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    Middle East
     Nov 21, 2012


New balance of terror in the Middle East
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

NEW YORK - In the week-long war between Israel and the Palestinians, slowly but surely signs have emerged of a new "balance of terror" reflecting Hamas's enhanced ability to strike back at Israel via the Iran-made long range Fajr-5 rocket.

Compared with the previous war in 2009, when Hamas relied on the shorter range and more inaccurate rockets that rattled southern Israel before a ceasefire went into effect, this time we are witnessing a "more disciplined" and sophisticated Hamas missile brigade that reportedly has some 15,000 military personnel operating through a network of tunnels.

It comes as little surprise then that Hamas has set its own conditions for a truce despite the deadly waves of Israeli air

 

bombardment that have resulted in the death or injury of hundreds of civilians in the densely populated Gaza, described by professor Noam Chomsky on his recent Gaza visit [1] as the world's largest open-prison. Its inhabitants live in increasingly horrible and uninhabitable conditions as the direct result of Israeli collective punishment of the population ruled by Hamas, which now wants the lifting of the Israeli blockade of the area as a term of truce.

There is nothing irrational or outrageous about this demand. It is backed by the international community, which deplores the suffering of civilians in the Gaza Strip. Israel is inherently opposed to anything demanded by Hamas and, therefore, it is more likely now that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will send his tanks into Gaza on a wild goose chase for Hamas's rocket arsenal. In that case, the war will get messier and the end result muddier, as it did in the 15-day operation in 2009, which ended well short of the stated objective of "destroying Hamas's infrastructure".

If Hamas's military prowess surprised the Israelis, then its upgraded rocket capability is an even bigger surprise and carries ramifications that do not favor Israel in terms of the regional balance of power. Despite having an "iron dome" shield to intercept, according to reports, roughly 60% of incoming rockets, Israel is today exhibiting an unprecedented vulnerability that is a far cry from the "invincible" Israel proclaimed by its politicians.

Israel's goal appears to be a division of Gaza thinly cloaked as a modest war aim, perhaps to cut off Gaza's link to Egypt as much as possible since it is clear where the rockets come from. This is a big objective, inviting a war of attrition.

The fact is that Israel cannot, short of a full-scale and costly invasion and re-occupation of Gaza, fully master its sky from Hamas rockets that now threaten a large portion of the Israeli territory. This is not necessarily a negative development for peace, since Israel's previous "total domination" was an invitation for the status quo ante, discouraging any serious Israeli move toward comprehensive peace.

There is now a new "balance of terror". It is still deeply asymmetrical to Israel's advantage, yet, since it features the Israeli geostrategic vulnerabilities stated above, the new equation contains a potential plus for a more meaningful bid for peace. Israeli political leaders may be unprepared for this grim new reality, yet their military advisers can shed much light for them on the new reality on the ground; ie, the game-changer is Hamas's ability to strike deep inside Israel, an ability that is sure to grow even more in the coming years.

For now, however, there is a definite lack of fit between the military and political thinking in Israel, and unless the politicians, grudgingly or not, come to terms with it, they may rush their country to the bossom of another war that would be a major drain on the economy (by, for example, depleting the Israeli tourism industry).

Now the big question: what will Israel lose and or gain by acceding to Hamas's demand for lifting the blockade? The answer is determined partly by putting it in specific timeframes. In the long run, a more prosperous Gaza - less agitated by its rampant poverty, malnutrition, and water and other shortages - may be more amenable to maintaining peace in order to secure its prized achievements, than a poor and starving Gaza whose back is against the wall.

Unfortunately, many Israeli leaders are immune to an in-depth understanding of interdependence and its political ramifications, convincing themselves instead that they achieve more security by simply relying on brute force to bring their Palestinian opponents to their knees. This "compellence strategy" is fundamentally suspect however, and now in the light of the new "balance of terror" more than ever a product of the past.

Perhaps what Israel needs more than anything else is a post-Zionist enlightened leadership that is not self-imprisoned in the arcane 19th century expansionist ideology and is instead more in tune with the requirements of survival in the contemporary context of globalization and regionalization. That would mean less arrogance and delusion of military superiority, [2] and an admission of vulnerability that can, in turn, create the hitherto absent impetus for understanding and sympathizing with the suffering of the Palestinian "other", who is for now the candidate for mere oppression.

Notes:
1. Impressions of Gaza, November 4, 2012.
2. Israel ranked as most militarized nation, Asia Times Online, Nov 15, 2012.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press). For his Wikipedia entry, click here. He is author of Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing , October 23, 2008) and Looking for rights at Harvard. His latest book is UN Management Reform: Selected Articles and Interviews on United Nations, CreateSpace (November 12, 2011).

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Gaza crisis has more to come
(Nov 19, '12)

Netanyahu's high-stakes game in the Strip (Nov 19, '12)

 

 
 



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