Sunday, January 18, 2009

Lack of effective listening

A pointless war has led to a moral defeat for Israel
The Observer, Sunday 18 January 2009

In historical terms, it is impossible to separate Israel's offensive against Hamas in Gaza from the long narrative of conflict and mutual grievance in the region.
In geographic terms, the war over a tiny plot of land cannot be detached from the wider involvement and strategic interests of other countries: Syria, Egypt, the US, Iran.
All of which makes it difficult to judge where - even if a unilateral Israeli ceasefire holds - the war really begins and ends.
That fact alone explains why the operation represents a defeat for Israel, as was always likely to be the outcome. The notion that the country's security problems can be resolved by the unilateral use of extreme force is a persistent delusion among Israeli politicians. In this case, the problem was perceived to be Hamas rocket fire into southern Israel; the solution was judged to be a war against Hamas. That analysis did not allow for the vital, humane recognition that, in densely populated Gaza, an all-out war against Hamas is, by necessity, an attack on the civilian population.
Even on its own terms, the campaign has failed. Israeli authorities will insist that they have limited the ability of Hamas to launch rocket attacks. But the ostensible war aim was destroying that capability completely.
Israel will also claim that its campaign has exposed a lack of support for Hamas in many Arab capitals; that Hamas' position as the ruling authority in Gaza has been undermined; and that Hamas has been revealed as little more than a terrorist proxy acting on behalf of and armed by Syria and Iran.

Hard lesson for Hamas
Globe editorial
From Friday's Globe and Mail
January 16, 2009 at 12:00 AM EST

Israel's military operations in Gaza have failed to stop rocket and mortar attacks, which only intensified yesterday, but they at least serve to remind Hamas and other belligerents that Israel's political will and military prowess have not faltered, contrary to any impression of vulnerability they may have inferred from the mixed results in the last Lebanon campaign.
It is an important message for Hamas fighters, their hardline leadership and the terrorist states that back them, one that was being pounded home again yesterday. Said Siam, the so-called “strongman of Hamas” who served as interior minister in Gaza and controlled paramilitary forces there, was killed by an Israeli air strike. Israeli tanks moved deep into Gaza City, taking the fight with militants into their living rooms. Such warfare is fraught, and Israeli forces did strike the United Nations headquarters and several hospitals. In close fighting, mistakes and even excesses are regrettably likely to occur.
The message, though, is immutable. Islamists in Gaza cannot gain anything from fighting against Israel. The only way ahead for Gazans is through a cessation of rocket attacks on Israel, and through diplomacy. Hamas reportedly offered a ceasefire yesterday, with a spokesman for the militant group admitting it had “no other choice.” The tragedy is that with the understanding of the need for a truce there is still no illumination.
In fact, Hamas did have a choice.
The organization could have reined in its thugs. It could have ended the practice of firing rockets and mortars indiscriminately into Israeli towns. It could have sought to improve the lives of the Gazan people instead of committing atrocities against the Israeli people.
Just as after Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, Israel's opponents have again displayed their habit of missing opportunities for progress.
It is a tragedy for Gaza's impoverished and downtrodden population that it has taken so much death and destruction for Hamas to come to understand that a ceasefire is preferable to what has been experienced in Gaza in recent days. Hamas is defeated, or is in the process of being defeated. Its own leaders and fighters, and its own people, have died and been injured in numbers greatly disproportionate to the soldiers and people of Israel. It is time that Hamas, and the battered people they represent, understand not just the inevitability of defeat but also the other lessons of this new year. They must absorb the truth that harassment and provocation are not the way forward.

But the reality is that the status of Hamas as the preferred vehicle for Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation has been enhanced by the indiscriminate brutality of the military assault.
Meanwhile, that status guarantees the resurgence, in some form, of armed response, including rocket fire and terrorist attacks on Israeli soil. It is possible that Hamas' military capability has been drastically reduced. But even when Israel had full command of Gaza's external borders, it could not stop the trade in smuggled weapons. Sadly, Hamas will re-arm with or without a ceasefire agreement.
Meanwhile, any increased consideration of Iranian or Syrian sponsorship of terrorism will pale against global outrage at the extraordinary disregard shown by Israeli forces for the lives of Palestinian civilians. It is quite possible, as the Observer today reports, that an Israeli withdrawal will reveal evidence of actions deserving indictment as war crimes. Those allegations must be independently investigated.
Israel's allies in the west, chiefly the US, have traditionally defended the country on the grounds that it is a democracy besieged by despotic regimes and terrorists. But while Israeli citizens do enjoy immense political and social freedom, those values do not automatically prevent the state from committing atrocities.
The fact of Israeli democracy is not a reason to resist negotiations with Hamas. That was true before this pointless, brutal war and will remain so afterwards.