Pondering Points: Additional Notes to the Geo-Strategic Significance of Gaza ©Andre ZAAIMAN 2014

Pondering Points: Additional Notes to the Geo-Strategic Significance of Gaza
©Andre ZAAIMAN 2014

“The cardinal maxim of guerrilla war: the guerrilla wins if he does not lose. The conventional army loses if it does not win.”

As the political-military situation in Gaza as part of Operation Protective Edge comes to an end – for now – with the announcement of the acceptance of a long-term ceasefire by Israel and the Palestinians, we can begin to make preliminary notes on what has happened, what has been said and where all of this is likely to lead to. The details of the cease-fire are not yet publicly available but will be revealed in the coming days and weeks, which will allow for a sober and informed assessment.

And as claims and counter-claims of victory and defeat are made in these early stages, I am reminded – but not for the reasons that many may assume – of the article by Gideon LEVY in the Israeli newspaper Haaertz in January 2011 under the title: “The IDF uses propaganda like an authoritarian regime”. LEVY is a fiercely independent and outspoken critic of the policies and behavior of his fellow citizens and of his Government. Writing about another issue, he says the following:

“Instead of working toward revealing the truth behind the recent death of an anti-fence demonstrator the IDF is reaching into its bag of lies. Jawaher Abu Ramah died young. She stood facing the demonstrators against the separation fence in her village, inhaled very large quantities of the gas that Israel Defense Forces soldiers fired that day, collapsed and died several hours later at a Ramallah hospital.These are definitive facts. The IDF should have immediately issued a statement expressing sorrow for the death of the demonstrator, and said it would investigate the excessive means used for dispersing demonstrations at Bil’in, which had killed Bassem, Jawaher’s brother, for no reason. He was hit by a gas canister fired directly at his chest two and a half years ago. So, the IDF began with the spreading of lies, making up facts and spinning tales, originating with officers who did not dare identify themselves. Following the investigation into Jawaher’s death, it is also necessary to investigate how the army dares to distort in this way. Perhaps it will disturb Israeli society more than the death of a demonstrator.”

I do not use this quotation by Gideon LEVY to just remind the Readers that in war, all Armies and politicians tend to exaggerate, spin and even lie: hence that we ought to submit what the military on either side claims to rigorous factual scrutiny. It is rather to make the point that such practices take on a very different meaning and significance in the context of the kind of conflict the Israelis have chosen to engage the Palestinians in; and as a direct result of that, the equally important context of the struggle for national self-determination by the Palestinians.

Let me explain:

In our first piece on the Geo-Strategic significance of Gaza (see the Menu on your right hand side) the argument was made that:

“The current violent assault by Israel on a territory (Gaza) and a people (Palestinians) that it has displaced and occupies – and on Hamas in particular – has, at a tactical level, its domestic roots in the 2005 unilateral “withdrawal” of Israel from Gaza by the then Government of Ariel SHARON. It signaled the end of the “peace process”; which had already by then, following the 1995 murder of Yitzhak RABIN by a fellow Israeli Jew, started to morph away from a real peace process to a mere extension of war-by-other-means.”

Furthermore it was argued that one of the reasons why Israel initiated the conflict was to maintain the “division of the Palestinians, both geographically (physical) and organizationally (as a movement), in order to conquer the West Bank and make the establishment of a viable Palestinian State, impossible. This divide-and-rule method is as old as colonial conquest itself and is one of the reasons why Israeli historians such as Ilan PAPPE calls this ethnic cleansing. It is also why the recent rapprochement between Fatah and Hamas is one of the principal reasons why Israel decided to go after Hamas now: Israel wants the Palestinians to remain divided and fractured; and it wants Hamas (which analytically fits into the broader idea of Political Islam), to become depoliticized and disarmed.

According to Rashid KALIDI in his article “Gaza: Collective Punishment” of 29 July 2014, Prime Minister Benjamin NETANYAHU, speaking in Hebrew [Israel frequently accuses the Palestinians of saying one thing in Arabic and another in English Ed], said the following:

“Three days after the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched the current war in Gaza, he held a press conference in Tel Aviv during which he said, in Hebrew, according to the Times of Israel, ‘I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.’ It’s worth listening carefully when Netanyahu speaks to the Israeli people. What is going on in Palestine today is not really about Hamas. It is not about rockets. It is not about “human shields” or terrorism or tunnels. It is about Israel’s permanent control over Palestinian land and Palestinian lives. That is what Netanyahu is really saying, and that is what he now admits he has “always” talked about. It is about an unswerving, decades-long Israeli policy of denying Palestine self-determination, freedom, and sovereignty.”

[On the 28th of August 2014 the PLO published the Report “Business as Usual” in which it documented these continued killings, land grabs, demolitions and arrests as Operation Protective Edge in Gaza was going on. Ed]

The PLO Report says: “The Israeli aggression against the Occupied Gaza Governorates ran in parallel with the Israeli oppression and colonization in the rest of the Occupied State of Palestine. Ongoing aggression continued throughout the period of intensive attacks against Gaza, including the advancement of settlements, home demolitions, movement restrictions, detentions and settler violence.Though Israeli spokespeople tried to present their attacks on Gaza as a particular action against Palestinian resistance groups, Israeli occupation and colonization policies all over the Occupied State of Palestine make it clear that the ultimate Israeli goal continues to be to prevent the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian State. ”

When Ariel SHARON passed away, the renowned Israeli historian Avi SHLAIM wrote the following in Open Democracy on 14 January 2014: “Sharon was an aggressive expansionist. His main aim when he came to power in 2001 was to eliminate the two-state solution and to determine unilaterally the borders of Greater Israel. By the time he fell into a coma five years later, he had gone some way towards achieving this aim. His short-term success, however, gravely diminished the prospect of a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians. Sharon’s legacy is therefore as controversial as his life. Sharon had always been an ardent Jewish nationalist, a dyed-in-the-wool hardliner, and a ferocious right-wing hawk. He also displayed a consistent preference for force over diplomacy in dealing with the Arabs. Reversing Clausewitz’s famous dictum, he treated diplomacy as the extension of war by other means…As minister of defence Sharon led Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It was a war of deception that failed to achieve any of its grandiose geopolitical objectives. A commission of inquiry found Sharon responsible for failing to prevent the massacre by Christian Phalangists of Palestinian refugees in Beirut’s Sabra and Shatila camps. This verdict was etched on his forehead like a mark of Cain. But who foresaw that the man who was declared unfit to be minister of defence would bounce back as prime minister?..To the Palestinians Sharon represented the cold, cruel, militaristic face of the Zionist occupation.”

The revolt of the right wing Zionist camps of Prime Ministers SHARON, NETANYAHU and to a lessor extent that of Ehud OLMERT, against the left wing Mapai/Labour and Meretz parties’ approach of negotiations towards a two-state solution, had a three-fold aim: 1) to initially freeze the negotiations for a two-state solution through unilateral-disengagement 2) then to reverse the effects in the ground and re-establish Israeli military deterrence and domination through the isolation and siege of the PLO leader Yasser ARAFAT, assassinating the top Hamas leadership, withdrawing from Gaza in order to put it under siege – in the famous phrase “putting the Palestinians of Gaza on a diet” – and then 3) to reconfigure the Middle East region in a way that suited Israeli security and political needs. This included diminishing Israeli dependence on the USA at the appropriate moment, in order to give it a freer hand in aggressively reshaping the Middle East without American interference.

I will explore this in greater detail below but suffice to state at this stage that three key outcomes of Operation Protective Edge when viewed from the Israeli side are:

1. The rapid loss by Israel of the moral dimension in the conflict with the Palestinians of which the outrage of Gideon LEVY is a good example. This is what Prof. Naomi CHAZAN (Israel’s Other War: Moral Attrition in the Times of Israel: 25 August 2014) had to say:

“Israel is currently involved in two wars. The first, the external one, is immediate and inescapably consuming. The Gaza engagement has continued relentlessly for the bulk of the summer; it is being fought openly not only militarily, but also diplomatically and politically on the ground, in the media and in the international arena. The second, the internal one, is latent and mostly subsumed from the public eye. The war against the racism and intolerance which is festering rapidly below the surface in Israel only commands public attention sporadically — most recently around the marriage of Morel Malka and Mahmud Mansur — although this threat has grown by leaps and bounds as the Gaza operation has progressed. No concerted effort, however, is being made to fight the mortal dangers it poses. While Israel is struggling to defend itself against fundamentalist-fueled enmity from abroad, it is doing very little to safeguard itself from the fanaticism that is being bred in its own backyard.”

2. Neither the left nor the right wing traditions of political Zionism has succeeded in delivering to Israel its key national security objective: the submission of the Palestinian national movement by any means in order to lay claim to their land and eventually obtain recognition for the exclusivist, Jewish character of the State of Israel. In other words neither the left wing land-for-peace formula obtained through agreement, nor the militarist peace-for-peace formula based on unilateral Israeli moves, have worked
As a result of these dead ends and failed strategies, the international tide is turning against the Zionist project in its current form at an unprecedented speed and scale. Neither the Zionist left nor right seem capable of offering any realistic political way out of this quagmire other than more violence and coercion.

3. More importantly, Zionism itself will enter a profound internal crisis.

This is what Henry SIEGMAN said in a radio interview with Amy GOODMAN of Democracy Now! on the 14th of July 2014:
“The Zionist dream is based on the repeated slaughter of innocents on a scale that we’re watching these days on television, that is really a profound, profound crisis — and should be a profound crisis in the thinking of all of us who were committed to the establishment of the state and to its success”

That crisis will indeed be observed in the coming months and years.

Whilst ordinary Israelis watched helplessly as their once proud Army seemed incapable of providing complete security, defending them or deterring their adversaries, they were repeatedly told by an increasingly hollow-sounding and schoolmasterish Prime Minister NETANYAHU “that the Palestinians will pay a heavy price”. The Palestinians defiantly replied with more rockets. The temporary closing of Ben Gurion International Airport during this conflict, inflicted a severe psychological blow to Israeli citizens who suddenly realized that they too may become trapped in a siege. The nightmare of Israeli citizens – as was the case in all settler colonial projects whether for example in Algeria or South Africa – is that the capacity for violence, repression and coercion of its Army will not be enough to prevent those that are Occupied (Palestinians) from “doing onto others as was done onto them”. It is this nightmare that Gideon LEVY is trying to prevent and is warning other Israelis about. It is also why the 65 dead Israeli soldiers and the continued rocket fire during Operation Protective Edge, has made such a huge psychological impact.

In apartheid South Africa, this kind of end-game crisis was reached in 1979 when the then newly elected National Party Prime Minister P.W. BOTHA made a speech in which he declared to his White constituency: “Adapt or Die”. The Israeli equivalent of this is the dead end that Zionism finds itself in today. I do nonetheless want to caution against simplistic comparisons and analogous reasoning of contexts and situations that clearly have similarities but also important differences: each context and reality must be understood with its own facts. And neither should the Palestinians ignore the important warning of the victorious Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen GIAP who lead the campaign that ultimately defeated the United States in Vietnam, when he argued in “The Fundamental Problems of our War of Liberation” that:

“The Vietnamese peoples war of liberation had, therefore, to be a hard and long-lasting war in order to succeed in creating the conditions for victory. All the conceptions born of impatience and aimed at gaining speedy victory could only be gross errors”

Therefore, the crisis of Zionism will not mean that it is collapsing. But what I will argue is that it has entered a phase of decomposition which opens up the space and imperative for real political work to be done. This political work however must be done not only because the Palestinians have become the ascending party in the conflict, but also in order to prevent an irreversible catastrophe of the kind last seen during the Second World War. In other words the paradox is that the weaker but ascending party (the Palestinians) must begin to reflect on how they will address the deepest fears of the Jewish population in the region in order to prevent them from committing unspeakable crimes. For when regimes begin to decompose, it also creates conditions of fear that can easily lead to irrational decision-making and panic amongst those that previously believed -mistakenly – that their superior military force and coercive power made them invincible.

Both Hezbollah in 2006 and astonishingly Hamas in 2014 have vividly demonstrated to Israel the severe limitations of militarism; particularly when it is devoid of politics. These are historical lessons that all colonial powers have learned; and that the Americans have now learned twice in the past 120 years: in Vietnam and in Iraq.

In the same first piece (The Geo-Strategic significance of Gaza) we also noted some of cardinal weaknesses in the Israeli side such as the moral cancer that stems from practices such as dispossession, violence and occupation which are inherent in settler colonialism, as well as the state of hubris and denial that follows from the strong beliefs in its own rhetoric and fabrications that are necessarily required to sustain a political project of this nature. Once more, it is clear that people like Gideon LEVY and others – without sounding alarmist – are desperately trying to warn their society of an approaching catastrophe caused by the increasing loss of moral sensibility amongst war-weary Israelis and their successive adventurist Governments caught up in hubris, denialism and failed experiments.

Much however, is known about this and how such projects eventually decompose. One may mistakenly assume that only a few marginal Israelis have intuitively or through real experiences, grasped the nettle of the dilemma. But nothing could be further from the truth. Right wing Israeli leaders such as SHARON and OLMERT repeatedly warned Israelis that their country risk to degenerate into a situation of Algeria during the French colonial period or South Africa during the apartheid era. As we will demonstrate later in this article, even Benjamin NETANYAHU was driven by the realization that “something had to give”; that the status quo was becoming unsustainable.

The Palestinians; like the Vietnamese, Algerians or South Africans; have however begun to smell the decay and notice the signs of the disease that infects all projects of this nature.

And none other than Yitzak RABIN, the Israeli war hero, Labour Party Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner (with Yasser ARAFAT), had very clearly understood the danger for Israel if Zionism goes into a moral crisis because it had become over-dependent on militarism and violence to sustain itself. This was expressed in his moving words on the White House lawn in 1993: “Let me say to you, the Palestinians, we are destined to live together on the same soil in the same land. We, the soldiers who have returned from battles stained with blood; we who have seen our relatives and friends killed before our eyes; we who have attended their funerals and cannot look in the eyes of their parents; we who have come from a land where parents bury their children; we who have fought against you, the Palestinians—we say to you today, in a loud and clear voice: enough blood and tears. Enough. We have no desire for revenge. We harbor no hatred towards you. We, like you, are people—people who want to build a home. To plant a tree. To love—live side by side with you. In dignity. In empathy. As human beings. As free men. We are today giving peace a chance—and saying to you and saying again to you: enough. Let us pray that a day will come when we all will say farewell to the arms. We wish to open a new chapter in the sad book of our lives together—a chapter of mutual recognition, of good neighborliness, of mutual respect, of understanding. We hope to embark on a new era in the history of the Middle East. Today here in Washington at the White House, we will begin a new reckoning in the relations between peoples, between parents tired of war, between children who will not know war.”

Despite this promise, the Israeli left failed to deliver through negotiations, agreements and the land-for-peace formula. It was no coincidence therefore that the policy document entitled “A Clean Break: a new Strategy for the Defense of the Realm” that was prepared in 1996 by a study group led by Richard PERLE for Prime Minister Benjamin NETANYAHU, started off with these words:

“Israel has a large problem. Labor Zionism, which for 70 years has dominated the Zionist movement, has generated a stalled and shackled economy. Efforts to salvage Israel’s socialist institutions—which include pursuing supranational over national sovereignty and pursuing a peace process that embraces the slogan, “New Middle East”—undermine the legitimacy of the nation and lead Israel into strategic paralysis and the previous government’s “peace process.” That peace process obscured the evidence of eroding national critical mass— including a palpable sense of national exhaustion—and forfeited strategic initiative…Benjamin Netanyahu’s government comes in with a new set of ideas. While there are those who will counsel continuity, Israel has the opportunity to make a clean break; it can forge a peace process and strategy based on an entirely new intellectual foundation, one that restores strategic initiative and provides the nation the room to engage every possible energy on rebuilding Zionism, the starting point of which must be economic reform.”

Subsequently Ariel SHARON once he became Minister, used the “clean break” of NETANYAHU to begin to reverse the “damage” wrought by the Labour approach. Israeli historian Avi SHLAIM (Sharon’s Legacy in Open Democracy: 14 January 2014) stated unequivocally that “Sharon was a man of war through and through, an Arab-hater, and an eager proponent of the doctrine of permanent conflict. He regarded the Palestinians as “murderous and treacherous” and he did not believe that the conflict with them could be resolved by diplomatic means. Following his rise to power Sharon therefore remained what he had always been – the champion of violent solutions. Baruch Kimmerling, the Israeli sociologist, coined a term to describe Sharon’s political programme: politicide – to deny the Palestinians any independent political existence in Palestine.”

Under SHARON Israel reverted back to the historical patterns of settler regimes: violence, militarism, paternalism and coercion. These patterns inevitably lead to the spreading of the cancer of moral erosion – as we have once more observed with Operation Protective Edge. Hence we can safely state that both left wing and right wing Zionist camps in Israel have been aware for some time that their historical strategies and patterns of engagement with the Palestinians and the Palestinian issue have really not brought them anywhere. But they seem stuck and incapable of moving in any direction other than retreating into denialism and pursuing “more-of-the-same” with renewed vigor.

These historical patterns also deserve closer scrutiny below.

Before we do that It is worthy noting however that it is not not only the moral cancer and failed strategies of savage violence embedded in the nature of any settler colonial project that need to be considered and appraised – the historical antecedents in Algeria, Vietnam and South Africa indicate something else that is both interesting and profound. And this may have a bearing on the claims and counter-claims of victory regarding Operation Protective Edge that we spoke about at the start of this Workshop in Doha.

In the January 1969 edition of Foreign Affairs – following the American defeat in Vietnam despite overwhelming firepower and massive aerial bombings by the US military – the former American Secretary of State Henry KISSINGER assessed the paradigmatic, conceptual and cognitive weaknesses<us of the militarily stronger party in an asymmetrical conflict under conditions of foreign occupation. This ideological and concomitant cognitive weakness that produces an intellectual iron cage – a kind of mental siege – that all settlers or occupiers suffer from or rather inflict upon themselves, has not been explored enough in the literature. But both from personal experience in the South African struggle against apartheid, and from an intelligence point of view, I would argue that the insight of Henry KISSINGER is critically important and needs far greater attention: the development of inappropriate or rigid mental models can lead to very costly mistakes.
The iron cage produced by the particular mental models inherent in anybody pursuing settler colonialism, provides those that resist it with a huge informational advantage: predictability

And the informational advantage that can be derived from this – besides the moral one – provides those that are fighting against settler colonialism, with unique and significant asymmetrical weaponry.

It is therefore no surprise that KISSINGER, in reflecting on the American defeat in the War for the liberation of Vietnam, concluded in his Foreign Affairs article of 1969 that:
“We fought a military war; our opponents fought a political one. We sought physical attrition; our opponents aimed for our psychological exhaustion. In the process, we lost sight of one of the cardinal maxims of guerrilla war: the guerrilla wins if he does not lose. The conventional army loses if it does not win.”

The celebrations on the streets of Gaza after the announcement of the acceptance by Israel and Hamas of the long-term ceasefire, attest to the fact that the Palestinians are not only relieved but also instinctively know that as the militarily weaker party that successfully stood its ground, that inflicted significant military casualties on the much stronger and well-equipped Israeli military, and that foiled the Israeli attempt to re-establish its deterrence, has scored an important victory by not losing.

The costs for Israel during this conflict were significant. Looking at this with the help of the analytical tools of Dynamical Systems Theory (see the PPT presentation) we observe that it has pushed key factors and systemic variables closer to thresholds and tipping points. Whilst nobody should make the mistake of judging the imminent collapse of Israel, we should not under-estimate its impact either as the real costs of this failed war by Israel will only be felt in the months to come.

From the Israeli perspective, some of these costs/burdens include the following: the massive Israeli slaughter of innocent civilians during this war already branded by international organizations such as the UN as possible war crimes; the disciplined and effective fighting and focus of Hamas fighters under extremely difficult conditions on restricting casualties to Israeli military personnel; the relatively high number of Israeli military casualties hence establishing its own minimal deterrence; the domestic rifts in the Israeli polity and its steady drift towards radicalism and extremism; the growing strength even in the USA and Western Europe for the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) Campaign; the fault lines opening between Israel and the US and Great-Britain due to the changing public mood; as well as the maneuvering of Israel into the camp of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Emiratis where there is little or no democracy.

Whilst Israel may be boasting about its new found convergence of interests with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Emiratis, both its tactical and its strategic positioning is eroding fast. Ironically the Iraq War that the US fought following strong Israeli lobbying, has also contributed to the weakening of its superpower ally: the United States. This has contributed in significant ways to a reduction in the US global positioning as well as making it increasingly more probable that a power-shift away from the West towards an alternative new global order and architecture lead by countries such as China and Russia, will occur. Such an alternative global architecture will for example, make it much more difficult to control the transfers of money to movements such as Hamas, as the US Dollar will lose its position as the worlds sole reserve currency. It is only because the Banks transact in US Dollars that the US can control or punish the transfer of funds to parties whom it does not like or agree with.

To any strategist that is familiar with or has experience in fighting settler colonialism or foreign domination, these signs are important as they indicate that the Palestinians are incrementally but steadily gaining the moral high ground: one of the most significant determinants of victory since by depriving the Israelis of it, the important psychological dimension will exponentially shift towards the Palestinian side. Combined with the ability of guerrilla forces to learn faster and adapt quicker – as was demonstrated by the Hamas fighters during this conflict – the moral high ground can rapidly lead to psychological exhaustion, demoralization, internal division; the erosion of the will to fight and to endure casualties in the camp of the Occupier.

Following the use of the so-called Dahiya Doctrine, the Israeli military openly targets civilians and civilian areas in a systematic manner. Stephen BONAVIDES in deploring this Doctrine (he calls it State Terrorism) says the following in Truth Out on the 2nd of August 2014:

“In the 2006 Lebanon War, Israel Defense Force Northern Commander Gadi Eisenkot, now the deputy chief of general staff, recommended and had approved the application of a military strategy that would target and destroy an entire civilian area rather than fight to overtake fortified positions one by one. This was in an effort to minimize IDF casualties while at the same time holding the entire civilian populace accountable for the actions of a few. A move some called revolutionary in modern warfare, the doctrine did away with the effort to distinguish between militant and civilian, using an overwhelming display of force through airstrikes to destroy the entire Lebanese Dahiya quarter.

The strategy itself calls for the deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure in order to induce suffering and severe distress throughout the targeted population. By targeting indiscriminately, the IDF hopes to deter further military attacks against Israel, destroy its enemies, as well as influence the population to oust the militants seen as the primary target. The IDF has planned on using the strategy since 2008, and is seen as doing so in the current conflict in Gaza based on the increasing number of civilian casualties. The result so far has been the death of more than 1,200 Palestinians, including 241 children and 130 women. Of the estimated death count, more than 70 percent have been identified as innocent civilians. The Dahiya Doctrine amounts to the direct use of state terrorism and is now the functioning military policy of the IDF.”

The moral dimension is therefore, in the application of this Doctrine, clearly lost and moreover, creates the conditions for a war-crimes accusation and prosecution of Israel.

In order to assist us in making our initial assessments – especiallythrough the prism of historical patterns, the underlying logic, and the mental modelsI will draw on some key concepts and potentially useful lessons from three well-known intellectuals of whom two were theorists of war: the Palestinian Edward SAID, the Austrian Carl VON CLAUSEWITZ and the Vietnamese Vo Nguyen GIAP.

Israel has, since its inception, been engaged in a long war of violent land confiscation as well as demographic attrition against the Palestinians. This was well understood by Israel’s early leaders – so no paradigmatic, mental model or conceptual problem at that time. David BEN-GURION told Nahum GOLDMAN, then the president of the World Jewish Congress:

‘If I were an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country … We come from Israel, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?” This sentiment was later shared by former Prime Minister Ehud BARACK who remarked that if he were born a Palestinian, he would also join a “terrorist” organization.

Prof. Stephen WALT and Prof. John MEARSHEIMER – two eminent American national security scholars – argued in their article entitled “The Israel Lobby” published in 2006 in the London Review of Books, that Zionism is not only a morally flawed project that is built on the opposite of American values, but that Israel is also a strategic liability for America. Furthermore they contend that the “final reason to question Israel’s strategic value is that it does not behave like a loyal ally. Israeli officials frequently ignore US requests and renege on promises (including pledges to stop building settlements and to refrain from ‘targeted assassinations’ of Palestinian leaders). Israel has provided sensitive military technology to potential rivals like China, in what the State Department inspector-general called ‘a systematic and growing pattern of unauthorized transfers’. According to the General Accounting Office, Israel also ‘conducts the most aggressive espionage operations against the US of any ally’”

The two American Professors went on to write that “Israel’s backers also portray it as a country that has sought peace at every turn and shown great restraint even when provoked. The Arabs, by contrast, are said to have acted with great wickedness. Yet on the ground, Israel’s record is not distinguishable from that of its opponents. Ben-Gurion acknowledged that the early Zionists were far from benevolent towards the Palestinian Arabs, who resisted their encroachments – which is hardly surprising, given that the Zionists were trying to create their own state on Arab land. In the same way, the creation of Israel in 1947-48 involved acts of ethnic cleansing, including executions, massacres and rapes by Jews, and Israel’s subsequent conduct has often been brutal, belying any claim to moral superiority. Between 1949 and 1956, for example, Israeli security forces killed between 2700 and 5000 Arab infiltrators, the overwhelming majority of them unarmed. The IDF murdered hundreds of Egyptian prisoners of war in both the 1956 and 1967 wars, while in 1967, it expelled between 100,000 and 260,000 Palestinians from the newly conquered West Bank, and drove 80,000 Syrians from the Golan Heights.”

Naturally and as in all struggles against settler colonialism, a Palestinian national movement was born to resist this; to struggle for national self-determination and the restoration of their basic human rights. The Palestinians therefore not only have the right to exist and live on their land, but also have the right to defend themselves against any form of external aggression, invasion or occupation.These rights are inalienable and are not to be recognized or restored as part of a quid pro quo: Israel must leave the illegally occupied territories – all of it – as this is the source of its insecurity.

As Henry SIEGMAN has frequently argued: Israel can and has to end the occupation immediately by simply withdrawing from the illegally Occupied Territories; and there need not be any negotiations about it. What can then be negotiated after this Israeli occupation has been ended, is where exactly the Israeli borders will be. He says (Cf the Amy GOODMAN interview of 14 July 2014):

“There seems to be near-universal agreement in the United States with President Barack Obama’s observation that Israel, like every other country, has the right and obligation to defend its citizens from threats directed at them from beyond its borders…The answer to the second question — whether a less lethal course was not available to protect Israel’s civilian population — is (unintentionally?) implicit in the formulation of President Barack Obama’s defense of Israel’s actions: namely, the right and obligation of all governments to protect their civilian populations from assaults from across their borders. But where, exactly, are Israel’s borders?”

When considering the causes and the Israeli fabricated trigger of this military assault on Gaza (see The Geo-Strategic significance of Gaza in the Menu on your right hand side) in which we highlighted the formation of a Palestinian Unity Government between Fatah and Hamas as one of the principal immediate causes, it is worth quoting from the New York Times article of 17 July 2014 by Jonathan THRALL of the International Crisis Group:

“Seeing a region swept by popular protests against leaders who couldn’t provide for their citizens’ basic needs, Hamas opted to give up official control of Gaza rather than risk being overthrown. Despite having won the last elections, in 2006, Hamas decided to transfer formal authority to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah. That decision led to a reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization, on terms set almost entirely by the P.L.O. chairman andPalestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas. Israel immediately sought to undermine the reconciliation agreement by preventing Hamas leaders and Gaza residents from obtaining the two most essential benefits of the deal: the payment of salaries to 43,000 civil servants who worked for the Hamas government and continue to administer Gaza under the new one, and the easing of the suffocating border closures imposed by Israel and Egypt that bar most Gazans’ passage to the outside world. Yet, in many ways, the reconciliation government could have served Israel’s interests. It offered Hamas’s political adversaries a foothold in Gaza; it was formed without a single Hamas member; it retained the same Ramallah-based prime minister, deputy prime ministers, finance minister and foreign minister; and, most important, it pledged to comply with the three conditions for Western aid long demanded by America and its European allies: nonviolence, adherence to past agreements and recognition of Israel.”

This Operation Protective Edge has brought the Palestinians even closer together (and Israeli society even more divided) so from the Israeli perspective: what has it achieved politically as we now seem to be back where we started: a Palestinian Unity Government?

In The Independent on Sunday of 27 July 2014, the Israeli historian Avi SHLAIM said the following in an article in which he denounced the idea of “balanced reporting” – a favorite tactical trick in Israeli diplomacy:

“The origins of the current war in Gaza is a case in point. As always, Israel claims to be acting in self-defence, blaming the victims of its military aggression for their own misfortunes. Yet the basic cause for this war is the 47-year-old Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.
True, in 2005 Israel carried out a unilateral disengagement of Gaza. But, under international law, it remains the occupying power because it continues to control access to the strip by land, sea and air. An occupying power has a legal obligation to protect civilians in the areas it controls, yet Israel has been shelling and killing them.
Israel claims its most recent incursion into Gaza was a response to Hamas rocket attacks. Here are some facts that do not fit comfortably into the narrative of a peace-loving nation that is up against a fanatical, murderous terrorist organisation. In 2006, Hamas won a fair and free Palestinian election and formed a government, seeking a long-term ceasefire with Israel. Israel refused to negotiate.
In 2007, Hamas and Fatah formed a national unity government with the same agenda. Israel resorted to economic warfare to undermine this government and encouraged Fatah to stage a coup to drive Hamas from power. Hamas pre-empted the coup with a violent seizure of power in Gaza.
In flagrant violation of international law, Israel then imposed a blockade (still in force today) on the 1.8 million inhabitants of Gaza. Four months ago, Hamas reached an accord with Fatah, and another national unity government was formed, this time without a single Hamas-affiliated member but with the old agenda of negotiating an end to the conflict with Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hysterically attacked it as a vote for terror, not for peace. He used the abduction of three Jewish teenagers on the West Bank as an excuse for a violent crackdown on Hamas supporters there, although Hamas had nothing to do with it. The Hamas rocket attacks were a response to this provocation.”

As we also pointed out in our introductory first piece on the Geo-Strategic Significance of Gaza – the significance of which we will deal with in our third piece – significant tension had been building up between President Barack OBAMA and Prime Minister Benjamin NETANYAHU. The Wall Street Journal’s national security correspondent, Adam ENTOUS, pointed out in the Wall Street Journal of 06 August 2014 that Israel’s security interests and those of Egypt under General SISI, converged; whilst those between Israel and the USA diverged:

“U.S. officials, who tried to intervene in the initial days after the conflict broke out on July 8 to try to find a negotiated solution, soon realized that Mr. Netanyahu’s office wanted to run the show with Egypt and to keep the Americans at a distance, according to U.S., European and Israeli officials. The Americans, in turn, felt betrayed by what they saw as a series of “mean spirited” leaks, which they interpreted as a message from Mr. Netanyahu that U.S. involvement was neither welcomed nor needed. Reflecting Egypt’s importance, Mr. Gilad [Brig-Gen Amos GILAD is the Israeli military intelligence liaison with Egypt] and other officials took Mr. Sisi’s “temperature” every day during the war to make sure he was comfortable with the military operation as it intensified. Israeli officials knew television pictures of dead Palestinians would at some point bring Cairo to urge Israel to stop.”

We should not forget that NETANYAHU resigned as Finance Minister from the Cabinet of Ariel SHARON in 2005 precisely around the issue of the unilateral disengagement by Israel from Gaza:

“Netanyahu resigned during the August 7 cabinet meeting, saying afterward that he believed Gaza disengagement would create a “base for terror,” a policy with which he could no longer associate himself. He also opposed the unilateral nature of the withdrawal, saying reciprocity is better for Israel.Sharon charged Netanyahu with flipflopping from his earlier support. Indeed, Netanyahu voted four times for disengagement: twice in the cabinet, on June 6, 2004, and February 20, 2005, and twice in the Knesset, on October 26, 2004, and February 16, 2005. (He was absent on a Knesset vote held on July 20, 2005.) Moreover, Netanyahu pointedly refused to leave the government despite mounting appeals by critics of disengagement in the eighteen months since Sharon announced his intention to pull out of Gaza” (David Makovsky: Policy Watch No 511; August 17, 2005).

Nor should we forget what close SHARON confidant Dov WEISGLASS said in an interview with Ari SHAVIT in Haaretz of 06 October 2004: ” ‘The disengagement is actually formaldehyde,’ he said. ‘It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.’ Asked why the disengagement plan had been hatched, Weisglass replied: ‘Because in the fall of 2003 we understood that everything was stuck. And although by the way the Americans read the situation, the blame fell on the Palestinians, not on us, Arik [Sharon] grasped that this state of affairs could not last, that they wouldn’t leave us alone, wouldn’t get off our case. Time was not on our side. There was international erosion, internal erosion. Domestically, in the meantime, everything was collapsing. The economy was stagnant, and the Geneva Initiative had gained broad support. And then we were hit with the letters of officers and letters of pilots and letters of commandos (refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories). These were not weird kids with green ponytails and a ring in their nose with a strong odor of grass. These were people like Spector’s group; really our finest young people’ (Yiftah Spector, a renowned Air Force pilot who signed the pilot’s letter refusing to fly missions against targets in the West Bank and Gaza. ) Weisglass does not deny that the main achievement of the Gaza plan is the freezing of the peace process in a “legitimate manner.”

The Geneva Initiative, Brig-Gen Yitah SPECTOR and the core of the Israeli Refuseniks all formed part of the Spier Process facilitated by the South African Government under President Thabo MBEKI at the request of Yasser ARAFAT and the fledgling peace camp in Israel under Yossi BEILIN – the tactical aim of the Spier Process was to try and help put pressure on Israel to restart the then stalled Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process for a two-state solution that SHARON and WEISGLASS clearly opposed. SPECTOR was involved in the attack by Israel on the American Warship the USS Liberty in 1967 in which 34 US Navy Personnel were killed and Terry HALBARDIER, the American sailor who managed to send the SOS that saved the USS Liberty from complete Israeli destruction, died recently in the US. SPECTOR also flew one of the planes during the 1981 Israeli attack on the nuclear reactor in Iraq.

Ari SHAVIT in Haaretz of 06 October 2004 continued in the same article covering his interview with WEISGLASS:

“He doesn’t deny that he supported the disengagement from the start. He doesn’t hide the fact that he placed the facts on Sharon’s desk. The political problem, the economic problem, the problem of refusenik soldiers. And he made it clear to the boss that the international community will never let up. That the Americans will not be able to support us for all time. But in the end I wasn’t the one who made the decision, Weisglass says. The prime minister made the decision. While he, the bureau chief, was simply there at his side. He, the faithful advocate, simply sat with his client in the room throughout the entire process..From your point of view, then, your major achievement is to have frozen the political process legitimately? “That is exactly what happened. You know, the term `political process’ is a bundle of concepts and commitments. The political process is the establishment of a Palestinian state with all the security risks that entails. The political process is the evacuation of settlements, it’s the return of refugees, it’s the partition of Jerusalem. And all that has now been frozen.” So you have carried out the maneuver of the century? And all of it with authority and permission? “When you say `maneuver,’ it doesn’t sound nice. It sounds like you said one thing and something else came out. But that’s the whole point. After all, what have I been shouting for the past year? That I found a device, in cooperation with the management of the world [USA under George W BUSH during which SHARON took the ideas of the national camp and turned them into a political reality that is accepted by the the US Congress where the relevant resolution was passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 405-7, and in the Senate by 95-5 Ed], to ensure that there will be no stopwatch here. That there will be no timetable to implement the settlers’ nightmare. I have postponed that nightmare indefinitely. Because what I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns. That is the significance of what we did. The significance is the freezing of the political process. And when you freeze that process you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion about the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package that is called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed from our agenda indefinitely. And all this with authority and permission. All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress. What more could have been anticipated? What more could have been given to the settlers?”

In considering Gaza and Operation Protective Edge, the study and correct understanding of the adversary, of the self and the context, is of critical importance. And over the years, the Israeli tactics have taken on familiar patterns. These patterns are the result of the iron cage mental models and moral flaws inherent in settler colonialism and not only do they provide us with exceptionally rich sources of information, but they also produce societal logics and predictable patterns.

These historical facts, trajectories and patterns create a certain kind of path-dependency and blind spots that facilitate insight in the adversary and foresight regarding their likely future paths of action. We will briefly elaborate on this by looking at what we mean by 1) path-dependency and 2) blind spots.

From an intelligence perspective, path-dependency is an important analytic key for unlocking rich sources of contextual information. From a strategic perspective, path-dependency can create funnels that will lead to a significant narrowing of possible outcomes. Strategy (largely arrived at through abductive and inductive reasoning) is often confused and conflated with planning (largely arrived at utilizing deductive reasoning), but must always lead to to an end state in which we are positioned in such a way that the probabilities of our our goal achievement are improved and enhanced.

Maneuvering our adversary onto the slippery slope of the funnel through the exploitation of contextual path-dependencies and blind spots, is a frequently used stratagem in asymmetrical warfare.

See Image 1 at the end of this article: FUNNEL

Path-dependency in academic literature is a well-studied notion. Paul A DAVID of Stanford University (Cliometrica — The Journal of Historical Economics and Econometric History, v.1, no.2, Summer 2007) argues that:

“’Path dependence’ is an important concept for social scientists engaged in studying processes of change, as it is for students of dynamic phenomena in nature. A dynamic process whose evolution is governed by its own history is “path dependent.” The concept, thus, is very general in its scope, referring equally to developmental sequences (whether in evolutionary biology or physics) and social dynamics (involving social interactions among economic or political agents) that are characterized by positive feedbacks and self-reinforcing dynamics. Although the assertion that “history matters” has come to be coupled frequently with references to the concept of path dependence, the precise meaning of the latter term—and hence the significance of the former expression—more often than not remains rather cloudy. This is unnecessary as well as unfortunate. The fundamental idea is straightforward enough to be intuitively grasped without any instruction in economics; indeed, a thorough training in modern economics actually might interfere with human intuitions about history, and especially about processes involving historically contingent evolution. Even the formalizations of the concept of path dependence (to be introduced subsequently) are far from forbidding and readily will repay the effort spent in absorbing them. They will be seen to lend a useful measure of precision to descriptions of the special class of dynamical systems that are neither completely deterministic nor purely random in their workings, and in which the specific details of history govern the unfolding course of development.”

Patterns not only lead to path-dependencies but have other interesting effects too. Behavioral patterns are often tacit; and this means that it becomes behavior-without-awareness. For intelligence officers, behavior-without-awareness – like thinking-without-awareness – create blind spots and these become another rich source of information when studying the adversary. Many specialized techniques have been developed in intelligence praxis, to harvest such information unobtrusively from the adversary.

Furthermore, there is a surprising thing about surprise: it is most often not caused by a lack of information. Very often, we have the information right in front of us but we are unable to see its significance or relevance to other facts. Likewise strong convictions – such as ideological convictions – may cause informational blindness and this remains the major cause of foresight failure. This phenomenon is often driven by three factors: belief perseverance, judgmental heuristics and groupthink. The Israeli intelligence and security services suffer from a serious dose of informational blindness: not only did Hamas transform itself into an effective fighting force; it also built the required capabilities based on their new war-fighting Doctrines. This happened undetected but right in front of their eyes, because Israel focused on imaginary nuclear threats from Iran. Its Mental Model does not allow it to see what is really “out there in the real world” because it has hardened, narrowed and became rigid.

(Readers that have completed our Basic Course in Intelligence Analysis will understand precisely how this happens cognitively and psychologically)

In order to understand the significance of this, it is worthwhile getting a brief historical perspective through the eloquent voice of the Palestinian intellectual Edward SAID; and in particular his description of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon In reading this and several other historical documents written by Palestinians and Israelis, one is struck by the patterns and enduring – and therefore predictable – nature of the Israeli political-military template vis-a-vis the Middle East and the Palestinian national movement. Readers should therefore keep the patterns that emerged during the British colonial occupation of Palestine, the 1947 expulsions of the Palestinians, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and Operation Defensive Wall (sometimes called Defensive Shield) of 2002 in mind as we consider and begin to reflect on Operation Protective Edge of 2014.

As mentioned earlier, in the policy-document A Clean Break: a new strategy for the defense of the realm” drawn-up in 1996 by a group of American and Israeli neo-Conservatives for Prime Minister Benjamin NETANYAHU argued for not only ending the land-for-peace foundations of the Oslo Accords, but also for the reconfiguring and Balkanization of the entire Middle East. The idea was not new for in 1982, Oded YINON, an Israeli journalist previously working for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, published a document titled ‘A Strategy for Israel in the Nineteen Eighties.’ He advised that for Israel to maintain its regional superiority, it must fragment its surrounding Arab states into smaller units. The document, later labelled as ‘Yinon Plan’, implied that Arabs and Muslims killing each other in endless sectarian wars was Israel’s best insurance policy.

In the SHAHAK translation of this document, the Editor notes:

“In his Complete Diaries, Vol. II. p. 711, Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism, says that the area of the [proposed] Jewish State stretches: “From the Brook of Egypt to the Euphrates.” Rabbi Fischmann, member of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, declared in his testimony to the U.N. Special Committee of Enquiry on 9 July 1947: ‘The Promised Land extends from the River of Egypt up to the Euphrates, it includes parts of Syria and Lebanon.’ This is not a new idea, nor does it surface for the first time in Zionist strategic thinking. Indeed, fragmenting all Arab states into smaller units has been a recurrent theme. This theme has been documented on a very modest scale in the AAUG publication, Israel’s Sacred Terrorism (1980), by Livia Rokach. Based on the memoirs of Moshe Sharett, former Prime Minister of Israel, Rokach’s study documents, in convincing detail, the Zionist plan as it applies to Lebanon and as it was prepared in the mid-fifties. The first massive Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1978 bore this plan out to the minutest detail. The second and more barbaric and encompassing Israeli invasion of Lebanon on June 6, 1982, aims to effect certain parts of this plan which hopes to see not only Lebanon, but Syria and Jordan as well, in fragments. This ought to make mockery of Israeli public claims regarding their desire for a strong and independent Lebanese central government. More accurately, they want a Lebanese central government that sanctions their regional imperialist designs by signing a peace treaty with them. They also seek acquiescence in their designs by the Syrian, Iraqi, Jordanian and other Arab governments as well as by the Palestinian people. What they want and what they are planning for is not an Arab world, but a world of Arab fragments that is ready to succumb to Israeli hegemony. Hence, Oded Yinon in his essay, “A Strategy for Israel in the 1980’s,” talks about “far-reaching opportunities for the first time since 1967” that are created by the “very stormy situation [that] surrounds Israel.” The Zionist policy of displacing the Palestinians from Palestine is very much an active policy, but is pursued more forcefully in times of contlict, such as in the 1947-1948 war and in the 1967 war. An appendix entitled “Israel Talks of a New Exodus” is included in this publication to demonstrate past Zionist dispersals of Palestinians from their homeland and to show, besides the main Zionist document we present, other Zionist planning for the de-Palestinization of Palestine. It is clear from the Kivunim document, published in February, 1982, that the “far-reaching opportunities” of which Zionist strategists have been thinking are the same “opportunities” of which they are trying to convince the world and which they claim were generated by their June, 1982 invasion. ”

So: divide your adversaries and make them fight each other violently – isn’t that what was happening in Lebanon in the 1980’s and between Hamas and Fatah in the 2000’s? Isn’t this being fueled between the Shi’i and Sunni communities accross the region as we speak?

So this regional approach and desire to reconfigure the Middle East through violence, by dividing the adversary and setting them up to fight each other (instead of fighting the Colonizer), is really not new at all and the pattern is as old as colonialism itself and therefore part of a certain kind of path-dependency and predictability.

It is therefore also worth noting the geo-strategic origins of the term “Middle East”. Roderic H. DAVISON in Foreign Affairs: July 1960 noted that:

“In the same year in which Hogarth put the stamp of geographical approval on the new Near East, Middle East was also born. This was the creation of the American naval officer, Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan. Mahan had made his reputation with the publication in 1890 of “The Influence of Sea Power upon History.” Soon he was sought out by magazine editors for articles on naval affairs and world strategy. Russian expansion, the partition of China, and the German penetration of Turkey, as well as the American conquest of the Philippines, turned Mahan’s attention to Asia. Among his articles on Asia was a piece on “The Persian Gulf and International Relations” which appeared in the September 1902 issue of theNational Review of London. Here Mahan considered the Anglo-Russian contest along with the new element of the projected German Berlin-to-Baghdad railway with its probable terminus on the Persian Gulf. Envisioning the desirability of Anglo-German coöperation to keep the Russians out, he affirmed the need for Britain to maintain a strong naval position, with bases, in the Persian Gulf region. “The Middle East, if I may adopt a term which I have not seen, will some day need its Malta, as well as its Gibraltar . . . . The British Navy should have the facility to concentrate in force, if occasion arises, about Aden, India and the Gulf.” And so the term Middle East saw the light of day just over a half-century ago.”

The “Middle East” – a Western conceptual invention as other parts of the world use different terminologies to describe that region – carries with it the baggage of its invention: colonial geography and social engineering.

We now see a series of strong patterns – some even carried in concepts – emerge and that have hardened into a template within a particular Mental Model. As I cannot do justice to the views of Edward SAID and since he makes a compelling case, I will simply utilize a longish quotation from his article published in the London Review of Books in 2002 under the title: “We know who we Are”. He was writing following the invasion of the West-Bank by the Israeli Army in an Operation called Defensive Wall or Mivtza Homat Magen (sometimes incorrectly reported as Defensive Shield).

Readers should note the similar patterns a real cognitive and behavioral template – in each of these Israeli operations: the 1982 Lebanon invasion, Protective Wall (2002) and Protective Edge (2014).

Prior to this invasion – seen by many as the largest military operation in the West Bank since 1967 – this is what then Prime Minister Ariel SHARON said as reported by Matt REES in Time Magazine of 18 March 2002:

“The Palestinians must be hit, and it must be very painful,” he said. “We must cause them losses, victims, so that they feel a heavy price.”

This sounds very familiar in 2014 doesn’t it? The language of “paying a heavy price” is the paternalistic, authoritarian and violent language of the Colonizer. All colonized people recognize it immediately and instinctively.

At the start of Operation Defensive Wall in 2002, the Mukataa – Headquarters of Yasir ARAFAT was invaded, damaged by tanks and bulldozers and he was placed under – yes you guessed it – a long term siege.
I spent a few hours late at night in the heavily damaged Mukataa with ARAFAT at that time to convey him the good wishes of the Government and people of South Africa with all of us being rushed in and out of the room by a phalanx of security personnel as Israel helicopter gunships flew overhead and missiles were fired in the distance.

The Mukataa itself has an interesting colonial history; dating back to the British Mandate, were a series Forts designed bySir Charles TEGART – a British Policeman who designed the forts in 1938 based on his experiences in suppressing the Indian insurgency that eventually lead to Indian Independence. When the Arab Revolt started in 1936 in protest against the decision of the British Colonial Government to allow the emigration of Zionist settlers from Britain to Palestine, TEGART was brought in to quell the unrest. Apart from his techniques for extracting information from colonial subjects, he also built a system of Big Brother style surveillance as well as a series of Forts – which he proposed to be connected with a Fence. They were built of reinforced concrete with water systems that would allow them to withstand a month-long siege. Dozens of the structures were built according to the same basic plan, along the so-called “Tegart’s Wall” of the northern borders with Lebanon and Syria.

At the end of this article in IMAGE 2 is a photo as an example of a TEGART Fort of which more than 60 were built all over Palestine during the period of British occupation.

As we pointed out, Edward SAID wrote this article in the London Review of Books during Operation Defensive Wall (2002) but it also worth pointing out that this was written before the 2003 invasion of Iraq – an invasion that we have argued elsewhere (See The US and China in the Menu on your right hand side) was an inflection point in the post-Cold War history that significantly shaped and influenced the current global context and dynamic. The pattern is now very distinct and predictable: the Israelis are locked into a self-imposed mental siege inherent in the nature of managing what from the Palestinian point of view is characterized as settler-colonialism.

This then is what Edward SAID wrote already in 2002:

“Lebanon was heavily bombed by Israeli warplanes on 4 June 1982.

Two days later the Israeli Army breached the country’s southern border. Menachem Begin was then Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon Minister of Defence. The immediate reason for the invasion was the attempted assassination of the Israeli Ambassador to Britain, blamed by Begin and Sharon on the PLO, whose forces in South Lebanon had been observing a ceasefire for a year. By 13 June, Beirut was under siege, even though the Israeli Government had originally said it planned to go no further into Lebanon than the Awali River, 35 km north of the border. Later, it became all too clear that Sharon was trying to kill Yasir Arafat by bombing everything around him. There was a blockade of humanitarian aid; water and electricity were cut off, and a sustained aerial bombing campaign destroyed hundreds of buildings. By mid-August, when the siege ended, 18,000 Palestinians and Lebanese, most of them civilians, had been killed.

The civil war between right-wing Christian militias and left-wing Muslim and Arab nationalist groups had already lasted seven years. Although Israel sent its Army into Lebanon only once before 1982, it had early been sought as an ally by the Christian militias, who co-operated with Sharon’s forces during the siege. Sharon’s main ally was Bashir Gemayel, leader of the Phalange Party, who was elected President by the Lebanese Parliament on 23 August. The Palestinians had unwisely entered the civil war on the side of the National Movement, a loose coalition of parties that included Amal, a forerunner of Hizbollah (which was to play the major role in finally driving the Israelis out of Lebanon in May 2000). Faced with the prospect of Israeli vassalage after Sharon’s Army had in effect brought about his election, Gemayel seems to have demurred and was assassinated on 14 September. Israeli troops occupied Beirut, supposedly to keep order, and two days later, inside a security cordon provided by the Israeli Army, Gemayel’s vengeful extremists massacred two thousand Palestinian refugees at the camps of Sabra and Shatila.

Under UN and of course US supervision, French troops had entered Beirut on 21 August in the aftermath of the siege and were later joined by US and other European forces. The PLO fighters were evacuated from Lebanon; and by the beginning of September Arafat and a small band of advisers and soldiers had relocated to Tunis. The Taif Accord of 1989 prepared the way for a settlement of the civil war the following year. The old confessional system – under which different religious groups are allocated a specific number of Parliamentary seats – was more or less restored and remains in place today.

Earlier this year Sharon was quoted as regretting his failure to kill Arafat in Beirut. Not for want of trying – dozens of buildings were destroyed, hundreds of people killed. The events of 1982 hardened ordinary Arabs, I think, to the idea that Israel would use planes, missiles, tanks and helicopters to attack civilians indiscriminately, and that neither the US nor the Arab governments would do anything to stop it.

The invasion of Lebanon was the first full-scale contemporary attempt at regime change by one sovereign country against another in the Middle East. I bring it up as a messy backdrop to the current crisis. The main difference between 1982 and 2002 is that the Palestinians are now under siege inside Palestinian territories that have been occupied by Israel since 1967. The main similarity is the disproportionate nature of Israeli actions: the hundreds of tanks and bulldozers used to enter towns and villages like Jenin or refugee camps like Deheisheh, where troops once more set about killing, vandalising, obstructing ambulances and first-aid workers, cutting off water and electricity and so on. All with the support of the US, whose President called Sharon a ‘man of peace’ during the worst assaults of last March and April. Sharon’s purpose went far beyond ‘rooting out terror’: his soldiers destroyed every computer and carried off files and hard drives from the Central Bureau of Statistics and the Ministries of Education, Finance and Health, and vandalised offices and libraries.

I don’t want to rehearse my criticisms of Arafat’s tactics or the failures of his deplorable regime during the Oslo negotiations and thereafter. Besides, as I write, the man is only just hanging onto his life: his crumbling quarters in Ramallah are still besieged and Sharon is doing everything possible to injure him short of actually having him killed. What concerns me, rather, is the idea of regime change as an attractive notion for individuals, ideologies and institutions that are vastly more powerful than their adversaries. It is now, it seems, taken for granted that great military power licenses large-scale political and social change, whatever damage that may entail. And the fact that one’s own side will not suffer many casualties seems only to stimulate more fantasies about surgical strikes, clean war, high technology battlefields, changing the entire map, creating democracy and so on, all of this giving rise to dreams of omnipotence.

In the current American propaganda campaign for regime change in Iraq, the people of that country, the vast majority of whom have suffered from poverty, malnutrition and illness as a result of ten years of sanctions, have dropped out of sight. This is entirely in keeping with US Middle East policy, which is built on two mighty pillars: the security of Israel and plentiful supplies of inexpensive oil. The complex mosaic of traditions, religions, cultures, ethnicities and histories in the Arab world is lost to US and Israeli strategic planners. Iraq is either a ‘threat’ to its neighbours, which, in its currently weakened and besieged condition, is a nonsensical idea, or a ‘threat’ to the freedom and security of the United States, which is still more absurd. I am not even going to bother to add my condemnations of Saddam Hussein: I shall take it for granted that he deserves to be ousted and punished. Worst of all, he is a threat to his own people.” (Edward SAID: We know who we are: LRB 2002).

The moral cancer of settler colonialism and occupation as well as the predictable patterns of behavior and strategies that its mental models lead to, make of it a phenomenon that is well-understood and therefore quite predictable. This gives the Palestinians an amazing informational advantage: knowing the context and knowing the adversary. For as long as the Occupying side remains locked into its mental and moral siege, it will remain transparent, stuck and inflexible. The political task is to lead them of out of this.. With Political Zionism having exhausted itself and entering into a phase of decomposition – accompanied by more denialism and calls for more vicious violence as Israel drifts into further extremism – it is now incumbent on the Palestinians to come forward with the outlines of a political end state that will assist the Israelis out of their conundrum and break the patterns of the past.

All sides should by now understand that for as long as the occupied “don’t lose”; they really win.. There are important additional concepts that must be taken into consideration too. In the third and final piece on Gaza, I will inter alia apply the Clauzewitzian concepts of the “culminating point of attack as well as the culminating point of victory”, as well as the “political tasks” as articulated by Vo Ngueyen GIAP to explore how this logjam can be broken.

The worn-out face and posture of Prime Minister NETANYAHU at the Press Conference yesterday in which he claimed “victory”, was reminisced of the equally false claim of victory made by President George W. BUSH at the end of the American assault on Iraq in 2003.

And all the signals are there that deep down the Israelis know that they have reached a dead end; that the Palestinian unity is stronger than before and that this round belongs to Hamas: “because they did not lose”.





PP: The Geo-Strategic significance of Gaza

PONDERING POINTS: Short, quick-and-dirty pieces of thinking out loud

PP1: The The Geo-Strategic Significance of Gaza

©Andre ZAAIMAN 2014


“Thus in the beginning the world was so made that certain signs come before certain events.”  


The current violent assault by Israel on a territory (Gaza) and a people (Palestinians) that it has displaced and occupies – and on Hamas in particular – has, at a tactical level, its domestic roots in the 2005 unilateral “withdrawal” of Israel from Gaza by the then Government of Ariel SHARON. It signaled the end of the “peace process” which had already by then, especially following the 1995 murder of Yitzhak RABIN by a fellow Israeli Jew and the death of the Palestinian leader Yasser ARAFAT in 2004 – a year after the 2003 US invasion of Iraq – started to morph from a real peace process into a mere extension of war-by-other-means.

As indicated amongst other things by several Israeli military Operations such as Defensive Wall (2002), Cast Lead (2008/9) and now Protective Edge (2014) – all militarily aimed at but failing to restore Israeli deterrence – as well as the unabated construction and expansion of settlements in the West Bank and the Jerusalem area, that the principal tactical goals for Israel in its domestic and regional theaters are respectively:

  1. The division of the Palestinians, geographically (physical) and organizationally (as a political movement), in order to fragment and ultimately conquer the West Bank and make the establishment of a viable Palestinian State, impossible. This divide-and-rule method is as old as colonial conquest itself and is one of the reasons why Israeli historians such as Ilan PAPPE calls this ethnic cleansing. It is also why the recent rapprochement between Fatah and Hamas is one of the principal reasons why Israel decided to go after Hamas now: Israel wants the Palestinians to remain divided and fractured; and it wants Hamas (which analytically fits into the broader ambit of Political Islam), to become depoliticized and disarmed. In the long run, it is still pursuing the defeat of the Palestinian national movement, the reduction in the numbers of the Palestinian population in the area as a whole, and the obliteration of any forms or traces of Palestinian history in historical Palestine.
  2. The re-establishment of the regional status quo ante bellum – meaning as it was before the Arab Spring and rise of Political Islam in the Middle East. Current dominant groups in Israel, as well as those in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the Emirates cannot afford that a situation of real, majoritarian democracy based on free and fair elections in which all their citizens participate freely and equally, prevails: at least in the case of Israel, until it has reduced the Palestinian (non-Jewish) numbers through a process of social and geographical attrition to such an extent, that it would never pose a threat to the ethnic concept of a Jewish State, secured through the engineering – by means of a series of wars, expulsions, geo-political “facts-on-the-ground” and annexations – of a “permanent Jewish majority”. This process started in 1947 and continues to this day; it explains the national obsession of Israelis with demographics and geography. From an Israeli perspective, until the Palestinians are bludgeoned and weakened to the point where they accept this exclusivist, ethnic and Jewish character of the State of Israel and permanently give up any historical claims to the land of their birth, there can simply be no peace.

Reverting back to the status quo ante bellum, will therefore permit Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and others to once more demonize, marginalize and diminish the forces of Political Islam (which includes Hamas) and recapture the strategic initiative. Moderate forces such as those of Political Islam that can square Islam and Democracy (for example such as in Turkey) therefore pose a real threat to the interests of Israel and Saudi Arabia, hence both countries prefer radical Islamic variants as opposition, which can be thought and fought through the trope of “fighting terrorists”. That off course should not be read as the slightest endorsement of terrorism – this is an analytic exercise aimed at understanding and not a treatise on morals or moral judgment: terrorism in any form is obviously quite simply, wrong. Fighting settler colonial occupation and expansion should however not be equated with terrorism either; there is no moral equivalence between an Occupier and the Occupied. And Israel is, under international law, an Occupier.

Viewed as a complex system, the Middle East can only be understood as the simultaneous interplay of various components. These components interact horizontally with each other within three scales: domestic, regional and global. But these components also interact vertically between scales creating an intricate, dynamic interplay of individual actors, groups, coalitions and alliances. It can be visualized as an adapted Rubik’s Cube.

Rubik's Cube Not understanding these horizontal and vertical relationships and interactions will render a proper understanding of the current situation rather difficult if not impossible.

The oversimplifications below should therefore be understood as a first attempt to start drawing initial, broad lines of an eventual analysis primarily focused on the higher, strategic level: and not as a deliberate neglect of detail or cutting with a blunt knife.

We would first like to start with two caveats and one observation:

  1. Caveat: The views of the Obama White House on these matters differ in significant ways from the majority views on Capitol Hill; but the White House views are more in synch with the sentiments of the majority of Americans. The restocking of Israeli munitions by the US, which takes place under their existing treaties and legal obligations to each other, was deliberately leaked to the Press by the Israelis as a way embarrass Obama and to cover up their feud.
  2. Caveat: Obama will not be President forever: the next US President is more likely to step in line with the views of Capitol Hill; views that are heavily influenced by the powerful, well-organized and monied pro-Israeli lobbies.
  3. Observation: In the current situation, there are significant misalignments and divergences between US and Israeli strategies in the Middle East, revealed through their differing positions on both the Iranian and the Palestinian issues.

Operation Protective Edge was launched by Israel following its initiation through a fabricated trigger, a favored technique of the Israeli security establishment. But just as the incessant focus of Israel on Iran’s supposed nuclear weapons program, Gaza and Operation Protective Edge is a ruse; a distraction and obfuscation of the real target which in this instance, at the tactical level, is the West Bank and the Jerusalem area which is central to making the establishment of a viable Palestinian State, impossible. Regionally, the strategic target for Israel (and Saudi Arabia), remains Iran – and therefore the subversion of the current White House outreach to Iran and the nuclear negotiations – since they have already successfully reversed the effects of the wave of popular uprisings which helped bringing forces of Political Islam initially in power in places such as Egypt, Tunisia and Gaza (Hamas).

Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt wants to return to the regional situation where forces of Political Islam (such as Hamas in Palestine and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt) are perceived as “terrorists”, internationally isolated and turned into outlaws. Iran must also once more be perceived as the grave “threat” – in much the same vein as Saddam HUSSAIN’s Iraq was portrayed until it was militarily attacked and invaded by the US.

Operation Protective Edge, when seen from this vantage point, therefore forms part of a broader, regional strategy by Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia to seize back the initiative from Turkey and Qatar and ultimately to end the Iranian rapprochement. The overthrow of the Mursi- Government in Egypt and the attempted destruction of Hamas in Gaza through Operation Protective Edge, are therefore not separate events but intimately linked.

As we have argued before in another piece on this Website (The US-China-Africa Part 1 America: see MENU on your right), the current world order has entered a phase of decomposition and realignment of forces. This military assault on Gaza must also be located within this context too and several other international, regional and domestic driving factors must be considered as well, which include:

  1. The 2003 invasion of Iraq by the USA, actively but stealthily pushed and nurtured by Israel and Saudi Arabia at the time
  2. The subsequent decline of American influence in the Middle East and the general weakening of its strategic position in the world
  3. The US Pivot or Re-Balancing to Asia and its outreach to Iran
  4. The rise of political Islam in the Middle East through the Arab Spring and its reversal starting in Egypt following Turkish over-reach
  5. The emergence of countries (Russia and China) and alliances (BRICS) that are perceived to threaten American primacy
  6. Hyper-connectivity and Technology that facilitates rapid flows of both information and new forms of informational weaponry

We can therefore begin to make the argument that both Israel and Saudi Arabia seem to be adjusting, sometimes quite violently, to the reality of the absence of an active and offensive, US military prioritization in and of the region: Asia, Eastern Europe and to a lesser extent Africa seem to be the new American military priorities. The Middle Eastern political and security game is influenced by the global, geo-strategic moves of America, China and Russia; but its actors are increasingly regional and driven by the conflicting interests of their own regional positions and interests.

This implies that both countries (Israel and Saudi Arabia and their allies,) are likely to get more directly involved (albeit through proxies) in places ranging from Lebanon to Syria and Iraq – they will rely less on the US to “do the dirty work” in a manner-of-speaking. The outbursts and defiance of Israel in respect of some of the initiatives of OBAMA and KERRY concerning Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, a clear sign that they have understood that they must take decisive action when their interests require it; even if this comes at the price of tension with their principal big power ally, the USA. But this also means that actors such as Russia will, for geo-strategic reasons, become more directly involved too. Hence the metaphor of the Rubik’s Cube becomes important again as an analytical tool.

The successful reversal of the initial ascendency of political Islam by Saudi-Arabia, Israel, Egypt and the Emiratis has solidified their loose alliance based on a convergence of interests. From an Israeli perspective, this is useful in terms of intelligence and military coordination and cooperation, but highly embarrassing from the point of view of its diplomacy: it needs to present itself as democratic and Western because its national security concept was hitherto based on this.

But it now finds itself in the company of states that nobody would really hold up as beacons of human rights and democracy.

As key international actors are in the process of repositioning (strategy, goals, capabilities); recalibrating (their perceptions and calculations of themselves and others) and reconfiguring (power and alliances), countries will have to adjust and adapt. This reconfiguring of power-balances brings with it significant winners and losers – countries that will behave differently if not irrationally, as a consequence of either losing or gaining of influence and power. For example, presently Turkey and Qatar – key sponsors of the various projects of Political Islam – are licking their wounds and regrouping, whilst Iran has significantly improved its prospects. Israel suffers from the cancer that all projects based on dispossession and violent occupation suffer from and in the long run succumb to: moral degeneration from within. Israel and Saudi Arabia, having built their strategic and national security conceptions upon a close attachment to a great Power – the USA in particular – have found both the military withdrawals from the Middle East and the Pivot to Asia disconcerting. The overtures of the Obama White House to Iran being almost the final straw that “broke the camels back.”

The current tension between Obama’s White House, Israel and Saudi Arabia has been long in the making. Leaving aside the specific characteristics and brash conduct of the current Israeli Prime Minister, including the condescending attitudes regularly on display towards the “naive” Americans – it was Obama’s tacit backing of the rise of Political Islam across the Middle East during the Arab Spring that really set off loud alarm bells in Tel Aviv and Riyadh.

To fully understand this, it is necessary to step back to the discussions and decisions about Strategy and Tactics in the movements of Political Islam during the late 1990s and early 2000’s. And to also revisit Israeli tactics during that period, most notably its widely reported announcements at the time, that it “would no longer guarantee the safety of Yasser ARAFAT (PLO) and his subsequent death in November 2004 in France. I will focus on Hamas – the bête noir for the Sharon and Netanyahu Governments, specifically the decision of Hamas in 2005 to pursue the path to political power through the ballot box in the Occupied Territories. For the sake of brevity and focus, I will not yet highlight in any detail the key roles of Qatar and Turkey in all of this.

In response to this decision and the subsequent electoral victory of Hamas in Gaza in free and fair elections in Gaza and the West-Bank in 2006, Israel and particularly Egypt under Hosni MUBARAK, convinced and coordinated closely with the Americans (under George W. BUSH) to overturn, subvert and set Hamas up to fail. America, Israel, Egypt, Jordan and to a lesser extent Saudi Arabia (with the cooperation of the Fatah at the time), strictly policed a very hard line that made it impossible and costly to give any legitimacy to Hamas: Hamas needed to fail and be isolated politically, financially and regionally: not even dialogue with Hamas was permitted.

And it is precisely this line that the Israelis, with nods from Cairo and Riyadh, now want to re-establish and of which Operation Protective Edge is not the beginning (it started with the Mursi overthrow in Egypt) nor the end but nonetheless forms an intricate part.

The South African Government at that time, had understood early on that once the Israeli guarantees of the safety of Yasser ARAFAT were removed, the probabilities of his incapacitation or death, rose significantly. And that the Palestinian movement represented by the PLO, would face severe internal difficulties if this were to occur. The Government therefore, presciently and wisely, carefully traversed and crossed these lines in order to keep itself abreast of developments in the ground: we established and maintained discreet channels of dialogue and communication with movements of Political Islam, including with Hamas. As a consequence, we were one of a very few countries in the world that were not surprised by the Hamas decision to participate in the 2006 elections in Gaza, or with their subsequent electoral victory in Gaza.

AZ Hamas Liaison


When Obama came to power in the USA in 2008 he initially continued to pursue this hard-line position of his predecessors, but was eventually convinced that this situation was no longer tenable or sustainable. When the Arab Spring occurred, the Americans did very little to prop up their former allies in the Middle East, preferring to watch as the people basically coalesced into a popular uprising. This was an important strategic divergence between Israel, a Saudi Arabia and America that was followed eventually by a logical second one: the Obama rapprochement with Iran.

Some countries however will make the serious miscalculation of not correctly reading or adapting to a rapidly changing world. From a risk perspective the three countries in the Middle East that stand out in this respect at the moment, is Israel and the loose alliance it has constructed with Egypt (except for the brief period before the democratically elected Mursi-Administration was overthrown) and Saudi Arabia. The emergence of a new balance-of-forces or of alternative global architectures combined with rapid power shifts may well catch these countries off-guard and ill-prepared.

Judging from the very serious intelligence failure Israel has suffered as part of Operation Protective Edge – Hamas succeeded in building a vast and sophisticated network of underground bunkers, tunnels and factories undetected right under the noses of all the sophisticated Israeli surveillance – the prognosis does not seem very good. Israel is in a state of hubris and has started to believe its own rhetoric to such an extent, that it is behaving irrationally and will continue to make strategic miscalculations based on a misreading of what is going on around them.

Depending on which side of the fence one sits, this may either fill you with optimism or with a sense of alarm.

But this reconfiguration is not only driven horizontally in the form of shifting power-balances between nation states; there is also a vertical dynamic at play: between ordinary people and elites. Ordinary citizens of the world, in all parts of the world without exception, are desirous of profound changes in the way the global commons is governed: politically, economically, financially and socially. The plethora of social protests, uprisings and civic movements – a real yearning for the return of politics and people – that the world has seen over the last 10 years are not only directed specifically against Leader X or Party Y, but are expressions of a much deeper discontent with the “the way the world is organized and works”.

These are indeed the “morbid signs of the inter-regnum” that signals a profound shaking up of the fundamentals, is already underway.