Friday, July 18, 2014

The Enigmatic Israel-Hamas Conflict

     The Israel-Hamas conflict is not new.  What makes this renewed military offensive particularly intriguing is Israel's tactical goal as opposed to an overall strategic one.  Amid peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine brokered by the United States, Israel's ground offensive in response to Hamas's barrage of rockets is especially troubling.  However, despite longstanding animus between the two sides, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated that he is not interested in a re-occupation of Gaza, the ground offensive rather is to disrupt the tunnels Hamas uses to transport and hide weapons.  This offensive is irregular for several reasons and deserves a deeper dive. 

"Israel is Invading Gaza Because Netanyahu is out of Options"


     This statement, which also serves as the title of thoughtful analysis by The New Republic, is representative of the situation facing Israel at the moment.  While Israel's "Iron Dome" missile defense system has protected Israel quite well from the thousands of rockets launched by Hamas, it has also somewhat delegitimized Israel's claims of victimization as Israel simultaneously returns rocket fire at Hamas in Gaza killing several civilians.  Israel did adhere to the ceasefire proposed by Egypt and Hamas did not, which provides Israel with more legitimacy.  However, this new ground offensive is sure to contribute to many more casualties, on both sides, than maintaining the status quo.  On a side note, concerning Egypt's proposed ceasefire, Egypt has lost credibility as an unbiased mediator in the region with their utter condemnation of the Muslim Brotherhood and public opposition to Hamas, according to several scholars well versed in Middle East diplomacy. 

     It is unclear to what lengths Israel has gone to mitigate civilian casualties in Gaza but any expert in warfare will maintain that those who use civilians to shield weapons are responsible for their deaths, not opposition forces.  However, that does not give Israel a green light to bombard certain locations with known civilians inside and Israel should take all the measures it can to prevent innocent deaths.

     As The New Republic noted:
Israel could have continued its aerial and artillery exchanges with Hamas, but this campaign did not appear to be damaging either the will or the capability of Hamas. It could have loosened its rules of engagement and struck Hamas more effectivelybut doing so would have inflicted unconscionably disproportionate civilian damage. It could have capitulated to Hamas’s ultimatums to release hundreds of security prisoners and reopened Gaza to shipments of arms- and tunnel-making materials. Apart from the moral implications of such a concession, doing so would simply have strengthened Hamas and ensured additional fighting.
     Netanyahu would appear to be acting out of desperation because diplomacy in this vein is a dead-end (more below).  Israel has been forced to act in order to ensure the safety of their citizens and react to the aggression of terrorist activity as is the view in Israel.  According to The New Republic, "...the 'downgrading' of Hamas' capabilities is an attempt to deal with the symptom rather than the problem."  The ground operation is a tactical move, not a strategic one.

Is There A Diplomatic Solution?


     Hamas has indicated it is not interested in a ceasefire.  As stated previously above, Egypt has lost credibility in the region to help broker a peace deal and the United States has clearly failed in its attempts.  The Palestinian envoy to the United Nations stated that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has met with Hamas leaders according to reporting by the Associated Press.  United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated, "There can be no military solution to this conflict."  As it stands, diplomacy has utterly failed.

     It's no secret Hamas is motivated by ideology.  Hamas does not support a two-state solution or a co-existence with a Jewish state.  Such ideology is clear through Hamas's actions - their endless barrage of rockets into Israel despite the futility of their being intercepted by Israel's missile defense system.  Hamas does not want to negotiate.  To make matters worse, Palestine had signed a unity pact with Hamas despite the furor from the international community.  The Palestinian Authority (PA) and President Abbas must work to broker a deal or at least a temporary ceasefire because international actors' attempts have thus far proven futile.

Where Does Israel-Palestine Relations Stand?


      Israel has noted that they do not want to reoccupy Gaza with their new ground offensive.  This is counter to what would be an overall strategy to the greater Israel-Palestine conflict.  While President Abbas has remained open to a two-state solution, Israel has maintained they (Israel) have inhabited the land for thousands of years and should not be forced to acquiesce to another settlement.  The unity pact between Hamas and Palestine no doubt contributed negatively to the overall peace process.  Israel's ground offensive is sure to continue on this negative trend unless Palestine or other outside actors can mediate.  As it stands, a peace deal is highly unlikely.  

     On a personal note, I am neither an Israeli sympathizer, nor a Palestinian sympathizer.  The strong US-Israel relationship sometimes blinds and binds benevolent efforts towards Israel.  The United States does provide millions of dollars in aid to Palestine as well as to Israel.  In terms of this current conflict, Israel must act in order to put a stop to the rocket fire.  Thus far, diplomacy has failed.  In the short term, Palestinian leaders should work with Hamas leadership to ensure a credible and committed ceasefire in order to orchestrate a peaceful solution.  This outcome is very uncertain.     

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