Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Long Wait

In her recent opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post, Naomi Chazan laments the predictability of the conflict related to Gaza (emphasis added here):

Gaza is imploding, and once again everyone remotely involved is reacting according to a predetermined script. The Kassams are flying, Israel is bombing, the Quartet is consulting, humanitarian groups are appealing, and no respite is in sight.

Rote responses to predictable actions may be emotionally understandable; they don't begin to address the ever-worsening Gaza Syndrome which now endangers the entire region.
Chazan continues further on in the piece:

Israel has responded to the latest spate of rocket attacks on Sderot in a sadly Pavlovian manner. The Olmert government, under immense domestic pressure, has intensified air strikes while continuing its efforts to delink Gaza from the West Bank. In doing so it has not only contributed to the growing chaos, but has played directly into the hands of the extremists who are counting on such a policy to thwart any progress on the diplomatic front.

Fine-tuning repetitious (but scarcely successful) methods is not a way to correct mistakes, just as revenge is hardly a substitute for informed and crafted decision-making.

There is merit to other parts of Chazan's article. However, one core assertion is simply wrong: that Israel's targeted response to the Qassams is unsuccessful or counter-productive. Agreed it is predictable, but on the contrary, this response has consistently proved to be successful.

Israel's response to Qassams has been to target the leadership of those organisations responsible for the rockets. Since Hamas recently escalated the Qassam rocket firings of Israeli towns, it is the Hamas leadership that is now targeted.

This may be a predictable response, but Chazan underestimates the reason for its predictability. It is not for political or emotional reasons, but because it works.

Not long after every Israeli campaign to target the terrorist leaders, there is a decline in the number of attacks, for three main reasons:

1. Those in operational positions to command rocket firings are prevented from doing so by their arrest or killing,

2. By removing the more experienced leaders, the remaining terrorists operate with less experience, resulting in more failures and worse performance, and

3. Targeting leaders has a strong deterrence factor. The decision-makers tend to demur when they are in the cross-hairs.

And so we see the natural progression:

1. Palestinian terrorists escalate attacks on Israeli civilians

2. Israel initially shows restraint (typically under pressure from Western countries who would likely panic if they were in the same position)

3. Palestinian terrorists continue to escalate attacks on Israeli civilians

4. Israel finally decides to act, but first targets the operational actors

5. Palestinian terrorist leaders continue to give the green light to attacks on Israeli civilians

6. Israel decides to then target the terrorist leaders themselves

7. Palestinian terrorist leaders put the brakes on further attacks on Israeli civilians

Reading through the detailed and insightful live-blogged commentary of recent conflict at Israellycool will confirm this.

Granted to Chazan that the Israeli response does not win the war. A military solution will not alone solve this conflict.

But that is not the purpose of the Israeli response. The purpose is twofold:

1. to win the immediate battle at hand (battle is normally between combatants, but with Palestinian terrorists on one side, it is natural that the other side be civilian and Israeli), and

2. de-escalate the terrorism against Israeli civilians,

which it does predictably and consistently.

For that alone, it is not a mistake but instead a successful response.

Further, the Israeli response has little or no bearing on the final outcome.

No battle, no intifada, no peace proposal, no diplomacy has ever brought a successful solution to the wider conflict.

Actions by Israel - whether military, political, diplomatic or economic - are not correlated negatively with a solution to the conflict.

They are essentially uncorrelated.

At a push, one could argue the opposite case:

1. the second 'intifada' (the terrorist one) followed the Oslo peace process

2. the buildup of Hizballah - leading ultimately to the Second Lebanon War - followed the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon

3. the election of Hamas and rise in conflict with Israel in summer 2006 and 2007, followed the complete withdrawal of all Jews from Gaza in 2005

Remember, diplomacy means Israeli concessions. Israeli concessions means weakness in Palestinian eyes. And weakness is provocation.

Until the Palestinians realise that (a) support for the terrorists among them and (b) a rejectionist stance will result in defeat rather victory, this cycle of non-solution will continue.

Before this realisation occurs, diplomacy, negotiations and Israeli concessions are pointless. More correctly, it is counter-productive and invites conflict.

During this time, Israeli Defence Forces, and the executive who oversee them, have a duty to protect the Israeli civilians from threats to their safety.

Hunker down. It's the Long Wait.

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