November 18, 2012
A higher education in civilized warfare

Listening to Israeli radio and television provides an advanced education in the military and political possibilities being considered in the midst of an operation. Invasion on the ground, more air strikes, increasing probability of civilian casualties as the IAF goes beyond the easy targets and into the neighborhoods where munitions are stored and fired from a setting where those firing them are counting on civilian casualties as useful propaganda.

The propaganda is working, insofar as the news of the carnage appears in prominent international media. There it competes with thousands of rockets that have been fired intentionally toward Israeli civilians.

Israel's commentators compete in their projections. While some see only pressure coming from the United States and Europe to end the bloodshed, others see justification for costly attacks against munitions and the leaders of the violence located in crowded neighborhoods.


While some are certain in predicting a cease fire within hours or days, others talk about the coming entry of tanks and ground troops, with most of the fighting to be done by youngsters doing their basic service, supported by the 40,000 reservists already called, with an additional call-up of 35,000 approved by the government.


Israel aspires to legalized warfare, with lawyers of the IDF along with those of the government deciding on what targets are appropriate and what are off limits. Difficult are the cases where the other side stores and fires its missiles from civilian areas, including the upper and middle floors of apartment houses. As fighting intensifies, the weight of military justification and judgement carries the disputes against legal advisers who work in the murky domain of international law.

No one expects a solution. The object is an extended period of relative quiet. Many would settle for only a rocket or two per day. Others are more demanding. Not likely that an agreement with Hamas would be honored over time by the variety of groups outside of Hamas, and not by all the groups within Hamas.

Israel's problem is the same as that faced by the United States and others having to deal with the region from Libya eastward toward Pakistan and south to Yemen, Somalia, and Sudan. The enemy is the slippery stuff of competing gangs, each operating with its view of religious justification led by its own theologians and charismatic preachers and self-appointed generals.

How to make an agreement with something that lacks the discipline of a state? Yet has wealthy and sophisticated states supplying munitions, training, money, and religious incentive. That's Iran. It used to be Syria as well, but that evil empire is currently suffering the problem that it promoted elsewhere. A multitude of gangs, without a central leadership, but with supplies from various countries that prefer chaos over the strong country that Syria used to be. Syria's problem in the Middle East is that the Alewite regime is an outsider, not proper enough in the framework of Islam held sacred by those who claim greater ethnic and theological purity.

Israel is in the unenviable situation of being even more of an outsider than Syrian Alewites. It's a finger in the eye of those who see the Middle East as Allah-decreed Muslim, including the Iberian peninsula and the Balkans north to Vienna. What had once been Muslim must again become Muslim, on the way to making other regions Muslim.

Say again that the problem is not Islam. Believe it, as long as you continue to support a Crusade that dwarfs anything from the 11th and 12th centuries.

Islam provides the religious intensity, but no less problematic is the multiplicity of perspectives, groups, gangs, and inspired leaders claiming greater insights, truth, and other justifications than their rivals. It may be easy to eliminate one leader, or persuade one gang to desist, but there are hordes of others. Americans who think that the killing of Osama bin Laden was a historic event must think some more. Volunteers stream from place to place throughout the region, and come as well from native born Americans and Europeans, not from Muslim families, who enter the struggle with the intense certainty of the newly converted.

Where it is impossible to solve, it is possible to cope. It is not easy, partly because it comes without the feeling of being able to end the carnage once and for all. It is possible to destroy a great deal, kill key individuals, and count on upping the costs and the popular pressure from the Muslim masses on their leaders to stop the warfare, at least for a while, until the next aspiring Mahdi recruits enough support for another round.

The key is that entire populations are not intense participants, but realize who profits and who suffers from the continued conflict. Gaza has no sirens warning of approaching mayhem, and no shelters built for the people. Leaders find refuge deep under a hospital not likely to be attacked by Israelis.


Outsiders can help with the coping mechanisms available, as in the case of American aid--along with Jordanians--training Palestinian security personnel for service in the West Bank. It's not perfect, with the problems measured by the personnel who depart from their training to kill Israeli civilians. In providing greater security for both Palestinians and Israelis, however, it demonstrates the imperfect arrangements, short of the ideal, that are worth the effort.

What we have seen so far in the present Israeli operation represents another mode of coping. It will not end the violence. There are too many elements, each with their outside patrons, who compete with their hatred of Israel as well with their efforts to frustrate whatever political arrangements their rivals might be tempted to accept. No one is sure about the continuation or escalation of this operation, or the ongoing efforts to bring it to an end, Only the innocents expect anything approaching "peace,." and they have minuscule support in a country that has been through too many of these episodes to be persuaded by fantasies, Realities being what they are, the most to be expected is a limited time of limited quiet, until the incidence of daily rockets or other violence produces the next breaking point in Israel's tolerance.

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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
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at November 18, 2012 08:14 PM