What's better for Israel, a functioning Hamas gov't, or the total breakdown of Palestinian governance?
By GIDI GRINSTEIN
Israel has been strategically compromised by an axis of actors that reject its right to exist. For more than a decade, this axis has been successfully denying Israel of decisive military victories or political breakthroughs, whether unilateral or through negotiations, toward securing its existence. It has been able to elevate the impact of terrorism into an existential challenge for Israel. Our national security doctrine has been rendered irrelevant and requires an immediate overhaul.
Israel's challenge is to design a new and relevant counter strategy based on the political, diplomatic, military and economic tools available to us. Otherwise, prospects of political or military successes are slim and further significant setbacks should be expected. The derailing of Oslo, the second Palestinian uprising, the second Lebanon war of summer 2006, the failure in dealing with Hamas, as well as the recent unsuccessful IDF operations in Gaza, are just a few symptoms of a bigger problem.
Only months ago, the chief of staff and the prime minister echoed each other raving about Israel's national security situation. Except for Iran, they saw no existential threat. With the convergence plan of withdrawal from the West Bank in mind, they voiced confidence that Israel would be able to secure itself from the existential threat of the "one-state solution."
Terror was perceived as a nuisance that had to be contained.
The Lebanon war was a painful wake-up call. Israel realized that it has been subject to a consistent strategic disadvantage in spite of its military superiority. With all our might, we are unable to achieve our national security objectives in Lebanon, in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as further out in the region. Much of what we had grown to take for granted was revealed as irrelevant.
We built the most powerful and effective fighting force in the region. Its logic came to dominate our national security. Alas, the logic of the axis of resistance is political. In most cases they will seek to avoid direct military confrontation with Israel that would lead to their defeat. Instead, their objective is to undermine any political progress toward securing Israel's existence and to prevent any decisive military victory by Israel. They have successfully done so for more than a decade.
WE USED to think that the Palestinian side wanted to end "occupation" and to establish its state. The axis of resistance does not object to a renewal of Israeli "occupation" in Gaza and considers the establishment of a Palestinian state as a setback to its cause.
We built our military doctrine on the assumption that there will be an address, a government, on the other side that would be the subject of our policies of waving sticks or offering carrots. The axis of resistance effectively seeks to undermine such governments in the PA, in Lebanon and in Jordan. The weaker these governments are, the easier it is to use their territory for the struggle against Israel.
These fundamental issues are compounded by the prospects of a severe American setback in the region. The failure in Iraq, the weakening Saniora government in Beirut compounded by an emboldened Syria, the inability to stop the Iranian nuclear program, the weakness of Abu Mazen, the failure of Israel to win, and the muddling in Afghanistan are a very poor record for the world's only superpower and Israel's only ally.
Some moderates in the region are beginning to frame America as a liability and to hedge their bets with the new "hegemone" in Teheran. Unless the US throws many more resources into the problem or establishes clear priorities, it may experience a domino effect from Afghanistan to Cairo. This may compromise Israel in ways that resemble the impact of the decline of the Soviet empire on its Arab prot g s.
In the present strategic makeup, Israel's paths toward securing its existence in the region have been effectively blocked while the vision of an Islamic, Arab or Palestinian state in its place is advanced.
The symptoms are evident. In Lebanon our achievements may be compromised if a pro-Syria and pro-Iranian coalition seizes power. In Gaza, a military victory that will require on-going presence in Gaza and on the Philadelphi Corridor may reinstitute Israel's status as "occupier" and enhance the existential threat to our future as a Jewish and democratic state. At the same time, Israel is stuck in the West Bank unable to leave unilaterally or through negotiations.
Dealing with the Kassams and Sderot is tantamount to avoiding the real problem. Our challenge is at the level of our national security. It requires a new makeup of politics, diplomacy, economics and military action. Israel is going through an episode of national security confusion, which cannot be allowed to last long.
Israel has to question some working assumptions that have been taken for granted for too long. For example, what is better for Israel: a functioning Hamas government in the Palestinian Authority that may serve as an "address" or the imminent total breakdown of Palestinian governance? Which is more important: preserving Israel's freedom of action or creating closer alliance with moderate Arab countries that are also compromised by radical Shi'ite Islam? Is the establishment of a Palestinian state an Israeli concession or an Israeli interest?
There is no silver bullet here.
It is time for Israel to be relevant again and to shape our national security. The cease-fire, if it holds, and the temporary calm in the North, create a good moment to go back to our strategic drawing boards. In the next round, our challenge is to begin to turn the tables.
The writer is founder and president of the Reut Institute. www.reut-institute.org
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