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Opinion

Opinion

Opinion: U.S. should enter Mideast fray again

November 21, 2012

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— An Israeli official was listening a few days ago to the familiar critique that Israel doesn’t have any strategy in Gaza, just periodic tactical assaults on Hamas. The official finally exploded: “That is our strategy. Don’t you understand? We don’t have any other choice except to punch our adversary in the face every few years.”

The most depressing aspect about the latest Gaza war is that it dramatizes this “no exit” aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Wars recur every four or five years, but they never seem to settle anything. The Israelis pound the Palestinians until they accept a cease-fire, but it’s temporary. The emotional state of war continues.

The first time I watched this movie was 1982. Israel invaded Lebanon to stop the rockets that were then harassing northern Israel. The invasion was called “Operation Peace for Galilee,” and the Israeli army rolled all the way to Beirut. With their massive firepower, the Israelis assumed the Palestinians would cut and run, as Arab armies had in previous wars. But the Palestinians stood their ground.

It turned out the Israelis didn’t have a good endgame strategy in that war, any more than in the current one. In 1982, they accepted American mediation that eventually forced the PLO to leave south Lebanon and Beirut. But this proved a mixed blessing, to put it charitably: The PLO guerrillas were replaced by more disciplined fighters from Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia that was created by the war.

Now it’s Hezbollah that poses the deadly rocket threat to northern Israel. Hezbollah suicide bombings forced Israel to invade Lebanon again in 1996 (“Operation Grapes of Wrath”), then withdraw in frustration from Lebanon in 2000, then attack Hezbollah once more in 2006 (“Operation Change of Direction”).

Gaza has been a similar exercise in frustration, with each cycle of violence buying a few years of quiet, followed by more war. The Israelis withdrew from Gaza in 2005, only to have Hamas fire about 12,000 rockets and mortars at the Jewish state. The Israel Defense Forces invaded in 2008 (“Operation Cast Lead”), and a cease-fire followed. But in the years since, Hamas has fired more than 3,000 rockets and mortars, despite periodic cease-fires.

On Nov. 14, the Israelis got fed up and retaliated (“Operation Pillar of Defense”) They assassinated Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari, triggering 1,500 new Hamas rocket attacks, to which Israel responded by bombing more than 1,400 targets. The lopsided death toll (at last count, 113 Palestinians and three Israelis killed) led to some international criticism, which undercut some of the military benefits for Israel.  

Is there any escape from this Israeli-Palestinian version of hell? The mark of an Israeli realist is to say, glumly, that this is as good as it gets. Few Israelis imagine that real peace is possible with adversaries who refuse to even accept Israel’s existence. The idealists who embraced the Oslo agreement of 1993 have died, moved away from Israel, or given up.

Maybe it’s because of Thanksgiving Day, our national festival of optimism, but the idea that America should simply accept the inevitability of perpetual conflict on Israel’s borders seems like a betrayal of both sides. This kind of war grinds down decent people’s characters, so Palestinians can cheer when they hear about rockets targeting the families in Tel Aviv, or Israel supporters can denounce newspapers for running a picture of a sobbing Palestinian journalist cradling his lost child, or send emails headed, “Cue the Dead Baby.”

Acting as peacemaker in this conflict has been a thankless job for America. It begets enmity in Israel, which doesn’t want its closest ally to be “evenhanded” in this life-or-death conflict. And it begets cynicism and bitterness among Arabs, who have heard so many American promises, to so little effect, that many have concluded the process is a charade.

But at the beginning of Barack Obama’s final term, he needs to take on this burden once more, as he did when he came into office. He has worked hard to develop relationships with three important backers of Hamas — Egypt, Turkey and Qatar. Even the Israelis think that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government has acted constructively in the crisis, and they’d like to see Egypt have more control of Gaza.

A cease-fire in Gaza would provide a new platform for negotiation — weird, unstable, but worth the effort of trying a few more steps. What’s the risk? Another war? The threat of future missile attacks? That dismal picture is called the status quo.

— David Ignatius is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.

Comments

Richard Heckler 1 year, 4 months ago

Strategic Errors of Monumental Proportions

What Can Be Done in Iraq? by Lt. Gen. William E. Odom (Ret.)

Text of testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 18 January 2007

Good afternoon, Senator Biden, and members of the committee. It is a grave responsibility to testify before you today because the issue, the war in Iraq, is of such monumental importance.

You have asked me to address primarily the military aspects of the war. Although I shall comply, I must emphasize that it makes no sense to separate them from the political aspects. Military actions are merely the most extreme form of politics. If politics is the business of deciding "who gets what, when, how," as Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall in New York City once said, then the military aspects of war are the most extreme form of politics. The war in Iraq will answer that question there.

Strategic Overview

The role that US military forces can play in that conflict is seriously limited by all the political decisions the US government has already taken. The most fundamental decision was setting as its larger strategic purpose the stabilization of the region by building a democracy in Iraq and encouraging its spread. This, of course, was to risk destabilizing the region by starting a war.

Military operations must be judged by whether and how they contribute to accomplishing war aims. No clear view is possible of where we are today and where we are headed without constant focus on war aims and how they affect US interests. The interaction of interests, war aims, and military operations defines the strategic context in which we find ourselves. We cannot have the slightest understanding of the likely consequences of proposed changes in our war policy without relating them to the strategic context. Here are the four major realities that define that context:

  1. Confusion about war aims and US interests. The president stated three war aims clearly and repeatedly:

  2. the destruction of Iraqi WMD;

  3. the overthrow of Saddam Hussein; and
  4. the creation of a liberal democratic Iraq.

The first war aim is moot because Iraq had no WMD. The second was achieved by late Spring 2003. Today, people are waking up to what was obvious before the war -- the third aim has no real prospects of being achieved even in ten or twenty years, much less in the short time anticipated by the war planners. Implicit in that aim was the belief that a pro-American, post-Saddam regime could be established. This too, it should now be clear, is most unlikely. Finally, is it in the US interest to have launched a war in pursuit of any of these aims? And is it in the US interest to continue pursuing the third? Or is it time to redefine our aims? And, concomitantly, to redefine what constitutes victory?

  1. The war has served primarily the interests of Iran and al-Qaeda, not American interests...

http://www.antiwar.com/orig/odom.php?articleid=10396

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Richard Heckler 1 year, 4 months ago

The war for oil control and control of the world economy by way of militarily occupying the mideast for the past 33 years has been nothing short of a disaster.

It is also an embarrassment that democracy looks like something Hitler was trying to pull off. USA drones raining down on innocent communities throughout out the world is quite difficult to explain much less understand.

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notaubermime 1 year, 4 months ago

The biggest factor in this isn't the US, or Israel, or Gaza, or even Iran. The biggest factor is Egypt and Morsy.

On one hand, the US provides valuable trade and financial support to Egypt, so it is unlikely that the Egyptians want the US to see them as part of the problem. On the other, Iranian weapons go through Egypt to enter Gaza and Morsy belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, a party with strong sympathies for Hamas.

That said, it doesn't seem likely that Egypt has the power to change that any more than the US has the power to stop drugs from entering its borders, or guns from entering the hands of drug cartels. Further, Morsy seems to have a fair bit of respect from both Hamas and Israel.

If there is a solution to this cycle of violence between Gaza and Israel, it can only be through someone like Morsy who has close ties with both sides (with the exception, perhaps of Iran).

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 4 months ago

The 'both-sides-are-awful' dismissal of Gaza ignores the key role of the US government The temptation to wash one's hands of the whole conflict is understandable, but US support of Israel is a central force driving it all-- by Glenn Greenwald

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/21/israel-gaza-us-support

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jafs 1 year, 4 months ago

This is depressing, especially if folks over there think this is as good as it gets.

We have to decide what our role is - are we simply arming Israel and supporting them, or do we have a different/better role, as agents towards a peaceful resolution?

If they're committing to fighting over that piece of land, do we want to help them keep doing it, endlessly?

I imagine that most people in both Israel and "Palestine" want a peaceful resolution, and to be able to live their lives without the constant violence and threat of violence.

What could we do to help them achieve that?

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ThePilgrim 1 year, 4 months ago

Israel's endgame is to keep from getting pushed into the Mediterranean. Or at the very least status quo. Hamas' endgame (stated repeatedly) is the destruction of Israel, either by force or by negotiating them out of so much that they effectively lose. There is no solution to this because they want the same piece of land, and Hamas' does not even want Israel to exist, let alone"share" it. This is not rhetoric, it is very verbally stated.

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