Blockades and Moral Superiority

Well, this should notch a chink in the “Israeli is always the victim” defense.

However, an incident occured last week at a crossing into the Gaza Strip that gave a very different impression to a senior observer. When Senator John Kerry visited the Strip, he learned that many trucks loaded with pasta were not permitted in. When the chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee inquired as to the reason for the delay, he was told by United Nations aid officials that “Israel does not define pasta as part of humanitarian aid – only rice shipments.”

Kerry asked Barak about the logic behind this restriction, and only after the senior U.S. official’s intervention did the defense minister allow the pasta into the Strip. The U.S. senator updated colleagues at the Senate and other senior officials in Washington of the details of his visit.

The issue of humanitarian aid is central to a major debate between Israel’s foreign and defense ministries. The former supports broadening the amount and types of aid, while the defense ministry opposes anything it considers “concessions” to Hamas.

This is insanity. It’s really hard to overstate the degree to which Israeli policy directly fuels animosity among the Palestinian population. Of course, the relationship is reciprocal, but it seems to me that it’s hard to don the mantle of moral superiority while choking an entire civilian population of access to humanitarian aid. As Matt Yglesias notes, it says something about the current state of affairs that the international community hasn’t strongly denounced the tactic. Moreover, it illustrates an almost absurd tone-deafness to decry terrorism for targeting civilians and simultaneously employ tactics that to a very large degree target the exact same demographic. It certainly doesn’t bode well for prospects of peace.

As a Jew, it’s downright embarassing.

Saw That Coming

As yours truly — and I was not alone — predicted, Israeli action in Gaza has ultimately served to bolster support for Hamas.

Hamas would get 28.6 percent of the vote compared with 27.9 percent for the rival Fatah faction of Western-backed president Mahmud Abbas if elections were held today, according to the survey by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre.

It marks the first time that an opinion poll has placed Hamas in front of Fatah, which it ousted from the Gaza Strip in deadly fighting in June 2007.[…]

Now, presumably, it will be argued that Palestine is unfit for statehood because their leaders are terrorists. There goes the democracy argument. (Among other things, this issue shows just why ideas like a “League of Democracies,” is so daft.)

Strategy Vacuum

Apropos of my post yesterday prior post arguing the “hold me back” approach suggests Israel has no actual strategy in Gaza, I learn of this from Foreign Policy’s Marc Lynch (via Kevin Drum).

Asked three times by audience members, [Israeli Ambassador to the United States Sallai] Meridor simply could not offer any plausible explanation as to how its military campaign in Gaza would achieve its stated goals….As to a political strategy tied to the military campaign, nothing. No guidance as to whether Israel would re-occupy Gaza, or on what terms it would accept a cease-fire. No thoughts as to whether the campaign would cause Hamas to fall from power or help the Palestinian Authority regain political power.

….In short, Meridor quite literally offered no strategy beyond hitting Gaza hard and hoping for the best. “In terms of creating damage we are certainly on the right path,” noted the Ambassador. Few would disagree with that assessment, at least. But some might hope that the bloody, battered path might actually be leading somewhere.

Some observers have been willing to give Israel the benefit of the doubt, owing to the decidedly differing circumstances between Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006 and Hamas in Gaza in 2008, but it still seems to me that absent complete eradication of Hamas followed by good-faith steps towards peace on Israels behalf, the lingering resentment and embarrassment of occupation will only lead to more problems down the road. Whether this will be a vacuum filled by groups more extreme than Hamas, or whether we’ll see a reversion back to the more moderate Fatah, who knows. Either way, this particular mission was spectacularly ill-conceived.

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Somebody Hold Me Back!

I respect Joe Klein’s take on foreign affairs, and it seems like he’s beginning to see some of the negatives of invasion more clearly, but I have to say this some pretty poor reasoning.

As Swampland readers know, I supported the Israeli effort to diminish Hamas’s military capabilities–but the most valuable targets were probably hit in the first few days of the aerial campaign and, as time goes on, the possibility of a Hamas “moral” victory becomes more likely. The only way out now is a temporary cease-fire. Even a unilateral one would have the effect of demonstrating Hamas’s instransigence–and those who condemn Israel for its disproportionality in Gaza tend to be disproportionate themselves, ignoring the thousands of rockets Hamas has lobbed into Israel over the past  3 years.

Indeed, there has been speculation that Israel, like a drunken aggressor, is waiting to be restrained as to avoid of the potential blowback while managing to save face, and this underscores precisely why this was such a terrible idea in the first place. That is, if meaningful movement towards peace is the goal, it hardly seems productive to follow the “waiting to be held back” approach. What reason would Palestinian leadership have to trust Israel if the only reason they stopped bombing UN schools was because the international order told them to stop? Rather, this exposes the sort of short sighted and strategically lacking irrationality that led to the airstrikes.


Israel has moved ground troops into Gaza. On CNN at the gym, an Israeli Major seemed to be suggesting that the offensive could go on for a protracted length. This is really, really bad.

Officials have stated repeatedly that the aim is not to fully reoccupy Gaza. But it was clear that the military was leaving the door open for a long-term operation; a spokesman said Saturday that the ground push “will continue on the basis of ongoing situational assessments.” And it remained an open question whether Israel would try to eliminate the Hamas government.

Considering the degree to which the Muslim world has ralied around the cause of the Palestinians already, it hardly seems prudent to occupy parts of Gaza when the main gripe against Israel has been that they are indeed occupiers. Perhaps more troubling is the belief that Hamas can somehow be eradicated. Hamas is the militant organization at the moment, but it draws strength from perceived Israeli oppression. I’m not quite sure how a ground invasion with the possibility of long-term engagement is going to lessen the desire amongst Palestinians to be rid of illegal settlements and a near de facto blockade that has crippled any Gazan economy. The most likely scenario of a protracted occupation will be a protracted insurgency that Israeli’s — much like Americans vis-a-vis Iraq — will tire of and ultimately force a withdrawal that will allow Hamas to claim victory. Further, the greater need for outside assistance will open more space for Iran to exert influence throughout the Middle East. Needless to say, this isn’t a desirable outcome.

Bad Ideas and Bad Consequences

What with being on staycation and all, I haven’t yet commented on the Israeli bombing of Gaza, which suffice it to say, I think is a horrible idea. In sum, Israel will not be able to destroy Hamas in the course of their bombing, and what’s more, the extensive collateral damage will result in a public relations boon for Hamas. This will make peace — the only viable long term solution for the Middle East — a more intractable prospect. In fact, some Jordanians are already calling for an abrogation of Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel. Finally, our close association with Israel transfers animosity toward the United States, making our immediate foreign policy goals harder to meet.

KABUL (AFP) — Thousands of Afghans demonstrated Friday against Israel’s deadly strikes on the Gaza Strip, chanting slogans against the Jewish state and its US ally, and calling for the defence of Islam.[…]

[…]The protesters also chanted slogans against the United States — a key ally of Israel — and said the more than 30,000 US troops in Afghanistan to help the government fight a Taliban-led insurgency should leave.

Of course, that’s not all. The Iraqi Air Force has been giving humanitarian aid to the Palestinians and as Juan Cole warns, “And when Iraq gets its act together and gets rich from oil and gas, isn’t it obvious that the aid will increase significantly?” Indeed, the only long term outcome of this offensive will be greater impetus for pan-Islam unity when both the United States and Israel need to recognize the different strategic interests of the major players in the region and act accordingly.

Us and Them

There’s not much of a news cycle on the weekends, but regardless, you’ve probably heard about Israel bombing in Gaza in response to an uptick in the Hamas rocket strikes. Needless to say, this is not the most productive tactic for promoting peace, and indeed, will likely further solidify anti-Israeli/American resentment.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, meanwhile, called on all Muslims to “defend the defenseless women, children and people in Gaza in any way possible. Whoever is killed in this legitimate defense is considered a martyr.”

For those unaware, Hamas is a staunchly Sunni group, and though Iran tends to be more practical than anything, they are at least on the surface a Shia nation. Cooperation has been growing between Iran and Hamas over the past several years, but it’s very important to note the impetus for such relations stems directly from Iran’s ability to exploit Palestinian resentment to trump secterian conflict.

People tend to obsess about Iran’s nuclear capabilities, but it’s almost a red herring. The more immediate concern is that Iran essentially controls Lebanon, has heavy influence with Iraqi leadership, and has increasing influence with Palestinians. What’s more, Iran has the capability to shut off the Straight of Hormuz, and a bit less likely, but no less feasible, invade Saudi Arabia. Of course, this need not be viewed purely through Iran; Turkey was not particularly pleased either.

In the meantime, threatening invasion and bombing positions in Gaza accomplishes little bit give greater cause for Muslim solidarity in opposition to Western forces. The United States and other Western nations will need to lean hard if any meaningful progress is to be made. Peace in the Middle East will not be found so long as it appears that the West supports a war on Islam.