Bibi’s Strategy

Tensions Remain High At Israeli Gaza Border

With the next Israeli election expected to take place about a year from now, Brent Sasley observes how Netanyahu is responding to domestic politics during the Gaza incursion:

Netanyahu is managing the war carefully and effectively, from the standpoint of Israeli casualties and Israeli security. And Israelis recognize this. While rightist rivals were demanding a full-scale invasion and occupation of Gaza, Netanyahu authorized only airstrikes, testing Hamas’ interest in a cease-fire. He did not suffer any significant backlash in the media or in public debate, even while millions of Israelis were forced into bomb shelters. But pressure to do more was growing: on July 13, about four days before the actual incursion began, about 67 percent of Israelis supported a ground operation. By authorizing one, Netanyahu has given the public what it has demanded.

According to the latest poll, Netanyahu’s caution – restraint, then a limited operation only, backed by large-scale force – has paid off. His Likud party has gained four seats, from 20 to 24, while his former ally Avigdor Lieberman has dropped from 11 to eight seats.

Efraim Halevy weighs the invasion’s benefits and risks for Israel:

Israel must achieve resounding success in this new phase of combatboth to change the present mindset of Hamas and, of course, to maintain national support for the government’s policies. This will entail a campaign lasting several daysthough it is conceivable that it could extend beyond that. Israel has a good chance to achieve its aims: a more restrained Hamas and the reintroduction of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, at least policing and controlling the southern gateway to Egypt.

But there’s also some risk that this phase of the operationan incursion into a small agricultural swath of Gazafails. And if it does fail, then a more treacherous scenario looms:

an operation that will entail urban warfare in Gazan steets. That mission would have a much more robust agenda. Its proponents talk about the demilitarization of Hamas. What they mean by this is unclear. But any attempt to forcefully strip Hamas of its weaponry would entail untold risks and consequences.

But Martin Shaw argues that the risks of Netanyahu’s war-as-politics mentality and the military adventurism it encourages may be much greater than the prime minister realizes:

Netanyahu’s blowback problem is not just Hamas: its political reinforcement is a predictable consequence of what he is doing, just as the continuing dominance of the aggressive Israeli right is a predictable consequence of Hamas’s rocket campaigns. The real problem is the extreme instability of the wider Middle East, with long-term wars raging in Syria and Iraq, in which the stability of Jordan – absolutely crucial to Israel’s own – is increasingly at risk. The gain to Israel of the brutal new, anti-Hamas Egyptian government is small in comparison.

Israel could find itself, not too far ahead, facing an opposition far worse than Hamas, which cannot be contained by the quick-fix punitive expeditions that Israel has practised in Gaza and Lebanon in the last decade, and which are easily sold to a domestic public and tolerated by western governments. Indeed these assaults, which Israelis now think of as routine, could contribute to a radicalisation beyond Gaza, and beyond as well as within Israel-Palestine, which will genuinely threaten their security in a way in which Hamas can never do.

Seeing an opportunity in Hamas’s declining public support (and assuming, of course, that the war doesn’t reverse that trend), Goldblog urges Israel to pursue a peace settlement by unilateral means, if necessary:

Netanyahu and his ministers are notably inexpert at helping the more moderate Palestinian factions strengthen their hold on the West Bank, and they specialize in putting their collective thumb in the eye of Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority. A clever post-conflict Israeli strategy would be to help the Palestinian Authority extend its mandate more deeply into Gaza (I’ll have more about the troubled P.A.-Hamas unity government later), because there is no permanent military solution to Israel’s rocket problem, only a political one.

Some commentators, like the excellent Shlomo Avineri, believe that even Palestinian moderates such as Abbas are incapable of making final-status compromises, because they are “genuinely uninterested in a solution of two states for two peoples because they’re unwilling to grant legitimacy to the Jewish right of self-determination.” I don’t disagree that many, many Palestinians fall into this category. But I’m not giving up yet. Where Avineri is right is in his argument that Israel must take the interim steps, regardless of Palestinian participation, to protect its democratic character.

He isn’t optimistic that the rightist government will heed such calls, though. Neither is Rula Jebreal, who believes what we are seeing in Gaza today is Netanyahu’s idea of a peace strategy:

The ongoing game theory behind the Israeli air strikes and ground invasion is, in effect, “The Netanyahu Peace Plan.” It is just far easier to attack Gaza—in the name of fighting Hamas—than it is to sign a peace agreement with moderates such as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. And the latter has never been Netanyahu’s goal. Quite the contrary: By bombarding Gaza, Netanyahu can dismiss all Palestinian claims to sovereignty and self-determination—in the name of security. In turn, a perverse and cyclical game has emerged in which Israeli occupation and “security campaigns” serve only to engender further retaliatory violence and at the same time further embolden Palestinian extremists.

The moderate Palestinian leadership had already accepted all the conditions Netanyahu demanded. They renounced violence, recognized the state of Israel, and embraced a demilitarized Palestinian state. But in response, the Israeli government made no concessions, the result of which was to effectively destroy the moderate leadership within Palestinian society. Conversely, when Israel negotiated with Hamas and released more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Israel sent the perverse message that it only negotiates with those who engage in violence, while moderates such as Abbas, who attempt to negotiate in good faith, are humiliated and ignored. The recently reported “secret negotiations” between Hamas and Israel are in keeping with this policy.

(Photo: In this Israel Ministry of Defense handout, Israel Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (R) and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet with IDF forices as they visit the Southern Command July 9, 2014 in Beersheba, Israel. By Ariel Harmoni/Israel Ministry of Defense via Getty Images.)