Israel’s security lies in Waziristan

"Israel’s security can be increased by turning for advice to one of the most turbulent, unstable parts of Pakistan".

TRIBAL ELDERS Waziristan 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
TRIBAL ELDERS Waziristan 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
As a young American Jew who firmly supports Israel and hopes to see an improvement in Israeli- Arab relations, it sounds unusual arguing Israel’s security can be increased by turning for advice to one of the most turbulent and unstable parts of Pakistan, that has been home to the Taliban.
However, Waziristan is where my mentor, Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, developed what he calls the “Waziristan model,” which views many 21st-century conflicts through a center-periphery lens – a perspective that could enhance Israel’s security over time.
For the past few years I have been working with the ambassador, whom the BBC calls the “world’s leading authority on contemporary Islam,” on his newly released book, published by the Brookings Institution, called The Thistle and The Drone: How America’s War On Terror Became A Global War On Tribal Islam. By seeing the Palestinians through the nuanced center-periphery lens offered by the book, Israel might more accurately identify its potential enemies and therefore gain greater security.
To do this, however, certain Israelis and outside spectators must reject the overly simplistic idea that Jewish Israel is facing a religious and ideological standoff with the entire Islamic world that seeks its destruction. Although anti-Semitic rhetoric espoused by some in the Arab world is alarming, what is most important is not rhetoric but realities on the ground. Specifically, that Israel in a sense is facing a familiar center- periphery problem that other Islamic and non-Islamic states are facing.
In Ahmed’s book we analyzed 40 case studies where central governments faced instability because they failed to give their people, particularly their tribal people who lived on the outskirts and periphery of society, the proper recognition of their unique history and perspective.
In Waziristan, Ahmed served as political agent, the central government’s civilian representative for the entire region. While there, Ahmed recognized the complex tribal nature of the society and learned that by working within the tribal structure he could accomplish his objectives often without resorting to costly violence, while increasing the state’s security. I mention tribal structures because what many supporters of Israel overlook is that much of Palestinian society is still highly tribal.
Although we often hear about Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza as being the primary power players in Palestinian society, the prominent role of Palestinian tribes and clans is too often overlooked. For example, everyone knows that Hamas held Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit in prison for years, but what some people forget is that Hamas didn’t capture Schalit itself. Instead, Schalit was transferred to Hamas by an organization called the Army of Islam.
Although many would look at the name as justification for the group being led by Islamic extremists founded upon a radical ideology, they may overlook the most important fact: the group is composed of members of the Dughmush clan.
In choosing the name “Army of Islam” the Dughmush were effectively challenging the Islamic credentials of Hamas, which was trying to consolidate its own power by taking away the power of the tribes. Imagine if Israel, in addition to negotiating with Fatah or perhaps indirectly with Hamas, instead increased its negotiations with the Dughmush while conscious of their particular history, culture and objectives. It doesn’t cost Israel anything to attempt to better understand these tribes. If Israel increased their level of tribal engagement and negotiated directly with them it is possible Israel could have secured Schalit’s release sooner. Not only that, perhaps Israel could have gained Schalit’s freedom without paying the high cost of releasing over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
For further proof of the need to look at Palestinians through a center-periphery perspective, there is the case in 2006 of the Jaabari clan in Hebron that attacked the Palestinian Authority’s police headquarters.
They kidnapped 34 police officers while torching over a dozen police jeeps. The Jaabari clan launched these attacks because they demanded that the Palestinian Authority release a police officer who had recently killed a teenage member of their clan. The Jaabari clan’s head sheik, Farid Khader el-Jaabari, is not only one of the most vocal Palestinians in rejecting the PA but has continually advocated for peaceful coexistence with the Jews.
He believes that Jews were able to live for centuries with the Muslim tribes in the area and shared a similar religion.
He argued that Israel “made a mistake in that instead of talking with the sheikhs they talked with the leaders from Tunis... Israel did not contact the real leadership.” He went on to assert that Hamas, Fatah and the PFLP represent less than five percent of the Palestinian people.
Israel lives in an unstable neighborhood, faces real security risks and at times will need to employ military force. Due to the many threats Israel faces we must imagine how Israel’s security could possibly be strengthened if it began increasing its level of engagement with the clans and engaged more people like Sheikh Farid Khader el- Jaabari. Israel has much to offer the region in terms of its vibrant democracy, free press, successful economy, developed industries and agriculture in addition to its many contributions to education, science and technology that can benefit all of humanity. This is why, especially as an American Jew, it is clear to me we must think of new ways of guaranteeing Israel’s security.
Embracing the Waziristan model would help Israel to achieve greater security. Most importantly, although the Israeli case is only a small section of Ambassador Ahmed’s book, what becomes apparent is that Israel and the Jewish people are not at war or in conflict with Islam. What Israel is actually facing is a complex tribal society of Palestinians with diverging wants and needs. As was clear in Waziristan, respecting tribal identities and customs while working within tribal structures to achieve objectives is a sure method to increase Israel’s security. This is a new method that provides Israel with additional options for becoming more secure. It can also help the Jewish people to live out our Jewish tradition of tikkun olam – repairing the world.
The author is a research assistant to Ambassador Akbar Ahmed for his new book, The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam, and is an honors student at American University’s School of International Service.