| | | |
By The Wall Street Journal
JANUARY 4, 2009
Israel's ground incursion into Gaza raises the strategic stakes for the Jewish state, for its moderate Arab neighbors, and also for Barack Obama's looming Presidency. Having committed to disarming Hamas, Israel can't now afford to lose its second war in two years.
Though the analogy isn't perfect, in some sense this Hamas exercise can be understood as Israel's version of the U.S.-Iraqi "surge" in Iraq. The year 2006 was the worst in more than a generation for Western interests in the Middle East, with al Qaeda and Iran's proxies advancing in Iraq, Hezbollah fighting Israel to a draw in Lebanon, and Hamas rising in Palestine. The 2007-2008 surge reclaimed the advantage in Iraq, and now Israel is attempting to do the same against Hamas.
The strategic question is larger than merely stopping Hamas missiles from landing in Israeli cities, though that is justification enough for Israel's bombing and the ground operation. A nation like Israel, with enemies on all sides, must maintain an aura of invincibility if it is to have any chance at peaceful co-existence. It was that aura after two wars that induced Egypt to agree to peace with Israel in the 1970s. By contrast, the 2006 Lebanon campaign convinced radical Arabs and Persians that Israel had grown soft and could be beaten. Israel can't let Hamas maintain a similar mythology at the end of this operation, or the costs will be far higher down the road.
Israeli leaders are talking as if they realize this strategic reality, though it's hard to know for sure because their war aims remain publicly ill-defined. Haim Ramon, the Israeli vice premier, says the goal is nothing short of the elimination of Hamas rule in Gaza, though that hasn't been repeated by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert or other senior war leaders. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said the operation "won't be easy or short," though understandably without much elaboration given the need to keep Hamas in the dark.
We don't agree with those who claim that Israel faces only two bad options: either a limited campaign that scores a tactical victory while allowing Hamas to survive as a military force; or a return to the full-scale occupation that Israel abandoned in 2005. Israel could re-occupy some parts of Gaza, this time without Israeli settlements to defend. More realistically, given Israel's domestic reluctance for such a presence, it could fight long enough to eliminate Hamas as a military threat, then announce a policy that every rocket fired at Israel in the future would be met by a "proportionate" airstrike or other reprisal. This would allow Israel to claim military victory in the short term, while creating a deterrent going forward.
The costs of either operation will be high. But the costs of inaction since Israel abandoned Gaza in 2005 have also been high, especially in allowing Hamas to build an army of some 15,000 men. Hamas now has missiles that can hit targets 20 miles inside Israel, leaving the entire south of the country vulnerable, and on present course longer-range missiles will eventually hit Tel Aviv. Whether or not Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is willing to reassert control of Gaza, Hamas has to be destroyed as a military force.
For the broader Middle East, the issue is the expansion of Iranian influence and terror. Like Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Sadrist "special groups" in Iraq, Hamas has become part of Tehran's bid for regional hegemony. The Bush Administration's regional setbacks in 2006 went far to encourage that Iranian ambition, though the surge has contained it in Iraq. Hezbollah remains stronger than ever in Lebanon, however, and Hamas has been pressing to humble Israel with an eye to deposing Mr. Abbas's Palestinian Authority on the West Bank as it has in Gaza.
This is where Mr. Obama comes in. The Bush Administration has rightly given Israel the diplomatic cover it needs to pursue its war aims, amid the usual Arab, European and U.N. denunciations. Similar denunciations were of course never aimed at Hamas missiles fired at Israeli civilians. As Israel's operation continues, the clamor will build for the U.S. to force Israel to stop short of defeating Hamas. Such an intervention by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice allowed Hezbollah to claim victory in 2006, and Mr. Obama should not repeat the same mistake.
Much as Mr. Obama takes office in a stronger position thanks to the Iraq surge, his foreign policy would also benefit from Israeli success in Gaza. The President-elect says he intends to pursue a grand bargain with Iran, and the mullahs are going to be more interested in diplomacy if their military proxies have been defeated. A Hamas humiliation would also show Tehran that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regional militarism has more costs than benefits.
The Israelis have done Mr. Obama a favor by striking back at Hamas before he takes office so President Bush can endure the usual global denunciations for U.S. support for Israel. But Mr. Obama will soon need to return the favor by showing Israel -- and Iran -- that the new President understands the U.S. stake in the success of Israel's Gaza surge.
By REUEL MARC GERECHT
JANUARY 7, 2009
Anyone who knows anything about the Middle East knows that Sunni and Shiite radicals don't work together -- er, except when they do. Proof that the conventional wisdom is badly wrong is on offer in Gaza, where the manifest destiny of the Islamic Republic of Iran is now unfolding. Tehran has been aiding Hamas for years with the aim of radicalizing politics across the entire Arab Middle East. Now Israel's response to thousands of Hamas rocket provocations appears to be doing just that.
Born in the 1980s from the ruins of the Palestine Liberation Organization's corrupt and decaying secular nationalism, Hamas is a grass-roots, Sunni Islamist movement that has made Shiite Iran a front-line player in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Before Hamas, the mullahs had financed the Palestine Islamic Jihad, whose holy warriors became renowned suicide bombers. But Islamic Jihad has always been a fringe group within Palestinian society. As national elections revealed in 2006, Hamas is mainstream.
Although often little appreciated in the West, revolutionary Iran's ecumenical quest has remained a constant in its approach to Sunni Muslims. The anti-Shiite rhetoric of many Sunni fundamentalist groups has rarely been reciprocated by Iran's ruling elite. Since the death in 1989 of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the charismatic, quintessentially Shiite leader of the Islamic revolution, Iran's ruling mullahs have tried assiduously to downplay the sectarian content in their militant message.
Khomeini's successor, Ali Khamenei, has consistently married his virulent anti-American rhetoric (Khomeini's "Great Satan" has become Khamenei's "Satan Incarnate") with a global appeal to faithful Muslims to join the battle against the U.S. and its allies. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the most politically adept of the revolution's founding clerics, loved to sponsor militant Sunni-Shiite gatherings when he was speaker of parliament and later as president (1989-1997). He and Mr. Khamenei, who have worked hand-in-hand on national-security issues and have unquestionably authorized every major terrorist operation since the death of Khomeini in 1989, have always been the ultimate pragmatists, even reaching out to Arab Sunni radicals with a strong anti-Shiite bent.
The most radical branch of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad Organization and its most famous member, Ayman al-Zawahiri, became favored Arab poster boys for the clerical regime in the 1980s and 1990s even though Islamic Jihad, like other extremist takfiri Sunni groups, damns Shiites with almost the same gusto as it damns Western infidels. The laissez-passers that Iran gave members of al Qaeda before Sept. 11, 2001 (see the 9/11 Commission Report), the training offered to al Qaeda in the 1990s by the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah (again, see the report), and the "detention" of senior members of al Qaeda fleeing Afghanistan after the American invasion are best seen against the backdrop of clerical Iran's three-decade long outreach to radical Sunnis who loathe Americans more than they hate Shiites.
In 2003, Iran launched two Arabic satellite TV channels both under the guidance of the former Revolutionary Guards commander Ali Larijani, a well-dressed, well-trimmed puritan with a Ph.D. in philosophy who crushed a brief period of intellectual openness in Iran's media in the early 1990s. A favorite of Mr. Khamenei, Mr. Larijani pushed TV content extolling Hamas, anti-Israeli suicide bombers, anti-Semitism and an all-Muslim insurgency in Iraq. Iran's remarkably subdued rhetoric against Arabs who gave loud support to insurgents and holy warriors slaughtering Iraqi Shiites between 2004 and 2007 is inextricably tied to Tehran's determination to keep Muslim eyes focused on the most important issue -- the battle against America and Israel. Iran's full-bore backing of Hezbollah in the July 2006 war with the Jewish State, a conflict that Tehran and its Syrian ally precipitated by their aggressive military support of Hezbollah, drew Sunni eyes further away from Iraq's internecine strife.
The 2006 Lebanon war, which lasted 34 days and saw Hezbollah's Iranian-trained forces embarrass the Israeli army, made Tehran's favorite Arab son, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, one of the most admired men in the Sunni Arab world. This was a remarkable achievement given that Hezbollah had helped Iran train some of the Iraqi Shiite militants who were wreaking a horrific vengeance against Baghdad's Sunni Arabs in 2006 -- a bloodbath that was constantly on Arab satellite television.
Prominent Sunni rulers -- Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah -- have railed against a "Shiite arc" of power forming in the Near East, only to see few echoes develop outside of the region's officially controlled media. Although the Sunni Arab rulers have sometimes shown considerable anxiety about the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon, Sunni fundamentalist organizations affiliated with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, the mother ship for Sunni Islamists, have been much more restrained in expressing their trepidation.
With strong ties to its fundamentalist brethren along the Nile, Hamas has given Iran (really for the first time, and so far at little cost) an important ally within the fundamentalist circles of the Muslim Brotherhood. One of the Islamic revolution's great disappointments was that it failed to produce more allies within the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and its many offshoots.
The revolution certainly inspired many within the movement in Egypt and in Syria. But Iran's ties to the ruling Syrian Allawite elite -- a heretical Shiite sect that Sunni fundamentalists detest -- complicated its outreach to Sunni militants. When Syria's dictator Hafez Assad slaughtered thousands of Sunni fundamentalists in the town of Hama in 1982, and revolutionary Iran remained largely silent, Tehran's standing within the Muslim Brotherhood collapsed.
With Hamas, Iran has the opportunity to make amends. The mullahs have a chance of supplanting Saudi Arabia, the font of the most vicious anti-Shiite Sunni creed, as the most reliable backer of Palestinian fundamentalists. Even more than the Lebanese Hezbollah, which remains tied to and constrained by the complex matrix of Lebanese politics, Hamas seems willing to absorb enormous losses to continue its jihad against Israel. Where Saudi Arabia has been uneasy about the internecine strife among Palestinians -- it has bankrolled both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas -- Iran has put its money on the former.
Although Fatah, the ruling party within the Palestinian Authority, may get a second wind thanks to the excesses of Hamas and the Israelis' killing much of Hamas's brain power and muscle, it is difficult to envision Fatah reviving itself into an appealing political alternative for faithful Palestinians. Fatah is hopelessly corrupt, often brutal, and without an inspiring raison d'Ítre: a Palestine of the West Bank and Gaza is, as Hamas correctly points out, boring, historically unappealing, and a noncontiguous geographic mess. Fatah only sounds impassioned when it gives vent to its anti-Israeli, anti-Semitic, profoundly Muslim roots. It's no accident that the religious allusions and suicide bombers of Fatah and Hamas after 2000 were hard to tell apart. If Hamas can withstand the current Israeli attack on its leadership and infrastructure, then the movement's aura will likely be impossible to match. Iran's influence among religious Palestinians could skyrocket.
Through Hamas, Tehran can possibly reach the ultimate prize, the Egyptian faithful. For reasons both ancient and modern, Egypt has perhaps the most Shiite-sympathetic religious identity in the Sunni Arab world. As long as Hamas remains the center of the Palestinian imagination -- and unless Hamas loses its military grip on Gaza, it will continue to command the attention of both the Arab and Western media -- Egypt's politics remain fluid and potentially volatile. Tehran is certainly under no illusions about the strength of Egypt's military dictatorship, but the uncertainties in Egypt are greater now than they have been since the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981.
President Hosni Mubarak, Sadat's successor, is old and in questionable health. His jet-setting son or a general may succeed him. Neither choice will resuscitate the regime's legitimacy, which has plummeted even among the highly Westernized elite. The popularity and mosque-power of the Muslim Brotherhood, which would likely win a free election, continues to rise. A turbulent Gaza where devout Muslims are in a protracted, televised fight with the cursed Jews could add sufficient heat to make Egyptian politics really interesting. The odds of Egypt cracking could be very small -- the police powers of the Egyptian state are, when provoked, ferocious -- but they are now certainly enough to keep the Iranians playing.
Where once Ayatollah Khomeini believed in the revolutionary potential of soft power (Iran's example was supposed to topple the pro-American autocrats throughout the Middle East), Khomeini's children are firm believers in hard power, covert action, duplicity and persistence. With Gaza and Egypt conceivably within Tehran's grasp, the clerical regime will be patient and try to keep Gaza boiling.
It is entirely possible that Tehran could overplay its hand among the Palestinians as it overplayed its hand among Iraqi Shiites, turning sympathetic Muslims into deeply suspicious, nationalistic patriots. The Israeli army could deconstruct Hamas's leadership sufficiently that Gaza will remain a fundamentalist mess that inspires more pity than the white-hot heat that comes when jihadists beat infidels in battle. But with a nuclear-armed Iran just around the corner, the mullahs will do their best to inspire.
Ultimately, it's doubtful that Tehran will find President-elect Barack Obama's offer of more diplomacy, or the threat of more European sanctions, to be compelling. The price of oil may be low, but the mullahs have seen worse economic times. In 30 years, they have not seen a better constellation of forces. And as the Shiite prayer goes, perhaps this time round the Sunnis, too, inshallah (God willing), will see the light.
Mr. Gerecht, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
By BENJAMIN NETANYAHU
JANUARY 7, 2009
Imagine a siren that gives you 30 seconds to find shelter before a Kassam rocket falls from the sky and explodes, spraying its lethal shrapnel in all directions. Now imagine this happens day after day, month after month, year after year.
If you can imagine that, you can begin to understand the terror to which hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been subjected. Three years ago Israel withdrew from every square inch of Gaza. And since that withdrawal, our civilians have been targeted by more than 6,000 rockets and mortars fired from Gaza. In the face of this relentless bombardment, Israel has acted with a restraint that other countries, faced with a similar threat, would find hard to fathom. Israel's government has finally decided to respond.
For this action to succeed, we must first have moral clarity. There is no moral equivalence between Israel, a democracy which seeks peace and targets the terrorists, and Hamas, an Iranian-backed terror organization that seeks Israel's destruction and targets the innocent.
In launching precision strikes against Hamas rocket launchers, headquarters, weapons depots, smuggling tunnels and training camps, Israel is trying to minimize civilian casualties. But Hamas deliberately attacks Israeli civilians and deliberately hides behind Palestinian civilians -- a double war crime. Responsible governments do their utmost to minimize civilian casualties, but they do not grant immunity to terrorists who use civilians as human shields.
The international community may occasionally condemn Hamas for putting Palestinian civilians in harm's way, but if it ultimately holds Israel responsible for the casualties that ensue, then Hamas and other terror organizations will employ this abominable tactic again and again.
The charge that Israel is using disproportionate force is equally baseless. Does proportionality demand that Israel fire 6,000 rockets indiscriminately back at Gaza? Does it demand an equal number of casualties on both sides? Using that logic, one would conclude that the United States employed disproportionate force against the Germans because 20 times as many Germans as Americans died in World War II.
In that same war, Britain responded to the firing of thousands of rockets on its population with the wholesale bombing of German cities. Israel's measured response to rocket fire on its cities has come in the form of surgical strikes. To further root out Hamas terrorists in a way that minimizes Palestinian civilian casualties, Israel's army is now engaged in a ground operation that places its soldiers in great peril. Carpet-bombing of Palestinian cities is not an option that any Israeli leader will entertain.
The goal of this mission should be clear: To end the current round of missile attacks and to remove the threat of such attacks in the future. The only cease-fire or diplomatic initiative that should be accepted is one that achieves this dual objective.
If our enemies assumed that the Israeli public would be divided on the eve of an election, they were wrong. When it comes to exercising our most basic right of self-defense, there is no opposition and no coalition. We stand united against Hamas because we know that only by defeating Hamas can we provide security for our people and hope for a future peace.
We fight to defend ourselves, but in so doing we are also fighting a fanatical ideology that seeks to reverse the course of history and throw the civilized world back into a new dark age. The struggle between militant Islam and modernity -- whether fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, India or Gaza -- will decide our common future. It is a battle we cannot afford to lose.
Mr. Netanyahu, Israel's ninth prime minister, is the chairman of the Likud Party and its candidate for prime minister.
By MARVIN HIER
JANUARY 8, 2009
The world-wide protests against Israel's ground incursion into Gaza are so full of hatred that they leave me with the terrible feeling that these protests have little to do with the so-called disproportionality of the Israeli response to Hamas rockets, or the resulting civilian casualties.
My fear is that the rage we see in the protesters marching in the streets is far more profound and dangerous than we would like to believe. There are a great many people in the world who, even after Auschwitz, just can't bear the Jewish state having the same rights they so readily grant to other nations. These voices insist Israel must take risks they would never dare ask of any other nation-state -- risks that threaten its very survival -- because they don't believe Israel should exist in the first place.
Just look at the spate of attacks this week on Jews and Jewish institutions around the world: a car ramming into a synagogue in France; a Chabad menorah and Jewish-owned shops sprayed with swastikas in Belgium; a banner at an Australian rally demanding "clean the earth from dirty Zionists!"; demonstrators in the Netherlands chanting "Gas the Jews"; and in Florida, protestors demanding Jews "Go back to the ovens!"
How else can we explain the double-standard that is applied to the Gaza conflict, if not for a more insidious bias against the Jewish state?
At the U.N., no surprise, this double-standard is in full force. In response to Israel's attack on Hamas, the Security Council immediately pulled an all-night emergency meeting to consider yet another resolution condemning Israel. Have there been any all-night Security Council sessions held during the seven months when Hamas fired 3,000 rockets at half a million innocent civilians in southern Israel? You can be certain that during those seven months, no midnight oil was burning at the U.N. headquarters over resolutions condemning terrorist organizations like Hamas. But put condemnation of Israel on the agenda and, rain or shine, it's sure to be a full house.
Red Cross officials are all over the Gaza crisis, describing it as a full-blown humanitarian nightmare. Where were they during the seven months when tens of thousands of Israeli families could not sleep for fear of a rocket attack? Where were their trauma experts to decry that humanitarian crisis?
There have been hundreds of articles and reports written from the Erez border crossing falsely accusing Israel of blocking humanitarian supplies from reaching beleaguered Palestinians in Gaza. (In fact, over 520 truck loads of humanitarian aid have been delivered through Israeli crossings since the beginning of the Israeli counterattack.) But how many news articles, NGO reports and special U.N. commissions have investigated Hamas's policy of deliberately placing rocket launchers near schools, mosques and homes in order to use innocent Palestinians as human shields?
Many people ask why there are so few Israeli casualties in comparison with the Palestinian death toll. It's because Israel's first priority is the safety of its citizens, which is why there are shelters and warning systems in Israeli towns. If Hamas can dig tunnels, it can certainly build shelters. Instead, it prefers to use women and children as human shields while its leaders rush into hiding.
And then there are the clarion calls for a cease-fire. These words, which come so easily, have proven to be a recipe for disaster. Hamas uses the cease-fire as a time-out to rearm and smuggle even more deadly weapons so the next time, instead of hitting Sderot and Ashkelon, they can target Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
The pattern is always the same. Following a cease-fire brought on by international pressure, there will be a call for a massive infusion of funds to help Palestinians recover from the devastation of the Israeli attack. The world will respond eagerly, handing over hundreds of millions of dollars. To whom does this money go? To Hamas, the same terrorist group that brought disaster to the Palestinians in the first place.
The world seems to have forgotten that at the end of World War II, President Harry Truman initiated the Marshall Plan, investing vast sums to rebuild Germany. But he did so only with the clear understanding that the money would build a new kind of Germany -- not a Fourth Reich that would continue the policies of Adolf Hitler. Yet that is precisely what the world will be doing if we once again entrust funds to Hamas terrorists and their Iranian puppet masters.
In less than two weeks, Barack Obama will be sworn in as president of the United States. But there is no "change we can believe in" in the Middle East -- not where Israel is concerned. The double-standard continuously applied to the Jewish state proves that, for much of the world, the real lessons of World War II have yet to be learned.
Mr. Hier, a rabbi, is the founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance.
By Dick Morris
JANUARY 6, 2009
Published on TheHill.com on January 6, 2009
The ostensible purpose of the war in Gaza is for Israel to wipe out Hamas and eliminate its capacity to rain rockets down on its citizens. Both the dovish leaders in the current Israeli government -- Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak -- and the international diplomatic community want to get rid of Hamas and leave the more moderate Palestinian Authority as the sole negotiating agent for the Palestinians. So the Israeli attacks have not received the kind of international condemnation and vitriol that they usually attract.
But the real purpose of this war is to get Livni elected prime minister and defeat Bibi Netanyahu. It is no accident that after years in which 8,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza on Israel (3,000 in 2008 alone), the Israeli government chose a moment six weeks before the Feb. 10 election to retaliate. Livni and her likely coalition partner Barak need to show that they are tough enough to lead Israel. And the international community, desperate to avoid a Netanyahu government, is determined to let them.
But it won't work for one basic reason: Livni and Barak are weak compared to Netanyahu and won't bring to bear the degree of force necessary to accomplish their objective. Instead, they will wage the war with one eye on the international reaction and will pull the punches needed to bring Hamas to submission. They will not close the Gaza border to supplies, and they will cave in to demands to suspend the ground war long before it has silenced Hamas.
Livni and Barak will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by giving up before final victory is achieved. And their obvious failure to persevere will be all Netanyahu needs to win the election.
After all, Livni, Olmert and Barak have set a very high standard for success. Having triggered the war in order to stop Hamas's rocket attacks, they cannot stop it and declare victory unless the attacks do, in fact, stop. Hamas cannot let Israel silence its attacks while it still breathes and has life. So the attacks won't stop. With 1.5 million homes to hide in, the Israeli Army cannot hope to destroy every rocket and every launcher and kill every terrorist. The attacks will continue, as they have continued, day after day, even during the invasion. And, faced with international pressure and the dissatisfaction war is causing in their internal party ranks, Livni and Barak will lose their gamble.
President-elect Obama, for his part, has remained largely silent, declaring that America has "only one president at a time." But his silence is militated as much by his desire to see Livni get elected as by any support for Israel or reticence to speak out while Bush still serves. He needs Livni to win just as Bill Clinton needed the Labor Party and Shimon Peres to win while he was president. If Israel is to be led by Netanyahu, Obama will be in perpetual conflict with the tough Israeli leader. He will constantly be constrained to try to hold Netanyahu back from military attacks on Iran and on Hamas and Hezbollah, and he won't bring Netanyahu to any negotiations until the Israeli leader feels he has a partner with whom to negotiate. Netanyahu is not going to play the game of pretending that the emperor has clothes by believing that the Palestinian Authority represents anyone but itself. He will demand that the Palestinians show their interest in peace through negotiations by electing leaders who want to negotiate. Otherwise, land for peace will be DOA in the Israeli Cabinet.
So it is in everybody's interest that Livni win, except for Israel's. Because Hamas and Iran represent real threats, not just phantoms, Israel will be ill-served if the current demonstration of toughness leads them to elect doves for the next five years. Doves won't defeat terrorists.