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October 22, 2016 / 20 Tishri, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘strategy’

Obama’s Flawed Advice To Israel (First of Two Parts)

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

It’s farewell to the drawing-room’s civilized cry, the professor’s sensible whereto and why, The frock-coated diplomat’s social aplomb, Now matters are settled with gas and with bomb.

W.H. Auden, Danse Macabre One must presume that President Obama’s most recent calls for Israeli cooperation in the Middle East peace process are balanced, fair, and well-intentioned. Why not? At the same time, unsurprisingly, these all-too-familiar calls are manifestly thin, in the sense that they lack any genuine intellectual content.

At best reminiscent of former president Bill Clinton’s inept and unforgivable orchestrations of Oslo, they are merely the latest unimaginative representation of “old wine in new bottles.” At worst, and once again evocative of Clinton’s long reach of incapacity, they exhibit a conspicuously shallow compilation of empty witticisms. For Obama, as for Clinton before him, advising Israel always entails inevitable diplomatic default: a visceral capitulation to comforting banalities, and convenient half-truths.

In any event, one analytic conclusion is abundantly clear and incontestable. Mr. Obama’s core argument is founded upon thoroughly incorrect strategic and jurisprudential assumptions. Intellectually, this argument is an unwitting self-parody.

The key problem is not, as the president still seems to think, Israel’s unwillingness to compromise more fully. It’s not that Israel is unwilling to make more “painful sacrifices for peace.” It is, rather, the plainly asymmetrical commitment to peace that continues to exist between the Palestinian side(s) and the Israeli side.

It makes no real sense to ask that Israel undertake increasing and incremental surrenders to a bifurcated enemy (Fatah and Hamas) that can still gleefully share at least one overriding commitment – that is, a relentless and generally unhidden dedication to Israel’s “liquidation.”

Let Obama finally take note. From the beginning, the only Israeli compromise that could have satisfied both Fatah and Hamas would have been a perversely codified Israeli commitment to self-destruction and national disappearance. Should Israel now be expected to be complicit in its own genocide?

International law is not a suicide pact. Why hasn’t Obama even looked at the unambiguous historical record? Even before formal conferral statehood in 1948, Israel had sought, courageously and reasonably, to negotiate with its many unheroic and unreasonable enemies. Always, in these efforts, Jerusalem had preferred peace to war.

Nonetheless, challenged by insistent and interminable Arab aggressions, diplomacy has insistently failed Israel. Even the most visible example of any alleged diplomatic “success,” the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty of 1979, is apt to fail calamitously sometime in the post-Mubarak/Muslim Brotherhood era. It’s only a matter of time.

Whatever the neatly fashioned expectations demanded from Washington, Prime Minister Netanyahu is first obligated to inquire: What real chance exists that, somehow, this time and also for the future, diplomacy might actually be purposeful?

From Oslo to the present “Road Map,” diplomacy over Israel’s rights and obligations has always been a blatantly one-sided process.

Ironically, Israel’s principal enemies remain thoroughly candid. On some things they do not lie. When it comes to their unceasing intention to annihilate the “Zionist entity” they are seemingly sworn to truth.

The principal disputing Palestinian factions (Fatah or Hamas, it makes little difference) will never accept anything less than Israel’s complete removal. This is already obvious to anyone who cares to pay attention to what is actually said. Moreover, in a clearly corroborating bit of explicit cartography, every PA and Hamas map already incorporates all of Israel within “Palestine.”

Toward the end of his tenure, former prime minister Ehud Olmert released several hundred Palestinian terrorists as a “goodwill gesture.” Together with then-president George W. Bush, he had decided to aid Fatah against Hamas with outright transfers of weapons and information. Soon after, the American and Israeli guns were turned (predictably) against Israel.

As for Olmert’s graciously extended “goodwill,” it only served to elicit the next multiple rounds of murderous rocket fire. Matters were not helped at all by the Bush administration’s corollary support for a Palestinian state, a thoroughly misconceived support now being more or less viscerally extended by Barack Obama.

…Continued Next Week

Louis Rene Beres

Understanding Israel’s National-Security Policy

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Most of my Jewish Press columns deal with Israel’s most urgent national security problems, especially those that have, or have had, a real or prospective nuclear component. What I have never dealt with on these pages, however, are the important and corollary issues of how Israel actually makes its national security policy.

Now, auspiciously, Charles D. Freilich, a senior fellow at the Belfer Center at Harvard and a professor at Tel Aviv University, has written Zion’s Dilemmas: How Israel Makes National Security Policy (Cornell University Press), an authoritative and authentically magisterial answer to this vital question. There is much here for the reader to learn.

Let me start with the author’s conclusion, because, paradoxically, it represents an ideal place for me to begin. “The Lord is my shepherd,” quotes Freilich from the Book of Psalms, “and fortunate this is, for the decision-making process in Israel is deeply flawed.” Following 256 pages of meticulous and systematic investigation – an investigation that proceeds with all of the best architecture of modern social science, including appropriately careful delineations of “‘independent” and “dependent” variables – Freilich is intent to call all things by their correct names.

This is no narrowly partisan exegesis. This is no attempt to present a uniformly positive or contrived picture of Israel’s national security establishment. To the contrary, the author offers an entirely honest and open consideration that is often conspicuously less than visceral praise. To be sure, there is also a good deal of praise in Freilich’s book for the Israeli DMP, or decision-making process, but it is correctly based on a dispassionate and detached assessment.

What we learn is that needed changes in the DMP have simply not kept up with the growing complexities and synergies of Israel’s always-hostile external environment:

“Nearly sixty-five years after independence, the same basic political processes, which so successfully gave rise to the nation in its formative years, are still largely intact.”

Especially troubling to the author, the reader will discover, is that Israel’s DMP is more “chaotic” and “politicized” than in other countries, not by any means an intrinsically fatal disadvantage, but one, nonetheless, that has still managed to generate injurious “pathologies.”

Worth noting, at this point, is that Freilich has served as a senior analyst in the Israeli Ministry of Defense, and also as Israel’s deputy national security adviser. His assessments, therefore, are not simply an expression of outstanding academic scholarship, but the well-reasoned product of a distinguished and astute observer, one who has already had an important seat at the government table.

As a political scientist, I can admire the graceful way the author moves effortlessly between fashioning general theory and tendering elucidations of pertinent history. Combining the perceptual strengths of Isaiah Berlin’s “hedgehog” and “fox,” Freilich helps us see both one big decisional canvas and also many smaller, constituent elements.

Shaping a consciously nuanced model of national security decision-making in Israel, he applies it to assorted and carefully selected events of the past thirty years, ranging from Camp David I to the “disengagement” from Gaza in 2005 to the Second Lebanon War one year later.

The result is plainly disconcerting, as these seven cases reveal many critically lost opportunities, flagrantly unpardonable decisional errors, and an always highly politicized decisional context. While Freilich underscores the liabilities of Israel’s too-informal planning process, he also notes that this flawed process has allowed a relatively high degree of latitude or flexible response, as well as a gainfully self-serving sensitivity to pragmatic solutions.

Particularly helpful to the serious reader is the author’s continuous emphasis on “existential decision-making” as a critical component of Israel’s national security environment. Undoubtedly, this particular component is indispensable to understanding what drives the country’s DMP at its very core. In this connection, however, I would have liked to see greater attention paid to important details of Menachem Begin’s decision to attack Iraq’s nuclear reactor on June 7, 1981.

Of course, each reader will choose to assess the author’s selection of case studies differently according to his or her own personal hierarchy of concerns. But the connections between Operation Opera and the current threat of a nuclear Iran are unambiguously of the very highest urgency. Jurisprudentially, the attack on the Iraqi reactor was treated by Israel as a permissible expression of “anticipatory self-defense.” One may surmise that any future Israeli preemption against Iranian nuclear assets and infrastructures would have to be cast in very similar legal terms.

Louis Rene Beres

Amidst the Chaos, the IDF Preserves Israel’s Independence

Monday, April 15th, 2013

In today’s Middle East, radical forces, which thrive on chaos, are on the rise; and those who rule the Arab states are here today and gone tomorrow.

Independence Day in Israel, which this evening starts celebrations for the 65th year of Israel’s Independence, takes place deliberately right after Memorial Day, dedicated to honoring Israel’s fallen soldiers, so the Israeli public remains keenly aware that independence is possible only due to the sacrifices made by the fallen.

This year, however, looks set to be decisive – when the world finds out whether the international community’s policy of engaging Tehran diplomatically, while applying biting economic sanctions, will work or not. Should the policy fail, military action remains a serious possibility.

Since Israel’s founding in 1948, Israelis have sought peace and seized upon opportunities to make it when they arose, such as Israel’s return of the Sinai Peninsula in 1979 in exchange for peace with Egypt, as well as departure from Southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

“Despite everything,” said newly appointed Defense Minister, Moshe Ya’alon, “despite so many elements that wanted to prevent this country’s founding, and who continue to invest so much every day to destroy us – they arise here in our intelligence assessments, Iran, Hezbollah — nevertheless, there is no doubt, that what stands between independence and a lack of independence is the shield of the IDF. ”

“We have the great privilege of defending Israel and protecting its independence,” Israel Defense Force Chief of Staff Benny Gantz concurred this week at IDF General Headquarters in Tel Aviv. “I wish us a successful year of independence, in the face of the challenges that are emerging before us. I am sure we will know how to carry out our missions.”

While Ya’alon and Gantz have been studying the intelligence on the upheavals and multiple asymmetric threats developing on Israel’s borders, Iran and its nuclear program remain at the top of the security agenda.

Although a collapsing Syria no longer remains a conventional military threat to Israel — the Syrian army is engaged in fighting the rebels, while steadily losing its power — the crumbling Middle Eastern old order is allowing for a plethora of terrorist organizations to grow on Israel’s borders.

Hizballah, for example, an Iranian-backed Shi’ite terrorist group, remains with its estimated 80,000 rockets – an unprecedented number of projectiles – pointed at Israel.

Should Hezbollah initiate a future round of hostilities, the IDF has prepared a large-scale ground operation into Lebanon, aimed at extinguishing rocket attacks on the Israeli home front.

The Israel Air Force has also been busy preparing surprises for future conflicts. New technologies allow fighter jets to strike as many as 1500 targets in 24 hours. Israel’s reply to Hizballah aggression would be devastating.

Both Iran and Hezbollah are in the process of setting up a militia in war-torn Syria. This militia, made up of 50,000 fighters, will remain active in Syria even if the Assad regime is toppled.

Also in Syria, Al-Qaeda is planning to raise the flag of radical Sunni Islam, as its Syrian and Iraqi forces announce a merger.

In Israel’s south, near the Gaza strip, the IDF is also closely monitoring Hamas, which, at least for the time being, has remained deterred by Israel. Next door, however, the Sinai Peninsula is filled with Al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadi fighters, who are planning their next cross-border attack.

The IDF is closely studying this complex map of threats, and making sure it is ready for the future. Today, with Israel’s military is at its strongest, the country is capable of dealing with its highly chaotic and dangerous environment.

Originally published at the Gatestone Institute.

Yaakov Lappin

For Israel, Better the ‘Blessing’ than the ‘Curse’

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

Jewish thought has never been subtle about life and death, the “blessing” and the “curse.” For Israel, the individual Jew writ large, there exists a fixed and overriding obligation to stay alive.

Although this injunction may hardly come as any sort of surprise, and may hardly seem to merit any claim of significant insight, it does stand in notably stark contrast to the worldview of some of Israel’s principal enemies in the region. More precisely, in order to deal gainfully with a still steadily nuclearizing Iran, and with a determinedly sovereign Palestine, Israel will quickly have to understand certain alien points of view.

The sources of danger for Israel are unambiguous. In a readily decipherable hierarchy of threats, Israel now confronts death and destruction from two increasingly plausible directions: (1) the already-constituted state of Iran, which may ultimately decide to act against Israel in presumed conformance with the end-times expectations of a Shiite apocalypse, and (2) the aspiring state of “Palestine,” which, if shaped by jihadist visions of Sunni Hamas, could decide to make a common war cause with Tehran.

Singly, for Israel, the attack dangers from Iran or Palestine that could derive from any religiously based inversion of life and death, of “blessing” and “curse,” would be considerable and daunting.

Together, perhaps in various unrecognized or even unimagined synergies, the interactive effects of these two particular adversaries could portend very serious and possibly existential concerns for Israel.

These regional enemy inversions of life and death, of “blessing” and “curse,” are rendered more worrisome by (1) the international community’s ritualized unwillingness to remove Iran’s illegal nuclear weapons infrastructure; (2) President Obama’s continuing support for a two-state solution; and, (3) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s grudging but official acceptance of a Palestinian state that has been “demilitarized.”

The Palestinian side (Hamas, Fatah, it makes little real difference) seeks a one-state solution. On all their maps, Israel is drawn as a segment of “Palestine.” As for a demilitarized Palestine, it would never actually happen. This is true, in part, because any post-independence abrogation of earlier pre-state agreements to demilitarize, by a now-sovereign Palestinian state, could be incontestably permissible under authoritative international law.

What shall Israel do in this increasingly confusing regional maelstrom? If Obama’s openly expressed wish for “a world free of nuclear weapons” were ever realized, the survival issue would become moot. Without its nuclear arms, Israel could not endure for very long. Fortunately, this presidential wish is not only foolish but plainly unrealistic. Inevitably, of course, Israel will insist upon retaining the critical deterrence benefits of its essential nuclear forces.

The extent of this particular benefit, however, may vary, inter alia, according to a number of important factors. These include Jerusalem’s observable willingness to take its bomb out of the “basement,” that is, to make certain limited disclosures of the country’s usable and penetration-capable nuclear forces. Also relevant is the extent to which Israel might choose to reveal selected elements of Tel-Aviv’s nuclear targeting doctrine.

From the standpoint of successful deterrence, it will make a major difference if Israel’s nuclear forces are recognizably counter value (targeted on enemy cities), or counterforce (targeted on enemy weapons, and related infrastructures). In turn, Israel’s decisions on targeting policy may be affected, more or less, by ongoing regime transformations still taking place across the Middle East and North Africa.

“For what can be done against force, without force?” inquired the Roman statesman Cicero. The use of force in world politics is not inherently evil. To the contrary, in preventing nuclear and terrorist aggressions, force, though assuredly not a panacea, is almost always indispensable.

All states have a fundamental (“peremptory,” in the language of formal jurisprudence) right of self-defense. This right is explicit in both codified and customary international law. It can be found, in part, at Article 51 of the UN Charter; also, in multiple clarifications of anticipatory self-defense, a doctrine I have discussed often on these pages.

Israel has legal right to forcibly confront the expected and possibly mutually reinforcing harms of Iranian nuclear missile strikes, and Palestinian terror.

Again, Cicero understood. Failure to use force against a murderous evil imprints an indelible stain upon all that is good. A similar point can be found in the Talmud, which asserts that by being merciful to the cruel, one may become cruel to the merciful. Any such “mercy” must be firmly rejected by both individual Jews, and by the Jewish state.

Louis Rene Beres

New Netanyahu Coalition Govt All Cobbled and Ready, Maybe

Monday, March 18th, 2013

On Monday evening, the Knesset will host the swearing in ceremony for Israel’s 33rd government, and Benjamin Netanyahu’s third term—second consecutive—as prime minister (his first term ran from June 1996 to July 1999).

Immediately after the ceremony, Netanyahu will convene a brief cabinet meeting, with a toast. Then the bunch (22 ministers and 8 deputies) will travel to the presidential residence, for the traditional group picture.

The Knesset session will open with the selection of the Speaker of the House. It will likely be Likud MK Yuli Edelstein, who will replace the former Speaker, Reuven Rivlin, who wanted very much to continue in his post but, unfortunately, had committed the ultimate sin of criticizing the Prime Minister’s anti-democratic tendencies, not the kind of slight which Netanyahu’s wife Sara easily forgives.

As usual, Netanyahu never shared with Rivlin his plan to depose him. In fact, as far back as a year ago, he assured the popular Speaker—who is also closely associated with the Settlement movement—that he’d have his support for the post of President when Shimon Peres completes his 7-year term, 2014.

Yuli Edelstein’s life’s story is fascinating: Born in the Soviet Union to Jewish parents who converted to Christianity (his father is a Russian Orthodox priest), Edelstein discovered his Jewish connection through his grandparents. He studied Hebrew back when that was considered a subversive act, for which, in 1984, he was sent to Siberia (the charges were drug related, but everybody knew it was the Hebrew thing). He made aliyah with his wife, Tanya, served in the army, and entered politics, ending up in the Knesset in 1996. He has switched between several parties, until finally landing in the Likud, and has held several ministerial portfolios. And if he doesn’t catch Sara’s ire, he could become as memorable a Speaker as Rubie Rivlin.

But the biggest losers, without a doubt, are the Haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism. They were almost literally kicked out by Yair Lapid, who stated openly that, should he be seen in the government group picture with the Haredim, his voters would abandon him. Surprisingly, Naftali Bennett, his newly found brother from a different father (Yair’s father, the late MK Tommy Lapid, was a true hater of the religion), supported the dubious position that, in order to truly help the Haredi public, government had to first be cleared of Haredi partners.

Shas, a party that depends completely on patronage for its very existence, is seething with anger over Bennett’s “betrayal.” It’s hard, however, to take seriously the victimized self-pity of Shas, whose spiritual father Rav Ovadia Yosef dubbed the Jewish Home party a “Goy Home.” Altogether, it appears that, perhaps counter intuitively, the National Religious leaders as well as the rank and file, have been harboring heaps of resentment against the Haredim. The Haredi slights of several decades, including their occupation of the Ministry of Religious Services and the Chief rabbinate, doling out jobs to Haredi officials who reigned over a population that looks nothing like them—those slighted chickens have been coming back to roost.

Take for instance Rabbi Hayim Drukman, who responded to both the Haredi pols and to Netanyahu, who accused the Lapid-Bennett axis of “boycotting” the Haredi parties. Rabbi Drukman Argued that “the Haredi public are the biggest boycotters, boycotting for years the Torah of the national religious public.”

“Any Haredi apparatchik who gets elected to the Knesset, immediately becomes a rabbi, while the real rabbis of the national religious public are noted in the Haredi press by their first names (without the title ‘Rabbi’). Is this not boycotting?” Rabbi Druckman wrote in the Saturday shul paper “Olam Katan.”

Inside Shas, the short knives have already been drawn and they’re aimed at MK Aryeh Deri, the former convict who came back from the cold to lead Shas into a glorious stalemate (11 seats before, 11 after).

“We were very disappointed in Deri,” a senior Shas pol told Ma’ariv. “He did not bring the votes he promised Rav Ovadia, there was no significant change in seats, and, in fact, Deri is responsible for our failure.”

In United Torah Judaism they also seem to regret their alliance with Shas, it’s highly likely that, in a few months, they’ll opt to enter the government without Shas.

Yori Yanover

After the Fall: What Do You Do When America Is (Temporarily) Kaput?

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

If we reach the following, highly unpleasant, conclusion what are the implications?

The United States has taken a political turn which at least for the next four years will guarantee that it does not play the role of a great power mindful of and willing to protect its own true interests, supporting its allies, and combating its real foes? On the contrary, through inaction or active effort the leadership of America will take counterproductive actions that achieve the opposite result. And there are certain factors–radical ideological hegemony, a weak economy and growing debt, structural social changes, the weakness and disorganization of the opposition–that may make this situation regarding America’s international behavior and policies a long-term, partly irreversible condition.

In other words, we don’t know if America is finished as the world’s leading power but we do know that it will not take leadership and certainly not leadership in a good direction for a while and perhaps will never fully recover. Please note carefully that I am speaking here only of US foreign policy and more remarking on the domestic situation. So what do those outside the United States do to face this situation?

There are those readers who would contest the accuracy of this statement. They will say that Barack Obama is a great president or at least a decent one. There is no big problem regarding U.S. foreign policy at all. In fact, he and his team, which now includes Secretary of State-designate John Kerry, will be just fine or at least okay. They will make the point–valid but irrelevant–that the United States doesn’t control everything in the world. Of course, but what about the things it can affect?

Unfortunately, American allies and clients cannot afford the luxury of clueless optimism or wishful thinking. Some will grumble publicly and scramble to limit the damage. Others will smile, praise the president, and scramble to limit the damage. To put it another way, it doesn’t matter whether you agree with me. I’m telling you what’s actually happening.

Other readers will want to debate endlessly on the cause of the problem. Why is this happening? Is it deliberate or due to incompetence and bad ideology? Various conspiracy theories will be raised and time wasted on them. To put it another way, for the purposes of this particular article at least I don’t care who or what you blame or what you intend to do about it, I’m talking about what’s happening right now. It is fortunate that in these post-Cold War times there is no candidate to replace America as world leader. Instead, we have candidates to be regional leaders: China in Asia; the European Union already playing that role in Western Europe; Russia trying to do this in Central/Eastern Europe; and Egypt, Iran, and Turkey competing for hegemony in the Middle East.

But here’s the real issue: things look bad. What does this mean specifically and how can potential victims react? Let’s begin with a very brief survey of the world scene.

Latin America. There are now several radical regimes in the area—most notably Venezuela–alongside, of course, Cuba. America’s allies in the region are dismayed that the former group (except for Cuba) gets soft, even favorable, treatment by Washington. Fortunately, radical revolutions or major armed insurgencies don’t seem probable. So leaders in the region will worry a lot, be frustrated (why should we be nice to the United States when it doesn’t help us but rather rewards being anti-American?) but get through it. Ironically, of course, the current administration favors policies that are sure to fail in South America so to the degree Washington has influence, it will help sabotage the region’s economic progress.

Sub-Saharan Africa. What is truly remarkable is how the Obama Administration has done nothing to change U.S. policy in the area. One might have expected that given its worldview and certain ethno-racial factors and ideas in the US leadership, Obama would have wanted to make this region a showcase of how he differed from his predecessors, as a model of reparations for past colonialism and racism. No such luck for the Africans. They will continue to suffer economic and political hardship without significantly increased US help. Bad, but not a change from the usual neglect. Let them eat rhetoric!

South Asia. The pro-Pakistan policy will continue; India will be mistreated. Again, bad, but no big change. It will just be more of watching Pakistan help conceal al-Qaeda terrorists, work for a radical Islamist Afghanistan once the US forces withdraw and sponsor terrorism against India as Washington pays more billions in aid money. That Afghanistan issue might cause a crisis: Why did hundreds of Americans die there? Someone–albeit not so much in the mass media–might ask if and when Kabul is taken over by a new anti-American regime. Also slated to be killed, Afghans who helped the Western forces. They will start seeking new protectors very soon.

East Asia. The smaller countries which want US help and protection against what they perceive as an ever-stronger China won’t get it. This will make them very nervous indeed. Since I believe China doesn’t have aggressive geopolitical intentions, that situation won’t deteriorate too much in military terms. Yet in economic terms the US government is ceding a great deal to China. Much or most of Asia may become a Chinese economic zone and that will be costly to Americans since potential markets for American goods will in some cases go to China instead, further reducing opportunities for the US economy. Leaders of other countries will scramble to get in good with the new regional superpower as they perceive the United States no longer matters very much. And we all better hope that North Korea doesn’t get too confident–hopefully Beijing will restrain that wacko dictatorship–and attack the South.

Western Europe. Honk if you love Obama. Since European leadership is still obsessed with the EU project and seeks to varnish over rather than deal with their deep economic and social structural problems, they will have no big problems with Obama. He doesn’t attack them, just feeds their addictions. We are familiar with the European stereotype of Americans as the ignorant, irresponsible cowboy (applied to George W. Bush) but there is far less talk about the European stereotype of Americans as naive, blundering, would-be do-gooders who make a giant mess (Barack Obama). Yet there are elements of American decline that many Europeans and European leaders like. The day may come when they think otherwise. As I once remarked to a European ambassador, who agreed, they spent eight years trying to hold Bush back and now are spending four years trying to pull Obama forward.

Central/Eastern Europe. Here is a potential big problem. Russian leader Vladimir Putin thinks he can do whatever he wants. He will continue to turn as much as possible of the ex-Soviet now independent states into a Russian zone of influence. If he ever decided he wanted to take over Belarus or Ukraine, or to attack Georgia again, he knows this can be done without any problem from America. Similarly, the regional states know they cannot depend on American support. Have no doubt that people in countries like Poland and the Czech Republic think about this every day.

So we see in Latin America, Asia, and Central Europe that American allies have no reliable protector anymore. They are left potentially helpless to possibly voracious local powers that are more radical than themselves. And of course they are all hurt by the ongoing poor state of the American economy. Lesson: Don’t make the bad guys angry if possible; move away if possible from relying on the United States.

Some, however, will benefit from policies that ensure the export of American jobs. But the Chinese—who seem on the surface to be the main beneficiaries—are horrified to find themselves holding so much American debt as a U.S. government inflates the dollar and goes ever deeper into debt. It is a very bad investment indeed.

The thing to watch for is if there’s a crisis. How well would the United States respond to wars, coups, invasions, revolutions, economic collapses? What kind of leadership would be shown in cases paralleling, say, the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait? What would Washington do if massive repression breaks out in Egypt with the massacre of Christians? Or how would Obama respond if Putin were to grab some neighbor’s territory in part or in full? You can come up with a great many scenarios that could happen. And in each case the local leaders and a lot of people both think and worry about such scenarios becoming real.

At a minimum, knowing they cannot depend on U.S. help makes moderates and democrats more reluctant to fight, more willing to concede or surrender, and certain to despair.

In short, this current (voluntary, not inevitable) decline of the United States places a lot of people at risk. The question is whether there will be crises in which bad and weak American performance makes things worse.

And this brings us to the Middle East where we know such crises will take place. I don’t want to repeat what I’ve written many times. But to put the whole thing into three sentences:

Israel, relatively moderate Arab regimes (including, yes, Saudi Arabia), and real moderate opposition movements know they cannot depend on the United States for the next four years and perhaps for much longer. To make things worse, the US government is aiding their enemies. Consequently, they must act on their own to protect themselves.

For the Saudis, this can mean supporting establishment (Bahrain’s government, Lebanese Sunni Muslims) or even Salafist forces (as in the Syrian opposition) that they feel can be turned into clients. We all have good reasons for not liking the current Saudi regime but imagine the country being run and the oil money being in the hands of someone like Usama bin Ladin or the Muslim Brotherhood, dedicated to overthrowing all the other regimes in the region and forcing out U.S. influence. For Israel, lacking a chance to build real alliances with Arab states or oppositions, it requires unilateral action.

Everyone else—including Christian minorities and women who want equality–is pretty much up the creek without a paddle. The democratic oppositions (and that includes Egypt, Tunisia, and Lebanon as well as Turkey and Iran) will have their hearts broken as they see their own countries as lost to a long reign of even worse tyranny and their hopes for better days dashed. Countries as diverse as Algeria, Morocco, and Jordan will have to maneuver and use force to keep Islamists from taking over. In other words, you may be very courageous but you will give some serious thought to running away as far as possible, to Europe, North America, or Australia.

It is very scary and even tragic for a lot of people.

Here, however, is the main point I wish to communicate: Americans can debate whether this shorter-term vacuum of responsibility and longer-term decline is happening. Much of the world already takes this outcome for granted.

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Barry Rubin

The Hamas Suicide Strategy

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

One of the most important things to understand about how the Middle East works is what I’ll call the suicide strategy. It can be described as follows:

I will start a war that I cannot win in order to create a situation where the other side wrecks my infrastructure and kills my people. Then I will lose militarily but win the battle. How? By the following means:

–I’ll kill some people on the other side and do some damage to it. Since they are weaker and less brave than I am they will give up. The longer the war, the more likely they are to look for a way out even if that involves many concessions on their part. Using terrorism against their civilians reinforces this tactic.

–By suffering, and magnifying that suffering using a generally sympathetic Western media, I will make the other side feel sorry for me and oppose their own leaders who will be portrayed as bullying, bloodthirsty, and imperialistic.

–The specter of war, suffering, and especially civilian casualties, will drive the “international community” to press my adversaries to give in, stop fighting (even if I continue it on a lower level), let me survive, and even give me benefits.

That’s how you stage a losing war but end up the winner.

This strategy has often worked against a Western adversary or Israel. It won’t work against fellow Arabs or Iran because those forces couldn’t care less how much damage and how many civilian casualties they inflict. Their mass media are under a large element of state control and they are not responsive to public opinion.

Hamas is now using this approach in the current war against Israel, though less effectively than in previous circumstances. True, it is getting some in the West to blast Israel as using excessive force or force at all.

Certainly, it protects Hamas from being overthrown altogether, which is the only real solution to the problem. But as long as Israel doesn’t win too big the West is ready to tolerate the current level of fighting.

And that’s the signal for Hamas to double down. Israel wants a ceasefire; Hamas doesn’t. Even the New York Times will tell you that:

Hamas, badly outgunned on the battlefield, appeared to be trying to exploit its increased political clout with its ideological allies in Egypt’s new Islamist-led government. The group’s leaders, rejecting Israel’s call for an immediate end to the rocket attacks, have instead laid down sweeping demands that would put Hamas in a stronger position than when the conflict began: an end to Israel’s five-year-old embargo of the Gaza Strip, a pledge by Israel not to attack again and multinational guarantees that Israel would abide by its commitments.

In other words, Hamas is demanding that in future it can import whatever it wants and will have the right to attack Israel without retaliation. Note that the first demand isn’t even necessary for Hamas. After all, it can now get almost everything it wants through the Egyptian-Gaza border. So this list of items is just designed as an excuse to keep the fighting going.

Now it is not usual for the losing side in world history to want the war to end . But in the Middle East, and with the entry of political and diplomatic considerations, plus the factor of public relations, these rules have been changed. The world has taught Hamas—and not just Hamas–that the more aggressive you are, the more terrorism you use, the better you will do, up to a point, internationally and the more antagonism is stirred up against Israel.

Yet as I said above, this tactic is not working so well in this case. There are several reasons why this is so:
–In contrast to some past situations (1982 war in Lebanon) there is a very high level of support in Israel for the current operation and in contrast to others (2006 war in Lebanon) there’s a sense that the army is doing a good job. Incidentally, this war has nothing to do with Israel’s January 22 election and won’t have any major effect on it.

True, there is a higher level of civilian panic about rockets and missiles, quite understandable in the areas being hit; less so in other places. Yet that won’t bring any significant pressure for Israel to give up and declare defeat, especially as Hamas runs out of things to shoot at Israel’s civilians.

–There are now so many issues in the Middle East—more of them simultaneously than at any time in living memory–that they distract both international and regional attention from the Hamas-Israel war. The Arab-Israeli and even the Israel-Palestinian conflict can hardly be said with a straight face to be the core or major issue in the region.

–The “Arab Spring” may help Hamas a lot in the long run but not in the short run. Hamas tried the old PLO gimmick of starting a war with Israel as a way to force Arab regimes to do what you want. This didn’t always work for the PLO. Given Syria and Iraq being out of the conflict due to a priority on internal issues, the potential base for this strategy has been weakened.

Iran is far away, though it can send rocket and missile motors; Jordan doesn’t want trouble; and Lebanon, even though dominated by Hizballah, is now on the Shia side and on the verge of a new civil war of its own.
–Egypt, of course, is Hamas’s great hope. Yet the Hamas leaders should have listened to their counterparts in Cairo who do not want a confrontation right now. The Muslim Brotherhood has not consolidated its power. The status of parliament is unclear, the constitution has not yet been approved, and the army is not yet fully under the regime’s thumb. Of special importance is the Islamist regime’s effort to finalize around $10 billion in aid from the European Union, United States, and International Monetary Fund.

Thus, while Egypt’s new rulers love Hamas they don’t love it enough to do more than issue passionate statements. On the contrary, Egypt and perennial troublemaker Qatar want the fighting to end.

Hamas is free to ignore its allies and go on shooting rockets, missiles, and mortars at Israeli civilians. It can hope, with good reason, that the West will stop an Israeli ground operation. And Hamas can certainly expect to survive the war no matter how badly it loses and how much damage its policies inflict on Gaza’s people. Hoping that it will be even more popular—a gambit that has often worked in the past—may be too much of a stretch this time.

Yet the gains Hamas can make by trying to force Israel to bomb it are less than the Hamas leadership expects. Even many people in the West seem to be catching on to the masquerade of staging aggression and then pretending to be the victim. Some may comprehend that it is Hamas that is responsible for the suffering of Gaza’s people even if they aren’t prepared to do anything about it by bringing to an end a regime that seized power in a violent coup, wages a war without end, preaches genocide against its neighbor, forces all Christians to flee, represses dissent, turns women into chattel, and trains children to be suicide bombers. It is possible, though, that Western regimes will try to do something that will bring about an effective ceasefire for a few years.

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Barry Rubin

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/analysis/rubin-reports/the-hamas-suicide-strategy/2012/11/20/

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