Archive for September, 2009

How Israel must fight

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009
IDF soldier in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead

IDF soldier in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead

It’s a tragedy that the 61 years of Israel’s existence have been marked by almost continuous war. In fact, someone said that the history of Israel consists of one long war, varying in intensity, for more or less the last 100 years.

There are several possible flare-ups on the horizon today. Iran is unlikely to halt its progress towards becoming a nuclear power, and the international establishment doesn’t seem prepared to stop it. Israel sees acquisition of the bomb by Iran as an existential threat, and an Israeli attack would mean war with Iran and its surrogates.

Even if the US suddenly gets some backbone — and the latest threat of sanctions if Iran doesn’t respond in yet another three months doesn’t impress me (or the Iranians) too much — there is the problem of Hezbollah, which I can’t see going away peacefully. Something has to happen to those 40,000 rockets. And Hamas.

Although it would be wonderful if we could expect peace to break out in the region, Israeli leaders have to be thinking hard about what happens if it doesn’t.

One thing they need to think about is how Israel must fight in an environment where the actions of outside powers are as important as those of the combatants.

In 1973, the fate of Israel was in the hands of the US. Israel was struggling when Nixon and Kissinger decided that the American interest — reducing Soviet influence in the Mideast — justified an airlift to resupply the IDF, which then turned the tide and came close to crushing Soviet-armed Egypt and Syria. ‘Came close’, I said, because as Yehuda Avner points out in the article linked at the beginning of this paragraph, the US also slammed the brakes onto the IDF while the Egyptians still had a Third Army and Damascus was still intact.

Of course, similar stories can be told about the last few wars, which all ended in similar ways: the 1982 Lebanon war, in which Arafat’s PLO was allowed to escape; the 2006 war with Hezbollah, ended by the worthless Security Council resolution 1701; and the recent Operation Cast Lead, terminated early with Hamas still firmly in control of Gaza.

There’s no question that one of the biggest questions discussed by the Security Cabinet and the General Staff is always: what will the US do? How will Russia respond? Management of these outside players is as important as planning the deployment of fighting forces.

One of the factors which supposedly affects their behavior is the perception of such things as civilian casualties, proportionality, etc. The 2006 war, in which Hezbollah effectively manipulated the media, was a PR disaster for Israel. It’s been suggested that Hezbollah propaganda about the ‘Kfar Kana massacre’ actually caused Condoleezza Rice to end US support for an Israeli victory in Lebanon in 2006.

So in 2008-9, the IDF took unprecedented steps to hold down the number of civilian casualties in Gaza, as well as to try to respond quickly to fabricated atrocity stories. Unfortunately, although the amount of collateral damage was remarkably low for urban warfare — especially against an enemy which made a point of using the population as a shield — and although the IDF did do a much better job of responding to propaganda than in 2006, the result was the same: worldwide fury against ‘Israeli war crimes’, and a US-imposed end to the fighting before Hamas was defeated.

One thing that we can learn from this is that regardless of how Israel fights, it will be accused of war crimes and atrocities. What matters is not what is, but what people think.

Another is that it isn’t enough to convince the leadership of the great powers. Nations like the US or Russia act in their own interests. With all due respect, they don’t care about dead Arabs (or Israelis). When they hear about ‘massacres’ they are not interested in whether they happened or not. They are interested in how their own response to Israel’s actions looks to someone who believes that the massacres happened. And this leadership is particularly sensitive to opinion in the Middle East.

Therefore, even if Israel fights the most moral war in history, and even if US, Russian and European leadership knows this, they still may intervene against Israel. Israeli anti-propaganda efforts can only be useful if they effect overall and especially Mid-Eastern opinion, which is nearly impossible.

But not only does trying to avoid collateral damage have little effect on outside actors, it can be a direct impediment to victory. For example, it’s said that the Hamas headquarters was located in the basement of Gaza’s Shifa Hospital. Hamas knew that Israel would never bomb it, and they were right.

It also has indirect effects: Western democracies like Israel can’t accept a high level of their own casualties, especially if they are seen as avoidable. So for example, NATO bombed Serbian forces in Yugoslavia from high altitude, and suffered zero casualties to their own troops. But this conflicts with the imperative to avoid civilian casualties. NATO chose to protect its own soldiers and pilots at the expense of the people on the ground.

Israel made the opposite choice in 2003’s Operation Defensive Shield, and lost 23 soldiers in Jenin. The use of air bombardment or artillery could have prevented that loss, at the cost of many more Palestinian dead. Interestingly, despite this almost every non-Israeli in the Middle East and most Europeans still believe that Israel perpetrated a murderous ‘Jenin massacre’.

The effort to reduce collateral damage gives rise to casualties among one’s own troops, which in turn is a powerful deterrent to fighting in today’s West (and Israel). This is perhaps one of the reasons — along with American intervention — that Israel never executed phase III of Operation Cast Lead — the entry into the Gaza City center that might have finished off Hamas.

Anthony Cordesman has suggested that today’s conflicts — like Gaza and Afghanistan — call for an entirely different way of fighting, one in which as much attention is paid to not hurting civilians as to killing the enemy. He may be right about Afghanistan, but I think he’s wrong about Israel’s wars. America may have an image problem in the Middle East, but it does not have the same consequences as Israel’s.

What does all of this imply about how Israel must fight?

I am not suggesting that Israel ignore possible civilian casualties or even fight in a way which increases them, like the strategic bombing policy of the Allies in WWII, or NATO’s high-altitude bombing of Yugoslavia, or the way the Arabs have embraced terrorism against the Israeli population.

I do think that the primary aim of any operation should be to achieve its objective as quickly as possible, and that the amount of force used should be proportional to this goal. Insofar as avoidance of non-combatant casualties interferes with this, it should give way to whatever is needed to defeat the enemy.

The way to prevent intervention by outside powers is not to try to convince them that one’s cause is just and is being pursued in the safest way possible, but to achieve the objective as quickly and completely as possible, and thus to preclude intervention. The 1967 war is an example of this.

Paradoxically, Israel’s attempt in Cast Lead to prevent intervention before it reached its goals may have actually prevented it from reaching them before the US intervened.

War is a fundamentally irrational enterprise, which violates the rules of all constructive human endeavors. It is not constructive, it is destructive. Morality is upside down. Concepts like safety and even justice, on some level, are contradicted in a state of war.

Because of this, there is no greater evil than making war for political goals. There is only one moral reason for war, and that is self-defense. But once in war, the only rational behavior is to do whatever is necessary for victory.

In the long run, this may even result in less suffering for civilians and soldiers alike, because unfinished wars are fought over, and over, and over.

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Recognition first

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

Palestinan Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas was in Cuba the other day, and presented his ‘peace’ plan:

“An Israeli withdrawal from Palestine, the Syrian Golan Heights, and the Lebanese territories is a top priority,” he said. “Once that is achieved, Israel will enjoy normal relations with all Arab and Islamic countries.”

He added, “We tell Israel that if they withdraw from the Palestinian territories, all Arab and Islamic countries will be able to normalize relations with you.”

Abbas then explained that the alternative to such a withdrawal would be terrorism, tension, and violence, which he insisted is not what Palestinians want for their people and region.

An aside: the ‘Lebanese territory’ he refers to is the Shabaa Farms area, a tiny piece of land — 8 sq. mi. –  with no strategic importance, determined by the UN to be part of the Golan Heights but claimed by Hezbollah and (apparently) the PA to be Lebanese. It is used as a pretext for aggression by Hezbollah, which thereby claims that Israel is still ‘occupying’ Lebanon.

So here’s the context: Israel is almost surrounded by hostile states and non-state terrorist militias which have been sporadically starting wars and killing Israelis since there was an Israel.

And here’s the deal: if Israel will give up the strategic depth which prevented it from being overrun in 1973 and allow the creation of another hostile state to the east to complete its encirclement, then all the Arab states will suddenly give up their oft-repeated desire to end the Jewish state. But if not — well, don’t say I didn’t warn you, but you know how hard it is to control those extremists!

Surrender first, and then the Arab and Muslim states will be able to normalize relations.

And he didn’t mention his continuing demand for the entry of millions of hostile Arabs claiming refugee status into Israel, his refusal to ever recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish People, etc.

As a ‘peace plan’, this is completely insane. Nobody in their right mind could see it as anything other than a demand for Israel to place its head on the chopping block. There is no way negotiation based on these principles can result in peace.

Of course, there’s nothing surprising about it when you consider who Mahmoud Abbas is. He is the leader of Fatah, the  organization that has always controlled the PLO, the terrorist group that has killed more Israelis than any other, even Hamas. He is the man who for years was second in command to the Original Terrorist, Yasser Arafat (may his name be erased).

What is surprising is that the US supports Abbas and arms and trains his soldiers (excuse me, ‘security forces’), and is pushing a ‘peace plan’ that is only superficially different from that of Mahmoud Abbas.

Time for a new peace plan. Here’s mine:

  • The Palestinian Authority, UNRWA, etc.  will be informed that Palestinians will not get another penny of international assistance until they get a leadership that recognizes Israel as the state of the Jewish people, stops terrorism, and agrees to the principle that a solution to the Arab refugee problem must be found in Arab countries, not Israel.
  • Arab and Muslim nations will be informed that until they agree to the above, there will be no pressure on Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians.

Recognition first, then negotiations. It’s only reasonable. If the Palestinians will not compromise their ‘ideals’ and continue violent ‘resistance’ then they will have to take time off from resistance to create an economy, because otherwise they won’t be eating.

The international community needs to understand that by supporting the PA and by sending ‘humanitarian’ aid to ‘refugees’ after 61 years, they are not doing anything that could be remotely understood as humanitarian. They are simply helping extremists like Mahmoud Abbas, Hassan Nasrallah and the Hamas leadership maintain their long war against Israel.

Maybe some do understand this and want to help get rid of the “shitty little country” that’s always upsetting their Arab friends. But I think that the majority of people in the US do want Israel to survive, and their government should do more than pay lip service to this.

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Appeasing the unappeasable

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

You have to be grateful to the Palestinians for saving Israel from Ehud Olmert:

Speaking to the BBC’s Hard Talk program, which will be broadcast Monday, Olmert said he offered the Palestinians the best deal they were ever and will ever be given. He lamented that the Palestinians rejected the deal, which he said would have been implemented despite the corruption charges that forced him out of office, for which he will stand trial beginning on Friday…

Olmert confirmed that he had offered the Palestinians land amounting to 100 percent of the West Bank – which would have been composed of 93 to 94% of West Bank land and the rest made up by territory from pre-1967 Israel – the return of more than a thousand Palestinian refugees to Israel’s final borders, and the internationalization of Jerusalem under Israeli, Palestinian, American, Jordanian and Saudi Arabian administration.

He said that had the Palestinians accepted the offer, the international community would have immediately endorsed it, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would not have been elected.

I don’t think the full details of Olmert’s offer have been made public, but what he said to the BBC is shocking.

Would Olmert have transferred much of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority (PA) while Hamas continued to control Gaza? What guarantee would there be — could there be — that Hamas would not not take over the PA, too?

How would the return of even one ‘refugee’ be justified? Would Israel accept the ‘right of return’ in principle but limit it in practice? Mahmoud Abbas suggested that this indeed was the proposal. In that case, Israel would have accepted the Palestinian version of history, in which Israel, born in sin, bears the guilt for the refugees’ condition.

But the ‘best’ part of the plan is to give Israel’s most implacable enemy in the Middle East, the corrupt and fanatical Saudi monarchy, a part in the administration of Jerusalem. Should this medieval kingdom, which gained control of the holy cities of Islam by aggression and conquest, now be given authority over the holy city of Christians and Jews?

Would parts of Jerusalem be off-limits to Jews and female drivers?

Considering that in recent history only one administration, that of Israel, has allowed all faiths access to their holy sites in Jerusalem, and that Arab control has been racist and vandalistic — and I refer not only to the Jordanian occupation in which synagogues were made into stables and latrines, but to the present behavior of the Waqf — why do we need to internationalize Israel’s capital?

The capital city of Germany was divided in 1945, after Hitler caused the most destructive war in history. What has Israel done, except be a Jewish state that has so far survived 61 years of continuous struggle against those who want to snuff it out, to deserve similar treatment?

The crazy Palestinian demands — which even Olmert’s proposal did not satisfy — are made by the PA, more or less identical with the PLO — a gang of terrorists that was stupidly given international legitimacy in 1993, who have contributed nothing to civilization except the popularity of terrorism as a political tool.

Why does anyone take them seriously? Why the rush to appease the unappeasable?

The answer to that, of course is that they are backed by the wealth and influence of Saudi Arabia, the hypocritical antisemitism of Europe and the US State Department, and — increasingly — by the rockets of Iran.

But one wants a real solution, which will provide for the aspirations of the Palestinians without dismembering Israel, it will have to be found by looking in a different direction, away from the PLO, as this comment on the previous post suggests.

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Netanyahu doesn’t surrender

Friday, September 25th, 2009

I just watched Prime Minister Netanyahu’s UN speech again. I liked it even more than the first time.

I liked the way he kept referring to ‘Jews’ and ‘the Jewish People’. Israel is not just a arbitrary construct based on geography. The Holocaust that Ahmadinejad denies didn’t happen to arbitrary people, it happened to Jews (I don’t deny that Hitler killed a lot of non-Jews, but the machinery of extermination was built for the Jews, who were murdered only because of their genes).

The Jewish people are not foreign conquerors in the Land of Israel. This is the land of our forefathers.

Inscribed on the walls outside this building is the great Biblical vision of peace: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. They shall learn war no more.” These words were spoken by the Jewish prophet Isaiah 2,800 years ago as he walked in my country, in my city, in the hills of Judea and in the streets of Jerusalem.

I liked the way he stood firm on his demand for recognition as a Jewish state:

We ask the Palestinians to finally do what they have refused to do for 62 years: Say yes to a Jewish state. Just as we are asked to recognize a nation-state for the Palestinian people, the Palestinians must be asked to recognize the nation state of the Jewish people.

This is the absolute bottom line, far more important than delineation of borders or the settlement issue. The fact that the Arabs have never accepted a Jewish state in the Land of Israel has been the cause of the conflict since the beginning, and is what drives it today.

Netanyahu clearly understands — as so many Jews, even some Israelis, do not — that  the real and only adequate  justification for the existence of the state of Israel lies in its being the state of the Jewish people. Give up on this point, and you might as well book passage back to Poland, Russia, Morocco, Iraq, etc. and let it be replaced with yet another Arab craptocracy.

Finally, he made one other demand:

The Palestinians should have all the powers to govern themselves except those handful of powers that could endanger Israel. That is why a Palestinian state must be effectively demilitarized. We don’t want another Gaza, another Iranian backed terror base abutting Jerusalem and perched on the hills a few kilometers from Tel Aviv.

Is this so unreasonable?

The Arab reaction was predictable. Robert Spencer summarized it thus:

In Saudi Arabia, the state newspaper Al-Nadwa lamented that “every paragraph of Netanyahu’s speech makes us more pessimistic.” In Jordan, the pro-government newspaper Al-Rai huffed: “Netanyahu offered rotten merchandise. Nobody will buy it.” Mohammed Sobeih, the Arab League’s undersecretary general for Palestinian affairs, said that while “extremists in Israel” might like the speech, it was “too far from what peace needs.” The President of Lebanon, Michel Suleiman, said that the speech was “intransigent when it comes to dealing with peace or regarding the solution for Palestinian refugees.”

And that was just the beginning. Others charged that Netanyahu had brought the region closer to armed conflict. Hosni Mubarak, President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, said that Netanyahu’s call to “recognize Israel as a Jewish state complicates things further and scuttles the possibilities for peace.” Apparently an Arab state is just fine, but a Jewish state, no. Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, meanwhile, asserted that Netanyahu delivered “a war speech that practically torpedoed and crippled all possibilities for a compromise,” and that “makes the region susceptible to great dangers that might explode in different directions.”

Palestinian Saeb Erekat complained that Netanyahu’s speech “left nothing for negotiations….Netanyahu wants to put us in a situation where he looks like he offered something, and we said no.” And he attempted to cast the onus back upon Netanyahu: “Netanyahu’s speech was very clear. He rejects the two-state solution.” He warned about Netanyahu’s crafty rhetoric: “I hope that the world will not be fooled by this gentleman using the term ‘come and negotiate’ and ‘a Palestinian state.’ He actually tonight destroyed the two-state solution and destroyed the permanent settlement negotiations.”

“Netanyahu,” said Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, “is defying the world. The international community should reply by pressure to isolate Netanyahu and his policies and force Israel to submit to the peace process.”

They are absolutely hysterical with anger because they thought that President Obama was their guy, and he would force the Israelis to finally give up. They thought that the delegitimization campaign they orchestrated by activating the antisemitic Europeans with their boycott/divestment strategy, as well as the laughable “United Nations Human Rights Council” with its cut-and-paste report on the Gaza war, had weakened Israel to the point of cooperating in its own dismemberment.

But look: Netanyahu spoke like the leader of a nation, a proud and fully legitimate nation that can and will defend itself. He didn’t surrender! How dare he?

The Arabs, in their supreme self-righteousness, switch rapidly back and forth from squealing about their victimization and demanding intervention, to threatening mayhem.

Now let them face an Israel with a leader who is confident of the justice of his position, an Israel which is prepared to wait as long as necessary — and to make the Palestinians wait as long as necessary — for a settlement which will finally establish what should have been established in 1948: that the Jewish people, like Germans, Russians, even Palestinians, have a right to self-determination in their land.

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Licensed to hate

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

I know I should stop wasting time writing about Jewish Israel-hatred — there’s nothing that can be done to fix these people’s craziness — but I came across something that makes clear how well the other side understands the value of Jewish allies.

You may remember that in July the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival put on a program in which the film Rachel — about pro-Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie, who was killed when she fell in front of an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza in 2003 — was presented. Rachel’s mother, Cindy Corrie, also spoke. After an outcry –  it was, after all, a Jewish film festival, funded in part by contributions to the Jewish Federation of San Francisco, the festival allowed one pro-Israel speaker, Dr. Michael Harris, to speak for a few minutes.

The audience, packed with activists from Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and other groups, heckled and shouted at Dr. Harris. You can read what I wrote about it and see a video here.

Incidentally, Corrie’s parents came to Fresno in September 2005:

The Corrie events and exhibits in the Valley were held in multiple locations: Fresno City College, CSUF, KFCF radio and KNXT television (the station of the Catholic diocese!), the Mennonite Brethren Church, Arte Americas (I’m not sure what the relevance was supposed to be), the Center for Non-Violence (Peace Fresno), the Reedley Peace Center, and of course several events at the Islamic Cultural Center, which appears to have been the primary sponsor of these events.

Anyway, after the San Francisco event, Paul Larudee, a member of ISM (the group that brought Rachel to Gaza), a co-founder of the Free Gaza Movement — we’ve had them here in Fresno too — and of course a member of JVP, wrote about the event. After describing the thuggish behavior of the audience approvingly, Larudee wrote,

It was astonishing.  Although the audience was by no means all Jewish, a large number clearly were, and the sense of many of the attendees was that their relative immunity from the charge of anti-Semitism gave them license to be more vocal.

There you have it. They are insulated from criticism because they themselves are Jewish. They have license to be hateful, because after all, one can’t hate one’s own people.

Can one?

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