Israel: Impossible peace

(To Gino Lanzara)
19/05/21

As widely predictable, the ongoing crisis between Israel and Hamas continues to absorb attention; far from proposing functional solutions to the achievement of a state of at least temporary non-belligerence, it has nevertheless had the merit both of highlighting crystallized and not very innovative global policies, often ideologically extreme, and of placing elements that have come to the fore in the spotlight.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict leads us to examine the evolution of the Western dem alignments, hazarding predictions about their future given the transformation from parties of the social democratic working class into movements that have been affected, as happened in the UK, by the strong migratory movements of ethnic Islamic masses, into a historical moment in which maximalism led to misleading simplifications.

In the Israeli context, the crisis has brought Netanyahu back to the center of the stage as government leader, despite the unfavorable electoral outcome of 23 March. In the face of the office conferred by President Rivlin on the centrist Yaïr Lapid, the evolution of the military and security crisis has led Naftali Bennett, exponent of the New Right party, to declare a return to the alliance with Likud, and to consider it improbable resorted to the support of Ra'am's Islamic party of Arab Israelis.

A first political result the situation is therefore substantiated either in the hypothesis of yet another recourse to the polls1 or in the unlikely passage of a law providing for the direct election of the prime minister; this in consideration of the fact that the main efforts have been made to favor the defeat of Netanyahu rather than to ensure the formation of a true government of change.

On the side of the Palestinian barricade, the postponement of the elections, which presumably could have allowed Hamas to rise to a more important internal and foreign political role, contributed to identifying a point of friction in East Jerusalem, useful for triggering uncontrollable Palestinian religious impulses, in the awareness that any Jewish response would have placed Israel under a view of illegitimacy, reducing its room for maneuver.

Establishing Jerusalem as the end of the Middle Eastern equation allowed Hamas to play the role of defender of the holy places, confining Abu Mazen and the PA to the corner of irrelevance. The Palestinian action, however, ran into a cognitive error of assessment, as it underestimated the inevitable harshness of the Israeli response, a reaction that undermined quick chances of reinstating Palestinian war capabilities. Strategically, Israel has proceeded according to the logic of the declaration of war, and from this point of view it is adopting rules which, in terms of methods and times, will leave their mark.

Prima close: the Hamas initiative has historically determined a departure from the hypothesis of the formation of an independent state. The graduation of the importance of events shows a particularly complex reality; first of all Israel failed to give one stability politics, albeit made up of compromises, capable of providing the Palestinians with a solution equivalent to that of the two states; the PA in the West Bank, was equally unwilling to compromise and, despite the slim chance of success, resorted to violence but failed to provide leadership and executive close to the younger part of society; Hamas in Gaza has made use of both infrastructure2 wars whose physical location has transformed civilians into targets, both to forms of violence that have determined the Israeli reaction; Arab Israelis have begun to emerge as political subjects in a strongly Jewish context; the role of religion, as an increasingly divisive element for which Jews continue to be considered not so much a people but rather members of a community to be reduced to a lower institutionalized state such as protected non-Muslim minority; external instability induced by Syria, Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt.

And now the sccording appearance, not negligible on the Israeli side, perhaps even more dangerous than the rockets launched from Gaza: the opening of a home front has covered most of the inhabited centers mixed3 the spread of violence between Arabs and Jews at the cry of Khaybar! Khaybar!4, a phenomenon that, bordering on the possibility of a civil war, denounced a political weakness stigmatized by President Rivlin5, an attestation of unpreparedness due to an underestimation of the human factor, and to an overestimation of the conciliatory tones of the Arab parties, particularly interested in determining the political balance. But the sources of instability do not come only from the friction with the Israeli Arabs, but also from a cultural contrast between secularism and an orthodoxy that enjoys particular benefits, and that clashes with a part of modern society. Ben Gurion's project, which assumed a secular and progressive state, seems to fade between the Palestinian conflict and a society that sees the two souls of the Jewish community opposed.

Third element: none of Israel's historical antagonists directly generated the moment of crisis, nor did the regional Arab political subjects, de facto detached from the Palestinian contingent reality; however, the exogenous attempts to crack the Abrahamic Agreements and whether Turkey, which was attempting to reopen a diplomatic channel with Jerusalem, intends to continue pursuing the goal of Sunni primacy by snatching it from Saudi Arabia remain to be evaluated; whether Iran intends to strengthen its own Shia crescent or if, realistically, they both come to the conclusion that weakening Israel would risk attracting American attention to their respective designs between the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia. Forced attention, given that President Biden did not seem to have included the Israeli-Palestinian issue among his priorities, after the successful and controversial Afghan disengagement.

The US, aware that it is the only one that can have a significant impact, is aiming at supporting Israel, albeit with different limits, and at a speedy cease-fire based on a negotiation mediated perhaps by Egypt or by the however weak Palestinian Authority, which cannot neglect the strategic weight assumed by Hamas. In the continuing and ethereal evanescence of Europe, the American choice not to condemn either one or the other, by phlegmatizing the diplomatic maneuvers of the UN Security Council, must be inserted in the context of the confrontation between republicans, supporters of the Abrahamic Agreements (photo) and pro Israel, democrats of the progressive left, who do not hesitate to define Tel Aviv as a state that has made apartheid its creed, and moderate democrats; positions of principle which, however, have certainly not prevented the authorization of a large and recent arms sale in Jerusalem. There is no doubt that American politics will have to be revised after the elections of midterm of 2022.

Meanwhile, the hypothesis that Netanyahu, after weakening the Lapid-Bennett coalition, and after inflicting a severe defeat on Hamas, could show his willingness to terminate operations, according to the auspices of which made bearer Hady Hamr6.

Another factor that must be remembered concerns the safeguarding of the aforementioned Abrahamic Agreements signed between Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan with the mediation of the Trump Administration, and which highlighted the anti-Iranian collaboration, even if partially hidden, between the Jewish state, Saudi Arabia and the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf; a cooperation deemed necessary with regard to the discussion of the nuclear issue of the JCPOA, and which made it clear that for several Arab governments the Palestinian quarrel is not among the priorities.

Strategically Israel is engaged on several fronts; if on the one hand it is not appropriate to express oneself in terms of civil war due to internal conflicts since it would leave room for extremist interpretations, on the other hand operations against Hamas must take into account the fact that every conquest has its limits; for Israel it is essential to prevent Hamas' domination by hindering its control of imports into the Strip so as not to allow future military strengthening, and by keeping the West Bank out of escalation; at this time Israel still enjoys good room for maneuver which allows it to continue hitting gazawi military targets and symbols, while avoiding boots on the ground.

From an operational point of view, as in the past, the Israeli strategic dimension remains more relevant than that of Hamas, however growing. The size and complexity of the conventional FAs in Tel Aviv allow a wide choice of tactical solutions to be opposed to an antagonist who operates in asymmetrical terms, enhancing the political and ideological spheres. The Hamas rockets, to which drones have been added, if evaluated from a conventional war point of view, do not express particular effectiveness, given that, moreover, they do not have functional guidance systems to attack a predefined target; their relevance lies in the execution of saturation attacks directed against built-up areas.

Hitting and terrorizing the heart of Israel becomes a paying target, and the deliberate use of rockets against civilians makes them psychological weapons that have a strong impact, but which nevertheless made the Israeli state more cohesive, feeling so entitled to react with targeted surgical attacks. on individual goals. The political weight of these operations is considerable: just keep in mind that similar attacks conducted without the aid of guided weapons produce collateral damage that is now intolerable; Obviously, the current attacks also involve operations likely to result in civilian casualties when conducted in populated operational theaters such as Gaza, where infiltrated forces are operating that gather pro-Israel information7, which makes budgets physiologically dramatic, as Hamas exploits population density, camouflaging launch systems among civilian homes, and using residential buildings as warehouses.

On the Israeli side, the use of the air vehicle stands out, which avoids the intervention of the ground forces, or of low-profile techniques.8 which, however, would be detrimental to the speed of response, which is essential to discourage the enemy by showing efficiency in front of one's own country. In recalling the difficulty in accepting the consequences of the war once it is triggered, from the military point of view it must be considered that the land options would increase unacceptable losses among the Israeli ranks; it is therefore logical to inflict a greater number of victims on the enemy by air, rather than running the risk of increasing one's own.

Iron Dome in defensive terms has proved to be exceptionally effective, less from a strategic point of view; the costs of the system are in fact very high compared to the cost and effects produced by Palestinian rockets, given that the proportion between damage and countermeasures is not compensated by the amount of economic resources that are oversized compared to the threat; in view of the social costs to be incurred for the defense of the population, the impacts of a protracted missile campaign on the defense budget should in any case be considered.

Is a land campaign feasible? There is no doubt that in a direct confrontation the IDF would prevail, inflicting even more severe losses than those caused by air strikes; however this type of operation would be extremely difficult, also given the particular operating theater. Gaza should be surrounded on three sides in order to allow the control of communication routes and access gates, with the simultaneous interdiction of Palestinian broadcasts in densely populated areas where Hamas would oppose guerrilla techniques to Israeli close tactics, which could be weakened by factors more traditional in which the technological advantage would diminish. Tsahal would probably annihilate Hamas, but at a high price.

There is a risk to consider, that is what would see the military exploit as a momentary success and not able to avoid yet another future conflicts. Israel should increase combat units by restoring effective territorial defense9.

Looking forward to a desirable cease-fire, it is inevitable to point out that Israel was caught off guard by Hamas' expansion of operational launch capability. From a political point of view, what has happened and is happening constitutes a warning for those who hoped that the conflicts had become containable, especially in relation to the results achieved with the Abrahamic Agreements. What are the advantages? It cannot be excluded that Hamas intends to maintain a blackmailing power of intervention, becoming a useful instrument of pressure from external powers aiming at the instability of a third Intifada, even if at the moment it has actually achieved the devastation of Gaza; however, if it is true that Israel intends to claim to have restored deterrence, continuing the bombing of the coastal strip will contribute to fuel the risk of compromising its social fabric.

If on the one hand it is conceivable a joint role of Egypt, Jordan and international actors that induce the contenders to seek a compromise, on the other hand there seems to be the absence of a clear will to overcome the critical phase, which is added to the contingent situation that sees in contrast the support provided to Hamas by Iran and Turkey, and the balance determined by the Abrahamic Accords.

1 The 5th in three years

2 Weapon systems and tunnels

3 Specimens Lod and Acre

4 The conquest of Khaybar saw the Muslims, led by their Prophet, take over Khaybar, an oasis of Ḥijāz 150 km north of Medina, mainly inhabited by Jews, mostly from the Banu Nadir

5 The president even cited pogroms as a comparison

6 US government official serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs in the Middle East Affairs Office within the US State Department.

7 Humint, Sigint, Comint activities

8 Identification of individual objectives

9 Yigal Alon claimed that "Without territorial defense, which relies mainly on rural locations, the army would have to allocate considerable forces to defensive functions. The IDF, which is smaller than the Arab armies surrounding Israel, cannot allow a weakening of its offensive force."

Photo: IDF / Twitter