Assad’s Victory and Hamas’s New Tactics Have Changed Israel’s Strategic Reality

Since the 1979 treaty with Egypt ended the threat of a major military invasion from the south, the IDF has seen the northern front as posing the greatest strategic threat to Israel’s security. Yet just as Syria has become more dangerous than ever on that front, the Gaza Strip has itself reemerged as a strategic problem. In considering these developments, Gershon Hacohen warns against exacerbating them by withdrawing from the West Bank:

The recovery of the Assad regime and the reassertion of its control over most of the country brought the Syrian army back to the Golan Heights, where it was joined by Iranian and Hizballah forces as well as by Tehran-backed Shiite militias. The situation was further complicated by the Russian military presence in Syria and the constraints it imposed on Israel’s operational freedom, especially after the September 2018 downing of the Russian plane by Syrian air-defense forces.

[Meanwhile], Hamas initiated a months-long confrontation along the Gaza-Israel border, in which the Islamist terror group reverted to calculated and well-executed brinksmanship tactics (including massive missile attacks on Israel’s population centers) that tested the continued relevance of Israel’s military superiority vis-à-vis the organization. . . . Hamas exploited Israel’s overwhelming preoccupation with the northern front to escalate the situation to the brink of war while keenly recognizing the constraints that would prevent an Israeli decision in favor of a large-scale operation. In doing so, Hamas successfully changed the strategic equation with Israel in its favor.

This (temporary?) strategic shift becomes all the more relevant given the dogged insistence of most former members of Israel’s military and security establishment on the need for complete IDF withdrawal from the West Bank as part of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. . . . This [position] couldn’t be farther from the truth. Since the onset of the Oslo process in 1993, the balance of power between Israel and the Palestinians has substantially changed in the latter’s favor, as starkly demonstrated by Hamas’s above-noted successes.

No less important, the nature of warfare has undergone substantial changes in recent decades, notably through the relocation of fighting to civilian urban areas with the active participation of the local population, which makes conventional military operations far more difficult and complex. . . . If it took the U.S.-led coalition forces nine months of fighting to clear Mosul of Islamic State forces, how realistic is it to expect the IDF to capture a heavily militarized Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza within days?

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli grand strategy, Syria, West Bank

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood