Saturday, January 17, 2009

On balance: Evaluation of the Israeli festival of slaughter and butchery in Gaza

From war to war (which is a title of a book by Nadav Safran), that is the context in which we need to evaluate our century-old conflict with Israel. You can't isolate each chapter or war or slaughter and analyze it without the larger context of the conflict. The press conference by the Israeli prime minister and his defense minister was remarkable: less triumphalist than usual, and certainly vague about goals and successes. Now we can evaluate the goals within the context of Israel's declared goals, and within the context of Israel's strategic plan. For somebody of my age, I can say this at first: that from 1948 until the 1990s, every Israeli military success more smashing the one before: the 1973 was a different story because it was the only Arab-Israeli war that was initiated by the Arab side (remarkable when you think about the propaganda of the "beleaguered Israel"), and it was bungled by the Egyptian (Nazi) dictator, Anwar Sadat (Jimmy Carter's favorite personality and friend), and Israel (contrary to present-day Arab states' propaganda) wound up winning overall at the end. So Israel's strategic posture was predicated on intimidating 1) the armies of the enemy; 2) the population of the enemy. Israeli psychological warfare succeeded for decades in convincing the enemy that Israel is way too mighty and way too invincible to be damaged by any military effort. Arabs reached a mood of defeatism that permeated the political culture, and helped in securing the survival and propaganda of the ruling regimes. Israel's tactic was meant to discourage any political violence or even defense from the other side. You also need to compare to the times when Israel faced non-state actors: we have different episodes: from Al-Karamah battle in 1968 (a crucial watershed in fida'iyyin recruitment), to the various chapters of Israeli invasions of Lebanon culminating in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. I am quite familiar and witnessed the responses to Israeli invasions of Lebanon. It is in that context that I find Gaza (under siege and cut off from the world with Egypt playing the role of the ally of Israel) to be an utter failure for the Israeli side. I never expected much from Hamas in terms of military effectiveness, and I think that the Israeli-Egyptian-Saudi-Dahlan plan was based on a low estimation of Hamas' military effectiveness. In previous confrontations in the West Bank or in Lebanon in the 1980s, the Israeli military would bomb from the air for a day or two, and then advance swiftly. And that was exactly what happened in the invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 1982: now, the lack of stiff resistance back then had to do with many factors, including the lousy leadership of `Arafat (who cared about preserving his little empire more than about resistance and who is not dead enough as far as I am concerned, and may his grave deepen), the gap between people of the South and the resistance, and the financial regularization of the PLO's fighting force, and the psychological factor that often curtailed the ability of the fighting force, all helped the Israeli plan. True, there was stiff resistance in some places: like Rashidiyyah and `Ayn Al-Hilwah but it was sporadic and disorganized. Only in West Beirut, a strong fighting force was prepared and they were ready for a confrontation with Israel, and that is why Israel never invaded the city: it only waited until the evacuation of the fighters and then supervised the butchery of the women and children in the Sabra and Shatila camps--slaughter of women and children is a classic specialty of the Zionist forces even before the establishment of the state. But Hamas performed far better than the expectations of its enemies and even of its leadership in Syria and Lebanon. Israel would have succeeded if it achieved what it wanted: to achieve an unconditional surrender of Hamas. That's what it used to get from Fatah in the West Bank: Arafat would negotiate the terms of his surrender with third-parties and that would be that (like in Bethlehem). Yet, Hamas defiance and the launching of rockets continued to the last day--in fact it continues as I write this from what I see on the screen. Hamas leaders did not leave as Fatah leaders and fighters would (in the era under Arafat-Dahlan-Rajjub in the West Bank bantustan after Oslo), but continued in stiff resistance and defiance to the very last end. So Israel failed in 1) achieving a total surrender of Hamas; 2) in propping up the Dahlan-Abu Mazen gangs who are more discredited today than ever. Early in the campaign, Dahlan appeared on Al-Arabiyya and on Egyptian TV and was quite bombastic because he was expecting that the matter would be over in the first week. When that did not happen, he disappeared, and some say that he went back to Montenegro--his news base. 3) Israel failed in achieving a victory that it needed: a victory that would once and for all put to rest the humiliating defeat of Israel in 2006. Hamas knew that its performance was extremely influential in possibly dramatically altering the image of the Israeli soldiers in the eyes of all Arabs: fighters and lay people alike, and it knew that expectations were in building on the performance on Hizbullah in 2006; 4) Israel failed in creating a rift between the Palestinian people and Hamas, just as it failed to create a rift between the population of the South and Hizbullah, its silly SMS messages notwithstanding; 5) Israel failed in putting an end to the rockets; 6) Israel failed in smashing Hamas; 7) Israel failed in creating a new psychological climate in the Middle East: it was expected that Israel would use more massive and indiscriminate violence than before, and that it would try to "shock and awe" more than before because it wanted to kill the image of its humiliation in South Lebanon. That was not accomplished despite the high number of casualties among the civilians. 8) Israeli prime minister today bragged about intelligence successes: but that was inflated. It is true the killing of two Hamas leaders (along with tens of innocent civilians but that is how Israel "assassinates") was a success for Israel but there are other Hamas leaders. Plus, Israel policy of assuming that an organization would die by killing the leader has always been one of the many dumb Israeli miscalculations. The most recent case was in 1992 when Israeli terrorist leaders killed Abbas Musawi (and his family) and they got...Hasan Nasrallah instead. I have no doubt that they probably now regret killing Musawi. And Hamas now operates on the assumption that all leaders may die and they have most likely structured the organization on that assumption, unlike the centrally run, say, DFLP or Fatah under `Arafat. 9) Israel failed to build on the years-old Saudi policy of mobilizing Arab public opinion against Iran, instead of Israel. That clearly failed miserably. If anything, Arab public opinion is more mobilized against Israel than any other time in memory. 10) Israel failed to sell its slaughter as a legitimate contribution to the "war on terrorism". Clearly, the scenes of carnage offended public opinion around the world with the exception of the US and the UN embassy of Micronesia. But there are successes: if Israel was aiming to kill a very large number of women and children, that was achieved to a large measure. Very knowledgeable sources in Beirut tell me that only 5% of Hamas' fighting abilities were damaged in this war thus far, and there will be another round no doubt. But think about Karamah battle. In Karamah: a lot of the lore was built by Arafat's bombast and a unit of the Jordanian army fought with the Palestinian resistance. This time around, Arab and particularly Palestinian public opinion will look with admiration at the performance of Hamas during this 22 days. It is commonly estimated that some 20,000 Palestinians volunteered in the resistance movement after Karamah, and I expect a region-wide campaign of recruitment to the benefit of Hamas. Israel's choice of Palestinian leadership (supported by Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt), i.e., Dahlan gangs, are discredited beyond repair. I mean, when I read in Saudi newspapers description of Dahlan as an Israeli stooge, you know how Palestinian opinion will regard him--and the fleeing of his men in their underwear did not help either. From 1968 to 1978, the Fatah movement transformed from a band of fighters in Jordan to an army (badly run to be sure by Arafat) with all sorts of heavy weapons. There is now a point of no-return: Arabs are no more afraid of Israeli soldiers. From that loss, Israel shall never recover and it will expedite the inevitable process of the elimination of Zionism from Palestine. The confrontation with Israel is cumulative, and this culmination is now not in the interests of Israel. Many Arabs now talk about the defeat of Israel: I rarely heard those sentiments before 2006.