July 28, 2014
Petering out, or not?

For some time on Saturday and Sunday it was not clear if there was a cease fire.

A cease fire for humanitarian purposes (i.e., getting the bodies out of destroyed buildings) held, but then when Israel agreed to an extension Hamas did not. Several rockets and mortars were fired until early Sunday, and one Israeli soldier was killed. During the 8 AM news on Sunday morning there was a barrage of missiles, coming too fast for the radio announcer to keep up with the locations being warned.

Then Israel renewed its attacks.

Netanyahu had been forthcoming with respect to UN requests for cease fires, perhaps to enhance Israel's international standing, until that rain of missiles at 8 AM on Sunday.

By Sunday evening, Hamas had requested a cease fire to carry through the Muslim holiday of Eid al Fitr, that marks the end of Ramadan. Israel did not respond clearly, except to say that it would not continue firing once Hamas had stopped.

John Kerry has not done well. Israeli politicians are furious at what they describe as his duplicity, i.e., indicating a reasonable arrangement for a cease fire extending for several days, and then including items in the final proposal that looked pretty much like what Hamas wanted.

That explains a unanimous rejection by Israel's Cabinet, comprised of a limited number of ministers who make crucial security decisions.

Hamas is also expressing anger. It claims that the American Secretary of State talked to everyone but them.

Hamas itself may be falling apart under the pressure. It never was a united organization that ran smoothly. Now the external leadership located in Qatar may not be on the same page as Gaza's political leadership, and Gaza's political leadership is facing increased divisions between itself and local military commanders, who may no longer be answering to a unified military command.

What that means for the survival of Hamas, or whatever becomes the effective governing mechanism of Gaza when the fighting stops, is anybody's guess.

The Fatah regime of the West Bank appears to be working with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, against the efforts of Turkey and Qatar. Fatah supports the Egyptian cease fire initiative, most likely to gain a role in the post war management of Gaza. Fatah personnel have also said some nasty things about John Kerry.

Chaos within Hamas, as well as the competition among peacemakers may explain the lack of traction toward a cease fire that has worked.

This has been the most costly of Israel's Gaza operations in terms of military casualties, and is coming close to being the most costly for the Palestinians. An operation in 2012 resulted in four Israeli civilian and two military deaths, and 159 Palestinian deaths. A three-week operation that spanned 2008 and 2009 killed somewhere between 1100 and 1400 Palestinians, depending on whose numbers you accept, plus ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians.

Currently there have been nearly 50 Israeli military and civilian deaths, and more than 1,000 Palestinian deaths. Palestinian estimates are that there are another 150 or so bodies under the rubble.

The number of missiles per day have declined, from close to 200 to 40-80.

Optimists see those numbers as showing that the end is in sight. Pessimists see them as showing the persistence of Hamas and its allies.

Support in Israel for continuing the operation remains strong. In contrast to every war and military operation since the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the public is close to united in viewing this as a war of no choice (בליט ברירה). Polls show public opinion close to 90 percent in favor of continuing or even expanding the operation. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ya'alon have been more reluctant than the public. They have been promoting a modest policy of continuing the operation against the tunnels, but accepting a cease fire if Hamas stops its attacks.

The cease fire that did hold on much of Saturday, was an occasion for the IDF to invite a military journalist from each of Israel's major media outlets, who recorded interviews with soldiers in Gaza. On every other day, those journalists have broadcast from the Israel side of the border, often against the background of smoke and dust plumes.

46,000 Israelis participated in the program of one supermarket chain along with one newspaper to organize parcels for the soldiers. There were campaigns by other organizers, as well as an increase in financial contributions to the IDF affiliated Association for the Wellbeing of Israel's Soldiers.

We received via WhatsAP a photo of two packages of sweets assembled for the soldiers by one of our young relatives, along with the note that she composed.

Take care of yourself and return home quickly
Thank you for protecting us and endangering yourself for us.
You will be victorious because you are strong; IDF is the stronger army.
I hope that the war will end quickly

She signed off with her name, address, telephone number, and that she will be in 3rd grade when school starts.

Less attractive was the neighbor we often see on our neighborhood walks. Saturday evening he yelled at us from across the street, "How many Arabs have you killed today?" He continued with tales of his role as a soldier in 1967, and his desire to join this fight and kill more Arabs. I urged him to lower his voice to avoid offending the Arabs living in French Hill, which brought forth another racist barrage. Then I reminded him that he is no longer a military asset. He cannot walk a hundred meters without sitting on a bench or leaning against a tree.

Opposition is muted, but not absent. Saturday night an estimated 5,000 people demonstrated against the fighting in Tel Aviv, despite police having banned any demonstration due to the possibility of missile attacks. Several hundred people also appeared at the site for a counter demonstration in favor of the war, with the police positioned between the groups.

The standard of comparison is the 400,000 who gathered at the same site in 1982 to protest Israel's complicity in the killing of Palestinian civilians by Christian militia in the Beirut neighborhoods of Sabra and Shatilla.

As I was writing this on Sunday evening, my computer was warning me of missiles heading for Israeli villages near Gaza and the city of Ashkelon. There was also the sound of gunfire, most likely the work of the Border Police to keep angry Isaweeans away from us.

Monday morning was quieter, until 7:15 AM, when my computer announced a missile heading toward Ashkelon.

Maybe from a local commander wanting status. Or from someone claiming that Hamas is still on top.

Barack Obama asked Israel to accept an immediate cease fire without conditions, expressed his increasing concern about civilian casualties, and indicated that the de-militarization of Gaza would have to wait for the kind of peace treaty promoted by his Secretary of State.

That sounds like something that might be appropriate for Obama's grandchildren and ours.

Israel's Cabinet met for several hours to figure out the meaning of Obama's remarks, and what would be an appropriate response.

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 12:09 AM
July 25, 2014
What's next?

More of the same? Or some kind of cease fire that holds?

We may be winding down. Hamas and its allies are firing fewer missiles. They may be pacing themselves toward the end of their supply. While there have been a few suicide bombers directed against Israeli soldiers, there are also Increasing numbers of Hamas fighters surrendering. This picture suggests that not all of Gaza's young men aspire to be martyrs.

The weekend routines included the banning of young men (under 50) from the Temple Mount and al-Aqsa. The last Friday of Ramadan has special religious significance, and security personnel were on alert. There were violent demonstrations in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank, and the IDF responded. In recent days, 9 Palestinians have died and many more injured.

The IDF Homefront Command reminded us of its radio stations for the Sabbath of religious Jews. They broadcast quiet except for missile warnings.

Most international airlines have renewed their flights. By one report, the cancellation of the FAA action against flights to Israel, and the copycat action of Europeans came in response to an Israeli threat to increase greatly the bombing of the neighborhoods used to shield the firing of missiles. Palestinian deaths now close to 900 with some 6,000 wounded. It would not look good if those numbers began to multiply, with Israel's explanations focused on the need to end Palestinian and American threats against its international airport.

There is no surprise about the decision of the UN Human Rights Council to begin an inquiry into Israel's violation of international law, or that the same organization sees no reason to investigate Hamas' violations, the action of the newly created Islamic State that all women and girls within their regime must wear the vale and undergo female circumcision, or the carnage in Syria that in recent weeks has caused more than three times the deaths of those in Gaza..

The deaths of 15 and the wounding of many more at a UNRWA school is the latest abomination featured in the international media. Initially it was blamed on Israeli shelling. More recently reports have admitted that it might have resulted from one of the many Palestinian missiles that fail to make it out of Gaza. One can also speculate that Hamas may have done it on purpose to provide more fodder for its media campaign. The IDF concedes that one of its shells may have fallen on the facility, but has said that Hamas was using the facility, or the area close to it, to fire on Israeli forces. There is dispute between UNRWA and the IDF as to whether the facility was warned about an impending IDF attack.

Israeli journalists have increased their criticism of colleagues working in Gaza for international media. Virtually all of their stories are about civilian casualties, with the emphasis on children. Where are the reports about the fighting in Gaza, or the actions of Hamas--both against Israel and pressing civilians toremain near their munitions and firing positions? It is easy to conclude that the journalists are doing what Hamas is demanding. If they want to work in Gaza, they must join Hamas' campaign.

Hamas has called on the Palestinians of the West Bank to begin a third intifada. There has been an increase in violent demonstrations, and in the severity of Israeli responses.

Israelis are threatening IDF logistics with thousands of packages containing food and clothing assembled by community centers and private individuals for the soldiers. The army has closed roads to civilian traffic and warned civilians to stay away from the area around Gaza. Families and the curious want to visit the soldiers either pulled out of Gaza for rest, or waiting to enter. The area is dangerous. The army does not want to worry about protecting hordes of visiting civilians, or keeping their cars away from its heavy trucks, tanks, and other military vehicles.

Here's one indication of popular support. "IDF: We love you" on a home for seniors in our neighborhood.

We're in a muddle involved with various cease fire proposals, and conditions attached by Israel and Hamas. John Kerry may be learning more about international relations following the unanimous rejection by the Israel cabinet of something he thought was a great idea.

Hamas demands are
Open borders
Air and sea ports
Withdrawal of IDF from Gaza
Freeze of Israeli settlements in West Bank, and an end to the "occupation" of the West Bank
Israel's demands are
Destruction of all tunnels
De-militarization of Gaza
Border controls by reliable forces to assure that there would be no import of munitions
Assurance that the import of construction materials will be used for civilian reconstruction and not the construction of tunnels and other fortifications.
The key questions are
Will the two sides agree to a cease fire and the start of negotiations? and
Will a cease fire survive the failure of one or another side to achieve its aims?
Whenever the active fighting and bombing comes to an end, policymakers and commentators will focus on the implications of the carnage and destruction for the support of Hamas in Gaza, the support of Fatah's leadership there and in the West Bank, and the postures toward Israel of its Arab citizens and the Arab residents of Jerusalem.

It is hard to imagine that Israeli officials or population will be inclined to any early re-opening of a peace process, given the costs in lives lost and disrupted by this operation, and the increase in ugliness shown by Palestinians of the West Bank and Israeli Arabs.

Not all is dismal.

The success of Iron Dome is another accomplishment of Israeli technology likely to be a factor in its international commerce. The armed services of other countries concerned about the protection of troops based in hostile areas, or other vulnerable facilities are being targeted by a sales video produced by Israel's Rafael Industries. It should also appeal to Israelis and their overseas friends. Those inclined can click here to polish their pride

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 09:59 PM
July 23, 2014
Changing aims

Once again we're seeing that it's easier to begin a war than to end one.

A brief conversation with a neighbor whose career was in the Defense Ministry reached agreement that "Shit" pretty well summarizes things.

I'm far from inner circles, but my sifting of commentary indicates that people making decisions (political and military) have changed their initial aims in response to Hamas actions and the problems apparent in efforts to produce a cease fire.

The most dramatic of the recent events is the cancellation of American and then European air traffic to Israel. It has the smell of the Obama White House, and has mobilized Israeli politicians to have it changed.

Following that announcement, Israeli media are featuring the plights of individuals isolated here or elsewhere, along with continuing coverage of Israeli casualties and interviews with family members.

The load of human interest in the hourly and half-hourly newscasts is frustrating for someone concerned to know what is happening. We know the suffering of Israelis and Palestinians. We have friends and family somewhere on the battlefields, pay attention to the names of casualties, and hope the best for all concerned.

The economic and personal pressures coming from government and/or airline decisions are just as likely to cause Israel to escalate to end this fast as to soften its demands on Hamas in order to bring them to the table. Or to combine escalation with accommodation.

Dedicated fighters, skilled planning, and wanton violation of international law taking a high toll from the IDF. The men of Hamas and its allies are not afraid to die. One of IDF's prisoners, a 16-year old, suggests no shortage of very young men--on the border of being children--who aspire to be martyrs.

Among the violations:
Using ambulances to transport fighters
Using hospitals and schools as platforms for firing, directing fire, and storing weapons
Dressing fighters in IDF uniforms
Employing civilians as shields for fighters and their facilities.
Arguably those violations would free Israel from all legal constraints, and allow free fire on all of Gaza.

There is no sign of that on the horizon. Human rights still counts for something here, despite the resolutions enacted by those who feel that only Israel is worthy of condemnation.

Hamas has sought to prevent wounded Gazans from seeking care at the field hospital that the IDF established for that purpose alongside the border, and has shelled that hospital.

Hamas and its allies know how to exploit the crowded housing of their neighborhoods. IDF knows the costs of urban fighting, which it can reduce but not eliminate by extensive training. The prospect of more Israeli casualties is worrying military and political figures who are pondering the option of going deeper into Gaza.

We have seen, and can expect more Israeli attacks on "civilian" facilities used as launching platforms for missiles, storage sites for munitions, command centers, or as the shelters of Hamas military and political leaders.

There are no shortage of media reports emphasizing the carnage in Gaza, without balancing it with the years of rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. One can find equivalents in al Jazeera or the New York Times. Here's one example.

Missiles from Gaza have not cause much physical damage or many physical casualties, but they have caused people living near Gaza to worry about being more than 15 seconds from shelter, and pressing their children to worry. Those are not only conditions of this month, but the years since Israel's withdrawal of Gaza settlements in 2005.

Hamas leaders say they are winning this confrontation, and so far have said no to any cease fire that does not assure their list of accomplishments, most (but not all) beyond what Israel is likely to accept.

There are Israelis who object to the civilian casualties in Gaza, and demand that their government make concessions to Hamas. Civil rights organizations have asked the Attorney General to consider charges against the IDF for violating international law.

Israel's democracy tolerates dissonance, but it does not prevent verbal attacks against those who demand restraint while Israel's own citizens are being attacked.

Right wing Israelis have the same rights of expression as left wing Israelis.

Public opinion polls, and the comments of politicians prominent in the opposition Labor Party suggest that there is support for a continuing and wider effort of the IDF against Hamas and allied organizations, with all that means for more IDF casualties. They are currently at more than 30 dead and one missing (most likely another dead body held by Hamas for subsequent bargaining), and about 150 hospitalized with injuries.

Gazan casualties are currently about 700 dead and thousands injured. Israeli and Palestinian sources differ on the proportions of civilians, children, and fighters among the dead.

Israeli policy at the beginning was explicit in not calling for the destruction of Hamas and the leaving of a political vacuum in Gaza.

That is one of the things that may be changing.

Prominent now are Israeli demands that any settlement must assure the de-militarization of Gaza.

The EU supports that demand, and may be willing to provide European military monitors at Gaza's border with Egypt in order to monitor the provision.

John Kerry has raised the prospect of renewed peace talks.

It's doubtful that Israel's government or population will be receptive to anything in the near future other than a cease fire, or the further destruction of Hamas and its allies.

With all the maneuvering for advantage by various Palestinians, Egyptians, other Arabs, Europeans and Americans--all on their own page--it will take a while to see what comes next. Kerry's aspirations are somewhere in the pot, but its a big pot.

You have heard what happens to the broth when there are too many cooks.

There have been conflicting reports that various Arab negotiations and John Kerry are close or not so close to formulating a cease fire that Hamas and its allies will accept. And we have not heard lately if their draft formulation is something that Israel will accept.

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 08:19 PM
July 21, 2014
Looking for optimism

This is not a happy time, but there may be cause for optimism.

Protective Edge is still an operation, but may be on its way to a war.

Hourly and half-hourly news programs begin with the names of the most recent soldiers who have died, plus the times and locations of their burials. We hear comments from friends and family members, describing promising young men, their academic or professional accomplishments, and their dedication to the IDF.

Casualties reflect a broad spectrum of the Jewish population, leaving aside the ultra-Orthodox. Most are Jews, but there are also Druze and Bedouin.

Many are from families like our own. It is easy to identify with them, and to understand why hundreds or even thousands accompany them to the military cemeteries.

Testimony that the dead young man loved the army, and could not wait to return to his unit sound like patriotic fluff, but it is easy to encounter young Israelis who express similar sentiments. Being the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors or refugees from Arab countries may explain some of the patriotism. Even the youngest Israelis have known Palestinian aggression.

Two of the dead and at least of the injured came from overseas, and volunteered for selective units of the IDF. One of the dead had finished his service, but refused release in order to fight with his colleagues.

Newspapers are providing half-page stories, with pictures of each soldier killed.

This is not Sparta. There are Jews--not all of them ultra-Orthodox--who do what they can to avoid the IDF or reserve duty, and Jews who criticize the government and IDF.

We hear the numbers of IDF accomplishments. How many facilities attacked, how many buildings, rocket launchers and tunnels destroyed. Palestinian sources are cited for the incidence of casualties, and how many are civilians or children. IDF sources claim a higher incidence of fighters and a lower incidence of civilians and children among the casualties.

The IDF keeps journalists away from its soldiers. The news we hear comes mostly from official sources. During an operation like this the military censor is more active than otherwise. Several times in recent days we have heard about difficult operations, and have guessed that before too long it will be possible for the media to report the casualties.

One of the non-fatal casualties of the present operation is the radio journalist, Carmela Menasha, well known for her descriptions of military activities. Her usually pointed and informative items may have fallen victim to insufficient sleep. Several of her reports have been rambling and repetitive, and have failed to answer the questions asked time and again by the broadcaster trying to manage the program.

There is a policy to keep the soldiers' cellphones out of the action, but enough leaks to feed the Hebrew language Facebook and other social media. Some of it gets around before official announcements, but much of it is inaccurate.

For those wanting quick access to the media of the other side, al-Jazeera's English language site is not entirely off the wall.

There, as well as in CCN and BBC, one is likely to see dead children, screaming women, and men waving their arms and demanding justice. There is less likely to be commentary about missiles falling on Israel, or Gazans being pressured by Hamas to stay close to home, despite being warned to leave by IDF leaflets and text messages.

Here's one bit of Palestinian news that shows the same family having been killed in Syria and Gaza.

​Assad is taking advantage of media focus on Gaza by increasing his attacks. So far during the Israeli operation, the deaths in Syria have been three times the number in Gaza.

It's easy to encounter people who admit to being nervous, or sleeping less than usual.

Sunday night was an especially loud and long performance of the Isawwea lullaby, i.e., the sound of explosions as the police employed the crowd control devices of tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets. I dozed off thinking that only 200 meters separated my bedroom from fanatics who would delight in slitting my throat.

The Jordanian delegation to the UN is demanding that the Security Council insist on a cease fire and IDF's withdrawal from Gaza.

That may reflect nothing more than the king's effort to calm domestic unrest.

Ban Ki-moon is proposing a long term cease fire.

Mahmoud Abbas is travelling from one Arab capital to another, having trouble for formulate anything significant.

John Kerry was caught in a non-public conversation condemning Israel's killing of civilians, but then on script was supportive of Israel's activity.

Barack Obama is also speaking with forked tongue. He proclaims Israel's right to defend itself, but is beginning to worry about the large number of civilian casualties.

Egypt holds a key by virtue of geography, and it has not been supportive of Hamas, or receptive to American efforts to participate in the mediation.

Obama-Kerry are paying a price for throwing Mubarak under the bus, and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

Nonetheless, John Kerry has come to Cairo to participate in something.

Israel appreciates the US contribution to Iron Dome. Americans' political clumsiness has been counterproductive since GW Bush sought to bring democracy to Iraq, then Barack Obama talked about human rights in Egypt, and sent Kerry to bring peace between Israel and Palestine.

Ha'aretz's cartoonist has portrayed the political competition among self-assigned mediators.

The leader of the Knesset opposition is supporting the operation. He and other Labor politicians have joined the call to keep it going until Hamas is deprived of the means and incentive to try again anytime soon.

Against them, a Meretz MK is worried about Gaza's civilian casualties. Israel's civil rights activists have asked the Attorney General to open an inquiry into IDF's violation of international law.

Here's the optimism--
That Hamas may come to see the cost of its fanaticism.
That it will lose enough of its arsenal, and Egypt's animosity will assure a tighter control than in the past against the smuggling of munitions.
And that the results will relieve Gaza's threat on Israel for years to come
With all the fanaticism of Hamas on one side, Hezbollah on another, along with other Islamic extremists plus the meddling of Iran, Qatar, Turkey and Sudan, it may be impossible to keep Israel's enemies from obtaining munitions, digging tunnels, finding political support and making other preparations for aggression.

The point is to give them good reason for not using those assets.

It isn't exactly the MAD (mutual assured destruction) that prevailed during the Cold War, or that continues between India and Pakistan, and may come to be the situation between Iran and Israel. Israel vs Hamas, other Palestinians, and Hezbollah is significantly more one-sided in Israel's favor. What we are now seeing is one of those occasions when Israel goes crazy, or breaks a few of the politically correct rules, in order to assert what can happen if its enemies do not behave.

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 09:53 PM
July 20, 2014
The power of the weak

Israel was ready to accept a cease fire after a week of destroying enough of Hamas' assets from the air. At the time, the death toll was less than 50.

Israel is still ready to accept a cease fire, while suffering its own casualties from the ground assault, numbered as I write at five soldiers killed and about 30 injured, two civilian deaths and a number injured. The Palestinian death toll is climbing toward 400, and the physical destruction a great deal more extensive than when Hamas rejected the first call for a cease fire. More than 60,000 Gazan civilians have responded to Israel's warnings and left their homes for shelter in UN schools and other facilities.

Hamas is claiming that it has the upper hand, sifting competing invitations from aspiring peace mediators to discuss a cease fire, and rejecting them all.

Israel is responding by continuing to escalate. The IDF has called up 50,000 reservists, and is moving further into Gaza. We hear of bodies lying in the streets, and Palestinians demanding that the UN stop the slaughter.

It is not easy to understand Hamas' refusal to accept mediation. What is happening is on the other side of cultural boundaries that are damn near impenetrable.

Among the explanations are Hamas' insistence on improving the economic situation in Gaza in order to strengthen its rule. It is demanding open borders as well as agreements to develop air and sea ports as its price for a cease fire.

How much is it willing to see destroyed in order to enhance its economy?

Israeli leftists see reasons to accommodate. Shouldn't everyone have the right to live well?

Against this is the record that inflows in building materials and other economic assets go to facilities that will be used in attacking Israeli civilians. So far the IDF has uncovered more than 30 tunnels, some of which have brought fighters to Israeli homes near Gaza. Each is estimated to have required a year of work and cost one million US dollars.

Islam plays a role in Hamas' rejection of a cease fire. Politically correct westerners blind themselves by rejecting any condemnation of a respectable religion. It is permitted only to condemn Islamic extremism.

Maybe, but how many of the 1.8 million Gazans are not extreme? Or unwilling to bend to the demands of their extremist leaders?

Islam's doctrines are as complex as those of any other faith, but the practice in several sectors, including Gaza, emphasizes the most aggressive toward infidels, among whom us Jews rank as having to be kept subordinate to Islamic rule. Christians who have not already left the Middle East are probably thinking about it.

Also associated with Islam is a glorification of death. Suicide bombers and children who aspire to martyrdom are the ugliest examples.

Hamas leaders are glorify the death of others, while they remain in shelters under schools or hospitals. If Israel were intent on neutralizing the peak leadership of Hamas, it would have to destroy the main hospital of Gaza. The operation would not play well on CNN or BBC.

Prominent in the tactics of the weak is a campaign fought with the help of international media. What sells is human interest. The suffering of civilians has brought pathos from broadcasters and produced rallies in European cities. Palestinians and other Muslims are prominent in the demonstrations, but they are joined by large numbers of others.

So far the important governments of the world are preserving a balanced concern for Israeli as well as Palestinian civilians, and expressing support for Israel's actions against a regime that initiated all of this with its attacks against civilians.

Turkey's Prime MInister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has isolated himself even further from Israelis, and perhaps from others, by proclaiming that Israel's leadership is even more barbaric than Hitler.

An item heard once on Israel radio was that someone speaking for the White House said that Barack Obama would insist on a cease fire when the Palestinian death toll reached 1,000.

If that came from anyone more senior than a janitor, we can hope that the implementation will be more successful than recent efforts with respect to Israel-Palestine, Syria, Ukraine, and Iran.

Israel's democracy is more vulnerable to political pressures than the heavy handed control of Gaza by Hamas.

So far the major sources of likely opposition are muted. Jewish Knesset Members outside of the government are speaking in support of the ground action, praise the Prime Minister for his willingness to accept a cease fire and his gradual increase of the pressure. Reports of Palestinian casualties are given considerable attention in the media, but their impact on the left has been lessened by the suffering of Israelis, and especially the more vulnerable of Israelis who live closest to Gaza.

A missile aimed at Israel's nuclear facility in Dimona killed a Bedouin and injure several of his family members living in a flimsy structure with no shelter nearby. Then came demands from Bedouin and Israelis to improve facilities. Not so long ago, however, several thousand Bedouin demonstrated against a government proposal to relocate them from scattered tents and shanties to established towns.

The spread of Islamic extremism is, in a paradoxical manner, one of the factors isolating Hamas in its refusal to accept a cease fire that would not amount to its victory.

Established Muslim regimes are dithering about Islamic extremism, and acting forcefully against it. The picture is complex, and we can only guess about the thinking of elites. Sunni extremists who delight in broadcasting their killing of prisoners taken in warfare and their destruction of Christian churches have been too much for those ruling Iran. Iran itself is viewed as a threat by Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Turkey and Qatar, lined up behind Hamas, are engaged in a war of words with the Egyptian leadership. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have targeted the Muslim Brotherhood and its Hamas offshoot, as well as various smaller Jihadist gangs as movements to be repressed if not destroyed altogether.

Egypt is currently in the lead of the competition to broker a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, but has not offered anything close to what Hamas wants. Comments of prominent Egyptians with respect to the cease fire offered to Hamas are translated as "take it or leave it." And saying that Hamas may have to sweat some more before coming to the table.

Someone in the White House is being quoted as saying that Qatar would be an appropriate mediator.

We can hope that such sentiments come from the same janitor who said that Obama will step in once Israel kills 1,000 Palestinians.

Hamas' leaders remain in their bunkers, still refusing to consider a cease fire, while their constituents huddle in crowded UN facilities, or join the martyrs who have died for the cause.

Israelis suffer in their own way, hearing descriptions of each person who has died, wondering when this round will end, and how much time will pass until the next one.

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 01:46 AM
July 18, 2014
Cultural dissonance

A ground operation has begun, spurred by the penetration into Israel of 13 Hamas fighters from a tunnel dug under the border, which followed several days of media discussion about the danger to Israel of numerous tunnels that have defied years of efforts to locate them before they are used.

The timing of Israel's ground attack may also have been helped by the downing of the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine. For Israel, this offered the prospect of the world's media shifting from civilian deaths in Gaza to passenger deaths in Ukraine, and the folly of flying over a war zone with unpredictable fighters, some of whom were bound to have their hands on sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles. We know of at least one American newscaster who was moved immediately after the disaster from Jerusalem to Kiev.

Vladimir Putin, the President of the country that most likely supplied the missile, is trying to reverse the flow of attention by joining with the Iranian President and calling for an end to the operation in Gaza, then a renewed peace process.

Israel's ground attack will add to the deaths, at least partly due to the efforts of Hamas to keep civilians in the way.

Yet another spur to the ground action was the failure of several cease fire initiatives, and a continued rain on Israel of Gazan missiles that had not been dampened by more than a week of attacks from the air.

One of the barriers to a cease fire has been competition among the peace makers, with enmities between Turkey and Qatar against Egypt well established in other arenas of Arab politics getting in the way of formulating something that Hamas would accept. The Prime Minister of Turkey has described the Egyptian President as a dictator working with Israel against Hamas.

Also important is a lack of rapport among various elements of Hamas and other Islamic groups, plus family-centered militias, all of which have obtained munitions from one source or another.

We hear is that John Kerry invited himself to Egypt in order to announce with his great voice the onset of a cease fire and opportunities for the renewal of a peace process, but Egyptians told him to stay away.

Within the Hamas grouping have been disputes between overseas and Gazan cadres claiming leadership, as well as a lack of rapport within Gaza between Hamas' political leadership and its military commanders.

The cultural boundaries between us and the Palestinians are profound. We share the Hebrew language with most Arabs of Israel and many Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza who have worked in Israel (or served time in its prisons). Numerous Israeli Jews are fluent in Arabic due to family backgrounds or schooling. Arabs share university classes with Jews. Professionals and technicians of the two communities work together. There are numerous friendships. Yet there are important traits of Arab culture, and especially the dominant Muslim ingredient, that get in the way of understanding and accommodation. In the case of Islamic extremists/fanatics, there is little hope of reasonable discourse.

It is tempting to approach the borders of the politically correct and think about the forces of light against those of darkness. While Israel makes an effort to warn civilians of impending attacks and invests heavily in the defense of its own population, Hamas hides its fighters in bunkers and pressures civilians--including women and children--to mass themselves around military targets as their primary means of defense.

Hamas fighters are moving from place to place in ambulances, accompanied by children.

Jews raise their glasses to life. לחיים. Muslim children aspire to become martyrs.

The contrast recalls Roman efforts to guard its civilization against those called barbarians, whose eventual ascendance brought Europe to the Dark Ages. There are some, but not enough Europeans, who view Israel as a barrier against another Dark Age, which looms in connection to porous borders and substantial migration from Muslim areas.

Not all Muslims are fanatics, and even the fanatics vary in their fanaticism. Some see hope in Iran's efforts against ISIS. Before we grant Iran entrance to the league of the enlightened, however, we should inquire a bit more to see if its efforts against ISIS are simply a matter of Shiites opposing Sunnis.

Labeling one's enemies as barbarians is not only the epitome of the politically incorrect, but it flies against the worthies of BBC, CNN, and a host of NGOs wrapping themselves in the coverings of the humane who focus on Israel's killing of civilians.

Israel's response is that the Palestinians are assiduous in keeping civilians on the battlefield, and delight in the carnage that they turn to media advantage.

That left wing Jews participate in screeds against Israel complicates the accusation of anti-Semitism. However, that label retains justification in the refusal of anti-Israel media to balance their reports about Palestinian casualties with inquiries into the exploitation of civilians by Hamas or by Gaza's bombardment of Israeli cities.

This operation, which may escalate in coming days to the official designation of a war, illustrates how violence can spiral out of control. There were months of exchanging limited barrages that did relatively little damage, and may have been directed away from populated centers in order to make noise and score only symbolic points. Then exchanges became serious after the kidnapping and killing of yeshiva students and the killing of an Arab by Jewish extremists. After nine days of missile attacks and air force reprisals, the IDF sent in the troops and the tanks. The officials announcement described a limited operation meant to neutralize the tunnels and other munitions, but some were talking about the impossibility of reaching a cease fire until Israel established its control over all of Gaza, with who knows what cost in the deaths of Israeli soldiers and Gazan civilians.

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 10:42 PM
July 17, 2014
Calculations and questions

It's all economic. Not so much about money as profit and loss, benefit and cost.

Prominent in the calculations:
How many soldiers likely to be killed are worth a ground operation that can achieve what amount of value added?
Which goals are feasible? Which are likely to be attained? And which are marginal in terms of the capacity to achieve them at reasonable cost?
How much can be achieved without the risks of a ground operation, perhaps rendered moot by the time this is read?
Prominent among the goals that have been mentioned:
Stopping the rockets
Disarming Hamas and other organizations, and overseeing the disarming with reliable international supervision
Turning Hamas into a responsible party that can govern Gaza, with equal or greater benefits to residents as are received on the West Bank, without threatening Israel

Relevant to the last point is the reputation of Hamas as less driven by personal corruption than Fatah, and more inclined to win support via the provision of social services.

An ideal, perhaps not achievable in the near future, is Gaza as a peaceful neighbor, buying from Israel and selling to it, with workers free to enter Israel on a daily basis.

Also relevant are Israel's relations with other actors in its environment.
The US remains Israel's primary consideration, despite what has become the flaccid reputation of its political leadership.
European countries have been considered lap dogs of the US with respect their postures toward Israel and the Arabs, but that may be changing due to the record of Bush and Obama administrations.in international politics.
Egypt is a major factor in Israel's calculations, especially with al-Sisi's rescue of the country from the bungling of the US. Its initial offer of a pro-Israel cease fire, which Hamas rejected, may be viewed as showing Egypt current posture in Middle Eastern politics.
Is peace, or even a cease fire possible with competition among those offering mediation? Turkey and Qatar, allied with Hamas, are competing with Egypt, currently closer to Israel. Reports are that Qatar and Turkey have urged Hamas not to accept Egyptian offers, and to wait for what they can accomplish.
Saudi Arabia joins Egypt as a moderate influence, opposed to Islamic extremists. None of which prevents some Saudis from using their considerable personal resources to support the most radical of the Islamic extremists..
Jordan, with its record of careful kings, is a source of stability. It is deserving of Israeli support, kept low key or perhaps only potential, in order to accommodate the delicate balances within Jordan, made even more difficult by an inflow of refugees from Syria and Iraq.
Fatah is a corrupt organization, with a bloated bureaucracy not highly valued by the West Bank Palestinians, but it is what exists. Its leadership is welcome, supported financially, and even lionized as the great hope for peace, both in western circles and among Israeli leftists. The Israeli government must take it into consideration insofar as it is the most acceptable Palestinian player, warts and all.
Iran is a major problem due to its nuclear and missile aspirations, and its support of undesirables. However, it seems capable of dealing with Catherine Ashton, John Kerry, and Barack Obama. Complicating assessments and actions are its supporting the bad guys, but not the worse ones, in Syria, and opposing the worse who have moved from Syria to Iraq.
The UN is serving itself, is a caricature of the politically correct, but is of questionable weight in affecting what happens. Typical is the recent announcement of UNWRA, the organization that has coddled Palestinian "refugees" since the 1940s, saying that 79 Gazan schools and 23 medical facilities have been damaged, without noting how many had been also serving as storage sites for Hamas munitions.
International media is an actor of questionable credibility and influence. Despite its fascination with Palestinian suffering, it has not produced any great pressure from western governments that Israel must stop attacking. Disasters happen in war. Within minutes of the deaths of five children on a Gaza beach, without any time for inquiry, all began to blame Israel. Hamas as well as the media, treated it as a gift assuring an audience.. An Israeli journalist noted that one-sixth of the missiles fired from Gaza fall on Gaza, and asked if it could have been one of theirs.
Israel's population and economy are as important as anything as supplying pressures and constraints, but it is not easy to summarize their demands, or their impact on policymakers. Commentators are all over the map. People from the street interviewed on camera express with great emotion the same range of views.

The professional commentary (from academics, journalists, retired politicians and military officers) as well as from the street range from
An insistence on pursuing a military operation until Israel can control Gaza, the destruction of Hamas and other terrorist organizations, the destruction of their munitions and the institution of a regime that will assure demilitarization
Against this posture are assertions that it is impractical to demand anything beyond a cease fire and promises to behave. Associated with this are demands for a cease fire in order to relieve the suffering of Israelis kept close to shelters, and the casualties among Gazan civilians.

The stature, style, support and criticism directed at Prime Minister Netanyahu provide a focus and a microcosm of the larger disputes in Israel.

Among the points of praise and criticism are his moderation in so far avoiding a ground attack. Supporters see Netanyahu as cautious, while critics see him as afraid of international criticism. He is ridiculed for the contrast between bold expressions of extreme intentions, and the mildest of activity. Prominent here are his declarations about preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, especially that speech at the UN with a drawing of a bomb and his red line beyond which Iran must not be allowed to go, and subsequent years of accepting what others have done--or not done--about Iran's intentions.

Supporters praise Netanyahu's willingness to accept the Egyptian declaration of cease fire. Cynics say he did so for tactical reasons, pretty sure that Hamas would reject it and thus give him a free hand with support from western governments.

There is support from the center and left for Natanyahu's firing Deputy Defense Minister Dany Danon, for being too harsh in criticizing government policy in the midst of war (for being timid, leftist, and at the service of Tsipi Livni). Netanyahu's critics chide him for picking on one of the lesser lights among his opponents, and avoiding any discipline of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose criticism of government policy has been no less extreme.

The current balance of casualties at 200 to 1 is both a measure of success and a cause for concern. Israelis are not salivating over the record of kills. Quite the contrary. There is substantial concern, both for the civilians caught up in the conflict, and for the impact of the statistics on international opinion and politics.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:21 AM
July 15, 2014
Pondering amidst uncertainties

We went to bed with the rain of missiles from Gaza and the operation of the IDF in full tilt. We woke to a media blitz focused on a cease fire-then-negotiations proposed by Egypt.

Hamas initially rejected the idea, but observers should view any of its statements with considerable salt.

Israel's right wing, including its representatives in the government joined that rejection.

But both sides were declaiming to continue the fight until achieving their goals. Hamas spoke about its power, and is demanding an end to the blockades on Gaza. The Israeli right wing spoke about the complete destruction of Hamas.

Israel's government, led by the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister, accepted the Egyptian proposal, with the reservation of continuing to operate in response to Gazan aggression. The government majority sees saw an opportunity to avoid a costly ground operation. It is satisfied with the destruction achieved and its message sent to Hamas. It desires that Hamas stay in control, while knowing quietly that it lost badly, but willing and able to control those even more intense about killing Jews in order to avoid yet another round of Israeli destruction.

No one would be able to declare victory in the style of V-E or V-J days.

However, no other government has been justified in claiming anything like that since 1945.

Opponents to both Hamas and the centrist Israeli government will declare something like shameful defeat.

I've heard from critics that any acceptance of an imperfect cease fire would be appeasement.

Such people should learn the languages and culture of this region, as well as how the US and other great powers have ratcheted down from imperfect endings to their wars.

Realities are imperfect.

It is not likely to be a smooth transition. Missile attacks and the IDF may peter out. There have been missiles fired since the cease fire deadline.

We have been in this performance numerous times. Involved in the frictions are the pride of the weak party, the willingness of the strong to let them score a few points for the sake of quiet, but a limited tolerance of any serious continuation of the missile rain.

It won't be neat, and many will not understand the logic, or the elements of political theater involved.

The background includes what follows. Nothing is close to certain, but these are among the considerations relevant to understanding what has happened.

Hamas is isolated amidst the chaos that has erupted throughout the Middle East. One can argue to what extent that chaos resulted from the Arab Spring, is the birth pangs of democracy, or is a product of Barack Obama Cairo's speech that won a Nobel Peace prize, but was widely received with wonder and ridicule throughout the Middle East.

Egypt is the closest geographically to Hamas, and perhaps the most intense antagonist/enemy, leaving aside the animosity expressed by Hamas' Palestinian rivals.

We should view Egyptian expressions of support for their Palestinian brothers as the lip service obligatory among Muslims, who hate one another no less than they distrust others. Look again at Syria, Libya, and Iraq for current examples.

Egyptian media have accused Hamas of responsibility for attacks against Egyptians in the Sinai, and have expressed an understanding of Israel's attacks against Gaza.

Saudi Arabia is busier elsewhere. Likewise Iran and Hezbollah. All those former suppliers of money, technology, and political support are involved in their own problems, most prominently on the territory of Syria and Iraq.

The Fatah regime of the West Bank is getting the humanitarian mileage out of the suffering in Gaza, but one can doubt its concern for Hamas.

US is close to a laughing stock. The style of Obama and Kerry, in particular, is widely derided, and seen as reducing whatever was left of American leverage after the presidency of George W. Bush. See this as an example.

Turkey's offer to mediate is easy to dismiss, given its anti-Israel postures.

Qatar remains Hamas' principal supporter and provider of money. Qatar's al-Jezeera has some weight in international politics, but the news media and the Qatar leadership is on the outs with Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Moreover, its money does not come as promised. A Gazan health official has complained that international medical suppliers have stopped shipping due to debts that remain unpaid on account of donations waiting delivery.

Israelis are tired of partial solution, and want more than achieved by earlier rounds of conflict. The second Lebanon War (2006) is mentioned as an example. With all the criticism of details of Israel's management of that war, the considerable destruction of Hezbollah areas of Lebanon are thought to have contributed to 8 years of relative quiet on Israel's northern border.

Optimists see a repeat of that model in what Israel has done to Gaza.

Hamas bet a great deal on this round, and lost badly. Its escalation of missile attacks on Israel recalls the image of a Hail Mary pass in American football, going for the all in a desperate effort to turn aside an impending loss. Against Gazan deaths approaching two hundred and more than a thousand wounded, most Israeli casualties have been defined as stress, or injuries caused by tripping on the way to shelter. The majority of Gazan missiles land on nothing; some do not make it out of Gaza; and most of those calculated as likely to land on populated areas have been destroyed by Israel's Iron Dome.

Two of the missiles sent toward Jerusalem landed in or near Arab areas of Bethlehem and Hebron. Perhaps Iron Dome is not programmed to deal with what is seen as overflying Israel's population.

Hamas is left with the public relations asset of one sided international media. We've seen fiercely anti-Israel clips from CNN and BBS, meant to generate pathos or anger about civilian suffering without questioning Hamas policy of storing munitions in or alongside hospitals, mosques, or housing, its opposition to people leaving areas in response to IDF warnings, or the source of the conflict in Gazan missiles fired in the direction of Israeli civilians. For some, alas, the source of the conflict is Israel's existence.

UN sources report the percentage of children among the dead. IDF sources report the percentage of fighters.

Compared to animosity from international media, Israeli observers have noted relatively little pressure from western governments that Israel must stop the operation.

While Hamas has sought to keep its people near targets in order to protect them or embarrass Israel, Israel has provided layers of warning and protection. Several times while writing this note my computer has signaled me with a warning sound and message. My cell phone is has an IDF-supplied application that lets me know when something is headed my way.

There have been protests of Israeli actions in the West Bank and among Israeli Arabs, but the larger picture may be persuading many to keep a low profile.

Some Israeli commentators see an Israelization of Israel's Arabs, perhaps set back by recent events. There are signs of accommodation is the language of Israeli Arabs, whose Hebrew is in many cases better than their Arabic,with many reading and listing to Hebrew more often than Arabic language media. Israeli Arabs recognize their advantages from Israeli education, other public services and economic opportunities, despite complaints that they receive lesser shares than the Jews of Israel. Public opinion polls show support for Palestine among Israeli Arabs (and the Arabs of Jerusalem), but a preference for remaining Israeli.,

Against those signs are what appears to be an increase in the religiously promoted, modest dress of young Arab women.

There is talk of cease fire, but it's a time for pondering, rather than predicting.

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 12:11 AM