Monday, January 12, 2009

Gaza: Where Is The Exit? (Updated)

Two experienced voices have come out about Israel's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza and its tactical soundness.

Allahpundit at HotAir
quotes Anthony H. Cordesman, member of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). In The War in Gaza: Tactical Gains, Strategic Defeat?, Cordesman writes
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.

...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?
Considering the fact that Cordesman agrees on the one hand that there seems to have been no diplojmatic alternative, while on the other hand discounting any advantage Israel might gain from the current situation--there is no bright spot in what Cordesman has to say.

In describing Cordesman, Allahpundit finds Cordesman to be more than just a typical left-wing naysayer, for a number of reasons:
One, he’s no knee-jerk dove; in fact, he used to advise McCain on national security. Two, according to a friend of mine who embedded with troops in Iraq, his assessments of the situation there were consistently on the money. Three, after endearing himself to the nutroots in 2007 by insisting he saw no major improvements from the surge, he went back to Iraq last year and pronounced himself impressed with “major progress in every area,” going so far as to recommend freezing troop withdrawals beyond a certain point to preserve the gains. He’s also sneered at the leftist strategy of trying to intimidate the Iraqi and Afghan governments into political reconciliation by threatening troop pullouts, even while reminding the right that victory in both countries is still many years away. Long story short, he’s a straight shooter. Which makes this bad news
I can counter Cordesman's assessment with the conference call that Brigadier General Effie Eitam gave on January 7, sponsored by One Jerusalem. On that occasion, Eitam gave an idea of Israel's long term goals, as I wrote in my notes on the meeting:
The 3 Main Goals That Lie Ahead
o Israel must make sure that the Philadelphia Corridor or southern part of Gaza will not be used for channel to smuggle in arms. If one cannot turn off the fuel, one cannot turn out the flames. There will be no missiles and no weapons through there. Should be a diplomatic effort--Israel, Egypt and some international forces should see to this. Egypt control can be relatively easily achieved.

o There is a need to separate the general Gazan population from the Hamas terror organization and move as many civilians as possible to southern Gaza from Gaza City and open an area in the dunes of what was Gush Katif. An area for humanitarian aid will be created, because now the problem is that the aid is not coming into the hands of the civilian population but to Hamas. We are talking about approximately 300,000-400,000 people who will get the best care for their temporary stay until Gaza City is cleared out from terrorists.

o Gaza city will be a hunting zone where Israel knows only Hamas and their supporters remain. After about a week it will be possible to bring Hamas to a ponit where they will not be able/willing to shoot ‘for quite a long time’.
The question of course is to what degree Brigadier General Eitam is talking on behalf of the Israeli government and to what degree he is expressing his own thoughts.

In any case, Cordesman does not stand along. Daniel Pipes' article in The Jerusalem Post, Israel's strategic incompetence in Gaza, makes pretty clear where he stands. The difference is that Pipes is addressing more the issue of events leading up to the operation. He addresses 4 points where he finds the Israeli government's judgement lacking.
1. Olmert, who is part of the operation to solve the situation in Gaza, is also part of the problem itself--having supported the Disengagement.

2. After 3 years and over 6,000 rockets, Olmert has decided to launch an attack now--long after a responsible government would have reacted.

3. According to Pipes:
The waning days of the Bush administration, with the current president nearly out the door and the president-elect still in the wings, offers a unique moment to take care of business. Why did Olmert squander this opportunity to confront the relatively trivial danger Hamas presents rather than the existential threat of Iran's nuclear program?
To be fair, it now appears that President Bush refused to provide Israel with the aid it would need to deal with Iran.

4. Israel's goal appears to be to replace Hamas with Fatah, an idea--even if acceptable to Gazans--is a faulty one, seeing as Fatah is no peace partner.
Unlike Cordesman, Pipes does not take issue with Operation Cast Lead per se. So, in addressing the first 2 points Pipes makes, I can only say that a good idea executed for the wrong reasons is still a good idea. Point 4 is a problem, especially since the Quartet has indicated that it considers any points agreed to by Olmert to be irreversible. The fact remains that just as no country would allow itself to be bombed continuously without taking action, so too--no country would allow terms for peace to be shoved down its throat against its will. Israel is not an aggressor who has found itself bound to sign a peace agreement and is under no obligation to anyone to sign terms that put its security in jeopardy, with a group that--like Hamas--still has a charter that calls for the destruction of Israel.

It is understandable that Olmert has restrained himself from making bold promises he can not be sure he can deliver--a mistake in 2006 that he does not want to repeat. But by not openly indicating the actual goals, Olmert has open the door to critics who think he is making the larger mistake from 2006: having no real goal and therefore no way out.

Brigadier General Eitam has suggested a goal. Olmert should tell us his.

UPDATE: David Bernstein at The Volokh Conspiracy responds to a comment by J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami that
The fallacy here [regarding the war in Gaza] is the argument that a military victory against an insurgent group actually is achievable."
Bernstein responds:
Of course, there are a lot of much more recent (and often much less bloody) examples of military victories against "insurgent groups" than the Roman victory over Bar Kochba, including, tellingly, Operation Defensive Shield's crushing of the Second Intifada on the West Bank in 2002-03.
He later adds:
BTW, and relatedly, one thing I've noticed about bloggers, including liberal Jewish bloggers, who are confident that Israel's military action in Gaza is a strategic blunder, is that they rarely if ever nevertheless express the hope Israel will win, and win convincingly. One might think that when the battle is between Israel on the one side, tacitly supported by the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, and Jordan, and Hamas on the other, supported by Iran and Hezbollah, one would at least hope for an Israeli victory, even if one is dubious about its prospects. But I get the feeling that for many, it's more important that Israel, and the world, learn a lesson about the "limits of military force" than that a violent, fanatical, backwards, illiberal, anti-Semitic terrorist organization be humbled defeated.
For some people, the only thing more important than sticking to one's principles is using those principles to stick it to others.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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1 comment:

Soccer Dad said...

It may be as Allah writes that Cordesman is not a knee jerk lefty. I do believe that he is pretty consistently anti-Israel.

I believe that Barry Rubin has a reasonable counter to Cordesman.