Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Long-term Thinking About Gaza

EXCERPT: Admittedly in recent years long-term thinking in advance of wars of choice has been notably unpopular, but those contemplating adventures should try it: as the case of Gaza illustrates, the results can be sobering.

TEXT: Long-term thinking about Tel Aviv's war of choice in Gaza leads to some counterintuitive possibilities that might be worth considering. To simplify, we will consider here only possibilities that flow from an Israeli victory.

Let us accept, therefore, Tel Aviv's apparent assumption that brute force will win the day, that Hamas will be destroyed, that Palestinians will bend their knees in shock and awe, and that no outside agent will interfere. Obama will take office with Israel having scored a knock-out and established the total "peace" of total subjugation of Palestine.

Impact of Victory on the Victors.
What will the impact of such a one-sided victory be on Tel Aviv decision-makers? They would have at least two basic choices: compassion or hubris.

A. Compassion. To implement compassion, they would have to overcome a significant degree of cognitive dissonance: it would be hard to be that compassionate toward an opponent they have so consistently treated with contempt. They would also almost certainly have to contend with interference from one group or another that wanted to undermine any new Israeli good neighbor policy, so they would have to make clear distinctions between violence from Palestinians and violence from outsiders. Difficult though these two steps might be, Tel Aviv would have the choice, and one cannot say it would be impossible to implement. Tel Aviv decision-makers might flood Gaza with money, rebuild the infrastructure they just finished destroying, and hold out their hands in friendship to the bleeding population. In that case, someone would have to govern: any volunteers?

Is there any evidence in the history of the last 60 years to suggest that Tel Aviv could actually pull this off? They would have to:

1) dramatically shift their attitude toward Palestinians;
2) distinguish between agent provocateurs from the outside and the Palestinians so as not to blame them for violence caused by someone else;

there was a genuine lull in rocket and mortar fire between June 19 and November 4, due to Hamas compliance and only sporadically violated by a small number of launchings carried out by rival Fatah and Islamic Jihad militants, largely in defiance of Hamas.--Steven Niva in Foreign Policy in Focus

3) provide shocked Palestinians with a decent colonial existence so smoothly that they peacefully accept it and/or move Palestine to independence as a closely aligned state.

All those traumatized Gazans would have to be either persuaded to accept new realities or controled. Tel Aviv would have to decide whether to do this by cutting them off from the rest of the world, a tricky endeavor in this day and age, or provide them with very persuasive economic, political, social, educational inducements to gain their long-term support. I would very much like to hear an argument that Tel Aviv decision-makers could actually pull off such a policy.

B. Hubris. The other basic alternative would be a policy based on hubris, wherein Tel Aviv decision-makers would learn the following lesson from subjugating Gaza: Israel's opponents only understand the language of force. Since that has been the basic assumption underlying Israel's foreign policy for the past generation, it is plausible that its leaders would indeed learn that lesson from a victory. From that, several things would follow:

1) an inclination to put West Bank Palestinians firmly in their place (that place being Palestinian Bantustan);
2) the integration of the best parts of the West Bank into Israel;
3) the permanent outlawing of Arab parties from Israeli politics and the clear establishment of Israel as a religious state rather than a democracy;
4) the consolidation of the garrison state mentality;
5) the encouragement of American militarism by Israel;
6) a new showdown with Hezbollah;
7) the alienation of Syria;
8) and an eventual crisis with and/or attack upon Iran.

Why? Once infected by hubris, every victory justifies further adventures until overreach causes disaster.

One might of course protest that hubris on the part of regional superpower Israel would be justified, that Israel could well maintain its series of victories indefinitely. That is a perspective that demands analysis, for sure...perhaps in a subsequent post here. For the moment, I will simply identify a couple points to keep in mind:

  • It seems fair to wonder how long the U.S. will continue to tolerate Israel pouring gasoline on the various fires burning across the landscape of U.S. relations with Islam. Yes, war fever on the Potomac has yet to be cured; nevertheless, some are recovering, with the current recession is proving to be powerful medicine.
  • Gaza is a very small place. Perhaps it is fair to infer that Israeli victory in Gaza means Israeli victory on the West Bank. Given the events of 1982-2001 and 2006, not to mention the recent consolidation of Hezbollah's domestic political position in Lebanon, it really does not follow that Israeli victory in Gaza implies Israeli victory over Hezbollah. And as for Iran, well, that's 70,000,000 people 1,000 miles away.
  • No mention has yet been made of the impact of brutal suppression of Gaza plus follow-on Israeli aggressiveness on the domestic stability of pro-Israeli Arab dictatorships, the delicate Turkish balance of power between Islamists and the military, or the unstable Iraqi political scene.
A Note of Caution.
It is perhaps worth adding a note of caution. Although the above may sound like scenario analysis, it is just a tiny slice of that pie. Our initial assumption was wildly unrealistic, namely, that everything happens exactly as Tel Aviv dreams it will. Not only does Tel Aviv, in our little story, get everything it wants in Gaza, but the whole rest of the world simply freezes in place! Yes, Israel will have choices, but it seems that only a long series of steps, each in itself improbable, will enable Israel to keep an initial victory from slipping out of its grasp. This is, from the perspective of "greater Israel" neo-cons, the best of all possible worlds. We are not even beginning to assess the probability of this scenario actually occurring, but even if it did, the result that it implies is disaster for Israel. Maybe that's why regimes planning a war of choice don't like analyzing the future.

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