Top IDF Spokesperson Tells U.S. Jews: Israel Failed to Minimize Gaza Casualties, Hamas Won PR War by Knockout

By Uri Blau

Israeli military’s international spokesman says some Palestinians ‘that weren’t the target’ were hit, but fiercely defended the military’s response

A senior Israeli army spokesman admitted Tuesday that Israel failed to minimize the number of Palestinian casualties during the recent deadly protests on the Gaza border, and that some were hit by mistake. He added that Hamas won the PR war by a “knockout.”

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, the international spokesman and head of social media for the Israel Defense Forces, made the comments during a Jewish community briefing organized by the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA).

The officer fiercely defended the military’s response to the recent protests along the Gaza border, in which more than 100 Palestinians were killed and thousands more wounded, most of them by live fire.

skip – IDF spokesman responds to Gaza Strip border scenes

IDF spokesman responds to Gaza Strip border scenes – דלג

Many commentators have said Hamas won a PR victory following the worldwide media coverage given to the bloody scenes, especially following Monday’s juxtaposition of scenes on the Gaza border and the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

Conricus said Israel hasn’t been able to explain the situation on the border well enough to the international media.

“We haven’t been able to get that message out of how it is from our side, what we are defending – and the ‘winning picture’ overwhelmingly, by a knockout, unfortunately, have been the graphics from the Palestinian side. The amount of casualties has done us a tremendous disservice, unfortunately, and it has been very difficult to tell our story.”

Conricus acknowledged that the IDF had failed to minimize the number of casualties. However, he noted that “Hamas wanted the casualties. Hamas wanted people to die. Hamas wanted the pictures of the wounded and the overflowing hospitals … and they had no problems sending the human shields forward. That is the sad reality of what we have been facing,” he said.

While blaming Hamas for sending “rioters” to the border area and using civilians as human shields, Conricus also conceded that the army snipers didn’t always hit their intended targets.

Palestinian protesters carrying a wounded woman during a protest on the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, May 15, 2018.
Palestinian protesters carrying a wounded woman during a protest on the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, May 15, 2018.Khalil Hamra/AP

On the border, he said, the army deploys “combat soldiers, devoted, [who] understand what they are defending,” and are not “trigger-happy, undisciplined.” The soldiers “take orders from their superior officers” and are “executing their missions with discipline, with professionalism and using their weapons proportionately and as they are intented according to the rules of engagement,” Conricus said.

“Now, have there been mistakes? Have there been bullets that missed their target and hit people that weren’t the target?” he continued. “Of course they have. But I can tell you that it is a chaotic environment on the border. There is tear gas. There is smoke from the tires. There is screaming. There is loudspeakers, there’s the sirens from the ambulances and, most importantly, there’s masses of rioters trying to tear down the fence, throwing rocks, throwing molotov cocktails, throwing grenades.”

Conricus said Israel could not afford to let the risk of letting the protesters break through the fence, for fear they might attack kibbutzim and communities that are mere hundreds of meters from the border.

“When the dilemma came to, on one hand, defending the Israeli border and Israeli communities immediately behind the border, or allowing the rioters through and having a lower amount of Palestinian casualties, there’s no dilemma,” Conricus said.

“There is no dilemma for soldiers and commanders in the IDF,” he added. “On the other hand, we have tried to be as accurate, as deliberate and as specific as possible, using only sniper rifles … with standard NATO ammunition … so we have done a lot to try and minimize casualties. Have we been successful at it? Unfortunately, no. ”

Conricus also said a number of IDF investigations into events on the Gaza border were opened in the past few weeks.

“We have a fact-finding mission … with full authority to investigate and question and to flag events that the commander of that team thinks are problematic. And they also have the authority to recommend criminal investigations against Israeli officers and soldiers,” he explained. “That mechanism has been in place for more than four weeks. It has investigated a few events,” he added.

skip – IDF international spokesman’s full briefing to Jewish Federations of North America

In response to this article, the IDF spokesperson’s unit sent a clarification paragraph saying:

“The things partially quoted were taken out of context , distort the broader context in which they were said and do not reflect the spirit of discourse nor the stance of the IDF. This was a conversation with leaders of Jewish organizations in the U.S., a part of the call to action conducted by IDF spokesperson with different elements around the world.”

Israel Said 32 Countries Confirmed They’d Attend U.S. Embassy Gala. Here’s Who Really Came

By Noa Landau

After an initial attendance list was published in Haaretz, several countries – including Serbia, Vietnam, Peru, El Salvador and the Ivory Coast – denied they had confirmed their attendance and said they weren’t planning to come.

Twenty-two foreign envoys attended the Foreign Ministry receptionon Sunday in honor of the U.S. Embassy’s move to Jerusalem the following day, according to the final list of participants submitted to Haaretz at its request. Before the event, the ministry had said 32 foreign representatives had confirmed they would attend, of the 86 who were invited.

Besides the four representatives from Austria, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic, which bucked the European Union’s stanceagainst the U.S. Embassy move, ambassadors or other representatives attended from the following countries: Guatemala, Paraguay, Honduras, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Macedonia , Myanmar, Angola, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of the Congo, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Zambia and Tanzania. The other EU nations boycotted the reception.

Also Wednesday, the Palestinian Authority announced it was recalling its ambassadors from Austria, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic because their representatives attended the reception. On Tuesday Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recalled the Palestinian Authority representative in Washington.

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The earlier list of the countries confirming attendance at the Foreign Ministry reception had included Albania, Ivory Coast, El Salvador, Panama, Peru, the Philippines, Serbia, South Sudan, Thailand, Ukraine and Vietnam. After the earlier list was published in Haaretz, several of these countries – Serbia, Vietnam, Peru, El Salvador and the Ivory Coast – denied they had confirmed their attendance and said they weren’t planning to come. Bulgaria was also first mentioned as a European planning to attend, but its local representatives denied this. Bosnia had not appeared in the previous list.

Particularly striking was the absence of representatives from Russia, India and Japan, whose leaders recently held widely publicized meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and had made speeches about upgrading relations with Israel. The Foreign Ministry believes the countries that had confirmed attendance but later denied it had been pressured not to participate.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the Palestinian leadership would not stand for having Palestinian rights become bargaining chips with the U.S. administration or Israel.

“We have recalled for consultation the ambassadors in Romania, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria, all of them European Union countries,” said Palestinian Deputy Foreign Minister Amal Jadou. “We are taking this step after the ambassadors of these countries in Tel Aviv attended the Israeli celebrations for the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.”

Jadou added, “We cherish our relations with all the countries of the European Union. These relationships are based on a commitment to international law, UN resolutions and human rights. We believe that attending this event contradicts those values. The transfer of the American Embassy to Jerusalem was not only a hostile step against the Palestinian people mourning the 70 years of the Nakba [when more than 700,000 Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes during the War of Independence], but also a violation of international law.”

At the reception held at the Foreign Ministry headquarters in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said to the foreign envoys: “Do you know how to identify real leadership? It’s when people follow you, and people follow [U.S.] President [Donald] Trump. I call upon all countries to join the United States and transfer their embassies to Jerusalem, which is the right thing to do because it promotes peace.”

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said at the event, “Everyone gathered here understands that opening the embassy is a recognition of reality that should have already happened.”

The event was attended by Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband and Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, along with a delegation of senators and congressmen.

The Israelis in attendance included government ministers, MKs (mostly from the coalition), Foreign Service officials, the Mossad chief, as well as associates of Netanyahu, including Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, Netanyahu’s former adviser Natan Eshel and even Sara Netanyahu’s personal stylist, Sandra Ringler.

 

Ashamed to Be Jewish’: As Trump Base Celebrates Embassy Move, Horrified U.S. Jews Mourn Gaza Deaths

After being shut out of embassy celebrations by evangelicals and ultra-Orthodox, many mainstream Jews face crisis and anguish over Israeli response to Palestinian protests

Left: A wounded Palestinian demonstrator being evacuated during the protest against the U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem; right, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner at the embassy inauguration, May 14, 2018.
Left: A wounded Palestinian demonstrator being evacuated during the protest against the U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem; right, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner at the embassy inauguration, May 14, 2018.REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa, AFP PHOTO / Menahem KAHANA

The opening ceremony for the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem was, essentially, an invitation-only Trump campaign rally.

Those in attendance had all sworn loyalty to the president and belonged to one of the groups that has hailed him as a modern-day Cyrus the Great: Orthodox Jews, right-wing Israelis (including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) and the pro-Trump Republican base – particularly those in the evangelical community.

This was all on display from the ceremony’s opening blessing, by Texan Baptist megachurch pastor Dr. Robert Jeffress. His eyes squeezed closed in prayer, he thanked God for “our great president, Donald Trump,” lauded how Israel “has blessed this world by pointing us to you, the one true God, through the message of her prophets, her scriptures, and the Messiah,” and praying for Jerusalem “in the name of the spirit of the Prince of Peace, Jesus our lord.”

Standing beside him, also offering prayers in praise of Trump and Netanyahu, was ultra-Orthodox Chabad Rabbi Zalman Wolowik – a personal friend of U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

Members of IfNotNow and rabbinical school students blocking traffic while protesting the U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem and Israeli violence against Palestinians in Gaza, Washington, May 14, 2018.
Members of IfNotNow and rabbinical school students blocking traffic while protesting the U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem and Israeli violence against Palestinians in Gaza, Washington, May 14, 2018.Gili Getz

The ceremony was bookended with a benediction by another Trump stalwart: The televangelist founder of Christians United For Israel, Pastor John Hagee, who noted that “Jerusalem is where [the] Messiah will come and establish a kingdom that will never end,” and led the crowd in a final shout of “Hallelujah!”

In the front row, flanking Netanyahu and his wife Sara, were Jewish first daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner – who attend a Chabad synagogue – as well as Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who has just committed $30 million to GOP election races across the country and offered to pay for at least part of the new Jerusalem embassy himself. (His offer was ultimately declined).

Prominent Democratic political leaders – even the long-term, pro-Israel Jewish ones – were nowhere to be found. Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro, who still lives in Israel, was pointedly not invited to the event, despite the fact he went against many of his former colleagues from the Obama White House by supporting and praising the embassy move. No matter: As a non-Orthodox Democrat, he too was persona non grata.

For mainstream American Jewry, being so visibly shut out of an event that many had previously hoped and lobbied for – allied to the event’s dominance by evangelical leaders with controversial views on Jews, Muslims, Mormons and homosexuality – was disturbing enough.

But the fact they were being represented by the likes of Ivanka, Kushner and Adelson, while simultaneously being bombarded with disturbing images of the violence on the Gaza border, triggered a full-on crisis for many.

Sadness and confusion permeated the statements of Jewish leaders, and these sentiments – intensified with anger – exploded across social media

Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs said he was “alarmed, concerned, and profoundly saddened by the growing number of Gazan dead and wounded. It does not have to be this way.”

Regarding the embassy ceremony, Jacobs said, “The Trump Administration declared its commitment to promoting a peaceful solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict by celebrating the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. We also celebrate the opening of the Embassy as an affirmation of the deep and lasting ties between the U.S. and Israel. However, we remain very much aware of the lack of progress toward a long-term just solution for Israelis and Palestinians

J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami harshly criticized the timing of the ceremony, saying the decision to hold it to “coincide with both the anniversary of Israeli independence and the Palestinian ‘Naqba’ [sic]” has “thrown more fuel on an already raging fire.” Ben-Ami was referring to the Palestinian term for the establishment of the State of Israel, which means “Catastrophe” in Arabic and is marked yearly on May 15.

Ben-Ami added that “opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem and official American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital should be a moment of celebration for all of us who feel deeply connected to Jerusalem and recognize its importance to the Jewish people over the millenia [sic]. However, the manner and timing of this move were designed to advance the agenda of right-wing political leaders in the US and Israel, rather than the interest of Americans, Israelis and Palestinians in resolving the conflict.”

He continued: “One only has to observe the campaign rally atmosphere in Jerusalem today to realize that the greatest interest being served is President Trump’s desire to fulfill a campaign promise – and to cater to the views of ‘Greater Israel’ advocates like Ambassador David Friedman, Sheldon Adelson, bigoted pastor Robert Jeffress and their friends in the Israeli government.”

The views of American Jews were expressed in far rawer form on Twitter, with many confessing to feelings of shame about events in Jerusalem and Gaza.

Ivanka Trump and Kushner, meanwhile, were targeted by Jewish celebrities like Chelsea Handler and Bette Midler, who took aim at the couple on Twitter.

Handler wrote, “I’m glad Ivanka and Jared could take time away from their busy schedules of not being qualified to represent the US to go represent the US, and celebrate moving the capital in exchange for the adelson’s donations, while 50+ Palestinians have been killed.” Midler added, “You lose the PR advantage on this one, #MrTrump, with those two images side be [sic] side, Ivanka and Jared yukking it up in Jerusalem while the Palestinians get shot at. Perfect, you moron.”

Ultimately, though, any criticism by American Jews, liberals or the media about the embassy ceremony or distress over U.S. responsibility for the deaths in Gaza was utterly irrelevant, as far as the White House was concerned.

If Adelson was happy enough to continue plowing his millions into Republican campaigns, and if Jeffress, Hagee and the rest of the pro-Trump evangelical base believe the embassy move has brought them one step closer to redemption and will turn out in force for the 2018 midterms – for President Trump, his mission has been accomplished.

The presence and visibility of the evangelical leaders at Monday’s inauguration demonstrated the true source of the political muscle that made the embassy move a reality. Even the banners around Jerusalem in praise of Trump were paid for by Friends of Zion, the brainchild of evangelical leader and Christian Zionist Mike Evans.Conspicuously absent from the stage were any mainstream Orthodox, Conservative or Reform rabbis. In the audience, high-level representatives of the U.S. non-Orthodox Jewish majority were few and far between, though not entirely absent. Anti-Defamation League Director Jonathan Greenblatt was in attendance, for example.A typical tweet came from Christina Duval, who wrote: “I am very proud to be Jewish, but I am completely ashamed of what’s going on in Israel. After all our people suffered, you’d think we’d value human lives a lot more.”

Source: HAARETZ

Gaza clashes: Dozens killed as US opens Jerusalem embassy

At least 43 Palestinians have been killed and 2,200 wounded by Israeli troops, Palestinian officials say, on the deadliest day of violence since the 2014 Gaza war.

The violence came as the US opened its embassy in Jerusalem, a move that has infuriated Palestinians.

They see it as clear US backing for Israeli rule over the whole city, whose eastern part Palestinians lay claim to.

But US President Donald Trump hailed the move in a video message.

He said it had been a “long time coming”, adding: “Israel is a sovereign nation with the right to determine its own capital but for many years we failed to recognise the obvious.”

The US, he added, remained “committed to facilitating a lasting peace agreement”.

What happened at the border?

Palestinians hurled stones and incendiary devices while the Israeli military used snipers, as black smoke poured from burning tyres.

The health ministry, run by Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas, said children were among those killed on Monday.

The Hamas-led demonstrations are part of a six-week protest dubbed the “Great March of Return”.

Emergency services and Palestinians carry a wounded protestor during clashes with Israeli security forces near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, east of Jabalia on May 14, 2018Image copyrightAFP
Image captionHundreds of people have been injured, according to Palestinian officials

Israel says the protests are aimed at breaching the border and attacking Israeli communities nearby.

The Israeli military said 40,000 Palestinians had taken part in “violent riots” at 13 locations along the Gaza Strip security fence.

It said the Israeli military had killed three people trying to plant explosives near the security fence in Rafah. Aircraft and tanks had also targeted military positions belonging to Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip, it said.

There have also been violent clashes between Israeli police and protesters who raised Palestinian flags outside the new embassy. Several protesters were detained.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has called for “utmost restraint”.

What led to the Gaza protests?

Palestinians have held weekly protests in the run-up to their annual commemoration of what they call the Nakba or Catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands of their people fled their homes or were displaced following the foundation of the Israeli state on 14 May 1948.

Scores of Palestinians have been killed since the protests began. Thousands more have been wounded.

Hamas, which is in a state of conflict with Israel, had said it would step up protests in the lead-up to Tuesday, the official Nakba commemoration.

Map

It says it wants to draw attention to what Palestinians insist is their right to return to ancestral homes in what became Israel.

“Today is the big day when we will cross the fence and tell Israel and the world we will not accept being occupied forever,” a science teacher in Gaza, Ali, told Reuters news agency.

What was opened and who attended?

A small interim embassy will start operating from Monday inside the existing US consulate building in Jerusalem. A larger site will be found later when the rest of the embassy moves from Tel Aviv.

Ivanka Trump at the embassy openingImage copyrightEPA
Image captionIvanka Trump spoke briefly at the embassy’s opening ceremony

The opening ceremony was brought forward to coincide with the state of Israel’s 70th anniversary.

Mr Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband Jared Kushner, who are both senior White House advisers, joined US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan for the ceremony.

After Ivanka Trump had unveiled the seal of the embassy, Mr Kushner said in his address: “When President Trump makes a promise he keeps it… We have shown the world that the US can be trusted. We stand with our friends and allies.”

Mr Kushner also referred to Mr Trump’s withdrawal from the “dangerous, flawed and one-sided Iran deal”, drawing applause from the guests.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “What a glorious day. Remember this moment. This is history. President Trump, by recognising history, you have made history. All of us are deeply grateful.”

US Jerusalem embassy map

A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Monday: “With this step, the US administration has cancelled its role in the peace process and has insulted the world, the Palestinian people and the Arab and the Islamic nation and it has created incitement and instability.”

Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit said it was “shameful to see countries participating with the US and Israel in celebrating the former’s embassy move to occupied Jerusalem in a clear and grave violation of international law”.

Why is the embassy move so controversial?

The status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem is not recognised internationally and, according to the 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, the final status of Jerusalem is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.

Israel has occupied East Jerusalem since the 1967 Middle East war. It effectively annexed the sector, though this was not recognised by any countries until Mr Trump’s declaration in December 2017.

Media captionWhy the ancient city of Jerusalem is so important

Since 1967, Israel has built a dozen settlements, home to about 200,000 Jews, in East Jerusalem. These are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

Various countries once had embassies based in Jerusalem but many moved after Israel passed a law in 1980 formally making Jerusalem its capital.


A boost for Netanyahu

By Jeremy Bowen, BBC Middle East editor, Jerusalem

The embassy move is the culmination of one of the best weeks in the political life of Mr Netanyahu.

First President Trump kept his promise to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal. Now the US embassy is moving.

Placards in Jerusalem praise Mr Trump. The local football club, Beitar, infamous for fans who chant “death to Arabs”, has included “Trump” in its name.

The embassy move has been rejected by the main allies of Israel and the US. Palestinians are protesting in their thousands in Gaza.

It is much more low-key in the West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem.

The embassy move is good for the Netanyahu government, good for President Trump’s base and makes most Israelis pleased but there is no evidence to back Mr Netanyahu’s claim that it is good for peace.

Beyond ‘Mowing the Grass’: U.S. and Israeli Strategy in the Middle East

Chuck Freilich and James F. Jeffrey

On April 18, Chuck Freilich and James Jeffrey addressed a Policy Forum at The Washington Institute. Freilich is a senior fellow in the Belfer Center’s International Security Program and a former Israeli deputy national security advisor. Jeffrey is the Institute’s Philip Solondz Distinguished Fellow and a former deputy national security advisor in the George W. Bush administration. The following is a rapporteur’s summary of their remarks.

CHUCK FREILICH

The most dramatic change in Israel’s strategic circumstances is that it no longer faces the existential threat it did in past decades. David Ben-Gurion once said that if and when the Jewish population in Israel reaches 5 million, the country’s existence would be guaranteed. Today, that figure stands at 6.5 million. The question is no longer if Israel will survive, but rather what kind of Israel will survive?

There is reason for optimism. For one, Arab states want a relationship with Israel, and Saudi crown prince Muhammad bin Salman made history by recognizing the state’s right to exist. Moreover, no superpower is hostile to Israel. It is still somewhat diplomatically isolated, but its foreign connections have never been stronger. And the potential threat from weapons of mass destruction has decreased as work on Iran’s nuclear program has been deferred—at least for now.

Nevertheless, Israel faces serious strategic threats. It is surrounded on all sides by failed states, states in crisis, or states at risk. It also faces a number of adversaries led by Iran, the most advanced opponent it has ever encountered. Israel’s weakest point is its home front, and that is exactly what Iran and its proxies have decided to target by fighting a war of attrition.

How should Israel deal with this opponent? An Iranian-dominated Syria would be the worst possible outcome for Israel, since war with the Islamic Republic could then break out on the northern front at any time—a troubling prospect given that Tehran may be the first adversary Israel cannot defeat outright.

Demographics pose another major problem. In the West Bank and Israel combined, 40 percent of the population is Muslim. Although the Zionist movement never defined what percentage was required for a Jewish state, 60 percent is unquestionably not high enough to merit that label. Israel today is basically maintaining a military occupation.

The delegitimization of Israel abroad is another major problem. In the West, many young people no longer believe in the justifications they have heard for Israel’s existence, let alone in the idea that the state is a success story. Changes in American demographics have likewise altered the bilateral relationship for the worse.

Israel also needs to recognize that while the military is still the basis of its security, the utility of force has diminished. There is no military solution to the Palestinian issue. A military strike on Iran’s nuclear program would only delay its progress for a few years (though if need be, Israel will take that step). The country never truly solved its problems with military force; it simply managed them. Tired of conflict, Jordan and Egypt made peace with Israel; even Syria once held advanced peace talks with its enemy across the Golan. In theory, the Palestinians may one day tire of conflict, but this seems unlikely.

In light of these challenges, several recommendations for Israeli security policy stand out. First, the country should either reach an agreement with the Palestinians or separate unilaterally. An agreement is unlikely anytime soon. In the Arab world, the conflict has often been framed as a battle for rights, so there is little room for compromise. Israel needs to make clear that it is actively pursuing peace, and that if an agreement is not reached, then Palestinian intransigence is to blame. Alternatively, if no agreement is reached in the next few years, Israel should pursue unilateral separation.

Second, Israel should change its electoral system, which is the source of many of its strategic problems. Existing electoral institutions once served the country well, but they are deeply problematic today.

Third, Israel should make its relationship with the United States central to its national security policy. Although the alliance sometimes limits Israel’s freedom of maneuver, it is unclear if the country would survive without American support—at the very least, it would be significantly poorer and weaker. In practical terms, prioritizing the relationship means aligning with American interests whenever humanly possible. A security agreement with Washington could incentivize the Israeli public to make important concessions toward a peace deal with the Palestinians. Moreover, if Iran goes nuclear, the U.S.-Israeli alliance would play an important role in managing a proliferated Middle East.

In the past, a regional security system that included Arab countries, the United States, and Israel was unthinkable—rather, Israel needed the United States to give it a qualitative military edge over its Arab neighbors. Recently, however, such a system has become conceivable, even if Crown Prince Muhammad has not explicitly talked about it.

Finally, Israelis should adopt a fundamentally different mindset toward their security. Many of them still perceive their homeland as a weak, besieged state whose existence is constantly at stake. The reality is that Israel is not weak or in imminent existential danger, so it can act with greater restraint if it so chooses, focusing more on defense and diplomacy. There will be circumstances, however, when it will need to go on the offensive, potentially in the very near future on the northern front.

JAMES JEFFREY

President Trump’s National Security Strategy and the Pentagon’s 2018 National Defense Strategy describe the administration’s approach to two broad issues: the American-led international security system it inherited, and the “four-and-a-half challenges” it faces from Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and violent Islamist extremism. Currently, eight countries are capable of complementing this American-led system as security producers: Britain, France, Germany, India, Israel, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. These states have historically faced serious security challenges on their borders. In contrast, Russia and China aim to dismantle this global system and enter a nineteenth-century-style security environment.

Yet while the system can be challenged, the United States itself is rarely challenged directly. Washington’s role is to support the security system, but that is a difficult mission to sell to the American public and allied governments. The key is to reiterate how the U.S.-led system has served the world’s best interests—namely, by facilitating widespread peace and extraordinary prosperity since 1945, in terms of trade, the free flow of people and ideas, and collective security.

How does Israel fit into this strategy? Historically, the country has always emphasized its unique bilateral security relationship with the United States. For a long time it was a security and diplomacy consumer, even though it was capable of defending itself. It did not see itself as a major player in any global security system, partly because it is not a NATO state, and also because of its problematic relationship with the UN. For its part, the United States supported Israel not just to save the country, but to maintain the premise of the global security system.

Israel’s position in that system has changed dramatically, however. The country is now a major provider of security in the region. It is militarily engaged in three of its neighboring countries—two with their permission, and a third (Syria) where it is acting against an enemy regime’s interests. It also remains locked in a tense military standoff with Lebanon. More broadly, its military and nuclear deterrence capabilities play a major role in slowing proliferation activity in the region.

Although the United States has become less central to Israel’s security, the American-led security system is absolutely central to it. The main problem facing Israel is Iran. While Syria used to be an independent state allied with the Islamic Republic, it is now entirely reliant on Tehran and can no longer act independently. Israel faces a fundamental threat from this northern coalition, and the American security system has been unable to act effectively against it.

In response, Washington should build a regional security system in which Israel takes part and the United States plays a leading role. For example, the administration could announce that it will treat any attack on Israel as a direct attack on the United States. Meanwhile, Israel could coordinate with other countries against Iranian expansion—not just with the United States, but with other regional powers as well. Since American policymakers are not fully sure of what to do in Syria and the wider Middle East, Israel and other U.S. allies will likely have to coordinate with each other to pull Washington into a regional security system.

This summary was prepared by Samuel Northrup.

Hamas: Constrained or Nimble?

IMAD ALSOOS,  NATHAN J. BROWN

While other Palestinian institutions are in crisis, Hamas has maintained its integrity and survived political turmoil. But to capitalize on this, it will need to revise its strategy.

n 2017, the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas made news by taking three major steps that did not involve firing a single shot: it issued a new charter; it elected a new leadership; and it allowed the administration in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to answer to the ministries of the Palestinian Authority (PA) based in the West Bank, a relationship that had been sundered a decade earlier.

These measures were interpreted by observers as having been brought about by external political constraints. There were good reasons for reaching such a conclusion, since Hamas was, and to an extent still is, hemmed in from all sides. However, focusing solely on external considerations misses a great deal and is hardly sufficient for explaining why and how Hamas behaves as it does. The movement’s ability to take observers by surprise was dramatically illustrated in April 2018 with a series of marches on the fence surrounding the Gaza Strip.

Rather, three additional factors must be taken into account. First, Hamas’s leadership does not passively respond to outside conditions, but actively evaluates them in order to optimally manage its responses. Second, international pressure does not so much directly affect Hamas’s calculations as it has an impact on domestic public opinion, which in turn shapes the group’s understanding of opportunities and constraints. And third, Hamas is distinctive on the Palestinian scene in that it has developed an institutionalized rather than a personalized organization, one with mechanisms linking its leadership with the rank and file.

Understanding Hamas’s internal dynamics helps to show how its actions reflect strategic choices, allowing for a better comprehension of the way the organization interacts with political realities, makes concessions, and capitalizes on these to maximize its gains. This, in turn, allows observers to grasp how Hamas achieves its goals, manages challenges, maintains its integrity, and survives, despite the formidable obstacles it has encountered in recent years. Such resilience has particular resonance at a time when Hamas’s main rival, Fatah, is showing signs of incoherence and decay, when many Palestinian political structures are in crisis, and when the Palestinian national movement is facing an uncertain predicament.

THE HEADACHE OF GOVERNING

Hamas was founded on the eve of the First Palestinian Intifada (1987–1993) as an “Islamic resistance movement.” While it has long sought to join the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), this has never happened. Fatah has dominated the PLO since 1969 and is unwilling to cede to Hamas any part of its power. Hamas rejected the Oslo Accords of 1993 and the negotiations with Israel that followed. When this process led to the election of a Palestinian president and parliament in 1996, as part of a supposedly temporary Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza, Hamas refused to go along with it.

In 2000 the Second Intifada broke out, following the failure of the Oslo process to establish a Palestinian state. Hamas was active in the protests, solidifying its standing in Palestinian society. When new parliamentary elections were scheduled for January 2006, Hamas decided to participate, even though it continued to reject the Oslo process. The organization quickly showed a remarkable capacity for mobilizing in opposition to the PA, and this helped propel it to a stunning electoral triumph.

A picture and its story: Smoke clears and photographer captures momentÊof protest

That triumph, which led to Hamas’s entering government for the first time, was met with a harsh international response. The Middle East Quartet—an ad hoc body created to mediate in Middle East peace talks, made up of the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations—sought to impose conditions on Hamas for negotiations to continue. These involved recognizing Israel, accepting past agreements with Israel, and renouncing violence. When Hamas demurred, Israel and the United States took steps aimed at generating popular discontent with the Hamas government in Gaza and the West Bank. Israel ceased transferring tax revenues to the new Hamas-led Palestinian government while Western backers stopped providing it with budgetary support. Even private banks, fearing sanctions, put an end to their dealings with the new government. Under such pressure, Hamas did agree in principle with Fatah to form a national-unity government in 2007, but the efforts to unseat it continued. These efforts, spearheaded by the Palestinian security forces loyal to Fatah, failed, showing Hamas’s significant ability to maneuver domestically.

Power struggles between Fatah and Hamas over control of PA institutions escalated during that period, until there was a major outbreak of violence in June 2007, when the two groups engaged in a military showdown in Gaza. The ensuing Hamas victory allowed the organization to take over PA institutions in the territory. This provoked a rift in Palestinian areas, with Hamas ruling over Gaza and Fatah over the West Bank, from where it retained control of the PLO. While Hamas’s refusal to comply with the Middle East Quartet’s conditions had led to a momentary increase in its popular support, this did not help Hamas to overcome growing public dissatisfaction with the tightened blockade on Gaza imposed as a result of its victory, which began eating away at its popularity.

Hamas’s leaders justified their military takeover in 2007 as a reaction to what they said was a planned coup by Fatah, but their actions placed them in a difficult position. The organization had crossed its own self-imposed redlines of never killing Palestinians or attacking other Palestinian groups. Hamas imposed a tight grip on power in Gaza, but it also lost its reputationas a more principled movement in the eyes of much of the population.

Even if the situation was corrosive to Hamas’s status, it was manageable. The PA deposed the Hamas-led cabinet after its takeover of Gaza, but this came with a decision to continue funding the salaries of PA employees in the territory, allowing it to retain a base of loyalists there. In response, Hamas set up a parallel administration, hiring thousands of people, whose salaries the PA refused to pay. To counter the stranglehold on Gaza by Israel and Egypt, Hamas encouraged the growth of a “tunnel economy,” whereby economic activity took place through hundreds of tunnels dug under Gaza’s border with Egypt. This provided Gaza’s inhabitants with work and cheap goods, generating renewed satisfaction.

As a result of the tunnels, Hamas’s revenues rose, so that by 2009 they totaled $150–$200 million annually, a figure that would rise to about $375 million in 2011, when the regime of Egypt’s then president Hosni Mubarak fell. During the same period, unemployment in Gaza dropped from 45 percent to 32 percent. This led to the increased stability of Hamas rule and a bigger regional role for the organization after the election of Mohamed Morsi as Egypt’s president in 2012. All this seemed to promise an end to Hamas’s isolation.

Periodically, the rival Palestinian leaderships would pledge to reconcile, and at times specific steps were taken to further this, such as extensive negotiations in 2011. Generally, it was the weakness of one side or the other at a particular time, and sometimes both, that led to efforts to appear to favor unity. However, neither side was willing to risk surrendering authority in its respective realm and international actors remained guarded, with some even hostile to such attempts.

Things changed for the worse for Hamas after July 2013, when Egypt’s military overthrew Morsi and the political system led by the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’s sister organization. The military-dominated regime in Cairo put an end to the tunnel economy, exacerbating the impact of the blockade on Gaza. The ensuing economic strains forced Hamas to accept the Shati Agreement of April 23, 2014, an unprecedented development in the Fatah-Hamas relationship that was aimed at allowing the Fatah-led PA to govern Gaza again. The accord collapsed following the war between Hamas and Israel in summer 2014, as both Palestinian groups focused on retrenchment rather than reconciliation. However, the brief opening revealed that Hamas was looking for a way out of the Gaza straitjacket in a manner that would strengthen its domestic popularity.

HAMAS CHOOSES RENEWAL

In early 2017, amid the continuing stalemate in Hamas-Fatah relations, Hamas once again faced a crisis. In an attempt to raise the heat on Hamas, the PA cut the salaries of some of its own employees in Gaza as well as other forms of support for the territory, because such revenues facilitated Hamas’s continued rule by reducing discontent. The organization concluded that, despite widespread dissatisfaction with the PA, “popular agitation would turn against [Hamas] rule,” as one activist put it.1 The collapse of the tunnel economy and the PA’s punitive measures had pushed Gazans to their limit, given the misery in which they lived. Hamas’s stark choice was either “reconciliation at any cost” and handing Gaza’s administration over to Fatah, or accepting an “inevitable catastrophe.”

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This new reality forced Hamas and its electorate to be pragmatic with regard to the internal and external challenges the organization was facing. Hamas elections in February and October 2017 brought in Saleh al-Arouri, as deputy head of the Hamas Political Bureau, and Yahya al-Sinwar, as the movement’s head in Gaza. While both were seen as hardliners, they moved forward on a reconciliation agreement with the PA. The difficulties all around seemed insurmountable, but the two new leaders’ status as former Israeli prisoners and the fact that they represented new faces gave them the latitude to take Hamas in a new direction. As Sinwar stated in a meeting with Gaza trade unions in October 2017, reconciliation was a collective decision by the movement at home and abroad.

Under the reconciliation agreement that ensued, ministers from the PA in Ramallah are supposed to take formal control of political structures in Gaza, with Hamas ending any governing role there. However, full implementation seems unlikely at present. A unified cabinet in Ramallah nominally governs Gaza, but its effective control of the bureaucracy there is shaky and untested. Several outstanding issues, such as Hamas’s insistence on retaining an armed wing, will likely remain unresolved. But even if parts of the agreement remain frozen, it has allowed Hamas to cede governing responsibility without losing influence over much of what goes on in Gaza. Even a bomb attack in Gaza in March 2018 targeting visiting PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, though it raised tensions, failed to bring about a collapse of the accommodation between Fatah and Hamas.

Why was Hamas willing to discontinue governing Gaza? And how did the election of seemingly uncompromising figures lead to its more relaxed grip on power and a more flexible ideology? External constraints, acting on public discontent in Gaza, had generated enormous pressure on Hamas, making its leaders realize that they could no longer govern, let alone wait out the blockade. However, Hamas also had choices, and in 2017 it showed that it could react not by accepting defeat passively but by turning crisis into opportunity.

Hamas was able to do this because its internal deliberations are conducted in such a way as to allow for the emergence of a broad consensus. The organization has always striven to have in place mechanisms allowing it to sustain itself, maintain links between the leadership and the base, and ensure that its members are united around party structures and a common strategy. That is why when Hamas faced external challenges, geographical isolation, a lack of allies, and rising popular discontent in 2017, it reacted by electing a new leadership. During this period it also altered its charter in a protracted, movement-wide process that suggested a willingness to compromise without formally repudiating past positions. These moves, aimed at giving new momentum to the organization, came as part of Hamas’s preparation to disengage from its governing role in Gaza.

While Hamas has decisionmaking institutions, it gains by being able to anchor its choices in interactions between these institutions and local activists on the one hand, and between the organization and the broader public on the other. Hamas activists emphasize that all members were involved in deciding on a number of strategic choices in recent years, through forums providing for intense discussions—including whether to participate in local or legislative elections, to approve of a truce with Israel, or to endorse reconciliation talks with Fatah.2

A mechanism that Hamas uses for internal dialogue is monthly gatherings that it calls lailat katiba (or “battalion night”), in which its leaders share the movement’s ideas with all members in each region.3 Hamas also depends upon local bodies to create informal networks based on kinship, friendship, and neighborhood ties. In addition, these local bodies build a profile of the population by conducting surveys and registering people in the organization’s database of inhabitants.4 This allows Hamas to get a sense of the public mood about issues, in particular its standing and general attitudes toward its behavior and political choices.

WHAT LIES AHEAD FOR HAMAS?

Were the measures Hamas adopted in 2017 anything more than a quick fix? Hamas’s ability to reestablish its position will depend on regaining the popular support it once enjoyed in Gaza, as well as on its success in rebuilding regional alliances to mitigate its political and geographical isolation. Achieving breakthroughs on these fronts depends on Hamas’s organizational potential and its strategic choices.

Hamas’s support dropped sharply as a result of its military takeover of Gaza and preservation of order through the heavy hand of its security forces. The organization realized it had to pursue conciliation as the violence had led to the death of dozens of people, leaving influential local families embittered. Hamas’s social and political interaction with the public had shifted its initial approach, from direct and largely unrestricted access toward more limited contact suiting an autocratic governing authority. Hamas sought to reverse course and once again position itself as the protector of the population, rather than as a force policing society and suppressing the political opposition.

Hamas does have a history of reviving itself. During the Second Intifada between 2000 and 2005, after years of repression by the PA at a time when Palestinian-Israeli negotiations were ongoing, Hamas was able to persuade many of its compatriots that the arrest of its cadres and the torture of some of its top leaders had been necessary to defend popular interests.5

However, while the post-2007 period allowed the movement to organize freely at the local level throughout Gaza, its current quest to regain public support could prove more difficult. Hamas’s decision to abandon governance in the territory and work in favor of Palestinian reconciliation, particularly societal reconciliation in Gaza, might facilitate this task. However, the organization’s enemies will not make it easy for Hamas to regain its previous stature.

Regionally, Hamas is attempting to revive its past relationships in a highly contested environment. The Middle East is polarized between a Saudi-led coalition that includes Egypt, Jordan, and the PA, and an Iran-led alliance that includes Syria and Hezbollah. Hamas is caught between the two poles. To bridge the gap with the Saudi-led camp, Hamas accepted some ambiguity about a two-state solution in its amended charter. It also dropped any mention of its links with the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt and Saudi Arabia consider a terrorist organization, a contrast with how Hamas had presented itself in the past. However, such efforts will be complicated by the fact that Sinwar and Arouri come from Hamas’s military wing, whose primary supporter has long been Iran.

It is unlikely that Hamas will be able to navigate the regional split for long. The divisions are too strong and bitter for the organization to succeed in retaining a foot in both camps. Today, Egypt and Iran are the main rivals for Hamas’s allegiance, each important with regard to the organization’s specific political priorities, which are themselves a reflection of its multifaceted identity.

Hamas’s relations with Egypt deteriorated after Mohamed Morsi’s removal from power. However, the organization cannot afford to be on bad terms with the largest Arab country and the neighbor that controls Gaza’s major lifeline, its twelve-kilometer southwestern border. Egypt is also the one actor that can persuade the PA to implement a reconciliation agreement with Hamas, and push Israel to go along with it. For its part, Egypt needs Hamas’s cooperation to combat the Islamic State, a common enemy that has been effectively contained in Gaza, but not on the Sinai Peninsula, where an insurgency continues.

At the same time, there are strong forces attracting Hamas to the Iranian camp, even if the relationship worsened in 2012. Khaled Mishal, then the head of the Hamas Political Bureau, publically supported the uprising against the Syrian regime, Iran’s major regional ally. Yet Hamas needs Iran’s financial support, which was suspended following that fissure, to pursue its social and political activities. Rebuilding the alliance would allow Hamas to resume providing services to the population and would help it regain regional standing as a major opponent of Israel. Iran, in turn, believes that renewed ties with Hamas would permit the Islamic Republic to recover its reputation as leader of the regional “resistance axis,” rather than just as the sponsor of a sectarian Shia coalition.

The regional context suggests that the Iranian pull may be stronger since it is based on a longer-term, strategic concurrence of views. Arouri has described the relationship as being built on “solid ground.” By contrast, the connection with the Saudi-led coalition seems to reflect détente more than any strong alignment. However, the lesson that Hamas learned from the failure of its alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood after the Arab uprisings in 2011 is that it is better not to be tied to an ideological framework, but, instead, to pursue Hamas’s interests according to circumstances. A Hamas leader, Mahmoud al-Zahar, has emphasized this, arguing, “We are not at a stage where we are comfortable with ideological alliances [as they involve us in] regional [political] games.”

But the cold pursuit of Hamas’s interests may prove tricky today. Regional polarization between the Saudi- and Iranian-led camps leaves little room for the organization to maneuver as it pleases. Hamas is also at its weakest internally and regionally since its establishment in 1987, which means that it is not in a position to play each side off against the other. Any attempt by Hamas to generate advantage from one camp will provoke problems with the rival camp.

FOLLOWING IN FATAH’S FOOTSTEPS?

Hamas has stood out among Palestinian groups for its ability to maintain its power and effectiveness over time, while remaining united and cohesive. But if the organization is strong, its strategy has been more problematic. Hamas’s control over Gaza highlighted the contradiction between the organization’s resistance role, intended to defend Palestinians, and its governance tasks, which frequently meant imposing strict, unpopular control over the population.

Against this backdrop, Hamas and its electorate reacted in 2017 by bringing in a new leadership, introducing hints of compromise into its charter, and showing a greater readiness to adjust to internal Palestinian and regional political realities. In a comparison that Hamas leaders would find distasteful, the organization had to manage the same tensions faced earlier by Fatah in the period after each Palestinian intifada, when it sought to prioritize a political strategy over armed resistance. Fatah’s unpersuasive performance led directly to its electoral defeats in local elections in 2004 and legislative elections in 2006.

As an organization, Hamas may fare better than Fatah, because it has a greater ability to deliberate, decide collectively, and even vote internally. But while the organization is likely to survive and renew itself, it faces a real problem down the road. The new leadership of Hamas has no clear solution to the strategic vacuum lying at the heart of the Palestinian national movement that it seeks to lead.

Source: Carnegie ME Center