Lessons for Syria from the Man Who Taught the Haganah

June 20 2018

Early on in the Syrian civil war, the U.S. lent its support to rebel groups fighting Islamic State by giving them arms, funds, and military training. While the efforts were likely hamstrung by the Obama administration’s unwillingness to annoy Iran, to Aaron Eitan Meyer the very premise that allies can be bought with so-called “train-and-equip” programs is flawed. He points instead to the example of Orde Wingate, the British officer who led efforts to suppress the Arab revolt in Mandatory Palestine, trained the Haganah in counterinsurgency warfare, and directed campaigns in Ethiopia and Burma during World War II:

The dominant theory [in Wingate’s time]—which has, disturbingly, persisted into present thinking—was that local forces could be induced to fight by offering them arms and materiel, which is to say the methods by which the British supported the Hashemite anti-Ottoman Arab revolt during World War I. To say that Wingate was opposed to [this] model (which came to be largely associated with T.E. Lawrence, or “Lawrence of Arabia”) is a severe understatement. . . .

What then was Wingate’s method? [T]o invite the assistance of local chieftains by demonstrating the commitment of his own forces first.

Prior to departing Sudan, [where he led Ethiopian forces to victory over the Italians], Wingate wrote a memorandum in which he explained that the local fighter “must see us first, not fighting by his side, but in front of him. He must realize not only that we are brave soldiers but devoted to the cause of liberty. Cease trying to stimulate revolt from without; . . . let’s do something ourselves.” At the risk of extreme oversimplification, Wingate’s method relied not on transient loyalty bought with weapons but on demonstrably committing one’s own forces to a given struggle, and thereafter permitting local forces to play a part of their own accord.

In our cost-conscious world, we are ever more steered toward offering armaments from the shadows and loud proclamations in public, and then [expressing concern] that we must be careful in providing assistance lest our present allies later turn on us. . . . The U.S. must begin by asserting that the cause for which others fight, whether it be in Syria, Kurdistan, or any of the regions within Iran where people are struggling against a tyrannical regime, is its own. Once committed, Washington will need to follow through, but with the knowledge that the correct calculus lies in both thwarting the regional ambitions of hostile state actors and in supporting fundamental human rights sought by those who could—and should—be its natural allies.

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More about: Ethiopia, Haganah, History & Ideas, Orde Wingate, Strategy, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy

The Riots on the Gaza Border are Carefully Coordinated Attacks on Israel, and Should Be Treated as Such

Jan. 16 2019

On Friday, the weekly riots at the Gaza security fence resumed in full force: 13,000 people participated, and a Palestinian woman was apparently killed by Israeli gunfire. The UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR) had established a commission of inquiry in May, not long after these riots began, “to investigate all alleged violations and abuses of international humanitarian law and international human-rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, . . . particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military assaults on the large-scale civilian protests that began on March 20, 2018.” In a report to the commission, Richard Kemp, a retired senior British officer, concludes, after investigating the situation at the Gaza border, that there is no evidence whatsoever of Israeli wrongdoing, and that the commission is operating under faulty assumptions:

The terms of [the commission’s] mandate are self-evidently biased against the state of Israel and the IDF. The context cited—“the military assaults on the large-scale civilian protests”—make clear that the UNHRC either failed to understand what was happening on the ground or deliberately misrepresented the reality. In addition, the commission’s mandate terms the Gaza Strip “Occupied Palestinian Territories,” which it is not. . . .

[T]he so-called “civilian protests” in reality were, and continue to be, a deliberate military operation, orchestrated and controlled by Hamas, [a] terrorist group that has been waging an armed conflict against Israel for many years. Their intention was and remains to kill and wound IDF soldiers, to break through the border fence, to murder and maim innocent civilians, to destroy property, and to compel the IDF to take defensive action resulting in the death of Gaza civilians for exploitation in the international arena. [Israel’s] “military assaults” were not what was implied by this prejudicial mandate. They were in fact lawful, proportionate, and restrained defensive actions. . . .

Suggestions that these demonstrations are [protests] against Israeli policy toward the Gaza Strip are demonstrably false and easily refuted by cursory viewing of Hamas and other public statements made at the time of the events. . . . Further, it is clear that Hamas intended this violence to continue its long-standing strategy of creating and intensifying international outrage, vilification, isolation, and criminalization of the state of Israel and its officials. . . .

[T]he starkest indication that these events were entirely under Hamas control is the simple fact that, when it suited Hamas’s political interests, the [demonstrations] occurred and were of a violent nature, and when such actions did not serve Hamas’s interests, the border was quiet. As the most recent example of this, in November 2018, Qatar began to make large cash payments to Hamas in Gaza. The most recent payment of $15 million was handed over in December 2018. These payments are reportedly part of an agreement with Hamas to diminish violence along the Gaza border. [After] the first payment, the border violence [was] reduced [and the] demonstrations [became] far more restrained.

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More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, IDF, Israel & Zionism, Laws of war, UNHRC