tirsdag 13. januar 2009

Making sense of Israel's war in Gaza

At first glance Israel's war in Gaza does not make any sense to me:
  • The Israelis claim that their objective is to reduce Hamas's capacity to inflict damage on Israel, in particular they wish to reduce their capacity to send missiles into Israeli territory.
  • The Israelis  claim that they wish to send  the message that they will retaliate disproportionately to anything they determine to be any kind of challenge to their territorial integrity.
  • I don't know how many Israelis has been killed by the Qassam rockets, but the wikipedia article about the Quassam rockets estimate that several hunderd has been hurt and 29 Israelis has been killed, so I'll take that as ballpark figures. So far nine hundred Palestinians has been killed during the war and several thousand injured, so there is indeed a disproportionate response.
However, there is absolutely nothing that makes me believe that the action currently going on in Gaza will have any permanent effect at all on Hamas's ability to inflict damage on Israel. Consider this:
  • The Qassam rockets are (according to Wikipedia) made from sugar, saltpeter (fertilizer), steel pipe and a little high explosives.   Basically they are extreme low tech artillery rockets. Apart from the high explosives, they can literally be made from ordinary household items.  It is extremely difficult to make a simpler weapon with multi-kilometer range.  For all that it is a wildly imprecise weapon,  and it shows.   More Israelis  has died from traffic accidents, or smoking, or probably even from slipping on the bathroom floor. As a destructive weapon they are utterly useless. Their only possible purpose is as weapons of terror.  If they scare anyone, they have accomplished their mission.
  • If Hamas decides, they can easily improve the destructive power of their missiles by using any combination of a simple GPS bases guidance package (it´s much simpler than you think), or biological or chemical warheads.  Spraying a biological payload consisting of a plant disease agent  into the farmlands around Gaza would probaly inflict more economic damage than the high explosives currently used, and perhaps even be more frightening.  There is almost a century of evolution of artillery rockets that Hamas can pick and choose from if they wish to upgrade the hitting power per rocket.
  •  The leader of Hamas has stated that their objective behind sending rockets into Israel is to deny peace to Israel.  In the Shelly Saywell movie "Hamas behind the mask" he said that they wished to convice Israel that they can not have peace if they do not involve Hamas in  the negotiations behind this peace.    This seems to a wholly realistic objective.
  • There has been two intifadas,  a severe invasion into Lebanon, and there is basically no history of success for tactics based on forcing palestinians into complacency.  The Israelis generally succeed in moving the Palestinians from wherever they are, but after a while they are back.
In sum, the military objectives as stated by Israel seems impossible to achieve.  There is just no logical connection from the premises behind the actions and the most likely outcome of the same actions.   Now, there are many things to be said about the Israelis (most of them favorable, by the way), but that they are illogical way beyond the limit of blind stupidity, is emphatically not something I believe they are. Consequently the reasoning illustrated above simply cannot be the whole rationale behind the war.   In the middle east things are interwined and complex, so I don´t believe that I can think here in my peaceful living room and by logic alone uncover the whole "truth" about the Israeli motivation, so I won´t pretend that I have ;)  That said I have a suggestion:
Consider if the main audience for the action is Gaza isn´t Hamas, but the Iranian leadership.   The message the Iranians are receiving is "If small  and militarily essentially worthless missiles fall inside Israels borders, Israel will retaliate by all the conventional forces they posess; what will they do if a missile capable of doing real damage lands from Iran? The most obvious answer is that they will retaliate with nukes."
This is a simple message but perceiving it is just a matter of perspective, no contrived logic necessary. And while ruthless, it is certainly logically consistent and utterly believable.  Supporting evidence (very circumstantial):

  • In a lot of the statements made by Israeli officials, Iran is mentioned more or less in passing as a supporter of Hamas.  No direct threats or anything, just a reminder that Iran is in the picture, somewhere.
  • Never, ever any mention of nuclear weapons. Officialy Israel doesn't have them, so when they are making their nuclear policies known, it will have to be in a roundabout ways. However, whatever method is chosen, it shouldn't  leave much room for doubt when interpreted by the recipients. Also the announcement can't  be overtly or at least literally threatening, since that in itself would give the Iranians the option of showing indignation at an overtly agressive Israel.
All of this fits nicely with what is happening in Gaza.

All in all I belive among other things (including humanitarian disaster, strategic stupidity on Israels part, general knuckleheadedness on both Hamas and the Israeli part etc.) this war should be interpreted as a roundabout announciation of Israel's current stance on nuclear threat policy.

If this reasoning is true, it opens up some interesting questions as to why?  Does the Israelis have intelligence that makes it imperative to send this type of message now?  Was it just an opportunity and they made the most of it?  I don't know and I think I'll offer a small prayer to my favorite deity that I'll never know for sure.