Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Israeli Defense Policy: A more nuanced approach?

Rogue rockets from the Gaza strip injured dozens of Israeli soldiers yesterday morning, reports the BBC. But retaliation is considered unlikely.

"Despite the pressure on (Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert) to order a broad offensive against militants in Gaza, his leeway for military action is restricted by accelerated diplomatic efforts to resume negotiations with the Palestinians," notes the Chicago Tribune.

Likud officials, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, have urged a strong ground attack in retaliation. It is exactly what Defense wants to do after those responsible for the rockets, Islamic Jihad, are dancing in the streets and claiming "a victory for God."

But Israel wouldn't win the "public relations" war. Let's consider another conflict.

Olmert has undoubtedly learned things from last year's incursion in Lebanon, after which he openly stated a desire to reconsider the way Israel responds to terrorism.

In Lebanon last year, Hezbollah members kidnapped Israeli soldiers and shot off rockets toward border towns, kicking off a month-long battle that killed hundreds and displaced thousands. Israel received international condemnation, save for the U.S., for bombings that affected Lebanese civilians.

Israel, of course, won the military battle, but Hezbollah gained a twisted victory among Lebanese by making themselves martyrs and promising rebuilding resources to the broader population. Lebanese government officials have felt Hezbollah's heat for most of this year, while Olmert has struggled with weak approval ratings.

What does that have to do with today's Israeli response?

While Islamic Jihad claims a victory and distributes candy in the streets in Gaza, Olmert likely considers military retaliation as a further strengthening of the militant group's hand. Rallies and candy can taste as sweet as victory, but a military strike by Israel would only be bitter.

Israeli defense officials have to consider the repercussions of a military strike on efforts toward peace.

Also, Islamic Jihad can claim a small victory by embracing a nihilist "let's pick a fight" ideology. But can the militant group provide anything else to the broader Gaza population other than hatred and revenge? Say, basic services and economic future?

Likely not.

The incompetence inherent in militant groups would be exacerbated by the cutting off of resources by Israel. This is to be considered next week, reports the Tribune.

Less rockets, more sweating, seems to be the strategy.

What is interesting is that Washington could be learning about the value of persuasion over force. Potentially.
The State Department denounced the Palestinian rocket attack but urged Israel to show restraint. "We would only counsel -- in this case Israel which has suffered injuries and losses as a result of attacks -- to take into consideration the effects of what they might do in self-defense on the overall political process," said spokesman Sean McCormack in the Tribune.


Use of force could be dampening any success of political processes? Washington war hawks, are you listening?

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