Sunday, February 8, 2009

Cordesman’s Bleak Assessment of the Gaza Operation

A reader referred me to yet another one of Anthony H. Cordesman's analyses on the Middle East. Cordesman may be familiar to some readers from his occasional appearances on ABC news on Iraq and Afghanistan.

Actually, the reader referred me to a YNET article, which missed the main point of Cordesman's analysis. YNET was interested in Cordesman's claim, based almost entirely on IDF reports, that Israel's conduct of the war was legal – or at least as legal as the US' conduct of the war in Afghanistan.

But if you read Cordesman's analysis, "The War in Gaza: Tactical Gains, Strategic Defeat?" you will see that he saves his biggest criticism for Israel's political leaders. He leaves the general impression that a) Israel came out much worse that it realizes from the Gaza operation, and b) its long term prospects are grim, if it sticks to the current script. He writes:

This raises a question that every Israeli and all of Israel's supporters need to ask in the aftermath of the Gaza War. Has it in fact repeated the strategic failures made by Israel's top political leadership during the Israeli-Hezbollah War in 2006? Has Israel somehow blundered into a steadily escalating war without a clear strategic goal or at least one it can credibly achieve? Will Israel end in empowering an enemy in political terms that it defeated in tactical terms? Will Israel's actions seriously damage the US position in the region, any hope of peace, as well as moderate Arab regimes and voices in the process?

To be blunt, the answer so far seems to be yes. To paraphrase a comment about the British government's management of the British Army in World War I, lions seem to be led by donkeys. If Israel had a credible ceasefire plan that could really secure Gaza, it is not apparent. If Israel had a plan that could credibly destroy and replace Hamas, it is not apparent. If Israel had any plan to help the Gazans and move them back towards peace, it is not apparent. If Israel had any plan to use US or other friendly influence productively, it not apparent.

The rhetoric may be a bit Shakespearean, but it rings true: The leaders of Israels are indeed asses leading the IDF lions, asses whose bungling "seriously damages the US position in the region, any hope of peace, as well as moderate Arab regimes and voices in the process." Folks, this is not Noam Chomsky speaking, but rather a man who used to be John McCain's national security advisor.

And if the above didn't plunge you into despair, here is how Cordesman ends his analysis:

In fact, there is little hope of a sudden return to a viable peace process – to the extent that territory for peace was ever anything other than settlements for terrorism. Moreover, the fighting in Gaza did lead a figure as senior as King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to warn that Israel has to understand that the choice between war and peace will not always be open, and that the Arab peace initiative that is on the table today will not stay on the table. It also led the President of Syria, Bashar Assad, to say that such peace efforts were no longer relevant. One wonders, however, how long [the Gaza fighting] can really go on without exploding into far more violent conflicts or empowering non-state actors hostile to Israel and moderate Arab regimes. One wonders how much it will affect the medium and long-term stability of key states like Egypt and Jordan? One wonders how much it will sustain Iranian radicalism and aid the opportunism of a nuclear Iran? Israeli leaders like Yitzhak Rabin once saw these risks as unsustainable. Regrettably, they may still be proved right.

The fighting is Gaza is not over, and Israel has nothing to offer the Palestinians but more of the same. What Cordesman is saying that this is not enough – and that failure to resolve the conflict will probably end in failure to manage the conflict.





Anonymous said...

The strange thing for me (an American gentile) about these recent events is that I keep thinking about Amos Oz. It has damaged my respect for Oz, who was a favorite novelist of mine. My understanding is that he has been important to the Israeli peace movement but is now fairly uninspiring in his positions.

The display of Israeli power in Gaza (truly you have a space-age army) has, paradoxically convinced me that Israel will not survive, for more than a couple of decades, as it is now constitutionally defined (I'm not saying that it will be destroyed violently, only that it will be radically reformed away from its definition as a Jewish democratic state).

It is too small a country to use its power so recklessly. And its relationship with the U.S. will become less important as U.S. power wanes and as Americans become increasingly skeptical of Israeli policy.


Jerry Haber said...

Chaim Gans has said that Israel's failure to resolve some of the ongoing violations of Palestinian rights raises fundamental questions about the viability of the 1948 regime. I have slowly converted to the opinion that the present state of Israel is not sustainable. Will it take ten years or fifty years before the 1948 state evolves into something else, hopefully, better? Who knows?

Since 1945 there have been innumerable conflicts in the world, but I am hard pressed to think of one that has continued for over seventy years and is only getting worse.

Israelis and their supporters do not feel this, and it is indeed relatively easy to live in a bubble (especially in Tel Aviv).

The reaction of the right is simply to dig in and say, "Israel must be ever vigilant to meet the new threats." And, certainly, it can muddle on the way it has for the forseeable future.

But the long-term prospects for the 1948 state have never looked grimmer -- especially now that the two-state solution seems increasingly to be a fairy tale, and the greatest obstacle to peace is the peace process itself.

Anonymous said...

The elections will make these discussions moot. Remember overseas Italians loved Italy even when Mussolini led it but the wise ones had nothing to do with it-- It is time to vote with one's feet. If you have a dual citizenship - leave before you are tarred with their brush.