Wednesday, January 02, 2008

2-Jan-08: Solutions and nonsolutions

When you live in a region as impacted by terror as ours, you need to be alert and receptive to clear, well-informed calls for action. Terror bamboozles people - politicians, analysts, activists. For a civil society based on democratic values, the war against terror has to be won or else it's lost, and being bamboozled is no excuse. Getting it wrong, as we have said here again and again, carries a very heavy price.

Today's Haaretz publishes a clearly expressed, blunt analysis from one of the world's centers of excellence in developing policies that are effective against terror. It deserves the widest exposure.
Hudna is no solution
Ely Karmon (2-Jan-08)

In light of the success of the pinpoint military operations against Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, and signs of weakening in the Hamas leadership, many are calling for accepting Ismail Haniyeh's purported offer of a hudna (a cease-fire), or alternately a tahadiyeh (a lull in the fighting), in exchange for an end to IDF operations in Gaza and a lifting of the siege. It appears that the decision makers in Israel have learned nothing.

Following the Six-Day War and up until December 1987, the security authorities allowed a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood to set up a religious, social and economic network, which in turn led to the creation of Hamas after the outbreak of the first intifada. This was done in an effort to weaken the secular PLO elements who utilized terrorism to advance their goal of a Palestinian state. That short-sighted policy failed to appreciate the Muslim Brotherhood's long-term strategy, which found a clear manifestation in the homeland of the movement, Egypt, where since the early 1970s Islamist terrorist movements have operated.

The expulsion of 415 members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad to southern Lebanon in December 1992, and their return to the territories following the Oslo Accords, without the "Hezbollization" they had undergone in training camps in Lebanon being taken into consideration, resulted in the adoption of suicide bombings as a strategic tool for undermining the peace process. Thus, with the start of the second intifada, Hamas became the backbone of the Palestinian resistance to the existence of Israel. Nonetheless, during the bloody years of the intifada, Israel's governments opted to demolish the structure of the Palestinian Authority instead of targeting the Hamas leadership, a move it took only in the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and his deputy, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, in the spring of 2004.

Following the death of Yasser Arafat, in November 2004, instead of keeping up the pressure on Hamas, the Sharon government opted to carry out a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip without an agreement, even though it was clear that Hamas would take over Gaza and from there carry on the fight to the West Bank. Later, Israel allowed Hamas to participate in elections and to politically take over the Palestinian Authority, establishing an independent military force modeled after Hezbollah. At the end of the process, Hamas took over the Gaza Strip, also without any serious response.

Israel's acceptance of the hudna proposal would constitute a strategic victory for Hamas and its allies: The organization would be regarded by the Palestinian population as the leading element in the national struggle. It would quickly receive international legitimacy, establish its economic and political control through the generous assistance of the international community, and be able to develop a deterrent military capability vis-a-vis Israel through massive arms smuggling across the Egyptian border.

In a year or two, an extremist state, allied with Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, will emerge on our southern border, with a good chance of taking over the West Bank and affecting the stability of Jordan, Egypt and possibly also the Islamic Movement in Israel. Even if Hamas meets its promise not to violate the cease-fire for several months, Iran and its ally, Islamic Jihad, will do everything in their power to sabotage the negotiations with the Palestinians.

Is the temporary, tactical and relative calm of a few months, maybe even a year or two, sufficient justification for Israel's next strategic failure? Will we not then face a situation similar to what emerged in southern Lebanon following Israel's unilateral withdrawal of May 2000, which led to the forlorn results of July-August 2006? Are those who are now threatening that we will respond in force if Hamas or any other Palestinian group violates the hudna, not find more excuses to avoid taking action against them?

In light of the continued targeting of Israeli communities with rocket fire, and the ongoing smuggling, Israel must employ a tough policy and keep up its effort against a strengthening of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. This should include targeting the organization's leadership, and if necessary, carrying out a ground offensive to take control of the Philadelphi route and segments of the northern Gaza Strip before weapons of strategic significance find their way there...
Dr. Ely Karmon is a senior researcher at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Inter-Disciplinary Center, Herzliya.

No comments: