September 02, 2014
Who should worry more?

Policymakers aspire to clarity. It is easiest to define and defend one's actions according to fixed lines. Government benefits should go to individuals who meet certain criteria. Giving discretion to the people who carry out policy is problematic. It facilitates favoritism and brings charges of discrimination.

Yet some issues do not lend themselves to clear lines, and some of those who implement policy should have discretion. Physicians make some decisions according to widely accepted criteria, but are entitled to use the judgement they have been trained to exercise. In practice, police officers also use their judgement, even while the formal rules constrain them more than physicians or other highly trained professionals.

When pressure builds in criticism of what exists, we expect politicians to use their judgement, tilted by the ideology or party platforms they used to describe themselves to the voters.

Then there are the fluid issues of great national import. Threats of war or lesser possibilities in international affairs bring to the fore the need to adjust to powerful others, and the possibilities of great harm or benefit.

In a general sense, Israel's problems are well know, but the details of what has to be judged are more often in the grays of ambiguity than in the clear contrasts of what should or should not be done.

Gaza and the Golan are appropriate examples.

How to respond to incidents of missiles or gun fire which may upset residents near the border, but do not cause great damage or casualties?

Those coming from Gaza most likely have been aimed at Israel and deserve a response, while those coming from Syria may only be poorly aimed side effects of warfare between others.

What to do about missiles that come only occasionally from Gaza, usually land in empty fields, with the only casualties being individuals needing treatment for anxiety?

Israel's policy has generally been to respond at a low level, such as bombing facilities late at night when casualties are not likely, or an even more symbolic warning via attack on an empty field.

In regard to Syria, there have been no Israeli responses to incidents judged to be mistakes occurring on the other side. In response to something thought to be intentional, there have been artillery responses that have caused casualties among those thought to be responsible.

In both case, Israel's primary concern is not to make things worse.

Israelis charged with making the decisions have had considerable experience. Politicians reaching high office have generally done so gradually, learning as they climb. Senior military officers have been exposed to strategic as well as tactical training, including a range of political views, intelligence reports and analyses about Israel's neighbors, as well as years of work in different tasks as they have climbed through the ranks. Argument prior to decision occurs at the top of the IDF as well as in government. For an example of the thinking that occurs at the top of the IDF, see this.

At times, the forums that include the most senior military and political personnel decide that conditions require more than routine responses governed by the rule of not making things worse.

Operation Protective Edge is the latest example.

About this and previous occasions, Israelis quarrel about what was done, and what was not done. The points that have a chance for a serious hearing are likely to reflect knowledge about Israel's adversaries and Israel's capacities. In the case of the recent operation, there is widespread disappointment that Hamas was not completely vanquished, but also widespread agreement that Israel--or perhaps any conceivable alliance with more powerful nations--cannot eliminate completely the roots and supports of Hamas or any other version of fanatic Islam.

Giving good reason to stay away from us is a summary of current policy that has wide support among Israelis, even while we quarrel about these issues:
Was Israel's actions too great?
Would Palestinian casualties and the extent of destruction cost more in international support than they accomplished in deterring Hamas violence?
Did Israel wait too long in order to respond forcefully, and did it exact enough damage and casualties to deter Hamas long into the future?
Wisdom demands that judgments expressed by those of us lacking some of the information be limited to a general standard of what appears reasonable. Micro-criticism of this or that is beyond the capacity of the ordinary citizen, or even journalists who claim access to high places. The records of official inquiries, typically based upon full access to documents and lengthy interviews with participants, have generally left some issues unresolved, or subject to dispute among those charged with the inquiry.

Indicative of the support for the Gaza operation is what novelist Amos Oz, an iconic advocate of greater accommodation with the Palestinians, said to a German radio audience.

"What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap and starts shooting machine gun fire into your nursery? What would you do if your neighbor across the street digs a tunnel from his nursery to your nursery in order to blow up your home or in order to kidnap your family?"

Given the strength and unity of Israelis, against the political flabbiness of Europe and the US, One should wonder who should worry the most.

The Middle East has long been a confusing place for westerners inclined to judge others on the basis of their own experiences. Currently the chaos and fluidity taxes even those with long experience, knowledge of the languages and cultures. There are numerous groups fighting under the umbrella of Islam, with who knows what motives leading to warfare among those claiming the common purposes of opposing the government forces of Syria or Iraq, loyalty to Islam, or loyalty to the traditions of Sunni or Shia.

While Israel has the strength and the intelligence to take care of itself, there are several issues demanding an early response from other civilized countries.
How strong are Daish and other Islamic barbarians, and how threatening to western interests in the Middle East?
How to deal with the side effects or blow back of those movements, among the Muslim populations of Western Europe and the United States?
Both questions require tough judgments, against backgrounds of clumsy western efforts that arguably caused more harm than benefits over the most recent decades in Iraq, Libya, and Syria. The Obama-Kerry team has a poor record for its judgment of things Middle Eastern, and will not find it easy to assemble the wide coalition that it now says is necessary for dealing with Daish.

The blow back at home is no less dicey. Thousands of Europeans and at least a few Americans have gone to Syria or Iraq to fight with the most extreme, and some of those surviving will return home inspired to apply the lessons learned. Whether they try for mini- or maxi-equivalents of what happened at Ft Hood, the Boston Marathon, or 9-11, only time will tell.

Recent attacks against Jews by European Muslims have produced upticks in migration to Israel, and worries among Europeans about violence directed more widely than against Jews.

Dealing with the possibilities come up against laws and policies touching the sensitive issues of civil rights, ethnic profiling, and the discriminatory actions of individuals charged with security. Ferguson, Missouri provides a reminder of the tinder waiting to be ignited.

Israel is better off with simpler problems and acceptable solutions. Israeli Muslims who have gone over the border to fight with the Islamists have been arrested for consorting with the enemy. The police and security services gather intelligence among Israeli Arabs as well as the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza. Ethnic profiling has occasionally been an issue at the screening points in the airport or by police doing document checks. There are efforts to improve training and minimize frictions likely to be counterproductive, along with wide recognition of focusing security on the most appropriate populations .

Whether they like it or not, Europe and the US have become part of what is roiling the Middle East. It is time for them to begin thinking like Middle Easterners.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:53 PM
August 31, 2014
Political theatrics

We've known for a long time that politics combines theater with serious business. How much of each can vary from place to place and within each place by circumstances.

Israeli pundits are having fun with recordings of Netanyahu's hyperbolic promises and subsequent behavior. The Prime Minister has lost ground with the voters, but the same polls that show sharp decline in support for his conduct of the Gaza operation are showing that he is the only game in town. He has two or three times the percentage supporting him than other contenders for the big job.

Perhaps Israelis have learned to accept and discount Bibi's bluster, to enjoy their decent level of existence, and to ignore the Prime Minister when he claims responsibility for all that is good.

Somewhat more frightening is the record of Bibi's American equivalent. It's hard to measure these things, but it appears from his public comments that the American leader is far removed from a realistic assessment of important things. What makes that more frightening than an Israeli's bluster is the power of the United States to act or not, with results of great good or harm.

Obama's record includes demanding, and perhaps expecting democracy and equality in the Muslim Middle East, discarding a moderate leader of Egypt while asserting that he was an extremist, seeing the mechanics of a third World election as more important than the essence of Islamic passions in the elevation of the Muslim Brotherhood to the control of an important Muslim country, and delivering three-quarters of an impassioned speech against Syria's use of chemical weapons while the final quarter of the speech said that he would not do anything.

The most recent Obama wonderment is saying that the US does not have a strategy for dealing with Daish et al. He has sent his ponderous Secretary of State on an international tour to gather support from a joint operation, largley among countries that have learned to distrust the Obama administration. Given the record, we can expect him to shuffle away from anything serious.

Historians and others will quarrel about the contribution of Obama's Nobel winning speech to Arab Spring, and its metamorphosis from hopes for democracy to the realities of barbarism.

Mainline Israeli commentators have been ridiculing the lack of judgment in the Obama administration, focusing on the obsessive concern for a formalized peace between Israelis and Palestinians when it should have been clear that neither were ready; seeing Qatar as an appropriate mediator between Israel and Hamas; and now dithering about what to do in response to the escalating ugliness of what is politely called Islamic extremism.

Competing with all of this in a continuing performance is the role of Mahmoud Abbas. Staying in office five years after the end of his term exceeds the political comedies typical of the Third World, where at least the semblance of election occurs as a device to claim legitimacy.

One wonders what is more worthy of cynicism: Abbas' travels to meet the leaders of the world, kissing cheeks, reviewing honor guards, or proclaiming what it is doubtful he can deliver? His recent description of Khalid Marshal as a "peacock" after a meeting when each was claiming how much they could do for Gaza is worthy of some praise, but neither Abbas nor Mashal is likely to provide Palestinians more than individuals and families can acquire through their own hard work.

We should all learn something from the Palestinians. Politics is out there and cannot be avoided, but cynicism may an essential component of mental health.

At the same time, we should not overlook the essential task of comparison. It's a lot better on this side of the poorly defined borders with Palestine. When the Israeli government orders our children, grandchildren, or those of our friends into action, it is important to go along. We--and those younger folks risking a great deal more--will not get everything promised, but it would be a lot worse if we did not cooperate.

One must admit that judgement is difficult.

Iran is a case in point. Should we remain convinced that it is set to prepare nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, see signs for hope in what some claim to be its compliance with international demands, take heart from the US reinstating certain sanctions, applaud Iran's contribution to the military campaign against Daish in Iraq, or dismiss that as nothing more than Shiite mobilization against Sunni forces?

We should remember that politics is the most civilized way of settling disputes. Its essence is argument prior to voting, either by the masses in an election or by those who have acquired office and the responsibility to make policy.

Among the legitimate subjects of dispute are which candidate to select? what policy to support? and has the incumbent screwed up enough to be thrown out of office?

Also to be remembered is that the cynic's handbook for politics has no chapter on heroes. The authors may have searched for examples for such a chapter, but found none worthy.

It is not pleasant for Israelis to realize that we are on the borders of civilization, that many see us as part of the problem rather than part of the solution, and that the purported leader of the free world is wondering if a looming disaster is a problem worthy of action.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 05:58 AM
August 28, 2014
No end in sight

The Israeli public is unhappy with how the Gaza operation has ended. "Ended" is, of course, problematic, as is the expectation for a month-long cease fire.

The Prime Minister, Defense Minister, and Head of the IDF held a joint press conference, in which they defended themselves against those claiming that the war ought to have continued to a more complete victory.

Netanyahu's line is that the complete defeat of a terrorist organization is not easy. He didn't say "impossible," but something near that was apparent.

Israelis argue as to whether Operation Protective Edge should have been described as a "war."

The reality is that Israel has been engaged in one multi-episode war since 1948. It has gained power and international acceptance, but the process is not complete.

Each major chapter produced arguments as to what was accomplished, whether Israel had done better than its adversaries, or what was left undone.

Among the points
Could Israel have gained control of the Old City and East Jerusalem in 1948, and should it have expelled more Arabs?
Was 1967 a great victory, or the beginning of a burden involving administration of Arabs, then the persistent conflict associated with settlement, as well as another missed opportunity for more complete ethnic cleansing?
Did Israel fail to pre-empt in 1973, due to a concern for US pressure, when the signs were pointing to an Arab attack, and should it have destroyed more of Egypt's army and approached Cairo? Or did its restraint pave the way for a peace treaty with Egypt and the beginning of Israel's acceptance as a permanent entity in the Middle East?
Should the IDF have gone deep into Lebanon in 1982, should it have remained an occupying force, and did the South Lebanon Security Zone accomplish anything important until the IDF withdrew under pressure in 2000?
Was the withdrawal of Jewish settlements from Gaza in 2005 worth the domestic costs?
Did Lebanon II end with the folly of an agreement that has not been implemented and allowed the massive armament of Hezbollah? Or did the great destruction of Hezbollah's neighborhoods produce near quiet on the northern front that has continued until now?
Has the recent destruction in Gaza assured the same level of quiet as produced by Lebanon II?
Consistent with the criticism of the Prime Minister for not being aggressive enough against Hamas, a recent poll shows that Israelis have moved to the right. The cluster of Likud, Israel Our Home and Jewish Home would gain 54 Knesset seat in an election, compared to 43 currently. Centrists (There is a Future, The Movement and Kadima) would drop to 16 from 27. Left of center Labor plus Meretz would remain with 21. Ultra-orthodox parties would drop to 15 from 18. Arab parties would increase their places from 11 to 14. Within that cluster, the Arab-Jewish party Hadash would show the greatest increase, from 4 to 6 seats.

With all of the frustrations associated with this and earlier episodes of violence, one must not overlook Israel's accomplishments.

From poverty, dependence on the good will and money of overseas Jews and friendly governments, Israel has become at least a mini-powerhouse, economically as well as militarily. It scores admirably on a number of social indicators for health, public satisfaction with the standard of living, and the quality of higher education.

Compare its status with the hyperbolic proclamations of Mahmoud Abbas, who has remained in office for more than five years beyond the end of his term, inspires little admiration among West Bank Palestinians, and much less among those of Gaza..

West Bank Palestinians appear to have adjusted to a degree of autonomy alongside of Israel, and may be looking at Gaza and remembering what happened during Intifada #2. They have nothing close to the democracy, public services, orderly legal system, assurance of personal safety, or living standards of Israelis, but are better off than their cousins in Gaza.

This is not a time to pat ourselves on the back, or to predict years of quiet.

The most recent Gaza episode is a long way from being settled, and there are even more awesome problems right over the (as yet unsettled) Golan border with Syria, as well as a bit farther away in Iraq, the Gulf, and North Africa. Iran has enlisted in the battle against Sunni extremists, but its nuclear program is still unresolved.

Most fashionable among international politicians is Daish and close relatives al Quaida, Boko Haram, plus whoever is rebelling in Libya. Those who put Hamas and other Palestinian Jihadists in the same category help Israel maneuver against the Presbyterians and their friends, leftist crazies among Jews, and BDS led by Palestinians claiming a high road of morality.

It is not proving easy to create an international alliance against Islamic barbarians. Europeans may be worried about provoking their sizable Muslim populations, as well as allying with an Obama administration perceived as flaky and unreliable. For a decent review of America's problems, see this.

The good signs are that several Muslim governments are among those concerned about Islamic extremists. One hears from Israeli commentators that it may be wiser to bet on cooperation with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and some of the Gulf Emirates than on the Obama-Kerry combine.

No one is suggesting that Israel abandon the US, with friends at various places in its complex government, the important Jewish population, economic and political weight. But some are counting the days to January 20, 2017.

The Muslim countries contributing to the battles against extremists should modify--but not erase--the view that Islam is at the root of our problems. Perhaps most of the billion Muslims want nothing more than peace and a bit of prosperity. Yet Islam is at the core of blood lust across the Middle East and down into Africa that rivals anything associated with Christian Crusaders a millennium ago.

The second American killed while fighting with Jihadists in Syria has brought forth concern about home grown Islamic crazies. According to "senior administration officials", dozens of Americans have gone to Syria to fight with extremist groups.

"The threat we are most concerned about to the homeland is that of fighters like this returning to the U.S. and committing acts of terrorism."

Iran and Qatar are the principal sources of finance. The world is awash with munitions produced in China, Russia, the US, Europe, as well as Israel. It is hard to predict what Turkey will do. If Islamists get their hands on the oil of Iraq and Libya, we'll have more to worry about

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:27 PM
August 27, 2014
Cease fire?

Hamas lost this war, despite its claims of victory.

Israel did not win, but there has been no clear winner of any war since 1945.

Hamas suffered more than 2,100 deaths, 11,000 injuries and a shortage of medical facilities, as well as massive destruction. The cease fire provided nothing more than Hamas had before it began the violence. Israel has agreed to allow the import of humanitarian supplies and construction materials.

Insofar as Egypt remains as steadfast against Hamas as Israel, there may be serious monitoring of what flows into Gaza. The reconstruction may not get very far before the onset of winter's rain and cold.

Israel suffered 70 deaths and perhaps 200 people hospitalized, destruction due more to mortars that fell near Gaza than missiles that evaded Iron Dome.

The lack of victory is apparent in Israel's dissatisfaction. Polls asking about the public's support of the Prime Minister's conduct of the operation showed a decline from more than 80 percent support at the beginning to less than 40 percent recently. It is not clear how many unhappy Israelis wanted a more aggressive pursuit of the operation, and how many wanted an more concerted pursuit of a cease fire. The Prime Minister avoided a vote in the Security Cabinet to the cease fire, and half its members have expressed their opposition.

Isaweeans endorsed Hamas' claims of victory with fireworks late into the night.

West Bank Palestinians as well as some Americans and Europeans are seeing this as an opportunity to restart a peace process. Mahmoud Abbas has proposed international resolutions to push Israel back to its pre-1967 borders.

Israel's actions over the previous seven weeks should caution against any excessive optimism with respect to its trust of Palestinians, or its vulnerability to pressure.

The most recent few days showed Israel's willingness to keep escalating, and may have brought Hamas and its Jihadist allies to accept what they had rejected several times earlier. The IDF killed three of Hamas senior military commanders, the wife and children of the most senior commander, perhaps the senior commander himself, and several lesser figures. When the air force exploded the car carrying a senior finance official the result was not only a spread of body parts but of currency. After warning that any facility being used by Hamas or its allies would be a target, the air force attacked a UNRWA school and one clinic, and brought down several multi-story apartment blocks.

The cease fire is scheduled to last for one month, after which there will be negotiations.

At this point, there has been several hours without rocket or mortar attacks. Optimism is not rampant with respect to continued quiet, given the chaos within Hamas and among its allies, and their earlier violation of 11 agreements for cease fire. This one did not begin well, with Israel having to post warnings at least 15 minutes beyond the time which Abbas proclaimed for its onset.

There remain some difficult issues on Israel's agenda. The most pressing are those kept alive by distrust of Hamas.

Most prominent is the extreme discomfort of Israelis in the small settlements within mortar range of Gaza. The mortars, while of the lowest of military tech, caused the greatest damage within something like six kilometers of Gaza. They drop virtually without warning, and are not vulnerable to the defenses against missiles.

Many, perhaps most of the residents, especially those with small children, left home during the fighting. Some returned when advised to do so by senior IDF personnel at the onset of an earlier cease fire. One family that returned included four year old Daniel, whose death became an icon for the region's suffering. Following that tragedy, many more left, with some demanding an official evacuation of border settlements.

The government refused to evacuate settlements, while offering various kinds of help (money, refuge in protected building, transport away from the area) to individuals wanting to leave. As Finance Minister Lapid explained, the government could not uproot settlements. If it began with small kibbutzim alongside Gaza, next in line will be Sderot, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and eventually Tel Aviv. It's a principle that should be preserved, even if some individuals suffer great tension or even the loss of life.

Coming up is the beginning of the school year, scheduled for September 1. Most school rooms are not fortified against missiles or mortars. Schools like other public buildings have sheltered areas, but the media has shown what happens when hundreds of kids have to move from classroom to shelter in 15-90 seconds, depending on location.

Somewhere on the tables of those planning things in the Ministry of Education and IDF's Homeland Defense are notions for transporting kids from alongside Gaza; or providing lessons via the Internet.

Given the distrust of Hamas and the onset of the school year, the issue is most relevant up to a radius that includes Ashdod and Beer Sheva, and includes more than one million residents.

Some political leaders of the settlements near Gaza are urging their residents to stay away for at least a few more days, pending what happens with this cease fire.

Still in the air is the frustration of near-Gaza residents due to their feeling of being hostage to occasional and unpredictable attacks of missiles or mortars, depending on maneuvers within and between Hamas and other Islamic fanatics.

Beyond the prime issue of Hamas honoring this cease fire and what happens when Israel most likely rejects its demands for completely open borders, an airport and seaport, Israelis can expect their usual commotion to focus on a return to domestic conflict after a war-time lull of unusual unity. There will be demands for the resignation of the Prime Minister and his government, either for not pursuing the war aggressively enough or delaying an agreement for a cease fire. The left is sure to demand investigations into the actions of the IDF, either collectively or in the case of individual units and commanders said to be responsible for excessive casualties among the Palestinians. International calls for investigations and sanctions will spur domestic responses in one direction or another. Hamas' initiation of the violence, as well as its use of civilians to protect its fighters and munitions and the summary public executions of those said to be collaborators will figure prominently in Israel's defense against political aggression.

The multiplicity of worthies wanting to shape UN and other actions--and the competition between them--may delay or defeat the aspirations of one and all. Those itching to influence include clusters of Palestinians, the governments of several Muslim countries, as well as the US, European governments, the European Union, and several components of the UN.

Likely to impact on what happens are the ongoing reactions of international media and numerous governments to the barbarism of Daish and Boko Haram, and renewed violence in Libya. The concern of some western leaders as well as Saudi Arabia and Egypt for the radical Emir of Qatar and his financing for much of the extremism may occupy us for some time, and compete with whatever concern the Palestinians and their friends can generate in behalf of Gaza and against Israel.

There is little hope for peace with Hamas or any other Palestinian group. Best achievable is a period.of relative quiet, like that with the West Bank since 2005 or so. Death and destruction throughout Gaza should have as much effect as anything feasible. It probably does not make any difference exactly when the violence stopped. By agreeing to a cease fire, Hamas said Uncle without pronouncing the word.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 05:01 AM
August 24, 2014
Whats happening

It's not clear. Among the signs inviting assessment are:

The IDF appears to be upping its efforts to exact higher costs from Hamas and those supporting or tolerating it. Among recent targets have been a 14 story apartment building that collapsed as the result of two rockets, perhaps igniting munitions stored in the building, and a shopping complex. The military broadcast a general warning that anyone in the vicinity of actions against Israel must leave the area or risk their lives. Insofar as rockets and mortars were being fired from or alongside UNRWA facilities, schools, clinics, hospitals and mosques, decisions about targeting and the record of casualties and international complaints may be things to watch in the coming days or hours.
The effort of the IDF appears to show a concern to avoid mass casualties, but to target individuals. Assassinations or targeted killings in recent days have taken the lives of at least three major military commanders of Hamas, perhaps its military commander in chief and more certainly his wife and children, one of Hamas chief financial officials, plus a growing number of lesser figures picked off while riding in cars or motorcycles.There are reports of Hamas political figures also being targeted, perhaps with some success.
The US is operating along with Iran and Syria against the fighters and bases of Daish, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Reports are that the US is helping Assad, both with equipment or with intelligence about the location of Daish forces worthy of his attack. Along with this are assessments that certain figures close to the top of the US government and military are taking another look at Bashar Assad, seeing him as as source of stability in the fluid mess of the Middle East, which may outweigh his status as a source of evil.
Reports about Palestinian politics are all over the map. Khalid Mashal supports a cease fire or opposes a cease fire. Mahmoud Abbas returned from meeting with Mashal saying that all Palestinian organizations were agreed about returning to Cairo for cease fire and longer term discussions under the leadership of the Egyptians. It did not require half a day for a Hamas spokesman to deny Abbas' claim about Palestinian unity. Some Hamas figures are talking about postponing some of their demands, while some insist on agreements about air- and seaports and open borders as conditions for a cease fire. Abbas should not be counting on Hamas support for the roles in wants in monitoring a cease fire or imports to Gaza.
Khalid Marshal has claimed that Hamas only aims at military targets, but the poor quality of its weapons means that some manage to harm civilians and their property. He also claims that Hamas has sent warnings in advance of attacking.
The British have identified their citizen who, while a leading figure in Daish and speaking in a London accent, removed the head of the American journalist.
Hamas has executed in public some two dozen men and women said to be collaborators with Israel. West Bank Palestinians compare their cousins to the most radical of the ISIS Islamists, and say that some of those killed were selected only because they supported Fatah.
Israelis living in the small settlements (kibbutzim and moshavim) close to Gaza are mounting a protest, heightened by the death of a four year old as a result of a mortar attack. The mortars fall without enough warning for residents to reach shelter or for the operation of Iron Dome. Families are leaving their homes, demanding assistance from the government, demonstrating at the Prime MInister's residence, claiming to have been abandoned for years, and demanding a complete end to the threat of attack.
Sunday morning news included reports of rockets fired from Lebanon to the Galilee and from Syria to the Golan. My initial assignment as an IDF draftee was guarding the entrance to Kibbutz Kfar Giladi in 1982 when northern settlements. were being bombarded from Lebanon. Despite a rare occurrence like that of Sunday morning, we have ended that threat to the north. It is too early to give up on southern settlements.
There are European and American efforts to formulate a decision for the UN Security Council to demand a cease fire between Gaza and Israel. It may be difficult to arrange all the details given what may be the greater concern of international worthies for dealing with Daish. It will not be easy for the Europeans and Americans to formulate something for Israel to accept, given Hamas' record with cease fires and the abject failure of an international regime using Third World rented soldiers attached to the UN to implement what Israel accepted when it left Lebanon in 2006.
Libya is chaotic. Given its history and its supplies of energy, it should be adding to the worries of Europeans and Americans.
Boko Haram has declared an Islamic State in Nigeria.
A number of Arab governments, led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have signaled their antipathy to Islamic extremists, including Hamas, Daish, and others.
Palestinian campaigns to boycott products from West Bank settlements, or all products from Israel are gaining support from international leftists, labor organizations, and retailers concerned about consumer opinion. Would it be possible to demand an end to Palestinian incitement--including its boycott and sanction campaigns--plus assurance that rockets, mortar shells and other attack weapons be removed from Gaza as conditions for allowing the inflow of construction materials?
Israel's school year is scheduled to begin next week, putting pressure on local authorities where class rooms are not protected against missiles.
Political commentators are pondering the criticism directed at Netanyahu from within his governing coalition. The current consensus is that if he lost control, an election would return a government even further to the right An election is not imminent, and Israel's political history suggests that at least 60 days are required between the calling of an election and the voting.
There is a lot that defies any simple assessment, conclusion, or policy proposal. We're deep in the do do, but it's not all bad. Or not at all bad. The complexities and confusions among our adversaries, enemies, and those claiming to be our friends provide opportunities. There is room for Israel to maneuver, in order to gain advantage or avoid damage from what others would do to us, as well as to gain time to pursue what is important in Gaza. The principal task there is to destroy as much of the resources and as many of the people important to the evil that is Hamas, in order to depress the motivations or capacities to do us harm for years to come.

No one should expect that anything close to an ideal peace is close, or attainable.

Israelis and Jews appear to be in a period of increased hostility.

The barbarity of Daish, Hamas, Boko Haram, and whatever is happening in Libya may serve as our best means of explanation. At least some Europeans and North Americans already realize the costs of massive migration from the Middle East and North Africa. Current worries concern the return of home grown Islamists, fired to even greater enthusiasm to spread their madness after fighting along with ISIS in Syria or Iraq.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:30 PM
August 22, 2014
Strategy, visions, and planning for the future

We're hearing another round of criticism that Benyamin Netanyahu has no strategy.

Critics are calling him the status quo Prime Minister, aspiring to nothing more than quiet, and seeing the status quo the best option for Israel in both the West Bank and Gaza.

Singing in the chorus are well known academics, who should know that "strategy" need not involve change, and retired generals who had been charged with planning and claim (along with the academics) that the Prime Minister never listened to them.

A more likely story is that the Prime Minister knew what they were saying, but did not agree.

Another verse of the same chorus is that the Prime Minister and his colleagues decide according to "gut feelings," and not the well thought out analyses of where Israel ought to be going, or what it must aim for as long term goals.

Again the essence of the criticism is that the country's leadership Is not listening to me, or giving me a position as key adviser.

What some of the critics mean is that the country is not doing what is necessary to make peace with the Palestinians.

The big however is that several Israeli prime ministers have pondered, and even tried to make peace with the Palestinians.

Benyamin Netanyahu may be thinking with his gut, but it's an experienced gut, trained over the decades close to, or in the midst of policy making circles. He's had 11 years as a government minister, nine of which as prime minister. He may have learned something as national policymaker while running the country, but--unlike his American counterpart--he did not jump from speechmaking to national leadership, and did not have to learn it all while in the top job.

A strategy of seeking to perpetuate the status quo may not be all that bad. It is a strategy, reflecting assessments about the nature of the status quo, the prospects of improving the national condition through a process of change, and the costs in money and lives that are likely to be spent in any effort to change the status quo.

It is possible to disagree with the priorities and the assessments that support them, as well as the tactics pursued in order to follow the strategy of preserving the status quo, or something close to it.

It is also possible to disagree about just what is meant by the "status quo." Is it continued tension and a low level of violence with respect to the West Bank and Gaza, or seeking changes in agreement with the Palestinians that may not bring the nirvana of total peace, but allow greater opportunities for economic development and freedom of movement for the Palestinians?

We hear from Jews in Israel, Jews overseas and others who bemoan the loss of traditional Jewish values in the thinking of policymakers. Yet there are so many of those values , and they include so much confusion and contrasts, as to render that particular criticism an intellectual broadside with no meaning.

A more specific complaint is that Israel has violated morality and good sense by taking Arab land and settling Jews. Often this comes along with the political curses, "colonialism" or "Apartheid."

The least well informed accuse the present government of these sins, overlooking the it was the social democratic heroes David ben Gurion who followed the policies of land taking and expulsions of Arabs in the 1948 War of Independence, Yitzhak Rabin and other Labor Party figures who helped carry them out, and Labor ministers who expanded settlements after 1967.

Those who would seek strategic justice by giving up major settlements might start with places where ethnic cleansing was more complete, such as Manhattan, the Louisiana Purchase, or what the US took as a result of its war with Mexico.

It was Likud hero Ariel Sharon who went the furthest by way of settlement withdrawal in Gaza. Much of what Netanyahu has done as Prime Minister on the settlement front is to add housing to existing settlements, and to approve cooperation with the West Bank Palestinians in their construction of Rawabi.

If you wish to ponder genocide, land taking, or even differentials in social indicators, you'll find that the Arabs of Israel score like kings compared to Native Americans, and on important traits higher than African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and even the average for White Americans. Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza include well to do and well educated, as well as those who have lived on the dole of UNRWA for three and four generations. If you are looking for teenage pregnancies as a sign of social dysfunction, do not look toward Israeli Arabs or Palestinians, but you may not like what you see. Brothers kill sisters with a wandering eye before they can become pregnant.

Demands from the Prime Minister's right for a change in strategy involve a more forceful attack on Hamas than has occurred. In some formulations this involves sizable numbers of ground troops, together with tanks and artillery. It may mean the conquest of all Gaza, which has implications for administering the lives of 1.8 million Palestinians likely to be unhappy with the change. Along the way there are sure to be many civilian casualties and an increase in the demands from international sources to hold Israel accountable, as well as IDF funerals that will lead Israelis to question the benefits of whatever is conquered.

Look to the future is the call by many of those who demand a national strategy, or complain that the government, the Cabinet, or the Prime Minister has not fully considered the alternatives and planned appropriately for Israel's future.

That sounds great, but who knows the future? Or who is certain about the few most likely scenarios that ought to be considered?

A verbal variation on the demand that the Prime Minister and his colleagues look to the future is the criticism that they have no vision.

Again we are at the point where those who disagree with the Prime Minister's vision say that he has no vision.

To be sure, we cannot know what the Prime Minister's vision is. However, if it is a depressing view of Islamic fanatics who will not desist, no shortage of allies to supply them with money and munitions, and western know nothings who are concerned mostly with protecting the human rights of those they perceived as deserving, then we might judge that it is a vision of reality, and arguably leads to a strategy of preserving something close to a quiet status quo.

One should be wary of anyone using the term vision. It is too close to the work of soothsayers and others of unsavory reputation.

That being said, it appears that Israeli citizens, media personalities, politicians, and those elected to high office along with senior military officers, economists, and other professionals who advise them have considered a variety of scenarios a countless number of times. Jews have been more literate and more argumentative than other people for more than two millennia, producing a great deal of literature to demonstrate those traits. Dispute continues on a daily basis. It is as convincing a trait of Israel's democracy as periodic elections.

Looking at events of the recent months, one should not conclude that preserving the status quo is static and not responsive to threats or opportunities. The madness coming to Israel from Gaza brought forth a response that so far has wrecked great destruction as well as taking more than 2,000 lives. It has also included several Israeli agreements to cease fire, and willingness to concede some Hamas demands for an increased opening of its borders.

If the people in charge have decided that the status quo, or something close to it, is the best deal on offer, it is possible to disagree, as well as to disagree about each aspect of the tactics pursued with that strategy as the goal. Being a Jewish country, those arguments will continue. But one risks a charge of foolishness by accusing those currently in charge of not considering strategy.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:36 AM
August 20, 2014
On the nature of states, Hamas, its allies and competitors

We are seeing, once again, the problems in dealing with amorphous organizations that are not states, but have the means to make others miserable.

The classic conception of a state is a body that possesses a monopoly of force, and controls what happens in its name and within its borders.

Many of what we call states do not measure up to that standard. However, terrorist organizations fall even further.

Other traits of states are borders recognized by other states, and functioning institutions to select the individuals entitled to make policy for the state and speak in its name. Free elections, freedom of criticism, following the rule of law, with independent judiciaries to decide on the law as well as the guilt or innocence of those charged with violations are not required for being recognized as a state. Those traits allow us to identify Israel, the countries of western Europe, the American continent north of the Rio Grande, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and a small number of other places as entitled to be called democratic, civilized, enlightened, or another nice word of your choice.

While few of what are loosely granted the title of states threaten their neighbors, terrorist organizations (almost all of those currently active competing for the designation of being Islamicly kosher), have become the greatest threats to comity, civility, trade and other cooperation between peoples.

We see in the Hamas-Jihadist-Fatah conglomeration under the heading of Palestine the difficulties in reaching agreement. Parties, organizations, movements, and/or gangs that are ethnically, linguistically, and at least nominally religiously homogeneous, lack the leadership and organizational discipline to make binding decisions. Extend that cluster to ISIS, al-Quaida, Boko Haram, and who knows how many other organizations claiming to be the fighting edge of Islam.

In recent days we have heard that Hamas agreed to accept Fatah (the party of Mahmoud Abbas) controls on the border of Gaza. We also heard that Hamas had been preparing to seize control of the West Bank from Fatah by force. Once again, it took the work of Israeli security forces to frustrate Hamas and save Abbas.

Military setbacks do not bring terrorist gangs to surrender and compliance with cease fire, as expected from armies affiliated with national governments. More likely is a faction seeing an opportunity to continue fighting, to attract support from other organizations, and getting money and weapons from one of the rogue Muslim states (Iran, Qatar, Somalia, Sudan, perhaps Turkey) or money from a wealthy Muslim family operating independently from whatever state it happens to live in.

The support and trouble-making capacity going to one or another Islamic extremist group from Saudi families--perhaps against the wishes of whoever is on top of the royal family--dwarfs the political trouble flowing from wealthy Jews like George Soros or Sheldon Adelson.

There are several explanations for the wave of rockets fired toward Beer Sheva in the mid afternoon of a cease fire that was supposed to continue until midnight. Optimists had viewed that cease fire as a continuation of five days quiet, extended by agreement so that the parties could polish the final wording of several points suggested by Egyptian mediators.

Given the multiplicity of sectors within Hamas and among its allies, all explanations have an element of speculation. Among those provided by Arabic-speaking journalists claiming access, is that Qatar had threatened Khalid Mashal with deportation from his cushy overseas location where he claims to be the senior leader of Hamas if he did not scuttle the deal being put together by Egypt, and advance Qatar's proposal.

We can wonder if Qataris were concerned to improve the deal offered to Hamas, or were simply challenging Egypt as the arbiter of Arab disputes.

By Israel's accounting, this was the 11th Palestinian violation of a cease fire.

Yet it is only Israel being targeted by the UNHRC's commission to investigate violations of human rights.

One result of whatever ended the cease fire was a siren that caused us to wake up and stumble toward shelter at 23:45. Between the siren and the boom of Iron Dome, I thought about a Hebrew University friend and colleague, proud to describe himself as far to the left and having been an adviser to Yassir Arafat, who admitted that news of a terror attack provoked a strong desire to kill the first Arab he encountered.

Israel is not confirming what many assume, that Israel's responses to this violation of a cease fire was the targeting of Hamas' senior military commander. Palestinian sources say that they found the bodies of his wife and young child, plus another individual not yet identified, in one of the buildings destroyed.

Most likely this attack will add another clause to the UNHRC indictment.

It took years, several wars, countless contacts both open and secret, with and without international mediators between Israeli officials and those of Egypt and Jordan,before there were treaties of peace and exchanges of ambassadors. Agreements with both governments have held, perhaps imperfectly. However the success is a long way from anything achieved, or even approached between Israel and whoever claims to be speaking for Palestinians.

There are Israelis and other who claim that an Israel-Palestine agreement has been close, and would have occurred if there had been greater flexibility by Israel, or if the settlements did not exist, or because of another Israeli misstep. However, such expressions are closer to politically inspired wishing or appeals to a political constituency than to anything that could pass muster as an academic dissertation.

There may be lessons in the years required for the US to reach an agreement with North Vietnam. That, too, was involved with hydra headed alliances that included the competing powers of China and the Soviet Union. But the ideological elements of Communism were a pale shadow of the capacity of Islam to inflame the masses. And the US success in getting out of Vietnam--half a world away from Washington--involved its surrender of the South.

There is no sign that Israel is willing to surrender itself for the sake of peace with Hamas or any other completing cluster of Islamic extremists or Palestinian nationalists. The threat against this small country comes not from half a world away, but from what here and at many other places is across the street.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:10 AM