Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Focus on Hamas

27 March, 2008

Three pieces out today look at the relative merits of various strategies for dealing with Hamas, with most views seeming to conclude that the current strategy is failing dismally.

The Christian Science Monitor has an article by Gareth Evans, president of the International Crisis Group, entitled Punishing Hamas Has Backfired. The article follows the release last week of an ICG report entitled Ruling Palestine I: Gaza Under Hamas.

The policy of isolating Hamas and applying sanctions to Gaza has been a predictable failure. Violence to both Gazans and Israelis is rising. Economic conditions are ruinous, generating anger and despair. The credibility of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other pragmatic forces has been grievously damaged. The peace process is in tatters. Meanwhile, Hamas’s hold on the Gaza Strip, purportedly the principal target of the policy, has been strengthened.


The logic behind the policy was that by putting pressure on Hamas, they could prevent rocket launches into Israel. This would demonstrate to the Palestinian people that Hamas could not deliver and ought not be trusted. The hope was that the West Bank, buoyed by economic growth, a loosening of Israeli security measures, not to mention a revived peace process, would serve as an attractive countermodel. But the theory has not delivered on any of these counts.


By boycotting the security, judicial, and other government sectors, the Palestinian Authority turned an intended punitive measure into an unintentional gift, creating a vacuum that Hamas has filled. The absence of any international involvement has meant the absence of leverage. The closure of the crossings has caused the private sector to collapse, eroding ordinary citizens’ traditional coping mechanisms, increasing their dependence on those who govern, and weakening a constituency traditionally loyal to the Palestinian Authority.

Meanwhile, the Economist has an article entitled Hamas’s Battle for Hearts and Minds, which echoes some of the points made by Evans.

After Hamas’s bloody takeover of the Gaza Strip last June left Mr Abbas in control of only the West Bank, the West and Israel talked about making the West Bank a shining example of what Gazans could aspire to—if they got rid of Hamas. But that scheme is failing. In the West Bank, Israel has done nothing to ease the maze of checkpoints and roadblocks that cripple the economy, and its talks with Mr Abbas on a Palestinian state are yielding no visible progress. A blockade it imposed on Gaza backfired in January when militants broke through Gaza’s southern wall bordering Egypt, briefly letting hundreds of thousands of Palestinians replenish their stores. The constant exchange of Palestinian rockets and Israeli air raids escalated a month ago into a battle that killed two Israeli troops and well over 100 Gazans, many of them children.

Finally, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy has a forum report entitled The Hamas Dilemma: A Debate on Alternative Strategies, in which Robert Satloff and Robert Malley outline their perspectives on the situation. While Satloff defends the current strategy, arguing it should be given more time, and counsels against engagement with Hamas, Malley’s argument is closer to that expressed by Evans and the Economist. A full audio recording of the debate is also available.


An important contrast can be made between the internal PLO debate two decades ago and the debate inside Hamas today. The former debate (which may still not be fully settled) was between advocates of a phased plan to destroy Israel and advocates of a two-state solution. The Hamas debate, however, has no advocates of peace with Israel. Rather, it is between those who call for a tahdiya (brief lull in fighting) and those who favor a hudna (a longer-term armistice) — neither of which approximates peace with, or even recognition of, Israel. Therefore, it is difficult to fathom why Hamas should be required to meet less onerous conditions for engagement than the PLO faced twenty years ago. The bottom line is that those who advocate engagement must believe that Hamas is willing to be complicit in its own demise. This is folly.

The right course for policymakers begins with recognizing that peacemaking will take time. When progress does not appear swift and sure, it is only counterproductive to entertain new strategies. Instead, the United States should maintain confidence in the strategy it adopted after Hamas’s Gaza putsch: investing in the West Bank’s success and isolating the Hamas regime.


Any discussion of policy toward Hamas must begin with an admission that the current policy is a failure. Isolation has not compelled Hamas to accept the Quartet’s conditions, has not turned the people of Gaza against the group, has not strengthened Fatah, has not reduced anti-Israeli violence, and has not contributed to any visible progress in peace diplomacy. It has, however, further embittered the Palestinian people, in both Gaza and the West Bank. Israel cannot make peace with half of the Palestinian people and be at war with the other half. The theory that peace can be achieved more easily by dividing Hamas and Fatah has been proven wrong in practice. It is also clear that Hamas has a stronger grip on Gaza than ever before, and that it has the power to thwart any forward movement in diplomacy. Regardless of the fact that Hamas does not appear to have softened its strategic objectives vis-a-vis Israel, this practical reality cannot be wished away.


A wiser approach would be to give Abbas a central role in reaching any new arrangement with Hamas. But this requires Hamas’s assent, which would come at a price. Specifically, the United States would need to drop its objection to a power-sharing agreement between Fatah and Hamas as the basis for a new accord. This accord, achieved through Egyptian mediation, would open transit between Gaza and Egypt, give Abbas supporters a certain role in border control, and give Hamas an appropriate role in Palestinian national institutions.


Lessons from Lebanon

18 March, 2008

Two pieces out this week seek to illustrate the lessons that should be drawn from Israel’s disastrous engagement with Hizballah in 2006. The Combat Studies Institute of the US Army Combined Arms Center has published a 96-page monograph by Matt Matthews, entitled We Were Caught Unprepared: The 2006 Hezbollah-Israeli War [PDF]. Meanwhile, the latest issue of CTC Sentinel, published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, has an article by IRG member and King’s College War Studies PhD candidate Andrew Exum, entitled Drawing the Right Lessons from Israel’s War with Hizb Allah [PDF].

Much in the Matthews piece is perceptive, including the assessment that the IDF adopted a strategy that was over-reliant on air power, technology and a faulty interpretation of effects-based operations:

As enemy rockets rained down on northern Israel, the IDF attempted to orchestrate the strategic cognitive collapse of Hezbollah through the use of air power and precision firepower-based operations. When this failed, the IDF sought to produce the same effects by using its ground forces to conduct limited raids and probes into southern Lebanon. These restrained initiatives designed to create a cognitive perception of defeat also failed to produce the effects necessary to incapacitate Hezbollah. The presence of several IDF mechanized divisions north of the Litani in the first 72 hours of the war, combined with a violent, systematic clearing of Hezbollah’s bunkers and tunnels, might have brought about the cognitive collapse [Chief of the IDF General Staff] Halutz so desperately sought. Unfortunately, the new IDF doctrine failed to incorporate a large land maneuver component into its effects-based approach.

According to Ron Tira, one of the major problems within the IDF was “the over-zealous embrace of the American effects-based operations (EBO) idea. EBO’s aim is to paralyze the enemy’s operational ability, in contrast to destroying its military force. This is achieved by striking the headquarters, lines of communication, and other critical junctions in the military structure. EBO [was] employed in their most distinct form in the Shock and Awe campaign that opened the 2003 Iraq War. However, the Americans used EBO to prepare the way for their ground maneuvers, and not as an alternative to them.”

However, in an echo of the ongoing debate in America regarding whether or not US forces are becoming overly focused on counterinsurgency rather than conventional warfighting, Matthews argues the inability to ‘step-up’ from COIN to conventional operations was key to the IDF’s failure in Lebanon:

Another crucial factor in the IDF’s reverses in southern Lebanon was the dismal performance of its ground forces. Years of counterinsurgency (COIN) operations had seriously diminished its conventional warfighting capabilities. The IDF was completely dismayed to find that its land forces could not conduct a successful ground campaign in southern Lebanon. Although Naveh was heavily criticized, his observations are astute and timely. “The point is, the IDF fell in love with what it was doing with the Palestinians,” he stated. “In fact it became addictive. You know when you fight a war against a rival who’s by all means inferior to you, you may lose a guy here or there, but you’re in total control. It’s nice, you can pretend that you fight the war and yet it’s not really a dangerous war…. I remember talking to five brigade commanders…. I asked them if they had an idea… what it meant to go into battle against a Syrian division? Did they have in mind what a barrage of 10 Syrian artillery battalions looked like?”

In the conventional arena, the IDF ground forces performed unsatisfactorily. The fight at Wadi al-Saluki, for example, revealed the failure of tank commanders and crewmen to use their smokescreen systems, the lack of indirect-fire skills, and the total absence of combined arms proficiency. The IDF lost many of these perishable combat skills during its long years of COIN operations against the Palestinians.

While there is undoubtedly some validity in this argument, it requires qualification. As Exum argues in his article, “The greatest mistake the U.S. military can make in studying the lessons of 2006… is to study the 34 days of fighting that took place in southern Lebanon in July and August of that year without any context.”

The IDF’s failure was not over-learning the principles of counterinsurgency, but not having applied them effectively in the years prior to the 2006 war: “Israel never dealt with the root political problems in southern Lebanon that led to the rise of Hizb Allah. The 2006 war did not take place in a 34-day vacuum; it was merely the latest bloodshed in a dispute between Israel and Hizb Allah that has been fought with varying degrees of intensity since 1982.”

As such:

The 2006 war was not evidence, then, that Israel had over-learned the lessons of counter-insurgency, but rather the opposite: Israel has never effectively learned counter-insurgency in the first place. Even in the West Bank and Gaza, the IDF continues to approach the fighting there as a counter-terrorism mission instead of a counter-insurgency mission. Moreover, while the presence of both a radicalized settler population and historical animosities might preclude the application of an effective counter-insurgency strategy in the Occupied Territories, Israel has never developed and applied counter-insurgency doctrine along the lines of FM 3-24 despite years of experience in irregular warfare dating back to Jewish guerrilla groups in pre-state Israel.

Read the Matthews piece here, and the Exum piece here.