This special guest post comes from Arlene Kusher.
Well, we are in the Middle East, at a particularly volatile time in history. Nothing is going to be simple.
Last night I went to bed reasonably certain that Israel was headed to a ground operation in Gaza. It seemed fairly inevitable:
Hamas’s response to our demand for quiet was a barrage of rockets, a barrage that continues off and on even as I write, and which has brought injuries and trauma and destruction of property.
What is more, Hamas demanded conditions for a ceasefire — such as Israel’s cessation of the sea blockade –that were totally unacceptable and were rejected out of hand by Netanyahu. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri then announced that cease fire negotiations with Israel had failed.
It seemed fairly obvious at that point that Hamas wasn’t looking for a cease fire. And the ground operation seemed inevitable.
Today the situation has shifted, at least tentatively. Some sort of negotiations, brokered by Egypt, are taking place. Reports vary as to what is being demanded on each side. But from the Israeli side, it seems to be something like this:
- A long term period of quiet. How long? According to YNet (and only YNet from what I’ve seen), more than 15 years. This means a total cessation of rocket fire and total cessation of attacks on IDF personnel.
- Cessation of arms smuggling and transfer of weapons to Gaza.
- Permanent closing of all crossings into Gaza from Israel, coupled with the permanent opening of the Rafah crossing from Egypt into Gaza.
- Granting of Israel the right to hunt down terrorists if there has been an attack or intelligence about an imminent attack. (This is a right Hamas had sought to deny Israel in their original stipulations.)
- The political echelon of Egypt and particularly Morsi would be the guarantors of the agreement.
We must keep in mind that Israel wasn’t reporting these specifics — they came out of Cairo. Yet, there was likely some truth to what was being reported. And I was left wondering if everyone had gone daft:
No matter how formal and public an agreement was reached with Hamas, sanctioned and guaranteed by no matter how many nations — the terms reportedly being demanded would not be viable. Quite simply, there is no way that Hamas will keep the quiet for more than 15 years or seven years or eight years because it has formally agreed or pledged to do so, and, similarly no way that it will refrain from all weapon smuggling because of a commitment to refrain.
We can begin with the obvious — that the radical Islamist ideology of Hamas, which is committed to Israel’s destruction, would not be predisposed to long term quiet. But there is more.
It is a point of Islamic faith — a behavior modeled directly after Mohammad: truces with non-Muslim enemies are made with the intention of breaking them as soon as the Muslim nation or group has the necessary strength to overcome its adversary. That makes smuggling of weapons something of a necessity. And as to sustaining quiet for more than fifteen years? Such truces are never to be more than ten, if that, depending on circumstances.
For those interested in knowing more, the behavior of Mohammad in this regard was connected to the Treaty of al-Hudaybiyya in the seventh century.
Denis MacEoin describes it here: http://www.meforum.org/1925/tactical-hudna-and-islamist-intolerance . The term in Arabic used in this regard is hudna or ceasefire. Says MacEoin, the word “retains a historical context that colors its meaning, if not in Western papers, then in Arabs’ understanding….
“Hudna, in other words, amounted to a temporary truce…Over the course of history, hudna became the standard term to describe a cessation of hostilities during jihad… (emphasis added)
“Can Western governments do anything to prevent a new hudna running its usual course? Diplomats may propose carrot and stick strategies, offering financial and political incentives to dismantle the culture of violence with disincentives for any return to killing. In the end, though, the onus is on the Palestinians and their allies…”
(For the record, a hudna has terms, a formality, while an informal quiet is called a tahadiya,)
So much then for Hamas. What of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in charge in Egypt? Morsi, quite simply does not have the capacity to control Hamas and guarantee a ceasefire and cessation of smuggling of weapons for a considerable number of years.
He cannot even control the Sinai and the al-Qaeda terrorists there. Remember how much was made of Egyptian forces going into the Sinai to eliminate the terrorists? It got very quiet after the initial publicity: the effort dissipated without succeeding. And he’s going to make sure Hamas behaves?
The fact is that Morsi had sought Hamas’s help in fingering certain members of al-Qaeda with regard to the murdering of soldiers in the Sinai, and Hamas would not cooperate.
Al-Qaeda has now moved into Cairo, and goes back and forth between the Sinai and Gaza, facilitating the transfer of weapons and otherwise promoting radical unrest.
Morsi is powerless.
He is powerless with regard to his ability to control Hamas. But in terms of his own radical ideology, he would not have the will to stop Hamas from inflicting damage on Israel. He cannot even bring himself to say “Israel” at a press conference.
At least in theory, Israel has given Hamas 36 hours — which runs until tomorrow evening. If Hamas has not accepted Israel’s terms, then a ground operation may follow. I suspect, however, that if something serious were in process, then it would go longer.
What I want to provide for you here, then, is an overview of the factors that may be affecting or motivating the parties concerned. In order to do so more effectively, I have consulted today with some ME experts, Israeli academics/journalists who are Arabic speaking and in touch with what is going on.
Israel is not so foolish as to imagine that Hamas will honor a long term cease fire and that Morsi will guarantee it. There is consensus on the fact that this is nonsense.
At the end of the day. it is not a ceasefire agreement or an Egyptian guarantee that will ensure quiet. It is what is commonly referred to as deterrence power: Hamas has to be afraid of Israel. Hamas leaders have to be convinced they may get their heads blown off if they move in the wrong direction. Or that they will be so badly damaged that it’s not worth it. (Hezbollah harbors some of this fear now, by the way.)
The question, then, it seems to me is, when is it enough? When has enough damage been inflicted on Hamas so that fear has been instilled in their hearts and they’ll think twice about hitting us again? My own personal take is that it’s not enough yet. That still more is required — whether in terms of escalated air attacks or the ground operation.
There is talk about “finishing the job” if we do go in. And indeed, Olmert pulled the troops out of Gaza too fast with Cast Lead, at the end of 2008 and early 2009. But how would Israel determine when the ground operation had met its objectives? When Hamas communications centers and major infrastructure have been leveled and most rocket storage sites have been hit or dismantled? When a certain percentage of the leadership has been “eliminated”?
The problem is this: We want Hamas on its knees — weakened sufficiently so that they are ready to revise their current tactics. But we do not want Hamas destroyed. The simple reason: In the absence of Hamas a situation is very likely to evolve that would bring us even bigger headaches.
A delicate balance then.
For neither do we want to take over Gaza completely. Attempting this would drag us into a quagmire of considerable proportions and cost a good many Israeli lives. This is not something that is on the table or being even remotely considered. It is some sort of a romantic dream that we can march in there and just take over. Not with what’s going on in Gaza today.
We want only to contain Hamas and protect our citizens.
I know that the IDF is ready and eager to move. But whether they do or not is a political and not a military decision in a democracy. I had it from a good source today that it would probably also be PM Netanyahu’s preference to have the IDF move in and hit Hamas harder.
I’m not going to second guess our prime minister with regard to the decisions he ultimately makes here. I would not want to be in his shoes. For there are a host of factors to be considered.
It’s difficult to imagine that he believes that sufficient deterrence has already been achieved — because they are still shooting at us and still taking hits from our Air Force. So then, why hasn’t he ordered the ground operation to begin, and why has he made some proposals towards a ceasefire?
I wrote the other day about how the world does not like to see us, as Jews, defend ourselves when it means killing others. It’s not the fact that others are dying that matters to the world (for they don’t care about the thousands of Syrian dead), it is that we are causing those deaths. This is simply unacceptable to the international community, never mind their lip service to our right to defend ourselves. This is the ugly reality.
Yesterday, I said we were going to be under a good deal of international pressure. That pressure now exceeds what I had expected, which was quiet diplomacy. They don’t leave us alone.
Tony Blair talks about the Quartet acting to bring “quiet.” Heaven help us.
And Obama said it would be “preferable” if a solution could be found “without a ramping-up of military activity in Gaza.”
Perhaps worst was the statement yesterday to SkyNews of UK Foreign Secretary William Hague:
“A ground invasion is much more difficult for the international community to sympathize with or support — including the United Kingdom.”
Minister of Security Affairs Moshe Yaalon responded with anger to this:
“We expect our allies to support us [when we] use all tools available in order to defend our people. To say the least, we don’t like these kinds of reservations…Regarding a ground operation, we feel like we should have the freedom of operation in order to be able to defend our country without any reservations…”
Yaalon was on the mark. But does this incessant pressure not take a toll?
There are two ways of thinking about this. Perhaps the Israeli government has decided to be more circumspect in its decisions, because of repercussions that might follow. I cannot swear that this is not so.
But there is another possibility, which would be very much in line with how Netanyahu often acts: He plays the game. Perhaps (this is speculation), he made the cease fire proposal to Hamas to show the international community how hard he is trying to avoid going into Gaza. Perhaps he fully expects that it won’t be accepted, and that he can then order troops into Gaza, having at least partially silenced the likes of Hague.
But there is also another reason Netanyahu may have made the proposal he did: it thrusts responsibility for Gaza on Egypt. Closing all of the crossings into Gaza from Israel means no more goods going through via Israel, no more squabbles with UNRWA, etc. etc. That would all fall to Egypt via Rafah, which would stay open.
One of my contacts today explained that it is because Israel definitely does not trust Egypt to stop the smuggling of Iranian weapons into Gaza that the munitions plant in Sudan was hit. The goal is to interrupt the pipeline before the material reaches the Sinai.
Morsi? He comes to this situation as a beggar. Egypt is on the verge of bankruptcy and he is in the position of not being able to feed his people. He fears the possibility of riots in the street by hungry people. That would end him quickly.
And so he is playing a game, acting the conciliator, the negotiator, at Obama’s behest. For Obama will provide him with the money that will save him. (I am tempted to ask if Obama is so naive, so poorly informed, as to imagine that Morsi can control the situation — but I won’t go there now.)
Does Morsi want to restrain Hamas long term? Does he remotely imagine that he can? Nah…
But he is not interested right now in promoting actions that reflect ideology — he’s too busy trying to save his country. And what seems to be the case is that he’s ready to let tomorrow take care of itself.
Hamas, until today, was continuing the rocket launchings and subverting the cease fire proposal because of Iran. Iran did not want to see a cease fire. I had rather surmised this, but it has been confirmed by one of my experts today.
But — surprise! — Iran has now reversed itself and told Hamas to negotiate. Why? I was advised today that it is because the Iranians have decided they can get something from Morsi. They won’t stand in the way of his achievement in successfully negotiating a cease fire (which achievement he badly needs, if indeed it will happen). In return they are seeking a shift in Morsi’s position in Syria. The Iranians are not happy that Muslim Brotherhood has worked against their client Assad, and they want more Egyptian support for him.
Did I not say this situation was convoluted? What we learn from this, if nothing else, is that there is always so very much under the surface. By studying only surfaces, we cannot imagine that we comprehend the situation.
I have no answers. My crystal ball is as foggy as ever. We will have to wait to see how this plays out. What I hope is that I have provided some assistance in grappling with an understanding this situation.
Image by joshuapiano / flickr