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 U.S., 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 U.S., 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 is a professor (Emeritus) of the Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.