Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Cast Lead: Achievements So Far

Map showing the Philadelphi Corridor

Although the IDF build-up on the border to Gaza is continuing, there are signs that Israel is hesitant about entering the "third stage" of Operation Cast Lead. The political and military echelons are still assessing whether a significant expansion of operations is worth it. As always in the Middle East, some dramatic event may drastically alter their assessments with immediate consequences. But for now, let us take stock of what has been accomplished and what remains to be done.

1) There is no doubt that at this point in time, Israel has weakened Hamas's political and military organizations. 

2)  the IDF has clearly re-established its deterrence force against the Palestinians and against other actors in the region. 

3) the army and government have made progress in finding ways to reduce Palestinian arms smuggling. 

4) the operation revealed the extent of Hamas's missile capabilities, averting a possible surprise in the future.

5) Cast Lead has managed to dent rocket firing in the short term, and has increased the pressure on Hamas to do so over the long term. 

The means by which Israel has achieved its objectives have not been pretty. From the beginning, the army treated this as a war rather than a policing operation. The IDF assumed correctly that Hamas would use civilian sites for defensive and offensive purposes. Mosques, hospitals, and residences have all served Hamas as storage depots, launching sites, and booby-trapped defensive installations so far in this war.  Thus, the army was aggressive from the outset. Air strikes flattened suspected traps, and ground troops called in planes, helicopters, and artillery whenever they encountered resistance that might embroil them in a deadly ambush or remote-controlled bombing. So far, this strategy has proven very effective at reducing IDF casualties. It has also led to the deaths of many Hamas fighters. Hamas miscalculated in thinking that the IDF would shy away from such tactics and that it would therefore be able to inflict many casualties on the invading forces. The greatest victims of this miscalculation have of course been the civilians of Gaza. I do not share the view that the civilian casualties will strengthen Hamas over the long term. Such an argument could have been made if Hamas had distinguished itself in the fighting; so far it has not done so, and it has proven incapable of protecting its population. 

The question now is whether, given these achievements, Israel is already in a position to force Hamas to agree to a truce that will represent a satisfactory improvement of the status quo ante, or whether such an outcome will require more fighting. Any cease fire must set the conditions for a permanent attenuation of Hamas. The good news is that Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, and the U.S. are all interested in the reduction of Hamas's standing in the region. Egypt has certainly increased its standing vis-a-vis Hamas as a result of the IDF operation, and it will be eager to solidify these gains. It may very well do so by re-inserting forces loyal to the PA into Gaza through a stage-managed "reconciliation." The more difficult problem is finding a way to combat Hamas's ability to smuggle weapons into Gaza. Although a number of options have been suggested, none of them can actually be relied upon by Israel. The various Arab or European offers of help in border monitoring or even tunnel detection will not do the trick. The bulk of the work has to be accomplished during this operation. 

With these factors in mind, it is in Israel's interest to prolong the operation, while keeping it at the current intensity. Reserves do not have to be poured into heavy urban combat in Gaza City or the refugee camps. They can continue to chip away at Hamas at the current fashion, in the north of the strip, while in the south, Israel gathers intelligence on and destroys the tunnel networks. The operations in southern Gaza could conceivable continue even after the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. Israel and the U.S. share an interest in putting in place mechanisms for a management of the Philadelphi Corridor that will diminish the flow of arms and terrorists from the Sinai Peninsula into Gaza and possibly vice versa.


15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I question whether, as you say in point 3, the army and government of Israel have made progress in finding ways to reduce Palestinian arms smuggling. Right now they are destroying tunnels, but to the best of my knowledge, they have not found any even semi-permanent solution to this problem. As soon as the IDF pulls out of Gaza, Hamas will create more tunnels. Destroying tunnels only to have them reappear in the coming months doesn't seem like progress to me. I feel sorry for the soldiers who are risking their lives to put a band-aid on a wound that needs strong antibiotics.

Also questionable whether the IDF has re-established its deterrence with regard to other terrorist groups. Hezbollah knows that Hamas fighters are nothing compared to its own fighters, and I don't think anyone is surprised that Israel is doing serious damage to Hamas. While Hezbollah may be eager to stay out of the fighting for political reasons, including upcoming elections, it's not really obvious to me that Israel's deterrence vis-a-vis Hezbollah is significantly improved since the 2006 war.

Nobody said...

Anon

What you are saying can make sense for a Westerner, but Arabs don't think this way. What's important in this sense is that the general impression in the Arab world is that Israel is unpredictable. Their logic is more like that we've been sitting here nicely trading rockets for years and then suddenly out of the blue the Jews went crazy and destroyed Gaza. Combined with the last war in Lebanon, that also came to many Arabs as a big surprise, the conclusion in the West Bank and Lebanon is that one should better avoid messing with Israel since you can never know what's going to happen next. This the reason why Lebanon and the West Bank are so quiet as of late.

Anonymous said...

I hope you are right...only time will tell if quiet in the West Bank and Lebanon will last. I think it's only a matter of time before Hezbollah starts firing rockets or kidnapping soldiers again, or something even worse perhaps, a conflict with Iran.

And while Hamas is being weakened militarily right now, their popularity among the Palestinian population (at least certain parts of it) is growing. They don't blame Hamas for the destruction around them - they blame Israel. I would not be surprised if at some point Hamas can increase its power in the West Bank.

Amos said...

I really don't know if that's true, Anonymous. I think that Hamas's stock will fall among the Palestinians, especially if the IDF emerges with a symbolic victory in hand. It is one thing to suffer but to have your army inflict significant blows against the enemy; it's quite another matter to witness mayhem and destruction around you while your commanders are hiding in bunkers and senior militants are getting killed manning mortars because their troops have deserted.

I agree with Nobody's comments. As I implied in my post, Hamas thought Israel would be sufficiently restrained by international criticism and by domestic concerns to act ineffectively against the group. Instead, the army and Israeli society have remained steadfast and supportive of the operation.

Anonymous said...

There are some very recent articles indicating that Hamas support is increasing, not decreasing among Palestinians as a result of the Israeli attack:

- "Israeli Assault on Gaza Galvanizes Hamas Support in West Bank"
http://voanews.com/english/2009-01-11-voa24.cfm

- "West Bank despair over Gaza assault" (see last para Supporting Resistance)
http://english.aljazeera.net/focus/war_on_gaza/2009/01/200916123826263533.html

At best, it's a mixed bag, with some Palestinians supporting Hamas and others blaming them for what's happening in Gaza. I think most will wind up supporting them even if Israel claims victory. Israelis have claimed victory over Palestinians for years and years in various situations - it doesn't take support from terrorist groups fighting Israel. The fact that the Hamas leaders are in bunkers is irrelevant. They are fighting Israel - something Fatah is not doing, and Fatah isn't doing much to help the people of Gaza for that matter either.

Nobody said...

Anon

I heard conflicting accounts about the attitudes towards Hamas in Gaza and West Bank and I would not say that all indications are that the support for Hamas is increasing. In fact, many people claim just the opposite. Also, from my experience in these matters a fallout starts happening in something like 2 or 3 months after the conflict and peaks a few months later. During wars most people tend to become patriots and loyalists. It takes them from a couple of weeks to a couple of months to switch back from the patriotic mode into a more rational and pragmatic one. So we have to wait, it's impossible to know it now

Anonymous said...

firstly you are all wrong that these attacks will weaken hamas with the palestinian people.rather the opposite with happen. the israelis for 60 years have been bombing the palestinians which have got them nowhere. the peace process which fatah is pursuing, is a joke and thats why the people of palestine turned to hamas in the first place.israels objectives will not succeed and the rockets will continue. the longer this conflict rages is in hamas interest with world opinion on the palestinian side.the UN,NGOs and the international media have all condemned israel by its actions which has generated huge support for the palestinian cause.it is clearly shown that the IDF is targeting population and the illegal use of phosphorous have discredited the israeli leadership ie. they are liars which will say anything. and israels claim that hamas is using the population as a human shield is also a lie. history has shown otherwise from lebenon 1984,1996 and 2006 where israel targeted the UN, ambulance and the civillian population.if hamas's demand that the 'gaza siege end' is met, that will been seen as a victory even if it stops firering its rockets.
when all this killing ends it will be the israels leaders in trouble as to why its objectives failed, and they will blame each other.

when hamas captures an israeli soilder its not 'kidnapping' but rather 'capturing a prison of war'; the thousands of arabs held in israeli jails only to be released months/years later with no charge is kidnapping.

hamas has succeeded in shining the spot light back to israel/palestinian conflict from iraq. this will cause more trouble for the israelis with world opinion understanding the palestinian cause.

Anonymous said...

, let's remember Hamas's cynicism, the cynicism of all armed Islamist groups. Their need for Muslim martyrs is as crucial to them as Israel's need to create them. The lesson Israel thinks it is teaching – come to heel or we will crush you – is not the lesson Hamas is learning. Hamas needs violence to emphasise the oppression of the Palestinians – and relies on Israel to provide it. A few rockets into Israel and Israel obliges
sass

Anonymous said...

Barak schemed for a vicious war in Gaza, proclaiming it was to protect Mizrahi communities against the Palestinians. Suddenly, the forlorn Mizrahim, for whom the government has repeatedly refused to build adequate shelters, are gaining status as full-fledged Israelis in the Western media that habitually focus on English-speaking Ashkenazim. It is the wailing of Mizrahim hit by rockets, rather than the massacre of Gazans, that is regarded as good copy. The resultant coverage is used to justify Israel's claims of self-defense. The Ashkenazi regime often sacrifices its second-class citizens to justify its wars.

How benevolent it is of the Israeli European elite to hug the Jews of darker hue whom they imported to Palestine as a demographic shield against the Arab enemy. Now, when border zone Mizrahi lives are fraught with trauma, due to the Hamas-led national struggle, how could these poverty-stricken subordinates not cooperate? Finally, they are getting their 15 minutes of fame on global TV, moreover as the "true Israelis."

Like all of Israel's wars, this one will be followed by a post-war boom -- an additional benefit for the Ashkenazi-controlled economy. So, as well as trying to shift the Mizrahi vote from the Right to the Center, another goal of this war is to delay the impact of the global economic crisis on the Israeli economy, whose crux is the military-industrial complex.

If Hamas missiles had fallen on Israel's central zone, where the Ashkenazi elite lives, the regime would immediately have nuked Iran or, alternately, sat down to negotiate with the Hamas leadership.

The Israeli "peace camp" has always prevented any possibility of dialogue, let alone coalition, between the Mizrahim and the Palestinians or other Arabs in our region. It has done so by criminalizing the Mizrahi leaders of such initiatives. Hizballah missed a window of opportunity for constructive dialogue that opened for a brief period after the 2006 Lebanon War. While the regime had endowed Ashkenazi left-wing kibbutzniks living in northern Israel with well-equipped air-conditioned underground shelters, it had failed to make corresponding provision for the neighboring Mizrahi agricultural cooperatives and development towns. After the war, the Mizrahim in the north publicly acknowledged, and with great bitterness, that they had been sacrificed for Israel's military adventure. Hizballah could have addressed them over the heads of the Israeli regime. The present Gaza carnage is portrayed to the Israeli public as a corrective measure for the defeat by Hizballah in Summer 2006. As a result, Ehud Barak's popularity has risen from 12 to 70 percent and any possibility for Mizrahi-Arab dialogue has been slammed shut.
sass

Amos said...

What a bunch of nonsense. You obviously know nothing about Israeli society beyond your neat ideological model. I don't even know where to start to correct your bizarre ethnic studies interpretation of the conflict.

First of all, Israel is not so neatly divided into "Mizrahim" and "Ashkenazim" as you believe. There are many people who have something of both identities, and there are others who fall outside of this simplistic dichotomy. Plus, even if we were to accept such a neat division of Israeli society, it completely obscures the vast differences inside each category, which you present as homogeneous blocks.

Where do the Ethiopians fit? Are the "Russians" simply "Ashkenazim" like the descendants of post-WWII or even pre-WWII immigrants to Israel from eastern Europe?

"After the war, the Mizrahim in the north publicly acknowledged, and with great bitterness, that they had been sacrificed for Israel's military adventure."

Source? Quotation with context? Which Mizrahim? Who are you talking about exactly?

The peace camp is hindering Mizrahi-Arab dialogue? Since when?

Do you think there is only one Mizrahi voice?

Debunker said...

Sass, your facts are fundamentally wrong. None of the Israeli towns, moshavs and kibbutzes surrounding the Gaza Strip have adequate fortified roofs and the other means that they would ideally like to have in their communities to minimize the danger possed by Qassam rockets. The reasons are budgetary and practical - it would be very expensive and very difficult to provide the necessary infrastructure upgrades to every public building in all of these communities. You may be surprised to hear that a number of kibbutzes and moshavs in the Gaza area that have absorbed as many missiles as Sderot are in fact inhabited by "left-leaning Ashkenazi Israelies", to borrow your stereotype.

There are too many fundamentally wrong assumptions in your comment that I won't even go into. This reminds me of Angry Asshole's repeated claims that the IDF uses Ethiopian and Mizrahi soldiers as cannon fodder - look at the last names of those killed and you will see that the victims represent a cross-section of Israeli society.
I don't know what underlies all these misguided assumptions about the make-up of the IDF or about Israeli politics - is it the lack of scholarship on these issues or your own ideological blindfolds?

Anonymous said...

racism in israel isn't just reserved for the arabs.
sass

Anonymous said...

It is mostly Mizrahim who have been hit by the Hamas missiles. From 1948 on, the self-proclaimed socialist Ashkenazi-Zionist regime purposefully settled them as cannon fodder in the border zones of the state they had carved out of Palestine. The regime planted the Mizrahim in villages from which it had expelled the Palestinians, in order to prevent their inalienable right of return home. Mizrahi communities resented the condescending paternalism of the Ashkenazi hegemon and its pretensions to socialism. No wonder they gave their support to the underdog -- the right-wing bloc. In private, the leaders of the right-wing, who are also Ashkenazim, refer to the Mizrahim as "monkeys" and "Indians." But, recognizing the need to retain Mizrahi loyalty, the Ashkenazi right-wing leaders have invested state funds in a revival of Mizrahi culture. This revival followed several decades during which the left-wing eradicated Mizrahi culture because they conceived of anything Arab as primitive. Cleverly, the right-wing has also provided safe-seats, both in local government and at national level, for a cadre of young Mizrahi politicians whose loyalty was not in doubt.

The left-wing pretends to accept the concept of a land-for-peace settlement but, in practice, perpetually stalls it by launching regional atrocities. The right-wing is more honest. It openly rejects the notion of relinquishing any land.

Paradoxically, just as the Mizrahi majority is engaged in an Arab cultural renaissance, this revival is stripped of anything that involves the politics of the Arab World. So Mizrahim shriek "death to the Arabs" in spontaneous demonstrations, at the same time as they sing Jewish liturgy in their synagogues to the melodies of Egyptian singer Om Kalthoun.
sass

Debunker said...

Liturgy to the tunes of Umm Kulthum?? I don't want to discount entirely the possibility that some hip synagogue somewhere in the world decided to sing their prayers to the tunes of "Inte 'Omri", but, based on my own experience, it's highly highly unlikely to take place anywhere except in the wild fanatasies of some post-modern post-colonialist Edward Sa'idian comp lit grad student doing another redundant thesis on Arab Jews and hybrid identities.

Anonymous said...

the only fantasy here is the beautiful israeli democratic society.how touchy you guys get when exposed. we do see you and what israel is really about.