Working through Israel’s options.

Lets first throw out the idea of disproportionality. I’ve come to see it as neither relevant nor sensical, because Israel killing one Gazan civilian for each Israeli civilian killed by a rocket is still the wrong course of action. It is still immoral, it still prolongs the cycle of violence, and it still fails basic standards of rational action (do you have a goal?).

If  one claims that both the disproportionate and proportionate responses are wrong, then people will ask what else Israel should do, or if they should be expected just to sit back and take it.

I think that possible responses fall into two categories, the carrot and the stick:


1. Appeal to the international community. Ask for UN peacekeepers to guard the border against smuggling, and to ensure that rockets do not continue to be launched. I don’t know much about the plausibility of this tactic, but if it were feasible, it might have been a master stroke. Even if they were relatively impotent themselves, the peacekeepers would contribute greatly to international pressure on Hamas. I see this as plausibly affecting Hamas, but not taking an adverse toll on everyday Gazans.

2. Negotiations. Israel should have resumed negotiations with Hamas after the cease-fire. If rockets persisted, thsoe negotiations could then be cut off. Same goes for other Arab states: Israel could have said it would begin negotiating the Arab Peace Initiative (or something similar) on the condition that Hamas stopped firing rockets. That would invest the Arab states in keeping the rockets down.

3. Fast-tracking administrative detention prisoners. These are prisoners held for months at a time for stone-throwing, protesting, etc. Almost all of their cases go nowhere, and they are almost universally released without charge after a months-long period of waiting. Their cases could easily be fast-tracked (as a means to release) with the condition that this program be halted if rockets resume.  Same goes for other types of prisoners being held by Israel.

4. Water rights issues, settlement issues, I could go on. Israel, if it had been proactive, could have amassed a lot of bargaining chips that would help ensure a reduction in rocket attacks.

–These have some promise, only because Hamas is an elected government. They also involve outside groups like the UN and other Arab countries (for what they are worth). I’m not sure any of them alone or together would definitely work, but they certainly represent a set of peaceful possibilities. I believe that any of these methods would have helped avoid the current disaster.


1. The carnage that is currently being executed upon the Gazan population.

2. Direct and targeted violence against Hamas militants and other militants who are actually firing rockets, including commanders. In a real war, the US Army and its commanders (as well as the commander in chief, but not other politicians), are fair targets. The same can be said of those firing rockets. Its just that this is a really impractical response given the circumstances.

3. Blockade. If Israel had fulfilled its part of the bargain and eased the blockade when the rockets died down, it could have simply restored it if the rockets picked up again. However, blockades should never be so strict as to create a humanitarian crisis, and I don’t think that playing with a blockade is an ethical way to change the behavior of Hamas. It amounts to collective punishment against Gazans for the actions of one political party and a bunch of militants (Muslim Brotherhood, etc) with no connections to the political system and no accountability to the Gazan electorate.

–These sticks seem not to work, the first is wrong by all measures and surely counter-productive, the second is impratical, and the third is another form of sanctions, which at best have a shaky track record, for four reasons:

1. Either they just don’t work (the sanctions on Iraq did a lot more harm to civilians than they did to Saddam, and the civilians were never going to be able to get rid of him anyways), or

2. They are applied inappropriately (we never should have sanctioned Iraq because it wasn’t a democracy, so there was no repsonse mechanism for the people who the sactions affected), or

3. They reduce the level of negative activity, but do not eliminate it (perhaps Saddam would have done even more bad things if we weren’t sanctioning him?), or finally,

4. We’ll never know the value of the sanctions because we don’t know what we prevented (George Bush claims to have succeeded as a president because we happened not to get attacked again after 9/11).

Thats not a fun list to pick from, especially when 1.5 million people are affected by the blockade.  I don’t think this is suitable leverage because the Gazan people are only correlated to the rockets, they do not actually cause them. Hamas does. Beyond the ballot-box, Gazans have very little control, so even if the blockade tactics succeeded in changing their minds, what could they do between now and the next election, and how would that affect non-political militants anyways?

This is why I think that the ideal course of action should have been the carrot method (positive reinforcement). Hamas obeys the cease-fire, Israel eases the blockade. Hamas stops smuggling arms, Israel fast tracks administrative detainees, etc, etc. I doubt that even the most fundamentalist/rejectionist groups in Gaza would want to take the blame for the continued incarceration of innocent Palestinians.

If this isn’t politically possible, I say do nothing. There is no guaranteed connection between the stick approaches and a reduction in rockets, so if all that those methods will cause is unecessary pain to the wrong group of people, then why pursue them? If three kids are playing and one starts hiting another, the victim gains nothing by lashing out at the third. Like on the playground, Gazan civilians are in the middle of the fight between Hamas and Israel. Above all else, they should not be punished for it.



Filed under Politics, Rahim

3 responses to “Working through Israel’s options.

  1. Pingback: Faulty Logic and State Terrorism « vegan fish tacos

  2. Rahim, excellent post, I will link to it on my blog.

    Israel has indeed been employing a strategy of sticks and carrots but of a different type: sticks for Gaza and carrots for the West Bank in an attempt to demonstrate to Hamas and the Palestinian people the downside of violent militancy and encourage the more rational players in the Abbas Palestinian Authority. I believe this to be a strategic dead-end (as amptly demonstrated by the sheer futility of the Gazan excursion): none of this addresses the longer-term questions of Palestinian national identity at the root of the conflict or considers the deeply fanatical and ideological nature of Hamas.

    The carrots approached you enumerate unfortunately do not work. The first option (international peacekeeping) runs into the question of what happens once a Qassam rocket falls on the French or Turkish peacekeepers (as is bound to happen given the disorder in Gaza and the fragmented authority of Hamas): how do the peacekeepers respond? There is no upside here.

    The second option (negotiations) is problematic too. Not only is Israel loath to negotiate with Hamas, the degree of support for and acceptace of Hamas in the Arab community is unclear: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, to an extent Jordan, see Hamas as Iranian agents and are actively hostile to them.

    The lack of even half-decent options is quite depressing. Positive reinforcement works in theory: in practive it asks for Israel to accept daily violence against its citizens and disruptions to thier lives in return for economic pressure only. This is not workable I think.

  3. Pingback: Israel’s options: sticks and carrots « Beats and Pieces

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s