By Major Shawn Pine
As the situation between Israel and the Palestinians continues to erode, Israeli decision makers are scrambling to come up with a coherent, effective policy to meet the current threat. Unfortunately, Israeli strategic analysis and political decision making has thus far proven inept. Since the Oslo Accords, successive Israeli governments, with the exception of the Netanyahu government, have failed to accurately access the political situation and formulate a coherent strategy based upon the fundamental premise that their primary function is the security of Israeli citizens.
Israeli participation in the Oslo process was predicated on a number of erroneous strategic assumptions. These included:
1. That Arafat's political isolation in Tunis, and his inability to control events occurring in the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the 1987 intifada, had made him willing to seriously negotiate an end to the Palestinian - Israeli conflict. From his signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, to his endorsement of the Tenet and Mitchell plains, Arafat has demonstrated time after time that he is unwilling to adhere to any of the agreements of which he is a signatory.
2. That Arafat's support for Saddam Hussein had marginalized him internationally thereby making him more willing to reach a peace agreement with Israel. While political realities prompted Arafat to sign a series of agreements he has never considered them more than a political tool for achievement of the goal he articulated in his 1974 plan which called for the phased destruction of Israel.
3. That the crux of the Arab - Israeli conflict was over the territories that Israel captured in the 1967 Arab - Israeli war. Arafat's categorical rejection of Barak's July 2000 offer of some 98% of the territories, including de facto Palestinian control over East Jerusalem, demonstrated that the core of the conflict is not territories captured in the 1967 Arab - Israeli war.
4. That the potential ballistic threat posed a much greater threat to Israel than that posed by the Palestinians. Israel's nuclear capability serves as a powerful deterrent to ballistic threats posed by its neighbors. However, the type of terrorist warfare that is now being waged by the Palestinians has mitigated much of Israel's conventional might. This is primarily due to an Israeli hesitancy to use its military power to protect its citizens.
Ironically, until July 2000, Arafat had proven himself far more adept in his strategic analysis than his Israeli counterparts. Arafat correctly assessed that:
1. The majority of Israelis had tired of the conflict and were willing to negotiate a territorial compromise over the territories captured in 1967. This fact was reflected in a myriad of polls that showed nearly two thirds of Israelis supported the peace process. This support continued up until the Fall of 2000 and the outbreak of the current intifada.
2. The intifada and his support for Iraq during the Persian Gulf War had eroded both his stature internationally and within the territories. Arafat correctly assessed that he needed a bold step to reestablish his control over his people and to regain his international stature.
3. That the political schism within Israeli society would prevent Israeli leaders from formulating a coherent effective strategy to counter his refusal to adhere to the peace accords.
4. That the Israeli Labor government, and its supporters, would ignore his violations of the accord. Arafat correctly assessed that he could manipulate the Israelis to continue the peace process while at the same time he supported and placated militant Palestinian factions. Even Arafat had to be surprised at the success of this tactic.
5. That the international community would ignore his violations of the accords in hopes of achieving a "final" peace that would serve the economic interests of the United States, Asia and the EU.
Ironically, Israel may have Osma Bin Laden to thank for saving them from themselves. The attacks of September 11, 2001, precipitated a fundamental shift in American perceptions of the conflict and ended U.S. tolerance for Palestinian terrorism. The American and European reaction to the attacks of September 11 highlighted the hypocritical nature of both the European and American positions vis-à-vis the Palestinian - Israeli peace process. The first months following the September 11th attacks, the U.S. continued to call for Israeli restraint and continued to claim that there was a fundamental difference between the unfettered U.S. war against Al Queda and the Israeli war against Hamas and Islamic Jihad. However, President Bush's belated recognition that there was no intrinsic difference between the struggle of the two countries against Islamic terrorism represented a fundamental shift in U.S. foreign policy. President Bush should be lauded for his recognition that Israel has the right to protect its citizens and that this may require the use of massive military force.
Israeli decision makers need to consider the following factors in formulating their strategic assessment of the current situation:
1. That the crux of the Arab - Israeli conflict is not over territories captured in the 1967 War. Israel is perceived by the Arabs as an alien, colonial occupier of Arab lands.
2. That Israel is engaged in an existential war with the Palestinians.
3. That Arafat is unwilling, or unable, to fulfill any commitments to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the dispute.
4. That the events of September 11, 2001, have changed the geo-strategic dynamics in the region. The attack on the United States engaged the world's only superpower in the struggle against Islamic terrorism. President Bush seems determined to eradicate Islamic terrorism and to minimize that threat to Americans. More important, the American people now understand what the Israelis have been experiencing over the last decade. The United States may continue to urge Israel to negotiate with Arafat and may even admonish it publicly for taking military action against the Palestinians. However, in light of the U.S. response against the Taliban and Al Queda this criticism will be muted.
5. That in a unipolar world, Israel's neighbors are not prepared to confront Israel militarily. Any military venture by Egypt, Syria, or Iraq would prove disastrous for those countries. Moreover, within the context of the current political environment, a broader regional war would leave the Arab countries bereft of the support of a superpower.
6. That the current policy of targeted assassinations and "measured response" is failing. Indeed, given the historical brutality and massacres that Arab leaders have perpetrated on their people, the Israeli response has been met with ridicule by the Arabs. Israeli restraint is perceived as weakness and a recognition of a lack of Israeli will to defend their country.
In the current political reality, the concept of "peace with security" is an illusion. Rather than inculcate the Palestinians with the concept of peaceful coexistence, Arafat has imbued them with the notion that they are engaged in a "Jihad" against Israel. The Palestinians believe they are weakening Israeli resolve. The unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, the destruction of an Israeli Merkava tank, the death of an elite Israeli commando, reservists refusing to serve, and the daily terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians are eroding Israeli morale. These events, coupled with the failure of Israeli decision-makers to decisively respond to Palestinian terrorism have convinced the Palestinians that they are winning their struggle to destroy the Israeli State.
As Sharon formulates an Israeli response to the latest terrorist attacks he needs to be reminded that tentative, targeted, restrained operations against terrorist organizations have rarely succeeded. From Indochina to Algeria history is replete with examples of indigenous terrorist organizations defeating modern armies because those armies lacked the political will to use the requisite force to fulfill their political objectives. This is precisely the rationale that the Israeli left uses for advocating Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza. However, the problem with these historical analogies is that the Palestinians not only view the Israeli presence in the territories captured in the 1967 war as Western, colonial imperialism, they view the Israeli presence in the region as nothing more than colonial occupation of Arab lands. Unfortunately, Arafat has done nothing to disabuse his people from this notion. The time for restraint has ended and Sharon needs to disabuse himself of the notion he articulated last June when he proclaimed that restraint is a form of power.
In this regard, the Israelis should take a lesson from the U.S. and its response to the Taliban and Al Queda. What is needed is an Israeli military response that is massive, swift, and decisive. Similar to the 1978 Litani operations in response to the coastal road massacre. The intent of the operation should not be to reoccupy territories. Rather it should be to kill as many Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Force 17 and Tazanim members as possible. The operations should be of short duration, 48 to 72 hours, and they should be a massive display of Israeli military might with the understanding that there may be substantial collateral damage.
Initially, such a response will not eradicate terrorism. However, the Israelis should retaliate to each subsequent Palestinian terrorist attack in a massive, disproportionate manner. It should do so with the understanding that such actions will engender international condemnation and threats. However, most of these threats will be little more than vacuous posturing. In the current geo-strategic environment the only voice that counts is that of the United States. Consequently, Israel should initiate a massive publicity campaign directed at the United States to explain why Israel was forced to take such measures. In this respect, Israel need only repeat declarations made by U.S. political and military leaders regarding the U.S. war against Islamic terrorism. Given the American experience of September 11 Israel will find a very sympathetic ear within the American executive and legislative branches as well as the American people.
Only by doing so will Israel reestablish its deterrence credibility and achieve security with an absence of war. Finally, Peres is correct when he states that the Israeli - Palestinian conflict requires a political solution. In that respect, it is worth remembering the famous Clausewitzian dictum that war is an extension of politics by other means.
Shawn Pine is a Major in the active US Army Reserves specializing in counterintelligence and is a military/strategic analyst. He has published a number of articles concerning the prevailing political, military, and strategic environment in the Middle East and is a research associate of the Israeli-based Ariel Center for Policy Research and the US-based Freeman Center For Strategic Studies.
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