The Next War in the Middle East: Vivian Bercovici, Commentary, Oct. 5, 2018— Everyone says they don’t want war, but the fourth armed conflict since 2006 between Hamas and Israel may be imminent.
How to Deal with Hamas: Make Concessions or Fight?: Hillel Frisch, Algemeiner, Sept. 28, 2018— Israel’s leading politicians, Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have been engaged in a fierce debate with Minister of Education Naftali Bennett over how to react to Hamas’ attempt since the March of Return began to change the status quo.
Terrorism and Civil Society: Elliott Abrams, Israel Hayom, Oct. 9, 2018— On October 4, the White House issued its new National Strategy for Counterterrorism.
Interview: Stabilizing an Unstable Region: Noa Amouyal, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 22, 2018— During the Cold War, the United States and Russia fiercely competed for spaceflight capability dominance.
On Topic Links
In Surprise Move, Nikki Haley Resigns as US Ambassador to UN: Times of Israel, Oct. 9, 2018
13 Times Nikki Haley Stood Up for Israel at the UN (And AIPAC): Adrian Hennigan, Ha’aretz, Oct. 9, 2018
Letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Maj.Gen.Gershon Hacohen, Jewish Press, Sept. 28, 2018
Will the West Cede the Golan Heights to a Psychopath?: Moshe Ya’alon and Yair Lapid, Times of Israel, July 1, 2018
THE NEXT WAR IN THE MIDDLE EAST
Commentary, Oct. 5, 2018
Everyone says they don’t want war, but the fourth armed conflict since 2006 between Hamas and Israel may be imminent. As Israeli Minister of Defense, Avigdor Lieberman, warned Hamas on Thursday: “The holidays are over.” Throughout September and early October, Israel pretty much shut down to celebrate the annual succession of Jewish high holidays. The party is now, officially, over. In the last few days, there has been a buildup of troops and munitions on the Gaza border, partly in anticipation of a sharp increase in hostilities on Friday evening. For almost seven months now, Hamas has organized weekly demonstrations at multiple locations along the Gaza-Israel border.
It has become somewhat routine: The overwhelmingly male, youngish crowd at the border promises to enter Israel and murder civilians, after which they will storm Jerusalem and liberate all of “occupied Palestine” from the Zionists. Often, several violent demonstrators will attempt to cross into Israel with knives, Molotov cocktails, and other crude weapons to attempt murder and sow mayhem. In spite of all this, the foreign press dutifully reports Hamas propaganda as fact, declaring the protests to be “peaceful.”
The loss of life that ebbs and flows on these Fridays following afternoon prayers is unfortunate but inevitable. Though these Hamas hoodlums do not pose an existential threat to the state of Israel, they absolutely do to the tens of thousands of Israelis living in communities along the border. And then, there are the arson kites, a Hamas innovation that has burned approximately 10,000 acres of agricultural land and nature preserves in Israel in the last six months. In relative terms to America, the charred Israeli land mass is roughly the size of Connecticut. It’s no joke.
Yet, in an unprecedented and extraordinary interview with Italian journalist Francesca Borri and published today in an Israeli newspaper, Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s political leader in Gaza, dismissed the arson attacks as mere “messages” causing no real harm. But Sinwar and his crew have been ramping things up along the border recently, sending boys to toss grenades, Molotov cocktails, and other crude incendiary devices at the IDF soldiers. They’ve also been active at night and early morning, causing the IDF to go on high alert. This is textbook Hamas. They are being squeezed on multiple fronts and the only way to take control, in their playbook, is to invite war. During his interviews with Borri, which took place at various locations in Gaza over a five-day period. Sinwar was adamant that Hamas wants peace, but that outcome is only possible on his terms. Those terms–that Hamas should retain a military force and all borders must be opened unconditionally—are absurd.
Sinwar refused to utter the word “Israel” or even the phrase “Zionist entity,” resorting to euphemisms such as “Netanyahu” and the “Occupation” instead. He also dismissed the fact that the Hamas Charter continues call for the annihilation of Israel as being, somehow, an irrelevant historical detail. He wants peace, he says. If there is to be war, it is because Israel has not agreed to his terms. It’s such ham-handed propaganda that it almost hurts to read this clumsy attempt to influence Israeli and world public opinion. Sinwar wants war because it’s the only option he has. Much as the global MSM loves to berate Israel for turning Gaza into an open-air prison with its ongoing “blockade,” there is media silence regarding the much harsher border closures and restrictions that prevail at the Gaza-Egypt border.
And then there’s the recent monkey-business of PA president Mahmoud Abbas. Desperate to bring Hamas to heel so that he may assume power over the Gaza Strip in addition to the West Bank, Abbas has cut off all funds and supplies–like fuel—it typically funnels to Gaza. In conjunction with the recent American announcement that it would cut off, immediately, all funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency—a major employer in the Gaza Strip–Abbas’s move is a death knell for the beleaguered theocratic enclave.
Hamas is cornered. Israeli technology has neutralized their underground terror tunnels; the United States, among other countries, is fed up with Hamas’s promotion and celebration of terror and refusal to moderate their extremist agenda that is pledged to annihilate Jews and Israel; and the Arab world–including their Palestinian brother, Abbas–is turning the screws. War is quickly presenting as Hamas’s only option. It’s the last, most reliable way to distract the miserable masses from their failure to govern.
HOW TO DEAL WITH HAMAS: MAKE CONCESSIONS OR FIGHT?
Algemeiner, Sept. 28, 2018
Israel’s leading politicians, Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have been engaged in a fierce debate with Minister of Education Naftali Bennett over how to react to Hamas’ attempt since the March of Return began to change the status quo.
Netanyahu and Lieberman want to reach understandings with Hamas to restore the relative calm that prevailed for nearly four years after the 2014 conflict with the terror group in Gaza. They are willing to make humanitarian concessions and probably acquiesce to a sizable prisoner release of hard-core terrorists in order to restore the calm, even temporarily. Bennett, by contrast, is bitterly opposed to making concessions, and seeks a fourth round of confrontation that will considerably weaken Hamas.
The merits of the debate are difficult to assess because of the wisdom of both approaches on political and military grounds. The question, of course, is which of these strategies would be better for Israel at this particular point in time. Netanyahu and Lieberman have a strong case in calling for restraint and even concessions towards Hamas. They see Israel’s strategic concerns in hierarchical terms. By far the most important threat to Israel is Iran’s nuclear program. Immediately following that is Iran’s attempts to set up a permanent military infrastructure in Syria, which would include a sizable pro-Iranian militia presence on the Golan front.
The two men believe that nothing should detract from the focus on Iran or the renewal of sanctions against the Islamic Republic, and the Trump administration supports them in this. In fact, according to both Netanyahu and Lieberman, the decision by Hamas to heat up the Gaza front in late March was initiated by Iran, and designed to shift the Israeli focus away from Iran to the Palestinians. Such a change of focus, Iran hoped, would embolden key European states such as France and Germany to take countermeasures against US sanctions on Iran.
Netanyahu and Lieberman reason that time is of the essence in confronting Iran, not only because Trump’s pro-Israel administration has only two more years until its fate is decided by the next presidential election, but because there is a fear, given the legal challenges the president faces at home, that that time might be even shorter.
For his part, Bennett makes a plausible argument against acquiescing to Hamas’ exploitation of Israel’s complicated geo-strategic environment. As far as Bennett is concerned, the focus on Iran is guaranteed by a president resolved to roll back Iran on its nuclear program and aggressive behavior towards its neighbors. A supportive US Congress and the legal framework within which the sanctions operate, which gives them a life of their own, cannot be sidelined by other crises, Bennett says — including a fourth round of fighting between Israel and Gaza.
Based on these assumptions, Bennett argues that buying periods of quiet through concessions comes at considerable cost, especially if this means an increase in imports into Gaza, which would give Hamas the wherewithal to improve its military capabilities. Any form of ceasefire, whatever it is called, gives the organization time to train for the next round, he asserts. This means greater and more lethal firepower.
Bennett is correct that Hamas uses its time wisely to increase its capabilities. For example, in 22 days of Operation Cast Lead in winter 2008-09, the organization, along with others, launched 925 rockets that hit Israel. This increased to 3,852 during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 — an almost 200 percent increase, even taking into account the much longer duration of fighting in 2014 compared to six years earlier (55 days compared to 24). Casualties were also significantly higher: 72 versus 13 Israeli deaths in 2014, as opposed to 2008-2009. The increase was mainly due to effective attacks from tunnels within Gaza and greater use of mortars against Israeli troops encamped in areas adjacent to Gaza.
Though Israel has developed technology to deal with both these problems, Hamas has proved to be an innovative enemy that might come up with further surprises in the next round. The longer the respite, one might safely assume, the greater the probability that it will do so.
Looking at how Israel secured deterrence on the Gaza front lends support to Bennett’s line of thinking. “Understandings” between Israel and Hamas have always been short-lived, if acted upon at all. The 2005 “lull,” marketed as an informal understanding between the Palestinian factions and Israel, translated into a 345 percent increase in missile and mortar attacks compared to 2004. After the 2012 round, the “understandings” brokered by the ousted Egyptian Morsi government lasted little more than a year, until the deadly trickle of missile and mortar launches began anew.
Still less did “humanitarian” gestures buy quiet. From the point of view of Hamas, the greatest humanitarian move was the release of over 1,000 hard-core terrorists in 2011 in return for the release of one Israeli soldier. This did not prevent a second round in October 2012. Over time, only the three large-scale rounds of violence created accumulated deterrence between rounds, in which missile launches after each round appreciably decreased.
The best option, then, is for Israel is to prolong negotiations as long as possible, concede as little as possible, and wait until the sanctions against Iran come into full force — and then prepare for the next big round, not to defeat Hamas, but to tame it and keep the Palestinians divided.
TERRORISM AND CIVIL SOCIETY
Israel Hayom, Oct. 9, 2018
On October 4, the White House issued its new National Strategy for Counterterrorism. This is a long and welcome document and I want to discuss only one element of the strategy: the role of civil society. The White House strategy correctly states that fighting terrorism includes “prioritiz[ing] a broader range of nonmilitary capabilities, such as our ability to prevent and intervene in terrorist recruitment, minimize the appeal of terrorist propaganda online, and build societal resilience to terrorism.” It adds that “to defeat radical Islamist terrorism, we must also speak out forcefully against a hateful ideology that provides the breeding ground for violence and terrorism.”
The view that terrorists have an ideology and that we need to combat it rightly permeates the document. At one point it says, “We will undermine the ability of terrorist ideologies, particularly radical Islamist terrorist ideologies, to create a common identity and sense of purpose among potential recruits. We must combat the resilience of terrorist narratives by acknowledging that their ideologies contain elements that have enduring appeal among their audiences.” This is an important statement because it shows that the administration views the fight against terror as going far beyond kinetic or military action.
Here is the paragraph on civil society: “INCREASE CIVIL SOCIETY’S ROLE IN TERRORISM PREVENTION: Through engagement, public communications, and diplomacy, we will strengthen and connect our partners in civil society who are eager to expand their limited terrorism prevention efforts. We will raise awareness of radicalization and recruitment dynamics, highlight successful prevention and intervention approaches domestically and overseas, and empower local partners through outreach, training, and international exchanges. We will also promote grassroots efforts to identify and address radicalization to insulate civilian populations from terrorist influence.”
All this strikes me as quite right but it points to a problem the document does not acknowledge: Some of our putative allies in the struggle against terror view civil society not as a partner but as an enemy. They simply seek to crush it in ways that can only assist people trying to sell terrorist ideology.
The best (or rather, worst) example is Egypt. The regime there has underway a broad effort to destroy civil society. This began in 2011 with the closing of several American nongovernmental organizations, including the International Republican Institute, National Democratic Institute, and Freedom House. Their offices and personnel were accused of receiving foreign money, and in fact, because Egypt is a very poor country most NGOs depend on foreign money. Those now-infamous “NGO trials” continue to this day. While U.S. officials often refer to Egypt as a close ally, the United States government has not yet succeeded in getting the government of Egypt to drop charges even against the American citizens who were working for those semiofficial U.S. NGOs.
The repression of civil society goes much further. President Donald Trump himself intervened in 2017 to get Egypt to release Aya Hegazy, an Egyptian-American who with her husband ran an NGO dedicated to helping street children. Most recently, Egypt jailed a woman who complained about sexual harassment in Egypt, for the crime of “spreading false news.” As a Carnegie report stated, “In February 2015, [Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah] Sisi issued a law for ‘organizing lists of terrorist entities and terrorists’ that conflates any ‘breaches of the public order’ as defined by the state with terrorist activities. Once again, the use of vague legal concepts opens the door for civil society organizations, activists, and political parties to be included on the list of terrorists and terrorist entities.”
Here we get to the heart of the problem: There is an important contradiction between the White House strategy, which rightly says civil society must be a key ally in fighting terrorist ideology, and a policy of destroying civil society. One more example: In Egypt today, there are between 40,000 and 60,000 political prisoners. They languish in overcrowded prisons where they have years to contemplate the injustices done to them while jihadis offer ideologies that explain why this happened and try to recruit them. Egypt’s prisons are jihadi factories. How does this fit with anyone’s counterterrorism strategy?
The new administration strategy is absolutely right to prioritize actions that fight terrorist ideology “to prevent and intervene in terrorist recruitment, minimize the appeal of terrorist propaganda online, and build societal resilience to terrorism.” Countries that crush civil society cannot achieve this, so defending civil society should be a serious element in our national counterterrorism strategy – even if some of our allies think otherwise. Contents
INTERVIEW: STABILIZING AN UNSTABLE REGION
Jerusalem Post, Jan. 22, 2018
During the Cold War, the United States and Russia fiercely competed for spaceflight capability dominance. Today, a more sinister race for hegemony is brewing and its ultimate conclusion will not only have ripple effects for the Middle East, but the world. So says former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, who now serves as a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies. Ya’alon outlines three specific threats to the Middle East that all comprise of an overarching desire to control the region and impose its own absolutist worldview.
The current situation in the Middle East generated by three Islamic movements vying for hegemony and influence in the region and beyond,” Ya’alon tells The Jerusalem Report. “The most dangerous element is Iran,” he begins, echoing a sentiment that is felt throughout much of Israel’s security community. Iran’s use of proxy forces like Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen should not be taken lightly, he warns. “This is a very significant challenge, not just for Israel, but the entire region,” he says.
The second threat, according to Ya’alon, is ISIS and its desired mission to create an Islamic caliphate. While ISIS has lost major territory in the Levant, Ya’alon cautions against ruling out their potential for executing terror attacks throughout the Middle East, North America and other parts of the world. The third, and perhaps most complicated, is the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood, which today is primarily associated with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Ya’alon’s carefully outlined view of how he sees the Middle East today was crafted during his time at the INSS, which he joined a year ago. He believes this is a critical time for the region, where leaders are faced with nearly unprecedented challenges. “The only stabilized element in the Middle East is instability. I believe that the Middle East is going through the most significant crisis since the time of Mohammad in the 7th century,” he says bluntly. “It’s not the Arab Spring or the Islamic Winter, we need to look at it from a wider perspective.”
And looking at the situation from a wider perspective is exactly what he’s doing at the INSS. “Watching the developing situation from the INSS and analyzing it, is a very good opportunity to discuss issues and look at them from different angles – ‘out of the box.’ At INSS we meet people from abroad, experts as well as practitioners, share our ideas and worries and try to find out how to meet the challenges ahead,” he says. “I don’t have to spend energy trying to create coalitions, compromising my ideals, or maneuver politically. I have time available for professional work.” Content with the pace of his work at the institute, Ya’alon says that joining it was a natural fit for both him and the think tank, “The INSS as a unique platform. It’s a meeting point of experts from academia, young people and practitioners like myself,” he adds.
His perspective on the Middle East is delineated in his research paper called “United States Policy in the Middle East: The Need for a Grand Strategy” and is an example of the symbiotic relationship he enjoys with the think tank. In the paper, he not only offers his unique assessment of the situation, but also provides a platform where his ideas are read by the best of the best in the security field both in Israel and abroad. The paper, and his conversation with us, offers recommendations for President Trump as he concludes the first year of a topsy-turvy presidency. “There is a change in the US rhetoric,” Ya’alon says of the new administration, which has distanced itself as much as possible from President Barack Obama’s belief that working with and containing Iran was a path to peace in the region.
Ya’alon doesn’t seem entirely convinced that the Trump Administration has formulated a clear policy in the Middle East, which is why he believes papers like his can help guide an administration that seems to be feeling its way. “I hear there are certain reactions to the article, but this is a way that we [at the INSS] deal with the situation. We have ideas, we publish articles, we talk about it in the media in Hebrew and English and try to propose ideas of our own. Of course, we don’t have the responsibility, but we have the knowledge about the Middle East and I’m not sure that this kind of knowledge is everywhere,” he says…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
On Topic Links
In Surprise Move, Nikki Haley Resigns as US Ambassador to UN: Times of Israel, Oct. 9, 2018—UN Ambassador Nikki Haley is tendering her resignation, marking the latest shake-up in the turbulent Trump administration just weeks before the midterm election.
13 Times Nikki Haley Stood Up for Israel at the UN (And AIPAC): Adrian Hennigan, Ha’aretz, Oct. 9, 2018—While U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations invariably offered their backing to Israel at the UN, Nikki Haley seemingly made the Israeli cause a personal obsession.
Letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Maj.Gen.Gershon Hacohen, Jewish Press, Sept. 28, 2018—The state of Israel and its citizens have been fortunate to have you at the helm for the past nine years. One can readily envisage the nightmare scenarios had your ideological and political opponents been leading the country. Your steadfast opposition to the “peace plan” that President Barack Obama tried to dictate has been particularly significant.
Will the West Cede the Golan Heights to a Psychopath?: Moshe Ya’alon and Yair Lapid, Times of Israel, July 1, 2018—We live in a world full of complex diplomatic dilemmas, but for once here is a simple one: Would you take an area that is flourishing in a western democratic state, where fifty thousand people of different religions and ethnicities live in harmony, and hand it over to a violent dictatorship ruled by the worst mass murderer of our time so that he can destroy the area and murder most of the residents?