In Syria and Gaza, Israel Shows That Diplomacy and Force Work Best in Tandem

In Israel, as in much of the West, there is a general assumption that diplomacy and military force constitute opposite approaches to foreign-policy problems. In reality, difficult situations usually require both. Eran Lerman explains how Israel, in its dealings with both Hamas and Iran, has succeeded at combining a measured application of military might with diplomatic efforts via third parties—Egypt and Russia, respectively.

Some feel that only diplomatic moves accompanied by major gestures of goodwill can prevent an additional slide toward a military solution. . . . [T]here are many [others] who view any efforts to arrive at a settlement to be a sign of cowardly denial of the need for an unambiguous military victory. The long-running political discourse in Israeli society has hindered the effort to have it both ways—to use military power in order to convey a political message and at the same time to manage diplomatic efforts in a way that will not tie Israel’s hands in its use of force. . . .

[In Syria], Russia will not force Bashar al-Assad into removing the Iranians from all the territory he controls, because in exchange he would demand the direct intervention of ground forces, which the Russians have no intention of offering. Nonetheless, the Russian fear of an all-out confrontation between Israel and the Assad regime can be exploited to ensure that [Iran’s] Revolutionary Guard and Hizballah do not get a foothold in the areas bordering on Israel and, no less importantly, the areas bordering on Jordan.

In the case of Gaza, total demilitarization has always been a non-starter. A more realistic objective, namely a kind of long-term truce (tahdiya), is apparently achievable. This requires the correct mix of determined Egyptian messages, a big Israeli stick, and small economic carrots from regional and international players. . . .

There is indeed a price to be paid for [this] strategy. It requires a measure of restraint in the opening moves and precision in choosing the degree of escalation. The IDF’s actions must be sufficiently determined to broadcast a willingness to “go all the way” (which the Egyptians know how to communicate in blunt terms to [Hamas]) and yet sufficiently restrained to leave room for mediation. This is not an easy task and even harder to explain to the public, whose patience is wearing thin—and justifiably so—in view of the prolonged period of provocations, the material damage, and the damage to nature in the Gaza periphery. But for those who do not want to see a reoccupation of Gaza and a renewal of Jewish settlement there, an agreement achieved with Egyptian mediation—which restores deterrence, even temporarily—is still preferable to a military victory and a long-term occupation.

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Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies

More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli grand strategy, Russia, Syrian civil war

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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Read more at New York Times

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East