Tag Archives: Hamas

Netanyahu ha davvero perso le elezioni?

L’annuncio della sconfitta del Likud di Benjamin Netanyahu, alle ultime elezioni israeliane, sembra sostanziare una valutazione poco prudente. In realtà il premier uscente ha perso qualche seggio, ma si è rafforzato rispetto alle vittoriose consultazioni di quattro anni fa. 

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[dropcap]R[/dropcap]ispecchiando l’antico detto yiddish “tre partiti ogni due ebrei”, le elezioni per il rinnovo della Knesset hanno consegnato a Israele un quadro di grande frammentazione politica. Il premier uscente Benjamin Netanyahu conserva il primo posto, ma il suo partito risulta numericamente indebolito rispetto alle consultazioni del 2009. Il successo del candidato centrista Yair Lapid è la vera – e indiscutibile – sorpresa delle ultime elezioni. Effettivamente, non si è verificato l’ulteriore spostamento a destra previsto da buona parte degli osservatori: l’estremista Naftali Bennett, che ha attirato su di sé l’attenzione per buona parte della campagna elettorale, non ha ottenuto l’exploit preventivato da più parti. Piuttosto, la formazione di estrema destra ha sottratto voti a Likud-Beitenu, la lista del premier uscente.

D’altro canto, osservando attentamente i risultati sembra ardito sostenere la tesi di un’avanzata delle forze moderate e progressiste. Aggregando i dati per ‘gruppi ideologici’, emerge che le formazioni di destra hanno effettivamente perso ben 6 seggi alla Knesset. Allo stesso modo, le formazioni di centro hanno perso un altro parlamentare. Pertanto, ad una analisi più oculata, si rileva come il successo ottenuto da Yesh Atid, il partito di Lapid, abbia semplicemente occupato la posizione ideologica ed elettorale lasciata vacante dal forte arretramento di Kadima (che, infatti, ha subito una perdita di 24 seggi su 26). Gli ultimi 7 seggi a disposizione sono stati occupati, in gran parte, dalla sinistra – i laburisti e Meretz –, e dagli ultra-ortodossi di Giudaismo Unito nella Torah, che ha conquistato 2 deputati in più rispetto al 2009. In sintesi, lo spostamento avvenuto a favore del centro-sinistra è stato di 4 miseri seggi: insufficienti per formare una coalizione anti-Likud, e imprimere così una svolta politica rispetto ai governi degli ultimi anni.

In definitiva, parlare di una sconfitta di Netanyahu, sulla scorta di buona parte della stampa internazionale (e non) ‘liberal’, sembra poco prudente. Bibi, come è affettuosamente chiamato il primo ministro israeliano, governa da quasi quattro anni il paese, godendo di un consenso personale che supera il 50%. Nonostante la sua coalizione, con i russi di Yisrael Beiteinu, abbia sofferto un calo elettorale, rimane comunque indispensabile per la formazione di qualsiasi formazione di governo. Inoltre, il PIL israeliano ha registrato tassi di crescita del 4.7% nel 2011; dal 2009, inoltre, più nessun israeliano è stato vittima di attentati terroristici che, in precedenza, scandivano macabramente la quotidianità dello Stato di Israele. Netanyahu, pertanto, è percepito dall’opinione pubblica come una guida forte e autorevole, la cui necessità è avvertita in maniera sempre più impellente, dati gli ultimi sviluppi nella regione mediorientale. Infatti, l’instabilità della regione – e quindi l’allontanarsi delle prospettive di pace – rimane da sempre il vero grande alleato della destra israeliana.

Il quadro regionale sembra confermare i timori di chi auspica uno Stato ebraico armato e sulla difensiva. L’Iran, ormai da sette anni, persevera nella sua politica di minacce e dichiarazioni bellicose, così da permettere a Netanyahu di evocare il pericolo di una shoah nucleare. La Turchia di Erdoğan, ormai lanciata verso la conquista dell’egemonia del Mediterraneo islamico, ha mutato il suo approccio accomodante verso Israele, trasformandosi in un potente, sebbene non ostile, avversario regionale. Infine, l’Egitto dei Fratelli Musulmani e i tumulti della guerra civile siriana aggiungono ulteriori motivi di preoccupazione ed elementi di instabilità: in quest’ultimo caso, ad esempio, la caduta del regime di Bashar al-Assad aprirebbe scenari completamente inediti, a cui Israele dovrebbe riadattare le proprie posizioni strategiche pur di conservare l’equilibrio e la pace regionale.

Anche sul fronte interno, relativamente al conflitto israelo-palestinese, il leader israeliano potrebbe continuare ad agire sulle divisioni interne all’ANP, e insistere sulla minaccia rappresentata da Hamas. Difatti, l’operazione militare Pillar of Defense lanciata dalle forze armate israeliane nel novembre scorso, è stato uno pseudo-conflitto – nonostante le centinaia di vittime – dal punto di vista tattico e strategico: da una parte, Hamas ha sempre evitato e respinto il confronto diretto con l’esercito israeliano, che avrebbe come unica conseguenza la distruzione del partito islamista; dall’altra, Netanyahu ha dimostrato di non avere nessuna intenzione di rioccupare Gaza, dato che l’operazione costerebbe eccessivamente in termini umani, elettorali e militari, essendo peraltro inutile dal punto di vista della sicurezza. Pertanto, mantenere lo status quo nella striscia di Gaza rientra tra gli interessi di tutti i contendenti: in primis, da parte della destra israeliana che, insistendo ed ergendosi ad alfiere della sicurezza e della risolutezza militare, guadagna voti ogniqualvolta si affievoliscono le speranze di pace; in secondo luogo, anche di Hamas che, sfruttando la radicalizzazione del conflitto, rafforza l’egemonia e il controllo sui palestinesi, sottraendo consenso ai moderati di Fatah. Purtroppo, a quanto pare, l’unico attore che ci perde in questo ignobile gioco delle parti è il popolo palestinese assediato all’interno della striscia di Gaza.

In conclusione, la strada di Netanyahu non è, quindi, così in salita. Di sicuro, formare una coalizione che coinvolgerà i centristi, una parte degli ultra-ortodossi e l’estrema destra non sarà impresa agevole. Tuttavia, il premier può contare sulla minaccia del ritorno alle urne, visto che una campagna elettorale incentrata sul tema della governabilità non potrebbe che favorire il proprio partito. Diversa, invece, appare la posizione di Yair Lapid: se il nuovo protagonista della politica israeliana deciderà di partecipare al nuovo governo, lo farà ponendo alcune condizioni essenziali, quali la riapertura dei colloqui di pace (sebbene sul tema ci sia da registrare una posizione piuttosto ambigua, concernente l’irrinunciabilità agli insediamenti coloniali in Cisgiordania). Una volta accettata tale condizione, Netanyahu sarà costretto a dimostrare all’opinione pubblica israeliana di essere seriamente interessato a perseguire sulla strada del negoziato con Hamas e Fatah. Lapid, di conseguenza, dovrà dimostrare di essere anche un abile politico, oltre che un ottimo e accattivante comunicatore da campagna elettorale.

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Photo Credit: todogaceta.com

The Drones Are Droning On…

Whatever our respective views are on the subject of drone strikes, it is undeniably the case that they are an incredibly effective method of targeting terrorists in unfriendly, or uncontrolled territory.

Of the many successful drone strikes in 2012, the following are – according to CNN’s Security Clearance blog – the most pertinent. June 4th saw al Qaeda strategist Abu Yahya al-Libi meet the ‘business end of a drone‘ in Pakistan, an occurrence that I argued should both be celebrated and mourned. Fahd Mohammad Ahmed al-Quso, another senior al Qaeda operative (wanted for his role in the USS Cole bombing), was killed in Yemen on May 6th. And lastly Badar Mansoor, considered the most senior Pakistani in al Qaeda, was assassinated on February 9th in Waziristan.

It can be argued that by removing known operatives we are simply inducing unknown individuals to take their position. When Israel assassinated Hamas military chief Ahmed al-Jabari in November there were those that argued that the IDF had acted with overwhelming short-sightedness: at least Jabari was a known quantity. If Sun Tzu was correct when he asserted that knowing one’s enemy is paramount to victory, perhaps there is some weight to these claims.

Last year we saw much debate on these pages on the subject of drones. Catherine Connolly’s piece back in June argued that the use of drones signalled a “failure in moral leadership by the United States”. Matt Wahnsiedler’s response sought to demonstrate that Connolly’s arguments had failed to take into account the realities of warfare. TRS Reviews Editor Jenny Holland, writing in The Guardian, took a different route, arguing that opposition to drone strikes is not so black-and-white ‘on the ground’ in Pakistan as is presented by Western peace activists and human rights groups. The real issue, she argued, is that the “debate over the drone campaign is a distraction from other, more important issues”: health, access to clean water, and the rule of law.

It is highly unlikely that Obama will cease to approve of the CIA’s programme. Whether it remains politically possible to persevere with it given the Arab Spring and the effect it could have on Arab sentiment towards the superpower is another matter altogether. 2013 will be telling.

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 Photo credit: DVIDSHUB

Gaza – No Good, No Evil

 As long as Israel remains the state of the Jews and Palestine remains the perfect site for Islamic extremists to launch attacks on Tel Aviv, the two can never coexist in complete harmony.
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Palestine protest youth Gaza
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This month Israel launched the first major attack on the Gaza strip in years. Hundreds of missiles rained down from Israel itself, artillery pounded the strip from the coast and tanks lined up on the border ready to roll in with an unstoppable rampage. Over 150 are dead, over a thousand injured, many women and children. The leader of Hamas’ military division is dead, killed by a missile strike which started the hostilities.
Or at least that’s the simplest way to look at it. Israel react completely disproportionately to Gazan rocket attacks, flatten Gaza at the cost of over a hundred innocent lives and then happily continue to go about their slow conquest of the West Bank. It’s an easy image, the demonic Israel oppressing and killing Palestinians almost arbitrarily. It’s a story of good and evil, of the underdog being crushed under the boot of the giant oppressor.
The reason this concept is so powerful is because it’s so easy to grasp. It’s the story-line to almost every good film ever made, from comedies to action in the cinema. People love to root for the underdog, and they love the black and white nature of good and evil. They cheered for Rocky Balboa, Dr. Richard Kimble, Seabiscuit, even Average Joe’s Gym and Po the Panda. Underdog stories of a small good guy against an stronger evil villain are probably the simplest stories to tell, and therefore the easiest to take sides on. This seems especially true of students across the world. Despite being in the best position to take the time to investigate the complex truths of every conflict they seem most likely to resort to simplistic ideological extremes of support.
But reality is never that simple. No, not even the Nazis, and certainly not the Japanese.
The present conflict did not start with Israel’s targeted killing of the military head of Hamas, it started with a weekend of huge numbers of rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel and attacks on Israeli soldiers on the borders. Over two thousand rockets have been fired into Israel in 2012, resulting in repeated evacuations of homes in the south. These attacks in turn were motivated by continued occupation of the West Bank and blockade of the Gaza strip. The blockade was the result of the 2008-2009 three-week war where Israel responded to 2,378 missiles launched during 2008 by assaulting the Gaza strip, bringing rocket attacks down to only 190 during 2009, however at the cost of over a thousand Palestinian lives. The war was a result of Hamas’ victory in the earlier elections and defeat of Fatah, which in turn was a result of the 2004 conflict where Israel had attacked the Gaza strip again in response to rocket attacks. The list continues to go back. Gazan rocket attacks are responded to with overwhelming force which stops the rocket attacks but through the use of traumatic violence which convinces more Gazans to turn to violence and launch rocket attacks which is responded to with overwhelming force. The attacks of November 2012 are just the latest in a long cycle.
Who’s to blame? Is it Israel for causing the situation which pushes Palestinians towards extremism? Or is it Palestinians for continuing to resort to attacks which they know full well with be responded to with such a display of force? Is it Israel for blockading the strip and occupying the West Bank, or is it Palestinians who’s attacks created the justification for these moves?
The truth is, neither. It makes things easy to take a side and demonise the opposition as the great evil, but it does not make such a position correct. If you want to really get to the crux of the issue it is all the fault of France and Britain who completely arbitrarily broke up the Ottoman Empire and through doing so caused not only the present Israel-Palestine conflict but also the ongoing Syrian Civil War, Iraqi sectarian conflict and Kurdish conflict through the creation of artificial states which could fit into straight lines. Britain created an Israeli state impossible to defend due to its surrounding highlands filled with enemies; therefore necessitated the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Golan Heights.
Yes, you can point to the Israeli blockade and the civilian casualties in Gaza. But on the other side of the coin the blockade was necessitated to reduce the huge influx of weapons into the strip which resulted in the rain of rockets of 2008. Civilian casualties are actually extremely low considering the vast number of targeted attacks directed at Hamas military leadership and rocket sites. Over one thousand strikes have taken place, making the casualty rate astoundingly low. Israeli troops even warned Hamas fighters to move civilians before strikes. The Hamas fighters which launched hundreds of rockets over the year knew what they were inviting in return, in fact it is reasonable to argue that Israel has left such a campaign of deterrence too long. The number of rockets fired by Hamas and Israel are almost the same, Israel’s are simply bigger and more accurate. At least eight Palestinian deaths have been executions carried out by Hamas, and several more have been faulty rockets, including many children.
Yes, you can point to the continual threats from Islamists to wipe Israel off the Earth and constant threats of terrorist attacks Israeli citizens live under the shadow of. However Israeli rejection of international law in the West Bank makes Palestinians feel like a sub-people unable even to vote towards the leaders of the power which controls their lives. The Israeli blockade has created terrible conditions in Gaza pushing people towards armed conflict as their only resort in response.
There is no good and evil in this conflict. Both sides have been terrible to one another and have done good things for their own people. The truth of the matter is that the very idea of placing two fundamentally opposing states on the same stretch of land, in an era where without control of high ground it is impossible to defend yourself, is itself ludicrous. Israel cannot be expected to allow Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan Heights or southern Lebanon to become militarised, to do so would be a gross failure of their duty to protect the citizens of Israel. Likewise the Palestinians cannot be expected to endure sub-standard conditions with no true representation or recognition in the face of an ever-advancing wall.
Boycotting Israel will not work, to think it will is naive. Demonising either side as the evil party oppressing the other will not help, it will only goad them further into conflict. Supporting Palestine as a recognised state will not make any difference at all, and will only serve in legitimising a solution which should never have been attempted and may never work. It may be easy to simplify the conflict into an easy duality of good and evil, underdog and oppressor, but it simply is not accurate. Maybe it is time to question the viability of the two-state solution, which has been gradually eroded to the point of irrelevance for over half a century.
The Gaza conflict is the creation of the concept of Israel and Palestine as two states, fundamentally opposed, and yet squeezed into a space too small for the both of them. As long as Israel remains the state of the Jews and Palestine remains the perfect site for Islamic extremists to launch attacks on Tel Aviv, the two can never coexist in complete harmony. The cycle has continued for too long, it is long past time to take a look at the other options.
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Photo Credit: Gigi Ibrahim

Operation Cloud Pillar: Deterrence, Not Ballots

The road to Operation Cloud Pillar was paved not by the ballot box, but by strategic failures of the Israeli government. Rather than present a clever political manipulation of patriotic fervour that is inherent in high-stakes warfare, Netanyahu’s dereliction of deterrence may actually cost him dearly in January’s elections.

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Benjamin Netanyahu

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Benjamin Netanyahu is something of an enigma. Though every opinion poll published both before and after national elections were called augured his re-election as Israel’s Prime Minister, Netanyahu (or ‘Bibi’- his Israeli moniker), took the political gamble of a lifetime. Following a deluge of rockets on Israel’s southern cities from the Gaza Strip and the breakdown of the Middle-East’s worst kept secret- a truce between Hamas and Israel- Bibi ordered the assassination of Ahmad al-Jabari, the head of Hamas’ military wing.

Naturally, things have since gone from bad to worse. Whilst norms and ‘red lines’ are being re-written daily, perhaps the greatest misconception regarding the conflict is its origins. Just why did Israel’s Prime Minister order the attack?

Because this is the Middle-East, conspiracy theories abound. The current cynic’s claim is that, with elections on the horizon, Bibi sought to monopolize public debate, engendering a patriotic surge and paving the way for his re-election. Indeed, the Israeli Labor’s party prioritisation of a socio-economic agenda has all but disappeared from national discourse. It has also been argued on this website that international factors, such as Palestine’s bid for statehood at the United Nations, precipitated the need for drastic Israeli action.

The problem with this analysis is that it is myopic, favouring baseless speculation over reality. It is true that many Israeli offensives have been closely followed by elections: from Operation Grapes of Wrath in 1996 to the last tit-for-tat offensive in late 2008- Operation Cast Lead- and many more, bombs usually pre-empt ballots.

However, starting a war before an election has frequently backfired, literally blowing up in the face of the incumbent government. Following Cast Lead, the ruling Kadima Party lost power, whilst in 1996 then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres undid his rosy showing in the opinion polls by ordering the bombing of Lebanon.

These operations have something else in common: the subsequent elections were both won by then-leader of the opposition, Benjamin Netanyahu. Bibi, for all his many faults is a political mastermind, with scant desire to fall into the traps of his predecessors.

Rocket fire from the Gaza Strip declined sharply after the previous government launched Operation Cast Lead, which was a classic manifestation of Israeli deterrence policy. Strategically, the goal of deterrence is conflict management, rather than resolution; by inferring unacceptable costs on the behaviour of a belligerent, a state successfully projects a deterrence equation, limiting the strategic toolbox of the enemy. In order to ensure that the threat is real, states have to ‘make good’ their promises of unpalatable response; deterrence constantly needs ‘topping up’ if the opposing actor errs into the arena of unacceptable norms.

From its inception, Israel’s response to non-state terrorism based in nearby states has been to simply ignore the terror group and punish the state, forcing it to reign in the hostile actors. For this reason, I’m constantly bemused by so-called ‘Israel advocates’ claiming Israeli responses to terrorist acts are not ‘disproportionate’, because disproportionate response is the foundation of Israeli deterrence equations. The goal is not to ‘bomb your way to peace’, but to coerce nearby states and state-like entities into compliance, so a relative ‘quiet’ takes hold. In layman’s terms, Israel’s message is: ‘If you hurt me, I will hurt you ten times harder, so don’t hurt me’.

Whilst those of us on the left constantly lambast his administration for its right-wing reactionary stances, Netanyahu’s nationalist bombast obscures the truth: Bibi’s administration has rejected Israeli disproportionate deterrence policy. After five Israeli tourists were killed by a suspected Hezbollah bomber in Burgas, Bulgaria, I argued that Israel must learn that ‘excessive restraint begets further bloodshed’. Netanyahu agreed, promising that ‘Israel will respond forcefully to Iranian terror’. However, his bark was bigger than his bite: no tangible Israel response was forthcoming.

The most obvious manifestation of this ‘speak big, do nothing’ approach was on Israel’s southern borders. Under Netanyahu, when rockets were launched from Gaza, the Israeli Air Force targeted the rocket crews, not the governmental apparatus of Hamas. Rather than opt for massive retaliation, forcing Hamas to reign in the rocket crews, Netanyahu’s preference was for dialogue and negotiations, leading to several rounds of ‘truces’ which brought relative quiet.

However, Bibi’s restraint gamble unravelled rapidly. The number of rockets fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip increased substantially in recent weeks, suggesting that Hamas was either unwilling or unable to constrain smaller, more radical fellow travellers. Netanyahu was dragged back down the path of deterrence and disproportionate response, kicking and screaming all the way in the face of Israeli public uproar over perceived government inaction. Here lie the origins of Israel’s latest game-changing assault: ‘Operation Cloud Pillar’.

Four days into the operation, Netanyahu retains a preference for limited ‘surgical’ strikes over the strategic employment of disproportionate force. In the first four hours of Cast Lead, over 100 targets including police stations and bureaucratic offices were hit in Israel’s opening salvo, killing approximately 140 Palestinians. By contrast, the first four days of Cloud Pillar has witnessed around twenty Palestinian deaths.

However, every rocket erodes the legitimacy of surgical restraint. Hamas proved that they too are capable of game-changing tactics: for the first time since 1991, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem (where I am fortunate/unfortunate enough to live) were struck by rocket attacks. At the time of writing, the Israeli Defence Forces were subsequently granted permission to call up 75,000 reserve troops and close off the roads surrounding the Gaza Strip.

Thus, the road to Operation Cloud Pillar was paved not by the ballot box, but by strategic failures of the Israeli government, which lead to public uproar. Rather than present a clever political manipulation of patriotic fervour that is inherent in high-stakes warfare, Bibi’s dereliction of deterrence may actually cost him dearly in January’s elections. For those of us on the left, we are once again faced with the stark reality of a region where excessive force delivers quiet, whilst restraint begets clumsy, last-minute regressions to well-trodden strategic norms, of which Operation Cloud Pillar is increasingly looking like another example.

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Photo Credit: Abode of Chaos

Israel’s Deadly Game of Politics

Desperate times call for desperate measures and it seems Israel has decided that the only way to deter Palestine from achieving an observer state status at the United Nations is to destabilise the region and use the argument that Palestine is not ready to become a state due to its violent and confrontational nature.

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On Wednesday 14th November Israel killed the military commander of Hamas in an airstrike on the Gaza Strip. Hamas said Ahmed Al-Jabari, who ran the organization’s armed wing, Izz el-Deen Al-Qassam, died along with a passenger after their car was targeted by an Israeli missile. Jabari has long topped Israel’s most-wanted list. Israel blames him for a string of attacks, including the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit in 2006. The Israeli military says its assassination of the Hamas military commander marks the beginning of an operation against Gaza militants.

The consequences of Israel’s actions were already noticeable just a few hours after the announcement as immediate calls for revenge were broadcast over Hamas radio and smaller groups also warned of retaliation: “”Israel has declared war on Gaza and they will bear the responsibility for the consequences,” Islamic Jihad said.” There is now a real chance that this event can lead to another full-blown conflict similar to the three week conflict in 2008 and 2009.

However perhaps a full blown conflict in the region is exactly what Israel wanted. On the 29th of November, Palestine will put in a resolution to upgrade the status of Palestine to that of a non-member observer state in the organization. Unsurprisingly Israel with the support of the United States have opposed this move arguing that it will hinder real negotiations, despite the fact that the majority of UN members believe Palestine should be granted a full state membership at the international organisation. Israel has bluntly said that they will consider partial or full cancellation of the Oslo Accords if the United Nations General Assembly adopts the resolution. On Sunday, the Foreign Ministry sent an urgent cable to all Israeli representatives around the world, asking ambassadors to deliver a number of messages to senior officials in those countries as soon as possible. “You are asked immediately at the beginning of the work week to contact the foreign ministry, prime minister’s office, national security adviser or president’s office and request to do all possible to halt the Palestinian initiative because of its far-reaching consequences,” the cable to the ambassadors said. As opposed to the decisions of the UN Security Council, General Assembly decisions cannot be vetoed, therefore the USA cannot play its ace card to prevent Palestine achieving its objective. Despite strong pressure from Israel, the Palestinian President has defiantly said he will not back out from his plan to table the resolution at the United Nations.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and it seems Israel has decided that the only way to deter Palestine from achieving an observer state status at the United Nations is to destabilise the region and use the argument that Palestine is not ready to become a state due to its violent and confrontational nature. Hamas have always argued that asking the UN to grant Palestine a member status would be purely symbolic and would not achieve anything on the ground. For this reason, it is likely that Hamas will retaliate against Israel after the death of Al-Jabari, which is exactly what Israel wants them to do. Abbas is likely to plead to Hamas not to seek revenge at such a crucial time for the Palestinian state, but Hamas (who are already on cold terms with Abbas) are unlikely to listen, giving Israel more ammunition to claim that Palestine is a divided nation and thus do not deserve a place at the United Nations.

While many claim that it would be purely a symbolic matter if Palestine were to become an observer non-member state, the consequences are far greater than that. Netanyahu is fully aware of the fact that the new status as a non-member state would allow Palestine to be accepted as a member of the International Criminal Court of the UN in The Hague and demand Israel and its leaders be tried for war crimes. This is a very serious threat to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian land and teh Israeli officials will not take this lightly.

One may argue that the two events (UN resolution vote on the 29th November and Wednesday’s assassination of the Hamas militant) are purely coincidental in their close timing. But as Roosevelt said: “In politics nothing happens by accident”. Not much else needs to be said.

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Photo Credit: Lilachd

Perché, In Questo Momento, Il Riconoscimento Di Uno Stato Palestinese Sarebbe Disastroso

Bisogna evitare facili entusiasmi nell’accogliere la richiesta di riconoscimento che lo Stato palestinese ha avanzato presso l’ONU, soprattutto se ciò non considera adeguatamente le esigenze di sicurezza di Israele. Una certa pazienza si rende necessaria per scongiurare sviluppi altrimenti catastrofici.

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Articolo in riposta a: “Ostacolare la creazione della Palestina: il grande errore degli Stati Uniti

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La richiesta di riconoscimento istituzionale che l’Autorità Nazionale Palestinese ha avanzato presso l’ONU ha rappresentato, per molti,  una possibile via d’uscita dalla questione mediorientale: si reputa, infatti, che una tale istanza possa esercitare una maggiore pressione internazionale su Israele. Di conseguenza, assecondando questa logica, i contrari al suddetto riconoscimento statuale rischierebbero un passo falso diplomatico: pare, infatti, che la richiesta dell’ANP goda di crescente consenso presso gli Stati membri delle Nazioni Unite. Gli Stati Uniti, sostiene ancora la tesi dell’articolo precedente, vi si opporrebbero poiché preoccupati dalla possibile denuncia che, un eventuale Stato palestinese, intenterebbe presso la Corte Penale Istituzionale contro Israele, con l’accusa di occupare illegalmente i propri territori. Infatti, continuando a sostenere un alleato storico, gli Stati Uniti finirebbero però per  tradire i propri stessi principi e valori, vedendo poi compromessa la propria influenza all’interno del mondo arabo. In aggiunta, conclude l’articolo, l’atteggiamento americano nei confronti dell’ANP suscita qualche perplessità, dato che appare in forte contrasto con il supporto fornito alle rivoluzioni democratiche in Nordafrica.

A questo punto, sarebbe il caso di confutare le argomentazioni descritte. In primis, approvare la richiesta dell’ANP potrebbe generare pericolosi sviluppi non solo per Stati Uniti ed Israele, ma anche e soprattutto per lo stesso Stato palestinese;  e, più in generale, per tutta la regione mediorientale. E’ infatti per ragioni legate alla stabilità e alla sicurezza regionale che gli Stati Uniti si oppongono a tale epilogo, piuttosto che per opinabili legami di lealtà a Gerusalemme. In questo momento storico l’ANP non è pronta a configurarsi come entità statuale, e se le valutazioni strategiche avanzate da Israele dovessero essere ulteriormente ignorate, si profilerebbero instabilità politica e il rischio di un conflitto generalizzato a tutta l’area circostante.

L’ANP, in effetti, non gode del pieno controllo sui propri territori, nemmeno per quanto riguarda la Zona A: non è in grado, dunque, né di esercitare lo stato di diritto sulla regione, né di garantire stabilità nei territori di confine – come ad esempio nella Striscia di Gaza dove perdura e si consolida la presenza di Hamas. A tal proposito, pur supponendo che l’ANP acquisisca lo status desiderato, appare improbabile che possa subentrare o affiancarsi pacificamente ad Hamas nel governo di Gaza. L’organizzazione in questione continuerebbe le proprie attività anche all’interno di uno Stato palestinese ormai indipendente, come il lancio di missili su Israele e la politica di reclutamento tra le tribù beduine, in modo da garantirsi un rafforzamento strategico nella zona del Sinai. Un eventuale Stato potrebbe costituirsi solamente nel momento in cui dovesse possedere le caratteristiche adatte a diventarlo: per adesso territorio e popolazione non sono affatto attributi sufficienti.

Relativamente a considerazioni di ordine interno, si provi ad ipotizzare uno Stato palestinese indipendente che ottenga, da parte della Corte Penale Internazionale, una sentenza sul ritiro di Israele dai Territori Occupati. Cosa accadrebbe in seguito? Storicamente, nessuna entità statale ha mai rinunciato volontariamente alle proprie posizioni strategiche, ancor più per sentenza e senza calcolare le ripercussioni sulla propria stabilità interna. Sia a livello di apparato statale, che di forze di sicurezza, l’ANP risulta troppo debole per poter affrontare proteste e rivolte; e sembra avere ancora meno chance di debellare il terrorismo di matrice domestica. Abu Mazen sarebbe davvero in grado di fermare un possibile lancio missilistico verso l’aeroporto di Tel Aviv? Di ostacolare il contrabbando di armi da fuoco giordane a Ramallah? E di impedire ad agenti di Hezbollah di infiltrarsi in Palestina per reclutare ed addestrare nuovi terroristi?

Non sembra decisamente il caso di correre rischi così consistenti; tanto più adesso che l’intera regione è scossa da conflitti settari. Con le sue deboli istituzioni statali, e le sue forze di sicurezza impreparate e corrotte, l’ANP non è in grado di esercitare il potere sufficiente a garantire una certa stabilità. Al contrario, Israele riesce, in maniera efficace, ad arginare la minaccia terroristica proveniente dai Territori Occupati, malgrado i vergognosi abusi umanitari e le violenze che ne conseguono. Sarebbe dunque ipotizzabile che, sulla base di un mero imperativo morale, lo Stato israeliano decida di affidare la propria sicurezza ad istituzioni deboli e poco influenti? Basterebbe solo un po’ di buon senso per affermare il contrario.

In primo luogo, lo stato di diritto potrà essere esercitato dall’ANP, sia nella Striscia di Gaza che in Cisgiordania, solo quando sarà in grado di evitare che il terrorismo locale giunga a colpire Israele. In secondo luogo, non è pensabile che Israele possa essere costretta, per di più da potenze straniere, ad accettare l’esistenza di uno Stato palestinese. La pressione esercitata su Gerusalemme non basterebbe comunque a determinarne un cedimento; per quanto riguarda la parte palestinese, tale situazione potrebbe dare il via libera ad una Terza Intifada. Ne conseguirebbero eccidi, violenze e l’intensificarsi della presenza militare israeliana nei Territori Occupati: una mossa del genere ritarderebbe almeno di vent’anni la risoluzione della questione palestinese, facendo sfumare ogni possibilità di stipulare un compromesso pacifico.

In ultima analisi, la negoziazione del processo di pace deve coinvolgere le grandi potenze. Ogni argomento contrario sarebbe irrilevante e fuori luogo, poiché già nel 2001, nel corso del Summit di Taba, furono definiti tutti i parametri per una risoluzione consensuale. Il problema risiede nella mancanza di buona volontà da entrambe le parti: se desiderassero realmente risolvere la questione, uno Stato Palestinese potrebbe sorgere nel giro di una notte. Allo stesso modo, ogni soluzione internazionale che prescinda da Israele sarebbe rovinosa: il rischio di violenze aumenterebbe vertiginosamente, determinando il rinfocolarsi di atteggiamenti aggressivi da parte di israeliani e palestinesi.

In conclusione, il riconoscimento statuale sarebbe disastroso per l’ANP e la sua legittimità. Se, successivamente all’ottenimento di tale status istituzionale le condizioni di vita per gli abitanti palestinesi non dovessero migliorare, l’ANP si ritroverebbe ulteriormente danneggiata, e il già debole supporto di cui attualmente gode verrebbe compromesso. Non è difficile ipotizzare come un’ondata di proteste popolari possa favorire la base radicale, che, attaccando l’inerzia e la passività dell’ANP, vedrebbe rinsaldata la propria credibilità, incitando la popolazione a rivendicare con violenza ciò che le stesse Nazioni Unite avevano promesso. Se dovesse scoppiare un’altra Intifada, l’ANP non avrebbe alcuna possibilità di gestirla, né risulterebbe credibile nel prendere le redini del conflitto, ponendosi come alternativa al populismo militante di Hamas. Se Arafat non fu in grado di gestire la Seconda Intifada, è assolutamente fuori discussione che il poco carismatico Abu Mazen riesca a fare di meglio.

Non si voglia leggere, in quest’articolo, un’apologia di Netanyahu o delle politiche repressive israeliane. Bisogna, però, evitare facili entusiasmi nell’accogliere la richiesta di riconoscimento che lo Stato palestinese ha avanzato presso l’ONU,  soprattutto se ciò non considera adeguatamente le esigenze di sicurezza di Israele. Una certa pazienza si rende necessaria per scongiurare sviluppi altrimenti catastrofici. Bisogna comunque riconoscere che, indipendentemente dalle posizioni sull’argomento dibattuto, al momento le relazioni israelo-palestinesi – sia a livello sociale, che diplomatico – sono pacifiche come non accadeva da qualche anno.

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Articolo tradotto da Antonella Di Marzio

Editing: Giuseppe Paparella

Articolo originale: Recognizing A Palestinian State Would Be Disastrous

Photo Credit: Adam Biggs / theriskyshift.com

The Changing Dynamics of Palestinian Movements

Terrorists or not, it is clear that as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad make their rise the West will gradually lose its already-weak influence over decision-making processes in the Palestinian political landscape.

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Since the ’Arab Spring’ began in the December 2011, geo-political experts across the world have anticipated (and sometimes prophesised) the coming of changes to the Palestinian political landscape. However the popular uprisings that toppled governments in Egypt, Yemen as well as Libya and are trying to do so today in Syria, have eluded the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Yet it seems political commentators have self-caused the idea of the Arab Spring passing the Palestinian political environment to become axiomatic. By expecting to see such mass protests against the ruling regime in Occupied West Bank or Occupied Gaza Strip, what these commentators have missed is the more subtle and behind-the-scene change in Palestinian political dynamics – one that has been fuelled by the regional changes originating from the ‘Arab Spring’ events.
Palestinian political landscape is silently going through its own ‘Arab Spring’ moment with old gerontocratic leaders finding it difficult to assert the same power they have been wielding for such long time. At the same time new (Islamist) political forces are establishing themselves in politics, while other organisations are re-asserting themselves as new (and often more extreme) resistance forces.

Fall of Fatah

The ’old guard’ of Fatah led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and technocrat Prime Minister Salam Fayyad seems to have its back against the wall. Firstly the economic situation of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is on its last legs and according to the latest World Bank report will face a $ 400 million budget deficit that needs to be covered (as always) with the finances coming from international donors. The West Bank Palestinians are realizing that the current government cannot fill their expectations regarding improvement of quality of life or making progress in reaching peace with the Israelis that would lead to an independent Palestinian state. Of this bears witness the fact that numerous protests against both the rule of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad took place in various West Bank towns throughout the last summer. Possibly the first nail in Fatah’s coffin is the latest poor showing at the West Bank local elections where the party won just two-fifths of the seats it contested for. What is more it lost its control over such key West Bank towns as Ramallah, Nablus and Jenin to former Fatah members who had seceded from the party.

It is of course too early to write off Fatah completely. Mahmoud Abbas has launched for the second time a Palestinian initiative in the United Nations and this time the Palestinian leader might succeed in what he is seeking. Abbas aims to change the legal status of the Palestinian entity to a non-member observer state at the United Nations and currently it looks that he is going to accomplish that as 150 to 170 countries supposedly will vote in favour. But this victory could turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory for Abbas. In reality not much will change for the Palestinian leadership – Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories will continue and can realistically be ended only through bi-lateral negotiations. And certainly nothing will change for the common Palestinian living in the West Bank or Gaza Stip. He or she will continue to face economic difficulty and Israeli occupation. Fatah leaders, by raising the hopes of Palestinian people and then returning from the General Assembly with nothing more than a legal piece of paper and no real benefits, might do disservice to themselves.

New political rise of Hamas

Misfortunes of Fatah have opened up opportunities for other Palestinian political actors. Hamas has been a central player in Palestinian politics, at least since the movement won Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006 and possibly even before that. The political changes of the Arab Spring have furthermore fuelled Hamas’s ever-accelerating accent – a political rise that is seriously threatens Fatah’s role as the premier Palestinian political actor.
Hamas like many other organisations found its position at the beginning of Arab Spring weaken as its relationships with its traditional backers Iran and Syria chilled. With the Syrian Alawite regime gradually cranking up violence against its Sunni subjects Hamas leaders distanced themselves from the al-Assad regime and eventually outright condoned the brutal crackdown. This subsequently entailed Hamas’s external bureau leaders leaving their traditional headquarters in Damascus as well as drying up of Iranian financial assistance and arms deliveries. But Hamas soon found new patrons – Turkey, Egypt and Qatar.

Somewhat surprisingly it has been the small but rich Gulf state that has proved to be the most supportive and possibly valuable ally to Hamas. Hamas leaders at first must have expected Egypt to become premier supporter of the Palestinian Resistance Movement. But the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has been wary when dealing with Hamas and in numerous accounts has done less than Hamas leaders would expect from him vis-à-vis supporting the movement. Qatar seems to be more open regarding its support to Hamas, something that became clear just recently with Qatar pledging $400 million for different projects in the Gaza Strip that was followed by the Emir Hamad bin Khalifah Al Thani’s visit to the Palestinian enclave.

Hamas, a Palestinian organisation that throughout its history has aspired to replace Fatah as the prominent Palestinian movement, will benefit Qatar’s recent generosity and Emir’s subsequent visit in numerous ways. Firstly the injection of cash will improve the living conditions of Gazans and will provide many unemployed people with much needed work. Of course even with this financial boost Gaza is still a long way from a comfortable and modern place to live, but that might not be the point. For Hamas and especially Gazan leaders they will be able to show that Hamas (irrespective of this being through foreign investment) is improving the living conditions of Palestinians in Gaza, while the Fatah led-government is pursuing populist goals at the time when the West Bank population is languishing in economic hardship. Hamas looks to win some political points with the West Bank Palestinians and could very well succeed through this strategy.

The visit of Qatari Emir is important also from an international perspective. It is widely publicised that Emir Al Thani was the first head of state to visit Gaza Strip since Hamas took power in June 2007. The real importance of the visit is however that it challenges the long-held monopoly by Fatah and the PLO as being accepted by the international community as the sole representative of Palestinian people. While Hamas officials have been on political visits to different Arab (and occasionally non-Arab states) the visit of the Emir, at least de facto if not de jure, confirms Hamas’s positions as the official ruler of the Gaza Strip and thus representative of (some) Palestinians. Moreover Qatar opened a diplomatic mission in Gaza while not doing so in the West Bank – a development that could reinforce the idea that the Gulf emirate sees Hamas as the new dominant Palestinian political force.

Hamas itself has for long sought to be accepted as a more credible political actor, but has struggled to relinquish its image of a resistance movement. The new Qatari recognition and financial injection into Gaza might very well help Hamas to move away from violence against Israel and commit more extensively to ruling the Gaza Strip. Firstly Qatari visit and the opening of the diplomatic mission might open the door for other (first Arab and later non-Arab) states to establish official contacts with the Hamas government inside Gaza Strip. Secondly when the Qatari-funded skyrises, hospitals and schools start to be built in the Palestinian enclave, Hamas has every incentive in limiting violence from the Gaza Strip that could incur destructive Israeli retaliation. There is no point in building a new hospital one week if it is destroyed the next. Hence Hamas’s internal security services will step up their actions to curb violent attacks by other Gazan-based militants groups against Israel. By providing Gazans with better life conditions Hamas can palliate itself from focusing less on the continuation of the armed resistance. It is unlikely however that armed resistance will stop altogether – nature abhors a vacuum. While Hamas is moving away from violence and becoming more involved in non-violent political and ruling process, another Islamist movement is posed to take its place as the quintessential Palestinian resistance movement.

The Resurgent Palestinian Islamic Jihad

Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) has long been living in the shadow of its rival Hamas. Although being one of the first movements participating in the First Intifada, the PIJ as an Islamist movement was forced to take the back seat after the creation of Hamas and has since then been seen as the supportive ‘little brother’ of the former. That is until recently.

The PIJ has become more critical of Hamas and has accused the later of selling out on the idea of resistance to Israeli occupation. True enough Hamas has scaled back its armed attacks against Israel following the 2007-2009 Gaza War that proved painstakingly destructive for Hamas and the Gazan population. Increasingly critical of Hamas, the PIJ has stated that it will continue the armed resistance against Israel even if Hamas decides to abandon such action. More importantly it seems that the PIJ actually possesses the necessary means to do so. Abu Ahmad, the spokesperson of the military wing of PIJ, said in an interview to Reuters in late 2011 that the organisation had at least 8000 fully equipped fighters under its command and that there was no shortage of new recruits wanting to join. Iranian connection to the PIJ was also mentioned during the interview and taking into account the fact that Hamas has fallen from the good graces of Iran it might be the PIJ that has come to replace Hamas as the main recipient of Iranian military assistance. In the light of this the alleged Israeli Air Force air strike against the Yarmouk arms factory in Sudanese capital Khartoum on 23 October might have destroyed 40 containers of weapons meant not for Hamas, but for its rival the PIJ.

Conclusion

Although the Palestinian civil society has not gone through a large-scale popular uprising as we have seen in other parts of the Middle East there is rock-solid evidence that Palestinian political dynamics are changing. And from a Westerners perspective the change (like many other political changes brought on by the Arab Spring) are worrying. Fatah, the long-time Western ‘go-to guy’ in Palestinian politics is fast losing its authority and might be on its way out as a political player. With the other two up-and-coming Palestinian political entities – Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad – the West largely lacks any meaningful connection, much to do with the fact that they are considered terrorists. Terrorists or not, it is clear that as these two groups make their rise the West will gradually lose its already weak influence over decision-making processes in the Palestinian political landscape. Instead it will be the various Arab and non-Arab states in the Middle East that will see their influence increase. Will these states exert their influence over these Palestinian entities to pursue peace or to pursue war? Only time will tell.

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Photo Credit: No Lands Too Foreign

Recognizing A Palestinian State Would Be Disastrous

A hoorah enthusiasm to accept Palestinian statehood at the United Nations no matter what – and with no regard for Israel’s say in the matter – would be catastrophic. We must be patient.

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A view of Jerusalem

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This is a response to  ‘Blocking Palestine: America’s Big Mistake

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Many groups have seen hope for a solution to the Middle East conflict in the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN, the thinking being that international pressure will exert  pressure on Israel. Following this logic, American opposition to the move is regarded as a diplomatic mistake given a growing consent among the UN member states for the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) request for statehood. Americans, the argument goes, are opposed to it out of concerns that the Palestinian state could then file a lawsuit at the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Israel for illegal occupation of its territories. This stance takes root in its loyalty to a close ally despite the fact that such policy goes against its principles and values and undermines its influence across the Arab World. American behavior with regards to the PA is even more perplexing when one takes a look at its efforts to support democratic changes in North Africa.

I would like to counter that argument. Accepting a Palestinian bid for statehood would be a dangerous development, not only for the US and Israel, but first and foremost for Palestinians and the wider region. Americans oppose Palestinian statehood out of security concerns rather than a morally dubious attachment to its ally. At this moment in history Palestine is by no means ready to become a state, and the blatant international disregard for the Israeli input in the matter could have dire consequences, including an all-out conflict across the region.

The first and most important risk originates in the fact that the PA does not exercise full control over its territories, even in Zone A, and cannot guarantee the rule of law over all of its lands and stability at its borders – the Gaza Strip and Hamas, for example. Let’s imagine the PA finally gets the statehood it wanted – how is it supposed to oust Hamas from Gaza and reinstate itself as the ruling power? What do Abbas’s assertions on peaceful cooperation with Israel mean if once Palestine becomes independent Hamas will continue to dictate its own policies, fire missiles at Israel and recruit Bedouins to attack from Sinai? Palestine can only become a state if it has all the features of a state – territory and population are not enough.

Let us imagine the newly independent Palestine files a lawsuit against Israel at the ICC, the ICC finds Israel guilty and demands its withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. Then what? No state in history will voluntarily abandon strategic positions without being fully confident that its withdrawal will not be instantaneously used against it. Palestinian state apparatus and security forces are too weak to deal with rioting and protests, let alone successfully fight domestic terrorist groups. Can Abbas really guarantee that no missiles will be launched on Ben Gurion Airport from the West Bank hills? That he will make sure nobody smuggles firearms from Jordan into Ramallah? That Hezbollah operatives would not enter Palestine to train and recruit new terrorists?

The risk is just too big to take, especially now with sectarian conflicts raging all over the region. The PA does not wield enough power – state institutions are weak and security forces are ill-trained and corrupt. Israel contains the terrorist threat coming from the Occupied Territories at the disgraceful costs of humanitarian abuse and violence, but its tactics and strategy are successful. Can Israelis gamble put their safety and security in the hands of weak and semi-failed institutions out of a moral imperative? It would be against common sense to claim they should.

The first condition for the PA is to exercise the full rule of law, both in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, when it will be able to contain terrorism on its own territory before it hits Israel. Secondly, Israel cannot be forced into an internationally orchestrated Palestinian statehood. Israelis would not yield to such pressure, whereas encouraged Palestinians would interpret such move as a green light for staging a Third Intifada. The consequences would be more bloodshed, more violence and a greater Israeli military presence in the Occupied Territories. Such a move would delay any chance for a comprehensive solution for another couple of decades.

The peace process must be negotiated with the involvement of the great powers. The counter-argument is irrelevant as all the parameters for a peace solution have been set and defined as far back as Taba Summit in 2001. The problem lies in the lack of good will between the two sides; if the solution was mutually desired, Palestine could become an independent state over one night. Any international solution without the Israelis on board would deteriorate the situation, enhance the risk of violence, and fuel hawkish moods both in Israel and in Palestine.

Lastly, statehood would be disastrous for the PLO and its legitimacy. If the PLO could not gain any substantial improvement in the Palestinian situation following recognition, Palestinian society would question the PA’s ability to deliver, thus further undermining its already weak support. It is not hard to imagine a wave of social protests bolstering radicals’ support base, who could build their popularity on harsh critique of the PLO’s inertia and passiveness, calling for the people to forcefully take what has been promised by the UN itself. If another intifada were to break out, the PLO would have no chance of controlling the uprising, nor would it be able to compete with the militant and populist Hamas in rallying the support of the society to lead the fight. If Arafat could not control the Second Intifada, it is beyond the realms of possibility that someone as uncharismatic as Abbas will do better.

I do not intend to defend Israeli policies; I am no fan of Bibi and his politics. But a hoorah enthusiasm to accept Palestinian statehood at the UN no matter what – and with no regard for Israel’s say in the matter – would be catastrophic. We must be patient and appreciate the current situation, as irrespective of what we think, Israeli-Palestinian relations, both on official and social levels, haven’t been as peaceful as they are now for some time.

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Photo credit: Adam Biggs / theriskyshift.com

Top 10 Middle Eastern Developments To Watch (Part 2)

The second part of a two-part piece providing the top 10 Middle Eastern developments to keep your eye on. In this section:  the Egyptian constitution, oil and gas in Cyprus and Israel, Indo-Pakistani relations, Afghanistan, and terrorism in the Yemen and the Sinai.

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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his piece follows on from Top 10 Middle Eastern Developments To Watch (Part 1).

5. Egyptian constitution

This issue should be at the top of Israel’s security agenda. Two important things to watch out for: the timing of the new constitution’s inception and the division of powers between president, parliament and the military. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) might want to delay the passing of the constitution for as long as possible in order to buy some time and attempt to undermine Muslim Brotherhood’s legitimacy in Egyptian society’s eyes. Such efforts would ultimately prove to be fruitless, but they might just be enough to keep Egypt under control for long enough to wait for the Iranian crisis to fade away. The last thing the Egyptian military would want to deal with is a president letting Iranian warships through the Suez Canal bound for Tel Aviv to avenge bombarded nuclear facilities. Or, more likely, an Egyptian president happily letting through cargo ships loaded with guns destined for Hezbollah and Hamas. Unlike the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafis, SCAF understands very well that Egypt cannot afford an open conflict with Israel.

The new constitution will stipulate the division of powers in Egypt – the presidential system is likely to be preserved. However some of the powers might be kept by SCAF, transforming the Egyptian system to resemble the Turkish model of division of power. Nevertheless, parliamentary control over state-owned enterprises has already had some repercussions for Egypt’s gas trade with Israel: Cairo has scrapped the deal according to which Israel would buy gas for prices below the market value and has stopped delivering gas. Israel points out, and rightly so, that the supply shutdown is in violation of the economic annex to the peace treaty of 1979.

Leaving Israel aside, the constitution of Egypt will permanently change the course of Levantine and North African politics. Egyptian society has always played the pioneering role in the Arab World, and once again it will be leading the way. The legal framework of the constitution might determine the future success or failure of the Muslim Brotherhood in mending the country’s crippling economy and society, troubled with deep sectarian divides. This success or failure will also determine whether Islamism is just another stop, after Arab nationalism, on the Arab journey to seek its identity’s final destination.

4. Oil and gas bonanza in Israel, Jordan and Cyprus

Cyprus and Israel are soon to become new gas Eldorado. The discovery of natural gas in the Israeli and Cypriot exclusive economic zone (EEZ) waters, some 50km west of Haifa, as well as the discovery of world’s second biggest reserve in of oil shale in Israel and Jordan can bring a huge cash flow to these countries and permanently change the geopolitics of the Levant. Cyprus and Israel are already working on unitization of gas extraction in Aphrodite deposit, which lies on the border between the Israeli and Cypriot EEZ. Extraction at Israel’s Tamar and Leviathan gas deposits are planned to be fully operational by 2020. Israelis intend to use the FLNG technology – a floating extraction plant – or simply put a ship, which extracts, liquefies and pumps gas onto tank ships, which then sail off to ports.

Russia and South East Asian countries are already interested in buying, but the EU might also be keen to get the goods, since now, more than ever, it seeks to diversify from its main energy source (yes, I mean Russia). Cyprus also plans to build a pipeline, starting at Aphrodite deposit, going to the Cypriot coast, then to Crete and finishing in Greece. Nicosia hopes the revenue will stabilize its economy and free it from all future economic shakedowns in Greece, to which it is currently dangerously tied.

There is, as always, a dark side to these new discoveries. History teaches us that there is a well-documented proportionate correlation between rivers of cash and rivers of blood. It would be far-fetched to claim the new gas and oil deposits will precipitate a major war, but conflicts, so far only diplomatic, have already started. Lebanon unilaterally announced that Israel’s water border should be moved 22m (!) south. Moving the border south gets Lebanon roughly 500 square kilometers extra sea territory for their exclusive exploration, and the sole rights to profits from any resources, live or fossilized. Cypriot activities are already causing irritation in Ankara, which claims that by signing EEZ agreements, Cyprus opens Pandora’s box with regard to its northern neighbours’ claims. Turkey sees no good in Cyprus bathing in gas dollars and might step up its diplomacy to limit Greek Cypriot profits.

Shale oil is a different story. Luckily enough, most of Israel’s shale oil reserves lay in Israel proper, not in the West Bank, hence no need to launch another campaign to “explain” her actions in the Palestinian territories. Israel and Jordan are in an early stage of negotiations (read: declarations were made and everybody went home) with Jordan regarding potential cooperation in oil extraction in order to increase profits. Israel is blessed in that matter, as natural gas is necessary to vaporize oil trapped in shale stones and having both resources, it makes the future Israeli industry self-sustainable and insulated from global market’s price fluctuations.

Altogether, Israel’s combined oil and gas resources are worth a striking $717 billion, and Cypriot Aphrodite $129 billion. This fortune will undoubtedly have an impact on the Middle East for at least the rest of this century.

3. Indo-Pakistani rapprochement

Pakistan and India will have friendly and warm relations – and it’s not just a fantasy of a college student reading too many IR books on international dialogue. This April Manmohan Singh and Asif Ali Zardari met in New Delhi. Although the meeting lasted only 30 minutes, cautiously and proportionately to the current state of bilateral relations, it fairs well for the future of the two countries. Both governments have already considered opening more border crossings to encourage trade exchange (currently limited to one land border crossing in Wagah – a crossing which rather serves tourists coming to watch the odd daily show of nationalism and popular rivalry, then cargo trucks). Banks are also supposed to have exchange offices in order to facilitate investments and, most importantly, peace negotiations have finally resumed first time since their suspension following the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

One may wonder why have India and Pakistan decided right this moment to amend relations. For India, the main motivations is the potential threat from China. As Beijing becomes a global superpower, New Delhi wants to divert its efforts from the half a century old conflict with its western neighbour to counter growing Chinese influence. A similar story can be drawn from Pakistan’s rationale, but for Islamabad the threat comes from the Spin Ghar mountains and the Taliban hiding in their caves. Pakistan has virtually no authority in the Federally Administered Tribal Territories (FATT) and obviously wishes to change it. Terrorism in the FATT is raging, causing strife with the US and undermining the Pakistani government’s prestige in international arena. However, a two front conflict is beyond anyone’s capability (Germany tried it twice: it didn’t work out) and rapprochement with India seems like a natural move if Pakistan genuinely wants to step up its counterterrorism campaign.

2. Post-war Afghanistan

NATO leaves Afghanistan in 2014. It’s a fact: the decision has been made and there is no coming back. It is going to leave an Afghan government controlling Kabul’s government district and maybe few streets nearby whilst the Taliban are more powerful than ever since the invasion in 2001. This topic does not require much deliberation – post-war Afghanistan will turn into the same kind of extremist state as it did after Soviet troops left in 1989. The country has, in essence, a failed economy, lacking in infrastructure and possessing a society that has hardly developed since the initial American action.

1.  Yemen and the Sinai Peninsula – new havens of terrorism

Yemen has suffered from domestic turmoil for quite some time. It wasn’t only the anti-government protests, which erupted after the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, but even earlier there were reports of tribal conflicts over water supplies.

Yemen is virtually on the verge of becoming a failed state. Just a couple of days ago, terrorists detonated a bomb at the Policy Academy in Saana. President Saleh might be gone, but Yemen has to face much bigger challenges than Libya, Tunisia or Egypt. The State’s authority over its territories is limited to major cities, leaving terrorists, financed by Iran, thriving in the North and the South of the country. Hadi’s new government has virtually no resources to increase its presence in rebellious provinces or to undertake reforms, which would revive the non-existent economy. And since Yemen has minute natural resources, none of the Western states is keen on entering a substantial and comprehensive development aid project. Since half of Yemen’s population already lives for less then $2 a day, the country can already be seen as a giant harvesting ground for terrorist organizations. Yemen might draw attention of the West, when it will be already infested with Al-Qaeda and Iran-backed terrorist cells. It is an extremely volatile situation right now which can go from bad to extremely dangerous within a few years if the US is not willing to step up its counter-terrorism activities in Yemen.

A threat on a different but still very serious level comes from the Sinai Peninsula. The Egyptian territory east of the Suez Canal has virtually become an outlawed territory after Mubarak’s downfall, falling into the hands of gangs of Bedouin smugglers. It is already estimated that the smuggling industry in Sinai is worth around $0,5 bln. Everything can be contraband – from food and weapons to sex slaves and drugs. Indeed, the Sinai has become one of the major human trafficking spots, where Bedouins kidnap Sudanese refugees desperate to reach Israel, and sell them to Europe and elsewhere. These gangs operate technicals – the Somali-“Black Hawk Down” type – as well as anti-tank missiles, machine guns, RPGs and many more. A development severely worsening the situation is the progressing radicalization of traditionally religion-neutral Bedouins. The culprit for this is Hamas in the nearby Gaza Strip, who trade with Bedouins and recruits operatives to mount attacks on Israel from Egyptian territory. Since Mubarak left the government, there were around 200 incidents of terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians in Eilat or the Negev desert, as well as sabotage attacks on pipelines, which supply gas to Israel. The gas flow has already been suspended a couple of times leaving Israel with gas shortages over the year. This picture indicates that the Sinai might become, alongside Yemen, another haven for Al-Qaeda and Hamas terrorists. The result might be a regional disaster – any major attack on Israel from Egyptian territory will shred the peace treaty into tatters.

The Gaza Strip: First Impressions

One leaves the Gaza Strip unsure whether to categorise the experience as witnessing real life in surreal conditions, or life by mirages of banality under normalised conflict. The answer is probably a mixture of both.

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Tunnel to the Gaza Strip

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[dropcap]F[/dropcap]rom the outset, Gaza City fiercely interrogates one’s sense of surreality. First of all because there is no way of knowing what to expect. Gaza suffers an excess of definitions from but a dearth of normal contact with the outside world. The competing definitions – prison camp, animal pen, laboratory, breeding ground for terrorists, enemy entity, potential humanitarian disaster zone – along with the only reportage and images we see from the strip being warfare-related mean that one enters and is genuinely surprised by everything normal: trees! buildings! billboards! cars! When banality is what is most surprising, it is probably time to rethink these definitions, for what one finds is not a society of prisoners, animals, terrorists; but just people.

The situation and the borders around the Gaza Strip must be what is surreal, then. Except that they are violently real and patently part of Gaza’s reality. Thursday night sees the Gazan elite socialising at the ex-Moevenpick (now an Arcmed, the 5* hotel is empty, but the leisure facilities service the local population). One night, during the usual scene: people sipping juice cocktails, children playing freely, a toddler dances on a table. Behind her a few blocks north, two Qassam rockets rise and fall towards Ashkelon. What I take for Iron Dome activation sets off next, rockets with orange flare tails headed back into the strip, and then a heavier strike on the Qassam launching ground, all thuds and flashes. Adults pause to look but quickly return to their juice cocktails. The toddler never stops dancing. I could not help but think of the same scenario from the Israeli side, they will have been ushered into bomb shelters, underlining that what is going on outside is not to be considered normal life. There are no public bomb shelters in Gaza. They built open air night spots instead.

This is not to say that Gazans are all hardened against threat, that they do not appreciate the danger of their situation, nor that they necessarily could build state of the art bomb shelters if they wanted to. Psychological problems are rife here, many suffer from some kind of ongoing trauma distress. And as a visitor here, soon you will too.

Experiences vary throughout the strip, the middle area around Deir al-Balah sees more incursions of actual ground troops, but if you live in Gaza City you will not see an Israeli. However they are a pervasive mental presence, piqued by occasional deadly physical reminders. They mostly come at night, the drones. Disrupting television signal if the electricity is working, or barely disturbing sleep. And then their target is fired upon. A strike a block away will blow your windows open and have you leaping for the exit if this is your first time. Perhaps, like me, you’ll find yourself mustering alone in a hotel corridor with your trusty towel until you slope off back to bed realising you’ve experienced nothing special. At least in Gazan terms. You get on the Gazan twittersphere and are reassured by some strange kind of human contact after proximity to being collateral damage. It will be over a week before you can sleep properly again. Once out of Gaza, it becomes a novelty and delight to take in that not every loud noise is an air strike, that there are passenger planes in the air, not drones and F16s, and that there is electricity available all day long. This is a conflict that blurs your sense of warfare with the everyday and domestic. It is disturbing.

This must be why the international United Nations workers mostly opt to spend some of their danger pay on weekends off in Tel Aviv. It’s just up the coast and visible from Gaza City on a clear day. That those who can do flit between the Gaza Strip and Israel brings the borders back into surreal territory. The actual workings of the borders are a mystery and occupy the same space in small talk as the weather does in British conversation: is Rafah open? Will it open later? What is Erez like today? The meteorology of Rafah is based on Egyptian politics, bureaucracy and Hamas permits, it is somewhat predictable by a crude barometer measuring these influences. The same cannot be applied to the Israeli ones, and indeed to the reasons behind the ongoing blockade that was designed to put pressure on Hamas to release an abducted Israeli soldier and to weaken their ability to govern, but which achieved the total opposite of both goals, is something nobody can explain to their children when they inevitably ask that awkward question.

One leaves the Gaza Strip unsure whether to categorise the experience as witnessing real life in surreal conditions, or life by mirages of banality under normalised conflict. The answer is probably a mixture of both.

Lucy spent 10 days in Gaza in June – hosted by the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme – as part of her PhD research.

Playing The Great Game

Enmity becomes more entrenched in a Great Game and violence quickly becomes the sole language of political disagreement. If we must play, we had better be sure the prize is worth it.

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In the 21st century of human rights, international law and the United Nations, we have convinced ourselves that the era of the ‘Great Game’ exists only in history books. Many of us have told ourselves that the Arab Spring is different this time – that it will transform the Middle East for the better, where the common man (and woman) finally has the opportunity to achieve popular sovereignty and genuine political representation. Unfortunately, the unbiased lens of history suggests it is imperial business as usual for the Middle East.

No conflicts better highlights this unfortunate truth than those in Syria and Bahrain. Never before have two conflicts, each a different branch from the same tree, managed to so evidently embody the age-old idiom: ‘One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’.

The players? Principally the US, UK and Iran (with Saudi Arabia thrown into the mix). We all know that the tagline of both the US and UK foreign policies is the promotion of democracy and human rights worldwide. Iran, having long considered itself to be the pioneer of the Islamic resurgence within the Middle East, is supposedly committed to the endeavors of Muslims that it sees are striving to end the remnants of Western colonialism in the region. Its support of such groups as Hamas and Hezbollah is guided by this principle.

I may offend your collective intelligence when I say that the Middle East is a demographically complex region. The states that comprise the Middle East today do little to reflect this complexity – the vast majority of them were brought into existence as a consequence of imperial rivalry between Britain and France after the First World War. It would not be far off to suggest that the Arab Spring has been cast out of Arab frustrations of their disenfranchisement resulting from this arbitrary state system. Of course, each Spring is unique based on its host country’s geography, demography, history and politics – but the feeling of disenfranchisement is common to them all.

In their simplest terms, the Syrian and Bahraini Springs have been born out of the same problem – an insular, detached demographic minority ruling over the majority. In Syria’s case, this is the Shi‘i Alawi al-Asad regime ruling over a Sunni majority (with Kurds and various other minorities thrown into the mix). In Bahrain, it is a Sunni monarchy ruling over a much larger Shi‘i minority. This relationship is absolutely abhorrent to democracy, where the concept of ‘majority rules’ forms the basis of our conceptions of popula participation. In theory, the US and UK should be supporting both movements. Regarding Iranian foreign policy ideals, it also should be opposed to despotism, injustice and tyranny – the evils that the Islamic Revolution sought to expel from its borders through ousting the Shah in 1979. But of course (and frankly, predictably), they do not.

Anyone who maintains at least a minimal level of awareness to international affairs will be acquainted with the situation in Syria. The al-Assad regime has literally been getting away with murder against anti-regime protesters, with politicians in the US, UK and France calling for action exasperatingly close to military intervention. Iran is reported to have provided the regime with support in the form of military advisors placed at the highest levels of Syria’s government. Even with the involvement of UN observers, the situation is far from resolution.

Don’t know much about the Bahraini Spring? I’m not surprised, it rarely makes the news – when it does, it is only because it has interrupted our enjoyment of international motorsport, slipping from view when it can no longer create an awkward nuisance. However, the Al Khalifa regime has sported the same disgusting techniques as the al-Asad family, however there has been nothing near the international condemnation as there has been toward Syria. Just like the protestors in Syria, Bahrainis protested peacefully for modest reforms – and were given a government response in the form of live ammunition, tear gas and rubber bullets. In particular, government forces have used the old ‘occupy hospitals and torture the wounded’ tactic against all those suspected to have been involved in the protests. Indeed, the Al Khalifas are certainly not playing cricket.

The most remarkable aspect of the ongoing situation in Bahrain is our complete silence on the matter. Even Tunisia, which has had the most peaceful and stable transition toward democratization, has had more coverage than Bahrain. Whilst we ignore the situation, the Iranian press has adopted a different approach. The Iranian news outlets (all state-owned, I might add) rather obviously refer to the Bahraini protestors as ‘martyrs’ whilst labeling the Syrians with the conspicuously vague ‘armed groups’. The West has acquiesced the Saudi military intervention to crush the Bahraini Spring whilst laying ample criticism on Iran for supporting one of the few allies it still has left.

It is not the intention to lament about the incompatibility between idealism and reality in foreign policy – states have interests, and it has been clear for a long time that states will compromise their ideals to secure those interests it perceives as strategically necessary. But let’s not fool ourselves – what we are witnessing in Syria and Bahrain today is yet another Great Game. However, unlike the Great Games of the 19th and 20th centuries, this Game can now bite us back and the information age has shifted the power of the Game towards the hands of the pawns. In 19th century Central Asia, the response of the local Khanates was constrained to using violence against foreign intruders to such an excessive extent that commanders would think twice before straying again into the Khans’ territory. In the 21st century, protestors in the Middle East can project influence much further than just their local areas.

The Middle East’s greatest tragedy has been its manipulation by the hands of outside powers. By constantly meddling in their affairs, we risk consigning many of these states to a fate similar to that of Afghanistan. The effect of these games of influence will ultimately cause deeper problems that become harder to solve as time progresses. Enmity becomes more entrenched and violence quickly becomes the sole language of political disagreement. If we must play, we had better be sure the prize is worth it.

The Effects Of A Nuclear Iran

With reference to Israel’s nuclear strategy, would a nuclear-armed Iran spur proliferation among Arab states, strengthen Hamas and Hezbollah and disrupt oil shipping?
{Department of War Studies, King’s College London}

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[dropcap]H[/dropcap]aving deposed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from its throne, the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme currently occupies the prized position as the mainstay of Middle Eastern debate. Intransigence and fiery rhetoric has gained Iran few friends, numerous enemies, and left the international community playing a guessing game as to how the conflict will evolve. There are few moments of clarity within this subject area. One, however, is the indubitable fact that the regime is pursuing the development of a weaponized nuclear capability. The IAEA revealed in May of last year that Tehran has been working on the construction of a nuclear detonator, a project that has absolutely no civilian purpose; its only use is in the detonation of a nuclear warhead.1

Thus this paper will initially question why Iran wishes to develop a nuclear weapon (NW), proceeding to analyse Israeli nuclear strategy and pre-emptively assaulting the question by declaring its non-viability: I argue that Iran categorically will not acquire a NW in the foreseeable future. As such, all latter arguments come with the caveat that they are inherently speculative and capricious. I argue that should Iran ‘go nuclear’ proliferation in the region is preventable, that a nuclear-armed Iran would be unlikely to assail oil shipping and I provide various differing situations, policy-recommendations and predictions regarding a nuclear Iran’s relationships with regional non-state actors.

Iranian Nuclear Desire: Why?

This section will analyse Iranian nuclear desire through the prism of Sagan’s three theories of nuclear proliferation: security considerations, domestic considerations and international norms. Resultantly corroborating the view that “nuclear proliferation cannot be explained by a single causal model”.2

Security Considerations

Iranian desire for Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) was born following the Iran-Iraq War, Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani explaining: “it was made very clear during the war that [WMDs] are decisive… . We should fully equip ourselves both in the offensive and defensive use of [these] weapons”.3 Fear of Iraq metamorphosed into a fear of the United States following its interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the declarations of intent for regime-change in Iran by the Bush administration augmenting “long-standing concerns about American intentions”.4

The view that “there is no way to deter the United States other than by having nuclear weapons” has been corroborated by the case of North Korea.5 The East Asian country has tested its NWs on more that one occasion and continues to provoke the powers that be;6 Iraq on the other hand did not have a nuclear ability and suffered the consequences. The lesson to be learned is apparent: the acquisition of nuclear weapons prevents American military intervention.7 Thus, given the plethora of American military forces in the region, when viewing Iran’s situation through a security prism desire for NWs is understandable.

Domestic Considerations

Irrespective of whether a NW serves the security of the state, such a programme is “likely to serve the parochial bureaucratic or political interests of at least some individual actors within the state”.8 Sagan outlines three groups that could stand to benefit from proliferation: (i) the nuclear energy establishment; (ii) the military (or an element within it), and; (iii) politicians presiding over a populace desiring nuclear capability.9

The evolution of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) into a “socio-military-political-economic force” with influence stretching far and wide within the Islamic Republic has, according to some analysts, afforded the entity greater control over Tehran than the Supreme Leader.10 With clout in the nuclear establishment, influence in the military and significant control over the political system (former Guard commanders hold positions in the Supreme National Council, the Expediency Council, and of course the current President),11 its desire for nuclear capability is undoubtedly a driving force within Iran. Additionally, polls suggest that 7 out of every 10 Iranians (both pro- and anti-government) support the nuclear programme, thus providing political incentives for politicians.12 Consequently domestic theory provides further answers to comprehending Iranian nuclear ambition.

International Norms

The last of Sagan’s theories argues that proliferation may not be determined by “leaders’ cold calculations about the national security interests [nor] their parochial bureaucratic interests, but rather by deeper norms and shared beliefs about what actions are legitimate and appropriate in international relations”.13 Examples given are the establishment of Air Malawi, Royal Nepal Airlines and Air Myanmar. None were founded to develop transport infrastructure within their respective countries, more because national leaders “believed that a national airline is something that modern states have to have to be modern states”.14

Iran is a proud country that often proffers its vision of itself as a regional power with aspirations to become a world leader. Due to the fact that the first five nuclear states hold positions of great power in international diplomacy (permanent seats in the United Nations Security Council), is it any wonder that a country with a vision such as Iran’s seeks to develop attributes that would allow it to achieve a status on par with its desires?

The Begin Doctrine

Menachem Begin’s famous words have long been adopted as the underlying doctrine behind Israeli policy towards neighbouring countries’ WMD manufacturing: “on no account shall we permit an enemy to develop weapons of mass destruction against the people of Israel”. The dictum has been altered by later Israeli statesmen, including Ariel Sharon: “Israel cannot afford the introduction of the nuclear weapon… . We shall therefore have to prevent such a threat at its inception”.15 Such iteration has given birth to common sentiment that Israel will assault any proximate nation that seeks to develop a NW, building on the Begin Doctrine which referred more generally to any form of WMD. A cursory glance at Middle Eastern nuclear proliferation attempts and Israeli reactions demonstrates that Israel has not always held true to such an axiom.

Shlomo Brom provides various instances showing the lack of Israeli action pursuant to the more general Begin Doctrine: Egyptian chemical and biological weapons development in the late 1950s; Syrian chemical weapons programmes after the Yom Kippur War, and; construction of an Iraqi chemical plant in the early 1980s.16 Brom proceeds to remind the reader that Baghdad restarted its nuclear program after the bombing of the Osirak reactor in 1982 inducing no further military action from Jerusalem. Similarly, after Operation Desert Storm and the revelation that Iraq was again attempting proliferation, Israel opted to coerce European countries into preventing the supply of materials necessary for such a program to reach realisation rather that performing additional strikes.17 The decision to utilize solely diplomatic overtures was most likely due to the difficulties involved in striking the post-Osirak Iraqi programmes. Saddam Hussein learned the lesson, one that Iran has clearly taken note of, that the dispersal of critical sites is imperative.18 By spreading his nuclear program thinly across Iraq, Hussein distinctly limited Israel’s ability to undertake pre-emptive aerial strikes against such facilities. The effortless destruction of Syria’s sole nuclear reactor at al-Kibar is a secondary case in point as to the importance of such a strategy.

This, however, does not lead to the extrapolation that Israel will not attempt to incapacitate Iran’s nuclear programme through military means should current diplomatic efforts fail. It is beneficial to allow diplomacy to see as much sunlight as possible before being shelved (owing to the difficulties in assailing Iran), but this route is only viable for Israel until Iran nears breakout capability. Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), in which he evoked memories of the holocaust as reasoning to destroy Iranian nuclear ambition, is one of many examples of Israeli dictum stating the intention to prevent an Iranian bomb whatever the cost.19 President Obama’s speech at the event similarly reiterated that his policy is to “prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon” and that he would “not hesitate to use force… to defend the United States and its interests”;20 the last three successive American presidents have vocalised similar ultimatums.21

We will not see an Iranian NW unless we see radical regime change (excuse the pun) in Tehran and the emergence of a government that is able to rebuild relations with Jerusalem. Even with such an implausible scenario manifesting, it remains highly unlikely that a Western-friendly Tehran would be permitted to construct this most dangerous of weapons. Thus, to all extents and purposes, the remainder of this paper deals with purely speculative analysis on issues that are unlikely to ever come to fruition. As Fiore notes, “given the security culture in the country, no Israeli decision-maker can risk allowing a bitter ideological enemy to acquire enemy weapons”.22 There will be no nuclear-armed Iran in the near future.

A Nuclear Iran and Proliferation

It has been argued that the Israeli fear of a nuclear Iran is more due to the resultant threat of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East than an Iranian NW per se.23 The revolutions that have swept across the region over the year or so will conceivably lead to greater control of Arab foreign policy by the Arab street, thus animosity towards Israel will appear in future decision-making. Israeli apprehension is born out of the theory that an Iranian NW will, by way of the security concept mentioned previously, lead to proliferation in the region. Combine greater regional acrimony toward the Jewish state with an Arab nuclear capability and Israeli fears are comprehensible.

As Kenneth Waltz has argued, history demonstrates that the cascade concept (a state will rapidly construct NWs to counter strategic imbalance created by a hostile neighbour’s nuclear arming) is flawed. His argument is further consolidated by virtue of the fact that the fear of rapid nuclear proliferation has been vociferously audible in Western media almost every year since the 1960s, yet the world possesses only nine nuclear powers.24 Leaving this convincing argument to one side, would a nuclear Iran provoke proliferation in the Middle East?

Sagan’s aforementioned three theories assume that a state has the ability and the opportunity to develop a weapon.25 By inserting such a caveat we can eliminate numerous states from this predictive analysis of proliferation in the region. Whilst existing nuclear powers (China and Pakistan for example) may be willing to suffer international condemnation for the provision of nuclear technology to a strong regional player (perhaps Saudi Arabia) in return for the “strategic prize of security ties”, they are highly unlikely to do so for minor actors (Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait etc.) – irrespective of the ability of such states to pay over-the-odds for the technology.26 It is highly unlikely that such states would be able to proceed with a NW program as a result of this. Furthermore, it is doubtful that these smaller states would risk alienating their American or Saudi security backers by developing a NW given that such powers “are the cornerstones for ensuring their autonomies from the larger states of Iraq and Iran”.27 Such stumbling blocks would likely lead to these states further cultivating their security relationships with the United States.28

Saudi Arabia, whilst currently lacking the technical infrastructure to develop a weapon,29 is the most likely to respond to an Iranian weapon with one of its own. Saudi fears of future American intervention and mistrust of Israel combined with the threat of an increasingly Iranian dominated Gulf region would likely result in the logic that a NW would offset such perils.30 The former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal iterated last December that “it is our duty towards our nation and people to consider all possible options, including possession of [nuclear] weapons”, a statement that goes some way to substantiating this argument.31 The ability and opportunity clauses are satisfied owing to Saudi financial reserves and the long-standing defence ties between the Kingdom and nuclear-armed Pakistan.32 But such an eventuality is containable through the prevention of Pakistani assistance, American guarantees of non-intervention in the Arab country, provision of conventional arms to mitigate increased Iranian influence and a guarantee of American nuclear deterrence against Tehran.33

Turkey is one of a handful of countries that have recently communicated their intention to commence a nuclear program, a progression that has been interpreted by some analysts as a “hedge against a nuclear-armed Iran”, presumably their first steps towards developing a weapon.34 Such an interpretation can be refuted not only due to Ankara’s warming relations with Tehran and disaffection with American and European sanctions against the Islamic Republic, but furthermore owing to Turkey’s long history of participation in non-proliferation efforts.35 The Anatolian country joined NATO within a few years of its creation and has hosted nuclear weapons under America’s umbrella for some time. Thus it seems improbable that Turkey would feel the need to proliferate following the advent of an Iranian weapon.

Predicting eventual political make-up and direction of both Egypt and Syria falls outside the scope of this paper, though such analysis is paramount to anticipating the potential for proliferation. It is widely assumed that Assad will eventually succumb to the opposition movement in Syria, though envisioning how the rebels will behave vis a vis Assad’s allies in Tehran or the United States is problematic (with evident repercussions as to their potential pursuit of NWs).36 What is clear, however, is that Israel would not permit a Syrian weapon. As the strike on al-Kibar in 2007 demonstrated, Israeli Air Force (IAF) action against Syria is not constrained by the impracticalities of an attack on Iran. Syrian anti-aircraft weaponry and its air force are military relics of eras gone by, and, unlike Iran, the distances involved in an aerial strike are easily surmountable. Furthermore, Syrian infrastructure relating to a nuclear program is negligible and “bar significant infusions of external assistance”, unlikely to be realised.37 It is doubtful that a future Syrian government’s cost-benefit analysis would negate to take account of such points.

With similar caveats for Egyptian predictions, whilst the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) retain influence within the Republic proliferation is unlikely. The United States could deduct the “estimated budget of any suspect research and development program” from American military and economic aid to Egypt.38 Such a development would reduce the SCAFs power given their use of the $1.3 billion p/a aid to shore up support for their political presence.39 Owing to current political dilemmas it is improbable that such an occurrence would be welcomed.

In summation, whilst nuclear proliferation in the region following Iranian nuclear attainment poses a real threat in the case of Saudi Arabia, the remaining major regional players are unlikely to initiate a NWs programme. Noticeably absent from this analysis is Iraq, owing to this author’s belief that given the current pro-Iranian government and continued American influence proliferation seems unlikely – though it is recognised that this may change in the future. An American nuclear umbrella, the provision of conventional arms and a strictly enforced prohibition on the transfer of nuclear technology would diminish prospects of proliferation dramatically throughout the region.

Non-State Actors

The effects of an Iranian bomb on non-state actors can be dichotomised as follows: (1a) Iran provides a terrorist organization with a nuclear weapon; (1b) an Iranian weapon is stolen by a militant group; (2a) an Iranian bomb would provoke unsanctioned aggression from Hamas and Hezbollah (the proxies as belligerents), and; (2b) Iran would sanction aggression by these proxies (Iran as the belligerent).

Nuclear Provision & Theft

At the recent AIPAC conference, President Obama aired the fear “that an Iranian nuclear weapon could fall into the hands of a terrorist organization”.40 This could occur in two situations: either Iran provides a nuclear weapon to a militant group or such a group steals an Iranian weapon. The former is highly unlikely.41 Since 1979 Iran has, for the most part, employed a coherent, rational foreign policy;42 the provision of nuclear weapons to proxies that it does not possess full control over is not an action undertaken by any rational pragmatist. Iran would be held responsible for any resultant detonation and thus would be subject to the full retaliation of the United States and its allies.43

The latter, given that Tehran may not implement sufficient safeguards to prevent unintended detonation or theft,44 is of greater concern. However, in the eventuality of an Iranian weapon, would this not provide a suitable opportunity to reintegrate Iran into the international fold? If the West were to provide assistance in securitising the Iranian nuclear program, economic benefits aside, the construction of links between the pariah state and the West would be wholesome for all involved.

Hamas & Hezbollah

Fiore argues that Hamas and Hezbollah “might take the nuclear umbrella for granted and be more inclined to escalate minor conflicts with or without encouragement from Tehran”,45 an argument that is supported elsewhere.46 There have been conflicting messages originating from the Palestinian group regarding their response to a pre-emptive strike on Iran, but how would the two groups act should Iran cross the nuclear threshold?47

In the event that aggression was not sanctioned by Tehran, aggressive posturing by Hamas and Hezbollah would likely facilitate a destructive Israeli response. We can draw a parallel with the intifadas: Arab pacifism in the First Intifada limited the potency of the IDF; violence in the Second permitted the IDF to utilize its distinct military superiority. Iran would likely be reluctant to intervene in such a scenario as to do so would result in all-out war with Israel.48 That leads us to question whether Iran would galvanize the two organizations into action, a consideration that would ultimately prove or disprove Waltz’s theory that nuclear states act responsibly. It is unclear whether Iran would undertake such action, however it should be noted that if Assad were to fall the current supply-line would cease to exist,49 therefore the most feasible solution to supplying Hamas and Hezbollah would be through Iranian use of the Suez Canal (the precedent of which has been recently set).50 Whether Israel would allow such a transfer to take place is arguable, though the Jewish state has acted in the past (the Karine A affair) to stop similar actions in international waters.51 The Iranian backlash to Israeli action on this front is equally unpredictable.

To conclude this section, it is not only dubious to assert that Iran would provide a non-state actor with a nuclear weapon, but coequally to suggest that Iran would support Hamas or Hezbollah in the event of their non-sanctioned aggression against Israel. What is unclear is how Iran would weigh up the costs and benefits of stimulating proxy action against Israel. The threat of an Iranian weapon being stolen by another entity is preventable should the West seek to ingratiate itself with the Iranian regime.

The Oil Weapon

The Supreme Leader has emphasized Tehran’s willingness to “seriously jeopardize” energy supplies should the US attack or punish Iran, an assertion that has been repeated by various elements of the Iranian establishment.52 Such rhetoric is seized upon by neoconservatives to demonstrate the dangers that Iran poses and the need for conclusive military action to prevent Iran building a bomb and thus becoming ‘immune’ to retribution in the case of Iranian actions against shipping. But such logic is flawed as Iranian use of the oil weapon would be reactionary to intervention of some description.

The United States and the European Union have recently punished Iran through increased sanctions, an action that has not catalysed an Iranian response. Should Iran ‘go nuclear’ and thus achieve military immunity (if the N. Korea-Iraq paradigm of American non-intervention in nuclear-armed states holds true), America would not attack Iran and thus there would be no provocation to induce an Iranian reaction. The risk of Iran acting against the Strait of Hormuz emanates from a pre-emptive military strike that Tehran considers to be severely threatening and that fails to destroy Iranian military assets.53 Once Iran has crossed the nuclear threshold, America would not act against Tehran and therefore the reasoning behind an assault on oil shipping lacks foundation.

In Summation

Initially considering the reasons why Iran would desire a nuclear weapon, this paper proceeded to assert the improbability of Iranian acquisition of a nuclear weapon through an analysis of Israeli nuclear strategy and the Jewish state’s irrevocable attitude towards preventing any regional power challenging its military superiority. In the implausible circumstance that such an eventuality manifests, this paper has argued that of all the proximate states likely to view an Iranian weapon as a security threat, Saudi Arabia, with its financial reserves and strong links to Sunni Pakistan, is the most likely to attempt proliferation. This paper has posited that such a development is containable through the provision of a well-received and believed-in American nuclear umbrella, conventional arm sales to limit Iranian influence and stringent controls on the spread of existing nuclear technology. Syrian, Egyptian and Iraqi nuclear development is unlikely for a host of reasons, though inevitably such predictions rest on the ontogenesis of these states following recent upheavals.

Latterly, if the Iraq-N. Korea paradigm holds true, Tehran would have no reason to impact on oil shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, not least out of consideration for the detrimental effects on the Iranian economy. This paper further asserted the absurdity of the suggestion that the Islamic Republic would provide its proxies with a nuclear weapon. Whether a nuclear weapon would morph Iran into a regional aggressor, or whether its possession of such a bomb would provide the foundations for integration with the West has been left unanswered. Israeli nuclear capability allowed the Jewish state some semblance of security in a region of hostile Arab states. A Persian nuclear capability would serve the same purpose.

 [toggle title=”Citations & Bibliography”]

1 Fiore (2011), p. 2
2 Bahgat (2006), p. 124
3 Bowen & Kidd (2004), p. 264
4 Ibid.
5 Sagan & Waltz (2007), p. 137
6 ‘North Korea conducts nuclear test’, BBC, 25 May 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8066615.stm
7 Bahgat (2006), p. 126
8 Sagan (1996), p. 63
9 Ibid., p. 64-65
10 ‘Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’, Council on Foreign Relations, 12 October 2011, http://www.cfr.org/iran/irans-revolutionary-guards/p14324
11 Ibid.
12 ‘Iran, Lebanon, Israelis and Palestinians: New IPI Opinion Polls’, International Peace Institute, 8 December 2010, http://www.ipacademy.org/index.php/events/details/256-Iran,%20Lebanon,%20Israelis%20and%20Palestinians-%20New%20IPI%20Opinion%20Polls.html
13 Sagan (1996), p. 73
14 Ibid., p. 74
15 Brom (2005), p. 137
16 Ibid., p. 136
17 Brom (2005), p. 136
18 Ibid., p. 142
19 ‘Netanyahu invokes horrors of Holocaust, declares Israel’s right to “defend itself, by itself”’, Reuters, 6 March 2012
20 ‘Transcript of Obama’s AIPAC speech’, Politico, 4 March 2012, http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0312/73588.html
21 Edelman et al. (2011), p. 76
22 Fiore (2011), p. 9
23 ‘An Iranian Nuke Is No Threat – An Arab Nuke Is’, theriskyshift, 22 February 2012 http://www.theriskyshift.com/2012/02/iranian-nuke-is-no-threat-arab-nuke-is.html
24 Gavin (2009), p. 17
25 Jo & Gartzke (2007), p. 169
26 Russell (2005), p. 34
27 Ibid.
28 Ibid., p. 44
29 Bowen & Kidd (2005), p. 53
30 Russell (2005), pp. 31-32
31 ‘Saudi may join nuclear arms race: ex-spy chief’, AFP, 5 December 2011, http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hHglcDORk9Wk5WtM79nbDw8GC9yQ
32 Bowen & Kidd (2005), p. 53
33 Bowen & Kidd (2004), p. 273
34 Edelman et al. (2011), p. 69
35 Ulgen (2011), p. 138
36 ‘Obama: Syria’s Assad “will fall”, but no air strikes’, Reuters, 6 March 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/06/us-syria-idUSTRE8220CI20120306
37 Bowen & Kidd (2005), p. 71
38 Sagan (1996), p. 72
39 Russell (2005), p. 42
40 ‘Transcript of Obama’s AIPAC speech’, Politico, 4 March 2012, http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0312/73588.html
41 Fiore (2011), p. 4
42 See Rasmussen (2009)
43 See Gavin (2009) p. 16
44 Edelman et al. (2011), p. 72
45 Fiore (2011), p. 4
46 Edelman et al. (2011), p. 68
47 ‘Hamas sends conflicting message over support for Iran’, Trumpet, 8 March 2012, http://www.thetrumpet.com/9196.13.0.0/middle-east/iran/hamas-sends-conflicting-message-over-support-for-iran
48 Bahgat (2006), p. 129
49 Support for Assad from Hezbollah and Iran will likely mean that should the rebels defeat the Syrian leader future relations with the two entities would be poor.
50 ‘Iran warships sail via Suez Canal amid Israeli concern’, BBC, 22 February 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12533803
51 ‘Seizing of the Palestinian weapons ship Karine A’, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 4 January 2002, http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/2000_2009/2002/1/Seizing%20of%20the%20Palestinian%20weapons%20ship%20Karine%20A-
52 Talmadge (2008), p. 88
53 Ibid., pp. 87-88

Abrahamian, E. (2005), ‘Neocons and Their Nemeses in Iran’, Boundary 2, Vol. 32, No. 1, pp. 95-115

Babaei, A.R. (2008), ‘Israel’s Concerns and Iran’s Nuclear Programme’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 43, No. 6, pp. 21-25

Bahgat, G. (2006), ‘Nuclear Proliferation: The Islamic Republic of Iran’, International Studies Perspectives, Vol. 7, No. 2, pp. 124-136

Bowen, W.Q. & Kidd, J. (2004), ‘The Iranian Nuclear Challenge’, International Affairs, Vol. 80, No. 2, pp. 257-276

Bowen, W.Q. & Kidd, J. (2005), ‘The Nuclear Capabilities and Ambitions of Iran’s Neighbours’, in Sokolski H. & Clawson, P., Getting Ready for a Nuclear-Ready Iran (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute), pp. 51-88

Braun, C. & Chyba, C.F. (2004), ‘Proliferation Rings: New Challenges to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime’, International Security, Vol. 29, No. 2, pp. 5-49

Brom, S. (2005), ‘Is the Begin Doctrine Still a Viable Option for Israel?’, in Sokolski H. & Clawson, P., Getting Ready for a Nuclear-Ready Iran (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute), pp. 133-158

Edelman, E.S., Krepinevich, A.F. & Montgomery, E.B. (2011), ‘The Dangers of a Nuclear Iran: The Limits of Containment’, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 90, No. 1, pp. 66-81

Fiore, M. (2011), ‘Israel and Iran’s Nuclear Weapon Programme: Roll Back or Containment’, IAI Working Papers, Vol. 11, No. 18, pp. 1-16

Gavin, F.J. (2009), ‘Same As It Ever Was: Nuclear Alarmism, Proliferation, and the Cold War’, International Security, Vol. 34, No. 3, pp. 7-37

Jain, A. (2011), Nuclear Weapons and Iran’s Global Ambitions (Washington, DC: Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

James, C.C. (2000), ‘Nuclear Arsenal Games: Coping with Proliferation in a World of Changing Rivalries’, Canadian Journal of Political Science, Vol. 33, No. 4, pp. 723-746

Jo, D. & Gartzke, E. (2007), ‘Determinants of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation’, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 51, No. 1, pp. 167-194

Nye, J.S. (1992), ‘New Approaches to Nuclear Proliferation Policy’, Science, Vol. 256, No. 5061, pp. 1293-1297

Rasmussen, K.B. (2009), The Foreign Policy of Iran: Ideology and pragmatism in the Islamic Republic (Copenhagen: Danish Institute for International Studies)

Russell, R.L. (2005), ‘Arab Security Responses to a Nuclear-Ready Iran’, in Sokolski H. & Clawson, P., Getting Ready for a Nuclear-Ready Iran (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute), pp. 23-50

Sagan, S. (1996), ‘Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons?: Three Models in Search of a Bomb’, International Security, Vol. 21, No. 3, pp. 54-86

Sagan, S. & Waltz, K. (2007), ‘A Nuclear Iran: Promoting Stability Or Courting Disaster’, Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 60, No. 2, pp. 135-150

Singh, S. & Way, C.R. (2004), ‘The Correlates of Nuclear Proliferation: A Quantitative Test’, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 48, No. 6, pp. 859-885

Shaikh, F. (2002), ‘Pakistan’s Nuclear Bomb: Beyond the Non-Proliferation Regime’, International Affairs, Vol. 78, No. 1, pp. 29-48

Talmadge, C. (2008), ‘Closing Time: Assessing the Iranian Threat to the Strait of Hormuz’, International Security, Vol. 33, No. 1, pp. 82-117

Ulgen, S. (2011), ‘The Security Dimension of Turkey’s Nuclear Program: Nuclear Diplomacy and Non Proliferation Policies’, in Ulgen, S. (ed), The Turkish Model for Transition to Nuclear Power (Istanbul: Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies), pp. 142-181

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Human Rights As A Tool For A Palestinian State

Human Rights Instrumental Efficacy for the Palestinian struggle for national independence: The Case of Contemporary Gaza
{Department of Politics and International Studies, Cambridge University}

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[dropcap]S[/dropcap]ince the nakba of 1948, Gaza is both “exceptional and paradigmatic of the broader Palestinian condition” (Feldman 2007: 129). One million refugees in Gaza account for two thirds of its population (Id.). Being included in no state, its population falls into a citizenship vacuum. Understandably, the Palestinian struggle for national independence is a central theme of political mobilisation in Gaza. It has developed amongst Gazans in a co-constitutive relationship with international humanitarian practices and politics. This essay will consider the instrumental value of human rights as a tool for the Palestinian struggle for national independence. In order to undertake a thicker analysis, I shall almost exclusively focus my attention on the contemporary Gaza strip.

Human Rights: An Integrative Legal Discourse Founded on Human Dignity

An integral and important part of the problem is in the definition of human rights, “a complex of concepts and practices” (Allen 2009: 164). A definition depends primarily on the description of the existing relationship between humanitarian law and the international human rights law. Generally speaking, humanitarian law refers exclusively to “the conduct of military operations (methods and means of combats) as well as the protection of victims of armed conflicts (wounded, sick, prisoners, civilian population, and so on)” (Gros Espiell 2000: 351). More strictly, it is based on the Geneva Convention (1949), and its additional protocols (1977). These documents all share article 3, which is identical or similar to an article in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR 1948) and of the International covenants on Human Rights (ICCPR 1966 and ICESCR 1966).

Humanitarian law has always been a central tool in safeguarding human rights through the third article of the Geneva Convention. In contemporary legal theory, humanitarian law and human rights are becoming more and more interdependent, although they remain two distinct branches of international law. Previous debates about this distinction have been transcended since this interdependence has been accepted in international practice on the basis of the recognition “of the common fundamental principle of the dignity of the human person” (Gros Espiell 2000: 347, 352). Therefore, humanitarian law aims at protecting human rights in situations of war, and is included in the objective principles and rules of “international human rights law” lato sensu. I should also mention that the same logic applies to the collective right to self-determination (see Declaration of Alger 1976) since it is included within the main human rights covenants (UDHR art. 15, ICCPR art. 1, and ICESCR art. 1). In this essay I will use “human rights” as an all-encompassing expression that refer to all these interdependent legal regimes, including humanitarian, self-determination, and senso stricto human rights law, as they have all placed human dignity as their universal bedrock.

Finally, it is essential to specify that human rights are more than the objective sets of principles and rules mentioned in the covenants. For the purposes of this essay, they also include the subjective discursive constituents of all these rights (Symonides 2000). Therefore, I situate human rights in line with Isaac’s interpretation of Hannah Arendt’s conceptualization:

She believed that human rights were not a problem of moral speculation or legal philosophy so much as a problem of politics, a matter of mobilizing new and effective forms of solidarity and concern
(Isaac 1996: 61)

The instrumental value of the human rights discourse (i.e. its mobilizing and legitimizing capacity) lies in its potential to undermine politics that are not funded on the principle of human dignity. As I shall discuss, it is this central characteristic that makes it such an efficient tool for the Palestinian struggle.

The main political actors of the Palestinian struggle for national independence in contemporary Gaza are the Hamas and Israel.1 They enunciate their political claims through a chimera of the modern discourses of national security or religious faith, and the alternative discourse of human rights. Before considering the broader context, it is necessary to evaluate the impact of the practices of human rights organisations (HRO) and international organisations (IO) on the Palestinian mobilisation since they shape the relationship between political actors, the international community and the population.

Humanitarianism: the Pernicious Effects of some Human Rights Practices

As part of an assessment of human rights efficacy in the Palestinian struggle for independence, it is essential to understand the impact of its practices on Gazans’ political claims and practices of resistance.

As Feldman demonstrates in the case of Gaza, the category of refugee emerged as a structuring category in the “rearticulation of Palestinian political identity in the aftermath of dispossession” (2007: 132). By arbitrarily dividing people into two categories, refugees and natives, half a century of human rights practices transformed the identities and discourses from which stemmed the political claims of the Gazans.

On the one hand, the humanitarian distinction had an impact on the “natives” in the Gaza strip. In the post-nakba economic context, the very fact that they remained at home was the only feature distinguishing them from the refugees. It “would later become an explicit facet of Palestinian citizenship—the notion of steadfastness (sumud), the value of staying put” (Feldman 2007: 152). For the natives, remaining in place was, therefore, an integral part of political action in the struggle for national independence. On the other hand, the humanitarian practices redefined the role of the refugee to that of a victim. Access to the rights to relief, compensation, and return was consequently dependent on extra-legal performatives of victimhood (Malkki 1996: 384), dependent on the status of a “non-agencive victimized community” (Jeffery and Candea 2006).

As Feldman (2007) and Malkki (1996) argue, administrators of humanitarian aid need to establish objective conditions to identify victims. The universal humanitarian subject of aid is imagined as the historic victim that is portrayed in the images of physical suffering (Malkki 1996: 378). Following Malkki’s (Id.) argument, the visual proof of suffering exclusively determined the possible claims of refugees to aid, relief, and return. Symptomatic of humanitarianism, B’Tselem reports are based on many descriptive accounts restricted to violence against civilians. They are classified under different categories, such as torture and abuse during interrogations, beating and abuse, etc. (e.g. B’Tselem 2009b, see also HRW 2009 and Al-Haq.org). The images of pain and mutilated bodies were the only ways to reach and to relate to the international in order to receive consideration and help (see Allen 2009: 173).

All in all, universalized as suffering refugees, Gazans were detached from their situated socio-historic context.2 Human rights practices became humanitarianism in Gaza when it depoliticizes the refugees, and when “political activism and refugee status were mutually exclusive […], as in international refugee law more generally” (Malkki 1996: 385). Humanitarianism, in this form, silenced the refugees’ capacity to express their political claims, and only allowed space for them to share their suffering (Ibid.: 378). However, claims’ enunciation is limited into this specific discourse and only appeals for decontextualised and apolitised restorative responses. Dialectically, international response has been constructed around correcting a violation or returning a right. Human rights practices have had significant consequences for the Palestinian struggle in Gaza since humanitarianism is “able to keep people alive but entirely incapable of changing the conditions that have put them at such great risk” (Feldman 2007: 139).

Beyond Humanitarism: Contextualizing Human Rights’ Role in a Complex Struggle

In the humanitarian apolitical space, Gazans claim access to services through an objective proof of physical grievance such as displacement, mutilation, or homicide. Following this analysis, victimhood establishes itself as apolitical:

Victimhood thus makes a claim for a non-political space, and this is a claim to which many anthropologists have attended. … One might argue in fact that while the suspension of politics was until recently achieved by appeals to “impartiality”, “objectivity”, or “science” (cf. D’Andrade 1995), it is increasingly being achieved by appeals to the ontological primacy of victimhood or suffering.
(Jeffery and Candea 2006)

This theoretical argument issued as a critique from within the anthropological perspective is important to consider (on this topic see also Allen 2009). It allows for the understanding of many of the inherent limitations of contemporary OIs and HRO’s practices in Gaza. It unveils the pernicious consequences of humanitarianism which positions victimhood as the objective or the apolitical cornerstone that is required to legitimize both action and support.

However, this approach does allow space for assessing the role of the human rights discourse and practices outside humanitarianism. In a complex dynamic, other discourses based on politics, such as realpolitik or Jihad,3 are competing with human rights for hegemonic acceptance amongst Gazans and other political organizations. The efficacy of the human rights discourse for the Palestinian struggle can only be appreciated when considered with respect to these competing discourses.

Therefore, an alternative perspective on the intertwining relationship between human rights and political struggle is to consider the discourses as opposing performative entities. Their collision suggests a struggle for hegemonic positioning within their respective discursive foundations. Conceiving politics and victimhood as competing discursive contexts is “to recognize that not only does victimhood attempt to suspend or trump politics, the reverse is also the case” (Jeffery and Candea 2006). Stating the ontological primacy of power politics is as engaging as claiming the universal (and metapolitical) status of human rights politics. From this radical anti-foundational perspective, performatives are not false or just, but can only be considered to be either successful or not at asserting themselves.

These are not two “readings”, but rather two alternative configurations of reality: the question is which alternative manages to establish itself at any given point. … The problem is thus reduced from a metaphysical to an ethnographic one—with a twist. For in this approach, we are forced to recognize the performative power of our own ethnographic accounts
(Jeffery and Candea 2006)

From this perspective, human rights’ practices take on another dimension. In line with what Hannah Arendt conceptualized as political action, human rights’ practices are “intended to secure an elemental human dignity that is systematically jeopardized by the imperatives of national sovereignty” (Isaac 1996: 63). In other words, they have the potential of undermining alternative discursive foundations, which as an instrumental assessment impacts actors’ legitimacy and mobilisation capacity. With respect to the Israeli State, the structuring effect of competition between discourses plays a crucial role in successfully mobilizing support from the international community. In this respect, human rights are integral for Palestinians.

The role of human rights for the Palestinian struggle for national independence was clearly exposed during the last Gaza crisis. Both Israel and the Hamas referred to the different competing foundations for legitimacy.

Israel’s Legitimacy: Human Rights as a Challenge to National Security

Israeli claims of benign interference in Gaza to re-establish order rapidly faded due to the disproportionate use of force. This left the national security principle of self-defence as the last foundation for the legitimacy of IDF’s Operation Cast Lead (27 December 2008 – 18 January 2009). HROs denunciations against the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) were central in exposing the humanitarian law violations (see HRW 2009). According to the Palestinian HRO al-Mezan (cited in B’Tselem 2009: 3-4), weeks of bombardments and fighting resulted in 1342 Palestinian and 13 Israeli causalities (including 10 soldiers). From the vantage point of human rights discourse (Isaac 1996: 63), the legitimacy this operation relying exclusively on national interest can be challenged.

This approach highlights how the human rights discourse is an instrumental tool in weakening hardliner politics in Israel. Israeli state sovereignty, as a legitimate ground for military action, is limited if (and only if) the ontological primacy of human dignity is successful in asserting itself as the foundation of this competing discourse. Proportionality restraints emanate from this discourse. Therefore, the human rights discourse poses limits to the appeal of national security in order to legitimize bellicose actions or to mobilize international (and Israeli) support.

IOs and HROs have a clear role in restraining IDF’s asymmetric military advantage. It impedes the IDF from applying an unlimited strategy of tabula rasa in the Gaza strip. However, HROs response is symptomatic of the humanitarian flaws since it neither reveals the political consequences of the IDF operation, nor considers the strategic consequences of its violence on Gazans’ acts of resistances. However, it did limit the magnitude of the destruction of this operation on civilians’ lives and assets.

In brief, considering Israel, the existence of legitimate competing discourses per se makes it possible to consider legitimacy and violence from an alternative vantage point. The efficacy of human rights as a tool is not limited to the relief of pain; it allows for an international reconsideration of the legitimacy of military action.

The Hamas: a Jihadist organisation or a vehicle of Palestinians rights?

“the Islamic Resistance Movement erupted in order to play its role in the path of its Lord. In so doing, it joined its hands with those of all Jihad fighters for the purpose of liberating Palestine”
(Hamas Charter 1988)

This initial Jihadist discourse of the Hamas remains relevant while considering the hardliners. However, as counter-intuitive as it may appear, it seems that Hamas political leadership has recently narrowed its ambitions and rearticulated the discourse of the human rights around its religious foundation. Hamas’ incapability to consolidate international support in the West while conserving jihadist rhetoric was a central cause of this shift. The Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre (JMCC 2005) noted the incommensurability of Palestinian political claims with the international discourse: the “Palestinian narrative […] makes little sense in the dominant news agenda of the ‘war on terror’. Journalists feel great pressure to conform to this news agenda.” Micheal Oatley (2008)4, former head of the MI6, noted how the war on terror label of terrorist organization is dangerous for political actors such as the IRA, the Hezbollah, and the Hamas. It impedes negotiations by taking away a priori from these actors the rational capacity to compromise. To tackle this issue, the Hamas has significantly adapted their discourse to the international vocabulary of human rights. This discourse transcends the Jihadist-terrorist dead-end and allows them to engage the international community on a commensurable ground.

In early 2004, Hamas leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and a senior Hamas official, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, declared that armed confrontation could be ended. A ten years truce could be achieved on the basis of the creation of a viable Palestinian state delaminated on the borders of the pre-1967 Six Day war; therefore, calling for the complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from occupied territories (Amayreh, Al-Ahram weekly online, 2004). The terms of this proposal for truce almost implicitly acknowledged the two states solution. Abruptly, Yassin and al-Rantissi were killed in two IDF’s air strikes in March and April 2004. Despite their deaths, the pragmatic stand taken by Yassin and al-Rantissi continued to be present in the discussions from within the Hamas in 2005 and 2006 (on internal tensions see Levitt 2009). During 2006 election, Hamas declarations revealed a human rights approach towards national independence. The introduction of its political programme is emblematic of this discursive adaptation when it referred to the collective right to self-determination and to live free from oppression. Hamas also referred to resolution 194 when claiming that Palestinians have the right to return (Hamas cited in JMCC 2006).

Breaking with Diplomatic Isolation: Post-crisis Hamas Capacity to Mobilise International Support

Due to the rigidity of the terrorist label in 2006, it seemed that the international community was not ready to endorse Hamas officials as legitimate political actors even after being elected (see BBC, 7 April 2006 on the Quartet’s decision to cut aid). As a result of this Hamas made some efforts to make the new government more acceptable for the international community through the formation of a unitary government with the Fatah and other parties. Since then, the human rights discourse has become increasingly influential in acting as an efficient tool for mobilizing international support.

However, this process was halted following degradation of Gaza’s situation and the military operation Cast Lead. This last crisis was an epitome of the dynamics of competition between human rights and other discourses, and its consequences. This military confrontation appeared to have weakened human rights discourse and moderated opinions within the population in Israel and Gaza. Symptomatically, Palestinian support for the Sudanese plan of the latter dropped from 64% in December 2008 to 58% in March 2009, while Israelis support dropped from 36% to 33% for the same period (PSR 2009).

It is also most probable that both hardliners within the Israeli government and Hamas organisation have increased their influence as a result of the confrontation (The Herald, February 1st 2009). Israeli politicians, such as actual Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, are opposed to the two states solution (BBC News, 30 March 2009). This political force has based their claims on the nationalist project of a Jewish state, thereby excluding Palestinian return. Hamas political leadership is also divided between hardliners and moderates in Gaza (Levitt 2009). In this context, Ismail Haniyah represented the moderate voice from within the Hamas but “is not believed to hold significant sway” (Id.). A few days prior to the end of the Gaza crisis, he restated the right to self-determination and return as the ultimate goal of the Palestinian struggle in amessage published in The Independent (15 January 2009).

This last episode has confirmed that the actual Hamas political leadership is committed to formulating claims into more legalistic terms of national auto-determination and return. This discourse allows for some international openings that were denied to the Hamas within the war on terror mind frame. It allowed the Hamas to get out of diplomatic isolation since many government representatives have initiated contact with its officials (see The Independent 22 and 28 April 2009 and the BBC news, 23 April and 22 March 2009). While the US still designates it as a terrorist organization, the newly elected Obama administration asked for legal changes in order to allow aid to be administered by the Palestinian Authority even if “Hamas backed officials become part of a unified Palestinian government” (Los Angeles Times, 27 April 2009). EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner “said Netanyahu should commit to talks with the Palestinians” (BBC News, 30 March 2009). Following international pressure, Netanyahu may bend and approve a two state solution (The Independent, 28 April 2009).

In conclusion, human rights, considered as an all-encompassing discourse, remains an efficient and pragmatic tool for Palestinian independence struggle. Human rights, beyond their pernicious impacts on Gazans’ forms of mobilisation, have prevented Israel from using its overwhelming military power to seek an expedited solution. The human rights discourse also allowed the main political actor in Gaza, the Hamas, to start to break away from international isolation. This is a crucial development since the Palestinians face a humanitarian crisis resulting from reduction in aids. Moreover, partial rechanneling of aid through UN and civil society agencies weaken the Palestinian Authority viability and further deteriorate the probability for Palestinian independence. In contemporary Gaza, the Palestinians need the human rights to mobilise support.

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1 Hamas will be considered as the main actor of Palestinian independence struggle in Gaza since I will focus on the period of 2004 to the present.
2 Similarly, Ferguson (1994) analyses development’s discourses. He underlines its linear and apolitical treatment of the poor as an unidimensional human.
3 The diversity of discursive practices can hardly be reduced to these labels. However they represent local manifestation of some of the main discourses (see Der Derian 1987, 2001).
4 Argument reported by the author.

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Hamas In The New Middle East

As the West attempts to navigate the new Middle East, it may find that the region’s new leaders hold a stronger line on the Israeli-Palestinian issue than their predecessors.

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[dropcap]A[/dropcap] year ago, you could be forgiven for thinking the only Arab dictators in trouble were pro-American. Enormous demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt had just led to the resignations of Ben Ali and Mubarak, but there were also serious disturbances in Yemen and Bahrain, major rallies in Jordan and Morocco and a Saudi man set himself on fire in imitation of Sidi Bouzid. America’s traditional foes, however, were relatively comfortable. Gaddafi could not have imagined that the clashes between a few hundred protestors and police in Benghazi spelled the beginning of his end. Assad too would have taken comfort from the failure of a planned ‘day of rage’ to produce more than a paltry showing.

Since then, of course, things have changed. In Libya, rebels supported by NATO airstrikes defeated Gaddafi’s forces and gave him a tyrant’s death. But it is events in Syria which may prove to be the most decisive for regional politics, at least in the short term. As the city of Homs braces itself for Assad’s onslaught, we can see some of the regional players shifting position.

The Arab League, reinvigorated after decades of irrelevance, has today announced the most serious sanctions on a member state since the expulsion of Egypt for the crime of making peace with Israel. Turkey has not only endorsed the Syrian rebellion, but hosts its ideologues, trains its fighters and even advises them in the field, if these reports are to be believed. This is a complete reversal of the formerly close ties between Turkey and Syria. Assad’s closest ally, Iran, has criticised foreign interference in Syria, but indicated its support for reforms. The Iranians may eventually swim with the tide. For now, though, the presence of Iranian forces in Syria suggests this will not happen soon.

Hamas finds itself in a more difficult position. Palestinian militancy has always been represented in the Middle East’s “resistance bloc” du jour. Until recently, this meant a Hamas HQ in Damascus and close political ties. However, as it becomes increasingly impolitic for the Sunni Islamist group to stand with Shi’ite heretics as they slaughter good Muslims, Hamas has been making moves to extricate itself from the toxic Assad brand.

Low-level Hamas figures have been leaving steadily, and now senior Hamas politburo members – including Khaled Meshaal – have left in protest. Syrian officials have even accused Hamas of supporting the opposition. Hamas is already feeling the consequences: Iran, its main sponsor, reportedly cut its funding in August.

Simultaneously, Meshaal has stirred the pot further by signing an agreement in Doha as part of reconciliation efforts with Fatah. This was apparently done without consultation with his rivals in Gaza, who denounced the “strategically unacceptable” move. Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh has been in Tehran to mend ties with the Iranians, where he was pressed to continue resisting Israel and staying out of peace talks, but there is something of a split emerging between Hamas Gaza and Hamas Global (formerly of Damascus).

Whether or not this disagreement becomes more serious does not alter the main challenge facing Hamas: who will its allies be once the region settles? It will have to align itself with one of the emerging power blocs to thrive.

The new regime in Egypt is expected to be friendly and supportive, even if it won’t supply cash and arms as did Iran. The fraternal bond between the Egyptian and Palestinian branches of the Muslim Brotherhood won’t do any harm either. More promising still is Turkey, whose leadership has been increasingly vocal on the Palestinian issue and confrontational towards Israel. Turkey has also been a leading power in efforts to remove Arab dictators of all stripes. Reports that Turkey will fund Hamas are probably overblown, but are at least indicative of how close the relationship is.

As the West attempts to navigate the new Middle East, it may find that the region’s new leaders hold a stronger line on the Israeli-Palestinian issue than their predecessors. The revolutionary governments are unlikely to argue that violent protest was right in their own countries but wrong for Palestine – some level of support will be inevitable.

Quite what this support will look like is unclear, though Iranian-style sponsorship, with missiles shipments and training camps, seems doubtful. In the short term, we are more likely to see an effort to normalise Hamas politically. Offices in Cairo and Ankara would force Western powers to choose between sanctioning the two biggest powers in the region, or accepting that Hamas is not beyond the pale. A concerted effort to finally reconcile Hamas and Fatah, with some sort of coalition government, would entrench Hamas even further amongst legitimate actors.

This probably won’t be accompanied by a renunciation of violence or recognition of Israel. Hamas will be able to point to the region’s endorsement of their position, while revolutionary leaders struggling to put things back together won’t risk a public backlash by appearing to take Israel’s side. In terms of shifting opinions, then, the real change is with regional powers like Egypt and Turkey who are more sympathetic with Hamas than ever.

A case could be made that Hamas would move towards these powers even in the absence of the fighting in Syria, but it is clear that events there have brought things forward. Even if Syria and Iran stand to lose from the Arab Spring, Hamas clearly stands to gain.