Sunday, January 18, 2009

Calculated Madness

The New York Times has a fine article about the "calculated madness" of the Israeli attack, and its analogy in the Hamas circle. But I'm not going to re-hash that.

I intend to consider the validity of Israel's conclusions on its war. Israel took down a lot of Hamas infrastructure--and because Hamas is so ubiquitous in Gaza (it is pretty much everything), Israel took down many houses, schools, Mosques, etc. As far as I can tell, nothing hit wasn't either A) a legitimate Hamas target, or B) a complete mistake, but in war, intent is a very small part of the story.

Israel believes that it has taught them a lesson, as the Chinese are fond of saying in their wars. It strolled in, delivered a beating, and left. It wasn't going to destroy all of the rocket sites. It wasn't going to take down Hamas, and alas, it certainly didn't. This war was meant to show Hamas and its supporters that throwing rockets at Israel wasn't worth the risk of massive retaliation. Did that work? Indeed, can that work?

Israel's hope is that the sup;porters of Hamas, while angry at Israel, will question the wisdom of voting for Hamas. This is somewhat likely, but they may also be purple-blooded. After the Sept. 11 attacks in the US, Americans did not question their foreign policy, except perhaps in concluding that they were being too shy, too meek, too peaceful, and too generous (in conflict with pretty much the rest of the world). While the analogy between the 9/11 attacks and the Israeli war is pretty weak, it makes a strong point: can beating on people make them more calm and peaceful? The Blitz of London, the 9/11 attacks, the bombings of North Korea, the Rape of Nanking, they all say otherwise. But they were all primarily anti-civilian attacks. Can Israel make a clearer message by having almost exclusively attacked Hamas-related targets?

Perhaps. Israel has to make two messages clear: 1) Hamas got Gaza into this mess by refusing to stop launching rockets, and 2) that the Israelis were genuinely trying to avoid civilian casualties. The second will not make Gazans less angry at the Israelis for their friends and family dying from shell fire, but it will allow point #1 to have more salience. And that is the important part--if Gazans can say, "Hamas' irresponsibility is why the Israelis attacked" (whether or not it was deserved, etc), then they will back down.

A good example of this is Europe. Russia has recently been, for lack of a better term, insufferable and hyperaggressive. They have gone after Ukraine (with gas) and Georgia (with tanks) for minor provocations. But even though the Russian response was far out of line (and resembling that of a child's temper tantrum), the European Union has questioned the wisdom of continuing to agitate the Russians--particularly, it has questioned a continued policy of trying to subsume Georgia and Ukraine into NATO. Indeed, while Russia's actions have been largely unjust (particularly in Georgia), Europe has taken the posture that Russia is an entity whose disposition and behavior are both A) unlikely to change soon through any measures, and B) rational, even if unfair and disproportionate. And so the Europeans have acted just as the Russians have. So might the Gazans, if the Israelis can impart the same sense of causal linkage between the rockets and Israel's attack (as Russia did between Georgia's shelling of South Ossetia and its own assault). If that link can become salient and vivid for Gazans, then they will either pressure Hamas to change into a more reserved military entity, or they will vote them out. Either, to some extent, is a victory for Israel. But now that the 3-week assault is over, the propaganda war will only intensify.
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