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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on November 17th, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Uri Avnery

November 17, 2012

Another Superfluous War

HOW DID it start? Stupid question.

Conflagrations along the Gaza Strip don’t start. They are just a continuous chain of events, each claimed to be a [or “in”] “retaliation” for the previous one. Action is followed by reaction, which is followed by retaliation, which is followed by …

This particular event “started” with the firing from Gaza of an anti-tank weapon at a partially armored jeep on the Israeli side of the border fence. It was described as retaliation for the killing of a boy in an air attack some days earlier. But probably the timing of the action was accidental – the opportunity just presented itself.

The success gave rise to demonstrations of joy and pride in Gaza. Again Palestinians had shown their ability to strike at the hated enemy.

HOWEVER, THE Palestinians had in fact walked into a trap prepared with great care. Whether the order was given by Hamas or one of the smaller more extreme organizations – it was not a clever thing to do.

Shooting across the fence at an army vehicle was crossing a red line. (The Middle East is full of red lines.) A major Israeli reaction was sure to ensue.

It was rather routine. Israeli tanks fired cannon shells into the Gaza Strip. Hamas launched rockets at Israeli towns and villages. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis rushed to their shelters. Schools closed.

As usual, Egyptian and other mediators went into action. Behind the scenes, a new truce was arranged. It seemed to be over. Just another round.

The Israeli side did everything to get back to normal. Or so it seemed. The Prime Minister and the Defense Minister went out of their way (to the Syrian border) to show that Gaza was off their minds.

In Gaza, everybody relaxed. They left their shelters. Their supreme military commander, Ahmad Ja’abari, climbed into his car and drove along the main street.

And then the trap closed. The car bearing the commander was blown up by a missile from the air.

SUCH AN assassination is not carried out on the spur of the moment. It is the culmination of many months of preparation, gathering of information, waiting for the right moment, when it could be executed without killing many bystanders and causing an international scandal.

Actually, it was due to take place a day earlier, but postponed because of the bad weather.

Ja’abari was the man behind all the military activities of the Hamas government in Gaza, including the capture of Gilad Shalit and the successful five-year long hiding of his whereabouts. He was photographed at the release of Shalit to the Egyptians.

So this time it was the Israelis who were jubilant. Much like the Americans after the Osama bin-Laden assassination.

———–

THE KILLING of Ja’abari was the sign for starting the planned operation.

The Gaza Strip is full of missiles. Some of them are able to reach Tel Aviv, some 40 km away. The Israeli military has long planned a major operation to destroy as many of them as possible from the air. Intelligence has patiently gathered information about their location. This is the purpose of the “Pillar of Cloud” operation. (“And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way – Exodus 13:21).

While I am writing this, I don’t know yet how the whole thing will end. But some conclusions can already be drawn.

FIRST OF All, this is not Cast Lead II. Far from it.

The Israeli army is rather good at discreetly drawing lessons from its failures. Cast Lead was celebrated as a great success, but in reality it was a disaster.

Sending troops into a densely populated area is bound to cause heavy civilian casualties. War crimes are almost inevitable. World reaction was catastrophic. The political damage immense. The Chief of Staff at the time, Gabi Ashkenazi, was widely acclaimed, but in reality he was a rather primitive military type. His present successor is of a different caliber.

Also, grandiose statements about destroying Hamas and turning the Strip over to the Ramallah leadership have been avoided this time.

The Israeli aim, it was stated, is to cause maximum damage to Hamas with minimum civilian victims. It was hoped that this could be achieved almost entirely by the use of air power. In the first phase of the operation, this seems to have succeeded. The question is whether this can be kept up as the war goes on.

HOW WILL it end? It would be foolhardy to guess. Wars have their own logic. Stuff happens, as the man said.

Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, the two men in overall command, hope the war will wind down once the main aims are achieved. So there will be no reason to employ the army on the ground, enter the Gaza Strip, kill people, lose soldiers.

Deterrence will be restored. Another truce will come into force. The Israeli population surrounding the Strip will be able to sleep soundly at night for several months. Hamas will be cut down to size.

But will this whole exercise change the basic situation? Not likely.

Ja’abari will be replaced. Israel has assassinated dozens of Arab political and military leaders. Indeed, it is the world champion of such assassinations, politely referred to as “targeted preventions” or “eliminations”. If this were an Olympic sport, the Ministry of Defense, the Mossad and the Shin Bet would be festooned with gold medals.

Sometimes one gets the impression that the assassinations are an aim by [in] themselves, and the other operations just incidental. An artist is proud of his art.

What have the results been? Overall – nothing positive. Israel killed Hizbollah leader Abbas al-Moussawi, and got the vastly more intelligent Hassan Nasrallah instead. They killed Hamas founder Sheik Ahmad Yassin, and he was replaced by abler men. Ja’abari’s successor may be less or more able. It will make no great difference.

Will it stop the steady advance of Hamas? I doubt it. Perhaps the opposite will happen. Hamas has already achieved a significant breakthrough, when the Emir of Qatar (owner of Aljazeera) paid Gaza a state visit. He was the first head of state to do so. Others are bound to follow. Just now, in the middle of the operation, the Egyptian prime minister arrived in Gaza.

Operation “Pillar of Cloud” compels all Arab countries to rally around Hamas, or at least pretend to. It discredits the claim of the more extreme organizations in Gaza that Hamas has gone soft and lazy, enjoying the fruits of government. In the battle for Palestinian opinion, Hamas has gained another victory over Mahmoud Abbas, whose security cooperation with Israel will look even more despicable.

All in all, nothing basic will change. Just another superfluous war.

IT IS, of course, a highly political event.

Like Cast Lead, it takes place on the eve of Israeli elections. (So, by the way, did the Yom Kippur war, but that was decided by the other side.)

One of the more miserable sights of the last few days has been the TV appearances of Shelly Yachimovich and Ya’ir Lapid. The two shining new stars in Israel’s political firmament looked like petty politicians, parroting Netanyahu’s propaganda, approving everything done.

Both had hitched their wagons to the social protest, expecting that social issues would displace subjects like war, occupation and settlements from the agenda. When the public is occupied with the price of cottage cheese, who cares about national policy?

I said at the time that one whiff of military action would blow away all economic and social issues as frivolous and irrelevant. This has happened now.

Netanyahu and Barak appear many times a day on the screen. They look responsible, sober, determined, experienced. Real he-men, commanding troops, shaping events, saving the nation, routing the enemies of Israel and the entire Jewish people. As Lapid volunteered on live television: “Hamas is an anti-Semitic terrorist organization and must be crushed.”

Netanyahu is doing it. Adieu, Lapid. Adieu Shelly. Adieu Olmert. Adieu Tzipi. Was nice seeing you.

WAS THERE an alternative? Obviously, the situation along the Gaza Strip had become intolerable. One cannot send an entire population to the shelters every two or three weeks. Except hitting Hamas on the head, what can you do?

A lot.

First of all, you can abstain from “reacting”. Just cut the chain.

Then, you can talk with Hamas as the de facto government of Gaza. You did, actually, when negotiating the release of Shalit. So why not look for a permanent modus vivendi, with the involvement of Egypt?

A hudna can be achieved. In Arab culture, a hudna is a binding truce, sanctified by Allah, which can go on for many years. A hudna cannot be violated. Even the Crusaders concluded hudnas with their Muslim enemies.

The day after the assassination, Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, who had been involved in mediating Shalit’s release, disclosed that he had been in contact with Ja’abari up to the last moment. Ja’abari had been interested in a long-term cease-fire. The Israeli authorities had been informed.

But the real remedy is peace. Peace with the Palestinian people. Hamas has already solemnly declared that it would respect a peace agreement concluded by the PLO – i.e. Mahmoud Abbas – that would establish a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, provided this agreement were confirmed in a Palestinian referendum.

Without it, the bloodletting will just go on, round after round. Forever.

Peace is the answer. But when visibility is obscured by pillars of cloud, who can see that?

==========================================

What’s New in the Gaza-Israel Battle.

by Rami G. Khouri Released: 17 Nov 2012

BEIRUT — The latest flare-up of fighting on the Gaza-Israel front has generated the usual round of statements and bravado on both sides, but among the predictability of developments are also some important new elements. Three of these are in the Arab world, which is not surprising, given the historic changes taking place across the region. The responses from Israelis and the United States government, on the other hand, appear depressingly consistent with Zionism’s history of reliance on military force as the main instrument of dealing with Palestinians and Arabs, and Washington’s structurally pro-Israel position in the conflict.

The first and most important thing to say about the rekindled killing across the Israel-Gaza border is its sheer futility and waste. Neither side has the ability to completely wipe out the other, for that is what would be required to end this conflict for good. That will not happen, as both sides have proven over the past 35 years or so, since Hamas’ emergence in Palestine. Yet they are willing and able to keep fighting, despite the tremendous cost to their people.

More killing and destruction will not resolve this conflict, but a lack of a fair and negotiated resolution also means that more killing and destruction are inevitable. We should note three important new dimensions of the conflict on the Arab side, about the constantly improving technical capabilities of Palestinian resistance groups, the emergence of more radical Islamist groups over time in Gaza and around the region, and the impact of public opinion and the new, legitimate, governments in power in some Arab states. All three together suggest that a shift in the strategic balance of power may be underway in the Middle East, with huge implications.

The more advanced rockets in the hands of Palestinian resistance forces in Gaza that reached Tel Aviv Thursday generate a significant new dimension of psychological fear in Israel that mirrors the fear and tension that Israel’s aerial attacks have long inflicted on Palestinians and Lebanese. The ability of Palestinians today to fire rockets deeper into Israel, and, presumably, with more accuracy in due course, is just one indicator of the fact that time is not on Israel’s side. As long as the crime of dispossession and refugeehood that was committed against the Palestinian people in 1947-48 is not redressed through a peaceful and just negotiation that satisfies the legitimate rights of both sides, we will continue to see enhancements in both the determination and the capabilities of Palestinian fighters — as has been the case since the 1930s, in fact. Only stupid or ideologically maniacal Zionists fail to come to terms with this fact.

It is important to note the remarks by Gaza Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh Thursday night that Gazans and Palestinians everywhere will keep struggling for their national rights, with the key issue for them being the Palestinian right of return. His comments, and the resurgence of fighting, only remind everyone that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about what happened in 1947-48, not only what happened in 1967. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius noted correctly this week that, “It would be a catastrophe if there is an escalation in the region. Israel has the right to security but it won’t achieve it through violence. The Palestinians also have the right to a state.”

The second major new element in this round of fighting is the steady expansion of militant Islamists in Gaza, such as Islamic Jihad and other small groups, who make Hamas look like a relative softie. The rockets being fired into Israel emanate from several Salafist Islamist groups that have sprung up in Gaza alongside Hamas in the last decade. This mirrors trends across the Arab world, where Salafists are serving in newly elected and legitimate parliaments. This also should serve as a wake-up call to the reality that has reigned since the 1960s: If Israel does not come to terms with the political groups that now hold power in Palestine and Arab states, it will surely have to deal with more militant ones in the future.

The third new element is the changed environment in Arab public opinion around the region, where young new governments more accurately reflect the sentiments of their citizens vis-à-vis the Palestine issue. We should keep our eyes on how Tunisians and Egyptians, in particular, react to the Gaza situation. They will not go to war with Israel, but they are likely to find new and meaningful ways to express real support for Palestinians, which will increase the political pressure on Israel.

Where this combination of new elements leads us over time is not yet clear. I hope it eventually pushes all sides to acknowledge that only a fair, negotiated, resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian and wider Arab-Israeli conflicts can serve the legitimate rights of all concerned, in a way that rockets in Gaza and Tel Aviv never will.

Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon. You can follow him @ramikhouri.

========================================================

WE SAY THAT THE UN IS NOT THE BODY THAT HAS THE CAPABILITY TO DEAL WITH THE ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN ISSUE AND WE THINK THAT NO ADDED HARM WILL BE DONE BY ALLOWING THE ACCEPTANCE OF ONE OR TWO PALESTINES INTO THIS BODY – IT WAS MADE IRRELEVANT ANYWAY – FOR ALL TO SEE WHEN THOSE 120 STATES TROOPED TO TEHRAN TO ANOINT LITTLE AHMEDI-NEJAD TO BE THE HEAD OF THAT NEBULOUS UN GROUPING OF “NON-ALIGNED STATES.” YOU ASK JUSTLY – ALIGNED AGAINST WHOM? IS IT THE HATRED OF ISRAEL OR OF THE US THAT RULES THIS BODY, SOME OF WHOM ARE CLEARLY SYCOPHANTS THAT LIVED FROM US HANDOUTS?

THAT IS JUST THE START – THE SO CALLED GROUP OF 77 THAT CLAIMS 154 MEMBERS IS PUSHED AROUND BY THOSE 120 – UNDER THE 77 NAME – INCLUDING ALSO THE ECONOMICALLY SUCCESSFUL UPSTARTS.

FURTHER – IT IS THE WHOLE UN BODY THAT RELEGATED ISRAEL TO THAT OTHER INCOMPREHENSIBLE OLD NEW-WORLD OF WEOAG, AND THAT KEEPS ON ITS ROSTER THE GHOST OF THE DEFUNCT EASTERN BLOC STATES OF THE SOVIET ERA AND THAT KEPT THE ISRAELI PROBLEM ALIVE BY NOT ALLOWING FOR NORMAL ISRAEL REGIONAL MEMBERSHIP, AND THAT KEPT THE POISON OF ANTI-SEMITISM ALIVE.

WITH ISLAMISTS, AND GROWINGLY SALAFIST-ISLAMISTS, PUSHING THE WORLD BACK TO THE  SENSITIVITIES OF THE MEDITERRANEAN BASIN OF THE DARKEST AGES, IT SEEMS THAT THE CHANCE OF REACHING AN ACCEPTABLE REGIONAL SOLUTION FOR THE ISRAEL-PALESTINIAN DILEMMA WAS ALL THE TIME IN THE HANDS OF THE ARAB MONARCHIES. HISTORICALLY, IT WAS THEIR OPPOSITION TO THE PARTITION OF THE BRITISH MANDATE OVER THE OLD PALESTINE THAT CAUSED THE 1947-48 WAR AND THE LACK OF SOLUTION OF THE PALESTINE REFUGEE RESULTING PROBLEM, AND NON-RECOGNITION OF THE RESULTING POPULATION EXCHANGE THAT EVOLVED. NOW ALSO JORDAN IS IN DANGER OF INTERNAL UPHEAVAL. IF THE PALESTINIANS IN JORDAN, PUSHED BY ISLAMIST LEADERS AND PLAIN ECONOMIC REASONS, TAKE OVER THAT COUNTRY AS WELL, WILL SAUDI ARABIA, BAHRAIN, THE EMIRATES, QATAR, KUWAIT, …  BE FAR BEHIND IN THE LIST OF SUCH OVERTURNS? WHY DO THESE COUNTRIES NOT PUSH NOW FOR A JUST SOLUTION THAT DISMEMBERS THE REFUGEE CAMPS, GIVE FULL RECOGNITION TO ISRAEL, ESTABLISH FULL RELATIONS WITH ISRAEL, AND AS A FOLLOW UP LEAD TO NEGOTIATIONS FOR INTERNATIONALLY RECOGNIZED BORDERS BETWEEN ISRAEL AND ITS NEIGHBORING PALESTINE – A CORRECTED VERSION, BENT TO REALITIES ON THE GROUND, OF THAT WHAT SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED IN 1947 – SOLVING THE PALESTINIANS’ PROBLEM THAT THEIR FATHERS CREATED BY ARAB REFUSAL TO RECOGNIZE THE RIGHT OF THE HISTORIC ISRAELIS TO RE-ESTABLISH A HOMELAND? ZIONISM IS NOT COLONIALISM, BUT A CLEAR CASE OF A PEOPLE THAT REESTABLISHED THEIR HISTORIC LAND LOST BY OCCUPATION AND THE SOLOMONIC SOLUTION SUGGESTED BY THE POST-WORLD WAR II UNITED NATIONS WAS ONE OF THE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE FOUNDING OF THE  UN.

================================

Also

Israel’s Shortsighted Assassination.

By GERSHON BASKIN for The New York Times as an OP-ED Contribution.
Published: November 16, 2012

JERUSALEM

AHMED AL-JABARI — the strongman of Hamas, the head of its military wing, the man responsible for the abduction of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit — was assassinated on Wednesday by Israeli missiles.

Why? Israel’s government has declared that the aim of the current strikes against Gaza is to rebuild deterrence so that no rockets will be fired on Israel. Israel’s targeted killings of Hamas leaders in the past sent the Hamas leadership underground and prevented rocket attacks on Israel temporarily. According to Israeli leaders, deterrence will be achieved once again by targeting and killing military and political leaders in Gaza and hitting hard at Hamas’s military infrastructure. But this policy has never been effective in the long term, even when the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, was killed by Israel. Hamas didn’t lay down its guns then, and it won’t stop firing rockets at Israel now without a cease-fire agreement.

When we were negotiating with Hamas to release Mr. Shalit, members of the Israeli team believed that Mr. Jabari wouldn’t make a deal because holding Mr. Shalit was a kind of “life insurance policy.” As long as Mr. Jabari held Mr. Shalit, Israelis believed, the Hamas leader knew he was safe. The Israeli government had a freer hand to kill Mr. Jabari after Mr. Shalit was released in October 2011. His insurance policy was linked to their assessment of the value of keeping him alive. This week, that policy expired.

I believe that Israel made a grave and irresponsible strategic error by deciding to kill Mr. Jabari. No, Mr. Jabari was not a man of peace; he didn’t believe in peace with Israel and refused to have any direct contact with Israeli leaders and even nonofficials like me. My indirect dealings with Mr. Jabari were handled through my Hamas counterpart, Ghazi Hamad, the deputy foreign minister of Hamas, who had received Mr. Jabari’s authorization to deal directly with me. Since Mr. Jabari took over the military wing of Hamas, the only Israeli who spoke with him directly was Mr. Shalit, who was escorted out of Gaza by Mr. Jabari himself.

(It is important to recall that Mr. Jabari not only abducted Mr. Shalit, but he also kept him alive and ensured that he was cared for during his captivity.)

Passing messages between the two sides, I was able to learn firsthand that Mr. Jabari wasn’t just interested in a long-term cease-fire; he was also the person responsible for enforcing previous cease-fire understandings brokered by the Egyptian intelligence agency. Mr. Jabari enforced those cease-fires only after confirming that Israel was prepared to stop its attacks on Gaza. On the morning that he was killed, Mr. Jabari received a draft proposal for an extended cease-fire with Israel, including mechanisms that would verify intentions and ensure compliance. This draft was agreed upon by me and Hamas’s deputy foreign minister, Mr. Hamad, when we met last week in Egypt.

The goal was to move beyond the patterns of the past. For years, it has been the same story: Israeli intelligence discovers information about an impending terrorist attack from Gaza. The Israeli Army takes pre-emptive action with an airstrike against the suspected terror cells, which are often made up of fighters from groups like Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees or Salafi groups not under Hamas’s control but functioning within its territory. These cells launch rockets into Israeli towns near Gaza, and they often miss their targets. The Israeli Air Force responds swiftly. The typical result is between 10 and 25 casualties in Gaza, zero casualties in Israel and huge amounts of property damage on both sides.

Other key Hamas leaders and members of the Shura Council, its senior decision-making body, supported a new cease-fire effort because they, like Mr. Jabari, understood the futility of successive rocket attacks against Israel that left no real damage on Israel and dozens of casualties in Gaza. Mr. Jabari was not prepared to give up the strategy of “resistance,” meaning fighting Israel, but he saw the need for a new strategy and was prepared to agree to a long-term cease-fire.

This war is being presented in Israel, once again, as a war of “no choice.” The people of Israel are rallying around the flag as would be expected anywhere in the world. The United States government has voiced its support of the Israeli operation by stating, “Israel has the full right to defend itself and protect its citizens.” It certainly does, but we must ask whether there is another way to achieve the same goal without the use of force.

Israel has used targeted killings, ground invasions, drones, F-16s, economic siege and political boycott. The only thing it has not tried and tested is reaching an agreement (through third parties) for a long-term mutual cease-fire.

No government can tolerate having its civilian population attacked by rockets from a neighboring territory. And the firing of thousands of rockets from Gaza into Israel must end. There was a chance for a mutually agreed cease-fire. The difference between the proposal I drafted in cooperation with my Hamas counterpart and past proposals was that it included both a mechanism for dealing with impending terror threats and a clear definition of breaches. This draft was to be translated and shared with both Mr. Jabari and Israeli security officials, who were aware of our mediation efforts.

In the draft, which I understand Mr. Jabari saw hours before he was killed, it was proposed that Israeli intelligence information transmitted through the Egyptians would be delivered to Mr. Jabari so that he could take action aimed at preventing an attack against Israel. Mr. Jabari and his forces would have had an opportunity to prove that they were serious when they told Egyptian intelligence officials that they were not interested in escalation. If Mr. Jabari had agreed to the draft, then we could have prevented this new round of violence; if he had refused, then Israel would have likely attacked in much the same way as it is now.

The proposal was at least worth testing. Moreover, it included the understanding that if Israel were to take out a real ticking bomb — people imminently preparing to launch a rocket — such a strike would not be considered a breach of the cease-fire and would not lead to escalation.

Instead, Mr. Jabari is dead — and with him died the possibility of a long-term cease-fire. Israel may have also compromised the ability of Egyptian intelligence officials to mediate a short-term cease-fire and placed Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt at risk.

This was not inevitable, and cooler heads could have prevailed. Mr. Jabari’s assassination removes one of the more practical actors on the Hamas side.

Who will replace him? I am not convinced that Israel’s political and military leaders have adequately answered that question.


Gershon Baskin
is a co-chairman of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Shalit.

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