Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1124, 29 November - 5 December 2012
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1124, 29 November - 5 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Victory and resistance

Israel’s defeat in the recent war in Gaza goes hand-in-hand with its declining strategic value to the US, writes Seif Da’na

Al-Ahram Weekly

Israel’s regional status, and particularly its increasingly declining, if not altogether questioned, strategic value suffered a major and irremediable blow in the latest confrontation with the Arab resistance in Palestine. While this might not be the only, or even the most significant conclusion of the latest resistance victory, it will most likely be the main concern of Israel’s political analysts and strategists.

These are already aware of influential US views that implicitly or explicitly question Israel’s strategic value to the US and US strategy in the Middle East region, among them the statement made by General David Petraeus before the Senate armed forces committee in March 2010. As the current confrontation concludes, the concerns of Israel’s top strategists will necessarily increase as they read the blogs of prominent US commentators, political magazines and think tanks. 

Israel’s latest defeat is also very difficult to spin this time, though it will, again, most certainly be inaccurately characterised as primarily a self-inflicted failure, thus denying any creative and active Arab agency and revealing the deeply rooted canon of cultural Zionism’s negation of exile and of the other.

However, Israel’s defeat this time also reveals more than the typically recognised military and political incompetence vis-à-vis the new Arab resistance that some commentators have already illuminated. For this is not, and cannot be, a mere technical failure. Rather, it is a clear display of strategic failure, if not the utter absence of strategic thinking. Harvard’s and Foreign Policy magazine’s Stephen Walt’s erudite characterisation of “Israel’s strategic mind” as a “myth” in a recent article might not be another reason of concern to Israeli strategists, but it is a source of embarrassment for them.

While one might disagree with Walt’s assessment and his unjustified praise of Charles D Freilich’s piece “Zion’s Dilemmas: How Israel Makes National Security Policy”, it is imprudent to disagree with his conclusion, implied in the title of a recent blog “The Myth of Israel’s Strategic Genius”, especially after this latest war.

The lesson that Freilich failed to learn is that Israel was not defeated (or failed, as the Zionist account might soon claim) due to the nature of Israel’s electoral system or its flawed decision-making process. These factors constitute neither sufficient, nor necessary, conditions for the apparent conclusion in defeat. The Arab resistance fighters and the Arab people’s willingness to pay the dues of defending and liberating their homeland clearly and plainly are the root causes of Israel’s defeat, and it is only prudent, therefore, to assume that any structural modification to the flawed Israeli decision-making process, which Freilich recommends, will prove to be fruitless.  

The Gaza victory will also eventually slowly push this previously unannounced conviction of Israel’s deteriorating strategic value into the mainstream, which is a more serious reason for Israeli analysts to be concerned. True, the US media’s bias has been well documented, and it did not disappoint Israel this time either. However, the media’s unjustified celebration of the success of the Israeli Iron Dome defense system seemed to disguise Israel’s political and military failure. The usual fireworks celebrating an Israeli victory have been absent, and there was recognition of a strong Hamas.

While a CNN analysis on 22 November by Paula Newton — one that can be disputed on many grounds — highlighted the shift in the balance of power in the Middle East, for example, and accepted and quoted a Middle Eastern expert’s conclusion that “Hamas has emerged stronger, it has consolidated its control over Gaza and it has gained now more legitimacy,” the writer then “balanced” this scholarly view by declaring the criminal assassination of Ahmed Al-Jabari to be a “Netanyahu victory”. Had Netanyahu really had any victory, it would be a pyrrhic victory at best, as Asia Times columnist M K Bhadrakumar wrote recently.

The Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular are fully aware of America’s conclusions and Israel’s concerns. But they will draw their own conclusions and express their own concerns. The Gaza victory confirms once again the effectiveness and productivity of the new resistance paradigm proposed and skillfully practiced as a new Arab liberation strategy by Hizbullah in Lebanon, with the speeches that the group’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has made since 2008 illuminating this strategy.      

Since Hizbullah’s 2000 victory and the liberation of south Lebanon, the Arabs have concluded that the Israeli army is defeatable. Israel is “weaker than a spider’s web,” Nasrallah has eloquently stated, and in the July 2006 war, the Israelis seemed also to have accepted this conclusion. Yet, these conclusions are not only military or political: they are cultural as well. They imply a reconstitution of images of the self, and, by implication, of images of the other. The victories of Hizbullah and later of the Palestinian resistance have acted as an antidote to the improper conclusions of the 1967 War.

Almost a year ago, the 2012 “Herzliya Assessment” authored by Danny Rothschild and Tommy Steiner (The 2012 Herzliya Assessment: Israel in the Eye of Storms, the Institute for Policy and Strategy), expressed concerns regarding the US view of ongoing events in the Arab world. This complained that “one cannot escape the impression that the US considers Israel a strategic risk rather than strategic asset.” While this is only plausible, considering both the American imperial decline and its retreat from the Middle East, the latter characterised by the assessment as “dwindling influence”, the Arabs are, and should be, under no illusion that a dramatic shift in US regional strategy is in fact at hand. Such a strategic break would probably require a longer time period and a greater accumulation of Arab victories.      

However, some Israeli analysts have already recognised, and expressed concerns at, the formation of a “different America,” as Oded Eran and Owen Alterman of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies noted in their analysis of the Obama-Romney foreign policy debate before the recent US presidential elections. This “is a different United States from the Clinton or George W Bush eras: this United States will continue to give Israel strong diplomatic and financial support and will even enhance military and intelligence cooperation. On issues of war and peace, though, the vision may be for Israel to sort out its travails on its own, with the United States ‘standing with’ it,” the authors wrote in October.

A “different America” must, and should, be a serious Israeli concern and not only because the US is one of the “most important aspects of Israel’s national security,” as Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, Moshe Ya’alon, was recently quoted as saying, or because “the US-Israeli alliance is a building block of Israel’s national security doctrine and deterrence image,” or that a “strong US in the Middle East is a vital strategic interest of Israel,” as the Herzliya Assessment maintained. Instead, any serious examination of the 2012 Herzliya recommendations for Israeli strategy would have to conclude that this will have difficulty counterbalancing the serious blows to its strategic value that the US has sustained as a result of the victories of the Arab resistance since 2000.

“Israel cannot passively sustain its strategic reliance upon the US,” the Herzliya Assessment says, and instead “Israel ought to not only invest in intensifying the strategic partnership with the US, but also support the US regional posture.” But this can hardly tackle the effects of Israel’s defeat, let alone the global structural transformations leading to the US decline, and by implication its gradual retreat in the Middle East.  

Hitherto, the Palestinian resistance has proved its dexterity in grasping the awe-inspiring example of Hizbullah’s resistance and its strategic skills. This model, set out in Nasrallah’s 2000 victory speech, explains the main factors underlying the recent victory of the Gaza resistance. However, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal’s attempt to cash in on the victory, as expressed, for example, in his 21 November 2012, interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, seems to be abandoning a perfectly functional paradigm and thus is particularly dangerous.

To Hizbullah, resistance was a strategy of liberation, while to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), including for former PLO president Yasser Arafat and later Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, it has been a tactic at best intended as a tool to improve their respective negotiating positions. Hizbullah liberated Lebanon and moved on to become an effective regional force. Last week, and 20 years after Oslo, Abbas seemed to be the most irrelevant politician in the Middle East.

Meshaal’s premature at best, but definitely unnecessary concession, is particularly dangerous not only because it threatens to compromise the political and strategic potential of the victory of the Palestinian resistance, or because it unambiguously signals to international power centres a foolish willingness to step into Abbas’s shoes. It is also a dangerous concession because it seems to be part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempt to consolidate its regional power, even at the expense of sidelining the Palestinian question.

If I were a seasoned Israeli strategist, I would strongly suggest to Israel military phrase-makers to try to be more modest in selecting code-names for the country’s future military adventures. “Pillar of Cloud”? Give me a break — the sheer arrogance is laughable. 

The author is associate professor of sociology and international studies, University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

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