March 05, 2009

Why Israel assaulted Gaza

No matter how many we prove that the escalation that led to Israel's invasion of Gaza was chiefly the result of Israeli decisions, the canard that Israel "had to respond to Qassams" is not going away. It is too convenient and therefore almost immune from rational refutation. Nevertheless, here we try again. (we tried already here, here and here, at least). Encore un effort!

Nahum Barnea is an Israeli journalist with very good sources. He is close to Olmert. Barnea wrote in mid November:
In recent days, the lull agreement has been repeatedly violated. Ashkelon was hit by Grad rockets. Sderot was hit by Qassams. It was a miracle that no injuries were reported. As always, the question being asked is who started it, and why? And as always, the answer is complex.

When facing the microphones, all Israeli officials placed the full responsibility on Hamas. Yet behind closed doors, some of them spoke differently. They spoke about over-zealous IDF commanders and about too-deep incursions by our forces into Gaza, which violated the rules of the game. According to this estimate, Hamas did not initiate the fire: It responded to Israel’s operations. (Ynet, 17 November 2008 my emphasis)

Is that clear enough? Probably not for the hasbarachics and their mainstream media stenographers. O.K. Let's try again. Anthony Cordesman produced a very bias report about the assault on Gaza, relying almost exclusively on Israeli military sources and accepting them at face value. Norman Finkelstein tears apart Cordesman's ridiculous conclusion that "Israel did not violate the laws of war." (Finkelstein, 19 February 2009) But let's leave that issue aside.

In this report, Cordesman offers a narrative of the path to war. It can be paraphrased in the following steps.

  1. The Second Intifada empowered Hamas and discredited Fatah and the peace efforts.
  2. Hamas won the elections in 2006.
  3. Hamas took over Gaza, breaking with Fatah.
  4. Israel responded with a "state of siege."
  5. Hamas responded with smuggling and firing rockets.
  6. A cease fire was negotiated and observed by both sides for almost six months.
  7. Israel broke the cease fire.
  8. Hamas responded with refusing to renew the cease fire and with rocket fire.
  9. Israel launched a massive assault on Gaza.
Cordesman diplomatically fails to mention the U.S. attempt to overthrow the elected Palestinian government that led to Hamas taking over (Rose, 2008, Vanity Fair) . He also ignores that whole history of potential negotiations with Hamas (Finkelstein, Counterpunch, 28 January 2008 ). But otherwise he generally sticks to the facts. Thus, according to Cordesman, Israel twice (step 4 and 7) acted belligerently towards Gaza, not in response to any aggression. About step 4, Cordesman writes:

Israel had too many enemies and potential threats for its leaders and most of its public to accept a presence on its borders that formally claims all of its territory, and whose more extreme public statements show little restraint. Israel responded to the Hamas takeover by imposing an economic blockade on Hamas and Gaza. (Cordesman 2009, CSIS, p. 7)

That is, According to Cordesman, Israel responded with agression to a purely political demand. Furthermore, Cordesman concedes that "some Hamas leaders in Gaza have expressed a willingness to deal with Israel." He explicitly defines the issue as Hamas's "formal" position, not its actual position. The idea that Hamas's formal position would be enough to justify aggression is too outlandish even for Cordesman; as one can see above, he avoids the issue by psycholigizing it.

As for the aggression that ended the ceasefire, Cordesman doesn't even give an explanation except noting beforehand that both sides prepared for the eventual resumption of hostilities.

The immediate trigger of the war was an Israeli raid that killed six Hamas gunmen inside the Gaza Strip on November 4, 2008. Hamas responded with a barrage of rockets, and Israeli sources report that some 190 rockets were fired into Israel in November. The ceasefire was due to expire on December 19th, and Hamas issued a statement that it would end the ceasefire on December 18, 2008. The statement claimed Israel had not honored the terms of the ceasefire or allowed humanitarian aid into Gaza. Hamas then continued its rocket and mortar attacks, firing some 200 rockets during November 4, 2009-December 21, 2009. On December 21st, it launched some 70 rockets, but issued a statement that it might renew the ceasefire, —"if Israel stopped its aggression" in Gaza and opened up its border crossings.

So there you have it. Israel is the aggressor, even according to the CSIS.


Finkelstein writes that "in fairness to camp follower Cordesman it must be said that he plainly did his best to please and the American Jewish Committee plainly got its money's worth from him." This is a shot in the wrong direction. CSIS and Cordesman are not beholden to the AJC, and in fact harbor some of the leading establishment voices for tightening Israel's leash (including Cordesman, Scowcroft and Brzezinski). Codesman's conclusions include some of the unfrendliest words uttered by an establisment writer about Israel in a long time. He describes Israeli politicians as "donkeys," accuses Israel of having no strategic vision and predicts a worsening security situation for Israel. His closing words effectively suggest that Israel is moving towards doom:

This may be the Middle East that Israel and its Arab neighbors have to live with.....One wonders, however, how long it can really go on without exploding into far more violent conflicts or empowering non-state actors hostile to Israel and moderate Arab regimes. One wonders how much it will affect the medium and long-term stability of key states like Egypt and Jordan? One wonders how much it will sustain Iranian radicalism and aid the opportunism of a nuclear Iran? Israeli leaders like Yitzhak Rabin once saw these risks as unsustainable. Regrettably, they may still be proved right. (Cordesman, CSIS, 2009)

Codersman work hards to absolve Israel from war crimes because he is concerned about the effects vigorous prosecution of such crimes would have on the deployment of U.S. forces. Cordesman makes this link explicitly in his "analysis" of international ius in bello:

This does not excuse any use of force where there clearly are ways to avoid civilian casualties and collateral damage and achieve the same military objective...But, the problems Israel encountered in the "Gaza War" present the same dilemmas and uncertainties that the US and its allies have faced in Iraq and Afghanistan, and affect every power that becomes involved in asymmetric warfare. There is no clear way to judge that ―"X" numbers of rockets justify retaliation with "Y" numbers of sorties. There are no rules that say "X" numbers of suicide bombings justify retaliation with "Y" numbers of ground troops. There are no rules that say one should accept the deaths of "X" numbers of one‘s own troops to save "Y" numbers of civilians on an opponent‘s territory. These points are not academic. The fighting in Gaza is a case study in the fact that asymmetric warfare confronts any solider actually in combat with a constant stream of hard choices and exercises in situation ethics obscured by what Clausewitz called the "fog of war". In many cases, instant choices have to be made where all of the advances in intelligence and command and control do not allow those actually fighting to know the nature of the threat forces or the number of civilians at risk. At the same time, the very nature of asymmetric warfare often forces the weaker size to maximize this uncertainty by not wearing uniforms, mixing in civilian areas, and using collocated civilians – often women and children – to provide support. This is no more an act of cowardice than using the protection of a tank or aircraft, but it does mean that war is evolving in ways that often increase the risk of civilian casualties and put more and more strain on the capability of armed forces to limit those casualties. (ibid. p.7, my emphasis)

Cordesman's concern is to defend the right of the U.S. and it's allies, whoever they may be, to fight "assymetric wars" that inherently depend on harm to civilians. International law in its present form is not congruent with the way U.S. strategic interests are evolving. (and U.S. hostility to the ICJ and other treaties that put limits on warfare is well known.) CSIS, and the corporate elite it serves, got its money's worth.

No comments:

Post a Comment