Riccardo DugulinThe writer's Masters degree is from the Paris School of International Affairs (Sciences Po) where he specialized in International Security. He is currently working in Paris for a medical and security assistance company. He has worked for a number of leading think tanks in Washington DC, Dubai and Beirut. personal website: www.riccardodugulin
Since the reestablishment of the State of Israel in 1948, its people have been forced multiple times into wars with their neighbors in order to preserve their country and protect their loved ones. These numerous conflicts spanning over a period of more than 60 years have all two things in common: they all resulted in Israel fulfilling its military objectives and none of them provided the Jewish state with total victory over its enemies.
The 1967 six days preventive operation is often stated as one of the most brilliant feat of arms which followed World War II and on a pure military point of view no objection can be raised about Israel’s victory; it is nevertheless also certain that it, and all other operations, didn’t accomplish the long term strategic objective the country has been longing for since the Independence war of 1948: to deliver such an outstanding military blow to its enemies which in return could not surpass the weight of the defeat and would be forced into full peace negotiations with Jerusalem.
Operation Pillar of Defense is likely to produce a similar outcome, where Israel proves once again it has a strong military capacity able to inflict heavy loses to the Hamas terrorist movement while being forced by the international community into a hardly acceptable ceasefire; a ceasefire which will do nothing less than legitimize the current status quo and guarantee more danger and destructions in the years to come.
The question is then why with such an overwhelming force the Jewish State hasn’t been able in 60 years to deliver a bone-shattering blow to its lifelong enemies.
The reason is simple: the international community, represented by international organizations such as the UN, and major world and regional powers have done all their best not to let it totally defeat its foes on the battlefield. In fact, since 1948 all conflicts between Arab states and Israel, and Palestinian factions and Israel have been interrupted by ceasefires, while only the Yom Kippur war has been followed by a peace treaty which has been highly lobbied for by the United States.
Looking at the present round of violence, the instinctive question is then why Israel has always been more or less openly prevented from achieving a long lasting victory against its enemies. The UN and international powers pushed for a cessation of combat in 2006, 2009 and 2012, when Israel may have indeed been able to cripple Hizbullah and Hamas in a way which would have left them unable to wage war.
This argument, in favor of war’s natural cycle, has been broadly discussed in Luttwak’s “Give War a Chance” (1999). The objective is by no mean to redeem war from its tragic and devastating aspect, but to understand its true value in international relations and world politics. In fact, Luttwak states: “An unpleasant truth often overlooked is that although war is a great evil, it does have a great virtue: it can resolve political conflicts and lead to peace".
On the other hand, ceasefires and truces are by no mean a beginning of a sincere peace process, they only represent a partial and temporary halt in the use of force.
Following this logic, a decisive strategic victory in the 64 years old war that has been opposing Israel to a set of Palestinian factions should have led to a political push for peace. This result has yet to be verified as, to borrow once more Luttwak’s words, “War brings peace only after passing a culminating phase of violence”, and ceasefires are especially designed not to obtain this cumulative phase of violence.
As the world is struggling to find a long-term “diplomatic” solution to the military operation started as a response to Hamas aggression, it must be made clear that a certain number of interest groups find a definite added value in the fact that the conflict between Israel and Hamas does not finish. Some may find it appealing to limit violence but peace, real peace where both partners recognize and respect each other while being ready to start a new page in history, is not a situation which would be beneficial to their goals.
The first set of players which are actively fueling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in such a way which makes it impossible for it to exhaust itself are the Arab states. In fact, since the UN Partition plan, few other world actors have been so engaged in a campaign to freeze the succeeding status quo.
When indeed Arab nationalist dictatorships have realized they could not beat Israel on the battlefield, after 1967, they resorted to an open challenge among themselves to arm and fund competing Palestinian groups. No Arab government is truly sympathetic of the Palestinian cause, as this has been shown time and again by actions taken by Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt but it is an essential part of their internal and foreign policies to maintain the eyes and the hearts of their populations aimed outside national borders.
By adopting an ambiguous position regarding peace between Israel and the Palestinians, these states have been in fact lobbying for the blocking of any conflict which would have resolved the issue. No Arab government could face its own people having left Israel win the victory it deserves. This condition has been created by decades of brainwashing by the Arab ruling class to push its own people to consider the Palestinian problem as their own, so that it would channel their hate toward an external enemy. More recently, competition toward Iran is driving Sunni Arab states to augment their financial and military help provided to Hamas in order to create a wedge in the so called “resistance” bloc.
The same reasoning may be applied for non-Arab regional powers. Turkey and Iran find in the current situation a political Eldorado. By not risking their own national security, Iran is able to pay lip service to the Palestinians and provide them with weapons good enough to cause damage among Israeli civilian populations, while keeping the different terrorist movements materially inferior to the Jewish State. As long as there is a state of war between Israel and a part of the Palestinians, Tehran and Ankara can benefit from an aura of benefactors, while actually participating in prolonging the suffering of the people they are supposed to help.
On a completely different level, a set of interest groups has emerged from the conflict which is now existing with the solely purpose as to preserve the situation which enables it to function. A text book example may be found in the UNRWA. This gigantic international organization has its own geopolitical aspirations. With a budget of more than $1.23billion in 2011, 900 installations in the Near East and 30 000 employees it thrives over the conflict and cannot afford to let it finish.
A settlement which would result in mutual recognition, integration or immigration of Palestinians living in Arab countries and a comprehensive agreement over a symbolic return of a selected number of persons which may qualify as refugees would essentially represent the end of UNRWA. As with all institutions, a certain esprit de corps has been developed and its own internal rationale is driving the way this highly influential international actor impacts on the procedure of operations.
Following this same pattern, the Palestinian Arab communities living in European and Northern American countries are in a great majority intrinsically opposed to a condition which would let Israel win a war against movements such as Hamas, as it would durably limit these organizations scope of action. Pro-Palestinian associations on university campuses and the public sphere are actually dreading a full peace agreement as they could no longer use the much emphasized suffering of Palestinian Arabs as a marketing tool.
In other words, if Israel wins a strategic victory against Hamas forcing the Palestinian Arabs into peace, these associations would remain with a message that no one would listen to any longer. Limiting Israeli capacity to obtain an overwhelming victory is for them a fight to maintain a certain degree of relevance.
Related to this paradoxical interest group, another one is increasingly being a spoiler in a true and fair peace process: left-wing and self-defined human right associations in the Western countries. As for the pro-Palestinian organizations, they have over the last 30 years, built their raison d’être over the principle of opposition to Israel’s policies. Their own existence is determined by this long lasting conflict and the animosity they are able to summon through the civil society and international organizations against the Jewish State.
The growing presence of people trained to convey a pro-Palestinian biased message of hate and serving in the media and public administration could not sustain the blow of real peace obtained by the destruction of Israel’s enemies.
Two things are today undeniable from an objective point of view.
On one hand Hamas, sustained by afore mentioned actors, is increasingly being a threat to the security of Israeli civilians as well as a negative element in the possible development of Palestinian Arab societies. Its backward and terrorist mentality mixed with a flow of money and weapons guarantees its authoritarian rule over Gaza.
On the other, Israel possesses the defensive and offensive military capacities to deal with this threat and ensure a new era in the Middle East. The Jewish State is nevertheless blocked in its actions by the above stated players for obvious geopolitical and financial reasons.
In this situation the logic conclusion is that the international community has come to develop an implicit interest in not letting war go on its natural course, thus rendering an already highly emotional and complex conflict close to being impossible to solve.