The underlying logic of the current Israeli military response in Gaza is that Hamas can somehow be destroyed. Instead, the strategy will fuel support for Hamas and will feed the single narrative of suffering that sustains Al-Qa’ida and its global ideological affiliates.
By Alistair Harris for RUSI.org
‘I said that what is taking place in Gaza is exactly similar to what took place in the July war. The Zionist Air Force will fail to undermine the will of the resistance men who fire missiles.’
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, 30 December 2008
Hundreds dead, thousands injured and yet Israel’s avowed enemy maintains the capability to strike deeper into Israeli territory, its operational capability seemingly undiminished by the punishing Israeli military onslaught. Troops and armor mass, threatening a ground invasion. As it was in Lebanon in July 2006, so it is now eighteen months later in Gaza. The scale of the assault on Gaza is unprecedented, but the logic underpinning the operation is familiar. In order to protect its citizens from attack on either Israel’s northern or western flanks, a massive military operation is required to neutralise the operational capability of Israel’s adversary, be it Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in Lebanon. The problem is, it did not work in 2006 and will not work now.
Hezbollah did not win the 2006 war with Israel, nor did it need to. It simply had to endure in order to claim victory and emerge stronger. And that is exactly what happened. Israel’s air campaign failed to stop the rocket fire into Israel, triggering a partial ground offensive that met stiff resistance. Israel failed to achieve its strategic objectives. Its military deterrence was degraded; it failed to stop Hezbollah rocket fire or recover its kidnapped personnel and suffered unexpectedly high fatality rates from a guerilla force increasingly skilled at quasi-conventional warfare. By Israeli estimates Hezbollah is now stronger than ever, with increased stockpiles of more sophisticated weapons. During the last conflict it was the pride of the Israeli Navy and the IDF’s tanks that experienced firsthand Hezbollah’s enhanced capabilities. In any future conflict, Hezbollah is likely to seek to limit the IDF’s movement in the air.
One could argue that militarily the lesson has been learnt from Lebanon in 2006. According to this rationale, the problem was that the IDF campaign was not extensive enough, hence the massive assault on Gaza. The underlying logic to the Israeli military response and the pre-election political rhetoric is that Hamas can somehow be destroyed, with the expectation that the Palestinian population of Gaza will blame Hamas for the suffering brought on them and as a consequence cease to support the Islamist party. This, sadly for the people of Gaza and Lebanon, was the same logic deployed in support of the extensive military campaign in 2006 in Lebanon. It did not work then and will not work now in Gaza. In fact it will achieve the opposite. It will fuel support for Hamas, swell the ranks of those calling for a third uprising (intifadah), exacerbate tensions between Hamas and Fatah, likely act as the catalyst for further violence against Israelis, punish the Gazan civilian population and critically weaken the prospects for meaningful dialogue between a unified Palestinian polity and Israel. Hamas is no more going to disappear than Hezbollah is in Lebanon. In order to have a dialogue, each party must have a voice. Imperfect as it is, that is the objective of the National Dialogue process underway, albeit falteringly, in Lebanon. It is time for Israel and the international community to accept that Hamas represent a constituency.
Gaza – the central front in the War on Terror
It is also time for the incoming US administration to grasp the fact that it is Gaza, not Afghanistan or Iraq that is the central front in the ‘War on Terror’. The Al-Qa’ida video celebrating the 7 July 2005 bombings in London pictured the death of the Palestinian boy Muhammad al-Dorra as part of a montage depicting the single narrative of Muslim suffering that feeds and sustains al-Qa’ida and its global ideological affiliates.
In the days and weeks to come pictures emerging from Gaza this week will be seen from Waziristan to London to Sana’a. If the mantra of change is stillborn like the Annapolis initiative that preceded it, we will all feel the effects of the latest tragedy to befall the region, not merely on our TV screens but in our airplanes, nightclubs, hotels and train stations.
Alistair Harris is a former diplomat and specialist in post-conflict stabilisation and Security Sector Reform initiatives. He is based in Beirut.
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The views expressed above are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of RUSI.
Alistair Harris OBE