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

In Gaza, Israel Must Try to Restore Deterrence While Avoiding War

Oct. 22 2018

Early Wednesday morning, a rocket fired from Gaza landed in the city of Beersheba, striking the courtyard of a home. (The woman who lived there, and her three children, barely escaped.) Israel responded swiftly with airstrikes, and the IDF reported that this weekend was the quietest along the Gaza separation fence since March 30, when the weekly riots there began. Yet some 10,000 Palestinians still gathered at the border, burning tires and throwing stones, grenades, and makeshift explosives at Israeli soldiers on the other side. Meanwhile, writes Eran Lerman, Jerusalem faces a difficult decision about how to proceed:

The smaller terrorist organizations in Gaza—Islamic Jihad, which operates as a satellite of Iran, and radical Sunni groups inspired by Islamic State—are the primary ones that want to ratchet up the violence into a full-scale war. For them, a major war in Gaza could be an opportunity to build themselves up on the ruins of Hamas. It also looks as if Iran, too, has an interest in escalating the situation in Gaza and pulling Israel into a war that will detract from its ability to focus on its main defense activity right now: keeping Iran from digging down in Syria.

The third player consistently working to worsen the situation in Gaza and torpedo Egypt’s efforts to broker a cease-fire is the Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas, for whom—as he once said in Jenin— “the worse things are, the better.” . . .

All of these considerations are counterbalanced, paradoxically, by Hamas’s interest in continuing to dictate the terms of any cease-fire with Israel while refraining from a war, which the Hamas leadership knows would be self-destructive. Its moves to escalate the conflict—arson balloons, breaches of the border fence—have been intentionally selected as ways of taking things to the brink without toppling over into the abyss. . . .

And Israel? A harsh, well-defined blow is vital for it to maintain its mechanism of deterrence. A missile hitting Beersheba is not a trivial occurrence. However, as far as possible, and given the broader considerations of the regional balance of power as well as Israel’s fundamental interest in avoiding a ground war, it would be best to make the most of Egypt’s mediation.

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Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Palestinian Authority