched a massive propaganda campaign to put a positive spin on the horror stories that do emerge.
The best evidence, however, that Israel is deliberately seeking to punish the broader population in Gaza is the death and destruction the IDF has wrought on that small piece of real estate. Israel has killed over 1,000 Palestinians and wounded more than 4,000. Over half of the casualties are civilians, and many are children. The IDF’s opening salvo on Dec. 27 took place as children were leaving school, and one of its primary targets that day was a large group of graduating police cadets, who hardly qualified as terrorists. In what Ehud Barak called “an all-out war against Hamas,” Israel has targeted a university, schools, mosques, homes, apartment buildings, government offices, and even ambulances. A senior Israeli military official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, explained the logic behind Israel’s expansive target set: “There are many aspects of Hamas, and we are trying to hit the whole spectrum, because everything is connected and everything supports terrorism against Israel.” In other words, everyone is a terrorist and everything is a legitimate target.
Israelis tend to be blunt, and they occasionally say what they are really doing. After the IDF killed 40 Palestinian civilians in a UN school on Jan. 6, Ha’aretz reported that “senior officers admit that the IDF has been using enormous firepower.” One officer explained, “For us, being cautious means being aggressive. From the minute we entered, we’ve acted like we’re at war. That creates enormous damage on the ground … I just hope those who have fled the area of Gaza City in which we are operating will describe the shock.”
One might accept that Israel is waging “a cruel, all-out war against 1.5 million Palestinian civilians,” as Ha’aretz put it in an editorial, but argue that it will eventually achieve its war aims and the rest of the world will quickly forget the horrors inflicted on the people of Gaza.
This is wishful thinking. For starters, Israel is unlikely to stop the rocket fire for any appreciable period of time unless it agrees to open Gaza’s borders and stop arresting and killing Palestinians. Israelis talk about cutting off the supply of rockets and mortars into Gaza, but weapons will continue to come in via secret tunnels and ships that sneak through Israel’s naval blockade. It will also be impossible to police all of the goods sent into Gaza through legitimate channels.
Israel could try to conquer all of Gaza and lock the place down. That would probably stop the rocket attacks if Israel deployed a large enough force. But then the IDF would be bogged down in a costly occupation against a deeply hostile population. They would eventually have to leave, and the rocket fire would resume. And if Israel fails to stop the rocket fire and keep it stopped, as seems likely, its deterrent will be diminished, not strengthened.
More importantly, there is little reason to think that the Israelis can beat Hamas into submission and get the Palestinians to live quietly in a handful of Bantustans inside Greater Israel. Israel has been humiliating, torturing, and killing Palestinians in the Occupied Territories since 1967 and has not come close to cowing them. Indeed, Hamas’s reaction to Israel’s brutality seems to lend credence to Nietzsche’s remark that what does not kill you makes you stronger.
But even if the unexpected happens and the Palestinians cave, Israel would still lose because it will become an apartheid state. As Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recently said, Israel will “face a South African-style struggle” if the Palestinians do not get a viable state of their own. “As soon as that happens,” he argued, “the state of Israel is finished.” Yet Olmert has done nothing to stop settlement expansion and create a viable Palestinian state, relying instead on the Iron Wall strategy to deal with the Palestinians.
There is also little chance that people around the world who follow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will soon forget the appalling punishment that Israel is meting out in Gaza. The destruction is just too obvious to miss, and too many people—especially in the Arab and Islamic world—care about the Palestinians’ fate. Moreover, discourse about this longstanding conflict has undergone a sea change in the West in recent years, and many of us who were once wholly sympathetic to Israel now see that the Israelis are the victimizers and the Palestinians are the victims. What is happening in Gaza will accelerate that changing picture of the conflict and long be seen as a dark stain on Israel’s reputation.
The bottom line is that no matter what happens on the battlefield, Israel cannot win its war in Gaza. In fact, it is pursuing a strategy—with lots of help from its so-called friends in the Diaspora—that is placing its long-term future at risk.
THE WAR IN GAZA
Tactical Gains, Strategic Defeat?
by Anthony H. Cordesman
January 9, 2009
[Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at CSIS. He is also a national security analyst for ABC News. His analysis has been featured prominently during the Gulf War, Desert Fox, the conflict in Kosovo, the fighting in Afghanistan, and the Iraq War. During his time at CSIS, he has been director of the Gulf Net Assessment Project and the Gulf in Transition Study and principle investigator of the Homeland Defense Project. He also directed the Middle East Net Assessment Project and was codirector of the Strategic Energy Initiative. He has led studies on the Iraq War, Afghan conflict, armed nation building and counterinsurgency, national missile defense, asymmetric warfare and weapons of mass destruction, global energy supply, and critical infrastructure protection. He is the author of a wide range of reports on U.S. security policy, energy policy, and Middle East policy, which can be downloaded from the Burke Chair section of the CSIS Web site (www.csis.org/burke/). Cordesman formerly served as national security assistant to Senator John McCain of the Senate Armed Services Committee, as director of intelligence assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and as civilian assistant to the deputy secretary of defense. In 1974, he directed the analysis of the lessons of the October War for the secretary of defense, coordinating U.S. military, intelligence, and civilian analysis of the conflict. He has also served in other government positions, including at the Department of State, Department of Energy, and NATO International Staff. He has had numerous foreign assignments, including postings in Lebanon, Egypt, and Iran, and he has worked extensively in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. Cordesman is the author of more than 50 books, including a four-volume series on the lessons of modern war. His most recent works include Iraq’s Insurgency and the Road to Civil Conflict (Praeger, 2007), Lessons of the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah War (CSIS, 2007), Iran’s Military Forces and Warfighting Capabilities (Praeger/CSIS, 2007), Iraqi Force Development (CSIS, 2007), Salvaging American Defense (Praeger/CSIS, 2007), and Chinese Military Modernization (CSIS, 2007). Cordesman has been awarded the Department of Defense Distinguished Service Medal. He is a former adjunct professor of national security studies at Georgetown University and has twice been a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars at the Smithsonian Institution.]
The Israeli-Hamas War, and there is little else that it can be called, has now lasted two weeks. Israeli jets have flown some 800 strike sorties, and the IDF has pushed deep into Gaza. Israel also continues to report tactical gains. The IDF spokesman reported that the fighting on the war’s 14th day continued the second phase of the ground operation throughout the strip, “with infantry, tank, engineering, artillery and intelligence forces operating in large numbers throughout the Gaza Strip, with the assistance of the Israel Air Force and Israel Navy.” He summarized the result as follows:
"The Navy, Air Force and Artillery Corps continued to assist the ground forces throughout the Gaza Strip, striking Hamas targets, groups of gunmen and terrorists identified in rocket launching areas and located near the forces.
. . .The IAF attacked a number of targets, based on IDF and ISA intelligence, including the house of Yaser Natat, who was in charge of the rocket firing program in the Rafah area, and the house of Muhammad Sanuar, the commander of the Hamas "Han Yunes Brigade". In addition, the IAF struck approximately 60 targets throughout the Gaza Strip, including:
A mosque used as a weapons storage facilities and as a meeting place for Hamas terror operatives
A Hamas Police structure
Fifteen tunnels used by Hamas terror operatives against IDF forces, some of which were located under houses
Ten weapons storage facilities
A number of armed gunmen
Fifteen launching areas and underground launching pads used to fire mortar shells at IDF forces
. . . The Israeli Navy operated in front of Deir El Balah in the Central Gaza Strip, targeting Hamas rocket launching sites.
The IDF will continue to operate against the Hamas terror infrastructure in the Gaza Strip according to its operational plans in order to reduce the rocket fire on the south of Israel."
No one should discount these continuing tactical gains, or ignore the fact that Hamas’ rocket and mortar attacks continue to pose a threat. Nearly 600 rounds hit Israeli territory between December 7th and January 9th. It is also clear that there are no good ways to fight an enemy like Hamas that conducts attrition warfare while hiding behind its own women and children. A purely diplomatic response that does not improve Israel’s security position or offer Palestinians hope for the future is equivalent to no response at all.
The fact remains, however, that the growing human tragedy in Gaza is steadily raising more serious questions as to whether the kind of tactical gains that Israel now reports are worth the suffering involved. As of the 14th day of the war, nearly 800 Palestinian have died and over 3,000 have been wounded. Fewer and fewer have been Hamas fighters, while more and more have been civilians.
These direct costs are also only part of the story. Gaza’s economy had already collapsed long before the current fighting began and now has far greater problems. Its infrastructure is crippled in critical areas like power and water. This war has compounded the impact of a struggle that has gone on since 2000. It has reduced living standards in basic ways like food, education, as well as medical supplies and services. It has also left most Gazans without a productive form of employment. The current war has consequences more far-reaching than casualties. It involves a legacy of greatly increased suffering for the 1.5 million people who will survive this current conflict.
It is also far from clear that the tactical gains are worth the political and strategic cost to Israel. At least to date, the reporting from within Gaza indicates that each new Israeli air strike or advance on the ground has increased popular support for Hamas and anger against Israel in Gaza. The same is true in the West Bank and the Islamic world. Iran and Hezbollah are capitalizing on the conflict. Anti-American demonstrations over the fighting have taken place in areas as “remote” as Kabul. Even friends of Israel like Turkey see the war as unjust. The Egyptian government comes under greater pressure with every casualty. The US is seen as having done virtually nothing, focusing only on the threat from Hamas, and the President elect is getting as much blame as the President who still serves.
One strong warning of the level of anger in the region comes from Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia. Prince Turki has been the Saudi ambassador in both London and Washington. He has always been a leading voice of moderation. For years he has been a supporter of the Saudi peace process and an advocate of Jewish-Christian-Islamic dialog. Few Arab voices deserve more to be taken seriously, and Prince Turki described the conflict as follows in a speech at the opening of the 6th Gulf Forum on January 6th, “The Bush administration has left you (with) a disgusting legacy and a reckless position towards the massacres and bloodshed of innocents in Gaza…Enough is enough, today we are all Palestinians and we seek martyrdom for God and for Palestine, following those who died in Gaza.” Neither Israel nor the US can gain from a war that produces this reaction from one of the wisest and most moderate voices in the Arab world.
This raises a question that every Israeli and its supporters now needs to ask. What is the strategic purpose behind the present fighting? After two weeks of combat Olmert, Livni, and Barak have still not said a word that indicates that Israel will gain strategic or grand strategic benefits, or tactical benefits much larger than the gains it made from selectively striking key Hamas facilities early in the war. In fact, their silence raises haunting questions about whether they will repeat the same massive failures made by Israel’s top political leadership during the Israeli-Hezbollah War in 2006. Has Israel somehow blundered into a steadily escalating war without a clear strategic goal or at least one it can credibly achieve? Will Israel end in empowering an enemy in political terms that it defeated in tactical terms? Will Israel’s actions seriously damage the US position in the region, any hope of peace, as well as moderate Arab regimes and voices in the process?
To [be] blunt, the answer so far seems to be yes. To paraphrase a comment about the British government’s management of the British Army in World War I, lions seem to be led by donkeys. If Israel has a credible ceasefire plan that could really secure Gaza, it is not apparent. If Israel has a plan that could credibly destroy and replace Hamas, it is not apparent. If Israel has any plan to help the Gazans and move them back towards peace, it is not apparent. If Israel has any plan to use US or other friendly influence productively, it not apparent.
As we have seen all too clearly from US mistakes, any leader can take a tough stand and claim that tactical gains are a meaningful victory. If this is all that Olmert, Livni, and Barak have for an answer, then they have disgraced themselves and damaged their country and their friends. If there is more, it is time to make such goals public and demonstrate how they can be achieved. The question is not whether the IDF learned the tactical lessons of the fighting in 2006. It is whether Israel's top political leadership has even minimal competence to lead them.
HAMAS GAINING SYMPATHY AS ONSLAUGHT CONTINUES
January 1, 2009
With the massive Israeli onslaught against the Gaza Strip continuing unabated, and with Israeli political and military leaders threatening to “decimate” Hamas, Palestinian intellectuals as well as ordinary people expect Hamas’s popularity to rise dramatically when the present Israeli campaign is over.
Israel claims that its war on Gaza is with Hamas, not with the Palestinian people. However, There is hardly a Palestinian who would give the Israeli claim the benefit of the doubt.
And those who do, such as the followers of the so-called “American-Israeli Trend” within the Fatah movement, are quite reluctant to speak up publicly, fearing a severe reaction from the Palestinian public and being accused of treason and collaboration with Israel.
Israel also hopes that the vast havoc and destruction and death wreaked on Gaza so far would prompt the masses to blame Hamas.
However, apart from some Fatah figures who have vested interests in portraying Hamas in bad light, most Palestinians are blaming Israel and the “treacherous Arab regimes” for the Gaza nightmare.
On Wednesday, the American-backed Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was forced to acknowledge that the “Israeli aggression” was targeting not a specific Palestinian faction, but the entire Palestinian people.
“This criminal aggression is targeting all Palestinians without discrimination,” said Abbas in pre-recorded speech broadcast by the Fatah-controlled Palestine TV.
The Palestinian leader also hinted that he might terminate futile peace talks with Israel if the Jewish state continued to use the talks as a rubric for murdering and tormenting the Palestinian people.
It is not certain if Abbas’s relatively tough tone is genuine or disingenuous. Skeptics, and they are many, think that Abbas is only trying to mollify the decidedly anti-Israeli Palestinian public.
In recent days, Hamas accused a number of PA figures, including two top aides to Chairman Abbas, al Tayeb Abdul Rahim and Nimr Hamad, of colluding with Israel against Hamas.
Hamas’s officials in Gaza accused Abdul Rahim of directing a cell of Fatah informers in Gaza to collect information on Hamas’s targets and relay it to Israel via Ramallah.
Such charges, coupled with the widespread views in the Arab world that the PA along with Egypt were conniving and conspiring with Israel to bring down the Hamas government have forced the Ramallah regime into a defensive posture.
“We have been struggling for forty years, and no one has the right to doubt our credentials,” Abbas angrily told reporters earlier.
However, such defensive reflexes by PA leaders are failing to convince the skeptical Palestinian public opinion of their innocence.
“There are widespread feelings among Palestinians that the PA is quite satisfied with what is happening in Gaza . And undoubtedly this is going to seriously undermine the image of Palestinian leadership,” opined Abdul Sattar Qassem, Professor of political Science at the Najah National University in Nablus .
Qassem predicted that the current Israeli campaign would actually lead to the boosting of Hamas’s popularity.
” Israel , and probably some other Arab regimes, think that the intensive bombing and pornographic murder in Gaza would force the Palestinian main street to abandon or rise up against Hamas. This was undoubtedly the goal behind the harsh blockade of Gaza . But of course no serious uprising against Hamas took place.
“From my observations of the general mood in Gaza and Palestine in general, I don’t think that even those who hate Hamas would rise up against it, mainly because of the broad-based support it enjoys. Yes, many people may be quite satisfied seeing Israel bomb Hamas targets, but their ability to mobilize the Palestinian street against the movement is very limited.
“Moreover, the anti-Hamas elements know that they won’t be able to successfully confront Hamas’s supporters in the streets.”
Qassem said he believed that the PA would be the biggest loser in the current showdown between Israel and Hamas.
“If Israel succeeded in dismantling the government of Gaza , and then handed over the coastal enclave to the PA, then most Palestinians and Arabs and Muslims would view the PA as a quisling entity very much like defunct Israeli puppet South Lebanese army.”
Another Palestinian intellectual, Abdul Bari Atwan, predicts that public support for Hamas will increase as a result of the present Israeli campaign in the Gaza Strip.
“The Palestinian people is not stupid, it knows very well who the real patriots are and who the real traitors are. Abbas is not a real President of the Palestinian people. He is answerable to Israel and the United States , not to the Palestinian people,” said the Editor-in-Chief of the London based Arabic daily, al Quds al Arabi.
The mood of ordinary Palestinians who are unaffiliated with any political faction doesn’t differ much.
“I think Israel wouldn’t have started this genocide without at least a wink from Abbas,” said Hasan Amer, a cabbie from the Bethlehem region.
“Things are clear and one doesn’t have to be versed in politics to see the facts.”
13 January 2009
Since beginning its offensive in the Gaza Strip Israel has repeatedly declared it will maintain attacks to smash what it calls the Hamas terrorist machine. However, as Israel's bombardment continues, the appeal of Hamas in the Arab world appears to be growing. Al Jazeeras Hashem Ahelbarra reports on how the war has left Hamas gaining popular support.