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Infinity Journal on the Strategy of Operation Protective Edge

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

Infinity Journal has an exclusive review up of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge campaign against HAMAS by LTC Ron Tira. Colonel Tira is the author of The Nature of War: Conflicting Paradigms and Israeli Military Effectiveness.

Operation Protective Edge: Ends, Ways, Means and the Distinctive Context  (Free registration required)

….Much of Hamas’ history has been spent under Iranian foster parenthood, even though Iranians are Shiites and Hamas is a member of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood. But, in 2011, the outbreak of the civil war in Syria presented the relations with an impossible test: Iran backed the Alawite (non-Sunni) Syrian regime in its bloody war against the rebels – many of whom are theological and ethnic brothers of Hamas. Hamas had to break ties with the Shiites.

Luckily for Hamas, in November 2011 the Muslim Brotherhood won Egypt’s parliamentary elections and, subsequently, Egypt elected a Muslim Brotherhood president. An improved replacement for Iran was found. But on July 2013, the Egyptian army ousted the Muslim Brotherhood government. The new military rulers of Egypt regard the Muslim Brotherhood as their archenemy – Hamas included.

Running out of options, Hamas looked to its nemesis Fatah and the Palestinian Authority (PA) as a last financial and political resort. After years of disengagement – following the brutal killing of Fatah personnel in Gaza in 2007-8, the Hamas take-over of Gaza and divorce from the PA-run West Bank – Hamas eventually approached the PA and in April 2014 signed the Palestinian Unity Agreement. “Show me the money” demanded Hamas as the ink dried; yet the PA declined to finance Hamas-run Gaza.

With almost no allies and a financial inability to run Gaza or pay salaries, Hamas was at the brink of collapse. From its perspective, it experienced a near-existential threat. From Hamas’ side of the hill, it had no alternative but to fight its way out of the corner. This hardly resembled the context of the earlier Operation Pillar of Defense.

Israel’s lack of clarity regarding this unique context was followed by a lack of clarity in defining the enemy. Was it Hamas’ military wing, its exiled political leadership, the organization as a whole, or the Gaza Strip as a de facto state? And in this distinct context, what were the relevant centers of gravity? Hamas’ offensive capabilities, its center of combatant mass and leadership in the inner neighborhoods of Gaza City, the nod between Gaza’s military leadership and Hamas’ political leadership in Qatar, or the popular support of Gaza’s 1.8 million inhabitants? 

Read the rest here.

Tira has an astute appreciation for the disadvantages HAMAS labors under as a 4GW/Hybrid/Irregular/Whatever entity also trying to assume the panoply of prerogatives and obligations of a legitimate state.

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Balancing acts & mirror images: 3

Friday, August 1st, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- third and hopefully last in a series -- and wouldn't you know it, a cease fire is a delicate balancing act ... ]
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Justin Welby

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Erica Chenoweth is a leading proponent of nonviolence. In her post today on Political Violence @ a Glance, Israel and Hamas are Both Just Winging It, she suggests a form of mirroring or symmetry in Gaza at the strategic level:

I am struck by a basic assumption behind each of these arguments — that each side has a clear plan linked to an overall strategic goal. I am increasingly doubtful about this assumption. If anything, this conflict represents a classic tit-for-tat game — except that neither side seems exactly sure what ultimate goal it wishes to achieve, nor how to get there. As a result, both sides are gambling on improvisation — a gamble that will likely land both sides far away from their desired outcomes.

She spells out her ideas thus:

In Chuck Freilich’s excellent book, he argues that in fact, one of the great weaknesses of Israeli security strategy is that there is no coherent strategy. There are certainly commonly held
narratives and beliefs — like the inherent instability of the region, Israel’s constant vulnerability to existential threats, and the necessity of matching violent threats with equal or greater violence as a way to signal strength. There are also operational routines — that is to say, there are standard responses to particular contingencies. Unsurprisingly, these routines tend to be that if a rocket attack or some other act of violence occurs, Israeli security forces crack down harshly on the perpetrators (and, sometimes, on nonviolent dissidents or bystanders as well). Successes and failures are judged in terms of short-term tactical successes. Military leaders decide within minutes (or even seconds) whether an “operation” succeeded. But evaluating whether the operation’s short-term success leads to longer-term peace and stability is not part of the process at all. There is very little reflection, therefore, on whether actions like Operation Protective Edge ultimately make Israelis safer or not.

For Hamas’ part, the lack of strategic coherence owes to a few key factors. First, Hamas is not unitary. It does not control every rocket in the Gaza Strip, nor does it always exercise control over its operatives. When members (or former members) of Hamas commit horrific acts, it is not always the case that Hamas gave a top-down order to commit them. There are power struggles within the organization and plenty of rivalries with other groups such as Islamic Jihad. Second, many militants within Hamas have a goal (destruction of Israel) that the group could never achieve due to its exceedingly limited capacity. Therefore, Hamas is constantly settling for “process goals,” such as improving its relative prestige among competing rivals, gaining some standing among Palestinians in Gaza that it purports to defend, building sympathy among international observers, or raising funds from foreign sponsors. When Israel cracks down against Hamas in earnest, then, what we’re seeing is anything but Hamas adopting a coherent military strategy with any achievable goals. We’re seeing a group in crisis that only has hammers, and sees only nails.

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Chemi Shalev over on Sully’s Dish quotes and summarizes Peter Beinart‘s Gaza myths and facts: what American Jewish leaders won’t tell you from Ha’aretz with approval, then attempts his own balance, writing:

None of this excuses Hamas’ war crimes, its rocket fire purposefully directed toward civilians,
its extreme theocratic essence and its rabid anti-Semitism. But it sure doesn’t excuse Israel’s
brutality and contempt and propaganda either.

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Popes, and or that matter Patriarchs, Metropolitans, Archbishops, Bishops, Deacons and any stray tax-gatherers, prostitutes, fishermen — or for that matter, any rabbinic scholars undexpectedly blinded on their way to Damascus — all those, in short, who call themselves Christian — have a certain obligation to seek and mantain balance in trying circumstances — to be “in the world” but not “of it”…

And thus it is that the [Anglican] Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby — an ex-banker, by the way — has this to say:

For all sides to persist with their current strategy, be it threatening security by the indiscriminate firing of rockets at civilian areas or aerial bombing which increasingly fails to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, is self-defeating. The bombing of civilian areas, and their use to shelter rocket launches, are both breaches of age old customs for the conduct of war. Further political impasse, acts of terror, economic blockades or sanctions and clashes over land and settlements, all increase the alienation of those affected. Populations condemned to hopelessness or living under fear will be violent. Such actions create more conflict, more deaths and will in the end lead to an even greater disaster than the one being faced today. The road to reconciliation is hard, but ultimately the only route to security. It is the responsibility of all leaders to protect the innocent, not only in the conduct of war but in setting the circumstances for a just and sustainable peace.

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And so at last we come to the balance found by grieving mothers on both sides of the Gaza conflict:

Tsurit Sarig‘s son Guy was shot by a Palestinian sniper on the eve of Sukkot 1996. She writes:

The catastrophe in my own home, and what’s more the ones in your own, are the horrible outcome of those same feelings of anger and frustration which are so natural. But if they find their outlet in violent ways, they become the very ladder on which more and more angels of hatred, violence, murder and abuse come up (and down) on us. [ .. ] we understood that the two peoples, the Palestinians and the Israelis, are victims of the estrangement, the prejudices, the paralysing fear of the “other”. [ .. ] the pain on both sides
is the same pain, the yearning for a life of peace and happiness is the same and above all, that “it won’t end till we talk”.

Hanan Lubadeh lost her 15 year old son Mas’ud in 1989:

I’ve known Israeli bereaved mothers for many years. The mothers’ pain is similar, no matter if they are Israeli or Palestinian. It does not matter whether she is from Nablus, Shoafat, Rosh Pinah or Nof Ayalon. The pain is seared into us and will be with us forever. We must not give in to blind fury. We must understand that revenge will lead to more revenge and it is our responsibility to stop the cycle of violence. We must understand that there are people on the other side as well, beyond the wall of blindness and hatred and behind harsh words like enemy and vengeance.

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That last balance — the balance in grief — is the one I’ll stay with, until such time as an equivalent balance in peace can be achieved.

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Gaza now stretches all the way to Disneyland

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- on the hopelessly interdisciplinary nature of reality ]
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There really is no limit to the diversity of strands which go into a complex tapestry such as that of Gaza.

Jean-Pierre Filiu has written, and Hurst will shortly publish, his History of Gaza. Mark Levine, University of California, Irvine, sums up both the book and the timeliness of its publication in his blurb:

Anyone familiar with Jean-Pierre Filiu’s scholarship knows well his talent for taking complex historical processes and bringing their relevance for the present day to the front burner. Never have such skills been more needed than in addressing the still poorly understood history of Gaza. And Filiu succeeds admirably. Providing a wonderful synopsis of a century’s worth of history, his discussion of the more direct roots of the present violent dynamics, beginning with the “crushed generation” of the Six Day War and continuing through the travails of Gaza’s burgeoning hiphop scene, demonstrates just how historically and culturally rich remains this much abused land. A clear must-read for all those seeking to think outside the existing outdated prisms for studying history, and the future of Gaza and Palestine/israel writ large.

Filiu himself:

Considering the appalling reality of life in contemporary Gaza, a broader view of the current situation can only be taken from the perspective of history, with an attempt to set aside the disorientation, the horror and the hatred that the present situation has engendered. The ‘Gaza Strip’, as it is today, is not so much a geographical entity as the product of the tormented and tragic history of a territory where the majority of the population is made up of refugees who have already attempted to escape other torments, and other tragedies. Gaza’s borders have closed in on those who have fled there: the refugees born within the territory have been destined to remain confined within it, a fate they also share with all of those who have dreamed of leaving it. Neither Israel nor Egypt wanted the ‘Strip’ to exist: it is a territorial entity ‘by default’.

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When Filiu wrote his earlier book, Apocalypse in Islam, he knew the realities of the situation demanded he research pop culture as well as classical sources in Qur’an and ahadith — and devoted 8 full-color pages to illustrations of 21 book-covers like these:

It’s not surprising, then, that he covers “the travails of Gaza’s burgeoning hiphop scene” in this one — but the point I wish to make is more general. If we are to grasp the complex realities of today’s and tomorrow’s trouble-spots, we need to be aware of trends that impinge on our disciplinary foci — “national security” and so forth — from an unprecenented array of other areas. Many of our nat-sec authors, bloggers and tweeters, bloggers, authors and pundits are aware of these areas — Dan Drezner, for instance,eploicates international affairs via a trendy meme in his — but it’s the use of such memes by those the analysts study that’s most significant.

Thus Daveed Gartenstein-Ross wrote a year ago regarding the Boston bombing:

Tamerlan listened to all kinds of music, including classical and rap, and used the email address The_Professor@real-hiphop.com. In fact, a few years ago he had planned to enter music school. AP (Apr. 23) shows that Tamerlan’s interpretation of Islam guided his eventual avoidance of music. Six weeks after Tamerlan had told Elmirza Khozhugov, the ex-husband of his sister, about his plans to enter music school, they spoke on the phone. Elmirza asked how music school was going. Tamerlan said that he had quit, and explained that “music is not really supported in Islam.”

and more recently in The Lies American Jihadists Tell Themselves on FP:

The first “homegrown” jihadist whom most Westerners learned about was John Walker Lindh, a young man who traveled to Afghanistan to join the Taliban prior to the 9/11 attacks. Lindh, before his turn toward radical Islam, used to post regularly on hip-hop message boards in the adopted persona of a racially-conscious black hip-hop artist (Lindh is white, from the wealthy northern California region of Marin County).

And thus also, Disney characters now show up in anti-Hamas propaganda… echoing an image of Samantha Lewthwaite we’ve seen here before:

The truth is, pop culture, high culture, scholarship, propaganda, truths, myths and lies are all hopelessly entangled in how we think about the world, and while our thoughts may prefer certain disciplines or “silos” to others, the world itself is no respecter of silos, but is interdiscipoinary to the core.

We had best get used to it.

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Jottings 9: Boko / Beaucoup Haram

Monday, May 20th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- who just can't resist a skilled bilingual pun, and is also curious these days about terrorist logos & branding ]
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Hamas logo, left, and putative Boko Haram logo, right, compared


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I found my delicious multilingual pun in a comment from April 2012 on an RFI post titled Boko Haram en renfort des islamistes armés dans le nord du Mali:

Ces voyous la je les appèlerai plutôt bokou haram! Lisez ça beaucoup haram. … Ce qu’ils font peut juste être qualifié de beaucoup haram.

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BTW, does Boko Haram really use a Hamas logo with its own name clumsily cut’n’pasted across the top, as illustrated above and suggested here?

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Gaza negotiations: sincerity and symmetry

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron -- sincerity and symmetry as the basis for dialog and negotiation ]
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If you read me regularly, you know I’m passionate about form as well as content.

Here’s the New York Times report on the interactions between Presidents Obama and Morsi in the runup to the Gaza ceasefire negotiations:

Mr. Obama told aides he was impressed with the Egyptian leader’s pragmatic confidence. He sensed an engineer’s precision with surprisingly little ideology. Most important, Mr. Obama told aides that he considered Mr. Morsi a straight shooter who delivered on what he promised and did not promise what he could not deliver.

“The thing that appealed to the president was how practical the conversations were — here’s the state of play, here are the issues we’re concerned about,” said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. “This was somebody focused on solving problems.”

The Egyptian side was also positive about the collaboration. Essam el-Haddad, the foreign policy adviser to the Egyptian president, described a singular partnership developing between Mr. Morsi, who is the most important international ally for Hamas, and Mr. Obama, who plays essentially the same role for Israel.

“Yes, they were carrying the point of view of the Israeli side but they were understanding also the other side, the Palestinian side,” Mr. Haddad said in Cairo as the cease-fire was being finalized on Wednesday. “We felt there was a high level of sincerity in trying to find a solution. The sincerity and understanding was very helpful.”

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And here, by way of context, is David Bohm on dialogue:

One way of helping to free these serious blocks in communication would be to carry out discussions in a spirit of free dialogue. Key features of such a dialogue is for each person to be able to hold several points of view, in a sort of active suspension, while treating the ideas of others with something of the care and attention that are given to his or her own. Each participant is not called on to accept or reject particular points of view; rather he or she should attempt to come to understanding of what they mean.

Bohm, Science, Order and Creativity, p 86

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What interests me here in the Obama-Morsi interaction as described is the dual emphasis on sincerity and symmetry. Sincerity is needed so that each of the two sides — Israel’s POV, as presented by Obama, and that of Hamas, as presented by Morsi — is in fact presented, and not hinted at, watered down or reneged on. And when both sides are in fact sincerely represented, they are mutually present — heard – and there is symmetry.

That symmetry, it seems to me — symmetry of form in the presentations of contents — is the facilitator of successful negotiations.

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